Puducherry (commonly referred to as Pondicherry) is unlike anywhere else we have visited in India. Every city and town has remnants (and sometimes more than remnants) of British and Dutch colonialism, but Puducherry was a French colony and has a completely different feel. Entering the city, you first experience the modern Indian city with familiar stores and traffic, but as you reach the core, it completely changes. The streets are laid out on a grid, lined by lovely buildings with ornamented railings. There are frequent parks and broad sidewalks. And its glory is truly felt along the promenade by the sea, closed to traffic every evening at 6pm so that people can pour out of their houses for, well, a promenade.
We chose Puducherry to be our location for Christmas and carefully selected an Airbnb in a prime location, hoping that the photos on the website were accurate. Happily, they didn’t even begin to do it justice. This was a magnificent place to stay, particularly after the more rustic choice we made for Mahabalipuram. We were able to buy groceries, including good coffee and pineapples. We also got everything we needed for Melissa to cook a pasta feast at home on Christmas Eve. Tom even made carrot paratha on Christmas to go along with the meal that we otherwise ordered in.
Our Puducherry stay also coincided with Melissa’s dad’s birthday which she always celebrates with Indian food. Such fun to celebrate at the beautiful Villa Shanti in India.
Puducherry is less about must-see sights and more about enjoying the feel of the place. Although we had a driver for our stay, we wanted to walk everywhere, so we let him go for a couple of days (for which we were later grateful when he told us that his son had been born on our first night there). We enjoyed the market with its jumble of beautiful produce, we found delicious French croissants and other tasty pastries, we strolled through the early 19th century botanical gardens where the French colonists had tested the strength of plants they wanted to plant there (and where the fictitious Pi Patel began his journey), and on Christmas morning we visited the gothic Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
It was a wonderful visit, and we look forward to returning for relaxing long weekends, hopefully to stay in the very same Airbnb. But for now, it’s off to Tiruvannamalai.