Very often it happens that there would be some marvelous destination that is a stone’s throw from your place, and you never really take the trouble to check it out; keep putting it off for another day, but head to distant locales, throwing more cash than you intended to on those vacations. And one fine day, you make up your mind to ‘just go check the damn place out’- and fall in love with it. Exactly what happened to me this weekend, at Pondicherry.
I had always wanted to go to this little Union Territory, close to four hours from Chennai, by road., for the French connection that it offered. Having learnt enough of the language and culture for a good five-six years, with the folks at the Alliance Français doing a pretty remarkable job of it, it was only natural that I wanted to go see if it was la meme chose.
And boy it was. Much, much better!!!
We started from Chennai at around 4 pm and the drive was uneventful, reaching Pondicherry at around 7.30 pm. The best part about the trip was that two among us were locals, so they had an itinerary in their heads, saving us precious research time. And I can say, no amount of research and planning would have made a better trip that what these friends had drawn up for us. We headed to one of their homes to dump the bags and freshen up. Then we headed out for the night.
The UT is markedly split into two- the French quartiers and the Indian neighborhoods. The architecture, colours, the crowd, even the width of the roads, spelt the difference. Smart policemen with red hats caught my attention everywhere we drove through. That is also a French-hand-me-down custom, I hear. We went to this settlement near the beach, with all the roads named Rue-blah-blah. The spot is simply awesome for a walk- the weather and the bunch of merry friends only complementing the scene. We went to this diner called Le Club, Rue Dumas. Amazing place- great ambience and music, splendid food, only slightly expensive. Wanting to experiment authentic French cuisine, the gang asked me to choose. I picked dishes that I remembered from text books: Poulet au citron- (Lemon Chicken?) and Poulet à la Crème de Champignon (Chicken cooked with mushroom sauce). The mushroom sauce won.
We headed to the beach carrying clinking bottles of breezers. There was this push cart selling fried fish, squid, macaroni, fried rice and noodles. I’m blaming it on the Indian appetite, because the single course meal at Le Club was simply not filling enough. We settled down on the sand less beach, making ourselves comfortable on the rocks, with the moon for company. In a word- Amazing. I would rate this the best part of the trip. Pulling one another’s legs, sipping and stuffing our faces with food, giggling away, with the boys having more than enough eye candy for themselves- it was a very fine evening indeed.
We headed back home quite late, calling it a day. The next morning saw us up just in time for brunch. We went back to the same quartier, walking around, checking curio shops, and saying non, merci at anything that was offered. Expensive stuff. Very very. But great ideas, if you are the handicrafts sort of person.
More food at La Terrasse,, Beach Corner. Fairly economical, good food, frequented by a mixed crowd. I even walked over to a gang of French girls and struck up a little bit of conversation...good fun. We ordered quite a bit, but I would recommend the steaks, pizzas and a certain bacon omelette. Very tasty.
Post lunch, we drove to this spot that not many tourists know of. The residents took us there to show it off, and we couldn’t stop going ‘oooh-aaaah’ over it. It is a little down the rickety road from the light house- a pier leading into the beach, for a good two hundered metres. The sun was playing spoil sport, but it is a splendid place to go for a swim, or to just chill out. We hung around there for a while, and started back home…the poor man’s holiday, but couldn’t have asked for more!
The way back was eventful enough, with Gaurav promising me a three digit numeral on the R15 speedometer- and keeping it. And ironically, after we relinquished the bike to Arun and switched to the car, he was caught for over speeding: 65 Kmph. (straight face)
Some favoured must visit places apart from those mentioned- Madame Shante’s, Rendezvous, Auroville and the Ashram. Auroville stays closed between 12 noon and 4 pm, so you might want to plan accordingly. All of us had visited the Ashram, so we just skipped it- but it is beautiful- soothing. On a closing note- - Pondy is an awesome destination, every Chennaite simply has to visit it atleast once. You have no idea what you are missing!