Back in April of 2022, our co-founder and Head of Adventure, Bee, packed her bags and headed off on an exciting adventure to India. As part of her trip she decided to spend a few days in the vibrant city of Pondicherry (also known as Puducherry.) This beautiful city is located on the southeast coast of India and is surrounded by Bay of Bengal to the east. A French colony till 1954, Pondicherry is a small Union territory in India that retains a distinctly French ambience and culture. Known for it's mouthwatering mix of cuisines, spiritual connections and beautiful stretches of beach, Bee shares with us her highlights from visiting this fascinating city...
I love living in our small, creative seaside town, Margate and the few days I spent in Pondicherry last April reminded me so much of the town I call home. A small town with a creative vibe next to the sea - great places to eat and drink coffee - what's not to like!
Arriving at my bright mustard guest house in the old French Quarter I knew I was going to fall in love with Pondicherry. The guesthouse, Gratitude Heritage, was featured in the last series of the Real Marigold Hotel. I did not realise this until I saw a picture of one of my heroes, Zandra Rhodes, on the wall with her fellow travellers including Barbara Dixon, Chuckle Brother, Paul Elliot and Bond babe, Britt Eckland.
Dating back to the French Colonial times, Gratitude, restored to her former glory by current owners in 2004 and is now managed by family member, Sid, who entertained me with stories of the restoration and life in Pondicherry. The bright mustard walls have many tales to tell. Airy rooms, simply and beautifully furnished open up on to a central tree filled courtyard. Bird sing, insects chirp and butterflies flitter flutter past. What a wonderful place to relax. After a little rest in the cool of my room it was off to explore.
Wandering down the wide French styled avenues of the French Quarter and White Town, past majestic colonial buildings painted in an array of sugar almond pastels and jewelled brights leads you to the Tamil Area. Here, dainty flat roofed dwellings painted in acid greens, pinks and oranges, hug the winding lanes along the sea front. Tamil families sit chatting on the door steps and cows and cats hang out lazily in the afternoon warmth. Nobody bothers you and I felt very welcome and happy mooching about. Eventually you will reach the promenade along the ocean and a welcome breeze cools you down. Vendors sell colourful tourist tat but are happy if you say no. Sri Aurobindo Handcrafts is a lovely handcraft emporium selling local pottery (some of which came home with me!) embroidery, incense and hand made paper products.
A good spot for lunch in White Town is Bread and Chocolate. Their cool roof terrace is the perfect spot to glug down a home made Lemonade and nibble on a salad bursting with colours to rival the surrounding buildings.
Everywhere you look is colour and art - women selling bright green veggies, bright saris hanging on lines and orange tuk tuks honking down streets. Traditional Kolam paintings decorate the pavements. It is a Hindu belief that these tiny works of art are thought to bring good luck and that the geometrical patterns & designs applied with rice flour at the entrance to a home invite the Goddess Lakshmi (the Goddess of prosperity and wealth) into the household, and drives away the evil spirits.
A few doors up from Gratitude, behind some elaborately carved wooden doors and set in a restful garden is the Cluny Embroidery House.. Here in an old pale pink 18th Century building, under the cool ceiling fans, women with incredible talents delicately embroider cushions, bed linen and towels. Run by a local convent, Cluny supports many marginalised woman, teaching them skills, offering hope and employment.
The Coromandel Cafe and Restaurant, rated highly by Conde Nast Traveller Magazine, serves delicious healthy food and is the perfect place for dinner!
Each of the 3 quarters - the French Quarter, White Town and the Tamil Quarter - has it's own unique history. The blend of these histories and the warm welcome of the inhabitants make a few days in Pondicherry very enjoyable and it is definitely a place I want to return with more time to explore the winding, fascinating streets.