Tag Archives: French enclaves in India

Chandernagore: Down Revolutionary Road


A trading town older than Calcutta, the erstwhile French enclave by the banks of the Hooghly was a sanctuary for merchants, philanthropists, littérateurs and revolutionaries, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY


Without much fanfare, the Grand Trunk Road abruptly brought us to a halt in front of the Liberty Gate of Chandernagore. Built in 1937 to mark the fall of Bastille during the French revolution, the motto ‘Liberte Egalite Fraternite’ emblazoned on it seemed incongruous amidst a medley of billboards in Bengali and posters for circuses and magic shows. A traffic policeman tried in vain to make some order out of the snarl of rickshaws, pedestrians and vehicular traffic. It was a far cry from a few centuries ago when British soldiers had to seek permission to enter what was once French territory!

Much before Calcutta was carved out of Sutanati, Kalikata and Gobindapur and Fort William was established in 1698, Chandernagore too was created out of three villages – Borokishanpur, Khalisani and Goldalpara. It emerged as the main center of European commerce in Bengal and became a key trade centre. Boats docked here for rice, wax, saltpeter, indigo, jute, rope, sugar, even slaves, as the town became home to seths, zamindars, Muslim and Armenian traders, besides men of enterprise – Louis Bonnaud, the first European to commercially cultivate indigo in India, Dinanath Chandra who ran the first European tincture factory in the area, Batakrishna Ghosh, the first Bengali owner of a cloth mill, and Indrakumar Chattopadhyay, first publisher of a map on Bengal.


We entered through the Liberty Gate and scoured around for a map or some kind of guide on Chandannagore, which led us by sheer chance to Kumar & Company. On learning of our interest in the historic town, the shop owner Kalyan Chakravarty dropped everything mid-transaction, barked an order to an assistant to take over and quite graciously agreed to come along to guide us around the key sights. Passionate about conserving the heritage of his little town, Kalyan da was also involved with the local chapter of INTACH.

“At one time, Lakshmiganj Market used to be India’s largest rice mart and Chandannagore was hailed as the Granary of the East. Back then, the area was called Farasdanga (Land of the French). Urdi Bazaar is actually named after the vardi or khaki uniform of soldiers who stayed here during colonial times,” he explained. In 1730, Joseph Francois Dupleix was made governor of Chandarnagore while Indranarayan Chowdhury was appointed by the French Compagnie as Diwan. Chowdhury built the temple of Sri Nandadulal and a rest house and later received a gold medal for his philanthropy from Louis XV, the King of France.


Kalyan da pointed out the marks of cannon fire on the exterior walls of the squat Nandadulal shrine during the sack of 1757. The temple is believed to have a secret chamber where Chowdhury stashed his wealth! We strode into St Joseph’s Convent, built in 1861, to the little chapel and stood at the historic door through which the British had marched into Chandernagore. Colonel Robert Clive and Admiral Charles Watson of the British army pounded Chandernagore and razed the French fortification of Fort d’Orleans to the ground.

The horseshoe shaped town was divided into the French Villé Blanche (White Quarter) and a native Villé Noire (Black Quarter) that lay inland. Located midstream between Murshidabad and Calcutta, Chandernagore was easily the most celebrated ghat on the 2500km stretch of the Ganga and the only part of Bengal outside British control. At its peak, the city’s population was over a lakh while Calcutta was at best a poorer country cousin. However, with the French loss, Chandernagore’s bustling trade was eclipsed by the emergence of British Calcutta.


The town still has a wealth of beautiful colonial mansions. Kanhai Seth’er Bari, home to the Nandys, was a lovely edifice with the gatepost marked by ornamental urns. Further down the road Nritya Gopal Smriti Mandir was a fusion of native and colonial styles where Corinthian columns shared space alongside ornate Hindu motifs. Built in 1860 by Sri Harihar Sett, it was donated to the people of Chandernagore as a theatre hall and library.

