For a quaint town by the sea, Puducherry’s arresting allure breathes in its sunshine-clad villas and blooming boulevards that compose the perfect postcard-frame, winning over the seeker of all things #aesthetic in you. Existing in its own time bubble, Puducherry may seem to ooze French aura and a poetic charm, but the petit pastel-hued town by the blue waters of the Bay of Bengal has a warm South Indian heart that spins you in its web of nostalgic colonial yarn.
My whirlwind visit to the Union Territory was particularly special because it was the first trip I had managed to arrange with my friends after cancelling a booking to (you guessed it) Goa. So, instead of beaches where the party lights glimmer as soon as dusk descends over the sea, we found ourselves sitting under the glow of promenade street lamps, swirling lattes as the waves roared and crashed against the cobbled Rock Beach.
However, this wasn’t just another beach vacation that I could possibly shelf along with the numerous others I’ve been on. Instead, Puducherry arrived like a gift—delicately tied in ribbons of warmth and cased in a bubble wrap of cheesy lasagne layers and spongy croissants, catching me off-guard with wafts of fresh calamari and crabs, inviting me on sun-kissed French colony trails while the crashing waves absently sprinkled some love.
Bohemia and drizzle of rain I remember meeting Puducherry with the clouds crowding in the early morning sky when our night bus from Bengaluru screeched to a halt on a wide-flanked road. Dawn was slowly breaking over the eastern horizon when we shuffled into an auto-rickshaw, a motley group of four, which took us to White Town.
Standing out on the balcony of our apartment, I remember watching the struggling sunlight kiss des rues awake, as the gathering clouds threatened to burst with some December rain. The scooters were rented quickly and our hearts, forever in denial, had decided to cast the obvious weather predictions aside. Staying in White Town had its perks, as pretty cafés with vibrant crayon-coloured walls dotted the bougainvillaea-clad streets, leaving us hopelessly confused with its adorable decor.
After unanimously agreeing that a French breakfast of Croque Monsieur and cheese omelette would set the mood for the day, we discovered the neighbouring cosy little café-cum-homestay of A La Villa Creole, overlooking the flower-showered street of La Bourdonnais that fit our bill all too well.
The first drops of winter rain had started to drizzle when we finally pushed the ‘start’ button of our scooters, unknowingly bracing ourselves for the surprising journey of a lifetime. Cruising through the French quarters, with the venerable Google Maps as our guide, my wind-tousled hair grew restless. The sea could be heard roaring in the distance before the cornflower blue water waded into sight. I can never forget that moment—the scooter took an unassuming turn and the Promenade swept into view, a little drenched in the light shower, but just as surreal, just as beautiful. The gushing sea on one side and the incredible French architecture on the other, the coconut-tree-lined Promenade stretch unveiled like a bohemian paradise.
The rain had paused by the time we made it to the Aurobindo Ashram, done up in muted ash and white colours. Hopping over nascent puddles, our phones on silent and our feet bare, we entered the serene premises of the Ashram, which has stood there since 1926; a marvellous symbol of hope and peace. The meditative and spiritual atmosphere inside the Ashram inevitably infused a sense of calm, making us realise that maybe Puducherry was simply fated to happen to us.
Christmas is special in Puducherry. During our visit, it was just around the corner and the strains of choirs singing carols to herald in the Yuletide season could be heard echoing from the exquisitely designed Immaculate Conception Cathedral. In fact, all of Puducherry's churches had decked their halls and their imposing Gothic-French architecture was quick to pique the interest of the history-lover within me.
After a sumptuous lunch of crabs cooked in South Indian masala and Nethili fish fry at a restaurant that overlooked the Rock Beach, we decided to watch the dusk settle in from the New Lighthouse. We rushed up a giddy flight of stairs, to find waiting for us a view that was, at the very least, captivating. The pale blue waters of the Bay of Bengal gently kissed the shoreline repeatedly, as the sun dipped below the cloud-swept sky, making Puducherry look magical in the afterglow. The love affair had begun, and how.
Discovering the other paradise. Perhaps it was sometime in the middle of the second day that I began to feel ‘at home’ in this place. Being wonderfully tiny, it doesn’t take long to memorise the roads, affectionately named in French, till I almost believed that all of Puducherry was essentially all about the colonial hangover. But a little away from the French-stamped buildings, the awe-inspiring golden structure of Auroville, the chic souvenir shops selling bottled fragrances, and the artsy cafés, there existed a Puducherry that had a distinctly different identity of itself.
