Saturday, 23 June 2012

A spiritual odyssey through South India (Part 5 – Pondicherry: Peace for the soul, a gastronomic delight and a shopaholic’s nirvana!!)


PondicherryPondicherry is a union territory in South India, located in the Coromandel Coast facing the Bay of Bengal. We took an overnight sleeper bus to travel to Pondicherry and in the wee hours of morning, reached the main town.
Pondicherry is distinct as this territory was under the French rule for nearly 281 years. A remarkable degree of French influence in Pondicherry exists to this date. Pondicherry was designed based on the French (originally Dutch) grid pattern and features neat sectors and perpendicular streets. The town is divided into two sections: the French Quarter (Ville Blanche or ‘White town’) and the Indian quarter (Ville Noire or ‘Black Town’). Many streets still retain their French names, and French style villas are a common sight. Pondicherry is also the spiritual home of Sri Aurobindo and his spiritual partner, The Mother. Both their personalities and work continue to greatly influence this town and its people.
Pondicherry has got a laidback feel to it, the people here are in no hurry and everyone is in a relaxed mood. In no time, one also gets into the calm mood and begins to enjoy this charming town and its various delights.
The various places of attraction in Pondicherry are:
Beach RoadBeach Road– The beach road in the French quarter is the most prominent place in Pondicherry. Located in the French quarter along the beach, this road has the most important buildings and monuments of the town. It is also the place where all the people hang out!!!
Gandhi StatueGandhi Statue – This is Asia’s largest statue of Mahatma Gandhi, located on beach road.
French War MemorialFrench War Memorial – This is a monument dedicated to soldiers who lost their lives in World War I.
Place de Gouvernment – Also called government square, it is now the seat of government administration in Pondicherry. Located on beach road.
Joan of ArcStatue of Joan of Arc – Statue to commemorate Joan of Arc located on beach road.
Light House19th Century Lighthouse – It was built is 1836 and is a prime tourist attraction, located on beach road
Statue of Dupleix  - Dupleix was pondicherry’s most illustrious French governor. The French government commissioned his statue at Pondicherry to honour him. Located on beach road.
Promenade BeachPromenade Beach – It is the most prominent beach flanking the beach road and French quarters.
French QuarterFrench Quarters – The French quarters in Pondicherry has been preserved and it  is a delightful treat to see the French style of architecture and town planning. The best way to see the heritage buildings and broad streets of the French Quarter (bounded roughly by NSC Bose St, SV Patel Rd and Goubert Ave) is to take a heritage walk.
Aurobindo AshramAurobindo Ashram – Located in the French quarters, this ashram houses the remains of Sri Aurobindo and Mother.
Aurobindo Ashram
Other than these attractions, one of the most spiritually enriching experience at Pondicherry is a visit to Auroville.

“Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity.”

Auroville was founded as a project of the Sri Aurobindo Society on Wednesday 28 February 1968 by Mirra Alfassa, “The Mother”. She was an equal spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo, who believed that “man is a transitional being”. Alfassa expected that this experimental “universal township” would contribute significantly in the “progress of humanity towards its splendid future by bringing together people of goodwill and aspiration for a better world.” Alfassa also believed that such a universal township will contribute decisively to the Indian renaissance.
A visit to this township is a beautiful spiritual experience and is a recommended one!!
Pondicherry is also a foodie’s heaven with a wonderful range of creole, French and continental cuisines available here. A walk through the French quarters  throws up many eating out options and one is spoilt for choice.
This town is also a shopper’s delight with many wonderful shops selling garments, avant garde furniture, accessories, books and other interesting stuff. We had a wonderful time here for 2 days, visiting the various places, walking through the French quarters, sampling creole cuisine and shopping!!
Pondicherry was peace for the soul, a gastronomic delight and a shopaholic’s nirvana!!
And then it was time to head to our last destination – Mammallapuram.
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