Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The French Connection

Dawn this past Saturday drew the curtains of darkness to reveal a sight that couldn’t have been prettier – a road leading to a beautiful arch, a wide tree-lined stretch of tarmac, a patch of colonial charm, cobbled streets and then the sea…Serenity. And it was just six in the morning.

That was my introduction to Pondicherry, one that I will always remember for more reasons than one. This is what three years of anticipation does to you. Of course, it also makes you feel foolish and leaves you wondering why you couldn’t cover 300 Km in 3 years…but then some things are just meant to happen in a certain way. I, for one, am not complaining one bit about that Universal arrangement.

So yes, a plan that lasted all the way to being put in action and good, willing company took us to an India that we hadn’t seen before. It was an India I had always wanted to see, one where for a change people are not ashamed of having been ruled or have gone on a renaming spree because something sounded too non-Indian, one where the roots are strongly held in place and everything just grows around them, one which is so accepting of itself that it naturally becomes charming. And we saw it all.

Walking through the French part of the town early in the morning, one couldn’t help but notice how the streets still have French names and how the houses still have French windows. The streets don’t have tar on them and are so well laid out that it is difficult to be lost. Of course it helps that all roads ultimately lead to Goubert Avenue and the sea, but still.

Goubert Avenue at that hour was a peaceful welcome despite the fact that it was full of morning walkers; no one spoke too loudly or spoke at all, everyone just meditated on the sea and we joined them in doing so. It was beautiful, breathing the moist sea air and looking out to sea, trying to figure out where the sky ended and the sea begun, watching the fishermen lay their nets and colourful boats dot the blue canvas. There is something about being around the sea that is immensely soothing. Saturday morning was reiteration of the fact.

The Universe decided to be even kinder than it usually is by ushering in a mildly warm and cloudy day into Pondicherry. I hardly felt the pinch of heat and it was a pleasant surprise given that I was expecting a sunny and humid 37 degrees. Life’s mercies : )

The town was just about waking up and we started scourging the streets for some grub. The Saravana hotel chain disappointed us and we headed to Murugan’s Café for some of the softest Idlis and crispest Vadas I have had in some time now. Stepping into that place was like entering a traditional Tamil Brahmin household – Kolam outside the door, low ceiling, pictures of Hindu deities with small white calendar pages and big black numbers for dates beneath them, banana leafs spread on foldable metal tables and the sounds of Venkatesha’s name filling the room through a blaring speaker – it was the most authentic setting to have some traditional Idli-Vada-Filter Coffee. Bliss!

Two of us travellers had a friend in Pondicherry (imagine living in that place!) and soon we were catching up with him in that warm little place called Daily Bread over some tea and with the aroma of freshly baked bread filling our lungs. We didn’t yet have a place to stay in but everybody, especially our friend from Pondicherry, was too laid back to get to the task immediately since all we needed was a place to crash for the night. For the day, we had decided to paint the town red and accommodation wasn’t top priority. Just some rest and rejuvenating laughter at our friend’s place sufficed.

We got back to Goubert Avenue for another stroll, now with the noise level a few decibels higher. We were also trying to find a place to stay (on the sea facing Goubert Avenue on Independence Day Saturday…now that’s what you call high hopes) so we walked into this place that was charming beyond words. The place was bathed in stark white with quaint looking windows and a first floor sit-out looking out to sea. That place is marked up for sure for one of the future visits…reading a book in that sit-out with some nice hot coffee laid out on the table and looking out at the expansive blue…it just has to be done once in life.

Anyway, the breakfast all digested we headed to the most talked about place as far as all my friends who have been to Pondicherry are concerned (now I will become part of that fan club) – Rendezvous. The ambience was splendid with the thatched roof and furniture to go with that look, plants laid out throughout. The food was delectable. We had the best time ever…I laughed so much there were tears rolling down my eyes. The experience was memorable. Enough said. Do visit Rendezvous to know what I am talking about.

