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As the jetliner from Paris made its way to Puducherry, I turned nostalgic. When I had left it for greener pastures abroad, little had I June 2010 99imagined that it would take me close to twenty years to return to the town! I had left it as a semi-retired private sector honcho, and was now returning to my home base along with my wife Usha and grand-daughters Suman and Shalini. Looking out of the small window, I pointed out Matrimandir in the distance to Suman, who seemed pretty excited. The bluish-green waters of the Bay of Bengal below were shimmering in the setting sun, and a flock of pristine white seagulls was flapping along below us.

Once we landed, immigration and customs formalities got over pretty soon. The swank new international terminal looked like a smaller version of the Charles De Gaulle terminal in Paris. There were sign boards directing us to the metro station two levels below. We instead decided to take a cab into the town, so the family could get a better feel of the place.

As we settled down in the cab, the driver turned and asked if we wanted to take the toll road to town. “That would cost Rs. 750, sir”, he told us sheepishly. The normal route was also fine by him, he explained, but could take about 90 minutes to get to our place in town. We decided to take the toll road, and were delighted to be whisked off on an elevated road corridor. I could recognize JIPMER in the distance and realized that a host of elevated roads had come up in the town while I had been away.

One was a major ring road which, the cab driver explained, started off from the ECR near PIMS and ended up near Kanniakoil on the southern end of ECR. On the way, it was joined by radial elevated passages, connecting the town to the University, the new IIM, Auroville, Ousteri Lake, Chunnambar and to Arokiamedu. There were clear signboards on all the grade separators, and it was a sheer delight to cruise along the elevated motorways.

We reached our place in about 20 minutes, and were pleasantly surprised to see abundant greenery around even on smaller streets in the town. There were dedicated cycle paths all around the town. Only e-bikes and electric cars were visible on the roads. CNG buses were ferrying passengers. With a complete ban on pressure horns in force, the decibel levels were pretty low for a township of about 2.5 million people.  

In the evening, we went to the promenade. We were surprised to see a sandy stretch of about 50 meters beyond the Goubert Salai, with people and families of all kinds taking a leisurely stroll and enjoying the yellow moon which was just rising out of the sea. We could notice many safety kiosks spread all along the coast. Some skyscrapers had come up in the town, but the beach front had retained its original old world charm. It was very clean and dotted with French style wayside cafes.

In place of the old distillery, we found a multiplex, a science museum and a wine and champagne museum, the latter being the first of its kind in South Asia. Near the Kargil memorial, we found the entrance to an underwater aquarium which had been set up about five years back. A cultural performance was going on at the Gandhi Thidal. All along the beach road, near cafes, individual artists were playing musical instruments of various kinds, and the sound of music wafting through the air had an unwinding effect on all of us. From the jetty near the Park Guest House, we had the option of boarding a cruise ship, for a quiet moonlit dinner and a ride into the sea.  

Next day, I decided to take Suman and Shalini for a shopping spree. To my pleasant surprise, I found that only battery run vehicles were allowed to operate within the Boulevard area. Massive multi-level parking complexes had come up at all nodal points. Beneath each complex, there were shopping areas and food courts on the ground floor. From the basement, one could easily board a battery operated vehicle, either an exclusive one or a common one. A single voucher bought for the day allowed one to have as many hip-hop trips a day anywhere in the Boulevard area. The drivers were all well groomed and multi-lingual.

While crossing major junctions of J N Street and other roads like Anna Salai, M. G. Road, Mission Street and Ambour Salai, we noticed elevated train platforms, serviced by all-glass passenger cubicles. These were monorails, zipping across in both directions, carrying up to 20 passengers at a time. We were told that this novel mode of transportation was implemented recently with the help of foreign aid.

That night, our hosts told us about the severe smog problem faced by the town around 2015. Thereafter, the Government had taken vigorous steps to mitigate the problem of traffic congestion. Road tax on all motorized vehicles had been tripled. Parking meters had been installed and heavy charges were levied on all owners of private vehicles. The system of road usage fees had been computerized, thereby avoiding the possibility of any dilution in collections.

We were also told that to promote industries, a novel scheme had been worked out in tandem with the Tamil Nadu Government. Based on incentives granted by the latter, a 25 km wide belt around Puducherry had attracted massive investments, thereby tapping its commercial potential. Per capita income was three times the national average, and there was prosperity all around. All residents had smart cards, through which several benefits flowed to the beneficiaries. Government collected all its revenues through these cards, making the territory the first in India to do so. Crime detection and conviction rates had shot up and crime rate was the lowest in India.

The next day, we undertook a trip to Chunnambar Beach Resort where a permanent water sports facility had been created. We followed it up with trips to Arokiamedu, which had been spruced up to reflect the town’s historic links with the Roman empire. A replica of the age-old Ashram of Sage Agastya had been created, indicating the likely spot where Rama, Sita and Lakshmana would have come visiting long time back. A sound and light show at the site not only connected us back to Puducherry’s glorious past but also made our trip truly memorable.

Today is the 14th of July, 2025. We have visited Shri Aurobindo’s Samadhi in the forenoon and then made a trip to Auroville, which Jan 2010 01now boasts of being a green city, dependent only on solar and wind power. In the evening, we have boarded one of the Shatabdi trains connecting Puducherry to Chennai. Our journey takes us only 150 minutes. On the way, we look forward to enjoying fresh croissants and filter coffee from the pantry car.

As the train starts rolling out of Puducherry Railway Station, we bid adieu to the City Spiritual. The cherished memories of the trip shall forever be fresh in our minds. Surely, we shall motivate our friends abroad to visit Puducherry to enjoy its unique ambience.

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/reinventing-pondicherry)

 

 

 

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