It’s a rare thing to be able to stand at both the centre of history and of present-day activity. Such an experience awaits you in Pondicherry, the Cote d’Azure of Southern India. At two hours by car from Chennai and an overnight bus from Bangalore, Pondicherry is ideally suited for that weekend trip you’ve been planning to take. The city is filled with amazing activities, and from shopping for handicrafts to art exhibitions, there’s something for everyone. History shows up everywhere in the city, with much of the modern area laid out on top of one or more past incarnations.
There are few cities left in modern day India where you can take a walk from the 21st to the 19th century within 20 minutes. However, all is not about history in Pondicherry. The city offers everything a modern, savvy traveller or family vacationer might want. The wide array of restaurants and culinary options is staggering, from British-style swanky bars to open-air pubs designed to suit a backpacker’s taste and budget, your tongue and tummy can both expect a great experience. For kids, there’s the beach, swimming pools or a horse-riding lesson. For art lovers, there are many exhibitions to visit, or better still, art classes or pottery lessons that you can sign up for. For shoppers, there are a number of handicraft or leather stores and lots of clothes shops to choose from. Pondicherry is also a great place to buy handicraft, art and pottery.
The best way to start a day in the city is to get up and about early. Hit the seaside for a stroll to build up your appetite for the emperor’s breakfast that awaits you. There’s a nice little café, Le Café, on the sea front where you can stop to catch your breath and sip on a cappuccino while you watch the sun wake from its slumber. Then head out to one of the many bakeries for a power breakfast. My favourite breakfast choice is Baker’s Street on Rue de Bussy. Fresh French bread and other fine eateries await you there. Start off with a chocolate éclair to whet our appetite and then chase it with a pain au chocolat and perhaps some fresh juice, chai or an oh-so-French press coffee to down the overdose of bread.
You’ll find it easy to overeat when such a wide range of delicacies are presented to you for breakfast. It’s perhaps a good idea to follow breakfast with something a bit active, such as exploring the city. The most practical way to see Pondicherry is either on foot or, even better, on a bicycle. You can rent a bicycle for as little as Rs. 3 per hour, with a per-day rate of about Rs.30. The city centre is surrounded by a boulevard that runs all around its perimeter. This is the main town, while the city has grown well beyond these boundaries. The town, which is about 3 km by 3 km, is split into two and the part near the sea front is known as White Town. The White Town is where the French lived in the colonial days. It’s packed with beautiful villas, heritage hotels, churches and cafés.
After you are done with a bit of exploration, it’s time to look for a place to have lunch. Depending upon which time of the year you visit the city, around noon the sun and the humidity could start getting to you. Duck into one of the air-conditioned restaurants to have a filet mignon or salad. Most local Pondicherrians take a siesta after lunch till about three or four in the afternoon. I suggest you do the same. This is usually the time when the sun beats the hardest. Also, a number of stores would be shut for an extended lunch break.
It is a commonly known fact that Pondicherry has low-priced alcohol. If you enjoy a fine wine or a beer, you must take advantage of this fact. There are a number of bars and pubs to choose from. One of my favourite bars is Quality, an open-air bar on the roof of a guest house. This place is usually packed with tourists, mostly backpackers and a number of locals who are regulars. It’s also a great place to network with the people who live in Pondicherry to find out what’s happening in the city.
After you have downed a few beers, you can choose a restaurant to have a fine meal. Le Club and Satsanga are two open-air restaurants that serve some great continental cuisine. I would highly recommend trying out some of the seafood on offer while you are on the coast. After dinner, head out to Chocolat, a chocolate store on Mission Street, to have some desert. The chocolate shot they serve there is to die for. They also have cakes, cookies and chocolate balls. Pondicherry does not have a very big nightlife scene, with parties being mostly private. The locals also tend to retire a bit early to get ready for the 6 am walk or jog on the beach. So say bonne nuit to your friends and head back to your room to get some sleep.
Volume 1 Issue 4