Past Hospital Mod (turn) was Nundy Bari, home of a rich Zamindar that now served as the Ruplal Nundy Memorial Cancer Research Centre. His great grandson Shashank Shekhar Nandy explained that the historic building was locally called Gala-Kuthi from the time it was a Portuguese warehouse of gala (shellac). In its heyday, it played host to eminent people of the time like Bengali poet Bharatchandra Ray and Maharaja Krishnachandra of Krishnanagar.


After a quick stop at the Sacred Heart Church we reached the town’s crowning glory – The Strand. Reminiscent of Pondicherry’s Promenade, the 1km long 7m wide paved avenue was lined by historic buildings. The northern end was once marked by the 1878 built Hotel de Paris (now Sub-divisional court) and Thai Shola hotel built in 1887 (presently Chandernagore College).

On the south end was Underground House (Patal Bari), its lowest level jutting into the river. Originally a rest house of the French navy, it later hosted social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore, who even integrated Patal Bari into his stories.


Also lining the Strand were Rabindra Bhavan, the Gendarmerie (police station), an 1845 Clocktower dedicated to Joseph Daumain S’Pourcain and Dupleix Palace. A former naval godown and residence of Governor Francois Dupleix, it was converted into Institut de Chandernagor, an Indo-French Cultural Centre housing one of the oldest museums in the region.

Its stunning collection included French exhibits like cannons used in the Anglo-French war, 18th century furniture, rare paintings, Shola craft of Bengal and memorabilia related to Dupleix and Tagore. We walked to Joraghat or Chandni, a decorated pavilion at the ferry point with a plaque dedicated to ‘Dourgachorone Roquitte’. Courtier of the French Government, Durgacharan Rakshit was the first Indian to be conferred with the Chevalier de legion d’Honour in 1896.


From here, the river appeared to curve like a crescent moon (chandra) after which the town was presumably named. Some contend Chandannagar derives from the trade in chandan (sandalwood) or Chandi’r nagar after its presiding deity Boraichandi. Yet Kalyan da exhorted “The town is not as famous for its river or the French as for its revolutionaries!”

The French enclave was the perfect refuge for freedom fighters escaping the clutches of the British Empire. Rashbehari Bose, founder of Azad Hind Fauj, revolutionary leader Kanailal Dutta and social reformer Sri Harihar Seth were all based here. A bust of Bose stood outside Chandernagore College. In 1910 Sri Aurobindo followed an adesa (divine command) and sailed from Calcutta to Chandernagore where he stayed in the house of Motilal Roy for 39 days before heading south to Pondicherry. Roy later established the Prabartak Sangha and launched a fiery Bengali literary magazine in 1915.


“But of what use is a Bengali tale that does not end on a sweet note,” exhorted Kalyan da, as he brought us to Surjya Kumar Modak. Local lore has that in 1818 a zamindar asked the town’s leading confectioner to create a unique sweet for the new bridegroom. He came up with the jolbhora, literally ‘filled with water’ – a sandesh with a filling of rosewater syrup!

His creation (besides the motichur sandesh, aam sandesh and khirpully sandesh) became a sensation and attracted patrons ranging from Rabindranath Tagore to Sri Syama Prasad Mookerjee, founder of Jansangh. We bit into a variant, the chocolate jolbhora as its gooey center dribbled down our chins. Sure it was no éclair as Chandernagore was no Pondicherry; yet the town’s mix of French and Bengali flavours held a tantalizing charm that was entirely unique.

Jolbhora IMG_4788


Getting there
Chandernagore lies 37km north of Kolkata, upstream on the Hooghly.

What to See
Liberty Gate, St Joseph’s Convent, Sri Nandadulal Temple, Chandernagore College, Sub Divisional Court, Sacred Heart Church, The Strand, Chandni, Patal Bari, Nritya Gopal Smriti Mandir, Nundy Bari, Rabindra Bhavan, Gendarmerie (police station), Clocktower, Dupleix Palace & Museum

Where to Eat
Hotel de Chandannagar, Barabazar, GT Road Ph 9051489311 www.hotelde.in
Surjya Kumar Modak, Barasat, GT Road Ph 9831178348 www.jalbharasurjyamodak.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 7 Dec 2018 in Indulge, the weekend supplement of The New Indian Express newspaper.

