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Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu

  • (worth a trip)
  • 5-10 km
  • Easy
  • Low
  • 2-3 days
  • 3 3

A small French colony set amidst the harsh South Indian humid weather, Pondy doesn’t fee like India!

Puducherry Tamil Nadu
Pondy is the star attraction of South India’s culinary delights. Expect a tangy mix of yummy South Indian dishes and the more sophisticated French and Italian delicacies. Every restaurant and diner offers crepes and brewed coffee in the French quarter, merci the French of Pondy! Come here for your dose of cheese and pates, if you have been missing them on your tour of India.

Baker Street, located on Rue Bussy, is a popular choice for mouth-watering cakes, croissants, éclairs and other baked products. This French-style bakery also does some fantastic brownies and quiches. It is open from 07:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. and prices vary from INR 40 to INR 130 and above.

Satsanga, located on Labourdonnais Street, is known for its amazing selection of continental dishes along with a full Indian menu as well. The steaks, prawns and fish preparations are the highlights of the menu here. There are many vegetarian dishes available too which are equally good. The homemade bread and butter is a treat! It’s a good idea to have reservations as the outdoor seating on the breezy terrace can get full quick. It is open from 08:00 A.M to 11:00 P.M and prices vary from INR 150 to INR 340 and above.

Though highly famed as the French colony of India, the closing time on most bars and pubs is at 11:00 P.M. The taxes are pretty low on alcohol, however, you can only find cheap beer in “liquor shops”. L’e space is one of the commonly known hangouts for cocktails and a little something more! During the tourist season, this turns into quite a traveller hangout spot.
On 14th July each year, the town celebrates Bastille Day with the whole town dressed up in a bit of French pomp and show. There are street parades, ceremonies and many other acts that makes this celebration a cheerful one to attend and enjoy.

If you have come to Pondicherry, now known as Puducherry, or almost always referred to as “Pondy”, thinking of it as just another provincial village by the Bay of Bengal, you are in for a big disappointment. Pondy is a city in South of India which means there will unfailingly be a lot of people, a lot of traffic, a lot of noise, and a lot of everything. Having said that, the older part of this former French colony, where you will be spending most of your time most likely, is full of many calm, quiet, clean and shady streets bordered with mustard-yellow painted colonial houses.

 

The city was under the French rule up until 1954 and some of the locals here still speak the language. You may also hear locals speaking in English but with a French accent. Many hotel and restaurants serve French menu and many shops and business make profits displaying a wide range of French products. Most of these are even constructed keeping in mind the French architecture.

 

If not for the French quarters, then Pondy is famous for its next best thing – the famous Sri Aurobindo Ashram in the town of Auroville. The ashram is one of the major factors for a majority of spiritually-inclined travellers visiting the town and also for a large part of the town’s creative art.

 

When in Pondy, enjoy roaming through the streets of the old French Quarters, enjoy French food and wine, drink cheap beer (Pondy is a Union Territory so no state taxes on alcohol), and if you prefer, some yoga and meditation.

 

Pondy is divided from North to South by a partially covered canal. The east part of the city though is more French. Many streets have English, French, and Tamil names, all at once.

 

Let’s now explore some of the popular sights in this French town of India:

