Puducherry, Pondicherry, Pondy, Inde Francaise

February 13, 2015

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Puducherry is a city on the East coast of Tamil Nadu, it’s affectionately known as Pondy. Historically it is an interesting area, it was a major port for the French East India Company, from where they set out for the battle of Madras in 1746. They managed to capture and control Chennai Fort until they signed a treaty with the British to swap Louisburg in Nova Scotia for control of the fort. This was the time of the war of Austrain succession which is pretty crazy if you want to read up on it.

Out of the British and the French colonial powers, the French seemed to kindle the best friendship and legacy in India. There are cafes and bakeries here serving baguettes, cakes, and good quality European coffee, there is also an arts and crafts scene with many many products being made organically thanks to a relationship between the local ashram and the creative art centres run by French people. There also seem to be a lot of French expats who live in Pondy along with many tourists that visit from France. We saw such names as ‘Le club’, ‘Le cafe’, and ‘La Villa’. All we’ve seen of the British legacy in India is the decrepit buildings and a sign that said: “Another Indian local industry that the British dismantled…” Although I can’t claim to know India very well, that is my first impression.

The ashram was set up in 1968 and is called sri aurobindo. The founders of this also set up a township 10km outside of Pondy called Auroville as a project to create a sustainable, diverse society where everyone lives in harmony. We didn’t get to visit this place but the fact that they recently worked with Levi’s to create organic colour dyes for their jeans speaks of their commitment to sustainable organic materials and their knowledge of their subjects. We also visited their organic paper factory which is in another post and was very good.

As for the city itself the ‘French quarter’ is very peaceful, and if you can look past the medieval sewage system (pipes straight onto the street with moats at each side) then it’s very relaxing. The smell is mostly not too bad except for the main canal road. The ocean rolls right up to the rocks that are stacked parallel to the road that runs down Pondy’s East side. It’s a really nice, peaceful atmosphere in the early morning and early evening when the local folk like to stroll down the promenade. There’s a really nice statue of Gandhiji (Mahatma Gandhi) down by the front. The Tamil quarter is a little crazier and vibrant as you’d expect and we had some very nice street chai and vegetarian food there.

We stayed at Le Cygne Blanc which was a guesthouse near the station. Walkable which was nice, in fact we hardly got a Tuk Tuk the whole time. There was a kitchen and a living room so it was nice to be able to fill up the tea flasks and cook a bit of breakfast in the morning. We found a nice place called SITA – South Indian Traditional Arts – that runs lots of really great activities including the Mehendi that Soph got for her birthday, yoga classes, French and Tamil language classes, and a cooking class.

We signed up for the cooking class straight away and it didn’t disappoint. It started with a trip to the local produce market, this place was stacked with everything you’d ever need in the kitchen; a massive, bustling, working, local market. Just what we like. Particularly interesting was the fish section where you buy your fish from the sellers on the left and take it to be cut on the right. Each lady had a different job, for example one lady sits there and chops up squid all day. The cooking class was good; we seemed to be joined by the only Americans in town and although they were nice it was a bit overwhelming and loud for the cooking part. The food was absolutely delicious, we made an eggplant curry, a dhal, a fish curry, and a carrot dessert called Howla.