Saturday, May 24, 2008

Pondicherry - first impressions

Last Monday I went to Pondicherry for the first time. It's funny how you "save" a place to see later, and then more or less let it drop out from your consciousness. Until now, pretty much all it meant to me was incense made in Auroville. And I recently discovered a bottle of jam from Pondy with the label "Naturelle Udyogam". On going there I realised how accurately this French-Tamil juxtaposition brings out the spirit of the place.

I can't provide any deep insights here as we had all of four hours in Pondy and needed to achieve something during that time. But we got to walk around the French quarter (called "White Town"). Saw three heritage hotels: Hotel du Parc, Le Dupleix and Calve. Most often luxury hotels induce in me a sense of acute boredom and a desire to smash the vase into the TV set and pour the result onto the bed. But here it was different. The beauty of the rooms was almost too much to bear. I found the aesthetic sense unique and appealing, even if in parts it invoked other places I had visited such as Kerala.

But compared with tourist spots in Kerala (like Cochin or Kovalam) the prices here, for this quality of room, were quite reasonable - starting at Rs 3000 per night at Hotel du Parc, my favourite of the three hotels. In Kerala a similar room could have cost three times as much (and they would have forced an ayurvedic massage on you, which for some reason always carries a four-figure price tag). Also the staff here were smiling and friendly and did not exude that contempt I've always experienced from hotel staff in Kerala.

I asked if the price of the rooms included tax and was told "no taxes in Pondicherry". Couple this with inexpensive liquor (cheaper than Goa, I was told) and the place seems quite unbeatable!

Walking in the French quarter is a pleasure. The locals have adopted radical French principles of architecture such as: "a building that's freshly painted in a bright colour looks nice". And the French residents all speak Tamil. I'm going again in December and just can't wait for the "Poulet roti avec vazhakai puli kulambhu" accompanied by a fiery "pepper rasam au Ch√Ęteauneuf du Pape".


Rahul Siddharthan said...

Despite having lived in Chennai nearly 4 years, I've only been to Pondicherry a couple of times. Very pleasant place, in terms of architecture and ambience: not much to see but plenty to absorb. And the low-priced alcohol is especially welcome for Chennai-ites. BTW, though Auroville is associated with Pondicherry most of it is geographically in Tamil Nadu.

There are very well-maintained and comfortable guest houses there (converted colonial houses) that are even cheaper than the hotels you mention.

You may find this recent article interesting.

Sunil Mukhi said...

Indeed I've heard there are excellent Ashram-maintained guest houses in beautiful locations at amazingly low prices like 800 rupees per night (the seafacing Park Guest House on Goubert Avenue is a highly rated example). But they do have restrictions, most of which are minor and easily followed e.g. no meat or alcohol on the premises. However there is one that I would find problematic - a "curfew" requiring guests to be inside by 10:30 PM (or 10 PM according to some people I spoke to).

I enjoyed reading the NYT link that Rahul S. provided, and would recommend it to others.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

I didn't mean the Ashram guest houses (sorry for unfortunate juxtaposition of sentences). I meant places like this one which charged Rs 2000 when we stayed, for a large room with a double bed, sofa, divan, and a furnished sit-out; and they stock beer (and are a short walk away from several watering holes). a

Mohanraj Thangarasu said...

You can find still more less price hotels with great comfort and facility in Puducherry( former Pondicherry). Since the tourism is given high preference, the govt and private create lots of recreational and fun filled enteratinment parks and resorts throughout Pondicherry (though it is small). Hope u had a nice time here.

uc said...

on a somewhat mundane and gastronomical note, the Greek salad in Auroville was awesome.