Quaint coastal bylanes of Puducherry

There are an infinite reason why we call India as an Incredible India. Beside numerous festivals, God and Goddesses, languages, architecture and faith, India still have the remains of foreign lands such as British, Portuguese and French which has been preserved since many years. I am convinced by now that yellow (my fave color!!) is not represent a dirty fellow, but it is a color represents ‘extreme stage of happiness’. I found these colors in Goa, Kolkata and now in Puducherry too! Puducherry, previously known as Pondicherry (locals call it Pondi) and if you are from 90’s you still be calling Mumbai as Bombay and Kolkata as Calcutta because cities name change, emotions doesn’t 🙂

Puducherry is appx 160 kms from Chennai and I took morning 08:00 AM train from Chennai to Villupuram, a 2 hours journey. Villupuram is appx 38 kms to Puducherry, an hour taxi drive (charges vary, appx INR 1000). Though Puducherry have railway station but the train timings are in odd hours. The best way to see Puducherry and its surrounding areas is by renting out a bicycle or two wheeler. Within city, walking is great option as many sights are within 2-3 kilometers of each other. Believe it or not, one can complete Puducherry in a 3 days. Yes! you read that right 🙂 3 days!! As well here, the architecture is French, the road signs are in French (along with English and Tamil), a lot of people speak fluent French and most restaurants serve steak and wine!

Britishers left their major traces in (south) Mumbai and Kolkata. Goa inhabitant still have Portuguese touch. While in Pondi, you will find French have left an entire mini town, beautiful Bordeaux in India and there is another an experimental township where religion, politics and money doesn’t exists – Auroville. Auroville believes in the service of truth, beyond religious conviction. There is a temple at the centre of the township called “Matrimandir”. It is of spiritual significance for those who practice Integral yoga and doesn’t belong to any particular religion or sect.

Constitutionally, Pondicherry is a collective name given to the districts of Pondicherry, Karaikal, Yanam, and Mahe. All these are former enclaves of French India. The French having made Pondicherry their home, over the years, have infused South Indian culture with their own unique heritage. Pondicherry did not merge with Madras (now: Chennai in Tamil Nadu) but instead remained as a Union Territory.

I am still in awe and desperately want to go back to Pondi someday soon. You definitely cannot compare any part of India in terms of beauty and architecture. Each corner of India have beauty of it’s own. One of the best things about Pondicherry is the beaches. There are 4 main beaches: Promenade beach, Paradise beach, Auroville beach and Serenity beach. As well the beaches here are clean, but be careful from mud crabs 🙂

LIST OF ALL THE THINGS YOU CAN DO IN PONDICHERRY:

  1. White Town: A little French Quarter in India.
  2. Raj Niwas: the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry.
  3. Promenade Beach: Do not miss the breathtaking sunrise. Walk along the sea front (practically, a long walk which never makes you tired). Witness the vintage Light House.
  4. Serenity Beach: Catch the wave! Learn surfing here.
  5. Paradise Beach and Chunnambar Boat house: Slow sea gazing and thrilling water activities. Go boating in the backwaters; take a boat to the Paradise Beach which is an island beach ideal of relaxing, and enjoy a picnic surrounded by waters. Chunnambar also offers tree houses for overnight stays, and a restaurant for meals and snacks.
  6. Ousteri Lake: The ultimate place for bird watching.
  7. Botanical Garden: This is where many scenes from ‘Life of Pi’ movie were shot. That aside it is a very well maintained park. A flower show is conducted every year attracting large crowds.
  8. Temple Adventures Centre: One place shot in Pondi to experience the thrill of Scuba Diving.
  9. Sri Aurobindo Ashram: Spiritual community. Meditate in the calming surroundings.
  10. Auroville: Find your inner peace.
  11. Temples and Churches: Seek blessings. Marvel architecture will trick you.
  12. Sita Cultural Centre: Discover through various classes and workshops the arts and culture with a specific emphasis on South Indian Arts.
  13. Cafés/Restaurants: Villa Shanti, Café des Arts, Café Xtasi, Le Dupleix, Tanto Pizzeria, La Marée, Surguru, La Villa, Le Chateau, Les Chef, Carte Blanche, A2B – Adyar Ananda Bhavan, Bay of Buddha, Rendezvous, Blue Line.