I look back on the second day with a certain sense of facepalm. We might not have made it to Arambol or Palolem, but we were definitely sure of making it to Paradise Beach, once one of Puducherry’s best-kept secrets. Our ever-friendly Airbnb host, Prasanth, gave us expert directions to the beach where supposedly, ahem, even alcohol can be snuck into.
So, after a quick breakfast at Le Café of some overly-cheesy lasagne and stir-fried prawns, we set out on the quest for Paradise Beach. Placing our trust once again on Google Maps, out of habit, we exited from the French drapes that Puducherry lies curtained behind and delved into the heart of the town. We passed houses with kolam etched intricately, we saw the men in traditional veshtis and women with gajra laced around their hair crowding the majorly Tamilian town. In reality, however, it throbs with the rich culture of the South.
Suddenly awe-struck with the raw charm of Puducherry, we blindly let Google Maps guide us down roads less travelled (which further convinced us that this is the way to paradise) until...we arrived somewhere else. It was a strangely beautiful place though, with mangrove backwaters and a narrow mud road that led us to the secluded white sand beach, but was it the paradise we were looking for?
We decided to keep our confusion at bay and let the excitement take over as we saw the blue waves rush to the seashell-scattered shore of the obscure Veerampattinam Beach, where we had fatefully turned up. The clouds were beginning to gather again and the playful gusts of wind tugged at our heartstrings, urging us to untighten it, and we couldn’t refuse. Sitting ourselves down, drenched in a sense of calm, we sipped on our beers and felt truly alive, after a long, long time. We might not have made it to the correct paradise but none of us complained. Perhaps, paradise was another state of mind and there, at that moment, with the rolling waves, carefree breeze, and the company of others, we were in paradise alright.
Saying goodbye to a place has never gone down well with me. I knew Puducherry wouldn’t be easy to bid adieu to either, just as we left the Puducherry Museum, having soaked our eyes in French art and history. The scooter was parked on the sun-kissed avenue, longingly waiting for us to take one last ride, longing for one more chance to surprise us with the beauty of the place.
As I thought Puducherry cannot surprise me any further and pull me into its warm heart, we stumbled across Serenity Beach. There were seaside shacks that dotted the expansive strip of sand and being a fishing hotspot, my heart swelled with glee when the aroma of fried fish and squid rings stirred in a spicy masala wafted to my ever-alert nose. The fresh catch of the day was put on display here and you could choose what you wanted to have, and looking back, I might have gone a little overboard then, seeing all that gorgeous seafood!
Aside from the gastronomic delight that Serenity gifted me with, the sheer beauty of the rocks extending into the sea did justice to the name of the beach. The waves are high here and it’s a great spot for surfing, but instead, sitting on top of the boardwalk, we let our legs dangle freely, as the waves crashed against the rocks, sprinkling some of its salinity on us.
It has been a few months since I last visited the charming town. Yet, Puducherry rises in my dreams, with its sudden strips of white sand beaches, with all the French historic buildings and immaculately designed churches, the postcard-perfect streets, the cosy cafés, and lastly, its people: ever warm and affectionate. I’ve rarely been homesick for a place I’ve only managed to offer a weekend to, yet Puducherry is like the nagging lover, who keeps you safely tucked in its arms, unwilling to let go. Bewitching you with its French charm and waltzing into your heart with its Tamil warmth, Puducherry is like a gooey mixture of everything you love—baked with a lot of happiness and sprinkled with a generous dash of sunshine!
How To Reach
International Airport: Chennai
Drive from: Bengaluru (309kms, 7 hours); Chennai (165kms, 3 hours)
Where To Go
St Andrew’s Church
Where To Eat
There is no visiting Puducherry without trying coq au vin, baguettes and, of course, crêpes!
Café Rendezvous and Coromandel Café are perfect for romantic dine-outs, with their colonial setting and a wide range of cocktails
Local transport like auto- rickshaws, uber, ola is easily available. However, the best and recommended mode of travelling would be to rent a scooter.
What To Do
Watch the sunset at the new lighthouse and take a stroll down Promenade during dusk.
Where To Stay
Gratitude Heritage: A peaceful and aesthetically pleasing guesthouse, 9442065029; gratitudeheritage.in
The Promenade: Gorgeous sea views and a Balinese-themed pool, 0413-2227750; sarovarhotels.com
Villa Shanti: Located in old French town with vertical gardens and an airy courtyard, 0413-4200028; lavillashanti.com