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Pondicherry – First Impressions

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.

I couldn’t think of a better one-liner to introduce this post. The day I started writing this post, was an exact month from the day I left behind everything I knew and moved to the wonderful little town of Pondicherry [Read: How I Quit My Job To Travel! NOT]

Rocky Beach, PondicherryEven by my mercurial standards, the past one month has been a bit of a blur. In the last 30 days, I’ve changed rooms at least thrice, literally pulled clothes out of a suitcase every single day, worked on an average of 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, travelled to Bangalore and back in a space of 2 days, witnessed a drainage block in my quarters so bad, that we had to call for a suction pump to get it cleared, met some wonderful people, both local and European, found out that keeping a dog/caring for him is easier said than done and (REJOICE!) learned how to cook some food (though admittedly, it is still a work-in-progress). In a town whose official slogan is ‘Give Time a Break…’, that check-list seems extra-ordinarily out of place.

I’ve finally managed to find a tiny little apartment, a small space for myself and a little spare time to gather my thoughts and write a virtual update for all of you guys! When I started writing this, I was a little confused over whether to talk more about my new surroundings or my experiences on living by myself for the first time. Eventually I decided I’ll just let my mind ramble and see where it gets us!

So here I begin, with a few interesting quirks about Pondicherry:

They Are Not Kidding When They Say “Give Time A Break…’

Though I’ve lived my entire life in ‘the city that never sleeps’, I’m not uninitiated to the ‘laid-back Luke’ vibe of small-ish coastal towns – eventually, I’m a native Goan, and who knows the art of loafing better than the Konkani manoos, right? And hence, despite several warnings, I thought I was prepared for the slow pace at which things move along in Pondicherry; I was mistaken…and HOW! Things move along at an atrociously slow pace! A plumber promising to arrive in an hour, shows up after 4; the banker takes half an hour to process a self-cheque; the waiters at a highly reputed, heritage hotel take 40 minutes to bring you a pint of beer; the guy at the provision store takes 15 minutes to count and hand-over half a dozen eggs. Oh! And just by the way, I’m not in the least bit exaggerating; these are all very real timelines. Fortunately, I think after Mumbai, I find this a pleasant change – to slow down a little and savour the tinier details more. How long before my patience runs out though, I couldn’t tell!

Pondicherry is Not All About the ‘French Quarters’

When I started telling people I’m moving to Pondicherry for a while, nobody could stop talking about how beautiful the French Quarters is and I should definitely visit (I’m not even sure that advice made any sense given I intended to live here, and would eventually stumble into it, even if I swore not to). There’s absolutely no doubt the French Quarters or the White Town is spectacular, and extremely beautiful; but I’m tired of people and travel magazines holding it up as Pondicherry’s saving grace. The culture, the architecture, the people and the eateries are just as beautiful in the Heritage Tamil Town, as also the Muslim Quarter. I wish people spoke about the ‘thinnai’ – the flat roofed verandahs from typical Tamil houses, which were actually built as a resting spot for weary travellers, with as much excitement as they described the vaulted arch-ways or the open courtyards of French houses!

I’m not exaggerating, here…have a look:

The Food is Honestly Beautiful!

I’ve always said, and I still maintain that I’m not a major foodie! Still, I find myself really enjoying my meals here. Be it the dainty European delicatessens, bakeries and cafes, the heritage hotels or the bustling Tamil eateries, I’ve discovered some wonderful flavours here. Sure, there’s an over-dose of ‘rice’ and I’m not very fond of it, but if you can look past that, Pondicherry is a foodie’s paradiso!

Foods of Pondicherry

Oh Boy! The Food Here…

Rejoice Fellow Alcoholics!

Alcohol is cheap here, and I don’t mean cheap in comparison, it is SICK cheap! One of the reasons Goa has become a massive party destination is because the alcohol is cheap and abundant; and yet, the rates in Pondicherry will likely put Goa to shame. A couple of weeks ago, we bought 750ml beer bottles at INR 57 EACH (to put things in perspective, that is about $0.90/€0.81). I mean sure, we bought it at a wholesale wine shop, but I have never seen alcohol so cheap anywhere in the world! Psst…if you’ve, you know who’ll want to know 😉

Want a wonderful list of local joints for a drink or 10? [Read: 5 Places to Get Intoxicated in Pondicherry]

This Is One Place in India, Where People Are Beginning to Prefer Indian Tourists over White Folk

For whatever reasons, we Indians are fascinated by anybody and everybody white-skinned. Everywhere I’ve been to in India, people have had a preference for international guests, over domestic guests. What may be the potential cause behind this is beyond my immediate concern; but here in Pondicherry, I was pleasantly surprised to find that locals are beginning to prefer domestic travellers over the Europeans & Americans that flock to the town perennially. Just the other day, the owner of a sweet little guest house was complaining how a group of 3 French tourists slyly checked out without paying for their stay. Just a few hours later, I heard another guy who runs a tour company lament over how the foreign tourists in Pondicherry look at the right side of a menu card before looking at the left. There’s a hint of a shift in how people from both camps are beginning to spend their money in Pondi at the moment, and it looks like the Indians are beginning to emerge as the more ‘high-value’ client. I’m not entirely sure why, but I’m really happy about it – I’m guessing I’m just tired of having this feeling that us Indians suck up to foreign travellers far too much; it simply makes everybody uncomfortable (thoughts?)

