Before the global commotion caused by Covid-19, we took advantage of a long weekend to escape from the noisy Delhi and sought a little peacefulness in the South of the country. Everything there is different, from the climate to the food, from the languages to the landscapes.
After a Delhi-Chennai flight, we made a short stop in Mahabalipuram, a coastal village with a set of monuments dating back from the 7th and 8th centuries, listed as World Heritage by UNESCO.
A few photos, one tour through the fishing village and one coconut later, we are off to Pondy.
Pondicherry was a trading point of the former French East India Colony and is present in the French collective psyche as an exotic stop on the way to Indochina. But it is more than that, it is a cosmopolitan place with a tropical climate covered with bougainvilleas bursting with colors.
Divided into quarters (French, Tamil and Muslim) and wrapped around the Bay of Bengal, Pondicherry oozes tranquility. We spent most of our time in the French Quarter, between the streets lined with beautiful colonial houses and the seaside promenade. The air gently goes from sea salt to the scent of jasmine and plumeria flowers.
The French influence can be found in the names of the streets, the dishes served in restaurants and the few foreigners who run some cafes and shops. The high school and its flags stand proudly in the middle of the white city.
A few stops to make
The Gourbet market is worth a detour. It has all the hustle and bustle of a market in India. Women in saris sell vegetables that I still cannot identify after two years of living in the country while men in lungis are mostly there to chat with their friends …
We found things we did not even know we wanted : locally woven cotton sheets, light garland, rangoli stencil … Shubham was delighted to find coffee from the state of Karnataka freshly roasted.
Dinner at Villa Shanti
You will need to make a reservation for dinner at Villa Shanti, one of the small boutique hotels in the city. We had a lovely evening in the atrium. The menu offers dishes from France but also from South and North India.
I do not complain about my usual diet, Indian vegetarian food is varied and delicious but eating fresh shrimps and caramel custard made me very happy.
Manakula Vinayagar temple
It is a colorful Hindu temple dedicated to Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, the destroyer obstacles.
The specificity of this temple is that the elephant Lakshmi has been staying there for decades: she blesses people with her trunk in exchange for offerings.
She is agile: bananas and herbs go straight into her mouth while the notes and coins are discreetly hidden and regularly returned to her mahout, who is sitting at her feet.
We made a brief stop at Auroville on the return. It is an experimental city established in the 1960s. More than 2000 people live there today.
I admit to being both curious and uncomfortable with the idea of this autonomous community which demands the renouncement of private property, uses its own designations and concepts such as divine consciousness while rejecting all religion …
We splurged and stayed at La Villa, a lovely colonial hotel in the French Quarter. The suites are decorated with impeccable taste, the swimming pool is dreamy and having breakfast on the interior patio is a delicious moment to start the day.
Getting out of Delhi regularly is important. I fall in love with the country every time. And I am making imaginary plans to build a home in Tamil Nadu …