Beach tans, straw hats, cotton camisoles, lavishly prepared lemon coolers, appetizing and inviting aromas that fill every nook of lovely Indian-French cafes while glasses that clink and laughter that pervades in chic restaurants and discotheques – if only locutions were enough to express how magnificently flamboyant Pondicherry is. (nearly a 4 hours drive from Chennai). Situated in Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry is a French colonial settlement which is home to a plethora of buildings and accommodations which are great examples of the Franco-Tamil architecture, the casual bustle of tourists from across nations, a place where tongas and cycles ride their way to pretty little destinations, where beaches are not beaches and roads are not roads but pieces of paradise, where barks of trees fall so graciously onto immaculately colored buildings that it creates a scene perfectly picturesque. But above all, it is a place where humans coexist in absolute harmony, where they have nothing to give but warmth and affection. It should be noted how largely it is admired for being the little cocoon of allure and tranquility that it is.
I fulfilled my wish of visiting the much less-talked about Pondicherry earlier this summer. The only bad repercussion the place has is the generous amount of tan that it gives to you but, come to think of it – It is all worth it in the end! Neither did we consult a travel agent nor did we join any local tour services. In that charming little land, we prepared our itineraries and we were our own guides. Here is a list of some of the places that I had been to. Places that have become as dear to me as my books and 2 AM friends.
- Aadhaar Guest House:
Situated in Netaji Nagar and just a few blocks away from the Pondicherry railway station, this place is a number one go-to for souls who have only just arrived from a long,exhausting journey (just like us!). It shows how the host, a lovely French lady, has given her all to the working and maintenance of the place.
Aadhaar although being a guest house, makes one feel perfectly at ease, at home with the traditional Indian lamps and chandeliers in every room, white and blue balconies with chairs and tables of strong, primary colors and a terrace to kill for! The gorgeous stairway of Aadhaar reminded me of Paros and Santorini – places of abundant beauty in Greece.
Aadhaar also has a common pantry which is quite relaxed yet always bustling with the clink and clank of vessels and aromas of packaged, touristy foods.
Its open-to-sky bathroom is yet another phenomenon, where bathing in the open and under the sky never felt so good! And know what the best part is? The free cycles that it offers to its guests to ride around the town and explore as much as one can.
- White Town
The name in itself is enough to rightly intrigue the readers. Situated adjacent to Promenade, the French Colony will make you jittery with happiness and excitement and also flash a preview of how France is, right in front of you. With its exquisite boutiques, local market-like stores, charming constructions, and streets free of any kind of dirt or irregularity, this place has arrested the attention of a hefty amount of people. This country town has elegant pathways, lush green trees and beautiful French mansions that will lure you and charm you, incessantly.
During colonial times, the French had taken over four little pockets of South India and one gorgeous consequence among the four was White Town. The prominent shades the buildings are painted with are yellow, grey and pink. Yellow buildings suggest French departments and activities while the grey ones belong to Sri Aurobindo community/trust
It has a miscellaneous range of stores and boutiques like Geethanjali which is situated on Bussy Street and sells a breathtaking traditional collection of rich Indian heritage and colonial antiques and artefacts. Another store that pleased me was Via Pondicherry on Romain Rolland street. Along with its demure appeal from outside and vibrant interiors, it consists of an eclectic range of bags, textiles, garments, deco, shawls and more. Via Pondicherry in all true sense is a wonderful blend of Indian and French culture.
Yet another appealing feature that touched my heart was the fact that almost every store modestly produced a tiny rangoli with white kolam powder at the entrance. It acts like these that somewhere somehow add up to something marvellous. The one thing that I adore about White Town is the minimal display of doors and windows made from a great mix of vibrant, sometimes pastel hues which are an absolute treat to the eye!
Moving on, if you ever wonder what to eat and at the same time looking for something exotic and artsy, White Town is the place to be. Cafe des Arts and La Maison Rose are two of the many cafes that have captured my heart (and stomach as well!) On Suffren Street, Cafe des Arts is a 19th-century construction which is a striking mix of colonial art and a lavish menu screaming French classics. There is a stunning mini library (with books on art, architecture, history etc.) housed inside the bungalow-like French cafe. With an ambience as gorgeous as this place, one is sure to step out of it only after an eternity.
La Maison Rose on Romain Rolland street is yet another cafe with a grand boutique with an outdoor seating laughing lovely shades of pink. With a captivating kitchen and table decor, La Maison Rose should be on (almost) everyone’s bucket list!
While exploring the town and merrily walking our way through its beautiful streets, we came across St. John’s Church.Situated inside a school, the church expelled a clement aura and the lovely architecture is just a bonus!
Speaking of pinks and architecture, I can not miss out on the magnificent Eglise De Notre Dame Des Anges, also known as Our Lady of Angels Church. The construction of the church is filled with grandeur for it is in shades of pastel pink,with a little garden, a polygonal dome, and two square towers.
The interiors of the church are both luminous and serene, with bright aisles and seatings apt for contemplation and concentration. Our Lady of Angels is a church where mass is celebrated in Tamil, English as well as French.
- Chambre De Commerce
Situated on Suffren Street, Chambre De Commerce is a centre for commercial activities and developments to promote the economic interest and progress of the society. I was fortunate enough to witness a grand book sale at the place which housed books from almost all genres and categories.
- Pondicherry Museum
It is a government museum on Rue Romain Rolland which is home to sculpture from Chola and various dynasties and periods. It displays an elaborate range of bronzes, bead, arms and ammunitions, a printing press from Gutenberg’s era dated 1820 and more. The museum houses antiques like cutlery, crockery, lampshades, furniture and paintings from the French era. The iconic findings from the Arikamedu settlement can be found here. Bronze sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, handicrafts and an ample of vehicles used for transportation from the Victorian era are present in the museum. The museum also has an exciting Geology department upstairs.
- Basilica of The Sacred Heart
The Basilica of The Sacred Heart is located on Subbaiah Salai road. It is well known for its gothic architectural style as well as bright, enchanting interiors. Both English and Tamil mass are celebrated at the Basilica.
- Manakula Vinayagar Temple
A majestic Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha and his several forms. Outside are many shops selling products to be offered to the deity. The ceiling at the entrance of the temple displays a huge painting of Ganesha, Shiva and other Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Outside the temple is the much-celebrated elephant Laxmi. It’s been 20 years since Laxmi has been in Pondicherry. The very sight of her draws huge crowds of people every day. Her majestic body and benevolent eyes overwhelmed me, making me realise how much I love elephants for their massive physique yet an eternally humble aura.
Peacefully standing there for hours, Laxmi blesses every passerby, tourist, local or who-so-ever for that matter with her gorgeous long trunk. She is selfless, an epitome of greatness.
Also, she goes on a vacation just like us! May she live for a millennium, forever making people happy by her soulful vibe for, she is nothing less than the Goddess herself.
Here comes the end of the first segment of my journey. Stay tuned to know how exciting the second segment was!