Diana Jue-Rajasingh

Visiting Pondicherry

Posted in India, Personal, Traveling by Diana on June 8, 2016

After attending a second cousin’s wedding in Chennai, Josh and I went to Pondicherry (also known as Pondy or Puducherry) this past weekend. Pondicherry is known for being the headquarters of the French East India Company, so its French Quarter area, by the beach and separated by a canal, still has that colonial look.

Neither Josh nor I had been there before, and the town was on both of our must-see-in-India-before-we-leave lists. Despite it being early June during our visit (that is, near-deadly hot and humid), we took the trip. I thought I’d write about our trip there.

Transportation

Getting there: We weren’t sure how to get to Pondicherry from Chennai. There were air conditioned private buses that we found on Goibibo and Redbus, but those tickets were Rs 500 per person. We knew we could do better. Josh’s dad recommended that we head to Chennai’s government bus stand at Koyambedu and see if we could find any air conditioned public buses. Sure enough, we found the Pondicherry Road Transport Corporation buses that were located at the right side of the bus stand after entering through the main entrance. One ticket in an air conditioned bus cost Rs 200, and we could pay onboard with cash. Our bus left at 5:30pm, and it took us four hours to reach Pondicherry (one hour was spent trying to get out of the massive urban agglomeration that is Chennai).

Getting around: We rented pedal bicycles to get around Pondicherry’s French Quarters. There’s a row of bicycle rental stalls on Mission Street. I think we were overcharged for our bicycles, though — we paid Rs 75/bicycle/day, and I later learned that the going rate was around Rs 50. Alas. You can also rent scooters and motorbikes from some of these stalls, if that’s more your style.

What to Do 

What is there to do in Pondicherry? Josh and I aren’t the type to visit ashrams and temples, so to be honest, there’s not too much to do. Hence, it makes for a relaxing vacation. We also went during a very hot summer month, so we spent most of our afternoons in an air-conditioned cafe or our hotel room.

The beach and promenade: Pondicherry situated along the Bay of Bengal. However, the beach is a rocky one, not a sandy one. What’s nice about the beach, though, is that the road along the beach is closed to all vehicular traffic from 6:30pm to 7am. In the evening and early morning, it turns into a large pedestrian street with folks strolling along the paved road, sitting on the rocks at the coast, and little people climbing up and sliding down important monuments like the Gandhi statue.

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Josh and Diana at the beach.

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It’s like the entire town was out and about in the evenings and early mornings.

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The kids and Gandhiji along the beach.

The sunrise: One of my favorite activities was watching a sunrise at the beach. Josh and I woke up at 5am to head toward the beach by 5:30am. The sunrise was at 5:45am, but because of the clouds, we couldn’t see much until around 6am. The view wasn’t super spectacular (that really just depends on atmospheric conditions), but it was a fun experience. Afterward, we attempted to find a breakfast place that was open … and didn’t quite succeed. Pondicherry commercial establishments wake up late.

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5:45am-ish sunrise over the Bay of Bengal.

The French Quarters: We stayed in the French Quarters, and a highlight was riding our bicycles through the small streets of White Town and Heritage Town. The traffic was relatively light so that I, an unconfident bicycle rider, could still feel relatively safe. The tree-lined roads and heritage buildings were scenic.

The eats: This was probably my favorite part of Pondicherry. The French Quarters are littered with small cafes and restaurants. I wouldn’t say that the food is particularly cheap, but the variety is good. I’ve noticed, though, that restaurants shut down quite frequently or are closed during hours they’re publicized as being open. Try calling ahead before attempting to follow Google Maps to the location.

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Cafe des Arts had rave reviews on Zomato and Google, but it wasn’t open when we tried to eat there! Evidently, they’re closed for a month.

For pizza: I’m not sure why, but there are at least five pizza joints in Pondicherry. Of the ones that Josh and I tried, Cafe Xtasi on Mission Street is our favorite. The variety of pizzas on its menu is quite astounding (more than I’ve seen on menus in Bangalore), and the thin crust is actually crisp and not soggy. We went for lunch on a Saturday, and it was pretty crowded. Also note that the air conditioning doesn’t work if there’s a power cut, and their brick oven can make sitting indoors quite brutal.

For burgers: Canteen 18 on Canteen Street. I actually wrote my first Zomato review for this tiny restaurant, since I agreed to do so after the guy at the counter asked me to. Anyway, these beef burgers are juicy (unlike the overcooked ones I normally get in Bangalore), come with special sauces (I got barbecue), and are completely made to order. There’s only outdoor seating for perhaps 10 people, but at least there are fans that make it pleasant enough.

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Much beef burger juiciness at Canteen 18.

For croissants: Baker Street on Bussy Street. The quiches and sandwiches are overpriced, but the croissants are affordable and delicious. However, Josh likes to note the cafe’s confused identities: the place is named “Baker Street” and has signage that invokes Sherlock Holmes, it sells French foods, and there are paintings of geishas hanging indoors.

For gelato/ice cream: Gelateria Montecatini Terme (GTM) on Beach Road. This place probably had the best value for money for food items. I mean, Rs 40 for a legitimate cup of ginger and lime gelato is a great deal, and that little cup packed so much taste. The spread of flavors was very wide, including everything from mango and guava to mocha and more traditional and decadent Italian flavors.

For an air conditioned cafe: The Indian Kaffe Express on Dumas Street. The cafe sports a decent list of coffees and non-coffee beverages to choose from, as well as waffles and other small eats. Josh and I spent hours in there to beat the mid-day heat.

For South Indian: Surguru, in multiple locations. This is Pondicherry’s South Indian food chain. There was even a map of Pondicherry’s French Quarters on the door of the restaurant that we went to. Josh was craving a Tamil Nadu-style ghee roast, since they’re more difficult to come by in Bangalore. I wanted a masala dosa, and we were both satisfied. Service was meh, but the air conditioning was super strong.

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You can’t see it, but the door of this Pondicherry South Indian food chain has a map of Pondicherry on it.

For date night: Le Dupleix on Casern Street. This restaurant/hotel is the restored house of a French general. His mini-biography is in the restaurant’s menu, and it’s pretty sad, actually — by the end of his life, he was professional and personal failure. However, some smart people did do some beautiful things with his Pondicherry home, so I suppose that all was not lost! The food is a mix of Indian and “continental.” We had the French onion soup (not beef brothy-enough), the tenderloin (very tender), and the pork chops (covered with pesto sauce — good for me, not good for Josh). The highlight was the decor and also the white guy playing a violin. We made a reservation that evening, so we got to sit indoors (with air conditioning) instead of outdoors (with mosquito coils).

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