The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, December 1, 2002

Finding peace in picturesque Pondicherry
V. S. Mahajan

Central Park Monument
Central Park Monument

PONDICHERRY, which could easily be compared to a French Riviera, is situated on the southern edge of the country’s map. An ideal tourist spot particularly for a visit during winter, the climate is salubrious. Here, one can relax in the peaceful environment surrounded by nature’s bounty and rich history.

It is fondly referred to as Pondy. The French landed here in 1673 but remnants of Roman settlements, dating back 2000 years have been found. Even it is claimed that the city existed much earlier when it was believed to be an ancient seat of Vedic learning and was called Vedapuri. As per the excavations at Arikamendu, 6 km from Pondy, it appears that this area was a thriving port city even before the birth of Christianity.

A panoramic view of the town
A panoramic view of the town

Thus, Pondy has been very much a part of ancient civilisation and culture. Its ideal location seems to have encouraged the growth of such a civilisation. Ultimately, it was the French under the leadership of Dupleix who made it their headquarters in India and found its environment close to their home, thus suitable for their tastes and temperaments.

Of course, unlike the British, the French were not so fortunate to expand their empire to other parts of the country. Here they faced tough enmity from the British. That, in a way, helped them to concentrate on this small territory and shape it as a part of their own culture which is so closely reflected in its layout, buildings, houses, churches, language and practically every other aspect.


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The best example of it is found in the beach area which is a magnificent spot on the Coromandel coast and it goes to the credit of its people that unlike other beaches, it is so well maintained. It is here over a length of one-and a half kilometres that one gets the image of a typical French settlement by the sea, that its creators had so assiduously planned.

Visitors from the world over pay their respects to the founders
Visitors from the world over pay their respects to the founders

The sight meets a string of white houses, majestic office buildings and towering Gothic-style churches. The promenade is lined by monuments that are architecturally symbolic of the French connection.

On the beach, the sand sparkles white against the backdrop of blue waters of the sea. All this, presents a breathtaking vision to be ever remembered. There are coffee bars around where one can also buy sandwiches, dosas, idlis and of course irresistible pizza bun and take a leisurely bite like a philosopher and thinker.

The real taste of French culture and cuisine can be had in the local clubs where members speak French or Tamil and of course English in a quaint musical French accent. It is particularly in the Raj Bhawan — where Dupleix, the founder of his French settlement, had lived, the Maine by the beach, as well as museums and other French institutes, that the French culture comes alive.

Matrimandir at Auroville
Matrimandir at Auroville

Thus one could spend hours on the beach and its surroundings and let a feeling of relaxation engulf one. However, most other parts of the city have now turned into Tamil land, yet with a difference. Roads are well-built and maintained and hygiene has not yet been sacrificed, unlike in other cities.

While it is the Gothic churches that exude special appeal for visitors due to their French architecture and other novelties in their construction, as well as a calm and serene interior dominated by attractive pillars and stained glass. The city is equally rich in temples where prayers are recited and pujas performed regularly. These temples are worth a visit especially for their architecture and also in their vicinity one can buy artifact and souvenirs.

Nothing is comparable to "the serenity and spartan simplicity of the Ashram that Shri Aurobindo founded and the Mother nurtured. Here visitors come from all corners of the world to pay their respects to the founders at their tombs and then stay on to meditate over what Sri Aurobindo and Mother taught." Indeed, a visit to this Ashram brings solace to the mind.

There is so much to learn at the Ashram that you would not be satisfied with one visit and would like to repeat it in case your stay permitted. It is worth visiting Auroville — a unique experiment in global culture where East and West meet. Auroville is situated a little distance in the north of Pondicherry. Due to several problems, this area has not developed at the pace and speed its creators wanted. It is, however, gradually taking shape and when complete it will be a unique piece of architecture and symbolise global peace.

Pondicherry is well connected both by rail and bus services. From Chennai, it takes around three hours by a road journey which is quite comfortable. From the Chennai bus terminal both state as well as private buses ply regularly. In Pondicherry, accommodation is easily available in its several guest houses and hotels to suit the individual pocket.

Pondicherry Tourism Development Corporation also arranges conducted tours and provides other facilities. More information can be had from the Tourist Information Office, Pondicherry- 605001.