The rays of the morning sun were beaming down gently. A lady is drawing a kolam pattern outside her shop. Kolam is a drawing done at the entrance of the house, usually by the lady. Rice flour or synthetic color powder are used to make colorful patterns. This is an old Tamil ritual done to bring prosperity.
As I took her picture she looked at me, smiled shyly, then in fluent French welcomed me to Pondicherry. Bienvieue!
This petite union territory situated at the coast of the Bay of Bengal is a sweet smelling pot pourri of Indo French culture.The French left in 1954, however their legacy is experienced in the people, architecture, food and culture.
Sunny yellows, peachy pinks and subtle pastels are the dominant color theme in the French quarter area. The neighborhood unfolds itself like a summer flower and the vintage buildings offer a visual treat.
The narrow streets are lined with leafy trees and bougainvillea flowers carpet the way.
Street names are all in French. Dumas, Romain Rolland, Suffren and Labourdonnais are some of the streets, named after people who have significantly contributed to Pondicherry’s rich culture.
Quaint boutiques and coffee shops peek from street corners welcoming you to step in.
Ringing bells announce the arrival of bicycles zipping across the streets. This is the preferred transport style of the locals. Hop onto one of them and explore the neighborhood at your own pace.
French is commonly spoken with a sprinkling of Tamil. The food imitates the language with Indo French fusion food being hugely popular.
A good French breakfast can be had at Bakers Street located at Bussy Street. The croissant sandwich and filter coffee marry well together like an indo french couple 🙂
Fusion french restaurants for lunch and dinner are Satsanga in Rue Labourdonnais, Maison Rose same street, Le Club Rue Dumas, Hôtel Orient or Maison Blanche.
The Indian Coffee House is located near the market place at Nehru Street. Yann Martel’s book Life of Pi begins in this coffee house with the author meeting an elderly man who tells him, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.”
Speaking of God – Spirituality is interwoven into the tapestry of Pondicherry and is found in its churches, ashrams and temples.
The Gothic styled Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is 100 years old. It houses rare stained glass panels depicting events from the life of Christ and saints.
Our Lady of Angels Church also called Eglise de notre Dame des Anges, offers mass in three languages – French, Tamil and English. Built in the Greco-Roman architecture it faces the Bay of Bengal.
Sri Aurobindo practiced mediation and communal living. His followers and spiritual collaborator Mirra Alfassa respectfully known as Mother resided with him in an Ashram located near the French quarter.
Today the main Ashram building houses the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and Mother. Devotees and followers across the world come to pay their respects at the Samadhi.
Auroville is an international township founded by Mother and it is located about 15kms away from Pondicherry.
Mother’s message to all is that people of all nationalities and race can live together here in harmony and unity. This place is above religion, politics and nationalities.
A short walk through a shady tree lined pathway takes you towards the centerpiece of Auroville. As the trees clear out a huge golden ball dazzling in the sun gradually reveals itself.
The Maitri Mandir is a spherical golden dome created for silent meditation. This structure too was initiated by Mother. The dome is covered with golden discs that reflect the sunlight making it look radiant.
After soaking in the peace and quiet of these spiritual retreats, you can return back, to life’s common pleasures without feeling guilty.
The sun sets quietly in the background, making the seaside promenade come alive in the evening. The street is off traffic and a lively buzz can be felt around the promenade.
People are seen taking breezy walks. Selfies with the sea seems to be a must do especially with the young. Kids and adults alike, happily pose to get a good pic. Some prefer to sit and watch the waves crash on the concrete blocks. Vendors will sweet-talk you to buy their wares.
The statue of Gandhi seems to be watching these sights in amazement. A little ahead the statue of Goubert seems to be watching the happenings on the street. The freedom pillars rise above the horizon and keep a protective watch on the promenade.
Boutique hotels and homestays offer a slice of the local life. Experience the local life in a homestay to make the most of your experience at Pondicherry.
Before heading back to Chennai spend a lazy Sunday morning at Goubert’s market just for kicks. You may get lucky and pick up a fine souvenir.
My Pondicherry Factfile
Travel: The distance between Pondicherry and Chennai is around 3 hours by road. The East Coast Road is scenic and the road condition is absolutely perfect for driving. Stunning sunsets enroute make for a perfect photo-opp.
Autocare is a car hire service run by the Ashram. I had hired my car through them and found them to be reliable and prompt.
Use the Autocare bus service when travelling to and from Auroville. It is a cheaper option compared to autos and they will not overcharge you.
Stay: Aadhaar Guesthouse is a cozy homestay and perfect for backpackers and budget travelers. It is safe option for solo female travelers. The homestay is located in a calm neighborhood. It has clean and comfy rooms with an Indian touch.
Click here – Aadhaar Guesthouse / Contact: 09655971542
Spend your mornings on the terrace for fantastic sunrise views which will make your day. The guesthouse provides free bicycles and scootys on hire.
And lastly don’t forget to smell the flowers as there are plenty of frangipani and bougainvillea found abundantly 🙂
For more posts about short weekend breaks read – Microbreaks