For a north Indian from landlocked Delhi, a visit to Puducherry has to be all about the ocean and the aptly named paradise beach, lessons in french history and shopping at Auroville’s main market
This one was a difficult trip to execute. As a north Indian, I could not have competed with a Bengali friend at the time we have spent on a beach. But after extended sessions of carping and cavilling about how the untimely rain could ruin the entire trip and how the tanning will add that extra tint of darkness on our already brown skin, we did end up visiting Pondicherry. A day off in the French colonial settlement.
Mind you, for a Northie, it was much more than the beach. I was visiting the south of India after a long time and Pondicherry sounded like a great place to be in. Just the sound of it. The last time I was close to a shore in India was back in 2005 and all the recent conversations about ‘saving the ocean’ had me want to visit one soon. The French history of the place was an add-on.
We took a night sleeper bus from Bengaluru that dropped us a few kilometres away from our Airbnb in Pondicherry at around 6 in the morning. It is indeed a scenic hour to land up in a new place — when your hosts are sleeping and no café is willing to have you over.
We took a drop at Promenade Beach, close to our stay in White Town, the residential quarters for the French. A serene morning and a progression of waves to watch, caressing the mass of black rocks hemming the coast with people taking their morning walk on the road following the beach. A view like that is enough to energise you for the day ahead. We found a café nearby that opened at around seven and gave us a good breakfast to start our day with.
God bless Google Maps. A few minutes of walking and we reached our stay at this peaceful household run by a Korean-French family living in a bungalow in the leafy neighbourhood that White Town is. As welcoming as they are, what catches my attention is the abstract precision in which they decorated their house — an elegant amalgamation of Korean, French and Indian culture. The room that was given to us had a huge photo of an Indian god framed right at the wall behind a bed so small, perfect for lovers. Incense sticks and cat miniatures that remind you of all things Korean, the books on vegetarianism and architecture speak of this family’s inclinations.
Telling my heart we can’t stay indoors, I get ready and head to the Paradise Beach whereas my friend decided to stay back for a while to calm her period cramps. The beach is in a private setting supported by the government. Takes a ferry ride to reach this island.
After a wait of about an hour that includes buying tickets and waiting in a queue, we board the ferry that takes us through the backwaters of Chunnambar to one of the quaintest shores in Pondicherry.
It is something to watch the ocean come at you as if ready to gnaw the life out of you. For the longest, the ocean has been a metaphor for the upcoming end of life on earth. Or that is what I would like to believe. It is something to look at the sea and think about our technology-based lifestyle and the fact that we have come so far in all these years.
Sitting close to the water is one’s best bet here. It is a public beach at the end of the day. Not the one you imagined where one could just go skinny dipping. But a good deal for someone visiting a beach after a very long time. You watch families and friends taking a dip in the water, women in their sarees and shorts, fine sand taking the shape of the water that ravishes it every time it falls on it.
After about a couple of hours, my friend makes it to the shore and is ready to go to the next place in the list of things to do, in about five minutes of scanning the premises and realising the possible pigmentation the sun could cause on her skin.
Ahead lies an auto ride to Auroville’s main market where we schmoozed around some local ceramic pottery studios. The Tamilian auto driver was quite excited about showing us around and we enjoyed our inability to communicate because of the language barrier. He dropped us at Café Des Arts which is a boutique restaurant in White Town that serves delicious French cuisine. The old school interior done in European fashion with posters of Rajnikanth is a reminder of the French owner’s affinity to Tamilian culture from the past and present. We tried their crêpes, toasties, ice tea, and fresh pineapple juice and were more than willing to visit again. Only if we had more time.
A little walk ahead we bumped into Kalki, a retail point that has all the beautiful handmade products from Auroville. Handmade jewellery. Greeting cards made out of leaves. Crocheted dolls. All of which you can’t help but pick for your folks back in Delhi.
This is when the Zara footwear labelled ‘beachwear’ bloats my feet and we decide to head back to our wonderful Airbnb.
Next was a Sunday morning, where we sat down with our hosts and had idli sambar made by their cook, a Kannada woman, trained to cook the usual French cuisine for them. The man, who works at the French embassy in Pondicherry, decided to tell us the backstory of French colonisation and how the French were better than the English people who ruled the country. It was overall an informative meal with these people who were extremely generous to have us over when they had just returned from a holiday, a day before we arrived at their place.
After a stroll around the promenade beach, window shopping a little and bidding goodbye to the place, we sat down at Villa Shanti for the last meal in Pondy at around noon. We had to catch a bus at 1 back to Bengaluru. There are a few things you can only do with your friends and this was one of them. We ordered a couple of dishes. A mouth-watering savoury crepe with green and red sauces and coconut-walnut infused noodles.
The fast service by the staff at Shanti and our luck with finding an Ola cab in this part of the town helped us board our bus, which carried us through more scenic routes of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.