Aug 16, 2011

Pondy, The Place To Be This Independence Day!

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

Tamil Quarter

Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church, French Quarter

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


  1. Hi there, I'm loving reading your blog, especially the India part, as we (me, my husband and 2 yr old daughter) are starting our round the world travels in India. Could you please tell me how easy it is to get any vaccines out there, as you mentioned in this blog that the girls got there Hep A booster done there. Also how is it for mosquitos? Do we need any Malarone or Mosquito nets?
    We start our trip in Jan 2013, and are very excited.
    Thank you.

  2. hi claire
    Traveling only in the South of India this time around, we did not need to have our own mosquito nets (although 10yrs ago, we carried our own)--we found that the type of places we were in (still budget, but not as 'bottom of the barrel' as when we were without kids!) either were well sealed and/or had their own nets. from memory, we found Alleppy (Kerala) to be the worst that we found for mosquitoes; other than there, they didn't stand out as a problem except for around the usual dusk hour.

    Repellent as well as coils were easy to find in all the shops though so make sure you carry some with you and you should be fine.

    Our travel dr in Bangkok advised us to carry 1 pack of Malarone between the 4 of us should we find ourselves in a town in between a major city and become symptomatic, and we could then at least get by until we could get to a reliable dr (as chances that we'd all 4 get it at the same time would be rare). We did that, and never came close to requiring them. having said that, dengue is probably more of a likelihood in india, and there's nothing you can do to prevent that except for avoiding mosquito bites and using repellent.

    As for getting the vaccines--in theory it can be done. in reality, it may not be as simple, as is the case with most things in India!

    we were due for another course of the combo Hep A/B jab while we were in india. Took a while to establish the proper protocol. the first instance (for some reason, and i can't remember why, we were on different schedules) while we were in Pondy, the girls were due for their jab. took a bit to find an english (private) hospital, but then to explain to them what we wanted (just a prescription for the vaccine) without having to pay for a pricy consult, was a bit tricky but done in the end. had to wait a few hours for the pharmacy to source the vaccine too and in the end the process took about 4hrs! in the second instance, we were in Cochin so it was easier as we just went to a public hospital as an outpatient so not as expensive. but actually sourcing the combo jab turned out to be impossible--none of the pharmacies in town (yes, you need to source it yourself) had it in stock. in the end, we had to buy 2 separate vaccines which was pricier. There is a world-wide shortage of Hep A vaccine i believe. In any case, if you need to do it, better do it in a 'major' city and give yourself lots of time!

    On the other hand, we weren't going to chance obtaining a rabies jab in a pinch if we needed it, hence we opted to get them done in bangkok. lots of vile, aggressive monkeys in india, as well as SEA.

    Hope this helps--and thanks for your comment! feel free to email me directly if you have any further questions.


    1. Hi Jess,
      Thanks for your really quick response.
      We are all up to date with our jabs, but may need boosters throughout our travels, so all the info you've given me will be really helpful.
      You've also put my mind at rest for showing me how easy it can be to travel with a toddler. I know it's not all going to be a bed of roses, but at least it's very do-able, unlike a lot of people seem to think!!
      We too are looking at only doing the south of India, at least to begin with, but we will have just under 6 months from the time our visa's come through, (we have yet to get them!! But we're currently travelling round Europe and need our passports till we go back home for a few weeks in Dec.) Fingers crossed we get the visa's...haha.


  3. Thanks for sharing this nice blog.Its really very interesting and useful for me.

    Places in Pondicherry