Let me take you on a walk through the many charms of Puducherry, the grid-patterned French enclave of yesteryear, by the side bylanes…without remembering why you have to remain outdoors, for some time. And it will not disappoint you. If that walk leads you to the beach, then you are the true-blue visitor doing all the right things here.
For, the first thing that anyone visiting Puducherry should do is to dawdle down to the beach. If you are coming from the bus stand, head straight down to the beach road that ends in clear blue skies flanked by clear blue water. There are a few reasons for it. Firstly, the tourism office is housed in a small building there and they provide you with not just cold water and a fan, but also with a much-needed, updated map of the city and the best free tips about anything you might need for your stay.
Second, when one takes that walk, the architecture and roads change swiftly and make you feel like you have left behind a typical Indian small town and entered a charming village in the south of France. The cozy bylanes are full of people lazily sitting around, playing a game of marbles or a traditional board game, that lends a sense of undisturbed tranquility. Lastly, the beach is simply the best place to hang out in Puducherry (though I suddenly feel that maybe this should be the most important point to be made). It has rocks lined up right next to the sea, standing in complete calm as waves crash into them. The sea, the sand, the shore and of course the crashing waves. Welcome to Pondicherry.
There is nothing much to do here except to wander about and admire the architecture. The place has its own identity, carefully protected by its past. It is possibly the only place in India where you will find a political or spiritual message written in Tamil, Telugu and French next to each other. A peek into the city’s many guesthouses will have you stumble on to beautiful colonial setups and artifacts. In this erstwhile French colony, there’s much to absorb, sense and feel.
Though the best way to get around is by foot, it’s advisable only if you can as it can get demanding. But if you’d like to stay off the tarmac, as it were, go ahead and hire a scooty since they’re suitably priced on a daily basis. Tank up well, because you might just end up zooming around in wonder and suffer a breakdown!
Drive down the East Coast Road (ECR) that connects the Eastern Ghats from West Bengal to the tip of Kanyakumari across four states. It has one of India’s finest virgin beaches matched with sparkling blue water. Make a pit stop and chances are that you will encounter a quaint fishing settlement, surrounded by busy fisher folk and tiny fishes drying in the sun. The rustic charm of the place is truly picturesque; you could spend hours watching lives being lived, and chores being carried out in a rhythmic lilt. What will elevate the experience to unforgettable is settling with a chilled drink under the shade of a boat on the beach. The taxes are levied off as it is a Union Territory so it isn’t even heavy on the pocket.
And finally, don’t forget to visit Auroville, the experimental township off Puducherry for the universal being. It is a small place full of surprises and proof of the unbelievable co-existence of different people at every turn. Driving down the small roads, meandering in lazy beauty is actually awesome. Follow the red roads, trust your instincts and explore the jungle. Some guidance through the jungle would be helpful but in general, the journey to nowhere will eventually take you to the playground or the School, auditoriums or the huge ball at the Matri Mandir – they spring up in sudden spurts around you.
A number of guest houses here will suit any pocket and the best way to live in the lap of nature is to take up accommodation off the main road. The monsoons, I would say, are a great time to visit Puducherry; it’s lush with wet greenery and there’s a nip in the sea air. Some guest houses have bathrooms with open roofs and showers and huge jack fruits hanging from the trees peep in when you start scrubbing yourself. The unmatched part about the food is that it is fresh and warm; it is cooked right after you place your order. That brings us to the most dire part also, if you are really hungry. It…takes…time.
Auroville is the epitome of relaxation as you enjoy the cool wind, smiling locals, warm food and sweet revelations at every turn. It is a calm place, and be careful not to disturb that truth. I had lunch in a small shack restaurant that unexpectedly appeared out of the earth and then, I hit the well-hidden Cubbon Beach. There’s a fantastic restaurant there that offers one of the better breakfasts around. You will be spoilt for choice with Indian and French food at your service. You could also ask the fishermen to take you to sea, watch them fish or to just explore the waters. The space and time here spread themselves enchantingly and generously without measure.
The quality of moments is not to be measured by pages written or by the incandescent journey but by the ‘sighs’ and vendettas of memory.
[author][author_image timthumb=’on’] [/author_image]This article is written by Parul, who lets her lenses talk the language of life’s vividness. She is available for photographic assignments that challenge her mettle.[/author]