Things I got to know about Pondicherry
My earliest memory of Pondicherry goes back to school days when we used to memorize the list of Union Territories. Thanks to social media I also knew that it is scenic and boasts the possession of some serene beaches. I had also read that Pondicherry has a coveted French legacy and the aesthetically built mustard yellow villas are live examples of it. I thought I knew enough, but little did I know. My recent trip to Pondicherry left me awed and inspired. It made me realize how my knowledge about Pondicherry was nothing but a drop from a whole ocean.
I have come back enlightened with a whole new bunch of facts and figures. This post is a small attempt of sharing what I unveiled about the place during my recent trip to Pondicherry.
The famous “Things to do” list will not work in Pondicherry.
Pondicherry cannot be explored with a “Things to do in Pondicherry” list. A quaint lane there, an artistic boutique here will definitely lure you to ditch your clichéd list. The city is full of surprises. You can easily spend a whole day roaming in the lanes of mustard yellow buildings. You will not realize how the time will fly once you are inside a handicraft or a pottery store, even though you pledge not to buy anything.
Top Tip: Know what you want from the city, research accordingly. If you know the purpose of your visit you will be able to chalk down a list for yourself. Train your heart and mind well and follow the list religiously, which I am telling you in advance is very difficult. Pondicherry is distracting in a good sense.
Pondicherry is highly influenced by French but that is not all.
The French legacy of Pondicherry is evident. The landscaped town, French windows and imposing churches are everywhere to be seen. But that is not all. The history of Pondicherry will be incomplete without the mention of the Dutch, Portuguese, British and finally the French colonialists. Going back to the 4th century it was part of the Pallava Kingdom, after that it was held by The Cholas of Thanjavur and eventually it became a part of Pandya Kingdom in the 13th century. In the 14th century The Vijaynagar Empire took over and they were in action till 1638 and then they were superseded by the Sultan of Bijapur. The much talked about French took over Pondicherry in 1674. There were many attempts from British and Dutch to take control but the French managed to dwell their roots deeper and deeper. The struggle ended on October 1954 when Pondicherry became the part of Indian Union. Though the city has French domination but intricate craving of the colourful temples will take you to the Vijaynagar’s era.
Pondicherry, the Union Territory is geographically scattered.
Pondicherry is a Union Territory and it is very well separate from Tamil Nadu. With a total area of just 479 square kilometres this Union Territory consists of four small regions Pondicherry, Karaikal, Yanam and Mahe. Pondicherry is the capital, 130 kilometers south of Pondicherry is Karaikal, 600 kilometres away is Mahe which is in Kerala, Yanam is in Andhra Pradesh. Pondicherry is small city with just 300 square kilometres of area but it has more than 160 villages. The interesting point here is if you travel for 5 kilometres in Pondicherry you will be in Tamil Nadu and few more kilometers from there you will find yourself in Pondicherry again. The irregularity is because of land buying pattern of the Governor-General of French India, Dupleix.
Top Tip: Liquor is cheap in Pondicherry but you should not stock them and travel. There are police checks every time you enter Pondicherry. Since it is just a matter of few kilometres you would practically not know when you are in Pondicherry and when you are in Tamil Nadu. Better to be safe than sorry.
Pondicherry symbolizes unity peace and harmony in diversity.
Pondicherry is a perfect example of cultural, regional, language and religion diversity. Apart from Tamil and English there are 55 more languages spoken in Pondicherry. People from 48 countries across the world are happily living here. Around 8000 French people live in Pondicherry. A lot of credit for this goes to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram which is now home for a lot of Indian and well as foreign nationals. Pondicherry very well exhibits multi-national culture. In spite of its cosmopolitan nature and French dominance this place is truly Indian.
Auroville is not a place but an experience.
Auroville is an experimental township. Most of Auroville is in Tamil Nadu but some part of it comes under Pondicherry as well. It is not a spot that you can mark complete in your itinerary. It is an experience that you have to soak into. This township has surprises on every turn. From the imposing Matrimandir to the unknown craftsman in the small villages to aesthetic boutiques roaming in Auroville is like a treasure hunt where you keep finding gems on every nook and cranny. Auroville aims at strengthening human unity in diversity. Individuals from more than 48 countries live here in peace and harmony.
Top Tip: It is advised to visit the Auroville Visitors Centre and enquire about the places that you would like to discover. Their detailed map will help you in navigating from one place to another.
Language is a problem but not something that you cannot overcome.
Tamil is the most widely spoken language in Pondicherry. But there are very high chances of getting an auto or cab driver who understands English. I was lucky to find one Muslim auto driver and he spoke very clear Hindi. So one second it might irk you but the very next second you will get it sorted.
Pondicherry is not another Goa.
The biggest realization and discovery of the trip was that Pondicherry is nothing like Goa. Goa has its own charm and glamour but Pondicherry has its own uniqueness. There is no comparison whatsoever. Your choice would totally depend on what are you seeking out of your visit. Pondicherry is less commercialized, calm and apt for leisurely affairs. Just because it is blessed with beautiful beaches and boasts cheap alcohol, it doesn’t become another Goa. Pondicherry is much more than just its beautiful beaches.
Pondichery was a cultural and architectural roller coaster ride. It has impressed me to another level. It has something to offer to everyone. So no matter what you are looking for you will definitely find something to indulge in.