Through timeless, unknown lands,
Wander like a dandelion set free.
For it will tire you, drain you and at times irritate,
Yet, with memories, it will water your soul's eternal tree.
The best thing about day trips is there is almost no planning involved. The second best thing about them is that you don't have to carry a heavy bag. If there is one sure way to feel like a free spirit, it surely involves an unplanned trip to somewhere slightly far away. For once, abandon your life the way it is and do something different.
Making a trip to Pondicherry from Bangalore is a very straightforward affair as far as planning a trip is concerned. You could take one of the many buses that ply between the two cities every evening. Or you could take the one train that goes to Pondi once every week from Bangalore. Yes, it is a longer journey and yes the train stops for every possible excuse. Also, it is usually late. So, if your agenda is to see as much of Pondi as possible, pick the bus. But if the idea is to spend a relaxed day out, do take the train. It leaves on a Friday night, around 11. The return train is at 10PM on Saturday, making it ideal for planning a day trip- you get twelve full hours in the city. We took the train and it reached Pondi at 10AM the next day. Sensing time being lost, we changed and had breakfast on the train itself- all six of us.
The road right outside the railway station is called Subbaiya Salai or South Boulevard. The first thing we did was follow that road away from the beach. We reached the Sacred Heart Church which is by all means an architectural marvel worth seeing. We spent some time praying inside as it was very calm in contrast to the road outside.
We then paid a visit to the Aquarium- it is inside the Botanical Gardens complex. You can get here by following the same road, away from the beach. Time in the aquarium was well spent as there were some exotic fish worth seeing. It also helped that we got to be indoors for a while considering the sun was blazing with full force.
We then started walking in the opposite direction and arrived at the French part of the town. Now, every building here is painted white (almost) and the construction is all quaint and villa-ish. In other words, it is extremely beautiful. The end of the road brought us to the statue of Dupleix- the Governer of the French establishment in India way back in 1742. From there, one cannot miss the beach road. It is all rocky but we did go down them a bit, and had the time of our lives. This place was surprisingly cooler and very windy- how could we leave? Many, many pictures later, we decided that we needed to eat.
Wandering onto Mission Street and the many lanes it leads to brought us to Veneto. The ambiance and general atmosphere at Veneto is like a small, rustic settlement in Italy. They've gotten everything covered right down to the walls. The food was good, but I doubt its authenticity. The food didn't do justice to the huge fan following that Italian cuisine has- many a chef's illustrious careers were built out of making Italian food. The food here is just passable for Italian- and the garlic bread was at least five days old. If you really want to taste some authentic Italian, head out to Don Giovanni on Mission Street instead. We heard it is expensive but I have a feeling it would be worth the money. We then headed to Zuka on Mission Street for some of the best chocolates and desserts I have had in a while. Do not miss this one!
After all the extra travel and walking it involved, Auroville was a thorough disappointment. The highly popular meditation hall is closed for public viewing except early in the day. Shopping inside Auroville is unnecessarily expensive. Also, once you are outside the town limits (Auroville is on the ECR), be prepared to face all sorts of lewd comments from just about everyone. That we were a group of six fairly well built people didn’t deter other visitors from passing comments and displaying stupid antics. It is sad that while the locals are respectful and nice, it is the visitors who unnecessarily spoil Pondi’s tranquility. And before you ask, we were fully clothed. Avoid the beach in the area- somehow here, the men strip down to nothing and it still is the women who get harassed.
By sunset, we got back to beach road in the town. We took a walk to Raj Nivas which was beautifully decorated (it being Republic Day). While walking back, we got to see the lighthouse. Some more time was well spent here, after which we walked to Baker Street- a well renowned boulangerie on Bussy Street. Baker Street is where dessert lovers go after they die. The sheer variety of food will make you faint. We tried some macaroons, chocolate éclairs, brownies, puff pastries with all sorts of fillings and the signature French dessert- Galette des Rois, or Three Kings’ Cake. I’ll do a detailed post on it later. Avoid the savoury items here as they are exorbitantly priced and not worth the money.
The Beach Road at Moon-rise
By now, it was time to leave. We shopped for some candles and incense at an exhibition and dragged our feet back to the Railway station. Yes, we missed several places (like the Museum which I really wanted to see, and the Ashram). Yes, we were dead tired by them time we boarded the train. But none of that mattered because we had a great time! I’d never replace that day trip with anything.
If you don’t particularly enjoy summers, avoid going here after February and upto May. Any other time is just fine while October- December is advised. Depending on whether you want a heritage holiday or a beachside one, you may have to add/omit some places from your itinerary. Do eat at as many places as you can. Grab a guide from one of the eateries you visit- they are free.
Explore Pondicherry by foot, and you will find things to do and eat that you would have missed otherwise. By all means, don't go here with a plan, just go. Pondicherry knows how to make you fall in love with it.