02 January 2015
Wander Around in Pondicherry, darling.
It lingers in the air, like the scent of former colonial trading posts.
Oscillating between heritage and modernity, Pondicherry is simultaneously French and conformist, Indian and tempestuous.
The visit of a lifetime.
Simply utter the name “Pondicherry” and revive the rich hours of colonial trading posts. Serving as the Indian Headquarters of the French East India Company established by Colbert in 1654, with Lorient as its home port, Pondicherry was marked by a French presence until 1954. And since these glorious decades, numerous facades and colonial edifices still remain today, as well as street-names such as Dumas, de la Caserne or Mahé de Labourdonnais, which in turn all evoke the strategic past of the post, overlooking the Gulf of Bengal.
It is between rue Suffren and rue Surcouf that the Villa, and more recently, the Villa welcomes visitors who seek a blend of heritage and modernity. Installed at the heart of the colonial quarter, in a historical 19th century building (which served as the home of the headmaster of the French school until not so long ago), the Villa disguises its modern assets: a luscious garden, a dress-stone porch, Tamil idols with human faces arranged in a corridor like a bevy of fairy tale characters…you feel as if you have stepped back in time. Behind this, however, an architectural extension designed by a duo of French architects, Yves Lesprit et Tina Trigala, doubles the size of the establishment, creating a handful of enormous suites that overlook a private pool. All this completely shielded from prying eyes. Abundant in contemporary objects and refined lines, woven furniture and colourful fresco paintings, the Villa emerges as the ideal, almost secret, pied-à-terre in Pondicherry.
11 rue Surcouf. +91 413 2338555
Surrounded by bougainvillea and makeshift motorbikes, why not get on a bicycle to see the sights of Pondicherry? It is easy enough to find your way around: the city is divided into squares. Just behind the seafront and its long promenade, you will find the White City: dignified and French, with a touch of history. Further on, the so-called ‘black’ city, or the Tamil area, brims with the smell of spices, noise and typical Indian tumult. Explore around here and discover the Maison Pérumal, a unique example of Tamil architecture with its stained glass, verandas, colonnades and a spectacular central skylight framed with greenery, which brings coolness to the house on hot days. Cotton curtains and simple furnishings, your stay here will be timeless, keeping in step with the ecological codes of CGH Earth.
44, Perumal Koil Street. +91 413 2227519
Establishing a direct link between France and the Indies, artist Olaf Van Cleef is more than just a descent of the Van Cleef clan: he is a lover of the Indies, in the most beautiful way possible as this travelling expert is also the author of an essay, entitled “From Darjeeling to Pondicherry”. Hanging on the walls of the Van Cleef Hall gallery in Pondicherry, thousands of little balls of metallic paper reflect the light, creating a divine pointillist mirage…amongst which several Swarovski crystals are affixed like jewellery. Sporting these miniscule treasures, Hindu gods and goddesses burst forth from these watercolour sketches, highlighted by the Chinese ink that Olaf often utilises. An enchanting display.
Olaf Van Cleef
Van Cleef Hall – 66 Papamal Koil Street – Vaithikuppam. +91 95666 77991
At one end of the promenade, this abandoned former distillery served as a unique setting for the masterpieces presented at the Pondy Photo festival held last March. For the occasion, a collective exhibition on the tribes of India united images by Pablo Bartholomew, Karen Dias, Srikanth Kolari and Amos Jaisingh: Yannick Cormier, photographer and commissioner of the exhibition, paid tribute to these Indian communities that resist, and often struggle against, the development of their country. A reality that is very close to home, just over the threshold of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram community (founded in 1926): whilst this sincere institution gives numerous families the chance to develop their dispensaries, housing and artisanal activity, it remains no more than a kind of cult.
Incredible, its paper mill occupies this abandoned building. Artisans have realized the paper of the highest quality from old textiles or plant waste. A surreal visit between large leaves that dry and fall, that are piling up like colorful plants.