The OH and I celebrated this Diwali in Pondicherry. We took a day off work and combined our leave for Diwali and the weekend to escape to Pondicherry for a short break away from routine. The vacation turned out to be fantastic, and the break has done wonders for both of us.
This is the second time I have visited Pondicherry. I loved it the first time I visited, and this visit only deepened that love. I find new depths to Pondicherry each day I spend there, and new surprises at every road that I turn into there. (That happens to me at all places that I visit more than once, but Pondicherry has depths that are more my type! 🙂 ) I now know that Pondicherry is a place that I will be going to often, to explore the place further and learn about the many layers that it has.
Pondicherry, as I know it, is a beautiful, quaint place where you can step back in time. It is a place where you can visit the France of the 17th and 18th centuries, gape at the quiet elegance and charm of the architecture in the French quarter, sip lemonade at a cafe that was once a 17th century French villa, or stay in a restored French home where you get the goosebump-inducing feeling that so many famous people have stepped through those very doors and touched those very walls!
Pondicherry is where you can really let your hair down, wear what you want to, and roam where you want to. You don’t really need to have a list of must-visit places here. It is a small place, best explored on foot, I feel, and there is no danger of getting lost because all streets are interlinked and the locals never hesitate to give you directions with a smile, should you need any.
Pondicherry is a place where you can turn into any road and be awed – sometimes by an extremely beautiful door or window, or by the charming names assigned to the roads in the French quarter (Rue Dumas and Rue Rangapoulle and Goubert Avenue, for instance), sometimes from the bits of history that stare at you right in the face.
I feel that the streets here have character – oodles of it – and I just couldn’t stop photographing away.
If the buildings in Pondicherry do not take you back to the 17th and 18th centuries, I am sure the statues here will. Pondicherry is full of statues of eminent personalities from Tamilian and French history, and looking at these statues makes you want to read up all there is to read about these personalities and find out what exactly happened all those years ago.
Pondicherry is a haven for artists of all kinds. This is a place that appreciates creativity and embraces artists – irrespective of whether they are sculptors, writers, potters, Ikebana artists, interior decorators, candle makers, perfumers, or dancers. Specially Auroville.
It is not uncommon to come across graffiti on the walls here, and different kinds of street art. You can easily spend at least 15 minutes gazing at these paintings, and trying to understand what the artist was trying to convey through it.
Pondicherry is where you can meet people from all nationalities, from American to French, some of whom have happily made India their home. You can get awed by people from different nationalities telling you that it has been four – or forty – years since they settled in Pondicherry, and that they love the place.
Thanks to all these people, Pondicherry is where you can experiment with a variety of cuisines, from Italian and Chinese and French to Bengali and Chettinad and Tanjore, sitting in restaurants that look like something out of a painting. Open-air cafes, beach-front restaurants with a view of the stars, beach shacks – name it and you have a restaurant decor of that sort in Pondicherry. Here, you get to sample cheesy pizza made by a charming Italian or Penne Arrabiata made by a French fashion designer.
The many bakeries and patisseries here are worth a mention, too, selling everything from cinnamon rolls and creme brulee to bagels and soup sticks.
Pondicherry is a must-visit place for lovers of shopping, a place that has something for shoppers of all kinds – luxury, medium-range and budget-range, young and old, men, women and children. It is paradise for antique lovers with its many curio centres and shops selling colonial-style furniture. Plus the boutiques and antique shops themselves are a treat to the eyes, with overhanging foliage and their cutesy signboards.
Like all tourist spots, Pondicherry has lots of commercialisation, too.
Pondicherry is where Tamil heritage effortlessly co-exists with the French one. You get to see idols that are typically Tamilian here, and the temples here are straight out of Chennai. I particularly loved the Ganesha idols that were everywhere in the Tamil quarters of Pondicherry, made out of black stone, adorned with sandalwood and kumkum paste, with the typical Tamil-style dhoti and angavastram.
Pondicherry is where you get reminded of long-forgotten Tamilian temple traditions – like being blessed by the temple elephant, or having your palm read by a travelling gypsy.
Pondicherry is where you get to see beautiful, beautiful churches like The Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception and The Sacred Heart church, places that fill you with serenity as soon as you step in. The interiors of these churches are oh-so-beautiful, with their arches and columns and domes.
Pondicherry is full of respect for the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, and the people here worship them in their own ways. Pondicherry is home to Auroville, what can be best described as a community built by these two visionaries. The influence of Auroville is all over Pondicherry, with the community having established several schools, helped several struggling artists, and brought light to the lives of thousands of villagers.
There are shops across Pondicherry selling everything that has been made by the inmates of Auroville – from hand-made paper and natural soaps and incense sticks to jams and preserves, clothes, bags and other fashion accessories. I cannot resist overdosing on the paper and paper products, jams, candles, incense sticks and soaps available here. How can I not? Where else can I find incense sticks made of natural frankincense or myrrh, or soaps made of orange blossom or rice? I go mad once I enter these shops, wanting to lay my hands on everything here, not wanting to let anything go untried.
Auroville houses the Mantri Mandir, a shrine dedicated to love, goodwill, peace, concentration and creativity by the Mother, located bang in the centre of the sprawling property. This is the place you go to when you want to learn to concentrate on the things most important in your life. It is a tranquil place that oozes spirituality, and it is only right that not everyone is allowed entry into the shrine.
In Pondicherry, the beach is never far away, wherever you go. Pondicherry is nothing if not a beach town. You are constantly reminded of the sights, smells and sounds of the sea here – including the sundal and bajjis, squawking crows, fish and crabs, the smell of brine, and balloons. I can never have enough of the beach, and this is one aspect of Pondicherry that I, hence, love dearly.
Pondicherry is a place that is, for me, full of magic. It is the kind of place where I can believe in Gulliver being washed ashore in one of the many boats that you can see on the sea, in a pirate roaming the streets and giving you a pot of gold in exchange for a hot meal, or a pretty little mermaid being caught by a fisherman in his net. Pondicherry makes me believe in the love stories of two soulmates finding each other in its quiet streets, recognising each other in the course of an afternoon encounter, solemnising a pact over a meal by the sea-side, and living happily together ever after.
Pondicherry is a place that brings out the bohemian traveller in me. It makes me want to wear those flowing skirts and junk jewellery that I almost never wear, spray on loads of citrusy perfume, paint my nails a shocking pink, and roam the streets in deep contemplation. It is a place where my head is full of ideas, and I want to put them all on paper in a free-flowing stream of thoughts. It makes me want to read endlessly, and lose all track of time. It is a place that brings me in touch with the deepest aspects of myself.
The slogan of Pondicherry Tourism is ‘Give time a break’, and no words could be more perfect for the place.
Pondicherry puts a twinkle in my eyes, a sparkle in my smile, and a spring in my step, according to the OH. No wonder, because I always feel like I have arrived at the right place for me whenever I visit here.
PS: Belated Diwali wishes to all of you! Hope you had a great Diwali, too!