While planning our annual holiday this year, I was very sure of one thing – I didn’t want to go to Rajasthan yet again! Now, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the state! But that doesn’t mean I go there every year, right?
This year, I could almost hear the call of a cool sea breeze…of palms swaying in the wind…of lazing on the beach and unwinding…But Goa around Christmas/New Year is jam-packed with tourists, so we decided to head further south, to Pondicherry (popularly referred to as Pondy).
Ruled by the French until 1954, a canal splits this oval-shaped city into two – the French side (Ville Blanche) and the Indian side (Ville Noire). The Indian side of the city is like any other small town in the country – sleepy, dusty, and congested. Move into the French side, though, and you are greeted with cobbled, shady roads and sprawling houses, many of which overlook the beach.
We left Delhi on a cold, grey Christmas morning, and arrived in warm and sunny Chennai – the closest airport to Pondy – in the afternoon. A 3-hour picturesque drive later, our holiday had finally begun!
The hotel we had chosen was on Rue Dumas in the French quarter, just one lane behind the beach. So though our room looked out onto the quiet, shady street, we had a lovely sea view from the rooftop cafeteria. A 2 minute walk took us to Goubert Salai, the seaside promenade, which during the peak season is almost always crowded with locals and tourists walking along the pavement or sitting on the rocks watching the waves crash in. During off-peak periods, I suspect the rocky beach, the strip of white sand and the pavement would be quite deserted, giving it the look of a sleepy French sea-side village.
There isn’t much to do at Pondy, so you’ll never feel rushed or hurried. We spent all our evenings at the beach, sitting on the rocks, people and wave watching. We hired a bike and rode to Auroville one day, on another we took a day trip to Mamalapuram (Mahabalipuram), and on the third we visited the Aurobindo Ashram and the 300+ year old Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple (a Ganesh temple), which was in existence even before the French settled in Pondicherry (i.e. before 1666), and then rode over to one of the other (sandy) beaches around Pondy.
We found it a bit hard to find a good place to eat in Pondy, though. The popular names, such as Le Club and La Teresse, were disappointing to say the least. Le Club was over-priced, and their food was barely passable; the food at La Teresse was insipid. So, I chucked the travel guide aside and asked around for good places to eat.
Hotel du Park has excellent continental food (their Fisherman’s basket and grilled fish are excellent, as is the fresh fruit with ice cream and the divine chocolate cake) or try Le Rendezvous (it looked and smelled excellent, though we didn’t eat there as they had a 1 hour waiting for dinner!). I also heard good things about Don Giovanni, a pizzeria on the rooftop of Hotel Corbelli. If you want to sample some South Indian non-vegetarian fare, you can’t go wrong with Apichi – their prawn fry and lappam is like manna from heaven! For pure vegetarian South Indian food, you can try Surguru (opposite Hotel du Park) – I quite liked their dosas. Oh, and for a nice breakfast spread, you can head to Hot Breads (loved their Choco Danish!)