My time in Pondicherry has come to an abrupt end [Read: Pondicherry – First Impressions]. Like always, chaos deemed superior and I had to return to Bombay after only five and a half very eventful months. The how and why isn’t very important and the details are borderline boring. Since I’ve always been told that my writing is graphically entertaining and filled with dry wit & humour, I’d be doing myself a disservice by engaging in pointless detail of my employment & existential crises.
When I moved to Pondicherry, my perception of the place was not very different from anybody that is fascinated with the town but hasn’t lived there for long. Most tourists treat Pondicherry as a stop-over destination. Most come to spend a day or a weekend from Chennai as part of a ‘South-India’ package. I do not begrudge them. Though incredibly beautiful in patches, Pondicherry is a small place and you can cover almost all tourist attractions within a couple of days.
What makes it a truly special place is its subtle, incredible lifestyle and the unique mix of its populace. The only way you will see Pondicherry for what it really is by staying for a longer period of time and allowing yourself to get immersed into the lives and social circles of its wonderful people. In academic, travel jargon, we call a place like this an excellent destination for ‘immersive’ or ‘experiential’ travel.
In my short time here, I made some friends that I’ll cherish for all my life. Thanks to them, I got a first hand insight into the local life of Pondicherry. If you have the pleasure of living in this queer place for a brief period, here are some authentic, local things to do in Pondicherry
Play/Watch Petanque in the public parks
Petanque is one of the lasting legacies left behind by the French occupation of this town. A game played with a metal spherical ball, or ‘boule’, believed to have originated in Provence in the 20th century and brought to the little Indian town by French veterans after the second World War, still enjoys great popularity.
You can watch Petanque being played in the streets or public grounds in the White Town and the Tamil Quarter in the evenings.
Thursday Night Party (and the crazy after-parties) at Santhi Inn
Parties in Pondicherry have their own charm. Unlike the big city nightlife I’m used to in Mumbai, Delhi & Bangalore, parties in Pondicherry are a far more intimate affair. During my time here (in the summer of 2015), every Thursday was an eventful evening at a rooftop pub at Santhi Inn – a charming little place on Nehru Street. What started off as a slow evening, picked up gradually and bloomed into a revolving door of cosmopolitan groups that all seemed to somehow know each other. After the place closes at around midnight, the patrons almost always head off to somebody’s house for an after-party. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a few of these – the details of which may be mostly described as ‘inappropriate for family audience’. Not sure if this weekly event still happens at the same venue, but you can bet on the possibility of a weekly hangout spot in town – if you can find this place, this is the best way to meet some new people in the expat as well as local community.
Afternoon Feast at Salem Biryani
People often associate South India with biryani; let me tell you this is one stereotype that’s actually true. Biryanis in Pondicherry are mouth-watering yum! Salem Biryani runs inside an ancient traditional Tamil house in the heart of the Tamil Quarter, and has some of the best biryani around. Combine it with chicken or mutton chops and you’re in for a genuinely authentic feast.
Fancy a Smoke? Combine it with a traditional filter coffee at Café Lune.
If you’re a smoker, there’s some bad news and some good news. Bad news is that your options with cigarette brands are limited. You’ll mostly be restricted to varieties of ‘Gold Flake’ – king size, filter, lights and the kind. The good news is the countless number of tea and coffee stalls all over the place that make that mid-day smoke such a delight.
Be sure to catch traditional filter coffee and some mind blowing local snacks (such as wada, puri-bhaji and the likes) at Café Lune. The cafe has stood on Suffren Street since 1960, and its menu has remained unchanged throughout. I hear rumours of the place closing down when the current generation decides to call it a day. If that is indeed the case, I think I’m due one last trip for Anwerbhai’s chai and social message (on the chalkboard outside).
Ponder Upon Life/Have Drunken Serious Conversations over a Spectacular Full Moon on a Rooftop at Serenity Beach
One of the privileges of having lived in Pondicherry was the fact that I made some wonderful local friends here. These I will probably not hear from often, but will always remain a part of my life in the form of some extra-ordinary memories.
One such guy was a wonderful boy not many years older than me, who for the sake of this conversation, we shall call SurferBoy36. SurferBoy36 grew up in a small fisherman’s village outside of Pondicherry. A small community of expats had started surfing the swells at a nearby shore. A curious SurferBoy36 took an instant liking to the sport and started learning the tricks of the trade through slow, considerable steps. Today, an accomplished surfer himself, SurferBoy36 wanted to build a surfing school of his own. There was a growing number of at-risk youth in the fishermen villages along the coast, that SurferBoy36 aimed to engage through the sport.
The night I first met him, we sat on the terrace of the building that he built himself to house his school. We spoke about the ocean, and the love of his life, who lived in Europe, and whom he only saw once a year. Before the night ended, two fellow fishermen that had joined us were trying to invite me onto their fishing expeditions that sometimes lasted several nights. Tempted as I was, I’d to politely refuse, since I was working 70-80 hours a week at that point. The endearing part was that we were all able to communicate and reach each other despite all our language and socio-cultural barriers.
Bodhi Beach or Serenity Beach – amongst my favorite spots in #Pondicherry. Secluded, untouched, surrounded by a #fisherman village, the beach is a brilliant spot for #surfing, #swimming & #fishing. Made a friend here that runs a Surfing school! Can't wait to learn swimming and come back some day 😀 #travel #travelingstylist #traveling #travelingram #india #instaTBN #instaTravel #passport #beach #beaches #surf #ocean
You can now also take surfing lessons with Surferboy36 at the Mother Ocean Surf School.
