Pondicherry; Cultivated Elegance in S.India

by Margaret Elizabeth Johnston

Pondicherry, even the name sounds “upscale boutique” for India, and it is! Last I wrote I was in Old Saigon (Ho Chi Miehn), another one of these “cultivated, sophisticated” gems, I see a pattern here! This is the 2nd time I’ve been to Pondicherry, the first time was to go to nearby Auroville, a collective conscious community from around the world that started in the 1950’s and has since become an ashram of sorts attracting the new age community. There is so much to say about this place I have just inserted to website here if one is interested to learn about this fascinating place! https://www.auroville.org/ I have been there for a few weeks before and I’ll leave that for another time. Pondicherry has enough wonderful things to say about it alone!

Pondicherry is a pleasant bubble of existance in India and I was fortunate enough to of been here when the intence 6 week lockdown started. Being of a gentile nature, there was no violence on the street or police brutality as in some other areas of India, and the world for that matter. Granted, I was asked to leave 3 guesthouses when the lockdown got more intence with police checking hotels, guesthouse and homestays but fate was on my side and I landed in a beautiful guesthouse right next to White Town, the main “center” of the tourist area of Pondi.

Previously, I had been here for 3 weeks enjoying the coffee & café culture. I had spent 6 weeks in Goa on the beach and was well and truly ready for some lazy boutique shopping, pretty coffee-café time, going to a few museums, learning about the Tamil culture here and enjoying the elegant traditional clothing the Indian women here wear. Such a lovely change from bikini cald bodies with nothing but flip-flops for evening wear! There is a beachfront promanade that every sunrise is the exercise fanatics stomping ground and the evening sunset time becomes the place to stroll, see and be seen. Coromandel Café was a place I discover 2 years ago when I was here before and befriended the head chef, Jay Adams from the UK. She has made that restaurant tops and it rates number 35 in all of India which is some feat! I have enclosed some pics of this café in collage style, I hope you can get the idea of the elegance this place displays! Palm fronds among pink walls, white wicker patio tables and chairs, inner old-style French elegance and the food is absolutly top-of-the-line divine! 

Being an Old French Colonial Town, the architecture here has many a photographer roaming around, up and down the quiet White Town streets among the bouganvillia and drifting pan-au-chocolat croissant scents. The terrain is flat so renting one of those Amsterdam-style beach cruisers is the thing to do with basket and bell. One can easily spend the days bicycling around stopping here and there for pics, coffee & cake, roaming the shops and meeting fresh faces that are interested in art and culture. There is a marvelous theatre here, Indianostrum Theatre, I went to twice. I was so impressed with the quality and learned that it is a well know French Theatre that accomodates various visiting theatre tours from around Europe and some of the “Fringe” establishments in the Older French Colonies of Asia. 

Pondicherry was, in a nutshell, invaded by the Dutch, French, destroyed by the British, the French took over, now it is back in the hands of the Indians. When I went to The French Institute of Pondicherry I thought the architectural drawings for proposed city planning after the British destroyed it were very creative. I have them placed in the article here for interest. The bottom right is the plan that was approved. They also had one of the oldest Vedic Scriptures encased in the Institute along with a fabulous geology dept full of gems, rocks and sandstone artifacts. There is also a Museum of Pondicherry, this is a treasure trove. It houses some excellent Chola sculptures. The Emperial Cholas in the South of India was an age of constant improvement of art and architecture. Stone temples and bronze sculptures were dedicated to an extensive Hindu culture. It also has a French section on the first floor which has a push-push, a carriage where the “natives” would push the French Colonials. The rooms have French furniture, a typically set dining room, a typical bedroom and a section of French food products with their names. It was quite fascinating to see the French speaking Tamilians soaking it in. 

If you don’t feel like going the 15 minute drive to Auroville, you can visit the Sri Aurobino Ashram in the town itself. There is also a papermaking industry that is sponcerd by this ashram. I went there and was entranced with the paper made with all kinds of flowers, leave, confetti and tree bark! How wonderful it would be for me to paint some of my botanical watercolours on some of this paper. 

I was able to stock up on wonderful books at some of the many used bookstores that cater to the European mind. I do travel with a Kindle which I never use and still lug books around! I guess a paper book, sticking to old school, is something I just enjoy more with my afternoon tea at one of the many tea houses here. There are quite a few old heritage furniture shops that have dazzling carved wooden swings that I was drawn to. Pondicherry has a unique blend of not two but three cultures: the native Tamil style, the Muslim influence and later the French Colonial touch. Many of the restored houses in and around Pondicherry are great examples of this blend of cultures. Tasmai; A Center for Art & Culture, was a place that I definitely did not want to miss. On display are various potteries, jewelry, handmade arts, paintings and various handycrafts within the local Tamil Folk Traditions. There are also some art workshops going on if one feels inspired to have some “hands-on” experience.

All in all, I feel along with Goa, Rajasthan, Dharamshala (Mc Leon Ganj/Little Lhasa) and Rishikesh, Pondicherry will always be a place I come to visit on my indian rounds I tend to do once every few years. India is such a large and diverse country, I thoroughly enjoy visiting different States here feeling the significant difference of the places India has to offer. From the dress, food to the arctitecture, the hill folk farming techniques and the variety of transportation, India vitalizes me in every way. I’m not sure what the restrictions will be after this lockdown time in the world loosens up, but it was only a few months ago I got my multiple entry 5 year Indian Visa online for a mer $80, longest allowed time 6 months a stint. If India is somewhere you’d like to visit or be able to continue to visit in later years, I recommend keeping your eye on getting this visa in your passport so that youre set to come here as a nice trip anytime in the next 5 years worry free. It took 3 days from time of application to receiving the visa online. Enjoy India, enjoy life!

Margaret provides us with a variety of articles covering medicinal plants, healthy ways to eat, artistic articles featuring some of her watercolours and travel logs. Last we heard she was coming to Bangkok in May to enjoy some city time and refresh her ties with some Bangkok connections. “I love Bangkok as my go-to city in Asia. It is a place I can really feed my soul with museums, galleries, food, refresh my clothing options, renew my art supplies and reconnect with some good friends I’ve made there over the years. I am happy to know Thailand will be re-opened in May so that the economy can recover as soon as possible!” One can follow Margaret on her website blogs at www.mejcreations.com

Did you like this article? Become a Patron and help us bring you great content in the future!

You may also like