After a fantastic week in Bangalore, I took an overnight bus east, to the state of Tamil Nadu, where I spent 4 amazing days in the French colonial town turned union territory, Pondicherry (or Puducherry for locals). The Indian/French fusion vibe that the whole city took on was amazing, from the food to the language, everything was a unique mix of Tamil and French.
My bus arrived promptly at 6 AM, before the sun was up. As soon as I stepped off the bus, I could smell the ocean in the air. I was captivated. I decided to walk the 30 minutes from the bus stop to the beach, hoping to catch a sunrise. The further I walked, the more I felt transported to France, as white colonial buildings and villas lining the streets. I walked right through the French quarter to Rock Beach, where I stopped for a bit. It was a foggy morning, so I missed a great sunrise, but I had greatly enjoyed the walk.
I desperately craved a coffee, so I kept walking along the beach until I found Le Cafe, a 24-hour cafe right on Promenade Beach. I sipped my coffee and read for a bit, until I decided it was time to discover more of the city. I took a long walk through White Town, through Bharathi Park, which is a beautiful green space in the middle of the city, until I decided I needed to stop for another coffee. I found the most amazing French cafe called Hot Breads, where they had 40 Rupee Cappuccinos! I definitely made it back there several times throughout the week.
I finally decided it was time to make way to my hostel for the next few days, Gurukulam Hostel. It is a cute little hostel located in the French quarter, and I met the most amazing people there who I spent the next several days with! After settling in, I decided I wasn’t done exploring for the day, so I went to check out the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Aurobindo is very well known Indian philosopher who created an ashram and center in Pondicherry, and his teachings (as well as those of his colleague, the Mother) went on to found Auroville, an international city about 6 km north of Pondicherry that was created in 1968 to test human unity. The Ashram was a beautiful place, and I meditated there for awhile, before heading back out to further explore.
When it came time for dinner, I found a friend in my hostel who was craving the same thing I was: pizza. We went to Cafe Xtasi, famous in Pondicherry for their thin-crust brick-oven pizza, and it lived up to the hype. We were going to head back for an early night, but as we got to the street, we heard loud Christmas music. Then we literally saw a hoard of Santa Clauses coming towards us. I kid you not. It was a Santa Claus parade and we just had to follow it. We spontaneously joined the crowd, which led us back to Promenade Beach. There, the Santas dispersed and started to dance in front of a stage reading ‘Pondy Papa Wishes You Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.’ We found out it was all sponsored by a local Catholic church, and we throughly enjoyed the show.
We decided to continue walking along the Promenade in search of some gelato, but came across an art gallery instead. It featured paintings from every line of Aurobindo’s poetry. There was 600 paintings for just one book! It was absolutely beautiful! A French lady then came up to us and asked if we wanted to meet the artist, who was present! Of course we said yes, and next thing you know we are chatting away with an Italian man who only speaks Italian and French. Luckily, my friend was French, and she was an amazing translator. They asked us if we wanted to meet back up with them in an hour to continue discussing art, so we made the plan! We went and got our gelato, then met with the Italians at a local restaurant, where we discussed art and philosophy for a few hours. It was like something right out of a movie.
My second day in Pondicherry, I was sure nothing could top the first, but of course, I was wrong. My French friend spent the last two weeks volunteering in Auroville, so when I told her I wanted to go, she offered to come along and be my tour guide! We drove up, and as soon as I exited the rickshaw, I could feel the different vibes that Auroville had. The walkway to the visitor’s center was tree-lined and beautiful, and then the actual building itself was incredible. In order to see the Matrimandir, which is the Mother’s temple and highlight of Auroville, we had to watch a 10 minute video about the history of the international city.
The people who live in Auroville come from over 49 different countries- all to realize human diversity through unity. The idea behind Auroville is incredibly fascinating to me, and I was not let down when I got there. After the video, we gathered our viewing passes, and went along a 1km path to view the Matrimandir.