Offbeat Destinations for 2015


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY trundle off the beaten track across India to find uncommon faraway places filled with history, beauty and intrigue

As people wander to predictable destinations around the country, there are several places that lie unnoticed in the back lanes of public memory. Mark this year with an exploration of less known holiday spots and offbeat experiences ranging from forgotten French enclaves, wild getaways and ancient animal fairs to organic farmstays, rock cut caves, Himalayan villages and more. Here’s a pick of places chanced upon while joining dots on the map, which remain relatively unmarked by GPS, untouched by cable and some beyond the connectivity of phone and internet networks.

Achanakmar Chhattisgarh_Anurag Mallick IMG_6214 opt

Achanakmar (Chhattisgarh)
A wildlife park that takes its name from an unfortunate incident where a British officer was ‘suddenly killed’ by a tiger may not seem like a cheery getaway, but a century later, Achanakmar still retains much of its wild charm. Located 60 km from Bilaspur at Chhattisgarh’s northern border with Madhya Pradesh, the 914 sq km sanctuary is part of the much larger Achanakmar-Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve. A wildlife corridor across the Satpura-Maikal hills connects it to Kanha. After a 700-year reign of the Kalchuri kings, the region came under Maratha control between 15th-17th centuries and in 1818 Major Blunt became the first British officer to come here, followed by General Smith. British-built forest rest houses dot the park – from the entry gate at Lamni to Achanakmar 35km away, besides Chaparwa, Surhi and Sonbhadra Tourist Resort at Amadob. It’s a great place to spot leopards, wild dogs, jackals and hyenas. The forest is rich with sal, sag (ironwood) and tendu, whose leaves are used to roll beedis. A heady fragrance of mahua flowers hangs in the air and the canopy is broken with the riotous splash of palash or Flame of the Forest, prized as a dye, cosmetic and antiseptic. Home to Gond and Baiga tribes who depend on the forest and collect flowers to make hooch, deep inside Achanakmar you can find sacred trees and Gudgud Ped, which rumbles like a noisy stomach! Ph 0771 4028635/6 http://www.chhattisgarhtourism.net

Bateshwar ghats view from The Kunj rooftop IMG_3709 opt

Bateshwar (Uttar Pradesh)
While innumerable spiritual spots on the Ganga, Bateshwar is an ancient pilgrim centre located on the banks of the Yamuna. The ancestral home of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Bateshwar is also famous for its 500-year-old cattle fair held over a month after Diwali on the riverbank at Bah near Agra. After Bihar’s Sonepur Mela, Bateshwar is the oldest and largest cattle fair in India, where animals are traded in a rural fair. A string of riverside temples dedicated to various manifestations of Lord Shiva like Panchmukheshwar, Pataleshwar and Gowrishankar lie on a scenic curve of the river. The main shrine of Bateshwarnath, which gives the town its name, is dedicated to Shiva’s ascetic form Batuk nath, who is believed to have rested under a vat (banyan) tree here, which still shades the shrine. Perched on a raised platform with ghats (steps) leading down to the river, the complex once had 108 Shiva temples! Sadly, only 40 remain due to the fickle course of the river. Explore the maze of mud caves and hillocks inhabited by sadhus. A Maha Aarti is held on the ghats every full moon but the biggest celebration takes place during Karthik Purnima, when pilgrims come for a holy dip in the Yamuna. As part of an eco-tourism project by the Chambal Conservation Foundation, the Jarar family’s riverside retreat The Kunj offers a pleasant rooftop view of the crescent of temples. Local guided tours arranged by Chambal Safari Lodge include a boat ride and visits to noteworthy temples. Rs.1500/person. Ph 9997066002, 9837415512 http://www.bateshwar.co.uk