The Local People Here Are Unbelievably Sweet

On my very first weekend here, I found myself home alone in a 3 storied house with nothing but a baby-dog for company (he’s awesome, bless him – but not much good when you want to talk, no?) So I called up a friend of mine to figure out if he was up for a drink. He invited me over to one of his friend’s place where they were having a small party-of-sorts! He asked another of his friends (who I’d never seen/met before) to pick me up. The guy picked me up from home and drove me way out of town and into a secluded area; at some point, (albeit only for a moment) a thought DID cross my mind, about how easily I’d placed my trust in this guy I didn’t even know, and how if he willed, he could (at best) mug me, and leave me stranded and there wasn’t a single thing I’d be able to do about it. A few hours later, I realised what a terrible person I had been to doubt this person and his friends, who had shared their beer and food with me and welcomed me into their house as if I’d always belonged! So…to all those half-wit idiots who’d told me how unfriendly the south can be, especially when you look like an outsider and can not speak the language…do go fuck yourselves! Everywhere I’ve been so far, I’ve been treated as an equal and often with warmth I didn’t really expect 🙂

Independence is a Word Thrown Around Far Too Lightly

dal tadka

Presenting, Dal Tadka, by your very own!

I saved the most important discovery from my new life for the last, because this is extremely vital. We throw around ‘independence’ as a term far too lightly. I’ve always considered myself extremely resourceful, adaptive and most importantly ‘independent’. By most widely accepted definitions, I am too! I pay my own bills, I call my own shots…I always have and the few times I’ve been left alone to fend for myself, I’ve coped reasonably well (in fact enjoyed the apparent ‘challenge’)! Sounds familiar, right? All it really takes to burst that bubble is a month on your own in a city where you know almost nobody. The countless things we take for granted – like the roof on your head, your own tiny bedroom, the cup of tea and breakfast every morning we cringe over, the often shunned company of your family begin to feel like what they truly are – a privilege. The plus side is that every single thing you manage to pull off smoothly – even something as trivial as cooking a ready-to-make meal for yourself feels extremely empowering. I’m learning the true meaning of ‘independence’ and I have to admit, I’m enjoying the challenge so far 🙂

Sure I’m missing home, my friends and family back from Mumbai, but this is an exciting phase and there’s so much to learn each day, is this what it feels like to fly?

Note: Some of the wonderful images from this post have been clicked by my friend and colleague Gopi Rajan Mahalingam – apart from creating wonderful travel experiences around Pondi & Auroville, he’s also an avid freelance photographer. Feel free to ping him for more!

Also Read:

Playing the Guide in Goa

3 Exotic Summer Destinations in India

A Local’s Guide to Mumbai (Bombay)

26 comments

  1. Hey Sanket,
    Lovely post! When I went to Pondicherry, even I wondered why is the French Quarters the most publicised thing about it, when there is much more it. Your post brings that out beautifully.
    🙂

    • mm

      Thanks Divya! How’d you like Pondi? When were you there? It holds a very special place in my heart. I’d love to know all about your trip. And the next time you find yourself in Pondi, do let me know. I know lots of interesting people there that I always want travellers to meet 🙂

  2. Wow what an experience already! I got nervous for a second there when you had left with the stranger and given your trust to someone you didnt know but I am glad it turned out well. Happy Adventure! 🙂

  3. Nice post – I have been to Pondicherry several times. You may want to visit Chunnambar lake. Its a nice water inlet and then a lovely beach. Also check out Peechavaram and its boat rides under thick Mangrove – feels like Amazon !

    • mm

      I’ve been to Peechavaram, but didn’t make it to Chunnambar. I found that part a little too touristy for my liking. Have you been to the Veerampattinam harbor? Probably my favorite beach around Pondi

  4. I just looked Pondicherry on the map and I see that it is located in the East, right? I never reached that part of India. Although I asked my Indian friends for some destinations on that coast, they all told me I should go to Goa and Kerala. I would love to visit Pondicherry nest time I come to India.

    http://www.siniciliya.com

  5. Such a neat post. I feel you on the laid-back part of things. When I first arrived in Guatemala, it drove me insane that it took everyone so long to do anything. It sounds like you’ve landed in a very lovely place, though and well worth exploring!

