Puducherry

Long back (today it seems like an era before) in the good old days, yes, the good old normal days I was in the coastal city of Pondicherry, the capital of the Indian Union Territory that has been recently renamed as Puducherry. My remarkably short and simple trip to this old French colony is now a dreamlike remembrance of the golden days when humans could travel free from any restrictions. 

Due to some personal engagements, we travelled to the city of Vellore in Tamilnadu. We had an extra day at hand and despite spoiling the day in the hotel I decided to visit the nearby city of Pondicherry and indulge in some heritage tour through the French quarters (knowing that I may not explore much of it as I believe that being in a place is also a different experience altogether.)

The pretty old building near the Promenade beach
The pretty old building near the Promenade beach

I could have easily lazed away a day in the hotel in Vellore or might have visited the other nearby places like Kanchipuram or Mahabalipuram but I was more inclined towards the Union Territory and so we were in this busy and old city of Pondicherry.

A lovely lady weaving a beautiful garland outside the Basilica
A lovely lady weaving a beautiful garland outside the Basilica

I wished to explore the French Quarters and delve into some authentic French cuisine in the age-old French cafes. I also wanted to taste the Pondy cheese (that I heard of recently) which is basically a Pondicherry version of French cheese. From cuisine to culture and heritage, you can find a rich amalgamation of both Tamil and French in Pondicherry. The cultural blend happened years ago. So let me share a tiny bit of history of this place.

The crowded promenade in the evening
The crowded promenade in the evening

Arikamedu, a small fishing village near Pondicherry has excavated evidence of ancient Roman trade, marking its presence in the early trade map of India. With the European trade link to this place already established, the French East India Company set up its base here in 1674 and Pondicherry became the primary French settlement in India.

Aayi Mandapam
Aayi Mandapam

Since then five French trading posts were set up along the coastal region and the trade flourished. The city was separated into the French Quarter and the Indian Quarter on either side of the canal. The coastal part was mostly French-dominated while the other part had the majority of the Tamil population.

The Pondicherry Police with their typical hat
The Pondicherry Police with their typical hat

After the British occupation of India, the Pondicherry city along with other French-occupied regions like Mahé, Yanam, Karaikal and Chandernagar (read more about Chandernagar or Chandannagar here) changed hands frequently between the French and the British to finally remain with the French even after India’s independence from the British rule. Pondicherry along with these areas got integrated into the Indian territory in 1954.

Needs no caption
Needs no caption

Even after its incorporation with India, the French influence remained strong and everlasting. The culture and heritage got intertwined, yet the French quarters mostly remained the same with its age-old colonial buildings standing strong narrating the stories of the past. Then there was a significant era of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother who also left their indelible mark on the history and the spiritual existence of Pondicherry.

Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Sri Aurobindo Ashram

Today Pondicherry stands as a beautiful union of the French and Tamil culture and cuisine. I wanted to explore the sea-ward side that is the French quarters of the city in a day and indulge into some French delicacies from the restaurants there. But you never know when ‘man proposes, God, disposes’.

The
Light through the tinted glass of the Basilica

While in Vellore my husband suffered from some flu-like symptoms. With the commencement of the journey, he showed fever and as we reached the city he was down with high temperature feeling weak. I gave him some cold and flu medicine from our first-aid kit and let him sleep. He slept and slept until it was evening. Meanwhile, I was getting concerned about his health as well as saddened as my plan failed miserably.

The mighty blue sea
The mighty blue sea

He felt a little better in the evening and we thought of taking a walk through the promenade. The long rocky beachfront has a well-maintained promenade with no vehicular movement in the evening making it an ideal place for pedestrians and skaters to spend quality evening time by the sea. The Promenade runs from the War Memorial on one end to Dupleix Park (read more about Governor Dupleix here) on the other end. In between, there is the Mahatma Gandhi Statue and the old lighthouse on either side of the road. This road is lined by heritage buildings on one side and the massive blue Bay of Bengal on the other side.