We were only able to view from a distance, and weren’t allowed into the peace gardens surrounding the Matrimandir. In order to be allowed in, you need to sign up several days in advance to ‘concentrate’ in the Matrimandir. Some of the information signs along the way gave me a strange feeling, like ‘the goal of human evolution is to reach perfection.’ Viewing the golden globe over perfectly manicured lawns bare of people gave me an eerie vibe. I don’t think I’d seen a single Aurovilian yet. Near the Matrimandir stood a Banyan tree, indicating the geographical center of Auroville. At first I was confused by this tree with seemingly too many trunks, but it just contributed to the weird feeling I got about Auroville.
We returned back to the visitor’s center and browsed the fancy boutiques and cafes, which seemed like a giant paradox to me. One of Auroville’s goals is to be a cashless society, yet here were at least 4 boutiques selling some of the most expensive clothes I’d seen in India so far. Auro products can be widely found in both Auroville and Pondicherry, and it seems as if ‘made in Auroville’ has become a major marketing tool. We sat down at the cafeteria for some yummy French and Indian food, and then decided it was time to go. The rest of my stay in Pondicherry I asked various people about Auroville, some loved it and some hated it, describing cult-like vibes. It certainly was an interesting place, and I’d love to go again and see it more in-depth.
After our trip to the international city, we were craving some beach time so we asked a driver to take us to Serenity Beach. He quoted an outrageous price, so we settled on Auro Beach and decided we’d just walk from there. Bad idea #1. Auro Beach was not as nice as we were expecting, it was small and littered with garbage, but we decided to walk along it anyway. Serenity Beach was about a 40 min walk to the south, and we decided the best way to do that was by walking along the water. Over rocks and trash we walked, in and out of water, until we got to a little cliff. We were at the bottom of it, walking along, when an Indian man at the top started to shout frantically at us. The tide was coming in, and soon the waves would reach the top of the cliff, completely drowning us. We began a full out sprint, trying to reach the other side before being dragged out to sea. We made it! However, we were completely covered in salt water and sand. On the bright side, we found lots of interesting sea shells along the way.
At Serenity Beach, we enjoyed the view of the fishing boats and various surfers, and decided we needed a coffee break. There was a little cafe overlooking the beach, though we had to hose off our sand before they would let us in. At the cafe, we ran into some of our other friends from the hostel, and I made plans to see Paradise Beach with them tomorrow!
We headed back to our hostel for a nap and then dinner at Pasta Bar Veneto, which was some mediocre pasta that did not fill me up enough, then we walked around in search of dessert, which we got at a chocolate cafe, and called it a day.
The next day, three of us from the hostel headed off to see Paradise Beach. They say it is only accessible by boat, but after a little research, we found out we could get an uber to take us right to the beach for much cheaper. WE had to walk a little bit when we got there, and pay a beach access fee, but it was well worth it. Paradise Beach was delightfully clean, with white sand, plenty of covered benches for sitting, and changing rooms. Due to a recent cyclone warning, we weren’t allowed past ankle deep in the water, but we were able to get a nice tan lounging on the sand. The beach had a lot less foreigners then I had anticipated, so we did stand out a bit, but it was a great time.
We decided to try and take the boat back to the mainland, which was a nice little ride across the backwaters. Back in Pondicherry, we met up with more hostel friends and headed to my favorite place, Hot Breads! We decided to buy a baguette and back at the hostel later on we attempted a bruschetta of sorts for dinner. For the afternoon we just walked throughout the city, resting on Promenade Beach for a bit.
For my last day in Pondicherry, I decided to just relax and spend the day visiting the street market, and the Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple, which supposedly has elephant blessings, but didn’t on that day. The temple inside was absolutely stunning though, and it is a must-see because photos aren’t allowed! I also had to get one last glimpse of the ocean before I left, so back to Promenade Beach it was.
I took the three hour SETC bus to Chennai, along with another hostel friend who was also leaving on the same day, for my flight from Chennai airport back to Pune. I absolutely loved every minute of my spontaneous Pondicherry trip, and if it taught me anything, it’s to live in the moment and say yes to new experiences. My amazing friends that I made at the hostel made my solo trip amazing, and it was everything I didn’t know I wanted. From meeting an Italian artist, to seeing Auroville, to joining a Christmas parade, Pondicherry was filled with unexpected delights that make it absolutely worth coming back to.