We left Thiruvanamalai at 9.30 AM and headed towards Pondicherry. the roads are good (One Track with no divider) but you can zip at close to 90 Km/ Hr . Vast open green fields and lovely tamarind trees line the roads. On the way you will cross the famous fort of Gingee (Which was called the Troy of the East by the British and virtually impregnable). As you cross Tindivanam you need to ask for some help to guide you thru the bypass. We reached our hotel – The Dunes Eco Resort by 1130 AM – so it was an easy drive.
I was disappointed with Pondicherry. Maybe I was expecting the Goa of the South – the two cities have some similarities , both are on the coast , have nice beaches, one was ruled by the Portuguese & the other by the French – but you can spend days at Goa and not get bored , while you can cover Pondicherry in 1 day.
There are 3 Things to see in Pondicherry – they are all located very close by ( Walking distance) – The Aurobindo Ashram, The Museum and the French Colony. All 3 can be covered in less than 3 hours. That leaves you time to walk around the few streets of the French colony and stroll along the promenade adjacent to the sea. The Governors residence is the only impressive French Building. Calve , Le Club or the Promenade a few large hotels and restaurants in that area ( We tried the Promenade and the food was just about OK). Close by on Mission Street Hidedesign has a large store ( the company is HQ’D in Pondicherry) – they have a flagship Red Store and a Outlet both close by. You will not spot any McDonald, Pizza Hut , Dominos etc – but will see many mom & pop shop wood fire Pizza Joints. We tried one and it was a disaster. Best bet is a lovely S Indian veg place called Surguru.
This is a chain of 4 Restaurants – and can aptly be called the Saravana Bhawan of Pondicherry . (Most localites call it Satguru).
The next place to visit in Pondicherry is Auroville. Its actually located in TN – and its about 14 Km off the ECR Highway. Its an International Community that is fully self sufficient. Spread across 40 Sq Kms – the place has been transformed from a virtual desert into a well planned , organized centre.
At the heart of Auroville is the Matri Mandir – a centre of meditation. Access is restricted. You need to first watch a Video and then meet one of the representatives. Tickets are issued between 10 – 11 & 2 – 3 – and if you are lucky you get tickets for the next day. During weekends you need to come 3 days in advance. Kids below 10 not allowed. If it rains the entry may be cancelled as there are chances of making the place dirty. The message is clear – this is not a tourist spot and chances of someone visiting Pondicherry for a few days to get access to see the Mantri Mandir from inside is limited. From the Video it does look like a fabulous design – and the entire structure has taken over 35 years to build. You can get a visitors pass to see the architectural beauty from outside – its a 1 Km walk from the visitors centre. The other parts of Auroville inside a green cover are far away to walk and see. You leave Auroville a little disappointed – but the the reality is the community wants to be left alone.
So if you start your day at 9AM , complete the City activity by lunch and Auroville by 3PM – you have covered all that needs to be seen in Pondicherry – which is why you need to stay in a lovely hotel. We stayed at the Dunes Resort – a fabulous place.
Its over 40 acres of greenery , 40 Villas & Cottages – right on the ocean front. The price varies depends on the type of Villa and its location – ranges from 7K – 20 K / Night. we had booked 4 months in advance so managed to get one of the best rooms – a huge room with a massive Jacuzzi inside. Called the Artist Studio this villa has two penthouses , we were on the 1st floor and the room below us was equally big with a private pool.
There are cycles located outside every room and its very convenient to drive around on the bikes. The beach is beautiful – almost empty and is very very very clean. Its less than a 5 minute walk from the room.
Its rare to find in India a beach that is as private as this one – we walked for nearly an hr in the morning and did not spot a single human being. Water can get rough so swimming is not advised. the resort also has a lovely farm that grows their daily vegetables. Milk is supplied from the cows in the farm – whatever they lack in their farm comes from their other property at Kodaikanal ( Elephant Valley – and we are heading there in Dec). What we liked about the place is the peace & quiet , hearing birds in the morning , chasing some lovely butterflies , the sound of waves lapping on the beach, cows mooing in the farm.
We felt if only real estate companies developed properties like these – there would be a rush of buyers. I even ventured to ask the manager if they were planning a retirement home on similar concept.
The service in the hotel is decent. The staff are friendly. There are some activities for the kids – they can watch the cows being milked and even try their hand
at it, a pottery centre where they can make their own pots. A lovely swimming pool and a play area for smaller kids. Whats missing is some water sports and some events in the evening. Its a nice place if you plan a holiday with 2 – 3 families and you can easily spend a few days here enjoying every minute of it.
The manager Mr Umapathi is very helpful and goes out of the way to help you , and the staff is friendly and nice. The only grouse we had was on the Breakfast Buffet – our experience with food at most resorts Vythri, Destiny Farms , Cicada etc has been fabulous. At The Dunes the food lacked in taste & presentation. The breakfast buffet was sad. When you charge 20K for a night you better have standards that you get in an ITC or Hyatt – the ambience, cutlery , service were all lacking . The Gym & the Spa exist – but nothing great to write about them
So when in Pondicherry The Dunes is a good option ( We heard that Le Pondy is also a good place) . A 2 night stay is sufficient – if you want to take a day trip to Chidambaram maybe a 3 night trip. Avoid Pondy in summer – it can be very very hot , again Oct to Feb is the best time to travel, but Nov / Dec is NE Monsoon !!
The Dunes is located on the ECR Road – 14 Km away from Pondicherry city – so when you head to Chennai its one straight road. Again a single track road with no dividers – but you can easily do 100+ Km/Hr and reach Mahabalipuram in less than an hr. On our way to Chennai we stopped by at Dakshinachitra (We have been to Mahabs before hence skipped it – but if you haven’t don’t miss it , its a UNESCO world heritage site)
Dakshinchitra is located 21 Km from Chennai. It is a museum of traditional S India houses from T Nadu , Kerala, Andhra & Karnataka . Kids will love to see how our grandparents lived – they also have some activities and stores in the complex. You can easily spend a few hrs here , have lunch at the restaurant inside and then head to Chennai. We had only a day at Chennai and between visiting some relatives – we ensured that we managed to drop by Rathna Stores, Saravana Bhawan and the lovely jewelry & silk sari stores in and around Pannagal Park (Warning – These stores can cause serious damage to your purse).
We left Chennai at 12 Noon and were at home in Bangalore at 545 PM – with a 30 min stop at Vellore.
A good compact trip – where the journey was not tiring. From temples, Ashrams , Beaches , Global Community, Shopping – we had a lot of variety packed in the 4 night 5 Day trip.
In the busy schedule at Bangalore we live from holiday to holiday , so we are eagerly looking forward to our next one at the Park Hyatt – Goa around Diwali
Till then Goodbye !