Pondicherry: The Captivating Experience

Julien El-Hajj

This wasn’t the first time I hear the name of this city: Pondicherry. I remember in secondary school, my biology teacher used to give us Pondicherry’s French baccalaureate session, because it is the first one to happen around the world and is the hardest as well. Since then, I knew that Pondicherry has some kind of relation with France.

 

In fact, there is indeed a strong influence of French culture on Pondicherry town, especially on it’s architecture, a result of the centuries-old relations this place maintained with France. In fact, In the 16th century, the Portuguese first arrived to the city and then the following century the Danes made an appearance. In 1673, the French arrived. Till then, Pondicherry was a weaving and fishing village. The French quarters started along the sea and extended to the south, all along the sea.

 

Around the 1760’s, the British destroyed the city including the fort. When the French reoccupied it, most of the buildings were reconstructed but not the fort. In the latter part of the 18th and early 19th century, Pondicherry again fell into British hands and all construction activity came to a standstill. Most of the present day buildings came up in the 19th century, which also marked the advent of water supply in the city and the railway link with British India. The French colony became a part of the Indian Union in the early 1950’s.

Once you arrive to Pondicherry, you feel that it has a distinct spiritual vibration, notably when you enter the street of the Ganesha temple.

At the entrance of this temple, you will see locals as well as foreigners clicking pictures and taking videos of the elephant named Lakshmi. It is no less than a celebrity. When people offer money and food to her, the elephant blesses them with its trunk.

 

Quiet beaches and peaceful resorts in the north and south of the city balance the town’s busy, yet easy going life. You can find lots of people walking along the beach, especially that the region becomes pedestrian in the evening. There you find one famous statue of Gandhi.

 

When you’re in Pondicherry it is impossible to not splurge in the shopping strips. You can check Auroville’s outlet store or Casablanca for international brands (Guess, Ralph Lauren, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Timberland, etc) sold at unbelievable prices. Moreover you can surely find hand-painted silk clothing, perfumed candles, incense, oils, ceramics, jewelry, and traditional Indian clothes in mostly every corner. For me, visiting this city is in itself a captivating experience.

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