Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Relics of a French Colony

One of the nicest places I have ever visited is the Aurobindo Ashram
in Pondicherry. It is like a completely serene, calm and divine,
self-sufficient island in the middle of this sea of humanity. The New
York Times did a really nice travel story about Pondicherry, where
French is spoken and the french colonists once lived. RElics of the
catholic churches and french influences remain making it a very
charming town.

An excerpt from the Times article --

"As colonies go, Pondicherry was not exactly a success story. Almost
immediately after the French set up this lovely nugget on the Bay of
Bengal in 1674, it was captured by the Dutch, retaken by its founders,
then sacked and destroyed by the British. And though the French kept
rebuilding it, Pondicherry never became more than a stopover on the
way to Indochina. Even after Pondy, as it is nicknamed, rejoined India
— late, in 1956 — it languished, out of step with the rest of the
nation. In other words, for most of its history, Pondicherry was a
backwater, in decline.

No more. Today, Puducherry, as it is officially known but rarely
called, is capitalizing on a glammed-up version of that history, and
emerging as an artsy, design-savvy destination with a quasi-Gallic
approach to eating, drinking, shopping and relaxing. It's like India
seen through a French lens, or maybe vice versa.

On the southeastern coast, about 150 miles south of Chennai,
Pondicherry is, for an Indian city, tiny. Just about a million people
live there, mostly in the types of charmless, three- and four-story
concrete buildings erected all over the poorer parts of Asia. But near
the Bay of Bengal, the cityscape changes drastically. Soon you see
tile roofs and wooden shutters, balconies and colonnades, wide brick
streets and pastel Catholic churches — the neighborhood once known as
the Ville Blanche, or White Town, where the colonists lived.

Here, under a very un-Indian blanket of tranquillity, Pondy is
exploding. In less than a decade, the local branch of the Indian
National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage has contributed to the
restoration of dozens of historic structures, from private homes to
former governors' residences (a description apparently applied to half
the buildings in Pondicherry)."

Read the full article at--

No comments: