Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pondicherry - where time stands still

 With another 14kms to Pondicherry, we took a detour towards our right and entered a muddy track to reach the international experimental town called  Auroville. We have visited the matri mandir before but we wanted our children to feel and see the serenity and uniqueness of the place . But unfortunately like the previous times, this time too we reached the gates of the matri mandir at around 4.25. Matri mandir closes at 4.30. The security asked us to try our luck but we knew it would not be possible to walk the 2kms to the mandir in that time.  We will make  a leisurely visit some other time,

The matri mandir in the universal town of Auroville.( courtesy: google)

We then drove out of Auroville, driving through this wooded place is an experience in itself. I have written about this place here.

 We then headed  towards Aurobindo Ashram which is in Pondicherry. This closes at 6 but we were on time. Before i continue let me write that this post is not a travel guide but my travel experience at Pondicherry.  

We entered into this peaceful haven where mobiles and cameras are not allowed. This place is where the great revolutionary saint Aurobindo Ghosh is laid to rest in a peaceful central tree courtyard and his French disciple Mira Alfassa ( called the mother) is also laid to rest.  The place is calm and serene owing to the various sadhaks. You don’t have to subscribe to any thoughts to be here but you have to maintain silence throughout your stay inside. There are no obligatory practices, no rituals, no compulsory meditations or systematic instructions .  But the  general principle of the sadhana is the same for all which is surrendering to the divine. You will find many volunteers across all ages doing odd jobs. I found an old lady volunteer with her spine totally bent like a U sweeping and cleaning the already clean floors. This place is absolutely spic and span despite being an open area. The beautiful little garden with lovely blooms in rainbow colors is well maintained. You will enjoy this place if you believe in the vibrations of a place. Being a yoga practitioner, I could feel the vibes of meditation in the place. Perhaps this vibrations is what radiates around the city and surrounds  the union territory with an aura of serenity. The air is redolent with calmness and even you feel the waves on the beach set to a rhythmic pattern and not raging.  I love the peace that pervades through this city , there is a slow pace in the city’s life. Nobody seems to be in a  hurry in the erstwhile French colony which has left its traces here in the form of architecture, language, city planning etc. And thankfully i did not find any modern day structures. If anything, the old buildings are restored by INTACH which consists of French, Tamil and Franco-tamil structures.   Perhaps, I will retire to this place in my old ageJ. Many walk out of The Ashram area buying Auroshika products( the ashram's  store)  which are aromatic and handcrafted but expensive. I am unable to support this post with photographs since photos were not allowed at the Ashram and at the temple below. 

Just across the Rue( that is how roads are called here in the French town)is a lovely temple of Lord Ganesha called Manakula vinayagar temple which i was visiting for the first time.

The beautiful fresco depicting Ganeshji marriage with siddhi and buddhi at the temple entrance.

This 500 year old temple has a rich history. A local legend says that A French man living near the temple frantically tried to remove the idol from the temple  but in vain. Everytime  he removed and threw the idol. The idol reappeared miraculously. The Frenchman convinced by the power of the idol became an ardent devotee of the lord.Hence the god is also called VellaikaranPillai meaning a white’s son.

But this is famous as Manakula Vinayagar temple, Manal in tamil means sand and kulam means pond. Since this is close to the sea shore with lot of sand this ganeshji came to be known thus.
As you enter the temple which has shops on either side selling pooja items and colorful flowers, you are blessed by the temple elephant Lakshmi’s trunk with a light pat on your head. In exchange you have to place a coin in her trunk.

The temple inside has beautiful murals depicting the life of Ganeshji. Very beautiful and artistic just like in the photo above. I have narrated most of the stories to my children during their childhood years, now of course they are more well versed thanks to the various  ACK’s they have read. It would have been nice to click those colorful murals and showcase to the world  but unfortunately photography not allowed .

 It was already 6.30 when we came out of the temple. We walked to the beach front in front of the Chief Secretariat and spent some time on the promenade which is a regular for us everytime we come to Pondi. Like  I said before, there is something meditative about the whole place, the roads look clean, the people calm, the waves of the bay serene.  We enjoyed the peaceful amble along the cobbled promenade which was not very crowded. It is refreshing to feel the waves hit the rocks and sprinkle tiny droplets on your face.  Along with the spirituality connected with this place, The beach stretch is also  a tropical paradise making this place one of the best vacation spots with its various bay side resorts, stilt houses and water sports etc., and this is also the test centre for hot beverages like Goa.

