Only three weeks after landing in India there I was trundling off to Pondicherry, officially known as Puducherry, for a reunion with some old friends. We hardly spent any time in Chennai before catching the East Coast Road, or ECR as it is commonly known. As we made progress the landscape transformed from urban sprawl to coconut trees leaning lovingly against each other on stunning sandy beaches. Stopping for water at a small shack we smiled as the smell of the sea wafted into the car. We were almost there…almost at Pondicherry, the seaside town that was known for it’s Indo-French style and seaside bliss.
As we jumped out from the haven of an air-conditioned car, a warm, smiling reception was accompanied by a sudden blast of heat. Heads reeling from the sudden and extreme change in temperature, we clambered on to the buggy that was waiting to take us on a grand tour of our eco-friendly resort. Organic farms crowded with bleating goats lined the dusty unpaved path that ran through the resort grounds. The buggy eventually pulled up to a Bamboo cottage, our home for the next few days. It seemed that we were in for a serious sojourn with nature.
Entering the cottage we marveled at the thatched roof and commended the complete absence of synthetic materials. The usual shampoo sachets that most travelers like to pocket were creatively packaged in glass bottles with wooden stoppers. We lauded the effort even though we knew we would be unable to take them away! Outside the cottage cycles were provided for the guests to use within the grounds of the resort. I was beginning to wonder if this would be a holiday but certain that the weekend would be a healthy one. We jumped on for a quick ride, only to stop soon after for a swim in the pool. And then it was time to explore the rest of this charming town.
Driving down the famous Promenade beach we got a dekko of the waves rolling in as young couples, braving the sun, walked hand in hand down the coast. Overlooking the Promenade are beautiful colonial buildings that would not look out of place on the French Riviera. Their wrought iron balconies the perfect vantage point to gaze at the sea. Foreign tourists look conspicuous with their heavy backpacks and flowery cotton pajamas. They seek refuge from the balmy temperatures at the famous Gandhi statue and browse through their travel guides. We decide to drive down and sample the local French fare but our timing could not have been worse. It’s Sunday and most of the renowned joints are filled with ravenous travelers. “No Space ma, waiting time one hour!” the friendly mustachioed watchman exclaimed with a delightful Tamil twang. We shrugged and walked on to Café De Flore, a quaint little al fresco eatery surrounded by tall white pillars. The menu was in French and luckily one of us was fluent in the language. My friend ably gave our orders to a man who looked like he stepped off a Kollywood movie set with swarthy skin, a thick mustache and a smile proudly displaying dazzling white teeth. Yet another example of just how harmoniously two cultures, Tamil and French, have blended with each other. Something I hope that the rest of the country would someday take note of and then emulate.