Pondicherry is one of the most popular tourist places in the country and your India travel is not complete unless you have made a trip to Pondicherry, the Union Territory that still gives you a feel of the French culture left behind by the French colonialism. This writer had visited Pondicherry 19 years ago as a teenager and it was fun to revisit the place though a lot had changed and we could recall very little from what we had seen during that trip.
The “old man” of Pondicherry
From Arikamedu we arrived at Pondicherry very eager to catch a bite, we checked the internet for restaurant suggestions and went in search of the highly recommended Maison Perumal. The hotel is actually a heritage building restored and converted into a hotel, it has a lovely old world charm and would be a great dining experience, except it was late afternoon and the restaurant would only open for dinner. Not wanting to waste any more time searching for places to eat, we went to the very popular “Le Cafe”, one of the oldest landmarks of Pondicherry.
This 24 hour cafe seaside was originally a Port Office under the French rule in the 1790s. You have to atleast have a coffee at this cafe, the food is kind of alright and the service is not something to write about but being a part of Pondicherry’s history, one has to spend some time here. Munching away watching the sea at this typical French style cafe in India, is a unique experience. The food is mostly French cuisine, we tried some Lasagna for the first time, when you are a foodie, you tend to like any kind of food. After the trip to Paradise Beach and Arikamedu, the one hour spent at the cafe relaxing by the sea was refreshing. We recalled memories of visiting this cafe with our parents way back in 1998.
Pondicherry through our lens
From Le Cafe, we walked a bit along the Promenade Beach road, here and there you can spot a building belonging to the French colonial period. The walk on the Beach road, enjoying the cool sea breeze, admiring the colonial era buildings is one of the basic things to do on a trip to Pondicherry.
The next plan was to pay a visit to the doll museum, we had read about it on the internet and thought the kids would like it but turned out that the doll museum no longer existed, instead we made a visit to the Pondicherry Museum. The Museum is not very big but has some real treasure of exhibits, especially the Arikamedu gallery which had exhibits found during the excavations at Arikamedu. Having visited the place only an hour before, we found it exciting to see the items of trade that Arikamedu was famous for in the ancient times.
We then visited the Aurobindo Ashram, probably the most important place in Pondicherry. Absolute silence and self introspection is what we experienced at Aurobindo Ashram. Since we had kids along with us, we did not spend much time here because, you cannot expect kids to stay still and maintain silence for too long. As the kids began to giggle, we hurried out of the Ashram. Photography is not allowed near the Ashram, so we cannot bring you pictures from there.
The road leading to the Ashram will make you feel like you have been transported to somewhere in France ! The lanes and buildings are so typically French.
We were impressed with the cleanliness of these roads and the discipline. We spotted some very old foreigners cycling through the lanes, one particular gentleman must have been in his 80s ! At 37, this writer hasn’t learnt to ride a bi-cycle yet, the old man had left us in awe.
Evening was setting in, we wanted to be nice to the kids who had been very co-operative throughout the trip and decided to take them to Bharati Government Park to play around. While the kids with their parents were dropped off at the park, the rest of us took a long walk to explore the lanes of Pondicherry.
After 6 PM, the Promenade Beach road is off limits for vehicles, so we had to park our car at the old Port which has now been converted into a parking lot. From there, we could see another famous landmark of Pondicherry, the old pier adjoining the port.
We climbed the rocks along the shore and watched the waves crash onto the pillars of the pier. From this vantage point, we could see Promenade road and the skyline of Pondicherry.
When you are having a good time on a beautiful evening like this one, coffee is a must, so we took another pleasant walk along the beach road, we don’t think anybody would get bored of walking up and down this road !
It was getting dark as we strolled on the bye lanes in search of a cafe. We found some of the streets with French names like this one.
Walking through some of the streets in Pondicherry, you will begin to believe that you really are in some part of France !
We stopped for coffee at cafe that we spotted on one of the streets it had a nice roof top coffee shop. We forgot to note the name, that’s how randomly we walked into it ! We sipped our coffee, talked, watched the sky grow darker, the lights come on and people going by their business.
The evening was perfect. We loved the feel of Pondicherry so much that we decided our next trip would be atleast for a week !
We walked back to our car at the old port parking lot and picked up the rest of the family, who too had an enjoyable walk from Bharathiar Park to the port area. It was time to call it a day but the kids wanted one more round of play and so we took them back to the beach near the pier which had some rusty swings, see-saw and merry-go-round for kids to play.
It was 7.30 PM and time for an early dinner and someone suggested that we try another popular eatery, Villa Shanti. When we reached the place, we were surprised to find the place already full and they wouldn’t entertain guests without prior reservation. Villa Shanti is a fine dining restaurant and is usually full unless you book your table in advance. We were told the place is a must try for French cuisine.
We then decided to head towards our resort and find a restaurant on the way, we were delighted to find a Chettinad restaurant and stuffed ourselves with Chettinad Biriyani. Our day was made !
We retired to our resort with the kind of contentment and happiness that only travel can give you.
- Le Cafe serves mostly French cuisine, coffee, ice creams and the like. Do not go there hoping to find a South Indian meal or tiffins !
- Pondicherry Museum is open between 10 AM and 5 PM, Monday is a holiday. It is a small museum but worth a visit for the Arikamedu exhibits, especially if you follow history.
- Promenade Beach road is closed for vehicular traffic after 6 PM. You will either have to park in the adjoining streets or the best option would be to park in the old port parking lot.
- Almost all streets of Pondicherry have cafes and coffee shops, find a roof top one and spend some time here taking in the culture of Pondicherry.
- We suppose you can rent cycles/bikes, though we have no idea where to find rental shops. You can find information on the internet. Otherwise, walking is a great idea.
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