[Travel Series] From the French-named sweet stalls of Pondicherry
Pondicherry is one of the most popular and greatly visited tourist destinations. The coastal town is mostly popular for its unique culture and tranquil beaches. The Union Territory was once part of the French Colonial India and the culture of the region is largely influenced from the period. Even local sweet stalls, bake houses and cafes have French names. Pondicherry offers a wide variety of experiences. There are calm beaches and crowded ones. There are old colour buildings and new broken hotels serving tasty parotas. The only thing that Pondicherry lacks is enough shade. The foreign influence on the city is largely discussed whereas the local delicacies of the destination are often ignored. The city has pretty promenade, interesting food items, great shopping spots and many such experiences to offer.
When to visit?
As the town gets really hot and humid during summers, it’s advisable to avoid the season unless you’re looking for a free tan treatment. Pondicherry has winters from November to February, the season would be appropriate to stroll around the city of surprise.
Approximate expense (For a day): If you can’t avoid the fancy restaurants – Rs 1, 500, but if you have enough time and patience to search for a place with reasonable price, then Rs 750.
What to eat?
It’s impossible to put a number to the variety of food items available in Pondicherry. From authentic French to authentic South Indian, the town has everything. While the French cafes serve dishes that are influenced by both the cuisines, small south Indian hotels serve Idlis for Rs 5. Most of the cafes serve good food but the most menus don’t show any qualities of being pocket friendly. One must abandon beaches and venture further into the coastal town to find inexpensive restaurants. In a big town, finding budget friendly tasty food is like trying a hand at gambling.
What to do?
There are so many things one can do in a town like Pondicherry that an appropriate question to ask would be what one can’t do. There are many experiences people can dwell in and there are more than a few reasons why one must visit this place.
Go on a beach hop
The most popular and most visited beach of Pondicherry – Promenade beach or the rock beach is at the heart of the city. Located in the White Town, the beach is surrounded by War memorial and many colourful buildings that provide the city the necessary prominence. Promenade is the favourite hangout spot at Pondicherry and the city’s many popular cafes and restaurants can be found in the region.
One of the most secluded beaches of Pondicherry – Auro Beach is situated at just about a Km away from the Serenity beach. Unlike the other beaches of the region, Auro mainly receives local fishermen and tourists. Unfortunately, Auro beach is not as well maintained as other beaches of Pondicherry.
The soft, silvery sand and clear blue water of Paradise beach makes it everyone’s favourite. It is a perfect spot to get away from the city and rest amidst pure nature. Paradise beach is also a great location to enjoy beach sports and other adventure sports such as snorkelling and even trekking.
Shri Aurobindo Ghosh Ashram
Amidst the calmness of beaches and the intelligence of the ancient times, Pondicherry is also well known for its spiritual charm. Once the abode of the spiritual guru and freedom fighter Shri Aurobindo, the asharm that served as a spiritual community has now opened its arms to visitors from all over the world. In the ashram, internal yoga and other sessions that help spiritual seekers find the meaning of life are held. The ashram can be visited from 8:00 a. m to 12:00 p. m or 2:00 p. m to 6:00 p. m.
Auroville is a town that is built and is being run on the concept of peaceful co-existence, a concept that was inspired by Shri Aurobindo Ghosh. Auroville literally means ‘the city of dawn’. It is a town that consists of men and women from various parts of the world, the ones that believe in concepts of human harmony and unity. Designed by popular architect Roger Anger, Auroville consists of a large dome called Matrimandir. The dome that shines bright in sun light has been built with the use of 56 kilograms of gold. It is considered to be an indicator of peace and tranquillity.
Where to stay?
There are plenty of accommodations available near the beaches and in the city. Cottages and guest houses are found on the shores of popular beaches. Decent and luxurious accommodations are available at the centre of the town.
Hostels: Natura, Valentine Hostel, youth hostel and Vedanta Wake Up are a few options available in Pondicherry.
Plan your commute:
Train: Puducherry railway station (PDY) is well connected to most parts of the country.
Road: Pondicherry has excellent road transport.
Air: Pondicherry Airport is a domestic airport that receives daily flights from the major cities nearby.
Local Transport: It would be a bluff to say that the town doesn’t have convenient local transport but it is definitely not opportune for tourists. Most tourist destinations can be reached only in autos. There are no share autos or buses to these places. As a part of commercialization, auto prices are always on a surge. Share autos and buses operate only in the major, non-touristy parts of the city.
A note to the backpacker:
If I have to put it in a sentence – Don’t miss this place. Even though the hot sun and busy beaches (during season) may tick you off a little bit. The beautiful town is much more than that. It is great for the beach bums and the adventure lovers. It is fitting for the nature lovers and the history buffs. It’s good for those looking to settle on a beach and enjoy a book or just a cool breeze, and also for those that wish to cycle around and explore the hidden gems of the coastal town. For those that wish to study the past influence and observe the present’s lifestyle of the people in this region, Pondicherry is a must visit place.
This is an article from the Aao hostel travel fellowship series