A Bit of History
In a hasty bid for power and dominance, multiple nations have made their global mark, leaving remanence of their architecture, vernacular and culinary delights in their wake. Until 1947, the exotic land of India was under the tight reigns of the British Empire, whose influence is apparent in the universal acknowledgment of English as a second language as well as the beloved sport of cricket and legal system. The quaint town of Pondicherry, residing in the Southern borders, was initially founded in 1673; as the capital of Puducherry city, the union territory was initially set up as a trading hub by Dutch, French and British colonialists. Conflict ensued in a thirst for ownership, however, the French emerged victorious and soon established the city as a home away from home.
The pinnacle of serenity, Pondicherry boasts an old-world charm infused with both its French and Indian roots; evident in the 19thcentury European architecture, perpendicular streets that make for satisfying promenades and heavenly eateries, bursting with sumptuous baked goods, combined with a refreshing sea point, attracting both the adventurous and circumspect. The Euro-centric atmosphere extends to the accommodation, the town has to offer, whereby, palatial decorations are merged with the openness of early French quarters, to produce a splendid homely environment. La Closerie, in particular, manages to entice tourists with its chic and sophisticated communal areas, bursting with vivid, efflorescing greenery, framing a petite swimming area. The unique bed and breakfast is just a mere stone’s throw away from the pristine beach that beckons one to bask in the incandescent sunlight. A true delight that must be explored is the majestic Mangrove forest that dwells within the cerulean waters of Pichavaram; a neighbouring district. Reaching over 110 hectares of land and located between two prominent estuaries, the forest is home to over a hundred different species of birds that include pelicans, storks and herons; a sight to soak in while one unwinds in the traditional boats, equipped with life jackets and shade to protect from the sweltering heat.
Highly regarded as a pilgrimage point for hundreds of spiritual devotees, Pondicherry is home to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a burial site for both the Indian nationalist (recognised for his contribution to philosophy on human evolution and yogic teachings) as well as French humanitarian, Blanche Mirra Alfassa; universally acknowledged as the Mother. Born and raised in Calcutta, West Bengal, Aurobindo grew up well versed in English and hailed from a wealthy and itinerant family. Having obtained secondary education from England, it was his father’s wish that he matriculated further. Thus, he spent two years at Kings College before boarding a ship to return to his homeland. As cruel fate would have it, Aurobindo father was given false information regarding the status of his son’s arrival. Having been misinformed that the ship had sunk off the coast of Portugal, he met his untimely demise. After years of building a political career that largely involved the struggle for independence from the British, he finally settled in Pondicherry where he dedicated himself to spiritual pursuits. Having mastered the ancient art of Yoga, he published many works, detailing his experiences and teachings. The Mother, a French citizen, studied in occultism in Paris at the age of twenty and travelled to India, accompanied by her husband. Sri Aurobindo considered her to be a spiritual equal as well as a collaborator. After his seclusion, he bequeathed to her, his ashram in the hope that she would continue to maintain its reputation as a sanctuary of salvation and purity. The Mother established the International Centre of Education, so as to continue the work that her predecessor left unfinished and became a guiding star for eager disciples long after his death in 1950. Currently, hundreds of tourists make the voyage from their home lands in an effort to visit the ashram, kneel before the tombs and display their gratitude through meditation. One must remove footwear and maintain an aura of silence upon touring the interiors; a sign of respect to the deceased and their devotees.
Optimise Your Travel Experience
India is a country that is known for its homogeneity and orthodox attitudes that clash with those of the West. Many recognise France for its notoriously liberal outlook on life that even neighbouring nations may frown upon. Therefore, it is indeed fascinating to witness a town that has been able to successfully merge and harmonize these differing doctrines.
If you’re ever in and around the area, here is a brief list of links that will enhance and optimise your travel experience.
About Lavanya Nair
Lavanya started her blog “Ramblings of a Bashful Brit’’ in June 2018, in order to publish articles based on the topics she holds near and dear; travel, culture and food! Currently her goals are to not only grow her blog, organically but also to connect with other bloggers and like-minded people (she’s also due to move to New York for school and so would love to use her platform to document my experiences).