Stay, Eat & See in Pondicherry by Priya Bala
Its present name is Puducheri, but everyone still calls it Pondy. The French colonialists have long departed, but Pondy is still very much a bit of France, sitting without any incongruity on the southern tip of Tamil Nadu.
Arrive in Pondy and you could well be in some part of Southern France under cloudless blue skies. Its architecture, grid-pattern streets, still called rues and avenues, and the very air have a distinct French air about them. Lovely white buildings surrounded by lush foliage and loaded with character line the streets. The city is quiet enough to cycle around in and invites you to while away the hours at some French-style cafe, drinking beer or wine and eating some very good food.
That’s the French quarter which hugs the Coromandel coast and has splendid sea views. On the other side of town, is the Indian quarter, with all the noise, bustle and colour of a Tamil Nadu town. It’s the blend of the two that gives Pondy its unique character.
Pondicherry’s other landmark is Auroville, a global community, created specifically for harmony and peace. If you feel inclined towards things spiritual then your Pondy trip will certainly involve time at Auroville and soaking in its sense of calm.
Up and down the coast from Pondicherry are lovely beaches and if you want sun, sea and sand then that’s easily found on a trip to Pondy.
Things to do in Pondicherry
Take a heritage walk: Walking through its quiet streets is one of the best ways to get a feel of the French Quarter of Pondy. Begin at the northern end of the Promenade, wander down, turn into the avenues and stroll gently, taking in the sights. Brochures suggesting trails are available at the tourism offices in Pondy. Hiring a cycle and seeing the town is a also a recommended activity.
Take an organized tour: The tourism dept organises tours of Pondy that take you to the water sport complex at Chunnambar, the Aurobindo Ashram and the Auroville paper factory, plus the temples and churches in the area – all full of history and legend.
Do yoga: The International Centre for Yoga Education and Research conducts long and short-term courses in yoga and meditation. Sign up, de-stress and watch your city blues dissolve.
Eat and drink: Pondy’s quaint mix of French and Indian restaurants makes it quite a hit with food lovers. It may not be quite gourmet class, but the lovely restaurants are great for relaxing over a meal of coq au vin or crepes. Drink is cheaper than in other parts of the country. Find a good spot and sip sundowners for the perfect end to your day in Pondy.
Shop: Visit Casablanca, the store by the Hidesign folks, and you can buy leather goods, apparel and other pretty artefacts. Auroville is a good place to buy hand-crafted products such as paper.
Where to Stay in Pondicherry
Promenade: This luxury hotel has a super setting, located right on the famous promenade, the heart of the French quarter and the place where all the action is. Sea-facing rooms are large and airy and offer great views. The infinity pool is an ideal spot for sundowners. You can also dine at Lighthouse, the restaurant that takes its name from this Pondy landmark.
Le Dupleix: Le Dupleix on Rue La Caserne is another small boutique hotel with a distinct French feel to it. It’s not far from the beach and is within easy reach of all the major tourist attractions. Well-equipped rooms will please the leisure traveller, while two speciality restaurants and a bar, are great for unwinding.
Hotel de L’Orient: This French mansion on Rue Romain Rolland dates back to 1760. It’s now a small luxury hotel operated by the Neemrana group. The rooms are full of character, furnished with artefacts and other pieces that smack of history. Dine at Carte Blanche, the French-style restaurant that makes clever use of Indian spices and ingredients to serve some gourmet fare.
Ajantha: Ajantha Seaview is not high on luxuries, but has a fab setting, facing the Bay of Bengal and the happening Promenade down below. This is possibly Pondy’s top budget accommodation option. Book in advance for its’s hugely in demand. The food is not fancy, but you’ll get a tasty prawn curry and rice meal here.
Eating in Pondichery
Rendezvous: Rendezvous is quite a Pondicherry landmark and a must-do even for the first time traveller to the place. The al fresco terrace is much in demand and is just the place for sipping on a cool drink, beer or breezer and tucking into some very satisfying fare. It’s a vast menu, but choose from the blackboard specials of the day. Look especially for lobster in butter sauce, swordfish steaks and other seafood dishes.
Seagull: Few places enjoy the sort of location that Seagull does. This bar and restaurant, run by the tourism dept, sits virtually at the water’s edge, with the waves just a few feet away. The food is ordinary and the service desultory, but you must spend a few hours drinking beer here for a true Pondy experience.
Satsanga: This is another Pondy favourite. Satsanga, set amidst greenery, is for French specials such as terrine of duck and calamari in white wine. Not gourmet style, but the food certainly hits the spot with its flavours and large portions.
Le Club: Le Club, run by the Alliance Francaise, is somewhere to practise your French with the very Indian waiting staff. This pleasant looking restaurant is good for French style food – from Chateaubriand steaks to grilled shrimp and coq au vin. And do round off with the chocolate fondant at this charming place.
Aurobindo Park Guest House: For simple, home-style dishes that are ideally suited to the budget traveller and the backpacker it’s the dining hall fo the Aurobindo Park Guest House. The large space offers pleasing sea views and meal timings are fixed. You can get a reasonably priced breakfast here and also value for money lunch and dinner. This is a good option for vegetarians as well.