From the quiet town of Mamallapuram we travelled 2hrs further south to the small seaside city of Puducherry (aka Pondicherry). And luck was on our side as it turned out that we arrived just ahead of the Indian Independence Day long weekend. This little city of 226,000+ people was already a buzz of activity preparing not only for the national holiday celebrations, but also for the annual Fete du Poudoucherry and for the (late) local guru, Sri Aurobindo’s birthday—all of which fell on the same day, August 15. We managed to find a small ‘Inn’ right in the centre of town that was a nice clean, quiet and ‘cool’ (thanks to AC) refuge for us in the very humid conditions. From there, we could easily take in all that ‘Pondy’ had to offer—and a lot to offer it did!
|French Quarter, Puducherry|
The ‘Fete’ featured over 200 artists and performers from all over India to perform nightly for free on the stage set up on Beach Road (Goubert Avenue). Some of the wonderful performances we saw included dancers from Rajihistan, Sikkim, as well as local dancers from Puducherry. Also as part of the festival, the government buildings and Bharathi Park were all decorated with lights that made it look like a Christmas display. We even got a rare close-up stroll through the front lawn of the XVIII Century ‘Palais du Gouveneur’/Lieutenant Governor’s residence (Raj Nivas) after his Independence Day garden party ended and all the dignitaries had left.
|Statue of Gandhi, all lit up|
|Raj Nivas/Lieutenant Govenor's Residence, after the party|
|Performers at the Fete|
As for Independence Day itself, there were domestic tourists from many parts of India holidaying here in Puducherry as it was a long weekend. The hotels were all full. The city streets were filled with shoppers, the park and beach promenade were filled with families relaxing, and parking seemed to be at a premium. People were literally everywhere—I even saw 2 traffic accidents in the space of 2 minutes in the same intersection. Otherwise it was a good vibe, and everyone was well behaved and very family oriented. That night, a lengthy fireworks display was held on the beach and was thoroughly enjoyed by the many, many people there. We were lucky again and got seats at a rooftop restaurant across the street, away from the crowds and with prime viewing.
|Independence Day Fireworks|
|Streets of Pondy|
|Even the Temple Elephant Got in the Spirit for Independence Day|
|Beach Road Promenade, closed to traffic for the evening for celebrations|
Festivities aside, Pondy has a rich and varied colonial history, of which French rule (surprisingly to us) was the most dominant. There are still a higher number of French tourists as well as expats living here than we’ve encountered elsewhere. The main part of Pondy is divided historically into the ‘Tamil’ and the ‘French’ quarters. Although many of the traditional buildings in the Tamil sections have been demolished, what does remain shows a very distinct style of architecture. Over on the ‘French’ side are beautiful 300yr old+ colonial buildings in a ‘classical style’ with high wall enclosures and big inner courtyards situated on clean wide streets--definitely a very different feel. Unfortunately many of these are in desperate need of restoration. The streets in both areas were an orderly ‘grid form’ and many had footpaths so getting around is relatively easy. Nice leafy trees provide some much needed shade too. We really enjoyed just wandering around, just as long as it wasn’t during the middle of the day when the humidity was at its highest! There was also a very interesting and hectic daily ‘Grand Bazaar’ located just up the street from us, as well as a Sunday Street Market which resembled many ‘trash and treasure’ markets back in Australia. There was also a great selection of eateries around us, offering delicious South Indian food like thali and dosas at relatively low prices. Brewed coffee here was at times more readily available than the traditional chai tea. Unfortunately, the price for rooms with air conditioning was still at a premium and WiFi availability was virtually non-existent.
|Merchant, Sunday Market, Puducherry|
|Traditional Tamil Style Houses, Tamil Quarter|
|Grand Bazaar, Puducherry|
|Onion Merchant, Grand Bazaar|
|Waiting for Chai|
|Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church, French Quarter|
Puducherry is one of those rare cities in India that offers a good combination of ‘busy’ and ‘orderly’; western and traditional; clean yet dirty. We really enjoyed our week here. We perused the many shops and markets, bought from the street vendors selling name brand ‘factory overstocks and seconds’, ate and drank lots of coconuts, chai and coffee, took in free cultural performances at the Fete, visited a few ‘must sees’ and played many games of ‘Uno’ in the comforts of our air conditioned hotel room. The girls enjoyed many hours playing in the park, skipping along the wide streets and beach promenade, getting blessed by the reincarnation of the Hindu god Ganesh, and even managed to get their Hep A (Havrix Jr) booster shot administered while here. All in all, Puducherry was a good place for us.
|The Reincarnation of Ganesh, giving his blessing to the girls, at the Manakula Vinayagar Temple|