Continuing our travel tale from where we left off last month, we drove off towards Pondicherry from Mahabalipuram – a distance of mere 100 kms. Yet, the East Coast Road off ered vividly changing landscapes – from estuaries to salt-pans, from backwaters to paddy fi elds. 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. Th e famous Matri Mandir is a glittering jewel in Auroville’s crown.
I am told ‘Pondicherry’ owes its name to a clerical error. Evidently, a clerk’s handwritten Pouducherry got read as Pondicherry, and ever since, the name stuck. Our resort, Le Pondy, was on the southern outskirts of Pondicherry. Unlike the 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. Th e 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.
The city was under French occupation for almost 300 years, with the exception of a few years in-between when the Dutch and the British ruled it briefl y. Th e strong French infl uence is hence 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 three roads parallel to it). Th e rest of the town has strong Tamil infl uence. 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). Th e White Town boasts of some phenomenal French architecture. Th is includes churches like the Basilica of Sacred Heart of Jesus, Eglise de Sacre Coeur de Jesus, Eglise de Notre Dame de la Conception 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. And at the same time, the Tamil quarters proudly fl aunt 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.
Besides the visual delight off ered by Pondicherry, it also off ers 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. It will sure seem like a sumptuous slice of France in India.