After three days of riding of more than 1700 km, I woke up at a beach resort in Mamallapuram (a.k.a Mahabalipuram) in Tamil Nadu. A special day as I was moments away from fulfilling my desire of riding on the East Coast Road (ECR) to Pondicherry which was brewing for a long time. I could’ve reached Pondy last night while coming from Chennai but I wanted to experience the most scenic coastal highway in daylight. I started the day witnessing a stunning sunrise at the Mahabalipuram beach before taking the ECR. State Highway 49 (SH-49) also known as East Coast Road (ECR) is a 690 km stretch connecting Chennai with Cuddalore via Pondicherry further extended to Kanyakumari with views of the Bay of Bengal on one side and greeneries, temples, a countryside of South India and other interesting things that it offers en-route. The distance of Pondy is only 100 km from Mahabalipuram and can be covered easily in 2 hours, but I don’t like going fast, I prefer to travel slow (when traveling solo) with lots of breaks in between. It helps me capturing the place better in my camera.
Pondicherry renamed Puducherry is a small French town on the Coromandel coast of India. “Give time a break” is the slogan in the Pondicherry Tourism website. It offers everything that you want from a perfect destination. Pristine beaches, temples, churches, yoga, meditation, scuba diving, French cuisine and duty-free booze are few of the many things it offers. Start your day with just baked croissants and take a stroll through streets named Rue De La Marine, Rue Dumas, Rue Saint Gilles etc. and experience the bright colorful French architecture all around. The best and cheap way to explore Pondy is to hire a bike or scooty which are widely available at only Rs. 200-400 per day. Autos too are an option but expensive. Below are the places that I have visited during my 2 nights stay in the French Riviera.
Promenade Beach (Mahatma Gandhi Beach/Main Pondicherry Beach)
Promenade on Goubert Avenue was the place where I stopped for a hotel. It is not like that, there aren’t any hotels in other parts of the town, there are plenty but I fancied to stay here. It’s a clean, well-maintained a stretch of beachfront in the town. Although it has very little sand space to chill instead it offers rocks to enjoy the sea. The Promenade remains open to all vehicles during daylight but becomes a walking street in the evening till sunrise and is the best time to experience it. Statue of Gandhi, French War Memorial, Statue of Dupleix and the old lighthouse are what I saw while walking the Promenade. Le Café is the only 24×7 operational cafeteria right in the front of the sea and I treated myself to a cup of coffee and enjoyed the music of the tidal sea waves, throbbing the rocks, spreading their water swiftly, massing one after another, the waves fell, withdrew and fell again.
Paradise beach was approximately 12-13kms from my hotel and people usually go there boating from Chunnambar boat house but, that was not my plan. I took the help of GPS to reach there which made me ride in the outskirts through narrow roads and I treated myself with few moments in a very beautiful and serene place with backwaters and greenery all around. This is the reason why I love traveling on my motorcycle as it gives this freedom to be anywhere at any anytime. Paradise beach was not far from this place and if you don’t like those swamped, dirty and commercialized beaches then Paradise beach is what you will love. It is lonely and a clean beach with clear blue water and splendid waves relentlessly seeking the shore.
Sri Aurobindo Ashram
The Ashram is one of the most visited places in Pondicherry. It was founded by Sri Aurobindo in 1926 and currently serves as a community center for all the disciples seeking spiritual growth from all over the world. After withdrawing himself from public for spiritual realization Sri Aurobindo handed over the ashram to “the Mother” earlier known as “Mirra Alfassa”.
One needs to maintain absolute silence inside the Ashram. People are allowed to sit around the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and meditate/pray. There is also a meditation hall and a library from where you can buy books on meditation, yoga, spirituality and history. Photography is prohibited inside the ashram.
Auroville (City of Dawn)
Auroville is an experimental township 15 km away from Pondicherry. It was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa ( “The Mother”) and designed by architect Roger Anger. Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics, and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity. Upon taking the Auroville main road I came across many people of foreign origin inhabited in and around the place. A beautiful garden maintained by the Aurovilians which I walked and reached the Matrimandir in the middle of the town which is equipped with a solar power plant and is surrounded by manicured gardens. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t enter Matrimandir as it involves a process of advance booking. There are many shops selling products and souvenirs made in Auroville, a cafeteria to eat and an auditorium which shows videos about the history of the place are the activities that you can enjoy inside the township. Auroville has a population of more than 2000 from 50 countries all over the world.
Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
It is situated on the south boulevard of Pondicherry and is an oriental specimen of Gothic architecture. It contains rare stained glass panels depicting events from the life of Christ and saints of the Catholic Church. In recent years, it has become one of the famous pilgrimage spots for Christians.