The first time I heard of Pondicherry was in the novel The Life of Pi. It doesn’t play a huge role in the book, but it’s the town that Pi is from and where he and his family start their journey across the sea. So when I planned to spend a few days in the south of India before heading to Sri Lanka, and read about the beauty of Pondicherry, it was the place I wanted to go.
When arriving in India, my boyfriend and I flew into Chennai, the third largest city in India and it was simply, total chaos. Construction work going on everywhere, cars, motorbikes, trucks and cattle bombarded the streets so much, you couldn’t see the road in front of you.
When my boyfriend and I finally got to our dingy side-street (but cheap!) hotel after snailing our way through traffic for an hour and getting ripped off by the taxi driver, we were kind of scared to go back outside.
We agreed to have a look around Chennai, but leave as soon as possible the next day. After a few hours of trying to find the bus station the next morning, we were thankful someone on the first bus was calling out ‘PONDY PONDY PONDY!’ I doubt they had to look at us for more than a second to guess where we wanted to go (and that we wanted to leave ASAP).
Arriving in the seaside city of Pondicherry was a breath of fresh air (literally) after being in the industrial city of Chennai. We booked ourselves into the only hotel right on the beach which boasted a beautiful green meditation garden. The rooms were big and breezy and quiet! We’d found our own little paradise.
Although the beach isn’t really suitable for swimming with waves that pound onto huge grey rocks, the street parallel to the ocean is closed to cars from sunset to sunrise, so tourists are free to stroll and enjoy the waterside cafes and stalls.
Being a former French colony, there is a French quarter of the city, which are the few streets parallel to the water. The shaded streets boast beautiful European style buildings, smothered with all the colours and smells of India. There are plenty of hide-away courtyard cafes and boutique shops for all your relaxing and purchasing needs.
Although not the most significant tourist destination in India, it does offer travellers a small break from what can be an overwhelming culture and way of life. Pondicherry is the perfect place to catch your breath and relax in more familiar surroundings which still have a twist of India. And don’t be put off drinking the scrumptious chai tea because ‘it’s too hot for a hot drink’. Pull up a street corner and drink it! And have one for me too.