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Just 2 1/2 hours away from Madras along the scenic and well-maintained East Coast Road (ECR) is Pondicherry. It is at best a great weekend destination. Especially if you're based in Madras, or even Bangalore, plan a drive down to Pondy during one of the long weekends. It would be worth the visit.
Pondy is a great place for bargain shopping. It's a typical laid back south Indian town. Don't go shopping for brands here. You won't find many any ways! Shop for some great products from the Aurobindo shops and boutiques. They are worth the price, albeit, slightly on the higher side. At least you are assured of good quality stuff. Secondly, Pondy is a decent destination for leather goods. This is Hidesign's home turf. Their products are by and large good. But be wary of what you buy and compare prices. Sometimes they fleece you. Actually, mostly they fleece you !
Pondy has a 2 km long beach, which is very hot during day time! Go for early morning and late evening walks, to enjoy the peace and quiet. Chunnambar backwater resort is another nice picnic spot. Be prepared to meet milling crowds of downmarket tourists from neighbouring villages! The backwater boat ride is nothing to write home about. Boozing is a major attraction in Pondy. Indulge, if you like!
Avoid Pondy during the summer months. It usually gets too hot for comfort. Stick to the French quarter of the town. It is certainly better than the other side, which is nothing but a typical dirty small Indian town. There are lots of excellent eateries, serving mostly Continental fares (to cater to the palates of the foreigners who can be seen swarming are all over the place!!). Check out the many non-descript and hidden beaches along the coastline of Pondy. They will be refreshingly good. Be warned about the locals and foreigners who will be peddling drugs/women etc.