What Goa is to the West Coast, Pondicherry is to the East. Its beaches, impressive churches, bougainvillea-lined streets and colourful walls are quite similar to Goa, more precisely, the Fontainhas area of Panjim. While many travel to the ‘Riviera of the East’ for Instagram-worthy pictures, others make a bee-line for the dirt-cheap alcohol.
I’ll get into my reasons for visiting in a later post. For now, this is about how to travel from Chennai to Pondicherry, or Puducherry (sigh) as it is now called.
DISTANCE FROM CHENNAI TO PONDICHERRY
Pondicherry is around 150 kms from Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu.
There are two routes to get there – the ECR (East Coast Road) will take you by the seaside, and quite scenic, whereas NH45 is around 10 kms longer, but is a better road to drive on, if you’re on a road trip. Either way will take you around 4 hours to reach.
TRAVELLING FROM CHENNAI TO PONDICHERRY
Two things struck me on my visit to Chennai. One, how incredibly clean it was as compared to the other metros in India. In many crowded areas such as bus stops and markets, it was spotless. Secondly, and more importantly, it is very well connected. For someone who is visiting for the first time and cannot speak Tamil, I had no problems getting around.
Are you travelling to Pondicherry from Chennai Airport? Simply exit the airport and walk 100 meters to the right, on the same paved, shaded road that leads to the airport. You will see the Meenambakkam Metro Station on your left. On entering the building, you’ll find an elevator a few steps away that will take you to the metro station. The Chennai metro is fairly empty and the station is as good as deserted, but the metros are fast, clean and efficient.
Buy a ticket to CMBT which will cost you Rs. 50 and board the train. You will have to change the metro line you’re on after a couple of stops at Alandur, but with the signboards present everywhere, you won’t have any difficulty finding it. At CMBT, exit the metro station and you will find yourself right at the bus terminal! How convenient!
Here, you have two options of buses (a/c and non a/c) as well as routes, which I have specified above. Both buses will drop you to Pondicherry bus depot. I took the non a/c bus and the ECR route which cost Rs. 130/- While it was empty when it left, it got really crowded mid-way, before emptying out again towards Pondicherry. The seats were uncomfortable and there was barely any leg room, plus, it got really hot after a point.
Also, this bus did not go by the ECR route as promised. After exiting Chennai, It took me on narrow mud roads through rural Tamil Nadu for a good 2 hours and finally got on to ECR a few kms before Pondicherry. I figured that this was to avoid the toll tax the buses have to keep paying on the highway. Obviously, my journey stretched to almost 5 hours. So if you choose this option, double check with the conductor that the bus goes on ECR the whole way.
On the way back to Chennai, I chose the a/c bus via ECR road and man, what a difference. Volvo buses with recliner seats offered a very comfy journey and only cost Rs. 230/- per ticket. I try to avoid a/c buses as the congested air inside makes me sick, but there was no weird bus-smells or anything! Grab a snack, doze off and you’ll find yourself at Meenambakkam before you know it. There are no stops on the journey, either.
The frequency of both buses is great – with one leaving every 15-20 minutes.
You could also choose to travel from Chennai to Pondicherry by booking a pre-paid taxi at the airport or by calling an uber. Both these options cost Rs. 2500 and over and the travel time is the same.
Lastly, you could travel by train from Chennai Railway Station to Pondicherry Railway Station, which is very close to White Town. This may be cheaper than the bus, but it is definitely a longer journey that can go up to 5-6 hours.