I spent couple of days at Pondicherry in the earlier part of this week, and always think of the timing of that visit given what happened during the later part of the same week !
You might have read that Cyclone “Thane” hit Pondicherry and caused extensive damage !!
Which is really a bad thing, and I just so narrowly escaped. Not that anything much would have happened, but it was a big cyclone causing destruction and loss of life in the Union Territory of Pondicherry and Cuddalore (which incidentally I passed through on the way to Chidambaram).
I don’t recall exactly when I had visited Pondicherry in the past, but I am sure that I atleast visited once. It was a nice cute town, and it no longer is one. I found that the town had become similar to any other small town of Tamil Nadu which is congested with narrow roads and heavy traffic. It was also dirty, and had hardly any pavements.
The only area which is really good-looking and neat is the “phoren” area of the French Quarters, with nice yet narrow lanes and beautiful houses. The French built a town of their own, and now the rest of the town is messed up. The French area still appears to remain intact. I really liked that area, and walked around a bit. It is located close to the rocky seashore as well, though one does not feel the effect of the sea in the leafy bylanes.
The Aurobindo Ashram is located in one such lane. There are several small and well-established restaurants in the area, and you can find a number of domestic and international tourists walking around. One important thing I noticed is that the whole area was a bit silent as compared to the rest of that noisy town. May be the Ashram culture of silence is percolating down to the lanes and the surrounding houses.
The hotels are rather expensive, the decent ones cost USD 100 or above per night. Anything at four star or above is not less than USD 200 and at this time of the year, the rates are shooting up towards even USD 400 ! I stayed at a nice place which had a three star rating, and there was simply no rooms available anywhere else. Looks like this is really a tourist town.
The family wanted to go to Chidambaram temple and so we drove to that town via the Cuddalore route. The small town of Cuddalore was horrible, with no decent roads – it was full of potholes and it took more than 25 minutes to cross the town across a distance of less than 2 to 3 Kms.
I also noticed that when you enter Pondicherry, there is a road permit charge of INR 300 if you are on a tourist car with a Tamil Nadu number plate coming from the Chennai side, and there is a toll fee of INR 32 when you cross over into Pondicherry. The same charges did not apply (there was not even a toll booth) when we re-entered Pondicherry on the way back from Chidambaram-Cuddalore, though Cuddalore is in Tamil Nadu.
The archaic road permit fee is an anachronism and should be discontinued. There is no receipt for the payment and probably they issue a stamp on a notebook kind of document. Why should crossing within India from one state to the other be taxed by the government ? It does not make sense.
Overall, my conclusion on Pondicherry is that it might be OK to visit once just to see the Ashram and take a boat ride in the Chunnambar backwaters. And, may be have some good meal. But, beyond that, I do not see much reason to revisit. Well, I forgot to add that liquor costs much less than in other parts of India. I had a good bottle of red wine which costed just INR 600 in a restaurant, which would have costed me not less than INR 1,600 in a Chennai restaurant.
In any case, it was a peaceful visit (without the cyclone effect) and relaxing – and the family enjoyed it, though it was just for 2 days. At the end of the day, that is what matters, right ?
31st December 2011