Always be nice to chefs. It pays to be in their good books.
My friend and I talked about doing a short holiday together. We went over every destination that mildly interested us. Ellora? Too far. How about Bali? Ugh, flights are too expensive. Kerala? Already been. Gujarat? Not so appealing actually. After 4 months of talking about going to an unconventional, exotic, impressive destination, we decided to go 4 hours down the road to…..Pondicherry. Yay.
This is when the Executive Chef at the Promenade (one of the finest hotels in Pondicherry) came to our rescue. An ex-colleague, he ensured we got a fantastic room rate and even better food.
We ticked off some very ‘Pondy’ things to do, and below are some recommended highlights. We didn’t get around to Auroville, the Ashram, or diving (we’re both awful swimmers), but do those if they interest you!
Walk Along The Promenade
“Watch out for the wolves on the promenade,” someone told us when we reached Pondy. Wolves?! What the hell kind of wolves live on the beach in coastal Pondicherry?! Obviously, we rubbished the warning and set about making plans for the rest of the day.
My friend wanted to catch the sunrise the next morning, so while I slept in, she ambled out of the hotel at 5am to walk along the beach. She came back to report that there just might be some truth to this wolf legend. “What! Did you see one?!” “No, but I saw a warning sign with a picture of a wolf.” Jeez, glad I skipped the early morning scare.
A tiny bit disappointed at my dismal knowledge of coastal wildlife, I decided I needed to see this sign. Turned out what she saw in her groggy sleepy state from across the road was a sign saying ‘do not walk your pets here’ with a picture of a German Shepherd! She’s never living this down.
The promenade stretch becomes a traffic-free zone from 6pm to 7am, which the walkers of Pondicherry take rather seriously. To my utter surprise, the beach was packed with families and children until 2am. Whatever happened to bedtime on school nights?
Try The Cheese
Being an old French colony and all, it would be a shame if we didn’t try the cheese. We walked over to one of the restaurants in White Town and ordered a plate of cheese and baguettes, and two main course dishes. Unless you’re an excellent eater, this was a disastrous idea. I barely finished half of my couscous (I know you’re pulling a face, DC!) and I can’t even talk about my friend’s penne pesto. The cheese was great though!
Visit The Paper Factory
Essentially a private paper manufacturer, this business’s smartness has been in allowing customers to take a quick tour of their workshop. There are no guides or signs anywhere, so if you want to know something, you have to ask the staff. Waste white cotton fabric is procured from Tiruppur, shred into bits manually and then in a shredder, put through a mixer with water and dyes, then manually pressed into sheets, put through a compressor that squeezes out excess water, then hung out to dry. Textures and patterns come once this handmade paper has dried out.
You can watch the marbling process in one of the tiny rooms – the oil paint floats on the basin full of water, and sticks to the paper to create beautiful patters. You’re not allowed to take any photographs, so here’s a sneaky one of the shop instead. The shelves are stacked with beautiful paper products – pen stands, files, notebooks, bookmarks, cards, envelopes, gift bags. It’s a real challenge to not spend all your money!
Go Shopping At The Boutique Shops
Check out handicrafts, paper crafts, candles and clothes at the many boutique stores – Kalki, Casablanca, Kriti, Hidesign among others.
We’d heard tons about this little bakery so decided to pop in for a quick bite and coffee – pizza slices, pain au chocolat and quiches. You know its a good bakery when half its customers are French!
Walk Around White Town
The Bharti Park was right behind our hotel, so we decided to check it out. As we chatted about the state of the world and millennial problems, three young lads walked right up to us and asked to take our picture. Of course we freaked out and quickly, loudly told them to go away. We watched them walk away only to approach two European women and request for a picture. Did they mistake us for ladies from exotic lands?!
White Town is full of old buildings, lovely ‘Rues,’ churches, parks and cafes. Cycling or walking around is recommended!
Eat At The Promenade
We ate our way through this trip – wedges and drinks at Villa Shanti, cold coffee at Le Cafe, comfort Indian food and pina coladas at Le Dupleix.
The best part has to have been the meals at the Promenade hotel though – from the breakfast spread to the crisp spring rolls at the rooftop Buddha Bar. They have a lovely outdoor area facing the ocean, where we spent hours with hand-tossed pizza and breezers.
On our last evening, the chef informed us of a cyclone warning along the coast, so we decided to leave a few hours earlier than planned. The hotel packed us a breakfast of sandwiches and fruit at 6.30am, and even helped us book our emergency bus tickets back. We felt bad for the French backpackers who had come all the way lugging their surfboards on their heads, on the unfortunate day of the cyclone. Wonder if they got to go into the sea during their stay at all!