Pondichery - A Colonial Paradise

Jun 18, 2010 

As the footprints of the colonial past began to emerge , the rulers of erstwhile India did leave a lot of everlasting treasures. Lying on the edge of the Indian east coast, a small yet picturesque territory of Pondicherry along India’s east coast beckons the bagpacker. Governed as a Union Territory, the small town reminds you of how a town can progress into the future keeping intact its rich heritage. ‘ Pondy ‘(as it is fondly called ) was colonised by the French during India’s freedom struggle. 

Getting there : Train routes take you to Pondicherry from Chennai. Although there are trains directly to here, it is advisable to reach Villupuram station 36 km away and then take a bus ride which would take close to three hours to reach destination. You can reach by Air too. 
Get busy at Pondy:  Sri Aurobindo Ghosh , a divine leader and ‘guru’ for many a bengali community is said to have migrated from Kolkata , with a mission of spreading peace and brotherhood. He apparently blessed pondy with his ashram. The Aurobindo cult continues even as generations pass by. 

Apart from the spiritual aspect , pondy has many other spots to make your trip worthwhile. A typical street in this town is lined with shops of all types. It is here you can see the tamilian human specie dressed in white ‘lungi. Shop to your heart’s content as up market shops sell lamp-shades, carpets, dresses, shoes and anything you can think off, while the smaller shops deal in simpler items.

A walk along the beach road in the evenings and you observe that most of structures you see in pondicherry have a stamp of french architecture on them. The minute you hit the main attraction which is the beach-side road, makes you want to think , you’re in some fun-fair. As  the sun slowly drowns into the ocean , the entire town descends on this 5 km stretch. It’s as if some unwritten norm or a party where everybody is invited anytime, just to de-stress by the Bay Of Bengal. Families , hawkers, young, old, tourists ,officials and scores of others can be seen enjoying the sea breeze. Alongside one stretch of this road, stands structures built in french architecture. What used to be the power house of the french rule is now the political centre of governance in Pondicherry. 

Explore: For one to explore the place, the government run tourism department offers you two options. The half and full day tours by a bus provided by the Pondicherry Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) begins at 2.00 p.m. and 8 a.m. respectively. They cost only Rs 100 for full and Rs 80 for the half day , but its all worth it. Entry into the Government museum is Rs 2!

One spot you cannot return home without experiencing is the nerve center of pondy’s spirituality. Auroville , a gigantic spherical temple which symbolises the ‘City Of Dawn’. It is said to be the center of international harmony in the future. The constrcution of this global structure began in 1968 but is strangely still incomplete. Inside is housed the single largest crystal in the world and on entering , you experience utter silence. Huge gold plates cover the outisde of it. En-route to Auroville you come across streets lined woth palm trees on both sides and also at the entrance, a huge banyan tree to swing on. 

Where to stay : Numerous lodges all around the town offer single and double rooms for Rs 200 onwards. There are also five and three star hotels. But one of the more popular options amongst aurobindo’s followers are the guest houses. One guest house is as huge as a hotel and and rooms need to be booked well in advance, you could visit the Sri Aurobindo ashram website for details. The also have a dormitory , seperately for men and women. Probably the cheapest rent for a bed , as little as Rs 20 per day is here at pondy’s dormitory. But unless you give a valid reason of visiting the ashram, it can get challenging to find a place at the dormitory
Feed On :  Besides restaurants , pondy is quite popular for its street food. Raw mango slices smeared with masala, sweets on the streets and tender coconuts are some delicacies. 

Something to look forward to during your visit is the everyday meal at the ashram’s dining hall. For as little as Rs 20 a coupon, you are served porridge,milk and a banana and are supposed to follow discipline and silence while eating. However , the city also offers internatinal cuisine. French and Italian restaurants dot the areas surrounding the beach. 

A sense of spiritual and emotional well-being bestows upon as you bid good-bye to Pondicherry. 

By Ashish Rao - Mangalore
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