The British once ruled the Indian subcontinent (except Nepal, of course) that included present day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. But they were not the only foreign powers to rule India. The Portuguese and the French controlled Goa and Pondicherry, located on two opposing coasts of India. Having visited Goa (west coast) twice I always wanted to go to Pondicherry (or Puducherry)- sometimes described as “the French Riviera of the East“.
I haven’t been to the French Riviera but didn’t find Puducherry the town up to my (and my co-traveler’s) expectation. We had expected the place to be very calm, without much traffic, touristy, romantic and better than Goa. It is not entirely so. But the rocky beach where French and British once killed each other for the control of Puducherry looked nice- far better than Marina. We spent couple of hours there in the evening after returning from Auroville where golden metallic Matrimandir is the center of attraction. But we found a huge banyan tree nearby far more grander and mesmerizing then the man-made structure. (More about the banyan tree and photos later). The botanical garden near the railway station is a nice place to be for a while though it’s not exactly a garden. It’s kind of an orderly jungle with trees of various kinds. Unfortunately no nameplate could be found attached on all of them.
We reached the town sometime before noon- three hours ride from Chennai- in a bus operated by a travel company. The guide who didn’t speak much took us to a few places: Ganesh temple, a small government museum, Aurobindo’s ashram and the Serenity beach where a concrete statue of MK Gandhi stood showing his back to the sea [Gandhi Memorial].
On our way to Puducherry we saw some people filtering salt on open field by the East Coast Road. We wanted to see that for a while- closely- but the bus didn’t stop. There were other passengers who were less interested in seeing how salt is separated from sea water. Moreover the salt ‘factory’ was not in the itinerary. We also didn’t return to Chennai via same route. My co-traveler was able to capture some images from the moving bus though.
When it was under the French control, the city was divided into two towns: White (the French) and Black (Locals). ‘White’ part looked better and organized. We stayed in a seaside hotel with the view of the sea and dined in a restaurant that had Nepali waiters and a few Western tourists. Walking along the road by the beach late in the evenings are highly recommended for a romantic experience of the place.
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