What I really love about Pondicherry is, that it has all those contrasts. One one side you walk in the shade of the tree lined french quarter with its colonial buildings, including french street signs and red barrette police. But once you cross the canal, separating the “white town” from the rest, you end up in a typical lively, loud South Indian town with all the street hawkers and colourful markets.
This is a city to discover on foot and relish and explore with your camera.
Moreover there is very little chance of getting lost. The streets are laid out in easy to navigate patterns unlike most other Indian cities.
One of my favourite spots in the city is the Indian coffee house on M.G. Road. I got introduced to these always clean and historical places way back in the late 80ties by my friend and Tabla Maestro Sandesh Popatkar of Nagpur. Indian coffee houses are an institution and were one of the first acts of defiance to the British Crown. Once you step rough their door, you get this kind of kind of dignified ambience of simple sophistication.
Another magnet for me is the “Goubert Market”, built by the french just a stone throw away from the French quarter. Kind of close enough to get your daily goods, but without being disturbed by the smell of the fish market and the noise of the bartering crowds. Its like entering another world, really loud and smelly at the fish market and really blissful quite and with fragrance in the air at the flower section. I just love to walk around this labyrinth of shops, point my camera, take a huge amount of pics and soak in the atmosphere. The garland makers have a really soft spot in my heart and I love to watch them create these works of art, to be used for weddings, ceremonies and at temples as an offering for the gods.
Once out of the market, I put on my old practised poker face, walk up to the Ricksha and negotiate a ride back home. My magic trick is to ask him to take me first to his favourite tea stall. This mostly opens a window to conversation and now he will not only take you to his tea stall, but also give you a tale of his city, proud to be your guide. As a contrast I suggest you take a INTAC heritage walk in the afternoon. Ashok, the architect will take you trough the french town and tell you about the efforts they do, to protect the heritage of the city. INTAC is an organisation, involved in protecting local heritage. There is no evening in Pondicherry without a walk by the sea. Imagine! the town closes its main road for traffic, so people can enjoy a walk. All of Pondicherry comes down here to walk, talk and enjoy the cool breeze and the sound of the waves in this amazing town by the bay of bengal.
Of course you can take a trip to Auroville too. A place where once the baby boomers of the west hoped to create a better world of eternal sunshine, joy and harmony. The place still exists and has this weird kind of “secret society” aura, a feeling I remember from San Francisco, when I stumbled by accident into the recruitment home of Scientology. In the same way the Aurobindo and Auroville Societies (they split some time ago over the difference of how to promote harmony)have an enormous political clout and own by now half the city.