I have visited this place nearly 8 times except my first time during which I had a detailed tour of the city, the rest of the times I have only explored a few places and spent time on the beach. I hope to go for a heritage walk next time. Still so much to do and see at this place.
It was close to 8, we had to drive back 60kms to reach Neyveli our mama’s place.
We  had an early dinner at one of the bayside hotel and brought a spare  tyre for our car and filled our car’s petrol tank also. (UT you see less taxes and so cheaper, saved a few rupees;)  As we drove out, The Christmas spirit was not evident in the city, though the churches were lit with serial lights. Infact, the seventh day Adventist church showed no festive lights .
It was around 8.30 when we left the place. 

Now, all the way to Neyveli through Cuddalore, our familiar route .  Next day we hoped to visit the chettinad region, but unfortunately daughter was down with exertion and we too needed a travel break. We took a break on Christmas day and spent time with our family elders. The day after Xmas to Thanjavur - one of the  royal towns famous for culture, art and  architecture and home to the UNESCO World heritage site - The Brihadeeswarar temple

 Check out some pics but quality not good, except the first photo the rest were taken from a moving vehicle.
                                       The Chief secretariat of Pondicherry overlooking the bay

 Most french houses are colored in This ochre color or grey color and have huge compound walls
 The sacred heart church decorated for Xmas
That is the sign board under a sodium vapor lamb with the leaves of the nearby tree casting its shadow. Most roads in the French side are called Rue and in the Tamil side are acalled Salai.


  1. Very interesting post Asha. I also loved Pondicherry very much,time seemed to move slowly there. I loved the way those french people who were settled there, the French women riding cycles and wearing strings of Jasmine flowers on their pony tails.
    The local pizza joints really turn out delicious pizzas there. Did you visit the chocolate shop, it was awesome. The Chunnambur Beach is also worth visiting, for it is one beach in India, which is absolutely clean and there is no crowd at all there , just the sea and you.
    But from your post I understand you were just passing by, and may not have had the time to visit these places, but do make it a point to take your children to these places during your next visit, I am sure they would enjoy it better than going to matri mandir.

    1. I have tasted at the local pizzerias and those home made chocolates in auroville but not in Pondi. yes, have been to Chunnambar with children before but not this time. This time it was a touch go visit. Thanks Rama:)

  2. You feel that way about Pondy ? Really ?? Aurobindo Ashram is a different place altogether, but the rest of Pondy is a typical chaotic small town, like everywhere else in TN. In the good old days, when Prohibition used to be imposed sometimes in TN, Pondy was the place all those looking for a drink go.

    I feel Pondy has lost all its charm. The French connection is only for tourists now.

    Looking forward to the continuation of your travelogue. Especially from here to Thanjavur ...

    1. LOL. Really..... i understand what you are saying since you have stayed close to this place and must be knowing better.

      Relatively speaking i live in a concrete jungle where the old buildings are giving way to glass and chrome facades. Life is also not slow this side of the city. Lots of fumes and bumper to bumper traffic just around the bend of the city. This UT with its heritage buildings overlooking the bay and most of them cycled around. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry. there was a laidback attitude.

    2. sorry it should read bend of the road and not city:)

  3. :(( naan inga ponathay ila..manakula vinayagar kovila paatha matiriye irunthuthu antha section...sooper writeup :)

  4. just 3 hours drive for you when you reach Chennai:)
    thanks gils.

  5. Pondicherry is one of my fav places.. your write-up brought back a lot of good memories :-)

  6. Hi bhargavi, nice to know you like Pondi too. glad to see you here.

  7. Very interesting and informative post. I'd love to experience the peace and tranquility in Aurobindo Ashram. Have heard and read so much about it! The legend of Manakula Vinayagar temple is fascinating.

  8. Pondicherry must be explored and experienced especially if you are a history buff and the auro experience is definitely calming.