India Easy, India Light
Enjoy colonial architecture, heritage hotels, international cuisine, evening strolls along the waterfront, color everywhere, and espresso coffee with French pastries–all at reasonable cost. Where? Puducherry, India, more commonly called Pondicherry, or Pondi. The French ran Pondi for 300 years and left in 1960. Now Indian Tamils run Pondi, but a bit of French life remains.
Paul and I have planted ourselves here for a month or more. We find Pondi to be India Easy, India Light.
We are visiting India for the third time. We came this time on a whim, and our timing worked out well. Pondi enjoys hot and relatively dry weather in July and August, while the rest of India floods with the summer monsoons.
I first dreamed of coming to Pondi in the early 1970s, attracted by the idealism of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville. The Sri Aurobindo ashram, said to be India’s richest, started in the 1920s. Today the ashram dominates the old French quarter in Pondi. Tourists and pilgrims flock to the powerfully peaceful courtyard in the center of the original ashram building. The courtyard houses a flower-laden, white-marble shrine where pilgrims pay their respects to the two remarkable founders: Sri Aurobindo himself and The Mother, who ran the place day to day.
Auroville, a few kilometers outside of town, amounts to a private experiment in international communal living. Started in 1968, Auroville today has a population of about 2,000 people from 50 different countries. Aurovillians try to stay faithful to The Mother’s vision, that people from all countries and backgrounds live together in harmony to realize human unity.
Paul and I started our stay here in the old-town Tamil quarter, what we call India Easy. In India Easy we lived with all things Indian: honking traffic (cars, motorbikes, bicycles, rickshaws, buses, three-wheeler taxis, hand-pulled carts, and an occasional bullock cart), wandering cows (watch where you step), smiling school children, colorful sari-dressed women, sidewalk coffee shops serving up sweet, milky brew, broken sidewalks, piles of garbage, ornate Hindu temples, brightly painted churches, quiet mosques, and the occasional beggar. Still, because the Tamil old-town quarter feels like a small town, we find the rainbow-colored, chaotic scene picturesque rather than overwhelming.
In India Easy we ate meals and snacks alongside locals at small restaurants, snack shops, bakeries, and sweet shops. We were given spoons, but locals attacked the rice-based dishes with their hands. A typical set meal (often called a thali) includes rice, Indian bread, and a variety of small bowls filled with tasty concoctions from flavorful dal (lentil soup) to mystery vegetables, often cooked in coconut. These set meals cost only a dollar or two.
After spending a week in India Easy, we moved to the old French quarter, what we call India Light. Sometimes called white town or the Boulevard quarter, the French quarter offers less of the churning intensity of India in the 21st century. We’re definitely in India, yet the experience scales down to a level one can easily absorb.
When we moved to India Light, we went upscale in both hotels and dining. Indians view Pondi as a foodie town, and we’ve been getting to know what’s on offer. We dine at romantic heritage-house restaurants with candle-lit tables, eating delicious Indian, French (mainly), Italian, or fusion cuisine. We seldom spend more than US$15 for the two of us.
India Light costs more than India Easy but offers good value.
Come to Pondi and live India Easy, India Light. You’ll feel like you’re living in a rainbow. You may even decide to stay awhile.
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