It is difficult to get lost in the French Town – a grid of almost perpendicular roads anchored secure your wanderings, writes TENSING RODRIGUES.

If you have been planning to visit Pondichery, or Puduchery as it is now called, do it fast; for this town by the sea may soon have much less French to offer you.  In 1674 the French East India Company set up a trading centre at Pondichery. This outpost eventually became the chief French settlement in India. The Dutch captured Pondichery in 1693 but returned it to France in 1699. During the Anglo-French wars (1742–1763), Pondichery changed hands frequently.

In 1761 the British captured Pondichery from the French, but returned it only t

Pondicherry – A French town by the sea

o recapture it in 1793 and return back in 1814.Dutch or English, to all travellers however, the appeal of Pondichery lies in its French heritage, that is still very visible. But may not be for long. In November last, torrential rains felled the 143-year-historic structure, popularly known as Mairieor Hotel de Ville on Goubert Avenue along the seafront; many more heritage buildings are in a bad state of disrepair.

Pondichery lies on the east coast of India, about 140 km to the south of Chennai – as the crow flies; about 3 hours of driving, 160 km by East Coast Road or 170 km by NH45.The ECR route passes very close to the sea, and is quite scenic, though the road is not as good as the NH45. If you are taking a bus from Chennai to Pondichery, board a Pondichery Road Transport Corporation bus (blue b

Pondicherry – A French town by the sea

uses) at CMBT, Chennai; there is a bus almost every half an hour. There are good private buses as well, but somehow they prove to be quite erratic.

The Tamil Nadu SETC buses (green buses) are more frequent. From Bengaluru too there are PRTC buses, besides KSRTC and private buses. Here the overnight KSRTC Airavat Club Class may be a more cushy option. There is one daily train from Chennai to Pondichery; rest of the trains go up to Villupuram, about 40 km away. 16573Yesvantpur-Puducherry Weekly Express runs every Friday, leaving Bengaluru at 21:00 and leaving back on Saturday at the same time.

Whether you travel to Pondichery by road or rail, you will land not very far from where you should ideally be – th

Pondicherry – A French town by the sea

e French Town or the White Town (as the buildings here have been traditionally painted white). Take an auto or a cab to a hotel of your choice; or simply a local bus that charges just `5. If you take a bus, get down at the General Hospital.

For as little as `1,000 you can get a basic hotel in Pondichery. If you are planning for a longer sojourn, look out for a homestay in an old French house, of which you can find plenty, along the narrow criss crossing alleys. My favourite is the Hotel Coromandal Heritage, an unassuming one-n-half storeyed structure along the Rue Nidarajapayer that runs right through the heart of the French Town. I like it for its quietude and the extreme friendliness of the housekeepers – you just feel at home there.

Pondicherry – A French town by the sea

It is difficult to get lost in the French Town – a grid of almost perpendicular roads anchored by the Mahatma Gandhi Street, De Bussy Street (Lal Bahadur Shastri Street), Jawaharlal Nehru Street and the Goubert Avenue along the beach, secure your wanderings. In the evenings the Goubert Avenue is pedestrianised and thown open for the evening walkers – the residents and the casual visitors.

That is a great place to be, throwing all your worries to the strong sea wind strolling between the imposing presences of Marquis Dupleix and Mahatma Gandhi (what a coincidence, the α and the θ of India’s tryst with the  French !), or simply sitting down on the parapet along the beach. If you prefer to gaze into the heavens intoxicated by the heady aroma of a freshly brewed coffe, find a seat at Le Café.

No, there is no street food in Pondichery – almost nothing; not even on the beach; waste no time searching for it. If you feel like having just a light snack, look for a roadside tea shop that sells samosas and mendu vadas besides tea and filter coffee; do not mind their shabby look; the stuff is usually not bad. If you want something a little more decent, go to Vasanta Bhavan or Bombay Vasanta Bhavan on the Mission Road; or to the top of the line Saravana Bhavan or Adyar Ananda Bhavan – all serving vegan snacks.

Pondicherry – A French town by the sea

In the non-veg range, you could try some chicken, muttonor sea food starters in one of the ‘biryani factories’ (yes, they really call them so !) on the MG Street. I would specially recommend Hotel Annapoorna. It has a really wide menu that includes some very tasty parathas and omlettes – like chicken paratha and mutton omlette.  They have a wide variety of sea-food preparations; Fish Biryani and Nandu (Crab) Podimas for instance.

There are a couple of bakeries around that serve a variety of puffs and pastries; try the two Geeta Bakeries around the Rue de Missions– Rue Sainte Thérése corner. Or if you wish toexperience the authentic French Patisserie, get into the Baker Streeton De Bussy Street. This is a concept-store hosting 1,001 delicacies : bread, pastries, pizzas, chocolates, homemade icecreams, etc. Or drop in at Zuca – the ultimate chocolatier in Pondichery.

Pondicherry – A French town by the sea

Not very far from these, very close to the entrance of Notre Dame de la Conception Immaculée Church, is the Churchgate, a small store selling some genuine French chocolates and other tinned foodstuff; do try it; you may really like something there. Do not look for much of handicrafts in Pondichery. Like any other well frequented tourist destination, here too you will find a lot of trinkets that travellers carry home as mementoes. But that could be a sheer waste of money.

For, like any other tourist destination, these may not be worth the price; the prices are indeed a bit on the higher side. But having said that, I would suggest you visit one place – Arumai, off the MG Street. They have some really good stuff. Do have a look at the panch-dhatu jewellery on sale. It is fairly cheap and retains its glitter for quite some time, unlike the usual gold plated trinkets.