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Have you ever visited Tharangampadi?

Last updated on: January 31, 2014 10:30 IST

Have you visited Pondicherry, Tharangampadi and Havelock yet?

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Anita Bora

Now is a great time to explore these five places in India says Anita Bora as she draws up her list of personal favourites.

Pondicherry

An Indian town with French influences

I remember visiting this town at the height of summer. Temperatures of above 40 degrees Celcius do not make it the most pleasant of destinations.

And then I went after the rains and it was so much better.

Another fact about Pondicherry is that it also gets the north-east monsoon from October to December, so you might get a few rain showers during this time. Though it's not a bad thing as it brings down the soaring temperatures.

While Pondicherry is definitely best enjoyed in the cooler seasons, it doesn't get too cold, so come prepared.

Besides the sunscreen, also come armed with a French dictionary -- you never know when it comes in handy.

It was after all a French colony till nearly 1956. And as a testimony to that, you'll find a lot of Tamil speaking denizens, fluently switching to French without batting an eyelid -- something that seems really strange until you get used to the incongruity of it all.

Pondicherry is what most of us refer to it as, but it got a new name, Puducherry, in 2006.

The town is also separated into two sections by a canal and was designed based on the French grid pattern, with sectors and perpendicular streets. So you have the French Quarter (Ville Blanche) and the Indian quarter (Ville Noir).

Many streets are dotted with large bungalows (some of them now falling into ruins), with doorways fringed with multi-colored bougainvillea, lining shaded avenues with French names.

The cobbled roads give the whole town a rather European look and feel though on a recent visit, I found it looking a little worse for wear. Piles of garbage here and there, graffiti and broken pavements are now destroying the charm of the once-tidy town.


Photographs: Anita Bora

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Have you visited Pondicherry?

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Pondicherry has become an important destination for spiritual seekers as well as tourists as devotees of Sri Aurobindo (Indian nationalist, freedom fighter, philosopher, yogi and guru) throng the Ashram, established here around 1926. Go prepared for the massive crowds.

Also, take a walk during the evening, down Gou¬bert Avenue, the main sea-facing road of Pondi which is chock-a-block with adults, kids of all sizes and ages, vendors, performers and locals. The only saving grace is that they close off the road to vehicles including bicycles.

The French affair continues with the Alliance Francaise de Pondichery is located at one end of Goubert Avenue in a lovely old building, the Maison Bellocq, with arches, and a cosy garden cafe. I was severely tempted to go and join one of the classes but realized that I possibly wouldn't be able to go beyond the “oui” and “ca va”.

When in Pondicherry, everyone makes a stop at Auroville. My suggestion would be to do some research before jumping to conclusions about Auroville, as it doesn't seem very clear to someone visiting for the first time.

It's not really a sightseeing destination, except for the Matri Mandir, which to my knowledge can only be seen from a distance. It's more of an 'experience'.

I usually spend a few days here soaking in the peace and quiet. If you don't have the luxury of time, the other way is to head to the Visitor's Center, peek around the exhibits, watch a video on how Auroville was established and pick up some handicrafts at the local shops in the complex.

Pondicherry is quite renowned for its handmade products include paper, clothes and ceramics.

Quite a few ceramic artists call Pondicherry their home.

The town is home to Golden Bridge Pottery, which is known as one of the pioneers of the ceramic culture today. It might take some effort to actually visit these potteries and studios (unless you know them personally), but if you want to pick up some as mementos and gifts, you can shop at the Visitor's Center the Casablanca shopping center in town.


Photographs: Raj/Creative Commons

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Have you visited Pondicherry?

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Eating out can be a hit and miss in Pondicherry.

So it works if you ask around for recommendations and have your list ready.

If you walk into any restaurant, you might be in for a disappointment.

A well-known option is Rendezvous, known for its steaks and you can dine in the garden under the stars on a pleasant night.

I discovered a rather off-beat and tiny cafe called New Banana Cafe on Cazy street, which serves the most fresh vegetables, baked dishes and galettes. Else, you can try more upscale restaurants like the Le Dupleix, Light House at the Promenade and the Carte Blanche at the L'Orient, which serves Creole cuisine.

