A weekend in Pondicherry (Puducherry)

 

Zahra enjoying sunrise on the beach in Pondicherry
 
 Oh I do like to be beside the seaside, oh I do like to be beside the sea

The old English song comes into my head as we wake up to the sound of the waves lapping onto the beach. I love the sea. I was born beside the sea in Southport and grew up there. I lived for many years in Southsea, Portsmouth – right on the seafront initially. I have a lot of lovely seaside related memories. It is something I have learned I miss a lot. Living in landlocked Derby in the UK for the best part of 15 years taught me how much I like the fresh sea air and a bracing breeze. Sunday afternoon walks are just not the same without them. Bangalore is also landlocked in the south of India and has no fresh air at all. I was therefore genuinely excited about the prospect of getting to the sea again (the last time was Goa in November).

I won’t bore you with the frankly terrible journey by road to get there. The guide book stated it would take 3.5 hours, Google maps said 5.5 hours but it actually took us 8 hours on the ‘national highway’ come dirt track. We arrived at the hotel at 1 am having expected to be there by 8.30pm the previous evening.

We booked the holiday once again through Kamalan Travel, who are proving to be brilliant frankly. They arranged the hotel, drivers accommodation and guide for Saturday morning. In addition gave us the recommendation to visit the Golden Temple in Vellore (see separate blog post on that). We stayed at Le Pondy, a lovely beachfront hotel with a pool. We had a seaview room on the first floor. The view was stunning. Waking up to sunrise over the sea was simply beautiful.

Zahra enjoying sunrise from the balcony

We quickly headed to the beach to enjoy the warm waves of the Indian Ocean lapping at our feet as the sun rose bright in the sky. The gentle warm breeze and fresh sea air were a tonic for the soul (and frankly my recovering body). We paddled and splashed about for a while watching the local fishermen in their small boats moving from one location to another hoping for a better and bigger catch. After a while we headed back to the hotel to wake up a sleepy Rez and head down for breakfast (a rather splendid buffet affair). 

Pondicherry

Pondicherry is a former French colony on the south east coast of India and one of the few places in India that the French colonial past can be experienced. We were guided on a heritage walk through the French Quarter by Ashok Panda from INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage). He is pleasingly enthuastic about his work and the work of INTACH in trying to save and restore and control new bulilds in the French style in the French quarter. We were able to walk along the the streets, maintained to a European standard, without rubbish anywhere in sight. It was really refreshing to be able to just walk around the streets looking at buildings, listening to Ashok informing us about the past of each building and what was done to save and restore them. This is a rarity in India and impossible in Bangalore. 

  

Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges

Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges

We headed into the Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges (literally ‘the church of Our Lady of Angels’) known locally as the French Church. The church front looks out to the Bay of Bengal over a garden and a statue of Joan of Arc, armoured and carrying a battle standard. The garden and statue were gifted by a politician and industrialist before his return to France in 1919. The church underwent a a major renovation between 2009-2012 led by the Pondicherry Heritage Association when the interior and exterior were completely repainted. 

 

Our guide, Ashok Panda, from INTACH
 
By midday it was 32C and we headed back to the welcome coolness of the hotel Palais De Mahe where we enjoyed a cold glass of water whilst Ashok told us more about the town’s history and development.

Goubert Avenue

We took a short walk along the promenade on Goubert Avenue. It’s a long promenade with a wall to the raised beach and rocky edge to the sea (a bit of a drop frankly!). There’s a old jetty and a statue of Gandhi at one end and a governor of Pondicherry at the other, with various statues and monuments along the way – Joan of Arc being one. It’s pleasant enough but the lack of cafes and restaurants for an ice cream or coffee stop made the heat unbearable and the walk a short one, especially as I burnt my feet on the sand – scorching! We headed back to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon by the pool and trying keep Zahra’s plaster dry in a carry bag whilst she played in the shallow part of the pool!

Madame Shanthes

In the evening we headed back into Pondicherry to try out a local restaurant recommended in the guide book. We would normally go from personal recommendations but we had none for here. I’m glad we booked – it was a popular place and busy. We saw them turn away at least 10 people as they were full. Madame Shanthes is a rooftop restaurant and you can eat inside or outside. Inside is still open at the sides but has a rush roof. The waiters were  friendly and helpful and made suggestions from the menu. I went for catch of the day – white snapper – it was delicious. (And considering it stayed down after 3 days of eating nothing I was really relieved).

  
Sunday morning was spent on the beach and having a leisurely breakfast before checking out and heading off to visit The Golden Temple in Vellore; Refreshed from my intake of fresh sea air and the sound of waves.

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