Pondicherry and Hyderabad would do nicely, indeed, the former more so if you are looking for some laidback quietude. Do look up our feature on hotels in Pondicherry (‘Pocket-friendly in Pondy’, November 2010) to pick whatever suits your taste and budget. Old-worldly Taj Mahal (from Rs 1,550; 040-24758250) in the centrally located Abids area is a good budget option in Hyderabad, and a Ginger Hotel (from Rs 2,000; gingerhotels.com) should be up and running by the time you plan your trip.
To expand your list, there is a lot of Kerala that you can explore out of Kochi; stay at the reliable BTH (from Rs 2,000; bharathotel.com) not far from the Chinese fishing nets, or the charming Walton’s Homestay (from Rs 1,500; waltonhomestay.com) in Fort Kochi. Chennai’s famous season of classical music and dance runs through December-January: you could stay here and visit Mamallapuram; Pondicherry is just three hours by road. Perfect Haven (from Rs 3,000; perfecthaven.in) has special rates for longer stays in Chennai.