Pondicherry ? French Riviera of the East
Pondicherry, or Puducherry as it is officially known, is an erstwhile French colony on the Coromandal Coast of the Bay of Bengal. Pondicherry is a Union territory made up of four disconnected sub-territories namely Mahe, Karaikal, Yanam and Pondicherry. Pondicherry is still referred to as the ‘French Riviera of the East’, and true to its name has a very distinguished French flavour in the culture and architecture.
Pondicherry has also a distinct dual personality, the city is divided by a central canal, both geographically and culturally, into two sections – the old city that is predominantly French and the newer regions that are typically Tamil. The old quarters of Pondicherry are with wide boulevards and Mediterranean style villas with huge compounds and high walls and is called Ville Blanche or ‘White town’ and the Indian quarter is known as Ville Noire or ‘Black Town’. Many streets in Pondicherry have retained their French names. The unique location is believed to have caused the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Danes, the English and the French to capture it and make it their colony. For 300 long years, Pondicherry was the capital of French India, before attaining its independence in 1954. In 2006 its name was changed to Puducherry, which means ‘New Village’ in Tamil.
The people of Pondicherry are well versed in Tamil, English, French and Hindi. Renowned for its scenic beaches, rustic fishing villages, serene backwaters and French boulevard towns, Pondicherry’s vicinity to the towns of Kanchipuram, Tiruvannamalai, Chidambaram, Mamallapuram, Yercaud and Kodaikanal make it all the more popular among tourists. Pondicherry has four main beaches and they are the Promenade beach, Paradise beach, Serenity beach and Auroville beach. These palm fringed beaches with soft sand and sparkling water is a perfect spot to relax with family and friends.
The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is popular among travellers, both foreign and Indian, and devotees alike. Founded in 1926 by Sri Aurobindo Ghose, an Indian freedom fighter, poet, philosopher, and yogi, this ashram sees many devotees flocking to it for spiritual salvation. Auroville or the City of Dawn is a universal town founded in 1968 by Mirra Richard the spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo. Designed by the French architect Roger Anger, Auroville is meant to be a community where everybody is able to live in peace and harmony.
Pondicherry is well known for its seafront promenade and several of the landmarks such as the War Memorial, the Statue of Joan of Arc, the Heritage Town hall or Hotel de Ville, the Statue of Mahatma Gandhi and the Old Light House. Something that you will not miss in Pondicherry are the policemen. They still wear French uniforms complete with the flat-topped cylindrical red kepi or cap.
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