“Give Time a Break”. This is the slogan for Pondicherry Tourism and it brilliantly summarises life in this quaint little union territory of India. Pondicherry was a french colony until 1954 and manages to retain its French connection to this day. Having been to France a few months back, I was yearning for the French delicacies and the French way of life. N, our little one wanted to go to a beach in his holidays and play in the sand :) How could I say no when Nagesh suggested a trip to Pondicherry!
Somehow we had never managed to travel here all these years though we did do a trip to Auroville few years back. I had seen quite a few pictures of the White Town which is the French part of Pondicherry with its quaint houses painted in shades of yellow, dotted with beautiful bougainvillea flowers. Finally we spent three lovely days with the family here during a long weekend in October of last year.
Despite the sweltering heat we had a memorable time. As it was a last minute planned trip we had trouble finding accommodation at some of the hotels we intended to stay. So Nagesh decided to give AirBnB a try. We liked the sea view and garden view rooms at a colonial bungalow centrally located in the White Town and very close to the promenade. Our superhost Bitasta and her family ensured that we had a good time. And we are so glad that our stay was hassle free.
The town is divided into two prominent sections called the White Town or French Quarter and Tamil Quarters which are separated by a canal. We spent most of our time in the French Quarter, which is where a lot of the sights are located. It has lovely streets with quaint names and beautiful buildings as well as homes which are reminiscent of a bygone era. There are many cafes and restaurants serving French and Creole cuisine. The best way to get a feel of the French Town is to go around on foot or drive around slowly.
The promenade has a striking resemblance to the one in Nice in Cote d’Azur region of France. No wonder Pondicherry is referred to as the Cote d’Azur of the east. The French must have felt at home here due to the similarity of the coast back home. Vehicles are not allowed on the beach road next to the promenade in the evenings making it convenient for those walking.
Prominent landmarks that can be seen from the promenade include the statue of Mahatma Gandhi, the statue of the French governor Dupleix housed in a small park, a war memorial dedicated to the soldiers who were part of WWI, the old lighthouse, a park housing a statue of Joan of Arc and the backside of Notre Dame church. Petanque which is a popular game played on the streets in France is played opposite the Notre Dame church on Sundays. As we happened to be there on a Sunday, we got an opportunity to watch it during our walk along the promenade.
The sand on the promenade beach is no longer there due to extreme coastal corrosion resulting from construction on the shore. One needs to head out either to Paradise Beach or Chunnambar beach which is on the outskirts of Pondicherry towards Cuddalore or Auroville Beach for the regular beach experience.
Close to the promenade is Bharathi Park which is a large green area surrounded by important government buildings on all sides. The park houses a monument called Aayi Mandapam which is a memorial named after a courtesan called Aayi who had a reservoir erected in place of her home to supply water for the city. The monument was built during the reign of Napoleon III of France. The colourful fountains of the park proved to be a delight for little N who couldn’t resist posing in front of them!
Manakula Vinayagar Temple
The Manakula Vinayagar Temple behind Aurobindo Ashram is an old Hindu temple which has been in existence even before the French came in the seventeenth century. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu God Ganesha who has been depicted on the inside walls in forty different forms in which he is worshipped in different parts of the world. An Elephant named Lakshmi is present here in the evenings and one can get blessed from her for an offering. This was something that little N had been looking forward to after his previous experience at Virupaksha temple in Hampi. We ended up going to the temple thrice during our visit as we kept missing the encounter with Lakshmi :P
The Botanical Garden is a large green area located in the Tamil part of the town. The gardens were laid out in the mid nineteenth century by the French. The garden has exotic plants from different parts of the world. N was super excited to go on a ride in the toy train which traverses through the garden. If not for the heat, we might have ended up spending more time here.
Basilica of Sacred Heart of Jesus
The Basilica is a beautiful church located near the railway station. It is supposed to have been built in the eighteenth century by French missionaries. The highlight of this place is its beautiful stained glass panels which portray scenes from the life of Christ. As we were here pretty early in the morning, we had the place pretty much to ourselves and could admire it in peace.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception is a Roman Catholic church located in the Tamil part of the town. The current structure dates back from the late eighteenth century. The interiors of the church are pretty impressive. The Bishop’s House is also located here.
Eglise de notre Dame des Anges
The Eglise de notre Dame des Anges Church also called Our Lady of Angels Church is one of the important landmarks along the promenade facing the Bay of Bengal. It is a Catholic church that was built in the Nineteenth Century by Napoleon III. This beautiful Pink and Cream coloured church built in the Greco-Roman style of architecture blends well with the neighbourhood. There is a popular belief that this church has been modelled similar to the Notre Dame de Paris and the Basilica at Lourdes. It is the only church offering mass in three languages namely French, Tamil and English. There is a statue of Joan of Arc behind the church towards the promenade. It was donated by Goubert who was the mayor of Pondicherry during that period.
