We were looking forward to arriving at Pondicherry; a town with a rich French cultural heritage and the previous capital of the French colonies in India. But don’t get me wrong, it is not like a French village looking town with brasseries and boulangeries. It is still chaotic, messy and noisy with some French legacy: architecturally imposing churches, statues of Joan of Ark and Joseph Francois, pleasant promenades along the sea, some shady boulevards and here and there, a few boutiques selling Indian craft and jewelry. Interesting charming place but me and Anna still felt there was something missing… Perhaps our driver told us this was the perfect place to do lots of shopping. Hmm… But if you don’t have enough time and no satellite navigation stick in your brain, you are as lost as a child in the New York Stock Exchange.
Overall, we were unsatisfied with our shopping experience here… We found a street called Mission street (synonymous with Market Street in San Francisco, Oxford Street in London, 5th Avenue in New York and Robson Street in Vancouver) full of clothing shops, department stores, shoes stores and local shops. But if you can bear the happy public urination surrounded by smelly bags of garbage… you made it!
The best part of visiting Pondicherry was Auroville (City of Dawn). Auroville is an international community consisting of around 100 settlements of varying size inhabited by more than 2,300 people from India and some 50 other countries. The residents are engaged in a wide range of activities, including research into cashless economy, environmental regeneration, organic farming, renewable energy, handicrafts and small scale industries, health care, education and many other fields. Auroville is not that tourist friendly. The people living there are busy getting on their own work. You can only stay in this place if you are serious about contributing to it.
It was founded by a French traveler-turned-guru woman known as “The Mother”. You will see her on posters everywhere you go in Pondicherry. Her philosophy was to create a place that belongs to nobody in particular but to humanity as a whole. If you remember John Lennon’s song “Imagine”, it kind of has the same idea…
“There should be somewhere on earth a place which no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings of goodwill who have a sincere aspiration could live freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority, that of the supreme truth; a place of peace, concord and harmony where all the fighting instincts of man would be used exclusively to conquer causes of his sufferings and miseries…”
After we arrived here, we walked 1 km towards the Matrimandir; a place of peace, quietness and contemplation. The Matrimandir is actually a futuristic looking building in the shape of a giant golden golf ball in a lotus flower. Inside there is a chamber lined with white marble that houses a solid crystal (the largest in the world), 70 cm in diameter, which we couldn’t see because it is not open to the casual visitor. We even couldn’t get any closer to the Matrimandir. The 1 km walk consists of beautiful charming botanic gardens. This path caught our full attention because there were lots of stones tablets representing each state of mind. Each tablet has a picture of a flower on it with an elegant description of the state of mind represented.
Alcohol taxes in India are fairly high especially on imported liquors. Something like $45.00 for a bottle of red wine that would cost $10.00 here in California. However we were told that in Pondicherry alcohol taxes were much lower because Pondy is a Union Territory, but for us it didn’t make any difference in the hotel. We wanted to order a decent bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and still it was $40.00. So we went for an India Cabernet Sauvignon 😦 Not bad but our expectations were maybe too high considering that we were in the French part of India. Given the Auroville experience and the positiveness of the place our bad luck was starting to hits us. Charles lost the end of his stick in one of the sewage grates while walking around town. After that, it was difficult for him to walk with a slippery wooden-ended stick but we still managed! However, there was something coming on in our next and last destination; Chennai that we didn’t expected and we were not prepared for it. In other words, it was time to leave India just at the right time…