5th – 8th February – Vive Pondichéry et son pain

… or to translate, ‘long live Pondicherry and its bread’ !

Our final stop before we fly to Sri Lanka takes us to a place where the second language for locals is French, rather than English.

Pondicherry (Pondy for short) was part of the French colonies until 1954. It has a fascinating history, involving constant fighting between French and British to claim its shores.

Again, this was another place that we spent time in four years ago, so we were quite familiar with it. The area called ‘White Town’ (no need to explain the reason for that really!) is covered in colonial heritage homes with a French flavour, schools named after a French priest or saint, and street names such as Rue Laporte, De La Compagnie and Rue Suffren. It’s nice to walk around the other district too, Heritage Town (which sadly used to be called ‘Black Town’ separated by a man-made canal), to compare notes. If you come to Pondy though, White Town (also called French Quarter) is the only place that you really need to explore – the other quarters are just same old India; polluted, loud, dirty and crazy! The police of Pondicherry close Beach Road off during the evening, so at sunset people can walk up and down the promenade without a scooter or car disturbing the peace. First time we’ve seen this and what a great idea.

Our final evening was spent on another Storytrails tour. If you visit India check if they provide a tour nearby, it’s well worth it and you learn so much about the area and its history. Our guide for the tour was Vivek, he took us around the French Quarter and told us about the fascinating stories and characters of years gone by. Fantastic tour, we learnt so much… I can’t cover it all in one post, besides you will take the time to do it once you are here! One story I did find interesting was that even when Britain abolished the slave trade in 1833, both them and France ‘tricked’ around 30,000 Pondy locals to sign/ fingerprint contracts ‘agreeing’ to work abroad around the Empire. They sold them misleading prospects, promises of ‘fortunes to be made’, and before they knew it they were onboard a ship never to see their homeland again. The promised fortunes never materialised, of course, and most couldn’t afford to return home. The thousands who were bribed are known as the coolie, and this appears to be another chapter in European history that is swept under the colonial carpet, never taught in school or discussed on TV documentaries. Surpised?!

Vivek was an amazing guide and a lovely bloke, he was so passionate about the stories that he told, but also very blunt on how Indian natives were treated in the past. We disagreed on certain topics but mostly the three of us got on so well. At the end of the tour we grabbed a coffee and chatted about all matter of things with him – from population control to Atheism, cultural tourism to stand up comedy…! We could have talked all night but he needed to move on, but such a nice way to spend our final night in India.

Places

Baker Street – featured in Rick Stein’s India (we’ve been watching it again here), we hunted this place down for some delicious baked goods. Cheese and ham baguette was a lovely way to start the morning, mature cheddar too!

Café Xatsi – woodfire pizza oven seems to be the thing in Pondy so we found the top-rated one and headed there. Damn good pizza!

Vila Shanti – we visited this place four years back and it always stayed with us because it was so bloody nice. Again, it didn’t disappoint, we opted for the Indian cuisine this time rather than the continental fare. Channa Masala (chickpea curry) being the highlight, along with the mixed roti bread basket. Considering this place is No1 on TripAdvisor it was reasonably priced.

Le Café – as Pondy has a heap of French tourists every year, restaurants tend to turn a blind eye to the ‘no beef’ Hindu diet. Knowing that I could have a bit of red meat and hadn’t had any since before Christmas, I went for the fillet steak with blue cheese sauce – it was mouth-wateringly good. I enjoyed this place, turned out to be our final restaurant in Pondy and India!

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