There are distinctive but no longer (or not yet) busy or fashionable parts of Pondicherry both within and outside the boulevards. Only residents in these neighbourhoods include them in their "mental maps" of the city. Pondy offers the visitor three such districts, which are easily accessible on foot, by cycle or a rickshaw.
The Fishing Village
The village at Kuruchikuppam is the southern link in the chain of fishing villages -some Hindu, some Christian, and some Muslim that runs north to Auroville's beaches and beyond. If one wants to walk to Auroville, this is the fastest and safest route.
One can reach Kuruchikuppam village by bicycle along the northern extension of Beach Road, past the derelict Pondicherry Distillery. There one can witness families getting on with the cycles of the tides, the nets, the fish, the family and the community. By day fishermen on their paddled raft like boats and motorized craft put out to sea, sometimes letting out or taking in nets within easy view.
The "rafts" look hardly seaworthy but they float like corks. At night the lights at sea below the horizon are those of offshore fishermen hoping, as do their counterparts all over the world, for good weather and a good catch. If one visits in the evening, one will discover Pondy's liveliest petanque (start position) zones, and people gathering around the small, vibrant temples and churches.
Railways were a major factor in the 19th century's first Industrial Revolution. They still carry more Indians on a daily basis than the populations of some fairly big countries. Because the British 'Raj' never made it a priority to give French Pondicherry easy access to its rail system and because of the advent of faster buses on improved highways. The Rail Age is a fast fading memory in Pondicherry.
The Railway Station:
The railway station with its curious proportions and statue in front is so quiet most of the time that it might be a museum. Visit it if one has time. A quiet railway station is quite a novelty in India.
Sacred Heart Of Jesus Church:
Also located on the South Boulevard is the Pseudo-Gothic red-and-white-brick Sacred Heart of Jesus Church with its stained glass windows. Not Pondy's most beautiful church perhaps, but one of the most active in its community. Town planners obviously intended this part of the city to be a focal point, may be even "smart".
Technology and the times have changed, Subbhaya Salai is now the quietest of Pondy's four boulevards, little affected by the economic growth transforming the rest of the city.
The Muslim Quarter
The Muslim community in Pondicherry claim, or have ascribed to them, several geographic and occupational origins. Among them: horse traders, boat owners, and betel sellers from Arabia (as long ago as the 11th century), and the Deccanis who took refuge in French Pondicherry in 1740.
The great majority of Muslims in Pondicherry town are "Sunnis" who speak Tamil as their first language. Though they traditionally pray at mosques associated with their origin and status, the current preference is for an undifferentiated community. Intersect marriage is increasingly common.
The community's heart is Cazy Street with its characteristic and largely unscathed architecture. Well worth a stroll or a cycle visit, especially in the evening to see the local mosques and the devout at 'Maghreb' (or evening) prayer time. The Jamia Mosque and the small prayer houses have exceptional charm.
Beach Road: Relief In The Evening
Beach Road is the evening refuge from the heat. Its formal names have been Rue Du Rampart, Cours de Chabrol and now Goubert Salai.
Beach Road has little of architectural interest but oceans of charm. It is another splendid place to watch people. Extended and nuclear families with frolicking children, power walkers and the occasional 'Saddhu' in the saffron robes of renunciation, Tamil women with jasmine woven in their hair, a bit more perhaps if they're from outside Pondy. Visitors from all over India and elsewhere visit this place. Regulars chatting with people they meet only on the promenade. Groups of exuberant young men, vendors of balloons, whirling pinwheels, strange flashing toys, and pink and yellow floss candy that stands out against the greys of evening.
No visit to Pondy is complete without a walk along Beach Road's 1.5-km in length and back any time just before the sunsets, suffusing everything with the golden warmth of early evening. If the sea breezes are freshening or if the sunset clouds are full and touched with colour or if there is a moon in any of its phases, so much the better.
Friday, Saturday and especially Sunday and holiday evenings are busier than most.
Literally meaning "The City of Dawn', a ceremony marking the foundation of Auroville took place on Feb '28, 1968 when a boy and a girl representing each country of the world poured a handful of earth from various countries into a huge concrete lotus-bud. The youth from many countries look upon Auroville as a symbol of new hope and a new civilisation.
BOULES OR PETANQUE - A DIFFERENT BALL GAME
A game popularised by the French, Boules or Petanque is an outdoor game played with large iron balls. The players roll the large iron balls towards a small one and get them as close to it as possible.
This game is played nowhere else in the country. Earlier only the 'Soldats' (meaning soldiers in French) played this, but now many have taken to it. Nearly 30 Boules clubs function in the city. Usually a 13m long and 8m broad ground is chosen to play tournaments. The iron balls weigh 650-800 grams and are imported from France. The game ends when a player scores 15 points, or in some cases 21 points.