It was 4 days of Birthday getaway for mom and me. All we did were either strolling around or walk as much as we can. Air here is so good that you will start hate city life and plan to shift here. The spirit of this town lies in its humility to welcome people with warm embraces and to treat them like their own. The aura of Pondi drifts around striving to capture the attention of its visitors. Pondicherry is famous for its spiritual culture, which reflects in the way of life of its inhabitants. Clearly after 09:00 PM the only lively place is the Promenade.

LE DUPLEIX

It was May 2016, my birthday month and after a good research on google I found my stay at Le Dupleix, an old fashion unique French boutique heritage stay located at White Town area and 10  mins walk (400 meters) to the Rock Beach beach promenade. It is an 18th century French colonial villa, originally built for the “Maire” Mayor of Pondicherry. Now restored and modernized the hotel is an architectural masterpiece showcasing the life of the 18th century French Governor Marquis Joseph-Francois Dupleix. To be believed there is an old big mango tree here in the centre of the place, probably 100+ yrs old and still standing tall, still produce fruit.

morning 6 am view || the mango tree
view from the room

This place is a gem found! Managed by Sarovar Hotels, each corners have such a beautiful details that you really don’t want to leave the place. I still miss the cozy seating verandah, indoor mini water fountain which was soothing relaxation, a zen moment.

Costing between INR 3500 – 4000 per night for a deluxe room which gives you the kinda finest luxury as well relax environment you want.  Le Dupleix offers 14 Rooms and is a fusion between the rich, colonial heritage and a strong spiritual base. Meet Mr. Adam Oberoi here, one of the humble human I met the time I entered Le Dupleix.

colonial heritage vibe

Le Dupleix Courtyard Restaurant have an attentive service, serving authentic yet sumptuous down to earth food and experience to cherish remind us that eating is an essential element of a journey.

The first Bar in town, the Governor’s Lounge in Le Dupleix is an exciting place to spend some time catching up with people as you enjoy some of the best wines and cocktails served. With an energetic ambiance and charged-up style, the place is ever refreshing.

courtyard restaurant
South Indian filter coffee
breakfast

PROMENADE PONDICHERRY – HISEDIGN HOTEL

Le Dupleix have its sister hotel exactly facing the Promenade — Promenade Pondicherry – Hidesign Hotel. If you are high on budget and wish to witness the sunrise from your cozy bed, this is the place you should consider! They have restaurant named “Blue Line” which serves amazing grilled prawn ❤ . It also have flawlessly arranged patio overlooking the ocean with Victorian iron blue design chairs.

WHITE TOWN

This is where the vibe of the city lies. This part of the city is very contrastingly different from the other side of the city. The architecture of the entire town is a breath of fresh air. Just take a walk around here. The Boulevard is one of its kind, series of shaded cobbled streets lined with colonial houses. Most of them in the hues of white, grey, and yellow surrounded by the promenade on one side, and typical bustling streets of south India on the other.

i) Rock Beach and the Promenade: One of the treasure of Pondi. This is the place where you need to drag yourself back to the hotel. It’s a place where locals come for their morning and evening walks. The police shuts down the road everyday from evening 06:00 PM to next morning 07:30 AM for vehicles. All you see is huge promenade where you can stroll carefree. The pavement is clean, lined with trees, benches, and free of traffic is just a dream.

It is still fresh in my memory. Morning 05:30 ish when we rush from hotel to promenade to witness the gorgeous sunrise. This is the place where you will find yourself relaxing to the soothing sea breeze.

ii) Old Lighthouse: The 19th Century Old Lighthouse is located just opposite to the famous Gandhi Statue on the Beach Road in Pondicherry. The engineer of the project, Louis Guerre laid the foundation of this Lighthouse in 1835. The lighthouse is 29 meters high. Its round tower sits on a square base with a foundation 9 meters deep to stabilize the sandy ground on which it was built. However, the beacon had not arrived from France so the lighthouse was not operational until July 1836. The light house was considered to be quite modern for that time with its unique structure. Its light beam could be seen from a distance of 15 miles. The light source consisted of six oil lamps and two reflectors. The light source was converted to electric lamps in 1913. The new lamp had a range of 26 nautical miles. The lighthouse was shut down in the year 1979.

