Your guide to spending a quaint weekend in Pondicherry
It would be safe to say that Pondicherry to Bangalore is like Dharamshala to Delhi, but with beaches instead of hills. I remember I used to run away to Dharamshala every other weekend because it seemed like the only sensible thing to do when I craved a slow-paced life. Why slow-paced, you ask? I always tell people I was born in the wrong time. I was born in the 90s but my heart belongs to the 70s-80s when people had scooters and bicycles to commute. You knew your postman’s daughters’ names because he would talk to you about them. Houses in the town oozed sheer art, life and love.
Amidst all the changes that came with progressive transitions, Pondicherry managed to keep its heritage and culture intact. People there speak French and draw Rangoli outside their homes every day. They offer you Masala Chai and Filter Coffee with the best French cookies. Probably that’s why I fell in love with it on our first day in town.
Since Pondicherry was home to the French for a long time, this arrangement imbued the South Indian culture with their own heritage and lifestyle, resulting in a beautiful town with French style homes, quaint boutiques, perpendicular streets, and of course, the language.
Duration: 3 days
Best time to visit: November – February
1. Auroville – Auroville Beach – Aurobindo Ashram – Promenade
2. Church – Serenity Beach – Cafe Crawl
3. Chunnambar Boat House – Paradise Beach – Museum – Lake
1. Bus: Pondicherry is about 150 km from Chennai and 320 km from Bangalore. If you are coming via Chennai, the best option is to do a road trip to Pondicherry via the east coast road (ECR) as it offers one of the most scenic drives in the country. Buses to Pondicherry are available frequently from some of the major nearby cities, including Chennai, Thanjavur, Trichy, Coimbatore, Bangalore, and Madurai
2. Train: Closest railway station to Pondicherry is Villupuram (about 35 km away). It is well connected to all the metro cities.
3. Air: There is a domestic airport in Lawspet district of Pondicherry. The closest International Airport is Chennai.
As you all know, Vikas and I now live in different cities, so we decided to fly to Chennai, meet at the airport and then drive to Pondicherry. Our flight got delayed (remember my ‘Spicejet Sucks’ rant on Instagram?) and we reached Chennai at 12 am instead of 10:30 pm. After leaving for Pondicherry at 12:30, we reached Hotel Coramandal Heritage at 3:30 in the morning. Our hosts were kind enough to let us check-in at this ridiculous hour. We dozed off the second we hit the bed, after all, we had a long day ahead.
THINGS TO DO IN PONDICHERRY
Auroville – Auroville Beach – Aurobindo Ashram – Promenade
Our first day was all about experiencing the calm and serenity that Pondicherry had to offer. After waking up in the morning, I wanted to take a stroll down the lane but Vikas really insisted on heading to Baker Street directly for breakfast and it turned out to be one of the best breakfasts we’d had in a long time. After which, we quickly grabbed an auto and left for Auroville. It was busier than we anticipated, we chose the Republic Day long weekend, so we had it coming. After paying Rs. 250 for the ride, we entered the premises.
Auroville is not just a tourist spot, it is a township where people live, work and contribute towards a greater cause or passion. Its residents are above norms like career and having a fat bank balance. They care more about what they are passionate about. A lot of you asked us on Instagram if 2-3 hours are enough to visit Auroville? No. We planned this trip for only 3 days which we regret because we should have planned it for at least 6 days. Visiting Auroville is one thing and experiencing it is another. It’s a place to stay, learn and grow. And that’s why we are planning to visit again. I know you guys must have a lot of questions about the passes, timings etc. We have tried to answer most of them in the Brownie Tips section at the end of the article.
As we started walking towards the Matrimandir, we passed through many signboards, full of wisdom and life, that talked about everything that we tend to forget while living our lives. It was a long, silent walk in a place that seemed like no other. There must be hundreds of visitors in the premises but it felt like we were the only ones. It took us about 6 hours to complete our visit and get back to the parking area.
Walking for 6 hours does work up an appetite, so next on our list was lunch. We decided to check out this firewood pizza place suggested by a friend (hi, Paridhi) and ended up shopping at a local market nearby. We then headed to the Auroville Beach which is about 7 km from Auroville. After spending about an hour at the beach, we returned to the White Town, only to head to Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a place we’d been looking forward to visiting, followed by an evening stroll by the Promenade, probably the most crowded beach in Pondicherry and then dinner at Villa Shanti.
