Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The architecture of the reception centre is quite interesting

Monday, March 5, 2007 A Weekend at Pondicherry Considering that we are 2.5 hrs by road from Chennai , Pondicherry would easily rank as one of the easiest getaways in south India (Mysore comes right up there) , add to that another convenience that you stay on East Coast Road and it just doesn't make any sense that you haven't given Pondicherry a visit. So on a relatively cool Chennai weekend, we gingerly took up the trip.
To first timers on this trip , start really early (5/5:30 AM) depending on where you are in Chennai so that you can hit Mahabalipuram which is very conveniently on the way before sunrise. The shore temples have braved strong winds and still stand out as magnificient (will post some pics separately). There's a slightly ramshackle restaurant by the bus stand (strictly avoid if you are a hygiene freak) called Hotel Mamalla which serves a fantastic south Indian breakfast. So you should be well and truly on track to reach Pondicherry before lunch time - the drive is pleasant and with the road hugging the coastline , the sight of the sea between clumps of trees and the lagoons on the way makes it really worthwhile (it would be well worth a bike trip).
We chose to stay at the Le Dupleix which is located in the French quarter. It's fairly easy to find once you have figured out the Rues in the French quarter. Here's an excerpt from the Hotel's website"Le Dupleix offers 14 Rooms and is a fusion between the rich, colonial heritage and a contemporary flavour. The hotel beautifully complements Pondicherry. They both epitomize a harmonious merge of the traditional Tamil culture, the old French colonial heritage and a strong spiritual base.It is an 18th century French colonial villa, originally built for the “Maire” Mayor of Pondicherry. Now restored and modernized the hotel is an architectural masterpiece showcasing the life of the 18th century French Governor Marquis Joseph-Francois Dupleix. The 14 suites are all unique in style and furnishings and each provides a unique experience. "The location and the ambience of the hotel pretty much lives up to the description and some of the rooms do look grand , but there's much that's left wanting from a service standpoint. The checkin process took a good hour and though we were promised a suite , we managed to get a fairly dark , cramped room. The food is good though slightly overpriced and though the bar room is well done , the service is slow.There's not much to see in the city and its ideal for a vey laid back weekend , the French quarter definitely stands out as the place to be staying in Pondicherry and I strogly recommend a walk around this area, most of the homes have retained their old world charm (have included some pictures from the walk) and the streets are clean and well maintained. You can ramble along the streets for a good 2-3 hrs discovering some neat little eateries/specialty stores tucked into some corners of the french quarter. The police station at the entrance of the Rue Caserne was interesting and since this has the french influence , you can spot a gendarme
The next stop on the agenda was a walk to the Mother's Shrine the next morning. This is a 15 minute walk from the hotel and you can get a glimpse of the governor's mansion on the way , passed a little temple on the way with an elephant tethered to the gates. What strikes you throughout is the quietude and relaxed ambience which seems to permeate the entire place. Outside the French quarter the place is pretty much an extension of Chennai , though there are a few churches that you can visit. The streets are quite busy and there are some good buys you can get on shirts and leather goods. With rest of the time filled in with lazy afternoon reading at the hotel , it was time to wrap up and leave, so that brought us to the last stop - Auroville. This by far was what I was really looking forward to throughout the trip and alas was in for a disappointment.
Auroville is a fairly large commune on the outskirts of the city - towards Chennai . The timings are erratic and we hit a bad time wherein the access to the Matri Mandir was closed, nevertheless there's a fairly good canteen in the campus which has a unique menu- strongly recommended and the architecture of the reception centre is quite interesting (pics attached). So we were on the way back by evening and again the drive back was refreshing. Some of the palm fringed salt flats along the way are quite picturesque. To the true enthusiasts I would strongly recommend that you check with Auroville about availability of acco within the commune. I have the strong feeling that I'll return shortly to Pondicherry , till then , it's more blogging. Posted by Rajeev at 6:54 AM

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