The abandoned Lighthouse is presently serving as a converted museum and is touted as one of the top tourist sites in Pondicherry. The space in front of the Lighthouse is used for various commercial, musical and cultural activities.

iii) French War Memorial: French War Memorial on Goubert Avenue is a memory of brave soldiers who laid down their lives, for their country during the First World War.

iv) Mahatma Gandhi Statue: The Statue of Mahatma Gandhi is located on the beach front of Pondicherry. Built by the famous sculptor Roy Choudhary from Madras School of Art and Crafts, it is one of the major landmarks in Pondicherry. It is surrounded by eight exquisitely carved monolithic granite pillars which were brought from Gingee Fort. The statue stands 4 m (13 feet) high is the 3rd biggest Mahatma Gandhi statue. It was inaugurated on January 26, 1965. The square in front of the statue referred to as Gandhi Thidal, plays host to various cultural and musical activities through the year. There is a tunnel below the Gandhi statue which is believed to be leading to Gingee Fort. There were some efforts to explore the tunnel. But, after a few people died of suffocation, the tunnel was closed.

v) Raj Niwas: The Government House (Raj Nivas) is a harmonious blend of French and Indian style architecture. It was once the location of the Hotel de la Compagnie (the French trading company that ruled in Puducherry from its first settlement in 1674 until the French government took over in 1769) and later played host to Dupleix. It is now the Lieutenant Governor’s residence. It is not open to the general public except on Republic Day on 26th January, when it is adorned with lights and looks rather impressive. One can however get a glimpse of the grandeur within, through the tall imposing gates which are guarded by red ‘kepi’ adorning police guards.

TEMPLES

Pondi, the former French colony’s association with temples goes back a long way and some of these temples trace their origins to the 10th century AD. This small town with an interesting blend of French and Indian heritages is sprinkled with magnificent temples that are known as much for their religious significance as for their architectural beauty. Amidst the colonial era vibe and bohemian chic, these shrines paint a very different picture of Pondicherry.

Dravidian style of architecture

9 Must-Visit Temples in Pondicherry:
1. Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple
2. Vedapureeswarar Temple
3. Varadaraja Perumal Temple
4. Kamakshi Amman Temple
5. Sri Gokilambal Thirukameswar Temple
6. Sithananda Swamy Temple
7. Irumbai Shiva Temple
8. Panchavati Anjaneya Temple
9. Navagraha Temple

The Kanninga Parameswari Temple architecture is a blend of Deccan and French styles combine to create a stunning specimen. Its dedicated to Lord Shakti. The sanctum ceilings depict a typical Deccan architectural craftsmanship with Tamil type motifs on the pillars whereas the walls with heavenly creatures adorning them and stained glass panes paint the French culture contribution.

IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CATHEDRAL

Constructed almost 300+ yrs ago, Immaculate Conception Cathedral is the cathedral mother church for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Pondicherry and Cuddalore. It is also known as “Samba Kovil”, which is a phonetic corruption of “Saint Paul’s Kovil” where “Kovil” means church. This church have breathtaking architecture. Built in the Portuguese style and the residence of the Bishop.

OUR LADY OF ANGELS CHURCH (EGLISE DE NOTRE DAME DES ANGES)

Our Lady of Angels Church is the fourth oldest church in Pondi. You can also call it the church of Our Lady of Angels; the church is beautifully sited at the peaceful corner of two famous streets – Surcoof and Dumas Street. The original structure was built in Greco Roman architecture by Napolean III in 1855, with the architect being Louis Guerre. It is the only church that offers mass prayer every Sunday in three languages French, Tamil and English. This church is the best example of Greco-Roman style architecture with two tall towers when seen from the front and a dome over the main altar.

The structure of the church, bears likeness to the Basilica at Lourdes (southern France). It is simply awe-inspiring. Before you enter the church, pray to the Mother Mary holding young Jesus in her arms. Inside the church, marvel at the architecture.

VILLA SHANTI 

Hidden behind a discreet façade in the heart of the old French town, Villa Shanti is a 15 rooms and suites boutique hotel with a restaurant, a café bar and The Little Big Shop. Additionally, room guest can enjoy the Well Being Hut for well deserved massages. The rooms are built around an inner courtyard with a vertical garden and all have natural light. Located in the new wing, they fit perfectly into the building’s architecture, mid colonial, mid modern.