IMG_4862_chandarnagore_Anurag Mallick

Chandernagor (West Bengal)
While there’s no better place than Pondicherry to savour the vestiges of French colonial rule in India, Chandernagor (or Chandannagar) lies quietly in the shadows. In the constant Anglo French tussle for trading supremacy, the British razed Chandernagore’s Fort d’Orleans and much of the French outpost in 1757, to bolster British Calcutta. Today, St Joseph’s Convent built in 1861 with its little chapel bearing the historic 1720 door through which British generals Clive and Watson marched in stands as a mute reminder. The French motto Liberté Egalité Fraternité is emblazoned on the town’s entry gate. If Pondy is a cradle of Franco-Tamil culture, Chandernagor assimilates Bengali flavours, visible in mansions like Kanhai Seth’er Bari, Nundy Bari and Nritya Gopal Smriti Mandir, which fuses Corinthian columns with Hindu motifs. Past the Sacred Heart Church lies The Strand, a mile long paved avenue lined with historic buildings, reminiscent of Pondy’s Promenade. To the north, stands Hotel de Paris, built in 1878, presently housing the Sub-divisional court and the 1887 Thai Shola hotel is now the Chandannagar College. Stroll past Rabindra Bhavan, the Gendarmerie and an 1845 Clocktower to Dupleix Palace, the erstwhile Governor’s residence converted into an Indo-French Cultural Centre and museum. Joraghat or Chandni, a decorated pavilion at the ferry point bears a plaque dedicated to Dourgachorone Roquitte (Durgacharan Rakshit), courtier of the French Government and the first Indian to be given the Chevalier de legion d’Honour in 1896. Underground House, originally a rest house of the French navy with its lowest level underwater, later hosted Rabindra Nath Tagore, who popularized ‘Patal Bari’ in his stories. In its heyday, Chandernagore was the most decorated ghat on the 2500km stretch of the Ganga. Local resident Kalyan Chakravarty, leads walking trails and heritage tours. Stay in the colonial comforts of Red Brick Residency in Kolkata for a day visit to the town, 37 km away via GT Road. Ph 9831330846 http://www.chandernagorheritage.com


Dhankar (Himachal Pradesh)
As you trudge 8km up the bare mountain road from Shichling, midway between Kaza and Tabo, the 1000 ft high rocky spurs of Dhankar appear. Literally translated as ‘fort on a cliff’ (Dhang means cliff in Tibetan, and khar is fort), the sight of a precariously balanced fort on a 1000-foot high wind-eroded sandy spur makes one think its collapse is imminent. The World Monuments Fund lists Dhankar as one of the World’s Hundred Most Endangered Sites, yet locals believe that when the world ends, Dhankar will be the last monastery to fall. The village has remnants of an old palace, a prison and a cave that provided shelter to all the village folk during war and a museum showcasing its historic past. Poised on steep southern slope of the village, the Dhankar Monastery overlooks the confluence of the Spiti and Pin Rivers. One of the five major monastic centres in Spiti, it belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Vajrayana Buddhism and was founded between 7th and 9th centuries. The gompa displays exquisite thangkas, murals and a riveting statue of Vairochana with four figures seated back-to-back. A 3km road from the village goes to Dhankar Lake (4517 m), a 2-hr hike, or a treacherous vertical ascent that takes an hour. Trek for 3 hrs from Dhankar to Lhalung (3758 m) to see the 1000-year-old Sherkhang Temple notable for its stucco building with wall and ceiling paintings. From Lhalung trek further to Demul, Komik and Langza, staying in rustic homestays run by Spiti Ecosphere. Ph 01906-222-652 http://www.spitiecosphere.com

Katrathal potter making chillums IMG_1018Anurag Priya

Katrathal (Rajasthan)
Counted among the ancient villages of Rajasthan, Katrathal dates back 5000 years to the Mahabharata era when it served as the capital of Kichak, army commander of King Virat of Matsya desa. Kichak was slain by Pandava Bhima for insulting Draupadi. The village also has an unusual cenotaph of Maharaja Budh Singh, a remarkable warrior who was beheaded in battle 25km away but legend recounts how his headless body fought its way back to Katrathal. A chhatri (cenotaph) marks the spot where his body fell. Yet the nondescript village’s has bragging rights as India’s largest producer of clay chillums (earthen pipes). Potters attribute it to Katrathal’s extraordinary mud. Experience the region’s rustic charm at Jor ki Dhani Godham, a 15-acre farmstay about 15km from Sikar on the Katrathal-Hardyalpura Road. Host Kan Singh Nirvan, an advocate of organic farming and healthy living, considers the desi gaai (country cow) as the focal point of his farmstay. Thanks to the germicidal and anti-bacterial properties of cow dung and urine, Kan Singh uses them in a self-concocted solution called jivamrit (organic nectar) for farming. In a small garden patch, rose bushes, papaya and musambi, prosper without being watered, deriving moisture and nutrients from a pit of organic waste. Stay in thatched huts with walls of aran, a medicinal plant eaten by goats and camels, which has therapeutic air-cooling properties. Enjoy farm-fresh milk, curd, buttermilk, white butter and ghee besides bajra (pearl millet) roti, pulses, vegetables and jaggery served on a traditional bajot (low stool). Ph +91-9875039977