There are walking tours conducted by INTACH, which are a great way of discovering the town.

Rent a cycle from the main market for very reasonable prices if you want to travel the local way. The sea is not too far away either, but I must warn you that it's usually quite crowded unless you go towards some of the more lesser frequented beaches a little further up north. Auroville has its own private stretch of beach, but it's usually inaccessible unless you're staying at one of the Auroville guest houses (also not a bad idea if you're looking at a longer stretch of more than 4-5 days).

Places to Stay

  • Swades Guest House: small, quaint and walking distance from several restaurants. Also has a kitchen if you fancy cooking yourself.
  • Villa Christophe: A boutique hotel in the French quarter
  • Le Dupleix and L'Orient are also the more well-known star hotels.
  • Auroville Guest Houses are a good option if you want to experience living in Auroville, but as I mentioned it's better if you're going for a longer stay and don't expect touristy luxuries.

Getting There

Pondicherry has an airport and you can now fly in from Chennai and Bangalore. There are also regular trains and buses into the town.


Photographs: Courtesy Pondicherry Info

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Have you visited Tharangampadi?

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Tharangampadi

The land of the singing waves

That's what it means in Tamil, but there's also another name given to the town -- Tranquebar.

Located on the Coromandel Coast, it's in the Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu.

If you're going to Pondicherry, you might want to also extend your trip a little further down South.

If Pondicherry has French influences, in Tharangampadi, you get glimpses of Danish legacy.

It had been on my wish list for a long time, I must admit, mainly due to it's exotic name.

A former Dutch colony, history is in the air everywhere you go.

It's a small area but there's quite a bit to discover around.

The only place to stay here is the Neemrana property called Bungalow by the Beach.

The entrance to the town is through a 200-year-old town gate, called Landporten.

Most colonial houses that are scattered around the main street (King Street or Kongensgade) are a reminder of the Danish heritage, with stucco walls, massive pillars, verandahs, carriage porches and arched entrance pillars.

The cultural and architectural influences can also be seen in the churches, cemeteries and the Dansborg military fort, which is visible from the Neemrana bungalow.

The fort now contains a museum, containing Hindu sculptures from crumbling shore temple, and other relics from the Danish settlement.

In 2004, Tranquebar was hit by the tsunami and some of the damage is still apparent. Large scale restoration is still being carried out.

Nearby is a temple, right near the rocks on the shore and it's a wonder it hasn't eroded away completely.

From here is a pleasant walk by the sea towards some of the older structures and buildings. Everything is within walking distance in Tranquebar.

You might want to reserve a day for sightseeing and walking and another for relaxing by the poolside of the hotel.

Places to Stay

While I have visited quite a few Neemrana properties, I must say that the location of Bungalow by the Beach, is quite a winner due to it's proximity to the water.

You can while away hours sitting on the first floor listening to the crashing waves and watching people frolic in the waters.

The fort is also visible from here.

However, the only negative here is the food, don't expect too much on this front. Tamil Nadu tourism also runs Hotel Tamil Nadu.

Getting There

Tharangampadi/Tranquebar is around 290 km from Chennai and 124 km from Pondicherry. The nearest airports are Chennai and Tiruchirapalli.


Image: Inside The Bungalow on the Beach
Photographs: Anita Bora

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Have you visited Nersa?

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Nersa

Secluded wilderness in the Western Ghats

If you love the outdoors and the forest, then the Western Ghats are a treat for the trekker, adventure lover, bird/butterfly watcher and nature lover.

This area has been designated as one of the world's top bio-diversity hotspots and extends to around 1600 km along the West coast of India. The rich biological wealth in this area includes mammals, birds, reptiles and insects.

Nersa, located in Khanapur village nestled in the Londa range is a great place to set up your base. It is accessible from the town of Belgaum and also very close to Goa, which is the ideal next stop in your itinerary.

