Pondicherry is reknowned as a little slice of France in the Indian sub-continent, and as any stylish-travellin’ lass knows, Paris is a girl’s best friend. Therefore, after weeks of struglling to embrace sweat stains, curry perfume and delhi belly, I rejoiced in the prospect of a little franco-fixation on the Riviera (albeit the Andaman rather than the Med).
In the affectionately nicknamed Pondy (why the locals feel the need to lose their “cherry,” I’m not quite sure), streets are referred to as ‘rues’, the generously moustachioed policemen are called ‘gendarmes’and there’s a seductive scent of Chanel No. 5 and garlic in the air. Pondy is on the far east coast of southern India, but its atmosphere was the highest dose of westernism I’d experienced in a long time, and as I strolled along the 1950s-style promenade enjoying the evening breeze, I was intoxicated.
My new-found joie-de-vivre carried me to a leafy roof terrace where I happily perused délicieux morceaux of the Rendezvous café restaurant. Not wishing to constrain itself to one mere nation’s gastronomy (heaven forbid), Rendezvous includes Chinese, Italian and the ubiquitous Indian fare in its weighty menu, but it was French cuisine my palate craved.
While the frogs legs and escargots may have been noticeable by their absence, the delectable gent and I delighted in an exquisitely rich roulade of duck liver paté, spread on thin toasted slices of baguette, a light and flavoursome onion consommé, followed by a sumptuously creamy gratin dauphinoise and a hearty coq au vin.
Alas, the short list of French wines was ridiculously overpriced, perhaps to cover excessive importation costs, perhaps to pander to the vino-egos of those who have not yet heard of ‘Languedoc’ and its associated connotations. Either way, we opted instead for a bottle of their finest Indian red, and were again pleasantly surprised. It may not have had the infallibility of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but it had many saving graces.
The rest of my short time in Pondy was mostly spent exploring the stores along the town’s canals and enjoying apperatifs and digestifs in the bars of the many elegant hotels along the promenade. Pondicherry has seen a recent surge in development (by Indian standards) of boutique and semi-luxury accommodation, although sadly my budget did not stretch to an overnight stay on this occasion. In truth, my sojourn in the Paris of the East did not really fit with my PfP mission – the place felt pretty prosperous to begin with, and my little splurges were but drops in the ocean of decadence.
But just in case I forgot for a moment where I was at thist stage of my odyssey, I soon was ripped off by my auto-rickshaw driver, publicly groped by a creep on the bus and nearly killed by a maniac taxi man who clearly had Grand Prix ambitions. Ah India, you certainly have a unique je-ne-sais-quoi.