Pondicherry, it is believed, is a French corruption of the more ancient name of the town of Puducheri. The French were the fourth colonial power to reside on these Indian shores, following the Portuguese (16th Century), the Danes (c. 1616) and soon after the Dutch with whom the French battled for control in the late 1600s. Then they then were conquered by the British in the late 1700s and Pondicherry was eventually returned to them in 1816. French rule continued for another 138 years, with them clinging on to the territory even after the rest of India gained independence from the British in 1947. It was not until November 1st 1954 that Pondicherry finally became a Union Territory under Indian rule.
This Indian coastal city on the Bay of Bengal, 160 km south of Chennai, still has evidence of its former French colonial roots. Take a walk along the 1.5km promenade….
and you come across the French War Memorial
and Le Café
side by side the 4.25m statue of Gandhi – just to remind you that you are still in India!
‘White town’ houses buildings with French Style architecture and tea rooms like ‘La Maison Rose’ where is it more common to hear French spoken than Tamil.
In fact there are over 55 languages spoken in the 290km2 area with Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam, French and English being the five official languages, many of which can be heard as you wander down the promenade, either during the day….
Or during the hustle and bustle of an evening….
Peace and quiet is not easy to find in Indian cities, streets are not only the domain of cars, bikes and autos beeping their horns, but also dogs, people….
Including those being milked on the street.
It is no wonder that churches and temples are so common.
….places to try and escape the noise of the horns, traffic and chatter to concentrate on the divine.
Other spaces to escape the struggles of daily life and meditate on the Almighty or to spend time with the family include gazing at the waves from the promenade….
or sitting under the trees in Bharat Park….
Although even here your peace is likely to be disturbed by the caws of the House Crows
and the squawks of the Common Myna birds.
If you are lucky you might get to see a Tawny Coster butterfly as you tuck into your ice-cream.
There is no zoo in Pondicherry (despite what the Life of Pi may have led you to believe) so another option to try to escape the city noise and get back to nature is to visit the rather dilapidated Botanical Gardens. A lot of it is overgrown, but if you are lucky you can get glimpses of Common Crow and Dark Blue Tiger butterflies.
And you might get green fruits landing on your head as the Rose Ringed Parrokeets pluck them and throw them from the trees.
Make sure you don’t get run over by the ‘Joy Train’ through.
This mix of Indian and French makes Pondicherry an interesting stop on a trip around India. Don’t miss drinking the juice of a green coconut….
pleasing the children by taking their photo…..
and exploring the stalls on the promenade in the evening….
And as your roam the streets at night…. watch out for Bengal Tigers 😉
Then after a tasty Indian feast return to The Richmond, an oasis from the heat, noise and smells of this cross cultural city.
Before sleep kneel down and thank God for blessing you with the wonderful luxuries you have compared to the many thousands of people, just outside your door, who have no air conditioning, limited food, no clean toilet and no refreshing shower in their makeshift homes or on the street.
We are truly blessed!
- Pondicherry: Postcard from a corner of India that is forever France (earthcallingblog.wordpress.com)
- Thoughts on “Life of Pi” (snippetstudios.wordpress.com)