Whoever says Pondicherry is a ‘little piece of Paris in India’ clearly has never been to Paris. It does, however, have some lovely old French colonial architecture, and they do know how to make a very good croissant. Some of the streets in the old French quarter maintain their French names (Rue Bussy, Rue Bazar St Laurent etc), there is an Institute Francais de Pondicherry, and more Catholic Churches than you are likely to see in most of the rest of India.
The French Quarter is small enough to walk on foot, and traffic was light, a welcome respite from the manic tooting and traffic congestion of the towns we’d come through to date. Urban renewal is proceeding apace, with new/refurbished hotels and guest houses scattered through the precinct together with little cafes and shops ranging from the usual tacky Indian cotton clothing to upmarket boutiques selling quality local fabrics, clothing and homewares. Bougainvillea in bloom made it even more attractive.
We stayed in a beautifully restored French colonial era villa, Les Hibiscus in the French Quarter. This place was near to perfect – impeccably maintained, great location, great breakfast, helpful owner and a delightful night watchman.
The Chennai to Pondicherry Heritage Car Rally was in town. The locals embraced it most enthusiastically.
In the afternoons, the seafront promenade is closed to vehicle traffic and strolling the promenade is the most popular local pastime. There are snack vendors, women dressed in saris, a memorial to Gandhi. Just like Paris. Not!