Our 36-hour train journey from North Goa to Puducherry was worth it. Puducherry was formerly Pondicherry, though many signs and some locals still use the old name. It’s also fondly called ‘Pondy’. Whatever you call it, Puducherry is a cool place.
Puducherry, Pondicherry, Pondy
Several European nations wanted to control this small area. It was under Portuguese influence and rule in the 16th century, like Kerala. The British took over for a while, and then it became the French colony ‘Pondicherry’ until 1954 when Caucasian dominance finally stopped. White Town is the surviving small section of the former French colony.
White Town borders the Bay of Bengal to the east. White Town is tame, with many western-style restaurants, hotels, shops. It’s relatively clean, orderly, peaceful.
To the west of White Town is modern-day Puducherry with its explosion of colorful chaos (by Western norms): multi-colored temple facades, insane traffic, barefoot beggars, littered streets.
Forcing a tourist to experience the ‘real India’ is a reason I think Puducherry is a cool place.
The lovely beach road along the coast is another delight. It’s short – only 1.5 kilometers. Thankfully, it’s closed to traffic so it’s peaceful. Along the road is a walkway. Both are filled with exercisers (mostly walking) at sunrise and sunset in the tropical climate of south India.
Yet despite trash cans, there is a ton of trash on the beach. This is in stark contrast with the pristine beaches of South Goa.
Outside White Town is the ‘real’ India with varied human experiences on full display.
Temples and churches and mosques co-exist in this predominantly Hindu city. Drums alert Hindu neighbors to death, motorcycles speed down side streets, cows nap in vacant lots, women throw their trash into the sea, men read newspapers on their stoops, vendors with street carts sell everything from veggies to rugs to kitchen utensils, street dogs get stuck together while humping. You never know what you’ll see in the real India. And that’s part of Her never-ending, always-changing charm.
Our Airbnb rental (not pictured) is in an ‘authentic’ neighborhood. The large two-bedroom apartment is a palace compared to some seaside shacks in our neighborhood. As I write this, I hear roosters.
Easy access to Auroville is another cool feature of Pondy. Auroville is a famous (or infamous) experimental town 10 kilometers from Puducherry. Its aim is to realize human unity without religions, politics, or currency. Auroville has some 3,000 residents from dozens of countries, supposedly living in harmony.
The idea sounds great, and certainly it’s worth serious evaluation as a way our species might overcome ego-driven deep divisions. But a few things about Auroville aren’t cool at all, such as child abuse claims, the inequality between nearby villagers and rich people from all over the world who live in Auroville, fights over development, and more.
Auroville draws ‘Truth’ seekers from the West. Mostly these vacationers are older retirees. The main draw is the effort to understand Divine Consciousness. To that end, the Matrimandir is a big draw. It literally means Temple of the Mother. It’s a huge golden globe where seekers go to ‘concentrate’ on Divine Consciousness.
Visitors are welcome to view the Matrimandir from a viewing spot, but it’s not a tourist destination. To get inside you need a reservation, and you must be quiet and serious about your seeking.
If Rishikesh is the young hippie capital of today’s India, Auroville – and Puducherry – feel like old hippie capitals.
There are many ashrams and meditation centers in Puducherry – and that’s another reason why it’s a cool place.
However, I’m focused these days on vipassana. I’m about to embark on another 10-day silent retreat at a different location from last year. To make the most out of this upcoming trip, I cannot practice other forms of meditation, and so I’ve not explored these other options.
Despite the religious variety in Puducherry, there are no Buddhist pagodas, and that is what I would need to properly practice vipassana outside of our ‘home’.
Finally, I’m thrilled to share Mom Diane is joining us -again! Husband Tedly’s mother arrives the day before my long-planned vipassana retreat. My mother in law plans to stay with us in India for a couple of months.
I look forward to her visit: our walks, our talks, our Scrabble games. Mom Diane has previously joined us in Vietnam in 2018, the Philippines in 2020, and India in January 2023.
Time flies at light speed for us humans. Make use of your time – travel now, because Life is Now.
Thanks for reading, “Puducherry, Pondicherry, Pondy – whatever you call it – is a cool place.”
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