India’s French Riviera - the Union Territory of Pondicherry, lies only 150km from Chennai. The former French colony was initially a trading point of Greeks and Romans. Although the French departed almost half a century ago, the flavour of France still lingers on through the imposing architecture, street names and the tastebud-tickling cuisine served in the many restaurants.
Pondicherry still feels like a piece of France and is tucked away along the eastern coast of India washed by the Bay of Bengal. ‘Pondi’, as it is affectionately called, is usually full of Europeans who work and live at Auroville, the experimental township 12 kilometres away. Pondicherry is more than just a place, it is like a state of mind with its beautiful boulevards, peaceful promenades and majestic mansions draped with colourful bougainvillaea.
Allow yourself at least a couple of days to enjoy this quaint town to the hilt. Of course, it’s likely that you will find yourself staying longer than you planned to soak in the spirit of Pondi. Another must-visit destination en route to Pondicherry is the temple town of Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram). Popularly known as ‘Mahabs’, it is renowned for its Shore Temple and the five Rathas (chariots), with the architectural ingenuity and talent immortalised in stone. Beautiful, smooth roads connect Chennai to Pondicherry with Mamallapuram midway and the short distances make this a trip one that can be done over a long weekend.
Though the weather is pleasant, May to July are swelteringly hot. The rains bring a welcome respite and the winters are divinely pleasant. Light clothing will do all year round except during the winter where you might feel the need for light woollens. Another thing you need to pack for Pondicherry is a good appetite, especially if you're fond of Continental and French cuisine. The restaurants pamper you with exotic dishes and don't be surprised if you chance upon the aroma of onion soup wafting out of a French window.
The best way to see Pondi is on foot or on hired bicycles. Early morning walks are recommended as the afternoons can get very hot. Also, ensure you carry sun block and a sun cap. If you plan to halt over at Mamallapuram, do remember to carry along mosquito repellent. Also, plenty of photo film and a polarising filter, as the sun can be very harsh.
Getting out of Chennai is a bit of a chore but the drive is simply superb. The East Coast Road (ECR) is known as the scenic beachway and runs along the sea, saltpans and rice fields. Though the road is a two-laner, it is neatly divided by 'cats-eyes' throughout and accurate signboards tell about the corners and crossings. The smooth, undamaged tarred surface tempts you to up the speed but some of the corners are tight and if you go into them at high speed there is very little you can do about changing your direction until you exit the corner. The traffic is generally well behaved and no one overtakes around the corners but you never know.
The road has emergency telephones at every two kilometres. In the event you have a breakdown or need assistance, all you have to do is open the phone box, pick up the receiver and talk to the operator. There are also a number of amusement and theme parks along the route which make for an enjoyable stop for lunch or tea.
Pondicherry is laid out into the east side and the west side by a now-covered canal. The east used to be the European side and the west Indian. As a result, the east side has more of a French influence.
Pick up the excellent map of Pondicherry available in most hotels before you begin exploring the town. The map contains a load of information and a detailed city map showing different restaurants and places of interest.
Pondicherry is very environment conscious and plastic bags are certainly frowned upon through they aren't banned (yet!). People are also very laidback, and expect them to take their own time in everything, especially in serving food in restaurants. Mind you, the superb food will make up for any delay.
Everyone in Pondicherry retires early and by 10pm the streets are pretty empty. Though it is safe to wander along Marine Drive after dark, do take precautions and avoid walking about alone.
Issue: 165 | May 2013
Access member only content, take part in discussions with comments on blogs, news and reviews and receive all the latest news and reviews straight to your inbox. Join now for free.
Processing registration... Please wait.
This process can take up to a minute to complete.
A confirmation email has been sent to your email address - SUPPLIED EMAIL HERE. Please click on the link in the email to verify your email address. You need to verify your email before you can start posting.
If you do not receive your confirmation email within the next few minutes, it may be because the email has been captured by a junk mail filter. Please ensure you add the domain @autocarindia.com to your white-listed senders.