While sitting in Le Cafe with a book in hand or while canvassing the French colony or if you are the spiritual kind in quiet contemplation at the Aurobindo Ashram. Or simply walking by the beach, looking at the waves crashing against the railing at Beach Road.
If I had to redo my holiday, I would just walk through the French colony till my heels hurt and then go and park myself in Le Cafe. But this time around I visited most of the places on the tourist map. Here is a quick roundup.
Starting with the French colony – the structure of the buildings, the dash of yellows mingling with the whites and the greys, and the ambiance (it is pretty quiet here) do transport you to France for a while – and it feels magnificent. So does, watching the locals including old ladies in sarees using the bicycle to commute.
The Auroville is a magnificent structure – with the Matrimadir (the dome structure below), the 12-petal like structures and an amphitheater. Sadly, the structure can only been seen from afar a viewing point and entry inside needs special permission.
The walk from the parking spot at Auroville to the viewing point is around 15 minutes. The area is plush with greenery and there is an banyan tree, which is now more than a 100 years old. The information centre near the entrance is where you can learn about the idea behind Auroville, the design and construction of the dome and other aspects.
There are a couple of restaurants within the premises. We went to one that had pizza, French and Italian cuisine. Our menu included some spaghetti, chicken cutlet and squid with the traditional mashed potatoes and vegetables, all of which were decent, the squid was the pick of the lot. We also tried Satsanga in the main city for French cuisine. On the menu was steak, chicken in mushroom sauce and baked fish with loads of mashed potatoes. Overall, the food was nice and you could give it a try. But, on the whole, French food is quite bland when compared to Indian standards.
In the Auroville premises itself are boutiques, which sell everything from clothes, lamps, bags etc. As a matter of fact, wherever we went we saw shops selling pretty lamps, even on the roads, so you might want to pick one up.
Walking on the Beach Road is like walking on Marine Drive, only the waves are more stronger and the stalls are reminiscent of Chowpatty. Walking down the road, you will see a statue of Gandhi, opposite which stands one of Nehru and next to it is the French War memorial – all standing tall in pristine white.
Also on the stretch stands Le Cafe, which I keep mentioning. It is reminiscent of the joints near Bandstand. A small little place with beautiful view of the sea, rustling wind and good snack options. The cafe is also open 24 hours and has fares like burgers, fries, croissants, baguettes etc. Sadly, the only thing we could sample was the ‘pain de chocolat’ or chocolate croissant and cappuccino. But both were quite delicious.
The Aurobindo Ashram and Sri Manakula Vinayagar temple are located close to the Beach Road and are just opposite each other. I would advise you to visit these places only if you want to learn more about Sri Aurobindo or want to offer prayers at the temple. The Pondicherry museum has quite a few artifacts ranging from pots to furniture, coins, swords etc but again it is for the aficionados.
The Paradise Beach is a short ferry ride away. The beach, itself, is windy but swimming is not permitted though people do venture out. The curious aspect of this beach is that it there are land pockets in the middle, so there are deep and shallow areas. The beginning itself is deep but as you go ahead it gets shallow and you see people walking nonchalantly right in the middle as if they were walking on a concrete road. The sand though skids quite quickly from beneath the feet. It is a nice place to relax for a while – while eating fried prawns and queuing up for a ride on the swing.
On the shopping front, we didn’t find much. The main market was full of branded stores that are aplenty here. But the common fares were leather bags, lamps like I mentioned above and pretty envelopes.
And lastly, we were staying at the Zest – Big Beach resort, which was delightful. A vast property, with access to the beach, lots of activities, great staff and the most comfortable chairs ever! I wish they were giving these away for free…
Overall, a great place to relax and just let the time be…..