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Unplanned trips are fun, they always have been. And they still continue to be so. This trip too, to what was once a French colonial settlement in India, was no different. One summer morning as I found myself riding towards this little town on the East Coast of India, from Bangalore to Pondicherry. A thousand thoughts were running through my mind none of which I can remember now, save for one. I remember thinking why, even though a part of me had been wanting to visit Pondy since quite some time, I had never really given it serious thought. The reason always had been the same, ‘because it was touristy’ and I was not a fan of such places.
Then why was I heading to a place which would be crowded, all the more because of the long weekend ahead?
While there’s no denying the fact that Pondicherry is indeed touristy, it can also not be denied that this beautiful little town has a very different side too. One that is calm, spiritual and not to mention, very rusticly beautiful. The town at first glance is just like any other coastal town or city. The same humidity, the same crowded roads and the same smell of the sea. But if you just slow down and peel the layers one after the other you are sure to be left surprised at every step.
During my several trips to Goa one of the things which I have really enjoyed when in Goa, almost every single time, is its Portuguese feel. The old churches, the houses and the buildings of that era are so charmingly beautiful that I have always lost track of time when visiting them. It was a similar kind of joy that I was expecting as I walked towards the French Quarters of Pondicherry. Boy was I about to be surprised big time!
Exploring the French Quarters of Pondicherry
Leaving behind the boulevard road as I slowly walked towards one of the many lanes on my right I was almost immediately blown away by the simple and beautiful French-styled quarters. Impeccably maintained as they were, it was hard for me to believe that the newest of these buildings were at least half a century old! The Portuguese villas and buildings in Goa, while no less beautiful than these, did show signs of aging. I had expected the same because I had read (and is generally the case in India) that around 700 beautiful colonial buildings of “white town” and the classic Tamil villas of “black town” have been lost over the last decade or so.
Lane after lane, I wandered, lost in the beauty and calmness of the place. One building seemed as pretty as the previous one if not more. Some of them had been converted into hotels while some to cafes as hardly any of their original residents lived there anymore, only a handful did. The curvy gates and beautiful French windows of the houses, designed to perfection made it hard to believe that this was India.
A lot of things were quite opposite from what I had expected and pleasantly so. I had expected crowd but there was hardly any here. Not that there were no tourists in Pondy but almost all of them were concentrated on the Pondicherry Beach or were walking up and down the boulevard road. A small number also visited the Aurobindo ashram which was nearby but here? None. The only people I came across while walking through the French Quartets were either few expats, going on with their daily walks or shopkeepers sitting lazily in their quaint little shops which are hard to notice unless you get really close.
As I slowly walked towards the boulevard road, leaving behind the calm of the old town, I felt happy about being wrong and having come to experience this place. No, Pondi is not only about the beach, the boulevard road and cheap, actually far from it. And I am happy to have known and seen it. So when you head to Pondicherry, take my suggestion and skip the beaches and Raj Bhawans. Instead, spend more time peeling off the layers of this old colonial town and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Do you like visiting old, colonial places? Which one do you want to visit next?