Strolling through Pondicherry

Pondicherry Travel Blog

 › entry 4 of 37 › view all entries
Street traffic in Pondicherry, India

After breakfast we get into the ramshackle bus again. Ajit is behind the wheel with a huge smile. Next to him is Lomash, apparently he’s Ajit’s co-driver. We arrive in Pondicherry around noon, and it’s instantly obvious that this is a larger city than Mamallapuram. There’s a lot more traffic and this traffic varies from ox barrows, to a bicycles loaded with buckets, entire families on single motorbikes, lorries, rickshaws, taxi’s, busses to cars. There aren’t many cars though, most people can’t afford them. 

After we’ve checked into our hotel (for the life of me, I can’t remember which one…) a singing rickshaw driver takes us to a European looking boulevard at the beach, where we have lunch at Le Café.

Street traffic in Pondicherry, India
It’s a cosy little place with views of the beach and the boulevard. At the boulevard only the large monument of Gandhi and the numerous colourful sari’s tell that we’re not at the Riviera. And the fact that we have to wait over half an hour for our order of two sandwiches. The friendly smiling waiter comes to our table every ten minutes to let us know our order is on its way though.

After we’ve finished our lunch (which was perfect by the way) we stroll across the beach, where a lot of locals sit in the sand or at the rocks, staring at the waves. There aren’t many swimmers, probably because there’s a strong current. Within a minute we have a whole herd of salesmen surrounding us, but as soon as we’ve made clear we’re not in the market for anything, they step back. As soon as the salesmen have taken a bit more distance (we may change our minds about buying anything), dozens of locals start approaching us, asking if we could take their picture.

We’re a bit surprised about this, but start clicking away nonetheless.

Street traffic in Pondicherry, India
We photograph small groups of people and every time we take a picture, they all run back to us to look at the result at the screen. Their faces light up when they can see themselves and they thank us excessively. Then it’s on to a different group that’s already posing for us. We don’t understand a thing of this, they are not part of a newly discovered tribe in the jungle who has never seen a camera after all, but we are having a great time. It has never been this easy to take great pictures of local people!

We are so busy with all our models that the salesmen give up and look for other victims they can hunt down, and after everybody’s picture has been taken and the results have been thoroughly reviewed, we are on our way again.  We decide to leave the beach and have a look at The French Quarter. Pondicherry has been a French colony up till 1954, and the French have left bistro’s, French street names, French food, French looking police uniforms and an entire area of chic colonial houses.

Before we reach the French Quarter we get cornered by at least thirty Indian people.

Street traffic in Pondicherry, India
We instantly recognize them as the people who we photographed earlier, but it is a big mystery what they want since they all talk Hindi at the same time. It takes a while until one man gets his wits about him and in a calm manner starts explaining with his hands that they’d like us to send them the pictures we took.

Of course, this is not a problem. We write down an address and after every single person has had a handshake the all leave, cheering. We remain with a growing affection for Indian people. They seem to like to move herds, but they’re all so lively and spontaneous!

When we finally arrive at the French Quarter, we’re bored in an instant. There are decent sidewalks, houses are all colonial European and everything is clean and tidy. There are even signs that it’s forbidden to use the horn in this area.

We may have been in India for only two days, we’ve noticed that this neighborhood has nothing to with the country we’re in.

Street traffic in Pondicherry, India
In India everything is a grubby and noisy mess and household garbage gets thrown in front of the house or on the street. The sanitary area of the French Quarter is clean and therefore quite tedious.

We cut most part of the tour we could walk through this area and proceed to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Not that we’re particularly interested in an ashram, but since it is the most important sight in Pondicherry, we might as well take a look.

Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) was an Indian nationalist and freedom fighter, a poet, philosopher and yogi. In 1926 he founded the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, which he led together which his French wife, called the Mother.

Today, the ashram is a large institution, providing many charitable benefits to the area including free medical facilities.

Street traffic in Pondicherry, India
  The main thing in the ashram is a complete method of Yoga, developed by Sri Aurobindo. It claims that this method of yoga would transform human nature to divine life.

It’s all more or less interesting, but there’s not much to see at the ashram itself. There are altars for Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, a library and a garden, but that’s it. There are no people in robes showing examples of the yoga this ashram is famous for, or anything.  

We accidentally walk into a bit of a chaos in front of temple. It turns out this is the Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple and there’s an elephant blessing people.

Street traffic in Pondicherry, India
We’ve never seen anything like this so we dive into the crowd and watch what they do.

First they give some money to the elephant. He grabs this with his trunk and hands this to the man standing next to him. Then he gently tabs his trunk on the person who gave the money and the person is thereby blessed.  

