Pondicherry or Puducherry fondly referred to as Pondi, is a good place to be, in fact, exquisite, and has very nice and helpful people if you ignore a few. We had fixated our long due gal-pal trip destination on this most famous leisure heaven on the shores of Bay of Bengal. Pondicherry is easily accessible from Chennai and Bengaluru. Anisha, Harinakshi and I had made our itinerary clear. One of the criteria was “no temple and no church visits.” We have nothing against them; we were disinterested in them. So, you won’t get to read about temples and churches in my blog. Anyway, I don’t think people go there to pray. Welcome to the cheap booze and food nest! Welcome to India’s Eastern counterpart of Goa! Welcome to the French capital of India!
We had breakfast at PeepIn Bakery and Restaurants. The speciality of Pondicherry is you will find many bakeries that serve good food and have a place to sit and eat. We ordered Classic Chicken burgers and Chicken Sandwiches to eat along with lime juice and coffee to drink.
After filling our fuel tanks, we hired two two-wheelers and filled their fuel tanks too. Commuting by auto-rickshaws in Pondicherry is expensive as auto drivers will loot you in broad daylight. Commuting by local bus service is a nightmare. You better hire a two-wheeler, four-wheeler or bicycle. The best option is a road trip by your own vehicle to Pondicherry. We were lucky to get our hands on the last two two-wheelers in the rental shop on that Good Friday weekend.
On the morning of day one, we headed towards Auroville. It is about 15km from the city centre of Pondicherry. Google Maps doesn’t work well in Auroville, so heads up. A township that hosts people of various nationalities, Auroville restricts nobody looking for peace, spirituality and soul-searching. It propagates no religion, so we were happy being there. Founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa, a French lady referred to as the Mother by followers, residents of Auroville lead their day-to-day lives there based on the principles of Sri Aurobindo. The concept is to house people of different nationalities in peace and harmony. Of course, Auroville is also infamous for various reasons, but you don’t get to see them there as those reasons created no problem for anybody in and out of this township. You get the whole history or get to see the making of Auroville in a video, of 15-20 minutes duration, at the Visitor Centre.
All the tourists or those who want to stay and register for any course or activity there, have to report at the Visitor Centre. This is the commercial hub of the township where you find a cafe, restaurant, boutiques, booking and registration centres. I even found a bookshop here.
Me happy-happy! You can find shops that sell handmade products of expensive as well as affordable prices, pleasing everyone. But Auroville emphasises on basic necessities by providing restrooms there. I mean seriously! There are many public places where tourists and travellers have to control peeing and pooping, squirming in their spots unable to find decent toilets.
After watching the introductory video of Auroville, we got free passes to go to the viewing point of Matrimandir, the famed golden globe meditation and yoga hall, hidden from the eyes of the people who are too busy to even take a break.
To onlookers, Matrimandir appears to be majestic orb covered with many small golden orbs. It is more like a mother ship. If you stand at the viewing point, you won’t understand its significance and will probably just end up taking a lot of pictures trying to perfect your selfies. This is why the authorities there insist on you watching the introductory video before going to Matrimandir. It is said that soil from 124 nations and the then 23 states of India were brought and placed in a marble urn, still present near Matrimandir, during the foundation ceremony. This was a unique concept, nevertheless symbolised the idea of world peace. Matrimandir is about a kilometre from the Visitor Centre. After returning to the Visitor Centre, we had chapatis with vegetables and hummus along with a cold chocolate drink at a cafe.
Since we spent morning and noon at Auroville, we headed towards French colony, known as White Town, to enjoy the evening breeze at Mahatma Gandhi Beach.
As namesake, M G Road is found there. Pondicherry Museum, Raj Nivas, Lighthouse, French War Memorial and Mahatma Gandhi Memorial are all near M G Beach and in the White Town. We strolled on the beach and later went for dinner. This area has French architectural houses and probably some Anglo Indians still residing here. Maybe that is the reason it is called as French Colony. Since the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial is present there, the adjacent beach is called Mahatma Gandhi Beach.
Raj Nivas is the residence of Pondicherry’s Lieutenant Governor. Pondicherry is a Union Territory of India, thanks to French for finally disowning is officially. French War Memorial is a perfect dedication.
For dinner, we went to The Road MotoPub on De Bussy Street in White Town. It is a motorbike theme pub where sometimes live music is played. The pub’s manager accommodated us at the rooftop seating. Food and drinks tasted awesome. My taste buds are still tingling remembering those delicacies. Price is neither cheap not expensive; moderately priced food but the wait time is just too long. We had fish tawa fry and squid rings in white sauce.
I had Cosmopolitan with a rice-chicken combo, which was absolutely delicious, but I have forgotten the name.
On the morning of day two, we had a late breakfast of pongal, puri and doses at The New Ariya Bhavan, and drifting towards Paradise Beach.
This famed beach is about 6km from the main town of Pondicherry. That boat ride in Chunnambar backwaters is hyped ridiculously. If you have kids with you, who are pestering you saying “momma, dadda, boat-boat” only then opt for it. Going to that island by boat is nonsensical as the island is always crowded and you can hardly see the sand on its shores. Instead of the island, opt for the calm Paradise Beach on the other side, by the coconut grove. You can spend all your time sitting there or playing in the surprisingly clear water, and nobody will bother you, except for the heat.
Also, no what-the-fuck priced restaurants on this side of the beach, so no worries. Here we found Paradise Coastline Resort, which is actually a food serving shack.
I would really recommend relaxing and having lunch here instead of setting foot on that commercialised island of sorts. Good ambience and calmness helped us to relax for the first time on this vacation. The menu doesn’t have much, but whatever they serve is damn good. The owner of this place even got fresh prawns for us, cleaned it and served us Prawn 65. We had good and satisfying Piña Colada with masala fish fries and seafood penne. We had no mood to budge from there and sat there for about three hours.
From Paradise Beach, we went to check on Arikamedu, an archeologically important place because this was Greek and Roman trading place back in BCE eras. Not much to see there as the whole thing is in ruins, more than before it was discovered.
By the time we reached back the White Town, it was evening, and we wanted to go to a restaurant by name Rendezvous. Why this one specifically? Because we had read and heard a lot of good things about it. Also, we had missed out on getting a spot there on the previous night, so we were hell-bent on going there that evening. There’s no reserving of tables; only first come-first served basis. Run by an Indian couple, Rendezvous is a roof top restaurant and is perfect for a romantic evening.
Rendezvous opens at 6:30pm and has a happy cocktail hour up to 7:30pm, i.e. buy one cocktail and get another one free. After 7:30pm, cover charges of Rs.1000 would apply per head. We went in at sharp 6:30pm and the owners informed us that since we were one of the first customers for the evening, cover charges would be waived off us even if we sat there post 7:30pm. Yippe! We had first ordered one Screw Driver and one more came along with that. Harinakshi ordered Chocolate Baileys that looked yummy, so Anisha and I ordered for three more Chocolate Baileys. They came in the eatable chocolate shot “cups”.
You can say we ordered them more for the chocolate than for the shots. We drank our cocktails with golden deep fried calamari, prawn fries and shredded fish stir-fried with grated coconut.
For the main course, Harinakshi and I had chicken sizzlers and Anisha had her favourite Mangalorean fish curry with rice sumptuously.
They not only have a good ambience but also serve drinks and food in the way they are to be served with little delay. The best part is they have live music too, and the restaurant owners encourage you to take up karaoke if you want to meddle with the mic. Since we were not inebriated, after dinner we made our way back to the Mahatma Gandhi Beach, which was almost secluded by around 10:30pm. We sat at the beach for a long time until we felt we should head back to our hotel room.
On the morning of our last day of the trip, we checked out of our hotel rooms and had breakfast at Daily Bread. A few years ago, Daily Bread used to be where PeepIn was. We didn’t know where it was relocated. Harinakshi spotted Daily Bread when we were out shopping in White Town in the evening of our first day there. I have always been obsessed the chicken cotton blue served there, but it wasn’t on the breakfast menu. We sufficed ourselves with omelettes and toasts.
I had minced meat grilled sandwich and French crepe with grated coconut along with hot chocolate.
I wanted to eat more, but we were running short of time. We returned out vehicles to the rental shop and hired an auto-rickshaw to go to New Bus Stand of Pondicherry.
It was a 100km bus ride from Pondicherry to Mahabalipuram, previously known as Mamallapuram. We were exhausted by the time we even boarded the bus, so we all dozed off in turns. I had an inkling from my experiences from past trip that our bus might not go into the town of Mahabalipuram and drop us off at the highway. The same thing happened. As soon as we got down from the bus, an auto-rickshaw stopped behind us. Its driver said he will show us all the main places of Mahabalipuram and drop us off at the Shore Temple in the end, all for Rs.450/- Since we didn’t have enough time to explore the place by foot, we took this guy’s services.
Our driver-guide took us first to the Five Rathas. Here, you have to buy a ticket costing you Rs.10/- and this would get you any entry to the Shore temple as well. Supposed to resemble chariots, these carvings out of monolithic rocks are dedicated to Pandavas but have nothing to do with them or with Mahabharatha.
