September 7, 2016
You might think it rather incongruous to see Indians playing pétanque, but an evening stroll along Rue Dumas in Pondicherry reveals that the boules tradition in Tamil Nadu is still very much alive.
After Independence, many lower-caste Tamils were given French citizenship and chose to join the French army, which paid them regular salaries. Some ended up living in France under less than happy conditions before returning to their home town in Tamil Nadu where, as ex-soldiers, they enjoyed a much higher status. There are certain quarters of Pondy, as it is known locally, with their warm-coloured, gracious houses and street names stamped on those familiar blue enamel plaques, where you really can imagine you are in a Provençal town.
The French held sway in about five towns in India back in the 17th and 18th centuries, but there was a constant toing and froing of colonial domination in Pondicherry. In 1748 the Brits had their eye off the ball, leaving the large and important fortress of Madras (now Chennai) unprotected, and the French moved in sans resistance. “Ah well,” the Brits said, rather pragmatically, “give us Madras back and you can have those little towns to the south.” Rather curiously, the Tricolour flew over Pondy until 1954, seven years after India was granted independence from Britain.
A lovely town for a meander, made a little more celebré by the filming of the opening scenes of The Life of Pi, but is best known for the ashram at Auroville which has at its epicentre a space-age golden orb or Matrimandir. If you are very lucky you can go into the heart of the orb for the ultimate meditation experience. Here you can see an experimental community in action established by a visionary woman known as “the mother”.
Another little anecdote I want to share with you occurred at about the same time as the French moved into Madras. A tsunami devastated a Chettinar coastal settlement much further south. Out of this catastrophe was born a new beginning: the Chettinars moved inland to a non-fertile area to escape what they perceived to be a dangerous place to live. They then proceeded to build a great trading empire in the east, to Burma and beyond. The fabulous mansions of the Chettinad area are testament to the enormous wealth the area once enjoyed. Some have intriguing statues of soldiers on pediments rather than the more usual gods. It is another fascinating place to explore before retreating to the minimalist Art Deco hotel that we use in this area.
Above all else, come to Tamil Nadu to see the incredible Chola temples of Tanjore, Mahabalipuram, Chidambaram, and Gangikonda Cholapuram, to name but a few. Surely the Olympia of Hinduism must be Meenakshi in Madurai, a temple as big as a town with an influx of between thirty and forty thousand worshippers every day. It is here that you will sense the deep spiritualism that is still a vital part of India today.
Holidays to Tamil Nadu provide a delightful breadth of cultural experience. As well as organising tours with some expert local storytellers, I can also often arrange dinners with local families for further cultural immersion if this is of interest.
NB prices shown were current at the time of writing the newsletter and are not necessarily current now.
Please ask for an updated quote.
- Escape to Italy?
- Covid: the road still to be travelled.
- A trio of treats. Series of 3 (Part 3): Tiger reserves.
- A trio of treats. Series of 3 (Part 2): Khajuraho.
- A trio of treats. Series of 3 (Part 1): Lucknow.
- A Sense of Place – Engaged people may save the planet
- A word on lions and a trio of treats
- A Sense of Place – India’s most holy city
- A wealth of wilderness walks in Namibia
- Travel snippets from Miles
- A trio of treats on the green island of Pemba in the Zanzibar archipelago
- A Sense of Place – THE INSIDE TRACK on Cape Town guiding
- A Sense of Place – Migrations of people and beasts: East Africa
- A Sense of Place – An era of revolution and global alliances
- A Sense of Place – A walk on the wild side
- A Sense of Place – The ghost ingredient is back
- A Sense of Place – Liuwa Plains and Kafue National Parks – Zambia
- A Sense of Place – Literati in the Pink City, the Capital of Rajasthan
- A Sense of Place – A Tamil town still connected to Europe, Art Deco architecture, and temple antiquity in Southern India.
- A Sense of Place – Dreamy aquamarine sea and stunning safari with the Makuleke people
- A Sense of Place – A trio of lovely ladies in Hyderabad
- A Sense of Place – Entamanu, the wishing tree and walking with the Hadza tribe.
- We get you to places that others don’t… St Helena, Gt Zimbabwe ruins and Papua new Guinea
- A Sense of Place – Walking in the hippie hills of the Himalayas
- A Sense of Place – The Okavango: the river that never finds the sea
- A Sense of Place – The Great Rift Valley, Laikipia, Samburu warriors and Maasai Olympics.
- A Sense of Place – Escape the world in the Namib Desert
- Africa is a massive continent: a collection of 55 countries
- A Sense of Place – Zambezi Watery Wilderness
- A Sense of Place – Burma: the road beyond Mandalay
- Lake Malawi – Would you rather pay for the advertising or the experience?
- From shoe-shine boy to tourist guide in Ethiopia
- A Sense of Place – Ladakh, the Himalayas
- Dhow sailing, Lions are back in Malawi, Self-drive in Namibia
- Sacred rivers and forts, India
- Piranhas, sting rays, caimans – and still people go into the River Negro!
- Kerala, Southern India – God’s own country
- South Africa: Crucible of the rainbow nation
- Madagascar: croissants and lemurs
- Argentina vs Africa on wildlife drama
- Uganda – Gorillas and Gardens
- Mozambique & Kenya: immigration official on holiday
- Mozambique: Gorongosa and reconciliation in the bush
- Zimbabwe is ready for Tourists again
- Serengeti ecosystem and unbeatable savannah
- Lamu: crab complaining
- Kenya: circumcision
- Zambia: Ellie rescue
- Africans: always smiling
- French sketch
- Kenya: the best hosts
- First visit to Africa 1986
- Namibia, Namib Rand, Skeleton Coast and the ultimate flying safari
- A few gems off the beaten track: Fanjove Island, Tanzania; The Singular Hotel, Patagonia and Isla Palenque, Panama.
- Elephant relocation, quad bike expedition and new Sossusvlei reserve
- Templed out in Tamil Nadu and elephant refuge in Jaipur
- Kenyan sanctuary and family run camp in Zambia
- Australia: Arkaba, Tasmania and Lord Howe Island
- Australia: in the outback and off the beaten track
- India: heavenly Himalayan hideaways, Botswana: fun safari for children and Argentina: hidden homestay in a mountain desert
- Limpopo retreat, Serengeti spectacle and adventure on the Zambezi
- Value for money in Kenya and the trail less travelled in Peru
- Lions in danger, free nights and a new coastal gem
- G and T on demand, hidden beach, micro-light and sleeping on a dam
- Off the beaten track