IMG_6904 Samten Yongjhar Gompa prayer flags

Mechuka (Arunachal Pradesh)
The road from Aalo winds through the folds of Arunachal’s never-ending hills to finally reach a clearing surrounded by an amphitheatre of mountains – Shinjong, Damjen and Lola. This is Mechuka, named after the medicinal hot water springs in which locals take a therapeutic bath (men-medicine, chu-water, kha-open area). Site of India’s most remote airfield on the China border, one wakes up to the sound of bugles and bagpipes of the morning drill. The old gompa of Samden Yongjhar sits on a hillock overlooking the Yargyap River criss-crossed with lovely hanging bridges. 7km from Mechuka at Dorjeling, is the large clay idol of Jawa Jamboku, a manifestation of Lord Buddha as protector against demons, split across two floors as if straddling two worlds. Stay at Nehnang Guest House, locally known as Private I.B.

Melghat IMG_8601

Melghat (Maharashtra)
The rediscovery of the Forest Owlet in the forests of Melghat has brought international attention to this forested tract of Central India. Thought to be extinct for nearly 113 years and often confused for the more common spotted owlet, it was rediscovered in the foothills of the Satpura Range in November 1997 by American ornithologist Pamela C. Rasmussen. Though the park is a noted tiger reserve, birders flock to Melghat for a good sighting of the critically endangered bird. The small owlet can often be seen perched atop tall teak trees scouting for its prey. Stay at the MTDC hotel or Harshawardhan at Chikaldhara and visit the Gawilgarh fort, named after the Gawli (cowherds) who have inhabited the pastoral tracts of Berar (modern day Amravati) for centuries.

Mukhwa village IMG_8476

Mukhwa (Uttarakhand)
When the Gangotri temple closes for winter after Diwali, the idol of Ganga is shifted to a lower altitude. Mukhwa is the lesser-known winter seat of Gangotri. Stay at riverside tents in an apple grove at Leisure Hotel’s Char Dham Camp at Dharali and stroll across the bridge for a temple visit at Mukhwa and a view of Chandraparvat, Srikanth, Himvan and Bandarpoonch peaks. The village marks the Himalayan ascent of the Pandavas and locals eagerly guide you to the jharna (waterfall). It is believed that Bhima created the Bhim Ganga waterfall to quench the thirst of the Pandavas. Imprints on a rock are regarded as the hoofmarks Bhima’s horse en route to Mansarovar. Even today, cows and mules step into the same hoof prints while ambling up the mountain. The trail beyond leads to Danda Pokhri for views of Mount Sudarshan and Sumeru with other trails to Sat Tal and Kedarnath via Bhrigupanth. http://www.leisurehotels.co.in Ph 011-46520000