Blessings at the hands of Laxmi the Elephant.
Laxmi the elephant is one of Pondicherry’s most dearly loved residents. Everyday, she makes the short trip from the Shiva temple at Iswaran Koil St. to the Ganesh Temple at Sri Manakula Vinayagar St. Here she stands outside the temple and blesses devotees in lieu of a handful of grass. She came to Pondicherry from Kerala in 1997 as a 6 year old – still an infant, given elephants can easily live to be 80; she’s been dealing out blessings and hoisting little kids onto her head ever since.
Meet Laxmi, the elephant. Everyday, she makes the short trip from the Shiva temple at Iswaran Koil St. to the Ganesh Temple at Sri Manakula Vinayagar St. Here she stands outside the temple and blesses devotees in lieu of a handful of grass (it's an aodrable sight…trust me) Laxmi is onr of Pondicherry's many delights 🙂 Tomorrow on Nomadic Lives, read about my first post on #Pondicherry #travel #instaTBN #india #asia #elephant #culture #animalLove
When I first posted this story on one of my social channels, I was once asked by a dear friend to look into Laxmi’s eyes and tell if she looked happy. I dodged the question then, but I believe an answer is long overdue. Truth be told, she doesn’t, and understandably so. She’s not in her natural habitat, and she’s the only one of her kind here. I can’t change that fact, but I think the bond she shares with the people of this town is incredibly powerful and worth a mention. I’ve seen people stop everything they are doing and run out of their houses to greet her, sometimes offer a snack when she walks past, with bells a-tinkling and her very own mahout in tow.
Despite the obvious sadness of her circumstances, she is well taken care of. Her mahout, Sindil was in fact one of 14 shortlisted for the job and was chosen after a strenuous screening procedure. He shares a close bond with the lovely mammal and you can truly feel it at times when he croons to her in Malayalam (their local language from back home).
Participate in the Chaos of Sunday Evening Market on MG Road.
Local markets fascinate me. I make it a point to walk through them and look at all the vendors at their trade – screaming, haggling, chanting out inventive punchlines, negotiating, competing and what not. I haven’t yet seen anything like the weekly market that takes place every Sunday on M.G. Road, one of Pondicherry’s main streets. You’ll find sellers and buyers of practically every kind of legal and some even illegal (well, borderline ones anyway) items on the market.
Ranging from regular household objects to rare coins, stamps, antique objects such as radio-sets from the early 1900s to hand-drawn maps of the French town, everything goes. It is a daunting place for somebody like me who doesn’t understand a word of the local language, but it is a joy to experience. It is also your best shot at buying some interesting stuff to take back home, or gift people. Like most markets in India, you better be good at bargaining though, and you could of course do with a local friend who could interpret/translate for you.
Host a BBQ Party with Friends amidst the tranquility of Auroville.
Pondicherrians (and Aurovillians) love the great outdoors. This has to be the explanation for the existence of such a large number of outdoor and rooftop recreational/entertainment/social venues. A great many of my Sundays in Pondicherry were spent lazing about somewhere, sipping on beers and roasting inventively marinated chicken on a home-made BBQ machine. The BBQ machine usually involved nothing more than a few pieces of coal or dry wood, covered by bricks under a metal grill. Make some local friends and they will inevitably invite you to a BBQ feast out in the wild somewhere. Sip on beer, make dumbass alcoholic jokes and feast on some wonderfully cooked chicken as you sit back and enjoy the bounties of nature.
Take a midnight stroll on Goubert Avenue followed by a cuppa at Le Café.
The sad part about the beach inside Pondicherry is there’s no sand – it is a rocky beach. The good part is that the road alongside, Goubert Avenue is ‘pedestrian only’ after dusk. This means you don’t have to worry about the crazy bike-riders or bus drivers running you down as you take a leisurely beach-side stroll after sundown. Pondicherry sleeps early, but the pedestrian Goubert Avenue is frequented by night walkers.
After a light beer and a hearty dinner, head for a leisurely midnight stroll along the breezy, light-filled sea-front. After you’ve walked to your heart’s desire, stop at the 24 hour coffee shop – Le Café. It is one of Pondicherry’s tourist highlight and is the only establishment that sits bang on the sea-front. Don’t expect extra-ordinary service – it is government run, which basically means they give zero fucks about how satisfied you are. It is a wonderful experience to sip on some nice tea/coffee and a midnight meal if you so wish though, with the lovely sea-breeze for company.
Vroom through the narrow streets of Pondi on a TVS XS.
A post about ‘local’ things to do in Pondicherry can’t end without a notable mention for the splendid mopeds! The mini-bikes (if you must call them that), are the essence of the little town, stuck in time! I tried hard to purchase one for myself for my time, but believe it or not, nobody who owns one wants to sell anymore. I did manage to rent it once or twice. Pondicherry is a compact town and a two-wheeler is the best mode of transport – especially for those short trips to Auroville [Read: Auroville: A Hippie Paradise, or a Place Ahead of it’s Time?]
There’s a couple of shops in Mission Street that will rent out bikes for between INR 200 – INR 400 a day depending on the make/model, time of the year and availability.
Note: bikers and bus drivers alike, people in Pondicherry have little concern for traffic rules, and rash driving is norm. In fact, I remember specifically being told I’d be more likely to cause an accident if I slowed or paused at any of the countless intersections; and although I first laughed at this, I actually witnessed it with my own eyes several times. By all means, rent a bike, but be forewarned, this is not for those with a delicate heart! HA