PONDICHERRY TOURISM GUIDE:
Region of Pondicherry: South India
Significance: A Union Territory
Popularly Known As: Pondy
Main Attractions: Aurobindo Ashram, Auroville
Many feel that it has a distinct spiritual vibration. Stories of resident sages come down through its history from the earliest days.
Many like its compact yet cosmopolitan setting. Pondicherry means “New Town” in Tamil. It has survived by and through change and is as complex and interesting as much larger places. Others appreciate the range of activities and facilities for visitors of various interests and economic means.
The nickname “Pondy” sums up this shared feeling of belonging, of having come home. Moreover, Pondicherry is that increasingly rare travel destination: open, comfortable, spontaneous and varied.
The Openness – Pondicherry:
Pondy is open in three senses. A lot of the activities of its people take place in public so the visitor can partake without intruding. Secondly, Pondy is used to a variety of non-native residents and visitors. Visitors are not a “tourist attraction” for local people. Finally, crime-involving visitors are very small even by Indian standards, which are good.
Comfy In Everyway:
Pondy is comfortable. It has as wide a choice of places to stay and eat as a major city without any of the high urban costs and luxury taxes that make hotels and restaurants in Madras, for example, nearly twice as dear as similar facilities in Pondy. And the shopping is good in Pondy – many stores and boutiques to choose from, with no tax or low tax.
A Varied Heritage of Pondicherry:
Pondy has variety and spontaneity. Pondy is famous for its French Ashram characteristics. And it is true that Pondicherry was the capital of French India and that the Sri Aurobindo Ashram is one of the best known in India. But both are essentially private worlds consisting of families, devotees, and officials who live and work behind walls surrounding cool courtyards. These can be glimpsed through occasionally opened gates, from the heritage hotels and terraced restaurants in the area, and on heritage walks.
The Pondy Experience is such that captivates all kinds of visitors: tourists, seekers, refugees from metropolitan stress, and the families of visiting business people and conventioneers who can sightsee and shop when they want a diversion.
The French Influence in Pondicherry:
Dumas and Romain roll, and streets were Pondicherry’s first and still among the most beautiful attractions.
This district retains much of the French ambience from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries. Only traces of the earliest European quarter of Pondicherry survived the destruction by the British in 1761.
A Dutch Establishment:
Most interest in Pondy’s history centers on the 18th century – the high point of French achievement under Governor Duplex. But Pondy has a lot more certifiable history than that. Indeed, the French and British were latecomers: the Dutch and the Danes had established a presence in Pondy before the first French settlement in 1674. And the Dutch retook the city for seven years until 1700.
Nonetheless, the razing of Pondicherry was the culmination of a series of skirmishes, sieges and occupations between the French and British for control of the trade of South India. Between 1700 and 1818 the British occupied Pondy three times for a total of 34 years. It wasn’t all one-sided, of course. The French took Madras and Fort St. Davids in this seesaw series of wars and peace, conducted from Europe and fought in India with local rulers playing an important role.
The Alliance Francaise – A French Specimen:
Most of the buildings reflecting French influence are private homes or institutions. One that is not and that serves as the information center for “French Pondicherry” is the Alliance Francaise. The Alliance Francaise is open to the public (8.30 am-12.30 am and 4.00 pm-7.00 pm Monday to Friday, 8.30 am-noon on Saturday) and speaks English as well as French. The Alliance offers a temporary membership, which allows the borrowing of French books from its library, as well as the viewing of the library, as well as the viewing of English-subtitled films, French bookshop next door.
The fact that Pondy was French for most of three centuries is recalled in old street signs and red ‘Kepi’ hats worn by the police. Yet, the French heritage is most pronounced in buildings and monuments in tones of cream and yellow set out on a grid of more or less straight streets that are unusual in India. These buildings are concentrated in the oldest French quarter and other parts of Pondy, including Mission Street with its charming 18th-century Cathedral.
French architectural features include – the Gateway situated at the corner of Caserne and Suffren streets, the statues of Dupleix and Saint Joan Of Arc, and the French War Memorial- all along Beach Road.
Pondicherry and Indo China:
In the late 18th century a French Jesuit missionary, the Bishop of Adam (“Pigneau de Behaine”) was active in the region. In 1771 he constructed at Arikamedu near Pondy, a seminary for features for Jesuits expelled from Thailand, using brick from former settlements there dating back to Chola and Roman times.
The Bishop later befriended a Vietnamese prince, a survivor of the traditional ruling clan defeated in a long rebellion that began in 1771. The Bishop took the prince’s four-year-old son to France where the exotic entourage created a sensation. The French King, Louis XVI, authorized a military expedition but later changed his mind.
The determined Bishop convinced French merchants in India to buy two ships, weapons, supplies, and 400 irregular troops. In 1789 he sailed from Pondicherry for IndoChina where his troop’s trained royalist forces who gradually repelled the rebels until the prince was able to proclaim himself the emperor of a united Vietnam, establishing the Nguyen Dynasty based in Hue. This dynasty, Vietnam’s last, came increasingly under French influence until it fell with the French regime in 1954. The last Nguyen emperor died in exile in France.
For 150 years Pondicherians played an economic and military role in French Indochina. At present, fewer vestiges of this connection remain in shop and restaurant signs. Today’s Pondicherry is beginning to rediscover this important connection with the Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian cultures of Indochina.
Chennai (165 km)
Thanjavur (170 km)
Bangalore (296 km)