Tucked away on the eastern coast of India is the languid town of Pondicherry, locally known as Pondi. Yes, parts of the city still have nostalgia-inducing influences of the colonial French era, and no, the coconut-seller does not reply to “Bonjour, ça va?”. But apart from the common perceptions and misconceptions, if I had to sum up the city in two very meaningful words, they would be: not Goa.
What’s the brouhaha all about?
The city is a remarkable blend of the Tamil and French ways of life. In addition to being the ultimate destination to chill-out, it also gives you the opportunity to embark on a spiritual pilgrimage.
What to look out for?
The cobbled roads, heritage walks, European-style architecture, streets with French appellations, palm-fringed beaches and promenades along the coast. But also, the bright yellow façades, cathedrals, spiritual centres, Franco-Tamilian ambience, local markets and lazing around over a book in artfully constructed cafés.
What about food cravings?
Scrumptious baguettes, freshly baked breads, French, European and Creole cuisine, eclectic range of local seafood, sinful confectionaries. And. That. Cup. Of. Coffee.
How do I get there?
Fly or take a train to Chennai. Take a bus or a cab to Pondicherry. If you have your own vehicle, take the East coast road and enjoy the 170-km stretch along the wonderfully inviting Bay of Bengal.
And what about the budget?
If it’s a getaway, anywhere between 4000 and 5000 INR per day including your meals and travel within the city. Otherwise, accommodation costs can head north, especially in the fancier city hotels. Homestays are an option.
Any travel tips?
Log on to the INTACH website to schedule your heritage walk well in advance. Renting a two-wheeler from local rent-a-bike services for travelling within the city is a popular option. But go for the primitive option. Walk your way through the city. It’s worth it!