The biggest attraction of Pondicherry, according to me personally is Auroville. But, then one cannot really ‘sightsee’ Auroville. One has to experience it, by staying there and being part of the Auroville community. I will come to Auroville in a dedicated post, later.
What are the other places in and around Pondicherry, which one can see? Not many, but there are a few places, which offer insight into the history and culture of Pondicherry.
I have never looked at ticking off all the right boxes, when I visit a particular place. I am less a tourist, more a traveller in that sense. The places, which we went to see, were the places, which caught our interest. Here are some of them…
Pondicherry Museum at Rue St.Louis
Housed in an 18th century French villa, the Pondicherry museum is small, but full of some priceless treasures dating back to the Chola dynasty.
Pallava sculptures, bed belonging to Joseph François Dupleix (governor general of the French establishment in India), gold encrusted Tanjore paintings and pottery from the Roman ruins of Arikamedu (these are ancient ruins dating back to the Roman period. The town, Arikamedu is located about 4 km from Pondicherry town) are some of rare treasures one can see in the museum.
Though small, the museum gives a peek into the regional and cultural history of Pondicherry. If history interests you, worth a visit I would say.
Note: The museum is closed on Monday’s. There is a lunch break from 1 to 2 pm, when the museum cannot be accessed. Like most museums, photography is not allowed inside.
Sri Aurobindo Ashram on Rue De la Marine
Named after the revolutionary turned saint, Sri Aurobindo, the Aurobindo Ashram houses his final Samadhi. Inside Aurobindo ashram, there are no customary prayers, mediations, or rituals held. One is expected to pay homage and be around the Samadhi in silence. The Samadhi bedecked with fresh flowers looked simple, yet visually colorful and serene. In spite of the presence of the milling crowds, there was no chatter around; all one could feel was serene silence.
There is a small bookstore attached to the ashram. One can get books, picture post cards, lithographs and framed portraits of Mother and Sri Aurobindo; almost any and every kind of literature regarding Sri Aurobindo is available here at the bookstore.
Note: Shoes need to be taken off and deposited at the opposite end of the road, since one is expected to go inside the ashram barefoot. No worries, there is a caretaker, who looks after them, so chances of the shoe getting lost are nil. There is a designated lunch hour from 1to 2 pm, when the ashram remains out of bounds for visitors. No photography is allowed inside Aurobindo Ashram.
As we walked around quite a bit around French Pondicherry, we saw several large churches around town, the botanical gardens, the French War Memorial (on Goubert Avenue, very close to the Promenade), the statue of Dupleix, Roman Rolland Library (one of the oldest libraries in the country) and the spectacular statue of Mahatma Gandhi in full stride. It is said, that this statue of Gandhi is the largest in Asia.
We just chose to see a few places at leisure, and we walked past others. Next time, if ever, hopefully we will stop by at places, we left behind.
He who has seen one cathedral ten times has seen something; he who has seen ten cathedrals once has seen but little; and he who has spent half an hour in each of a hundred cathedrals has seen nothing at all ~ Sinclair Lewis