  • French Quarter: Hidden away just behind the seafront are a bunch of cobbled streets lined with white and mustard-yellow buildings with a pinch of Gallic glory gone by. This is the well-known French Quarters of Puducherry. The best way to explore the area is a DIY walkthrough the quarter starting at the French Consulate near the north end of Goubert Avenue. From here, head south and then turn inland to Bharathi Park which has the Governor’s residence built in a neoclassical structure, with Raj Nivas facing its North face. Later, return to the seafront at the Gandhi Memorial, pass the City Hall or Hotel de Ville and just a few steps south till you find yourself in what’s known as the ‘white town’. Streets here are named Dumas, Suffren, Romain Rolland, and Labourdonnais Streets. A lot of restoration work has been going on here, however, if you are really interested in Pondy’s architectural heritage then visit INTACH Pondicherry (intachpondicherry.org). Visit the Tourist Info Bureau at http://tourism.puducherry.gov.in for details on more heritage walks.
  • Seafront: Although Pondy is a seaside town, you can’t expect it to be a beach destination. In fact, with the city’s thin strip of dirty brown sand, the only place which would feel like a beach paradise is the Goubart Avenue, also known as the Beach Road. Come during the sunset or sunrise, the views are amazing and half the town’s romantics gather here for a beautiful view of the sky meeting the water. The best thing though is that the government has banned traffic in the area between 06:00 P.M to 07:30 A.M. What more can you ask for, eh? It’s a bummer that sunbathing and swimming isn’t allowed here because of the public and because of possible undertow and rip tides, respectively.
  • Sri Aurobindo Ashram: Established in 1926 by Sri Aurobindo and a French-born woman referred to as “the mother”, this spiritual community now comprises 1200 members who work at the ashram in several departments including commercial and education. The main focus in Sri Aurobindo’s teaching which are practised here centre on an ‘internal yoga’ as the path towards a ‘supramental consciousness which will divinise human nature’. Devotees and believers stay and work in the real world rather than withdrawing from it. Entrance to the main building is cursory for general visitors. You can just get a glimpse of the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, followed by a bookshop, and then you exit. Of course, the people staying in the ashram guesthouses have more access. A collective meditation around the Samadhi is held every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, between 07:25 P.M to 07:50 P.M and is open for everybody to attend. Visit the ashram’s Bureau Central for interesting displays and exhibitions on the lives and preaching of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The bureau is open from 06:00 A.M to 08:00 P.M.
  • Puducherry Museum: It’s a mystery how this tiny pretty museum keeps its entire floor full of French-era furniture and decoration from rotting due to the pathetic South Indian humidity. While on the ground floor, pay special attention for the Chola, Vijayanagar, and Nayak bronzes, and the remnants of historic Greek and Spanish pottery and amphorae (storage vessels) exacavated from Arikamedu which was once a major trading port a few kilometers from Puducherry. Entry to the museum is INR 10 for Indians and INR 50 for foreigners. Timings: 10:00 A.M to 01:00 P.M and 02:00 P.M to 05:00 P.N Tuesday to Sunday.
  • Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple: Pondicherry maybe highly influenced by the French and have more churches that anywhere else but this is still India and therefore the Hindu faith still holds supreme. This temple is dediecated to Lord Ganesha, the elephant god, and amazingly there is an elephant in the temple complex who pats the head of the devotees in a way to extend blessings of Lord Ganesha himself. It’s a one-of-its-kind thing to watch so don’t miss the chance. The temple also house over 40 beautifully painted decorations.
  • Churches: Pondy has some of the best over-the-top cathedrals in the whole country. Some of the most notable ones are : Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, a blue-and-white Portuguese-like edifice completed in 1791; the Sacred Heart Basilica, a brown-and white edifice built in a rather stained glass and Gothis style of architecture; and the twin towers and dome of the Notre Dame des Angres, coloured in Pink and cream and built in the 1850s. The limestone interiors of the Notre Dame des Angres are believed to made by using eggshells in the plaster.

These are some of the prominent sights and attractions in the town of Pondicherry. There are many activities for you to take part in while you are in the town including Indian and French cookery classes, Bollywood and Indian Classical dance classes, yoga, Ayurveda, meditation and more. There are fun diving lessons being offered too along with a full range of PADI and NAUI diving courses for beginners to professionals. The best months for diving is considered to be between February and April and September and November. Sri Aurobindo Ashram offers courses in yoga, Ayurveda and Varma-point treatments to cure all manner of ailments. You can practise as well as learn these subjects at the ashram.

 

Speaking of Yoga, Puducherry celebrates the International Yoga Festival from 4th to 7th January every year where numerous workshops, demonstrations, and music and dance events are held by various yoga and meditation schools and practitioners. The festival attracts yoga enthusiasts from all over the country and beyond.



How to get there

The airport at Pondicherry can accommodate landing of a small aircraft only and has flights coming in from Bangalore and Hyderabad. However, you can get a connecting flight if you are coming from Delhi, Kochi, Kolkata and Mumbai. Chennai is the second nearest domestic as well as international airport which is roughly 135 kilometres from Pondicherry and is well connected to all major cities across the globe. From the airport, you can hire a private taxi to reach Pondicherry.

The nearest rail station from Pondicherry is Villupuram, which is roughly 35 kilometres away from the town. The railhead is well-connected to other major cities in the country such as New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, and Trivandrum. Two of the most popular trains are New Delhi Pondicherry Express and Nagarcoli Express. From the station, you can hire a taxi that will drive you to the city.

There are frequent buses from Chennai, Coimbatore, Bangalore and Madurai to Pondy. Both private and state-owned buses are available. National Highway 45 connects Pondy to other major cities of South India such as Chennai and Bangalore. You can hire a taxi or drive down to the city from these nearby cities. The drive from Chennai to Pondicherry is particularly scenic and offers magnificently picturesque views of the Bay of Bengal.

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