I travelled to Chennai and was very excited about the week ahead. The plan was to travel alone and meet up with friends and acquaintances in Pondicherry. When all the friends backed out of the plan, thankfully it didn’t change my mind. I guess the company wasn't as important :P !
The hotel had arranged an airport pick up for me beforehand. Although the driver was instructed to ferry me directly to Pondicherry, my mind was wandering as to where I could stop on the way. Mahabalipuram was high on the priority list as my colleague who is an architect told me that it was a must visit. I wished to reach Mahabalipuram through the East Coast road as the drive offers breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean.
|Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram|
After some research before touring out, I figured that Mahabalipuram was actually a 7th century port city of the Pallavas which is now flooded with tourists. The monuments are mostly rock-cut and monolithic, and constitute the early stages of Dravidian architecture with some Buddhist elements of design. I got the opportunity of seeing a few important structures like Thirukadamallai, Varaha cave temple, Shore temple and the Pancha Rathas. Another two hour drive from Mahabalipuram and I was at my destination - my hotel - La Maison Tamoule in the Tamil quarters of Pondicherry. The hotel is a restored property that is situated on the Vysial Street; the street that was awarded the best restored street by INTACH. One can so imagine how beautifully this would have been restored. One must view ‘before-after’ photographs of the property to get a fair idea about the amount of time and resources that would have been spent on the restoration.
Once I reached La Maison Tamoule, though I was starved, the first thing I wanted to do was to have an elaborate tour of the property. This was my first time in Pondicherry and having heard of the restored streets; Tamil and French quarters of the city, I wanted to explore it all. As a first step, I was quickly escorted to the room that I had booked. As interesting as the other concepts of the brand- Neemrana like no televisions, beautifully restored buildings; in this property the rooms are named after Navaratna stones. Mine was called ‘Ruby’ and was located on the first floor. The non-hotel Hotel had polished red Attangadi tiled flooring, colourful stained glass arches and stunning teak furniture as well.
|La Maison Tamoule|
The room’s balcony had a view of an art gallery that was directly opposite to the heritage hotel. As I was new to the city and it was my first time here, I took help of a non-human this time- a guide and map (ActuPondy & Define) of the city. Both of these have popular restaurants, hotels and places to see that are marked clearly and help one choose where to go. Since I am a foodie and love to experiment with the kind of food I eat, I wanted to visit restaurants that served authentic French food. After all, the taste of great food is something you can’t ever forget. At least I can’t !
Satsanga was my first pick; a French-Mediterranean restaurant on Rue Labourdonnais street, a cute garden restaurant in the White Town. They served excellent Steak au Poivre! To keep myself awake after all the tiredness, I desperately needed a cup of hot coffee and so Coffee(dot)com on Rue Romain Rolland was where I chose to relax. A quaint and beautifully designed coffee shop with internet located on Rue Romain Rolland allowed me to connect with friends in Delhi! I also visited Le Club for dinner as it is an extremely popular French restaurant, the very same day. My schedule for the day also included a visit to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a very well known place in Pondicherry. A very well-planned city with Indian and French buildings was a treat to the eyes, especially when most of the city was explored by me on foot ! The city being relatively smaller in terms of area didn’t require me to hire a vehicle to reach a destination.
|The Bar at Le Club|
In sync with the old world charm of the place, Rue Romain Rolland has a couple of boutiques and shops selling antique furniture lined up. The city helps one relax and rejuvenate with peace all around. In case, one wants to do something exciting after a few hours of relaxation, Temple Adventures provides scuba-diving and surfing lessons!
Having done enough for the day, I returned to my hotel. A few hours of sleep was what I needed, only so that I could be fresh for the next day, my last day in Pondy. An elaborate breakfast at the restaurant at my hotel was how the second day started. Neemrana prepares jams of various kinds in-house at their hotel in Ramgarh. These are then served at all their properties across India.
|Breakfast at La Maison Tanmoule|
In Pondicherry, how could one miss seafood. I stopped by at Café Rendezvous for lunch to eat Malabar fish curry after which I headed out to Auroville (finally!) with a friend.
|The shaded path to Matri Mandir|
Auroville is an experimental township founded by the Shri Aurobindo Society and Mirra Alfassa also known as “The Mother” in 1968. The Mother believed that this township would contribute significantly to the progress of humanity towards its splendid future by bringing together people of goodwill and aspiration for a better world. At the entrance of Auroville, there is a visitors centre where the visitors are asked to watch a short video about the Township, The Mother and the philosophy behind the entire concept. This is a great idea as it retains the meaning of a historical monument like this one and also helps one connect with the historical aspect of it.
Once permitted into the premises, one can view Matri Mandir from a distance. In order to maintain the sanctity of the place, only those who fill up a request form two days in advance are allowed entry into the interiors of the meditation centre. After grabbing an energy drink, I returned to the boutiques of Auroville that are known for incense sticks, cottonclothing (which are extremely comfortable), herbal syrups and pottery. I bought them all! The atmosphere of Auroville was so unbelievably calm and serene that it made me in total awe of the place. I then decided to bid adieu to my newly found peaceful haven and go back to Pondicherry.
|Hotel de l'Orient|
I planned dinner at the famous Carte Blanche restaurant of Hotel de l’Orient for the night with a colleague who heads the South-Indian market for Neemrana Hotels. Carte Blanche is an open air courtyard restaurant which is known for its Creole Cuisine. The Maitre d’ suggested us to order the Patchayi Erral Curry (Prawns curried in Mint and Coriander Sauce) and an Earl Grey Crème brûlée (I live for good Crème Brûlée) We did exactly that. The food and ambience were both excellent and nothing could have been a more perfect ending to my visit to Pondicherry. A return to my hotel in a rickshaw with the cool breeze surrounded by amazing sights just got me elated. I was now looking forward to my stay in Tranquebar the following day.