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Guided Red Panda Expedition 2019
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Trip to the Hills: Summer retreat!
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Weekend getaway to the Bay

I am a third year student of SRM University, Kattankulathur, TN. Residing in Chennai during the summer is indeed a tough task as the scorching heat is very pestering; and Air Conditioners are not really the answer. After a long semester, every student looks forward to a much needed break. As my month long vacations came forth, I sought to Group Outing, on short notice to plan a trip close by that would include my parents as well. They un-hesitantly suggested me a short trip to the beach that would freshen my mind and body to work productively over the rest of the summer. Pondicherry (now Puducherry) was the location decided upon. It is a union territory located in the north-east part of Tamil Nadu, about 240km from the heart of Chennai. It is studded in a plethora of rocky and sandy beaches, botanical gardens; not to mention the holy shrines of Auroville and Aurobindo Ashram. Being a predominant French colony, this city abounds in several French delis but there’s more to it than meets the eye. GO chalked a plan that included a weekend long vacation and then transit back to Kolkata.

Transit to Pondicherry: My semester papers having ended on a Thursday evening, my parents flew down from Kolkata in an early morning flight on Friday. I met them at the airport with minimum luggage of beach clothing and casuals. A car which was booked for us, took us out of the city onto NH-45, i.e. GST Road or the Chennai-Theni Highway. The 240km stretch of highway is a smooth sailing at 100-120kmph and takes the better parts of 2 to 2.5 hours with no halts. A typical car drop to Pondicherry takes ₹2500-₹3000. Local inter-state buses also ply from all major bus terminals in the city at a cut price. Pondicherry also has a minuscule airfield where ATRs can land and there are flight services from Chennai and few other surrounding airports but taking a flight is not sensible or recommended. Very few trains run between Chennai and Pondicherry and take 5 hours whole to cover the distance.
We were booked into Park Guest House, Pondicherry which is a guest house dedicated by the Ashram to the tourists. They provided both AC and non-AC rooms. The non-AC rooms tariffed at ₹1100 per night for a triple occupancy. The balcony overlooked a garden and at the forefront stood a huge blue of the mighty Bay of Bengal with a view, one of wonder!

Round the Beaches: The late evening of Friday and the most parts of Saturday were spent walking the serene lengths of beaches. The major beach is the Rock Beach which is, as its name suggests, a rocky Beach and continental shelf with an extinct port/jetty, covered in sand artificially put. On its bank is the Beach Road that is closed to motor traffic from 6.00pm to 7.00am every day and is ideal for a stroll or a cycle ride. This road is bejewelled in many luxury hotels and severs the beach and the French colony. Many local shops give bikes or scootys on hire, on a daily basis; or local travelling can be done on autos which are comparatively pricy. Two other beaches are the Paradise Beach and Serenity Beach, located on the Auroville road and on the East Coast Road(ECR) respectively. Paradise and Serenity beach are both sandy beaches and are suitable for sunbathing or swimming. Serenity Beach provides amenities for casual surfing as well. Several professional surfers can be seen riding the waves. Spending a late summer afternoon sipping over some cool coconut water with a stupendous view of the setting sun, is nothing short of a blessing.

Visit to Auroville and Aurobindo Ashram: Auroville is an experimental community located 11km from the heart of the city. It was founded in 1968 by the spiritual leader Mirra Alfassa as a town where people from all over the world could live in harmony. Its focal point is the Matrimandir, a futuristic, spherical temple covered in gold discs. Auroville Botanical Gardens protects the region’s tropical dry evergreen forest. Paradise beach is a short distance from this very place.
The Aurobindo Ashram is the heavenly abode of the late Rishi Aurobindo. Several devotees, both national and foreign, flock to his tomb in search of divinity and bliss. A museum and a book store inside, is an apt description of his life and times. The botanical garden in the city is also in his memorial.
Our Sunday morning was well spent as we sought his blessings. The evening was spent on a happier note as we sipped coffee sitting on the banks of the Bay, on the Rock Beach. After gorging on a sumptuous dinner of a wood-fried 18” pizza at a local deli: Café Xtasi, we packed our bags for our trip back to Chennai airport, early morning on Monday.

Having spent one of the most memorable weekends of my life; a huge compliment and heartfelt gratitude goes out to the good people at Group Outing for making it possible on such short notice. It’s these little things in life that make it truly special.   

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