Pondicherry, the ‘Riviera of the East’, is a quaint
little city, which retains its French character even 50 years after it merged
with the Union. The picturesque drive from Chennai to Pondicherry is 170 km and
takes about two and a half hours on the East Coast Road.
The French connection is still visible in the statues of Dupleix and Joan of
Arc, the signboards, architecture and the smart red kepis (caps) of the
policemen. The oval shaped city with its neatly aligned streets has been
constructed on the lines of French influenced Mediterranean town planning.
Everything about the city has a leisurely pace including the traffic – the
most popular mode being bicycles. The city has an eclectic mix of French and
Indian culture. It has a legacy of 19th century churches like the Church of the
Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Eglise de Notre Dame de la Conception, the Eglise de
Notre Dame des Anges, the Eglise de Notre Dame de Lourdes and the Chapel of the
Sisters of Cluny. There are more than 350 temples in and around Pondicherry, 75
of them dedicated to Lord Ganesha. The Varadaraja Temple and VillenourŐs
Thyirukameswarar Temple, both date back to the 12th century. The Car Festival of
Thirukameswarar Temple attracts thousands of pilgrims every year.
The beach at Pondicherry is a wonderful place to walk and relax. The city ends
at the beach with the waves crashing against the rocks. There is one-and-a-half
km promenade that offers a delightful view of the beach and quaint buildings
facing the sea. On the beach front stands a statue of Mahatma Gandhi surrounded
by eight, exquisitely carved monolithic pillars and a War Memorial raised by the
French in honour of those who died in World War I. On the opposite side are
buildings of French architecture that house restaurants and shops selling
intriguing wares like paper lampshades, earthenware, pot pouri and aromatic
incense sticks made in Auroville.
Ashram: The Aurobindo
Ashram exudes an aura of peace and harmony. It is a quiet place to reflect and
meditate. The Ashram was built with the object of creating an evolution of a
higher spiritual consciousness. It has more than 1,500 spiritual seekers from
every part of the world today.
Museum: Occupying the
premises of what was formerly the Government Library is the Pondicherry Museum,
which is a treasure house of antiques. Besides a section on French India with
rooms done in typical French style, the museum devotes sections to archaeology,
geology, sculpture, bronzes, arms, print, handicraft and art.
Gardens: The gardens were
planned by C.S. Perrotet and laid out in 1826. The gardens preserve a large
variety of exotic species of plants.
Beach Road: The
1.5 km long section is the best entertainment centre of the city. The
uncluttered beach is good for bathing throughout the year. It is often possible
to spot dolphins gamboling in the sea close to the beach. Various dining and
beach-sport entertainment are available.
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