Immaculate Conception Cathedral – Serenity Beach – French War Memorial – Old Light House – Rock Beach – Cafe Crawl
We woke up early to go for a walk. Pondicherry is a town that can best be explored on foot. New rangoli was already put up outside every house. We could see a guy delivering the newspaper on a bicycle. A lot of curious ones like us were out on the street, looking for a coffee stall. We highly recommend you to do this as well. Just get up as early as 6 in the morning and step outside for a stroll. We stopped at a South Indian cafe because I was craving idli (breakfast part 1) after all that walking. Our breakfast part 2 was at the Baker Street again (yes, we were obsessed). We started our day by visiting Immaculate Conception Cathedral, which was built in the early 1790s. It is a beautiful structure painted white and gold and lies next to Archbishop’s residence.
After spending about a peaceful hour at the church we headed towards the Serenity Beach which was 5.5 km away. We decided to go to the beach in the morning because the weather was nice and these beaches particularly get very crowded in the evening. We then headed to Cafe des Arts for lunch. After entering, we realised that it wasn’t just a cafe. It was a cafe with a library and a vintage boutique. It probably is the most Instagrammed cafe in Pondicherry. We left the cafe after stuffing ourselves for 2 hours.
Most of the cafes in town remain shut from 4 pm to 7 pm and that gave us plenty of time to visit The French War Memorial, Old Light House and The Rock Beach. On our way back, we stopped by a couple of bookstores before the cafes opened again at 7 pm. We had planned to go cafe crawling and tried to cover as many as we could. We are just listing down a few that we visited and would recommend you to visit as well.
Cafe des Arts
The Traveller’s Café
Kasha Ki Aasha
Chunnambar – Paradise Beach – The Pondicherry Museum – Osudu Lake
The next morning, we had breakfast at our hotel and took an auto-ride to the other part of the city to get to Chunnambar. We took this 30-minute auto ride to get a steamer and visit the Paradise Beach. It was a 20-minute long boat ride that costs around Rs. 300 per person. They drop you at the Paradise beach and you can stay there for about 2 hours before heading back. This was the most beautiful and probably the cleanest beach we’d visited in Pondicherry. There were a couple of food stalls at the beach that mostly served Maggi and seafood.
After getting back to the white town, We visited The Pondicherry Museum on Saint Louis Street. The museum has an astonishing collection of sculptures from the Pallava and Chola dynasties. After lunch, we took another auto ride to the Osudu Lake, which is about 12 km from the white town. Osudu, also known as Ousteri, is a major attraction for birdwatchers as you can easily spot migratory birds flock during the season. We took an hour-long boat ride to witness a beautiful sunset, had dinner at a local food stall nearby and headed to the hotel.
1. Matrimandir has two types of visits, you can either collect an instant pass from the visitors’ centre to see the Mandir from outside (viewing point) or you can make a prior booking in person (at least 2 days in advance) to enter inside the Mandir.
2. You can rent a Moped for Rs. 200 and a scooter for Rs. 300 a day if you are not very keen to walk around.
3. Minimum charge for an auto ride is Rs. 50.
4. Stop by Mahabalipuram on your way and visit the ancient Shore Temple. It has a story to tell and I promise you’d love it.
5. Beaches in Pondicherry aren’t very Bikini friendly but hey, you can wear whatever you want to wear.
Budget (for two)
Flights for Delhi ⇄ Chennai: Rs. 18,000
Taxi from Chennai Airport ⇄ White town, Pondicherry: Rs. 5000
Hotel Coramandal Heritage: Rs. 2000 per night
Autorickshaw from White Town ⇄ Auroville: Rs. 500
Chunnambar Boat House, Boat ride ⇄ Paradise Beach: Rs. 300 per person
Food: Rs. 2200/day
Hotel Coramandal Heritage: http://www.hotelcoramandal.in
Le Dupleix: http://www.ledupleix.in/
Le Chateau: https://www.lechateau.co.in/
Villa Shanti: http://www.lavillashanti.com/en/
The Richmond Puducherry: http://www.theresidency.com/hotel/5/contact/the-richmond-puducherry