Of course Rens and I jump in to get blessed as well. Then we walk towards another commotion of people a few meters away from the elephant. A man is standing on some sort of colourful cart and he rubs chalk on people’s forehead. They offer incense and pray and we love looking at it from a distance.

 

After a late afternoon nap in our hotel room we take a rickshaw to Nehru Street.

Street traffic in Pondicherry, India
This turns out to be a very inviting shopping area (together with Mission Street and MG Road) which can only be described as a strange blend of Indian bazaar meets western style stalls and neon-lit shops. It’s crowded with people and the all colours of attractive fabrics and clothes, scents and noises are overwhelming. It’s lovely to walk around and if you like Indian clothing just as much as I do, it’s wise to bring only a certain amount of money. Otherwise you’ll spend too much, that’s for sure, it all looks absolutely beautiful!

We end up at the rooftop restaurant Aristo where we have a lovely dinner of Indian curries. Funny thing is, is that when Rens ordered a beer, the waiter said they only had ‘secret tea’. We didn’t get it, but ordered the secret tea nonetheless, curious what that could be. The waiter then served a stone teapot with matching cups and as it turned out, the teapot was filled with beer!

We later found out very few establishments in India manage to obtain a license for serving alcohol.

Statue of Gandhi at the boulevard of Pondicherry, India
In order to be able to sell alcohol, they put secret tea on the menu and disguise the drinks as tea. It’s quite inventive and from then on we thought it would be pretty cool to order secret tea in a whispering manner, since we were now aware of this insider hush-hush.

jethanad says:
you write so very well thank you for shairng your experiences
Posted on: May 26, 2010
troysgonewalkabout says:
I mean, I *love* it :)
Posted on: May 17, 2010
troysgonewalkabout says:
I live the secret tea idea!
Posted on: May 17, 2010
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Street traffic in Pondicherry, Ind…
Street traffic in Pondicherry, In…
Street traffic in Pondicherry, Ind…
Street traffic in Pondicherry, In…
Street traffic in Pondicherry, Ind…
Street traffic in Pondicherry, In…
Street traffic in Pondicherry, Ind…
Street traffic in Pondicherry, In…
Street traffic in Pondicherry, Ind…
Street traffic in Pondicherry, In…
Street traffic in Pondicherry, Ind…
Street traffic in Pondicherry, In…
Street traffic in Pondicherry, Ind…
Street traffic in Pondicherry, In…
Street traffic in Pondicherry, Ind…
Street traffic in Pondicherry, In…
Statue of Gandhi at the boulevard …
Statue of Gandhi at the boulevard…
Statue of Gandhi at the boulevard …
Statue of Gandhi at the boulevard…
The beach of Pondicherry, India
The beach of Pondicherry, India
People at the beach of Pondicherry…
People at the beach of Pondicherr…
Me with people at the beach of Pon…
Me with people at the beach of Po…
People at the beach of Pondicherry…
People at the beach of Pondicherr…
People from the beach asking (the …
People from the beach asking (the…
Woman in Pondicherry, India
Woman in Pondicherry, India
Sleeping rickshaw driver in Pondic…
Sleeping rickshaw driver in Pondi…
Sleeping rickshaw driver in Pondic…
Sleeping rickshaw driver in Pondi…
Elephant delivering blessings in f…
Elephant delivering blessings in …
Elephant delivering blessings in f…
Elephant delivering blessings in …
Elephant blessings my husband in f…
Elephant blessings my husband in …
Crowd in front of the Sri Manakula…
Crowd in front of the Sri Manakul…
People receiving blessings in fron…
People receiving blessings in fro…
Policeman in uniform (Pondicherry,…
Policeman in uniform (Pondicherry…
A cow wondering the streets (Pondi…
A cow wondering the streets (Pond…
Rens serving himself a secret tea…
Rens serving himself a 'secret te…
Pondicherry Sights & Attractions review
Has nothing to do with India
The French Quarter, which is roughly located between NSC Bose street, SV Patel Road and Goubert Avenue, is one of the many legacies the French left du… read entire review
Pondicherry Sights & Attractions review
Not that interesting
The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is the most important sight in Ponducherry, but unless you’re particularly interested in ashrams, there’s not that much t… read entire review
Pondicherry Sights & Attractions review
Great chance to watch Hindu temple rituals
The Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple is a lovely small temple that may be worth a visit if you’ve been in India for only a few days and haven’t exper… read entire review
Pondicherry Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Great view of the beach and the seashore
Le Café is a cute place with a great view of the beach and the seashore, not far from the statue of Gandhi. The menu offers (as the name suggests) ma… read entire review
Pondicherry Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Nice open air rooftop garden restaurant
Nice open air rooftop garden restaurant with a lot of plants and flowers. The menu has a large variety of Indian, Asian and Continental dishes, we enj… read entire review
Pondicherry
photo by: joehobo