Pondicherry, fondly known as Pondy and officially as Puducherry, is a town that offers heritage, peace,delicious food and great memories for anyone who loves to travel. The vibrant town has the French influence written all over it, as it was a thriving French settlement during Colonial times. One of the most visited places in Southern India, Pondy is trying to get back on track after the pandemic years and the Government of the Union Territory is promoting tourism in a unique way – they have appointed certified tour guides who are well-versed in the history, heritage and culture of the town. We talk to some of them about what's it like to be Ambassadors of this scenic place.
“I have a lot of international friends and connections, mostly in Europe,” says Brij Bhushan Pratap Singh, who describes himself as a storyteller and blogger besides being a tourist guide. “With their recommendations, we identify people who would like to visit Pondicherry, and organise packages for them.” Brij Bhushan, who speaks both French and Spanish,also has contacts with large corporate houses, whose employees visit the Union Territory on both official and personal trips. “Working with the Government of Pondicherry is a great opportunity and responsibility,”he says. “I am a spiritual and cultural tour guide. Most of my clients are retired people, and want to know more about the culture and heritage of the place. And that's the picture that I try to give the visitors. That is how I am promoting tourism here." He feels the government should give more importance to promoting the cultural roots of the place, its heritage and history, because often, it is seen merely as a weekend getaway.
Dr. C. Arulmugil is an Assistant Professor of English and a tourist guide as well. As a woman, she admits that being a guide may have some risks, but she focusses only on the positives. "A lot of travellers,especially foreigners, actually ask for my services as they think that I will have more information as a woman,” she reveals. “I tell them things from a resident's viewpoint.Also, I avoid words that could create a negative image. For example, since it was once a French colony, some quarters are still called ‘White’ and ‘Black’. Rather than that, I use terms like ‘French quarter’ and ‘Indian quarter’. I feel that's the way we should promote tourism - by giving equal importance to both the Tamilian and French cultures. And people should want to come back here."
Most guides take visitors on walking tours or bicycle tours, to enhance the connection with the tourist spots.
Boniface, another tour guide and a photographer,uses social media to promote tourism in Pondy. "I try to create a picture of the town through photographs, to woo tourists,” he shares. "If I could bring in a change that could boost the tourism industry, it would be controlling the traffic,” he says, adding that the town’s spiritual vibe is getting lost due to the heavy traffic. He also feels government should put in extra effort to preserve some of the heritage sites.
Yuvaraj Mani, an award-winning guide, feels present-day visitors to Pondy have different tastes, compared to earlier visitors. "You cannot expect every tourist to enjoy learning about the historical importance or the mixed culture of a place,” he asserts. “Since Pondy is famous for food and liquor, many come to try these out on weekends. But the essence of this wonderful place lies in its rich traditions. So, I focus on promoting that through the eyes of local people. I introduce tourists to the residents of the town, and the visitors learn about it during their interaction."
“Since both domestic and foreign travellers are starting to come back, I hope the tourism industry will see a surge soon,” says Moni Lourdunathan, also known as ‘Moni from Pondy’ a go-to guy in the city. As a tourist guide, his focus is on creating a sense of comfort, and promoting a ‘home-away-from-home’ feeling about the city. He says he is working towards creating some unforgettable memories for visitors, rather than just an experience which stops at buying some souvenirs. "Government's plans to ease overcrowding in Pondy by extending the development beyond present city limits is a welcome move. The city was not designed to accommodate so many people,” he adds.
P. Priytarshny, Director of Tourism, Government of Puducherry says, "Services rendered to Pondicherry Tourism by the well-trained guides are invaluable. It is due to their competence and sincere efforts that tourists enjoy the unique attractions on offer. They are the real ambassadors of this place and there is no greater endorsement than this for tourism in Pondicherry.”