Namaste - Welcome to South India (2) Pondicherry with French charm, and the universal city of Auroville

A French colony until 1954, Pondicherry has a very special charm. The old French counter is still a separate territory, an enclave in Tamil Nadu. The administration gave residents the option of retaining French nationality. 7,000 families have benefited from it. Their children and grandchildren therefore learn French, go to college and high school.

Latest edition : 29 January 2018

The beautiful promenade, Avenue Goubert, where everyone comes to stroll and watch the dolphins frolic in the waves, is a bit like the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.

It is a quiet place, reserved for pedestrians. Candy sellers walk around with funny pink bags. A monumental statue of Mahatma Gandhi seems to watch over his people.

Near the Notre-Dame-des-Anges church, where mass is celebrated in French, pétanque players are engaged in heated battles as in Marseille.

The street names are in French, pretty houses house the Institut français, the French school.

We will have a drink at the café de la marine, we will meditate in front of the monument in tribute to the fighters who died for France.

Themed walks such as the circuit of old houses try to preserve the historical architectural heritage.

Mandalas are drawn in the street. How do these women manage to stay hunched over like this? Mystery! Say they do this every morning before their husbands and sons leave home as well as the evening before they return to call the gods blessing upon them!

Change of mood, as we approach Vinayagar temple, the temple of Ganesh, son of Shiva and Parvati. He is probably the most popular god in India (see Namaste-1) Mahabaliparum).

Inside, there are dozens of reproductions of Ganesh carved into the stone walls. It’s extremely colorful.

The great attraction of the temple is Lakshmi, the elephant with small bells on her feet.

If you present her a few rupees, she takes them with her trunk, gives them to her master and then blesses you with her trunk! Needless to say, there is a hell of a bustle at the entrance to the temple!

In this part of the "white city", you should also go to see the ashram founded by the thinker Sri Aurobindo and his disciple, Mira Alfassa, of French origin. This great philosopher taught "integral yoga" which leads to the development of the inner self. Its philosophy is still taught in the heart of the ashram.

You have to take off your shoes to visit the house and the courtyard in which is the tomb of the philosopher covered with fresh flowers. Prohibition on taking photos and speaking. The calm that reigns there is restful, the fervor impressive, but, that only engages me, it is also a bit disturbing. Doesn't it sound like a sect? A little further, there is a community restaurant. But I am quickly made to understand that I am not welcome...

It was Mira Alfassa, venerated as "the Mother", who initiated the construction of Auroville near Pondicherry in 1968. I was very curious to go there, in this city "which would not belong to any nation, a a place where all beings of good will, sincere in their aspirations, could live freely as citizens of the world… ”.

As you pass through the villages or neighborhoods that make up Auroville, you will see some European-style shops, but also some very poor Indian shacks along dirty streets.

But Auroville is not really open to visitors. The visitor center is closed that day so we just follow our guide to the Matrimandir.

At the end of a path, this immense globe is revealed, coated with gold metal. The Indians around us are delighted, take selfies. No matter how hard I try to imbue myself with the possible magic of an unusual place, I don't feel a thing.

The ball almost makes me think of an alien ship…. On the way back, I prefer to stop again in front of this surprising tree, this impressive banyan tree.

Each branch that touches the ground takes root to form a new tree. Here, I was left unsatisfied but as our guide says: "you have to live in Auroville to understand".


Trip organized by Définition Asie

Tél.: +33 (3) 89 36 10 64

Hotels in Pondicherry:

Villa Shanti, in the heart of the old French Quarter. 15 rooms around a very pretty green interior courtyard. Very nice cafe-bar, excellent cocktails. Neat Indian cuisine (not necessarily very cheap), very good breakfast.