According to our guide, Pallavas, the rulers of this place back then, fancied a background story for every art of theirs. From the Five Rathas, we moved towards the old and the new lighthouses.
An ancient lighthouse of Pallavas, carved out of a huge boulder, stands majestically and must have served its purpose well in the olden days.
Our guide explained that people of those times burnt logs in the uppermost part so that the ships and boats could see the directions to the harbour or port. If you are wondering about burning logs, then I must specify that back in those days they didn’t have electricity or any other fuel except for wood. This is also an abandoned temple. Next to the old lighthouse is the new lighthouse that was built during colonialism.
You are allowed to go to the top of both the lighthouses. At the top of the new lighthouse, you get to see a gigantic modern lamp. If you go ahead from this new lighthouse, you get to see Mahishasuramardhini cave, which is a room.
In Mahabalipuram, you get to see a huge boulder balanced on a slope. It is called Butter Ball; maybe of Krishna, if the Pallavas were to be asked.
Our guide told that once seven elephants tried to move this boulder, but it wouldn’t budge. Nearby, you can find Pancha Pandavas Cave, Arjuna’s Penance and Krishna Mandapam.
We finally arrived at the Shore Temple. It is said that out of seven, six temples got washed away during Tsunami in 2004. Only one remains, and is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This makes my second trip to a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Anisha. First one was to Hampi. Narasimhavarma I of Pallava dynasty built Five Rathas and Narasimhavarman II built shore temples. There are many more places in Mahabalipuram to see.
As per our guide’s explanation, before Pallavas went on a war, they gave a great sacrifice at this place. Maha means great and Bali means sacrifice. Thus, Mahabalipuram. But there are stories of how it was Bali who founded this place. Anyway, Harinakshi and I had chicken biryani for lunch and Anisha went for a simple vegetarian meal at a small eatery opposite to the Mahabalipuram bus stop. Our bus back to Bengaluru was from Chennai. We left from Mahabalipuram accordingly.
Our bus tickets fare from Bengaluru to Pondicherry Rs.1020/- per head and felt slightly on a higher side for a Non AC sleeper bus by SRS Travels. We had boycotted auto-rickshaws there when it came to commuting in Pondicherry for sightseeing. Rent that we paid was Rs.1050/- per two-wheeler. This amount is the basic, irrespective of whether you take it for one, two or three days. Maybe it will cost more if you hire the vehicle for more than three days. And petrol expenses came to Rs.270/- per vehicle. Breakfast was about Rs.600/- for all three of us together on all three days. At Auroville, we had light lunch, and the bill came for about total Rs.500/-. Dinner at The Road MotoPub and Rendezvous, and lunch at the Paradise Coastline Resort were billed for somewhere between Rs.3000 and Rs.4000 at each place, but all were worth the expenses and time spent together there. Bus fare per head from Pondicherry to Mahabalipuram was Rs.100/- and the auto-guidance service in Mahabalipuram was for Rs.450/-. Lunch at Mahabalipuram was about Rs.150/- per head and bus fare from Mahabalipuram to Chennai was about Rs.150/- per head in an air-conditioned bus. Bus fare from Chennai to Bengaluru was Rs.846/- per head and was on the lesser side for an AC sleeper bus by KSRTC.
About where we stayed for day days and two nights in Pondicherry, Hotel Navarathna was a bad one. For a 3 people AC suite, they charged Rs.1450/- per day. Make it twice and we paid that for a neat room, but with a broken AC. Impolite hotel staff made it worse. Since we had planned this trip rather late, this was the only place we could find in the town for that long weekend of Good Friday. Don’t go here. Plan early and book a better hotel. In Mahabalipuram, we didn’t stay. Also, there are better options for restaurants in Mahabalipuram apart from the small eateries. On one of my trip to this place, I had a good lunch at a restaurant called Le Yogi, which is quite near to the Shore temple.
When you are leaving for Pondicherry and Mahabalipuram, don’t bother taking any clothes. Clothes and accessories are damn cheap, though of good quality, and you could buy all your requirements there rather than carrying a backpack from your home sweet home. Whatever you need to buy or eat and drink, and hire vehicles, go to Mission Street in White Town. Just carry a lot of sunscreen lotion with you.
Travelling with your best friends is always a beautiful thing to do. I have been on trips with random people and have been on a solo trip too. They all have their own advantages and disadvantages. But travelling with BFFs is a dream and a process that brings you all even closer than before though you bicker a lot. If you are planning to go to these places, then happy de-tanning in advance.