Our trip to Puducherry wasn't planned. It just happened. We were looking for a short getaway, and a friend suggested Pondy (as Puducherry is more famously known). We then decided to explore it by road.
We drove down to Pondy, a good 330 km, and a tiring one at that, considering the narrow roads in some stretches of the journey. But, the moment we landed in Pondy, we were glad we made the trip as the first thing that caught our attention was the seafront promenade, wide boulevards, and bright-coloured houses with pink, red and white bougainvillea in their compounds.
Checking into our hotel, we enquired about the touristy places to visit. And we realised there were quite a few. The same evening, we set out to explore the quaint town on foot. Neatly laid roads lined by pretty houses, cool evening breeze, foreigners ambling down the roads in gay abandon... To add to our fascination, all the roads had French names, as if to drive home the point that Pondy was, in fact, a French colony until recently, till 1954.
Having had a long day, we decided to retire for the night and continue our Pondy-exploration the next day. Well, we had to have dinner before hitting the sack, so off we went in search of a good place to eat. And, were we floored? For, the choices were mindboggling. From the ubiquitous idli-dosa-idiyappam places to seafood restaurants to cute little cafes with an assortment of baked goodies and eateries serving good steak and wine. We settled for seafood for the night, promising ourselves the rest of the treats over the next two days. Early next morning, we headed out to Auroville, a drive of about 15 minutes from the town.
Started in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa, fondly known as The Mother, Auroville is an experiment in universal living, a place where people of all nationalities live in harmony. A UNESCO-endorsed project, the inauguration ceremony saw the participation of representatives from 124 nations, and from all the states of our country, who brought with them some soil from their homeland, which was all put in an urn to convey the message of 'unity in diversity'. This urn, known as the Urn of Human Unity, is now placed in the amphitheatre.
The place exuded a sense of calm. A calm that was almost palpable. Lush green pathways, huge trees, a big banyan tree, and the all-pervading silence of the place... it was just idyllic. Without our realisation, we had all fallen silent. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to reconnect with oneself. As we quietly walked around the place admiring the cloak of greenery, we came face-to-face with the majestic-looking Matri Mandir at the centre of the campus.
In complete contrast to the simplicity of the place was this golden-coloured dome that evoked a sense of awe in us. People desirous of meditating in Matri Mandir need to book the slot in advance. Since we hadn't, we contented ourselves by sitting at the designated viewing point and appreciating the beauty of the structure, as also the tranquillity of the place.
It was only when our tummies started growling that we realised that it was time for lunch. Not in the mood to walk, we took the free electric shuttle service back to the Visitors' Centre, had lunch in one of the many eateries there, and headed back to the town.
Finally, it was beach time. For a Bengalurean, nothing can be more exciting than visiting beaches. We decided to go to Serenity Beach. Away from the hustle and bustle of the town, this calm and clean beach took our breath away. To add to the allure of the place, there were hardly any people around, making it seem almost like a private beach. We walked and played in the water without a care in the world. The salty smell of the sea, the lilting sound of the waves, and the soothing sea breeze enchanted us to no end. It was soon time to catch the sunset. We watched intently as the bright orange sun dipped in the azure waters of the sea. One moment it was there, watching over us witnessing its beauty, and the very next moment it was gone, becoming one with the sea. It was not the first time that we were watching the sunset. But, there are some spectacles that we never tire of experiencing, and the sunset was one of them.
Early next morning, we visited the Aurobindo Ashram. Making our way into the ashram, we noticed how scores of people - spiritual seekers, tourists, and locals - reverentially practised silence inside the ashram. This ashram was the residence of Sri Aurobindo, who withdrew from public life in 1910 and engaged himself in spiritual pursuits. People from across the world come here to meditate and practise Integral Yoga. The tree-shaded courtyard in the centre of the ashram is where the samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are enshrined. Covered with flowers, the white marble structures inspired us to remember the ideals both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother lived their lives by.
The rest of our day was spent doing 'touristy' rounds, visiting a few churches, notable among which were the Church of Our Lady of Angels, Dupleix Church, and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, visiting the French War Memorial, built in memory of the French soldiers who lost their lives in World War I; the Lighthouse, constructed in 1836; and the Pondicherry Museum, which serves as a reminder of the fact that the place was under the control of the French, the British, and the Dutch at various points in time.
Our last evening in the place was spent walking along the Promenade Beach stretch from the French War Memorial to the Dupleix Park. Taking the last ride back to our hotel, we realised the therapeutic effect this quaint little town had on us. We promised ourselves to come back soon, to soak in the calm of the place.