“Give time a break” is the ad-line for this quiet, cultural boutique town of Pondicherry which thoroughly does justice to its name. Away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, Pondicherry or Puducherry, as it is officially called, is a quiet little town on the southern coast of India. The dominating French connection, the tree lined boulevards, the colonial heritage buildings, the spiritual presence, the endless stretches of unspoilt beaches, backwaters and an infinite choice of restaurants serving a medley of diverse cuisines provide a heady mix of experience to any traveller. If you are looking for a place to enjoy some solitude and privacy, then this is right place. One of the modern cities of India, Pondicherry, has a great influence of many colonists – Dutch, Portuguese, British and French. Fondly called Pondy, it is a haven for any age. By the 18th century, this tiny fishing village had turned into a grand port city. The French first set foot here in 1670 and founded the town and built it to its present form, during the two and a half centuries of their occupancy.
The Aurobindo ashram was founded in the year 1920 upon the arrival of Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, one of India’s greatest philosopher-poets, who originally came to Pondy to escape persecution by the British. The ashram was also run by his French friend MirraAlfassa, known all over the world as ‘the Mother’. It combines the principles of yoga and modern science. Home to some excellent collections of art and architecture, it is an important tourist attraction of Pondicherry.
This creation also called the ‘City of Dawn’ was from a revolutionary and progressive ideology of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. It was built to accommodate a futuristic city where people can live together in peace and progressive harmony. It would be above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. Auroville came into existence in 1968. Designed by the French architect Roger Anger, around 2,000 people, mostly non-indians live there in settlements with names like Grace, Fraternity, Certitude and Transformation.
The jewel of Pondicherry, this promenade is 1.5kilometers long. Flanked on one side by the sea and on the other side by handicraft shops, restaurants, luxury hotels, landmarks, and war memorials, this is the most active and lively part of the city. On the sea front, there are several land marks – the inspiring Joan of Arc statue, the heritage town hall, the statue of Mahatma Gandhi, Dupleix’s statue, the old Light House, the remains of the old pier and the customs house.
Walking through this section is like walking through the cobbled lanes of a European residential street. A series of cobbled streets, old white-and-mustard buildings, quiet lanes with boutiques scattered here and there give a slight sense of the past glory rightly called the French Quarter.
The twin towers and dome of the mellow pink-and-cream Notre Dame des Anges is popular for its wonderful stonework. It highlights the texture and beauty as that of white marble. Limestone has been mixed with the white of the eggshells to make the plaster to get the smooth texture. Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges resembles the Basilica at Lourdes located in southern France, built in the 1850s.
Pondicherry is a shopper’s delight. Unusual and unique is what one can describe about the goods available here. Non-leather footwear, hand-painted silk clothing, perfumed candles, incense, oils, ceramics, jewellery, and handmade paper items, esoteric music – the list is endless. It’s not that cheap, but the atmosphere and selection is fantastic. They customise the size and style for you if it is not available right then. A rich mixture of the Parisian town and the South Indian warmth, Pondi is one of the most relaxing destinations along with activities which are stress free too. It is the type of charming seaside town where you arrive for a quick overnighter and will end up wishing you could stay for longer.