The restaurant offers fresh, simple and original recipe from India and elsewhere. The menu consists of vegetarian and non vegetarian dishes and chef’s daily new creations for every taste and pallets. One must try some signature dishes like tuna tart, grille fresh barracuda, Dhal Mezaz. The products are availed from the local farms and freshly procured by the chef himself daily. One can dine under a minimalistic ally covered restaurant area or in an open space under the stars beside the lush vertical garden. The bar is well stocked with choicest of liquors & wines.

SHRI AUROBINDO ASHRAM

The ashram was founded by Sri Aurobindo in 1926 when he decided to withdraw from public view and continue with his spiritual growth. The place is now visited by thousands of spiritual seekers from all over the world. If inner peace is what you seek, this is where you should be headed. The ashram gives a lot of importance to yoga as it helps in transforming body and mind. The ashram is also responsible for founding the concept of peaceful co-existence in a township, Auroville (read next!).

Photography is not allowed here. Visit the library to know/read more about it. They have huge collections of postcards to take back.

AUROVILLE – THE CITY OF DAWN

Transcending money, politics and religion, welcome to Auroville, the City of Dawn.

Mirra Alfassa (born Blanche Rachel Mirra Alfassa), known to her followers as The Mother, was the spiritual partner of Aurobindo, philosopher, yogi, guru and a leader of the independence movement. Throughout, their work together had been to uplift humanity to a further level of consciousness. For this, they envisaged the setting up of an ideal town. The Mother was 90 when she started work with architect Roger Anger to chalk out a city plan for 50,000 people. Auroville must be at the service of the Truth, beyond all social, political and religious convictions. The ‘universal town’ would not be just a development project, but an evolutionary experiment.

Finally, on February 28, 1968, over 5,000 people from across the world clambered up the dusty plateau and gathered in an open amphitheatre next to the banyan tree. The Mother read from The Auroville Charter and the city of the future was born. “Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.”

People who inhabit Auroville come from around 50 nations, hailing from all age groups, social classes, cultures and backgrounds. In short, Auroville represents humanity as a whole. Its population currently stands at close to 2,400 people. This place is pure bliss! Hard enough to drag yourself out of here. The vibe here is so good, strong and full of miracles.

Auroville runs without a hierarchical order. It is controlled by an assembly that comprises of every adult resident. Imagine a township being ran by an assembly of 900-odd members, hailing from different cultures, who at times do not even understand one another! Despite the community’s internal struggles, it flourishes almost as an independent nation!

“There won’t be any exchange of money in Auroville. It is only with the outside world that Auroville will have money relations. Money will be no more the Sovereign Lord; individual value will have a greater importance than the value due to material wealth and social position.” — The Mother.

P.S.: There is a concept of Aurocard in this town.

Auroville has its own architecture and town planning bureau. It has archival facilities, research institutions, an auditorium, 40-odd industries, restaurants, farms, guesthouses etc! It even has a high density of computers, a dedicated e-mail network (auronet) for the residents.

MATRIMANDIR – BANYAN TREE: Some 50+ years ago, on a vast, barren plateau north of Pondicherry, a lone, young banyan tree stood guard. It seemed to be waiting for something. Then one day, someone hammered a nail into its trunk to hang up an advertisement. Lore has it that the banyan tree sent out an SOS and it was received by the Mother in Sri Aurobindo Ashram. She immediately sent someone to check, and the place she had been looking for was found soon she would start a city near that banyan tree.

AUROVILLE GUESTHOUSE: Auroville has plenty of guesthouses you can stay at during your visit. They’re cheaper than staying in a hotel and because they’re run by the residents of Auroville you get a chance to see what Auroville is like as a local. Stay under a canopy of trees and flowers. You can book it HERE.

IMP: Auroville guesthouses need to be booked in advance because they are always in demand!

While coming back from Auroville, we found this little gem Hotel Mango Hill by Poppys. An eco-friendly hotel with amazing greens around. In the middle of pool they have small mango tree. If you have time, pay a visit. Munch on some snacks. Sip a coffee and have a lazy time by yourself.

Well, it’s Sunday morning and I hope I make it worth 🙂 Heading for cyanotype workshop at The Project Cafe, and will let you guys know about it in next blog! Hasta la vista.

Pin this for “Quaint coastal bylanes of Puducherry” for later!

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