Saturday, June 27, 2009

Pondicherry-The French Connection

Chennai: What a pleasant surprise! Perceptions can be so wrong. Based on my experience during my last business trip to Chennai I had the impression that Chennai wasn’t really a happening place. And then we met Madhu, the Pharaoh of T-Nagar.

Joy and I have been planning to visit TJ at Chennai on our way to Pondy for quite a while now. It had been around 3 years since we met TJ, so this was one hell of a reunion. Boy, did we have a blast. Madhu and TJ’s hospitality simply floored us.

The partying at Chennai started with us attending a music release of a period Tamil film courtesy Madhu who organized the event. We met some Tamil stars and even got ourselves featured on Page 3 of DC Chennai. Andrea Jeremiah and AR Rahman’s nephew were some interesting people present that evening to promote the movie. Although, Joy was falling all over himself to meet Andrea, one look from me prevented that. Men will be men.

Later in the evening, we went to the Leather Bar at the Park, one of the most popular watering holes in the city and ended it off with a sumptuous midnight buffet in the wee hours of the morning. The next day we shopped at Spencers Plaza and Globus and generally hung around the city. In the evening, we went pub hopping again. Our nocturnal activities began at TDS, continued to the Leather Bar and Pasha and ended with a nice midnight feast at the Residency.

Finally, on Saturday morning we began our trip to Pondy. Enroute, we stopped at this Arts Village called Dakshin Chitra. The drive down the East Coast Road is one of the best and the view is absolutely scenic. There are a lot of resorts that you may want to stop at if you have some time to spare.

Anyways, after Dakshin Chitra we headed straight to Pondy. If you ever plan a trip to Pondy, always, book a room at either the Ashram Guest Houses or Hotels at the French Quarters. The Ashram Guest House rooms are simple (No phones, no television), clean and reasonable. The room rates vary from 600 for Non AC to 1500 for AC Sea facing rooms. Sea-side and Park Guest House are two places where you can find rooms overlooking the sea. If budget is not a constraint, you can always stay at Ajantha Hotel or the Promenade, which are also strategically located on the Promenade overlooking the sea. The rest of Pondy is one big, bustling Indian bazaar so if you want to experience the serene atmosphere of the ashram and walk down the cobbled streets and the Promenade ensure you book a place at the French Quarters.

Do note that the Ashram guest houses have strict timings so gates close at 10:30 pm. If you stay at the guest house, you also get a pass to visit the Ashram and dine (breakfast, lunch and dinner) at the Ashram Dining Hall for a measly sum of Rs. 20 per day (per person). However, they have godforsaken timings so if that doesn’t suit you; you have the option of dining at some of the finest French restaurants in town.

It is truly a gastronomical delight. Joy and I gorged on lobsters, crabs, other varieties of fish and meat. One of the best places to dine in Pondy is Rendezvous. This place has an impressive menu and the food is awesome. The pork ribs and lobsters served here are simply delicious.

Other places worth mention are La Maree, a restaurant at Hotel Du Parc where they serve some amazing crab and Madame Shanthe which serves Poisson Grille (Grilled Fish) and Boeuf en daube (French meat stew). Joy and I had to pay another visit for more of the stew. It was simply divine! Other nice places to dine are Satsang and the Lighthouse, which is a rooftop restaurant at the Promenade Hotel. The food at the Lighthouse is delicious and the view is worth a visit as you get to dine overlooking the Promenade and the Bay of Bengal.

In case you are worried about prices, let me tell you that Pondy is relatively inexpensive in comparison to the places we’ve frequented in Goa. A meal for two inclusive of drinks costs anywhere between Rs. 500-1200 depending on the place you are dining at. And the sheer variety of options on the menu is mindboggling.

To get around Pondy, you can always hire cycles at Rs.35 or bikes at Rs. 150-170 per day. Apart from the Promenade and French restaurants, the most renowned tourist spot is Auroville, which is a Universal town located 15 kms from Pondy. The Matri Mandir (meditation hall with the world’s biggest man-made crystal ball) is the attraction here. You can also pick up souvenirs at the Visitor’s centre and feast on a variety of delicious cakes and other homemade produce at their bakery. The travel guides say that Auroville offers less to see and lots to experience. Honestly, I feel this place is over hyped and my advice to all travelers to Pondy would be to book a place near the Ashram at Pondy and enjoy the Promenade and the French Quarters. There is nothing much to see or do at Auroville.

Another highlight of the trip was a visit to Mahabs. Mahabs or Mahabalipuram is on the ECR enroute from Chennai to Pondy but we decided to visit after making Pondy as our base. You can hire cabs to take you there. A Non AC Indica costs around 1500 and an AC Cab is around 1800. You can contact Tirumala at CNP Travels (9443216997) for cabs in and around Pondy. The hotel travel desks usually have a Travel agency and cab service but their rates are sometimes astronomical so it is advisable to check around the local places for the best deals.

If you ever plan a trip to Mahabs, GRT Temple Bay Resorts is worth a visit. The Resort is strategically located next to the Shore Temple and they have a restaurant called The Wharf overlooking the sea. Thanks much to Srini and Deb for recommending this place. We had an absolutely fantastic experience here. The view, the food, and the service was beyond compare. A meal for two costs around Rs.1500 to Rs.2000 and be warned that their portions are enormous.

Well, it’s the end of another great vacation. Back to the grind on Monday after 10 days of sheer bliss and so not looking forward to it.