Khanapur taluk is famous for its clay so you can try your hand at throwing a pot, under the guidance of the experienced local potters in the area. There's plenty of walking and trekking to the hidden hot spots in the area. You're unlikely to run out of walking trails.

This is also a bird watchers paradise -- you could be waking up to the call of the jungle fowl and ending the night with the hoot of an owl sounding your bed time.

It's a great place to observe and experience rural India, meet the locals and also see how they work and live. Get out for a visit to the weekly market at Khanapur on a Sunday.

There's only one eco homestay and working farm in this area called the Hermitage Guesthouse run by David and Morvarid Fernandes, who began taking in guests a few years ago. The property itself has been there since the 1970s.

Be prepared to hear interesting stories about the way things were back then, when there was no electricity, amenities and the nearest place for supplies was miles away.

David knows the area like the back of his hand, so it helps with all the trekking, adventure, birding activities.

And under his able guidance, you won't miss much. Make sure you get him to talk you to Bear Hill for a walk and to the spot with the hot water spring bath; a swim in the river, a natural Jacuzzi experience and some simply gorgeous view points guaranteed to take your breath away.


Image: Nothing like a walk in the woods in Nersa
Photographs: Anita Bora

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Have you visited Nersa?

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Wake up in the morning and listen to the birds sing, sounds emanating from the forest and look forward to your first cup of tea, watching the sun rise from a machan. Ensure you spend at least 3-4 days here for a complete experience of the forest.

There is a lot to see if you've got an adventurous and curious bone.

Deep inside the Londa range there are hundreds of bats inside a laterite cave.

Of course if you want to skip the batty experience David can take you trekking or on a jeep excursion.

This area is truly heaven on earth for the nature and wildlife lover.

Places to Stay

The Hermitage Guest house is located 45 km away from Belgaum in Nersa, Khanapur taluk. Watch out for Morvarid's delicious food.

With Parsi and Iranian influences, she whips up meals that are surely going to add quite a few pounds. So don't say no to the walks!

You can also try Wildernest, a resort which is in the Chorla Ghats, also part of the same range of mountains.

Getting There

The nearest train station is Belgaum and you can also fly into Goa and then make your way to Nersa by road.


Image: View from from the machan in Nersa.
Photographs: Anita Bora

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Have you visited Goa?

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Goa

Adventure in the lap of nature

If there's a place where you can find everything it is Goa.

Whether you're looking for some peace and quiet, sun-soaked beaches, a drive by the green countryside, a expansive dinner by the sea or even a night of partying -- there' something for everybody.

It's no wonder then that Goa has become a kind of traveller's paradise and you'll find it teeming with tourists in all seasons.

Pirkko Fernandes, who runs the charming Olaulim Backyards homestay reveals that even the monsoons has been good this year and there hasn't been an 'off peak' season so as to speak.

While the sea and the beaches are a usual tourist location, there are so many other things you can do in Goa.

Adventure sports are big -- whether it is cycling, motorbiking, river rafting -- you have tons of things to keep yourself and the family busy.

Food and cuisine are integral in this part of the world. So be prepared for a feast to your culinary senses.

Of course, it helps if you like sea food as most of the local cuisine will inevitably center around fish.

I did a five-day cycling trip in Goa a few years ago and have been hooked to the countryside ever since.

I look for places in the interiors -- small, serene villages where you hardly hear anything except a few dogs in the neighbourhood once in a while. Or maybe birds chirping merrily or peacocks calling out for their mates!

Try a food tour or cooking classes -- buy your fish and get it made in local Goan and Portugese style.

Or take off on a motor cycle and discover the little scenic villages ending with a meal. Arvind Prabhakhar who runs IndusRider (indusrider.com) offers interesting rides in Goa. Hard to resist really.

And then for some more adventure, head out to the river Mhadei for a few hours of super good fun on the river.

The rafting, conducted by Goa Rafting goes on till around October/November in the Surla and Mahdei rivers.

By the popular beaches like Baga and Calangute, there are distractions like para-gliding, dolphin spotting and there's also scuba diving starting around November with Barracuda Diving.

