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Travel
May 28, 2015

Of Perfume, Paper and Tea

Text and images (unless otherwise mentioned) by Sitanshi Talati-Parikh

Pondicherry has a perfect slice of life up for grabs. Where you can be charmed and bring back memories laced with fragrance and atmosphere

The hosts at La Villa are quite as charming as the property itself. Tucked away in a quiet corner of the French Quarter of Pondicherry, La Villa is a converted heritage colonial home, with trees that can tell a story that the distress-finish walls may not. One of the architects and designers, Tina Trigala (along with Yves Lesprit), is a Greek lady from France who has much to relate about the process of getting work done and building a space of this kind in India. Cajoling and learning the ways of the locals, she now is an old hand at it. After having built Villa Shanti with an obvious edge of Kitsch, La Villa is for a more refined and subtle palate. The thoughts are in the finer details, not glaring like Villa Shanti’s curtains made from lungis. The 19th century manor speaks of a distressed luxe — the kind of uber casual luxury that isn’t about ostentatious statues and inlay work, but is about the fine bath products, soft linen sheets, conceptual rooms and whimsical corners. Ancient materials and techniques like centuries-old bricks, lime plaster, colour cement flooring, and hand-made tiles from the villages of Tamil Nadu have found sustenance here with sophisticated western design.

From this world we step into the corridors of varied Pondicherry courtesy La Villa’s Sylvain Paquiry. With the grey buildings of Shri Aurobindo Ashram, to the pop yellow of the French institute (by appointment) with it’s beautiful gardens, rich but dusty library, serene and windy view from the top; to the curious boutiques and local stores that sell the wares of the place. A perfumed life with a wardrobe made entirely of things au naturel. We popped into: Janaki, Amethyst, Kalki and La boutique besides a few antique and curio shops.

As the waves crash on the belligerent ocean front, we watch a parade of people march wilfully along the promenade – looking like they belong, making us the observers and the cataloguers. Pondicherry is a study in architectural styles each quarter being typical of it’s type. One side of a dried-up canal is the “white side” or the French Quarter, while the other side is the Tamil Quarter, which also has a Muslim Quarter. And don’t be surprised to see the practically-vintage Ambassador car on the streets, as if stuck in time. 

Make the road trip to Auroville, an enchanting organic hub of arts and culture with the Matri Mandir’s meditation centre, the tree with history, local markets, chic shops of exclusive local fare and for the long-stayers, workshops in a pure-play give-and-take format. In Pondicherry itself, for lovers of stationery (who often happen to be hoarders too) the world of handmade paper lies before you in an open mill ground with dated outhouses and a fair share of mosquitos. Beautiful paper and paper products are available for purchase, but the art of making the paper (via the waste from the nearby textile industry’s hosiery fabric) is enlightening. 

Don’t leave without a hearty meal rounded up with the fresh mango sorbet (or the jaw-locking lemon sorbet) at Villa Shanti. A particular take-away besides the paper and perfumed giveaways? From the streets of Pondicherry to the serene poolside of La Villa: the most divine iced ‘Nanari’ tea. (Recipe: basil seeds, resin of almond tree (soaked in water), lemon juice, Syrup of nanari root.) It will not fail to cool the body in the soaring local climate. 

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