We arrived in Pondicherry on 22nd March by taxi which was a 3hour trip from Chennai.
The taxi eventually found it’s way to the Gratitude Heritage hotel in the French or so called “white” quarter which is located behind the sea front. We were greeted by the lovely Anyu who is French. The hotel was an old family home which has been beautifully restored to it’s original charm with 4 poster beds and long corridors and balconies. There is a communal dining room where we ate breakfast in the morning and the whole atmosphere is a very lovely and tranquil one. The rooftop terrace is large and you can catch glimpses of the sea.
There are a lot of restored heritage buildings and beautiful bouganvillea everywhere.
Some of the film (a building and the botanical gardens) were used in the film “Life of Pi”.
We wandered along the coastal promenade along with hundreds of locals enjoying the evening breeze. The hottest time in Pondicherry is apparently in May.
It is between 32-35 degrees during the day but not very humid and the breeze at night cools the place down.
We went to the “Palais de Mahe” hotel for dinner. It was previously a bank but was now a lovely hotel complete with pool which has only been opened for 3months. It was lovely sitting upstairs with the sea breeze blowing while we ate a delicious Indian meal.
We had breakfast the next morning in the dining room with another couple (Italian – Paolo and Virginia) and Anyu with whom we had a nice talk. She offered to take us to Auroville in the afternoon which was really nice of her. In the morning we explored some of the streets past the canal which is the Tamil side of Pondicherry and found a lovely young couple (he Kashmiri and she French) who sold us some lovely Kashmiri scarves. We went on to “Fab India” one of our favourite shops in India which sells all handloomed products as well as furniture, fabrics, jewellery and homewares.
I had managed to pick up a cold in Bali so was not feeling great. We stopped at the “Maison Colombani” on the sea front for a coffee and then went back to the hotel for a rest during the hottest part of the day.
The French left here in 1954 and were here for over 300years.
We were recommended to go to “Baker Street”complete with a picture of Sherlock Holmes which is apparently the best French bakery in town. It is over the canal in the Tamil quarter. Ponicherry is very delineated by a canal which runs the length of the town. On the side closest to the ocean is the French quarter and on the other side the Tamil quarter. There is a big distinction between the two with the French side much neater and reconstructed although they are doing major road works with laying of new pipes in the Tamil area.
Auroville is 20minutes drive from Pondicherry and is an amazing place. Anyu took us the back way via large coconut groves on a very red dirt road and a lot of the roads in Auroville are dirt roads. Auroville covers thousands of acres and is very spread out. You could imagine you were in the middle of the Australian bush. Most of the buildings are well hidden.
Anyu took us to the visitors centre which is state of the art with the most beautiful boutiques with everything you could imagine. The local artists Indian and expats craft lovely wares and clothes.
Auroville is a fascinating place and the concept was created by Sri Aurobindo an Indian and Mother a French woman who ran an Ashram in the area and wanted to create a non denominational city. The centre of the town is “Mandrimandir” an amazing gold domed structure situated in a lovely garden area which is used for meditation and contemplation.
We walked back to the shops and bought a few items before getting an Autorickshaw back to Pondicherry.
We went in the evening back to Maison Colombina where a festival called “Bonjour India” was taking place. It is held every year in Pondicherry and includes photographic exhibitions, writers evenings,
concerts and films in French and in various Indian languages. We went
to the Alliance Francaise building and to their auditorium to see the
Malayalam film “Alexander the Great” which did have English subtitles. It was a simplistic film based on the story of “Rain Man” but was quite entertaining. We then headed along the Promenade to the “Promenade Hotel” which had a special festival menu. There were food stations doing various Indian Specialties as well as an enormous buffet with Western and Indian food for about $20 a head.
I finally got to try “Bel Pouri” a mixture of raw vegetables and sauces mixed together and “Bel Pouri” little crispy pockets with vegetable fillings. These are a specialty in Mumbai with many stands at the beach but I was not game to try it there.
I also had a vegetable samosa which they proceeded to squash onto the plate and add various sauces and vegetables to it which was delicious. We are both very addicted to Indian food, south and north, non veg and veg. alike. It is all so tasty.
We walked the next day up and down the streets of the French area
where there were some cute boutiques and shops. A film crew was using the main park to film a rap dance sequence and that was fun to watch for a while.
The Autorickshaws or “Auto Wallas” and their drivers are amazing. They sound like sewing machines and they can turn on a postage stamp. The drivers are very adept at dodging traffic and we felt very safe in them. Some of them have very funny sounding hooters which they blow every time they come to a cross street. There are no traffic lights.
We found a lovely restored house and courtyard called “La Maison Rose” where we had a delicious French dinner. I had a very nice “cheese plateau”! The only drawback when asking for drinks or coffee is to have to remember to say “no sugar” otherwise everything is too sweet for us. Our favourite drink was lime/soda with fresh lime juice and very refreshing.
Some of our last day in Pondicherry was spent at “the mother’s parcel service” where we had an entertaining time watching the owner and worker prepare our parcel to Australia and Ireland being wrapped, first in thin cardboard and then in calico which was duly sewn up expertly by a worker.
We walked along and found old man to whom we asked directions. He walked along with us and put a hand on both our shoulders. He was very gentle and sweet and gave us directions for the “Hand made paper factory”. which was a very large establishment where they turn out wonderful stationary and other items from hand made paper earrings to papier mache vases. Everything was extremely cheap so we purchased a few items and they were at least light in weight.
We visited the giftshop at “Hotel de L’orient” and bought another couple of beautiful items and decided to come back for dinner in the courtyard. This time it was another delicous Indian meal. The hotel had a lot of before and after photos of the hotel and they have done a beautiful job of restoration from an absolute ruin with trees growing in and around the structure.
We were sad to leave Pondicherry the next day but will definately come back to the city. By Indian standards it is very small with only a million people living there.

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