Sunday, 1 March 2015

A Walk Down The French Riviera Down South.

Originally written for UltraTech.

Alternative title could have been - pretty pictures from Pondicherry. 

Best viewed in Google Plus' stunning 'Story' format.

Ring roads. IT Parks. A cityscape that's brick and glass. Chennai mirrors every megapolis in India. Yet an hour's drive from the city gives way to a place like no other. The bleat of car horns dies out. Exhaust fumes are replaced by the gentle sea breeze. Soon you spot magnificent colonial villas on every corner. You think you have ventured into a territory that looks unmistakably French but feels Indian. This scenic study in contrasts is known as Pondicherry.

An erstwhile French colony, Pondicherry is a picture of the marvellous French Riviera and home to some stunning colonial architecture. Join us as we take a leisurely afternoon walk through the French Riviera down South.

Pondicherry's Promenade links the French Quarter that features colonial buildings to its sky blue beach. It is wider than a traditional city street and is lined with art deco street lamps.

 Even with its proximity to the administrative district, the Promenade is a far cry from the usual city streets. Traffic is hardly noticeable. The sidewalks are green, shady and invite you to relish the view of the sea.

    The Promenade is home to several heritage structures that still look robust and hospitable. Most of them function as heritage hotels that are sought after by tourists.

Pictured above is the French Consulate. Most colonial buildings are in hues of blue or pink but it is mustard that graces most of the walls. 

   The impressive Gothic flourish seen on the arch of the Pondicherry's Public Library.

Towards the south of the Consulate lies the 'French Quarter' (also called White Town), a neighbourhood that has some carefully restored colonial monuments.
Most French buildings are two-storied and feature the classic French windows. Another common sight is balconies with wooden panelling that's either brown or white. 
 Even before the delicate period detail or the bright fluorescent finish, what catches your eye is how nearly all these villas either have a wrought-iron or a wooden gate.

Fine lattice flourish is also seen on a host of doors and windows.

 Variations of French windows can be seen on houses built as per local norms.

Pondicherry is teeming with greenery. Nearly all parts of the French Quarter are blessed with a shady canopy that invites you to explore its beauty over a walk.

  It's not uncommon to find a home built as per local Tamil norms next to a sprawling French Villa. Do notice how both the French and locals seem to prefer the same colours.

 A mark of the region's love for its French heritage can be seen on the street signs - all of which list every street's name in both Tamil and French.
Several of these monuments now function as commercial establishments. 

Grinde is a popular departmental store whose fine colonial finish easily steals the spotlight from most modern day retail establishments. 
Come evening, the French windows transform into store windows. A sign of a cultural harmony, most of the shops housed in French buildings usually sell Indian handicrafts.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of the many churches that were built by the French missionaries in Pondicherry.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is now over a 100 years old and a pilgrimage spot for Christians. Do consider its pointed arch, a hallmark of classic Gothic architecture. 5967

Another notable Church is the The Church of Our Lady of Angels. The church was modelled after the Basilica at Lourdes in Southern France and is renowned for its masonry. It's said that fine limestone was mixed with the white of eggs to give a texture that was resembled white marble.
The Church is also famous for its oil paintings, one of which was presented by Napoleon himself. 
A glimpse of French tolerance - the burgeoning graffiti scene in Pondicherry doesn't seem to deface structures. Instead it exclusively uses modern pillars as a canvas.

While the buildings that now function as shops or hotels are adequately looked after, several other are in dire need of attention. The Promenade might be practically spotless but littering is common in most other streets. 
Last November, the Mairie Building, a 143-year old French administrative building that saw next to no restoration crumbled during heavy rains. Locals and several conservation bodies are now working with the government to restore the city's heritage structures back to their colonial glory.  

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