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Narthamalai (Tamil Nadu)
Just 25km from Trichy off the Pudukottai highway is a cluster of nine hills with some of the longest edicts and oldest rock cut cave temples in South India. What makes Narthamalai even more charming are its tarns – rainwater runoff from the rocky hills collect in natural cavities creating small ponds. On the southwest foot of Kadambar malai, facing a water-filled trench is the Kadamba Nayanar temple hewn into the hillock. To its right are two sets of inscriptions of Rajaraja I and Rajendra II inscribed on a specially prepared surface, comparable to Ashokan Rock Edicts. Nearby, shrines of Mangalambigai and Nagarisvaram stand apart on the rocky bed. At the other end of the village, a good 20 min hike up Mela malai leads past Thalayaruvi Singam Sunai, a green pool that has a rock-cut shrine, seen only when the water is drained. Peeping from behind the rocky incline is the turret of the Sivan kovil. The Vijayalayacholeswaran Temple towers above the facing Nandi, subsidiary shrines and fields below. Constructed in 9th century by Vijayalaya Chola, the first king of the Imperial Cholas, this temple is very important as it served as the prototype for the Brihadisvara temple at Thanjavur. Snug against the mountain is the cave temple of Pathinen Boomi Vinnagaram or Thirumerkoil. Set on a platform with makaras, yalis, lions and elephants in the frieze, the highlight being a dozen near-identical bas-relief sculptures of Vishnu standing on lotus pedestals on the mukha mandapa wall. The adjacent cave shrine of Pazhiyileeswaram has a nandi and dwarapalas guarding the linga inside. The newly renovated Sangam Hotel in Trichy or Chidamabara Vilas near Tirumayam Fort, make ideal bases to cover Narthamalai. Ph 0431-4244555 http://www.sangamhotels.com

Tilari Goa rafting3

Tilari (Goa)
While white water rafting has recently taken off in Goa on the Mhadei River, it is largely a monsoon driven activity with a season lasting till October. But a new, relatively unknown haunt on the Goa Maharashtra border is being hailed by rafting pioneer John Pollard as ‘a cracking little rafting stretch with one of the most technical and steep sections run in South India.’ Located not far from the Tilari dam and backwaters near the border town of Dodamarg, the river technically falls in Maharashtra but enters Goa as the Chapora River. The 6km stretch has rapids of upto class 4 with a small gorge section that builds up to a real belting rapid called Wrecking Ball and obstacles like Rocky Garden, Kudashi Falls and Below the Bridge. The season lasts from October to Jan but being a dam released river, this year water might be released right up to May. The minimum age limit to raft is 15 yrs. Swimming is advisable but not a must. Rafters are trained thoroughly first and do various rescue drills. Small sporty rafts better suited to this steep technical river are used that seat 3 to 5 (unlike 8 or 9). Trips start at 10.00 am or 2.30 pm at Rs.2250/head. Ph 7387238866, 8805727230 http://www.goarafting.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 4 January 2015 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

11 ways to enjoy Puducherry


Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, set in the former French enclave of Pondicherry (now Puducherry), notched up 11 Oscar nominations. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick 11 unique ways to discover Pondy, hailed as La Côte d’Azur de l’Est or French Riviera of the East


1. Celebrate Pondy’s cultural diversity
Witness the unique amalgam of the quiet sea-facing French Quarter with its wide rues (streets) blending into the bustling hinterland of the Tamil Quarter. One can fathom how Piscine Patel embraced multi-culturalism in Pondy’s diverse air with shrines like Varadaraja Perumal in the Hindu Quarter, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in the Christian Quarter and Khutbah and Meeran mosques in the Muslim Quarter. Meditate in silence in the leafy courtyard of Aurobindo Ashram or retrace Pi’s footsteps as he followed Anandi through the colourful, chaotic markets of Grand Bazaar. 


2. Go French
Amidst policemen wearing red kepis and locals playing petanque (hurling metal balls), get a dose of French culture at Alliance Francaise and Institut Francais de Pondicherry (IFP), whose precious manuscripts find a mention in UNESCO’s ‘Memory of the World’ register. Observe prayers in French at Notre Dame des Anges, the only church in Pondicherry to have mass in three languages (English and Tamil are the other two). Don’t miss the marble statue of Jeanne d’ Arc in front and the tomb of French governor Marquis de Bussy in an adjacent cemetery.


3. Walk down the historic promenade
Explore Beach Road or Goubert Avenue on foot, a seaside avenue lined by charming colonial buildings like the French Institute, French Consulate General, Secretariat, Villa Bayoud heritage hotel and Promenade Hotel, built in 1878 as a railway station! Amble down to the old groundnut bag embankment where a statue of Mahatma Gandhi now stands, the tallest in Asia. Beyond the 88ft lighthouse, the first on the Coromandel Coast, are the Custom House, French War Memorial, Le Café (a porthouse till the 1930s) and statue of French Governor Dupleix at the southern end of the promenade. With no vehicular traffic between 6pm to 7:30am it’s ideal for evening and morning jaunts!


