Pondicherry poses impressions of many different architectural styles – French, British, Tamilian and Islamic, all the empires which have exchanged hands in ruling over the city sometime in history. The sea dictates the city’s boundaries on one of the sides as the waves crash at the rocks on the Promenade Beach road which is swarmed by tourists and travelers round the year, Indians and foreigners alike. I grew much fond of it’s cold sea breeze swaying the tall palm trees which kept the lazy side of me entertained while I went biking and exploring around it’s churches and beaches. I had arrived in Pondicherry on the very eve of Christmas, saw the massively decorated churches celebrating masses in multiple languages and understood why it is the called the Christmas vacation destination in India. I spent around 5 days there with my best friend whose bike we rode all the 150 kms from Chennai. Here’s how we made the most of Pondicherry:
¶¶ Church Hopping on Christmas Eve ¶¶
We visited many a churches that night and the following day where the masses in different languages – Tamil, French and English were in procession in different churches – all well lit, beautifully decorated and of course, crowded.
¶¶ Meditation at Auroville ¶¶
I was absolutely blown by the beauty of Matrimandir, the inner concentration chamber at Auroville which promotes it’s world vision of unending education and spiritual research for all. Please note that visitor passes to Matrimandir are to be availed at least one day in advance and in person only. Chambers for meditation can be booked only thereafter. More info on their site here. We stayed in one of it’s dorms for 2 nights, interacted with folks from around the world, and learned from their experiences, some of who had stayed for over 3 months at Auroville while volunteering. We also crashed into a walk (and gave a sheepish laugh on getting caught later) at Solitude Farm inside Auroville, a sustainability project, and it was very interesting learning about different crops and the need to know where our food comes from and avoid the chemically treated stuff we keep ingesting!
¶¶ Heritage Walk Tour ¶¶
We went on a heritage walk tour around the by-lanes of Pondicherry learning about different buildings with architectural styles from the French. The Govt is hard at work in restoring the buildings to retain the gothic feeling which, however, is slowly giving in to commercialization, as evident in the number of hotels that have come up over time. To book the tour, we contacted the Tourist office at Promenade beach which gave us the number of the guy who organizes the tour.
¶¶ Camping at Paradise Beach ¶¶
Sheltered by the palm trees which prevented the otherwise flying away tent, we pitched it on Paradise beach which I had carried all the way from Hyderabad. We woke up to a beautiful sunrise from the sea just around the time the fishermen set on their duties.
¶¶ Bakery Time ¶¶
We relished some of the cakes and pastries from the bakeries Pondicherry is famous for. I personally also loved the Badam Milk at KBS Kofi Barr at the Promenade Beach.
¶¶ Hiking the Gingee Fort ¶¶
I had learned from a fellow travel blogger about this and the trip to Gingee was absolutely worthwhile. The 70 kms one way bike ride on the super smooth highway offered the beautifully green landscapes of Tamil Nadu, and the hike to it’s ruins was just as gorgeous. Built around the 9th century, the fort has proved its prowess to the scale that it earned the title ‘Troy of the East’ from the British. The seclusion of pillars at Venkatramana Temple in Gingee Fort gave us an explorer-like feeling, I would definitely recommend the temple visit.
If you’re planning a trip to Gingee, note that the to and fro bike ride and the hike consumes almost an entire day. We had also paid a visit to the National Fossil Wood Park (showcasing preserved fossils aged over 20 million years) in the Villupuram district on the way back, locating which was no less a deal. We had to show the image of the park from the Internet to have the locals guide us to the location!
¶¶ The East Coast Roadtrip: Chennai – Pondi – Chennai ¶¶
The roadtrip on the East Coast highway from Chennai to Pondicherry was very beautiful flanked by water bodies both sides – sea on one, and the backwaters on another! On our return, we also visited the ancient historic town of Mahabalipuram, an earlier sea port, now known for the rock cut monolithic temples. We also visited the Madras Crocodile Bank, the crocodile breeding centre just before entering Chennai and saw a gazillion crocs lazying around. Both of these points are on the highway itself, if you are planning a roadtrip.
And that’s how it was! For me, adventure started at home itself as I had arrived at Chennai too in style. Standing on the highway at Hyderabad, I was just making a placard to hitch-hike all the way when a bus conductor declared to be the last one on that route, but it was full. I gave company to the driver all night, arrived at Tirupati, walked a while, and hitch hiked again, with a biker this time and arrived in Chennai (with my tent) at 100 killometers an hour! One can of course book buses, trains, flights too.
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