Firsts are always special. Take a moment & think about your first solo trip. Do you remember the excitement, the fear & the feeling of freedom? Whether it was a month-long, just a few days, or even a single day outing, it brings a smile to your face.
My first solo trip, even though it lasted just a day, is special to me. After checking out the pros, cons & lots of questions, I took a trip to Pondicherry (or Puducherry) in 2017. Contrary to my expectations, nothing catastrophic happened. But did it pave the way for my future trips? Indeed yes.
The beginning at Paranur
Early morning around 7 am, a girl was rushing to the Paranur railway station (around 60 km from Chennai). She had to catch the next local to Chengalpattu. At 7:55 am, the train to Pondicherry would depart without paying any heed to her gathered strength. Few locals pass by & she gets into the ladies coach.
No points for guessing, the girl is me.
Running parallel to a large lake & bidding goodbye to the distant hills, a few minutes later, the train reached Chengalpattu Railway Station. It was time to rush again. Didn’t I mention I had not bought the tickets yet?
Few steps up, few steps down, crossing the over-bridge, I was standing in front of the ticket counter. One, two, three …, I lost count of the number of people ahead of me in the line & so did my hopes of making it happen.
But they say, make a wish 10 times & it turns into reality. Grabbing the ticket, which was my prized possession at that moment, I rushed to the mentioned platform. Well, this is my inherent quality; I am rushing all the time.
The train to Pondicherry
So, reached the platform, got into the train, checked my seat, the other seats, took a close look at the fellow passengers, and the mind started revealing its true colors. There is still time, let us go back, it is not safe, why do you need to go alone, you will get bored? Unheard voices started ringing in my ears.
In one line, the heart said, “It is now or never.” and there was no going back.
I love traveling by train. Two reasons, one the view, second the people. Flights have cut short our travel time, but I miss some of the amazing experiences train journeys have given me. Those stories are for some other day!
Let’s for now, focus on what’s happening around. The folks around seem normal, keep a tight hold of the straps of the bag. Time to enjoy the outside view. The train ran parallel to green fields, met few smiling faces and concrete buildings. 3 hours later, I had accomplished my mission! Pondicherry welcomed me with a drizzling sky.
Exploring the city
“Rock beach is 2.6 km away.”, google assistant said & I started contemplating whether to take an auto ride or walk the distance. The increasing speed of the rain compelled me to settle for the former.
A few minutes later, I was standing in front of the renowned rock beach.
The beach shore is filled with large black rocks, which my mind concluded is a way to protect the sea from human intrusion. I could not resist the pull of the sea anymore & settled on the sand. Watching the blue waves merge with the sky above, I almost lost track of time.
The sudden sound of people rushing broke my daydream. Turning my head the eyes meet a huge camera setup. It was a movie shoot!! This trip was definitely breaking the record of firsts!
India and movies, do I need to say more? Indian cinema apart from the glamour & glitz is an inseparable part of our lives. I don’t even remember how many dialogues are a part of my daily communication. With great curiosity, and let me admit honestly excitement, I joined the crowd. Peeping through the crowd I saw a lady crying and a man trying to console her. Don’t worry, it was a part of the act. I couldn’t recognize the actor or the actress or even get a clue of their dialogues. Asking the cheering & clapping folks , it turned out to be a Kannada movie.
Seeking blessing from Lakshmi
It was time to let go of the attraction of the sound, camera, action, and explore the city further. Walking on the pavements, crossing streets, I found a beautiful elephant generously showering her blessings on people. How could I be deprived of the joy of the company of this lovely friend?
Steps ahead led me to Manakula Vinayagar Devasthanam, a large temple devoted to Lord Ganesha. The name of the temple has a story of its own. The equation is simple:
(Manal = Pond) + (Kula =Sand) + (Vinayak = Ganesha)
And here am I, still wondering where did my name come from!
But the main attraction of this temple is Lakshmi, our friend. Offering her some bananas & receiving generous blessings, the steps started again.
Yellow houses in the white town
The houses turned yellow all of a sudden in the White Town. Yes, I like dramatic stories. But in the middle of the white town in Pondicherry, I am sure this thought will cross your mind once. Roaming across the streets, feeling the cry for food in my stomach, it was time for the French Cafés of the town.
Let me give a little backdrop. Pondicherry was a French colonial settlement long back. While it is a thing of the past, French food and the township are few remnants of the past era.
Time for some French cuisine at Baker’s street
My mind was a bit lost in the stories of the French era, but the legs knew the destination. I was standing in front of Baker’s street, the renowned French café of Pondicherry.
With croissants, quiches, tempting chocolate & my all-time favorite burger, I wanted no more. There was no time to waste. Only after the order arrived, the mind laughed at my misjudgment of my capacity. The food was delicious & I left with a pile of empty plates on the table & yes, a heavy stomach.
In the Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges
Had a heavy meal, go for a walk – I had read this in some article on transforming from the Christian Bale of The Machinist to the Batman in The Dark Knight Rises. This dialogue helped me convince my sleepy self to explore the city a little more.
Where to go next? But the sky was in a mood to put a stop to my expedition with a heavy downpour.
I entered a church nearby to save myself from the rage of the rain. But the beauty of the place demanded more attention. It was the Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges, one of the oldest churches in Pondicherry designed in Greco-Roman architecture.
I have always felt a special attraction and a sense of peace in places of worship. Sitting in one of the rows, discussing my plans with God and how the world has turned up to be, strengthened this belief. The watch did its duty, and it was time to leave.
Luckily the rain had stopped by now. Jumped into an auto, rushed to the ticket counter, onto the platform, the first step inside the train, and I looked back. What did change? Nothing, the mind said, but the heart smiled silently, for impressions of a lifetime had already been made.
How to Reach:
Airways: Puducherry Airport takes daily flights from Bangalore (except Wednesday). However, you can get connecting flights from other major cities. Chennai Airport, 135 km away from the town, is a major domestic and international airport.
Railways: Puducherry Railway Station, 4kms from the city center, gets many short and long-distance trains.
Roadways: East Coast Road (ECR), Grand Southern Trunk Road (GST) and National Highway 32 connect Pondicherry with other major cities.
Commuting in Pondicherry: Hire two-wheelers, autorickshaw or radio taxis.
Best time to visit: Oct-March