Cluny Centre of Embroidery
The Cluny Centre of Embroidery is housed in a beautiful heritage building on Rue Romain Rolland in the White Town. It is a testament to Pondicherry’s French colonial era. Run by the sisters of Cluny Convent, it trains and employs underprivileged and destitute women. They make hand embroidered handkerchiefs, cloth pieces for framing, napkins, pillow covers and bedspreads. The exquisite and intricate designs are made by referring to encyclopaedias on plants, animals and birds. Prices are a bit stiff on the pocket, but more than make up with the sheer quality and intricacy of the work. I couldn’t resist buying a cloth for framing :)
We drove to Club Mahindra resort which is outside the city towards Cuddalore. Our friends were staying there and little N had a ball of a time at the beach. He played in the water and just sat as the waves splashed him all over :P We saw a beautiful sunset here.
Pondicherry is well known for its creole cuisine. Three days weren’t going to be enough for trying out all the restaurants that I had read about online. Seafood is supposed to be one of the best aspects of creole cuisine and also at Pondicherry. However, none of us eat seafood :| Despite this, what we got to eat here more than engaged our tastebuds!
Les Alizes, Palais de Mahe
Palais de Mahe is a heritage hotel owned by the CGH group. I had come across mention of this hotel and its restaurant in quite a few articles on Pondicherry. While we did not manage to stay there owing to non availability, we decided to have lunch in their Les Alizes restaurant. The decor and ambience of the restaurant and the hotel proved to be quite impressive.
We had the Mushroom and Spinach Crepes, Veg Stew with Appam and Pondi Chicken Curry served along with brown rice and Carrot thoran for mains. Nagesh loved the perfection in taste of the Chicken curry so much that he doesn’t mind going back there any day :D Then came the best part of the meal. The dessert of course! We asked for the Orange Mousse which was listed on the menu. But they did not have it on that day and suggested the Guava Mousse instead. We agreed and it turned out to be the perfect ending for a nice meal. Overall it was a pleasant experience :)
This is a popular South Indian vegetarian restaurant located on the busy Mission Street. Little N who had been surviving on icecream mostly due to the heat gorged on the Masala Dosa here with his grandma :D We ended up doing two meals here!
Zuka Choco-la is a dessert boutique famous for their chocolates. They also have some sandwich options and other quick bites. Their speciality is the heavenly Hot Chocolate which is something that chocolate lovers will swear by. Had heard highly about this place from friends who consider it as a must visit on each of their trips to Pondicherry. The place lived up to its expectations. The rich hot chocolate comes with an edible chocolate spoon! Little N was attracted by chocolates shaped like vintage cars kept in the display and promptly devoured one :)
Carte Blanche, Hotel De L’Orient
The Carte Blanche restaurant in Hotel De L’Orient owned by the Neemrana group of hotels is on the same street as Palais de Mahe hotel. The old world charm of this place is magical. The cuisine is creole with infusion of Tamil spices in the French cuisine. I quite liked the Ratatouille au Cottage Cheese which is their version of Ratatouille with paneer as the main ingredient. The Mousse au Chocolat for dessert was rich and tasted divine. The Creme Caramel Noix de Coco which is Caramel Coconut Custard was decent.
Baker Street is a popular French bakery on the busy M G Road. A variety of French breads, snacks and desserts can be found here. We tried the Macarons here which were a bit on the crisper side compared to the ones we tried in Paris. Overall we found prices to be a little on the higher side.
This ice cream shop came highly recommended by our host. So we decided to give it a try on one of the evenings. Quite a few interesting flavours were available. The best part was that we could take two scoops of different flavours together and we liked all that we tried. The little one gave a thumbs up as well :D
Maison Perumal is a heritage hotel owned by the CGH group of hotels. It is located in a beautiful mansion built in the traditional Tamil style in a quiet street in the Tamil Quarter. I had heard quite a bit about the decor of this hotel as well as the delectable Tamil food that they serve in their restaurant. We missed out on an opportunity to stay here. We ended our trip with a memorable dinner here. The cuisine here is South Indian and predominantly Tamil. Everything that we ordered was cooked to perfection. The appetiser was Vazhapoo Vadai which is Banana flower patties. We ordered Vada Curry (Homemade Lentil curry with Kuzhi Paniyarams), Vatha Kuzhambu (Dried Berry Tangy Curry with Rice, Vegetable Poriyal and Papad) and Kongunadu Kozhi Curry (Coriander Flavoured Chicken Curry with Rice, Poriyal and Papad) for mains. The meal ended with piping hot bowls of delicious Payasam! We never even thought about clicking pictures of all the dishes :|