A quick peek at the sea from the Pondicherry Harbour, evening tea at Daily Bread, a stroll though the buzzing and colourful evening market and some DVD’s picked up at one of the many DVD stores (Tic Tac being the most famous) and it was nightfall already. Some of the friends were really sweet and found us two nice clean rooms in town meanwhile. Their kindness was overwhelming in a way. That ensured that the little bit of worry that was there was gone too, thanks to them.

By this time, we hadn’t slept in almost 36 hours but it was as if we were trying to extract as much as possible from what was remaining of the day. We were too tired to party but chilling out in a comfortable room watching Football and having some good Czech wine wasn’t too bad for an alternative. A modest meal at the hotel’s restaurant and we were set to literally crash and prepare ourselves for Sunday.

Sunday Sunrise on the beach didn’t quite happen but that’s for the next time. We lazily stepped out for breakfast at Daily Bread a while later (that place is too charming to be done with in one or two visits). A satiating Sunday breakfast and we were set for the day, the only thing on the agenda being the beach. Some rain and a thick bunch of clouds made it perfect weather to be on the shore watching the waves come and go, to feel the sand under one’s feet, to watch your friends become kids again embodying the word fun, to breathe deeply and to feel happy. It was real joy. The kind that makes you sing and be happy to be alive, to be who you are, to be where you are (in life too), to be with around the people you are around and to be able to appreciate and smile about it all.

Of course the city sent a not so gentle reminder of when we should be heading back from the beach by shining the sun down hard upon us around lunchtime. We complied reluctantly but not before helping ourselves to some more of Daily Bread’s delicious fare for lunch. It was the best…a fitting culinary finale’ to our time in the not so Indian part of India.

Just to balance all the kindness off we were sent a whole lot of rain immediately upon exiting Pondicherry and all the way back. But the water didn’t quite succeed in dampening the spirits too much and the cheer more or less got carried over from Pondicherry and continues so far in the week.

It’s like being back at Daily Bread, the freshly baked and sweet smelling memories with a hint of butter here, a dash of chocolate there and you cannot help but smile and look forward to the next helping.

10 Thinkers Pondered:

KCL said...

The sun never sets over the beaches of Pondy, so they would always welcome you. Glad to know of the wonderful rescue you had!

Satish said...

Few of the things hope you did in Pondicherry...

1) Walking along the boulevards in the french colony, with the french names still intact. Many of the residents still hold French Passports there.....
2) Visiting Aurbindo Asharam and Auroville, especially the golden dome
3) About 10 kms from Pondicherry, there is a serene island formed from the backwaters.... Ride on the ferry to the island and spending a day there is must do for every traveller...
4) Drive down to Mahabalipuram from Pondicherry along the East Coast Road which is about an hour or hour and half's frive

Christina said...

Your description almost took me there :)

Smita said...

Pondicherry is one place which has always fascinated me. In fact as am in Chennai right now, the knowledge that the place isn't far away was pulling me :-)

Loved this post!!! You have described the place so well!!!

Anupama said...


I didn't actually get to see the sun too much in Pondy...looks like it's something for the next time to do :)

Hey Satish!

Check on 1) . Rest noted down for the next visit :) . And yes, might finally be going to the Naga Temple you suggested near Big Banyan Tree this weekend...thanks for the comment :)

Hey Christina!

So glad you visited :) ...thanks for the comment :)

Hey Smita!

Thanks for the comment as always :) ...have some catching up to do on your blog...and do try and go to Pondicherry if you are in Chennai already...I am sure you will like it :)

eye-in-sty-in said...

lovely description! it felt like time slowed down as u wrote this! effortless and eloquent! dil maange more!

Anupama said...

Hey Spike!


Thank you so much for the sweet comment :)

Tigerstone said...

Auroville has eluded me three times in a row.
Well, i couldn't care less, who needs Auroville when you have Rendevouz and the beach?

Tigerstone said...

And yes, avoid driving at night!

Anupama said...

Hey Tigerstone!!

:) Auroville has to be visited at least for a change though I second you on Rendezvous and the beach, don't you agree? And yes, driving in the night is surely off the agenda!

Thanks for the comment :)