The lighthouse on the left and the Gandhi statue on the right
The lighthouse on the left and the Gandhi statue on the right

We had a relaxed walk, taking breaks and enjoying the sea view and also the crowd activity. The Promenade is the hub of Pondicherry in the evening. Tourists, as well as locals, gather here to spend their evening – eating, walking, jogging and relaxing by the sea. There were a lot of food options in the vicinity but my husband had a loss of appetite and I did not feel like having them alone. Neither could we visit the French quarters nor could I taste any freshly baked French bread or any cheese. ( 😦 All I did was wept over my failed plans.)

Another beautiful building beside the promenade
Another beautiful building beside the promenade

Next day we had our flight back to Pune so the single precious day that we had was lost in vain. My husband was feeling better the next morning so we decided to take a round through a couple of places before we start for the Chennai Airport. And we started with the nearby bright and beautiful Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The church was built in 1908 by the French Archbishop of Archdiocese of Pondicherry, Mgr. Gandy. The church got the Basilica status in the year 2011 and now is an important pilgrimage for the Christian visitors.

DSC_3128
Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Then we rushed to the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. This Church was built in 1668 and was dedicated to St Peter’s. Then approaching closer to the Promenade again we reached Sri Aurobindo Ashram (read more about Aurobindo Ashram.) After a brief visit to the ashram, we went to the nearby Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple. This ancient temple was built before the French occupation of the region. The temple is dedicated to Lord Ganesha and is considered an important religious site for the Hindus. After a quick and final drive through the promenade, we were off from Puducherry.

Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple
Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple

I had so many places in my mind but had to skip everything, so before we drove to Chennai Airport we visited the Auroville (read my previous post on Auroville.) I was sad but was hopeful that I will be back to Puducherry soon to explore the place as I planned and probably even more. Now, in this COVID-situation travel seems to be a distant dream. 

Governor Dupleix statue
Governor Dupleix statue

Even a day spent in vain then, seems to be so precious and dreamlike now. I miss my travelling days very badly and I know all my traveller friends are missing them too. With nothing in our hand we can only wait for the good times to return when we can travel again and explore the unseen and fulfil our plans and share our experiences.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral
Immaculate Conception Cathedral

IMG_20200115_095548

Puducherry at a glance, with travel information.

7 thoughts on “Puducherry

  1. I have been to Pondicherry but that was a couple of years ago. Back then, it was still a sleepy town and Auroville was the center of attraction among the travelers. During the last few years, it has garnered a lot of attention.

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    1. Yes, I remember back then it was only the Aurobindo Ashram that was the primary attraction within Pondicherry and Auroville in the outskirts. It is only the recent years that it has got a complete makeover and have become a tourist attraction.

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  2. This is one place good for slow travel and I intend to do just that, and soon. One trip is never enough to get the best out of a place….. so Sarmistha you have a reason to go back 🙂

    Pondi’s seaside promenade, White Town, Aurobindo Ashram & Auroville are an attraction; though I am sure there is much more to it.

    Thanks for the virtual tour of a place I have never been to but wish to!

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    1. I hope you make it soon to Pondicherry and once you are there you will definitely enjoy the vibe. Now the only thing is waiting for restriction free travel. Thanks Monica, for your kind words.

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  3. Pondichery is a special place and I am very much connected to it, as my uncle used to live there.

    It’s a place where you suddenly feel the difference from rest of the country in terms of architecture and cleanliness of streets, especially the old French quarter close to the beach.

    It was a base of many of my Tamil Nadu expeditions as Pondichery is well connected to most of the temple towns of South.

    Through your photos, I could see that, you made the best of your limited time in the city 🙂

    The best way to experience Pondichery is through it’s eateries, I feel. The Indian Coffee House is a cultural icon and a place where ideas are discussed and evolved.

    Thank you so much for sharing yet another content rich post which helps people to explore this interesting place 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, so lucky you are to have your uncle staying in this beautiful place. 🙂

      Yes, I remember long back in my childhood when we visited Pondicherry it was sort of a temple tour with its connectivity to many temple towns.

      And the Indian Coffee House is absolutely a great place, though I have not been to the one in Pondicherry but have been to the a few in other cities.
      Thanks Sreejith for your lovely comment. 🙂

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