A glimpse of the old French India
A few hours south of Chennai is the town of Pondicherry, a city unique as it has retained much of its character from a previous life as the center of French India. This region was transferred back to India in 1954, but a fairly strong French influence remains. The old part of the city is neatly structured with perpendicular streets, not like the twisting alleyways of others places I’ve been. Many streets have kept their French names, Rue this and Boulevard that.
The old part of the city is dominated by rickety old bicycles, motorbikes and tiny cars – a wonderful respite from the crazy streets and roads elsewhere. The old part of the city is divided into the French Quarters, Muslim Quarters and Tamil Quarters and there is a fairly recognizable difference.
On a few streets you’d almost think you were in a small town in France, that is until you look down and nearly step in a steaming pile of cow shit. I haven’t been to France, but I presume they don’t have herds of cattle wandering around all of their streets – at least not on a daily basis.
Pondicherry was one of the filming locations for the movie Life of Pi and is where the character Piscine is from in the novel. With nothing specific to see or do in Pondi, I liked finding a few of the images from the film. The Guardian has an article that helped.
A lot of people come here for extended periods to practice meditation or participate in an Ayurveda retreat or ashram program. As a Union Territory of India (as opposed to a state) they have different rules and taxes. Taxes in India have been insanely high, sometimes up to 30% on a restaurant bill, so it was nice to not have to pay that for a few days. Plus, with the French influence and a good sized Christian population, I was able to have beef for dinner one evening – my taste buds were thankful!