Pondicherry or should I say Pududcherry, is just a couple of hours by car from Chennai (150 Kms) . The road, East Coast Road ( ECR), is fantastic.

En route you could do Dakshin Chitra, which offers a glimpse at South Indian culture and then a little further Mahabalipuram. You will need 3 hours each to do enough justice to them. Lunch at The Wharf or at the buffet at GRT Temple Bay would be a good way to fuel yourself.

In Pondi, we stayed at the La Dupleix, a heritage hotel . The ambience is wonderful- an amalgam of French colonialism and Tamil Chettinadu sensibilities. Lovely wooden flooring, a cosy bathroom with a lot of red oxide and terracota flooring and old Thanajavur bommais, large jhoolahs, grandpa recliner chairs in teak, a courtyard with an ancient mango tree, on a quiet corner street. If you have a baby choose one of the ground floor rooms as there is no lift. The service is warm although a little slow.

We had taken Anush’s pram there so it was easy to go on long walks. You can also hire cycles.

You could also check out this Heritage hotel .

The typical must dos include:
Home to the Aurobindo Ashram, a French lady known as “Mother” managed it after Sri Aurobindo passed away. It is rumoured that a strong belief in the mother can help you rediscover lost things. Among Indians, Bengalis and Tamilians are big followers of The Mother. Babies are not allowed in here. It is a calm and pretty place enlived with flowers.
The Ganesha Mandir is pretty close by and has a resident elephant as well
Auroville is based on the interesting concept of international community living and the maithri mandir, which is forever undergoing renovation
The main rocky beach is nice to hang about and you can get a whiff of more than just the local flavor here
Chunnabar, has some lovely frangipani trees, boating and a children’s park. Also a run down aquarium and a tree house which seems to be closed most of the time. Still kids can have fun here.
You should look out for the local police- they have quaint head gear and a smart uniform!

Some must eats from a vegetarian perspective :
The Promenade ( Hidesign’s business hotel)- the roof top restaurant
La Dupleix itself for the continental delicacies
A little beach side shop that makes milk shakes, ice creams and burgers- forget the name though

The must buys are :
You can pick up interesting antiques in the small dingy looking shops
Pondicherry is gaining fame in the area of Montessori wooden toys which also you could buy at the factory.
Puducheri bommas make good souvenirs as do the incense sticks from Auroville
Motor Bikes are cheaper with a much lower sales tax vis a vis Tamil Nadu
Of course liquor if you are from Chennai but avoid carrying it out of the territory

And in case you did not know, Pondicherry has the largest number of French citizens outside of France. They even have their say in Presidentielle 2007!!