We drove to Pondicherry from Mahabalipuram- a distance of mere 100 kms. Yet, the East Coast Road offered vividly changing landscape – from estuaries to saltpans, from backwaters to paddy fields.
Just before entering Pondicherry, we crossed Auroville – the experimental township established in mid 1960s by the Mother. Technically, Auroville is in Tamil Nadu but the town closest to it is Pondicherry. The famous golden golf ball shaped Matri Mandir is a glittering jewel in Auroville’s crown.
Pondicherry owes its name to a clerical error. Evidently, a clerk’s handwritten Pouducherry got read as Pondicherry, and ever since, the name stuck.
We crossed the entire town, which also has a couple of rivers flowing through the city, as our resort, Le Pondy, was on the southern outskirts of Pondicherry. Unlike the beach-less city of Pondicherry, the resort had a beach. But, like all other beaches on the east coast, even this beach was dangerous, with uncertain strong currents and sudden sheer drops on the beach slope.
The resort looked pretty but had major architectural issues – e.g. the sea-facing rooms had a French window facing east; this means, the rooms got strong sun most part of the day and if you did not pull the curtains, there was no privacy either.
Pondicherry: A Slice of France
The city was under French occupation for almost 300 years, with the exception of a few years in between when Dutch and British ruled it briefly. The strong French influence, hence, is visible in the White Town area of the city (White Town is the area closer to the sea that comprises the boulevard along the sea and 3 roads parallel to it).
The rest of the town has strong Tamil influence. But interestingly, whether you’re in White Town or in the Tamil quarters of the city, streets or roads names carry ‘Rue’ (‘Avenue’ in French).
The White Town boasts of some phenomenal French architecture. This includes churches like the Basilica of Sacred Heart of Jesus, Eglise de Sacre Coeur de Jesus, Eglise de Notre Dame de la Concepcion Immaculee, the old Customs House, a famous café called Le Café, the old light house, the War Memorial, and many more period buildings lining the streets.
Not to be left behind, the Tamil quarters proudly flaunt some brilliant Dravidian architecture that is most noticeable in temples like the Varadaraja Perumal Koil (Vishnu Temple), Manakula Vinayakar Koil (Ganesha Temple) and Kannika Parameshwari Temple.
When you walk towards the new lighthouse, you are likely to notice a graveyard with colourful graves. This treatment of a cemetery just reflects the attitude of general peace and contentment amongst the locals here.
Considering that this lazy, leisurely town is on the coast, fishing is a thriving industry here. The traditional catamarans (logs of woods tied together) and the more modern fibreglass catamarans are both used by the fishermen.
Everyday, for any photography enthusiast, the jetty near the Dupleix statue at the southern end of the Boulevard offers a mesmerising scene of these fishermen setting out for their day’s fishing and their silhouetted boats bobbing up and down in the bay.
This fascinating happening may be enjoyed from blue hour to well past the golden hour in the morning. The local authorities very thoughtfully keep the boulevard closed for motorised traffic till 8am to help the locals and tourists to enjoy a carefree morning walk here.
Besides the visual delight offered by Pondicherry, it also offers a delectable fare for the foodies. Some of the places worth dining at include Le Club, Rendezvous, Alliance Francaise and Baker Street. Do take a trip to Pondicherry if you wish to experience a slice of France in India.