“How will you travel alone?”
“Won’t you feel bored? What will you do in Pondicherry?”
Have fun. That’s what I will be doing wherever I go and that’s exactly what I did when I was in Pondicherry. Many people I know, well intentioned of course, are always worried about one thing whenever I do a solo trip—won’t I get bored alone? For me, that’s not even a possibility. There are so many things, countless even, to do when you arrive at a destination. And if you are by yourself, even better!
Fun, Sand And Sun
Do Not try and go visit the Paradise Beach Island around noon because it WILL be hot. I learned that the hard way. Few locals did tell me that there was another way (inland) to get to Paradise Beach but like a good tourist I did the must-do boating in Chunnambar River. Chunnambar Boat House opens at 9:30am and the line is always long so it’ll be smart to reach there early. For a price of ₹300 per adult and ₹150 for children, one can take a boat ride on the backwaters and reach the Paradise Beach Island. The beach can be a bit crowded but it’s beautiful nonetheless. When the sun starts to get a bit harsh, that’s when you need to head back and go grab something to eat.
Lunch By The Sea
You have to plan what and where to eat according to places you want to visit next. My next destination was Aurobindo Ashram on Rue de la Marine so I picked Le Café. I came to this quaint little pocket by the Bay of Bengal, a neat and small locality with old French quarters and small cafes after every ten steps. If you are a vegan or a vegetarian, there are plenty of options, just a short walk away from each other. I went by popular vote and chose Le Café for a quick bite. The seafront café is everything you need on a hot Pondy afternoon. Busy is an understatement when it comes to Le Café. Delicious baked items like croissants and cakes, large bites like sandwiches and grilled chicken/fish, fresh bites like salads, shakes and large glass of juice, and hot ones like tea and coffee. The sea breeze is refreshing!
Sri Aurobindo Ashram was founded by the philosopher and poet Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa or The Mother. A visit to Pondicherry is almost incomplete without a visit to the ashram. Devotees from all over the world come here to pay The Mother respects and for some quality time of meditation. The ashram consists of a library and the main building for which you’ll need a pass. Passes can be obtained from the Bureau Central or ashram guest houses. Visiting hours are from 8am-12pm and 2pm -4pm every day. Children below the age of three are not allowed. There are meditation sessions that one can attend, if that interests you. I chose sightseeing instead and headed to my next destination—Auroville.
My first visit to Pondicherry was more than a decade ago and even that day, many years ago, Auroville was on my itinerary. Auroville of those days and now was so different and in a good way. Back then there was a lot of barren land, the Matri Mandir was open to students but on my recent visit, access to the mandir was not given to any (I know what’s inside!) But now the entire place was full of trees, people silently moving about, almost in a state of meditation, a dedicated zone for refreshments and get together. This was where I noticed what Auroville was. An experimental township founded by Mirra Alfassa in 1968 and these were her own words:
“Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity”.
Matri Mandir is a place of meditation so it’s best keep quiet! It is also a city in itself that has four zones: Residential Zone, Industrial Zone, Cultural Zone and International Zone. All around Auroville is a large forest area that keeps the place a lot cooler than places outside Auroville. It was definitely worth a visit. Right outside parking zone, you will find souvenir shops. Colourful strings of lights and pottery items are few things you need to look out for. Most shops here will tell you they accept card but thanks to the location, the credit card swiping machine hardly ever works. So best, keep cash on you because you will want to come back with some amazing souvenirs.
The best way to reach Pondicherry is by rail. Nearest railhead is Villipuram, 35 kilometres away from the main town. The railhead is well-connected to metro cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram. Chennai Airport is 3.5 hours away from Pondicherry.