Friday, May 31, 2024

Bonjour: A rendezvous with Pondicherry


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Rich in history and culture, Pondicherry (now Puducherry) is not just another beach destination or weekend getaway. A rendezvous with the French town will tell you a story of a town and its people who not only embraced the French culture but have been nurturing and preserving its French-style houses, and bright-colored cafes. Debayani Bose spends a weekend in the beautiful town ahead of Independence Day and shares a glimpse of her traversing through the ‘Paris of the East’.

The moment you enter Puducherry it seems to greet you with a hearty bonjour, both metaphorically and literally!
The city’s warmth, an age-old French Connection, and laid-back vibe are reasons enough for any weary city dweller to fall for Pondy. Whether it is enjoying the beaches, taking a bicycle tour around the picturesque White Town dotted with quirky cafes or enjoying a delightful lunch, Pondy has a lot to offer.
Once you hit the streets of Pondicherry the first thing that will strike you is the happy coexistence of two very distinct cultural identities, Tamil and needless to mention French. Important city landmarks such as the Anglo-French Textiles, French War Memorial, and Statue of Marquis Dupleix will pop up from nowhere reminding us every now and then about the rich French heritage and legacy.
I could feel the spirit of the Independence Day countdown as I took a stroll across the little town. Decked in the colours of independence, Pondicherry seemed all set to celebrate Independence Day on August 15. In fact, to mark India’s 75th Independence Day, the Pondicherry Police Department also organized a freedom rally of cyclists working in the police department.
India gained independence from British rule in 1947. Soon after, it raised the issue of the French settlements on the continent with the Government of France. It took several years for Pondicherry to unite with independent India. The French colony was liberated on August 16, 1962. Thus, the union territory celebrates Independence Day on both August 15 and 16.
Pondicherry’s French connection comes alive the most in the White Town, the French quarters in Pondicherry with the place being still home to some of the French families. The White Town gets its name due to the predominant occupation by French communities before Independence and has structures painted in white and bright yellow.
With the passage of time, some of the French houses have been converted into heritage hotels, restaurants, cafes, and art galleries. One such café in White Town which is housed in an old French colonial building is Café Des Arts. The café exudes an old-world appeal with its walls adorned with antique art pieces including an old rickshaw that lends to its charm. Me and my fellow travel partner Anupam had to wait for quite some time to get a seat at the popular café as tourists queued up to savour a hearty breakfast after a walk at the beach.
Mesmerized by the unique French architectural design grandeur, I roamed around quite aimlessly in the wee hours of Sunday at the White Town awestruck and trying hard to pronounce the names correctly– Suffren Street, La Bourbonnais Street, Goubert Avenue, Romain Rolland Street, in my broken French.
Like the French old colonial buildings and structures, cafes form an integral part of White Town and its French culture with each one having its own unique persona and offering a wide variety of French-inspired dishes to choose from. Touring Pondicherry would be incomplete without trying out the chocolate-laced bread at Bread and Chocolate or the Grilled Cottage Cheese at the famous Hope café in the heart of White Town. The quirky cafes do not merely offer you a happy space to relax and rejuvenate over good food, it gives you a glimpse of the past and lets you time travel.
As we explored the city on a bike, we headed straight to Auroville, or the Universal Town. Based on the concept of universal peace and harmony, Auroville is situated 15kms from the city of Pondicherry and offers a unique space away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It also has a beautiful beach known as the Auro beach, which is 10 km from the Ashram.
For those looking for a stay that is peaceful and meditative, Auroville is the right choice. Designed by famous architect Roger Anger, Auroville was started by The Mother, a spiritual guru, and collaborator of Sri Aurobindo, an Indian nationalist and Indian philosopher. He was the founder of Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
What I liked most about our short trip was witnessing the sunrise at Rock beach. With the waves glistening in the golden hues of the rising sun, it was a sight to behold. Drenched in the mellow hues of the rising sun, with the waves caressing the feet gently, we longed to while away the hours at the beach, away from the worries of the world.
After a well-spent weekend lazing around at the beaches and gorging on some delicious food it was time to go home with a bagful of memories. The short and sweet trip to Puducherry gave me a lot this time: some much-needed me-time to reflect and ponder, time to simply stand and stare, and some delicious food to savour, amazing French decor ideas that I am surely going to replicate at home, and most importantly another reason to look forward to this life and my time on earth. (IBNS)


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