They like to call it the French Riviera’ because it was colonised by the French. But Puducherry, erstwhile Pondicherry, has no Cote d’Azure-style resorts, no Parisian-style street side cafes, no fashion events, water sports or golden-sand beaches. Life here is slow, almost said. And therein lies its charm.
The French built a base here in 1674. The town was planned to a geometric grid by its erstwhile rulers, with a canal dividing it into the Tamil side, once known as Ville Noir (Black Town) where the masses made their home and the Ville Blanche (White Town) where the foreign expatriates and French diplomatic corps thrived. Now it’s the grandees of local government who sprawl across Ville Blanche.
When the French turned the town over to India in 1954, a number of people who stayed on chose French citizenship. French is still an official language of this Union Territory. Attracted by the ‘differentness’, and by the aura of the Aurobindo Ashram, a number of foreigners interested in spirituality and alternative ways of life also made their life here, especially in nearby Auroville.