COOL CAFES AND CHILLED BEACHES: Four days in hippie Pondicherry

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We ended up leaving Chennai one day early as it was a bit too much. We took a taxi (4000 rupees including everything) to Pondicherry stopping at Mahabalipuram (500 rupees entry) – a really nice temple by the sea. We explored in the heat for a bit before heading off to Pondy.

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After checking into the hotel, we headed to the French Quarter. Our first stop was Sri Aurobindo ashram, a really nice ashram where we could see people meditating and buy books at the amazing multi-lingual bookshop.

Right behind it we found Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar, a temple that looked amazing but was also very touristy. There was an elephant at the door trained to give blessings to people in exchange for a tip (which is just terrible no matter how it looks).

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Inside, the place was really impressive, with intricate detail everywhere. Even as a tourist you can get a blessing from a swami for a small donation – which was a nice thing to do even if a bit fake.

We carried on exploring the French Quarter, which was really quaint and cool but also very hot. We stopped for dinner and beers at Le Chateau, which served great food at their rooftop terrace (dinner and plenty of beers for three for 3500 rupees).

By the end of our first night in Pondy we knew we were onto something good!

DAY 2

We had a late breakfast at Cafe des Arts, a nice cafe with a beautiful courtyard serving delicious food (brunch for three for 1700 rupees).

We then headed to Mission Street for some shopping – our favourite place was Fabindia, but there are many places selling all kinds of stuff at varying prices (although even the expensive places are cheap by UK standards).

We got on a taxi to Serenity beach, where we were staying for the next three days. This is a popular beach at it’s sandy (most beaches in Pondicherry are rocky).

In the evening we went back to the city centre for drinks – we stopped at Le Space and LB2 Lounge (they’re next to each other), cool places serving yummy cocktails at around 300 rupees.

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DAY 3

By our third day we were feeling like the other hippies we saw around town.

We started our day in Auroville, a local community just outside Pondicherry. The place has a golden dome (called Matrimandir) where it’s possible to meditate, but you need to book it in advance – you can check out the grounds without booking though. Although it’s supposed to be a money-free place, the Visitor Centre is well-equipped with cafes and souvenir shops.

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Back at the city centre we had Ayurvedic massages at Keralaa Ayurveda – we had an hour and a half combo including a full body massage, Elakizhi and Shirodhara (the latter was really relaxing). All of it for 2150 rupees.

We stopped for a snack at Baker Street, a bakery serving yummy pastry, before heading off to a 75min rooftop yoga session at Rishi (only 300 rupees per person).

Back at Serenity Beach we ordered takeaway food from Theevu Plage (1100 rupees) to eat at our beautiful terrace. By the end of this relaxing and adventure-packed day, we were daydreaming about extending our stay in Pondicherry.

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DAY 4

Our last day in Pondy started with another yoga session – this time our instructor Sumesh came to our flat to teach a class at our terrace.

We then walked to nearby Motorcycle Diaries for a yummy lunch of veggie burgers and smoothies (1100 rupees).

We had a late train to catch so we spent the afternoon lazying about in our house before heading for dinner in the city. We went to Villa Shanti, the most amazing restaurant serving great Indian food (dinner for three for 3000 rupees including drinks and tip).

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Stay: We spent our first night at Executive Inn, a nice hotel in the French Quarter. We then moved to this villa at Serenity Beach – the place was really great, with a terrace overlooking the sea, but a bit far from the city centre (although there are plenty of tuk-tuks around).
  • Weather: Pondicherry was really hot during the day (35 degrees was usual) and most places have fans rather than air-con, so we felt the heat more than in other places – although that wasn’t a big problem.
  • Go: From Chennai to Pondicherry a taxi costs 4000 rupees including all taxes. The alternative is to take an overnight train, but the taxi gives you the opportunity to stop at the Mahabalipuram temples on the way.
  • Transportation: Unlike most places we visited, Pondicherry is organised in a simple grid, so it’s easy to find your way around and you can cover a lot on foot. As ever, tuk-tuks are always available but they charge much more than in other towns.

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