  6. What a great adventure! Moving to a new city and living on your own for the first time is exciting. Hopefully there is a little less excitement with the housing situation, but as you mentioned, there is booze.

  7. Hey Sanket,

    Great post about this place. I am from Germany originally and would really want to go over to explore India. Pretty bad what some tourist do – just running away without paying for the service they recived. It just makes it harder for the next people from other countries to come over and enjoy this beauty. Tell your friend the pictures are great!

  8. I enjoyed reading about your revelation about strangers – I’ve been a bit guilty of that too! I think we’re sort of wired to be withdrawn from people and it is easy to forget that sometimes all you need is a little trust and friendliness. That being said, people should own up for things and do the right thing (Referring to the tourists that dined and dashed etc.)!

  9. Thanks for sharing with me on this place! I have never heard of it before, and now its making me want to explore it! I hate to go to areas that are super touristy.

  10. I really wish that I had visited Pondicherry when I stayed in Sri Lanka – it was not to far away but I just didn’t have enough time. I’ll have to visit separately though now!

  11. India has always been a place I’ve been wanting to visit, but I’ve been intimidated by the big cities like Mumbai! I’d never heard of Pondicherry before, but I think it’s a place I’d definitely enjoy. I know it’s certainly hard to adjust to a slow paced way of life. I’m American, and whenever I visit Mexico I experience the same slow-paced feeling you feel in Pondicherry. It’s hard at first to not constantly be on the move or keeping a schedule, but it’s definitely worth it to just relax and let things go with the flow for once 🙂

  12. Oh wow India is so fascinating. I REALLY want to go back and your post only makes that sentiment grow!

    By the way, I especially like this sentence:”the often shunned company of your family begin to feel like what they truly are – a privilege”. Just a nice way to put it!

  13. Great post! You have made a very brave decision to leave everything and begin new chapter in your life. It’s very inspiring for me.

  14. Thanks for sharing this– I felt like you were chatting with me, love that! It’s great how you’re able to write about first impressions without coming across as offensive in anyway, I’ve noticed that sometimes people writing about first impressions focus on all the not-so-great things, like when I first moved to Maldives, other expats continuously complained about the trash and shops closing at Prayer time– hello, get over it!

  15. Pondicherry looks stunning. I, too, hate when a certain part of a city gets extra attention for no reason. Sounds like it’s that way with the French Quarter! It’s interesting as well, and good in a way that some of the hospitality industry is favoring domestic travelers in a way. In the best world, one traveler wouldn’t be favored over another, but at least the pendulum is swinging a bit. Totally agree about the bit about independence, too!

  16. Loved the one liner you began the post with. I can definitely resonate with it as someone who really appreciates and even looks for change constantly (not quite changing rooms three times in a month though!).

    I’ve always wanted to visit India but have never really looked into exactly where to go or logistics. Perhaps Pondicherry should be on my list!

  17. Pondicherry sounds amazing! I’ve been on such a crazy schedule lately, I honestly crave somewhere that would inspire me to slow down for a bit. Loved the photos and your recount of your experiences!

  18. I never been to India but based on your story, I can feel that this is the best place to unwind and connect with locals there. Would love to check this place soon 🙂

  19. Hi Sanket,
    Loved your post! I am going to Pondicherry in three weeks for 10 days with two friends. We’re traveling on a shoestring budget, and I was interested in finding some quiet, offbeat homestay kind of place to stay. Similar to what you said, I feel like I’ve heard too much about the French Quarter to stay there, even though we’ll probably visit. Was wondering if you have recommendations of areas I should look at, things to do, people to meet. Would love an insider’s perspective!
    Thanks a ton!
    Prerna

    • mm

      Hi Prerna,

      Thanks for dropping by. I’m glad you enjoyed the read 🙂

      There are some great places for affordable prices in Pondicherry; but I’d suggest you also explore Auroville and some of their guesthouses. They might work out cheaper and are also a lot more tranquil to base your vacation out of. Why don’t you reach out to me on email/facebook with your budget and other details? I’ll set you up with some people that can help you with different experiences in and around Pondicherry/Auroville.

  20. Rajen Vencatachellum

    Hi Sanket,

    Your adventures and experiences of Pondicherry are quite attracting while it also encourages me to plan for a couple of months visit before I decide to settle down somewhere in India and I was wondering why not make Pondicherry my home town. Anyway thank you for sharing your sweet memories. I am from Mauritius and I speak french fluently. According to you is it worth to invest in a property? And where do you think I can pick up a bargain house or flat? I need trustworthy developers or sellers. Any idea about reliable connections! God bless.

    • mm

      Thanks for your kind words, Rajen! I’d recommend that you visit Pondicherry first and stay there for a few days to see how you like it. If you think you can live there long enough, I know a real estate agent I could introduce you to.

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