Sunday, 12 June 2016

That French corner of India: Pondicherry

As a place that bridges the gap between spirituality and uber-cool, Pondicherry is a place like no other. With attractions like Auroville, Aurobindo Ashram, Ousteri Wetland, Pondicherry Museum and some of the most solitary beaches in the region, it fits the bill perfectly. A tiny town that is best explored on foot or a bicycle, Pondicherry will have you fall for it with its hippie charm and perfect seaside settings. Other than its attractions, Pondicherry is a great place for cultural exchange and spiritual endeavours for it is home to a large number of expats, NGOs and volunteers from all across the world.

Morning in Pondicherry

Puducherry (formerly called Pondicherry and generally referred to as ‘Pondy’) was under French rule until 1954 and some people here still speak French (and English with French accents). Hotels, restaurants and ‘lifestyle’ shops sell a seductive vision of the French-subcontinental aesthetic, enhanced by Gallic creative types whose presence has in turn attracted Indian artists and designers. Thus Pondy’s vibe: less faded colonial-era ville, more a bohemian-chic, New Age–cum–Old World hangout on the international travel trail.

Art on wall

I booked my train ticket till Chennai and then took car for Pondicherry. It’s actually three hours drive from Chennai railway station. So if you wish to visit Pondicherry, you can see Chennai also.
Pondicherry will bowl you over with its cobbled lanes, blue waters and the sheer abundance of natural beauty. Pondicherry is interestingly has its areas marked out using the colour of the buildings. If the colour of the building is yellow, it’s a part of the French quarter {where he lived}, if it’s grey, it is owned by the Aurobindo Ashram and if it’s white, it’s a part of the Tamil Quarter. Easily explorable on foot or cycles, Pondicherry is every history buff’s delight. What makes the space stand out is the very fact of how modern element such as graffiti takes over walls of the colonial French quarter.

Hotel view

I started my exploring from visiting Basilica of the sacred heart of Jesus. This church is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in India. A revered pilgrimage spot, it is quite famous for its brilliant stained glass panels depicting incidents from Christ’s life. A century-old structure, it is house to 28 glass pictures of saints who were related to the church. With its insides lit by huge chandeliers and flood lights, it is a sight to behold.

Walking on French road

In Pondicherry how can you miss beach. Situated in the heart of Pondicherry, Promenade beach is rock-lined seashore is better suited for walking. It is adjacent to the Goubert Avenue, the main historical promenade of the city, which is lined with beautiful colonial buildings. The best way to take in the views is by walking down the entire 1.5 km-long stretch, stopping to admire the statue of Marquis Dupleix situated at one end, the Mahatma Gandhi statue in the middle, as well as the First World War Memorial. During the evenings, the beach comes alive with street food stalls, ice cream carts and balloon sellers, as well as locals taking their evening walk. Remember to have a cup of coffee at the sea-facing Le Café during your stroll.

Promenade Beach

The next where I stopped was Ousteri Wetland. This park lies at some 10 km from the town’s centre and is one of the lesser known attractions in the region. An interesting place to visit for nature lovers, this wetland boasts of a fascinating variety of marine life and is also a bird sanctuary. Pack in a pair of binoculars for hours of bird spotting; migratory birds including golden oriole, painted stork, spotted owlets and tailorbirds can often be spotted here. You will be in for a treat at Ousteri Lake for its shore is abundant with a variety of crabs. A great place for all the photographers and nature enthusiasts out there!

Ousteri Wetland

Oh did I miss about the history lovers. They cannot miss a visit to the museum, for it is home to a number of rare sculptures and archaeological finds from Arikamedu, a once major business port between India and Rome. Other attractions in the museum are bronze and stone sculptures from Pallava and Chola dynasties. Some fascinating remains from the very famous Vijayanagara temples too find a place here. You can also get interesting insights into the French culture that swept Pondicherry with a very fine display of French period furniture, paintings, artwork and more in the museum.

Auroville Beach

And in the evening I wanted to give relaxation to my legs so headed for beach. Tucked inside the neighbouring township of Auroville, this beach is the perfect spot for quiet introspection. A 30-minute-drive from Pondicherry , it has all the tranquillity in the world you can ask for. There are no restaurants, shops, changing rooms or parking space—but you will find clear blue water and breathtaking sunsets and sunrises. Located near the Auroville bus stop on the East Coast Road, it is mostly frequented by locals and fishermen. Due to the large waves, swimming on the beach can be a bit of a challenge.

Serenity Beach

Next day in the morning I drive to Serenity beach. Located around 10 km away from Pondicherry, Serenity Beach is the right place to get your fill of the sun, sand and surf. While the picturesque beach is graced by white sand bordered by palm trees, the surrounding blue waters are a surfing hotspot. Thanks to a surf break, the beach’s waves attract both beginners and professionals. Run by two Spaniards, the neighborhood’s Kallialay Surf School conducts group and private surfing lessons at various levels. If you’re hooked by the idea of surfing in the Bay of Bengal, there are several sea-facing home stays and boutique hotels situated in the vicinity.

Don’t miss to visit our very own French colony in India. I was awestruck with their culture and beauty. 

Evening view from hotel

That yellow wall

Lets make memory with coffee

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