4. Get blessed by an elephant at Manakula Vinayagar
The 500-year-old shrine of Lord Ganesha was once closer to the shore where sand (manal) often swept into its pond (kulam), giving the temple its name Manakula Vinayagar. Having survived attempts by French missionaries to pull it down, the popular temple is a celebration of the elephant-headed god, whose various forms adorn the walls. Hand a coin to Lakshmi, the temple elephant to receive a thump from her trunk as blessing!


5. Hang out at a café
Get drawn into Pondy’s many cafes and boulangeries where the tantalizing smell of fresh baked croissants and baguettes hangs in the air. Overlooking the pier where Pi bid adieu to Anandi, is Le Café, a 24 hr coffee lounge serving organic beverages, pastries and snacks. Catch an evening concert at Café de Flore, an informal garden restaurant at Alliance Francaise’s Maison Colombani.


6. Go boating at Chunnambar
If drifting on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger on the high seas isn’t your kind of escapade, try the tamer pleasures of Chunnambar. Drive 7km south on Cuddalore Road to the serene backwaters for a leisurely boat ride. Besides river jaunts, go on a sea cruise for dolphin sighting or take a speedboat to Paradise Beach with a picnic hamper.


7. Get a wat-su treatment at Paradise Spa
For aqua adventures of another kind, get initiated in the art of wat-su (or WATer ShiatSU) at The Dune Ecotel’s Paradise Spa. Enriching your visit are rejuvenative therapies, art in residence programs, shopping at the ArtyZan boutique, gourmet cuisine and stay in eco friendly rooms, no two of which are alike!


8. Get a history lesson at Puducherry Museum
While little remains of the Roman trading settlement at Arikamedu when Pondicherry flourished as the port town of Poduke, one can piece together the jigsaw at Pondicherry Museum. The century old Law Building, erstwhile residence of the French Administrator, displays Roman pottery and Megalithic burial urns. The Transport Gallery features palanquins, carts and the Pousse Pousse, a vehicle pushed from the rear and steered by a rider. In the French-India Gallery see period furniture like tête-à-têtes (S-shaped sofas), comptoirs, escritoires (writing tables and desks) and the cot used by French Governor Dupleix (1742-1754), whose bust adorns the museum.   


9. Try Franco-Tamil cuisine at a restaurant with no name
Located on Perumal Koil Street in the Tamil Quarter is Maison Perumal, a Chettiar mansion beautifully restored by CGH Earth. Like in a house, the rooms are left unnumbered and the courtyard restaurant bears no name. Dine on the day’s fixed menu of fresh seafood platters surrounded by ooralis (brass troughs), sepia tinted photos and stain glass panes glinting in the sun.


10. Botanical garden
While there’s no zoo in Pondicherry (there are plans to set up one after the movie’s success), it was the scenic locale of the Botanical Garden that served as the film set. Established in 1826, the 22-acre garden was a French experiment to analyze the feasibility of crops in the area. Flowerbeds and graveled pathways were added later and today it’s a treasure trove of 900 exotic plants, with an aquarium, a toy train and a musical fountain as its other attractions. The centrally located Bharathi Park, at the site of the demolished Fort Louis and military parade ground, is the city’s other lung space with the Arc de Triomphe-sque Aayi Mandapam dominating the centre.


11. Hone a skill at Auroville
There’s more to Auroville than just the Matri Mandir. Live and learn in this global city of ideas where its inhabitants perfect crafts like handmade paper (Auroville Papers), indigo-dyed clothing (The Colours of Nature), incense manufacture (Encens d’Auroville) and bodycare (Maroma Spa) to energy-efficient solutions. Besides workshops and internship programs, there’s a huge communal bonfire in the Amphitheatre on 21 Feb and 28 Feb to celebrate the birthdays of the Mother and Auroville.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 18 Feb 2013 in Conde Nast Traveller online.