Did I mention that there's never a dull moment when you're visiting Goa?


Image: Adventure sports on the beaches in Goa
Photographs: Shahnawaz Sid/Creative Commons

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Places to Stay

If you enjoy staying with local families, then I'd recommend Arco Iris, run by Bennita Ganesh and her wonderful family.

Bennita and her husband have redone an old Portugese bungalow and converted it into a most charming place.

Overlooking a seasonal lake, you can spend large amounts of time sitting on the patio doing nothing!

And then there's Olaulim Backyards -- once you reach there you'll realise why it's called so.

With cats, dogs, a donkey and a pony, it's extremely animal friendly for those who enjoy company.

There's also a beautiful pool, a creek for your kayak and boat rides.

If you're not into roughing it out or can't live without your luxuries, there are places like the Vivanta by Taj (Candolim) and the Holiday Inn (Cavelossim) which have ocean front properties with great views of the beach.

Getting There

Frequent trains into Goa from Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai. The nearest railhead is Vasco and the airport is located at Dabolim.


Image: Arco Iris, run by Bennita Ganesh and her family
Photographs: Stephanie Booth/Creative Commons

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Have you visited Havelock?

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Havelock Island, Andamans

A whole new world underwater

You've got a whiff of French history in Pondicherry, and experienced the remnants of the Dutch rule, and now it's time to discover a whole new world.

A speck on the Bay of Bengal this part of the country is a must-visit, especially if you want to indulge in scuba diving or a snorkelling adventure.

Submerging yourself many feet below the sea amongst some of the reefs and coral banks and watching marine life pass you by may not be an idea of fun to many but once you're tried it, very few can escape the thrill that underwater life offers.

Pack your bags and a dollop of adventure and head to the sunny shores of the Andamans; I wouldn't recommend wasting too much time on Port Blair -- we gave the usual sights a miss and head straight for Havelock Island where the action is.

Being fond of water and able to swim really helps if you're going to start diving.

There are both PADI and SSI courses offered in Havelock.

We went with DiveIndia, which is one of the older and more established diving schools in the island.

If you want more luxury, you can also opt for Barefoot Havelock.

Our tents were basic, but we were out on the beach or the cafe most of the time (or lolling about on some hammock) so we realised that we didn't really need much luxury.

Our boat would leave around 7 am in the morning and get back only around 2 pm after 2 dives, usually at different locations.

If scuba is something you don't warm up to, try just walking around (the beaches are sandy white and beautiful); I would just choose a nice spot and loll around reading a book and doing nothing much.

Cycles are available for hire and quite a popular way of getting around the small island as are motorised two wheelers.


Photographs: Anita Bora

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Have you visited Havelock?

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Also, on Havelock, is the popular Radhanagar beach.

Crowds throng the sandy beach in the evening and it's a little crowded but the spectacular sunset makes up for all of it.

Otherwise, the underwater world is an experience not to be missed.

What lies beneath cannot be easily described in words.

It is lush, colorful, and there's a surprise waiting for you with every fin kick. Vibrant rainbow coloured fish vie for attention with sea anemones, octopus, crabs and giant sea turtles.

DiveIndia offers both the beginners and the advanced divers courses and if you're planning to do them, then make sure you keep at least a week to 10 days to complete your course as you might also want to take a day's break in between.

As a huge shoal of yellow, blue and silver fish glide past, and the sun filters through the water, bathing the surrounding water in bright light, you feel you're watching television in slow motion. Definitely, a whole new world worth exploring.

Places to Stay

Havelock itself is an island around 119 square km and has quite a few accommodation options.

Once you're there, for diving you can try DiveIndia (diveindia.com), which offers tented accommodation and diving packages. If you just want your luxury, try the Wild Orchid, or Barefoot Havelock.

Getting There

The nearest airport is Port Blair and there are daily flights from Chennai.

(Anita Bora is a freelance writer and avid traveller who will go anywhere for adventure, fun and food. She blogs regularly at anitabora.com).


Photographs: Anita Bora

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