Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A Trip to Pondicherry

It's been more than a year we visited Pondicherry but even today, the memories of the trip bring a smile to my face. Such was the charm of the place that I am happy to re-live the trip in my mind while writing this blog. A beach vacation is our family's favorite getaway. Having been to Goa and Kerala earlier, we decided to explore a new place by the sea, this time on the east coast. Situated around 250 kilometer from Chennai, Pondicherry looked suitable for our 'sea-side' vacation. Further, I was intrigued by the spiritual flavor of the place and was enthusiastic about visiting the Aurobindo Ashram. Having been through a couple of bumpy plane rides, my husband has been completely put off the plane journeys and he suggested we travel to Chennai by train. I am not used to such long train journeys, it meant two nights and a full day in the train. But I decided to take the plunge. The train tickets were booked. Surfing the net, we came across Auroville Transport service. It was great, we could book a cab online to pick us up from the Chennai railway station and drive up to Pondicherry. Next step was to book a hotel. After surfing the tripadvisor reviews, we selected Ashok Beach Resort. There were two main points in favor of this place - 1) the proximity to the sea and 2) the rooms were air-conditioned.

Auroville Transport Service -
You can fill a form on-line or contact them on phone no mentioned in their site

Ashok Beach Resort -
Online Booking is possible

We traveled by the Tamil Nadu Express which starts at 10:30 pm at night and after a journey of around 33 hours reaches Chennai in the early morning.We booked first A/C . Since the fourth person did not turn up, we had the full cabin to ourselves. I realized it was a lovely opportunity for the family to spend the time together chatting, playing cards, telling stories and reading books. The meeting point for the Auroville Transport Service guy had been set up as the Higgin Botham Book Stall at the station. At the end of a long tiring journey, it was nice to be received by somebody waiting for you and all set to drive you to your destination. The journey from Chennai to Pondicherry is on the East Coast Road and is a pleasant and scenic drive. We stopped on the way at Motel Mamalla for a hearty breakfast comprising of Pongal, idli and vadas. The pongal served was heavenly in taste.

It took us nearly 2.5 hours to reach our destination, the hotel Ashok Beach Resort. When I walked around the place, I could not help noticing that the wall paint was fading at places and the swings in the children area were partially broken. In the uncomfortable hot and humid weather of the month of June, the absence of a swimming pool was also hurting. Did we do the right thing by booking Askok, there were more luxurious choices available? Our room was a sea-facing air-conditioned room on the ground floor. It wasn't luxurious but very comfortable. The view of the sea from the room was refreshing and inviting. The sea being so close, we immediately walked up to the beach. Standing by the vast sea, I felt the wind in my hair and watched the waves taking form and breaking rhythmically. Just looking at the waves brought a sense of tranquility to my soul.

We went to the restaurant for lunch. The food was delicious. We especially enjoyed their soft chapatis 'phulkas'. Makhani Paneer was a big hit with my kids and they wanted it practically at every meal we had there. We also liked their sea-food preparations.

In the evening, we were back to the sea. Gradually I realized what a bliss it was to be so close to the sea.In the next four days, I got a chance to watch the sea at different times of the day - under the early-morning rays of the sun, in different hours of the day, at dusk and even under the moonlight. At the end of my beach holidays, I have always felt I did not have enough of the sea. Here, I was, soaking the sea inside my soul all through the day. We took bath in the sea, we played with the water, we collected shells and we made sand castles. When we were not inside the water, we lazed around in the hammocks reading books and hearing the sound of the waves in the background. The hammocks had been placed under the tall coconut trees. One doesn't really get around to looking at a tree from its bottom - it is lovely to look at the the blue sky peeping through the green leaves.
Hotel Lawns
The Beautiful Sea

Hammock under coconut tree
View of the coconut tree while lying in the hammock

On the second day, we decided to visited the Aurobindo Ashram. Children below 3 years are not allowed inside, so I took my 9 year old daughter inside, while my husband roamed around outside the ashram, with my 2 year old son. A very calm and quiet place, filled with the fragrance of the hundreds of flowers laid on the samadhi. Having seen the samadhi, I stood there wondering, what next. One volunteer walked up to me and said 'There isn't very much to see here. Just feel the place". I did find the place very quiet and serene. "Very peaceful" I replied. "It is a paradise on earth" he said "Believe me". I was amazed to hear his feelings about the place. I spent some time inside, talking to another volunteer who advised me to include a visit to Matramandir (at Auroville) in my trip. I picked a book on the life of the Mother before leaving the place. Coming out of the ashram, we took a short stroll in the promenade area.

Next day, my husband volunteered to take care of the kids at the hotel and suggested that I make a short visit to Matramandir. Whatever little I had learned about Auroville, it appeared to be a very unique concept. Auroville is a univeral township in the making for around 50,000 people around the world. The current population is around 2000 people.This idea originated in the mind of the Mother in the 1930s. The township is divided into multiple zones. The meditation place is in the Peace Center, comprising the Matramandir and its gardens, the amphitheater with the Urn of Human Unity that contains the soil of 121 nations and 23 Indian sates.

The hotel staff helped in arranging an auto for me. It took me about half an hour to reach the place. It is around 10 km north of Pondicherry. At the information center, I figured out that it was mandatory to see a short video presentation about Auroville.  Thereafter you have to walk for half an hour, pass through a very old banyan tree on the way and go through a forested area. I must have walked for about half an hour before I reached the place where I climbed a small hill and there, I could see it, the very beautiful Matramandir. A golden metallic sphere, appeared like an architecture marvel. The visitors are allowed to view it from a distance only. You need to visit Auroville information centre a second time if you want a visitor's pass to see the Matramandir from inside. I could not get to see the township or explore any other parts of Auroville and to be honest, I came back feeling confused.

A staff guy at the hotel had casually remarked that on some days it was possible to see dolphins while sitting in the hotel room. Whenever I looked at the sea, I wondered if this could really happen. May be it would happen on a cloudy day. May be on an early morning. Secretly my eyes would be on the look-out but no such luck. On the fourth day, we were taking bath in the sea almost like a routine. It was a bright sunny day. By now, I had learned to get a little deeper in water rather than getting wet only up to my knees. My son was still trying to come over his fear of water and by the fourth day he was ready to let his feet get soaked in the water. After an hour or so, I came out with my daughter and she requested me to join her in making hills and tunnels out of the sand. After a few minutes, when I looked up, I felt a sudden movement in the water. Was it the dolphins? I screamed and my husband looked in that direction too. A school of dolphins was around, they were getting in and out of water, causing a good deal of commotion in the water. Though they were not very close, we could see them clearly. It was an amazing feeling, sharing the sea with the dolphins. I could not have asked for more on my last day.

In the evening as I sat with my kids, with my feet deep in the sand, watching the rhythmical sea waves form and break, I had only one thought in my mind 'Paradise on earth, Believe me"


  1. Bhabiji, very nice blog-luv it. Pls keep visiting my profiles too and comment if you would kindly wish.
    Lots of luv to the kids.


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