A Guide to Pondicherry: All You Need to Know Before You Go
There are only a few places in India where history meets modernity with geography playing a significant backdrop. The Union territory of Pondicherry is one such place. Constitutionally, the Union territory of Pondicherry is a collective name given to the districts of Pondicherry, Karaikal, Yanam, and Mahe, all of which are former enclaves of French India. Geographically, Pondicherry also known as Puducherry or Pondy (colloquially) is a quaint coastal town that has been showered attention for decades by the colonists, mainly the French. The French having made Pondicherry their home, over the years, have infused South Indian culture with their own unique heritage, seemingly the perpendicular streets, French style villas, and their language. Here we have got together a short Guide to Pondicherry.....
How to reach Pondicherry
Pondicherry is tucked in the south east corner of India, surrounded by the state of Tamil Nadu overlooking the Bay of Bengal. The Union Territory is well connected to the nearby states and districts by bus, and train. However, the most travelled route to this city is from Chennai which at 150 KMs away is the closest functioning airport, and major railway station, not to mention a bigger bus hub. Being well connected to neighboring cities and states has fetched this town the status of popular weekend gateway in South India.
Notre dams L'eglise - French Sacred Heart in Pondicherry
A part of the city is historically preserved by the name of heritage town, which has buildings and houses lined in quiet and shady streets that date back to the French Colonial era. An array of vibrantly colored buildings adorns the streets of this town, which is also known as the white town, or French Quarter. This is where the vibe of the city lies. The architecture of the entire town is a breath of fresh air. This part of the city is so contrastingly different from the other side of the city which bustles with shops, traffic, and crowd.
The culture of this town is a medley of different influences. The spirit of this town lies in its humility to welcome people with warm embraces and to treat them like their own. Little quirks of this colonial town lie in the widely spoken Tamil accented French, filter coffee with croissants, foreigners driving a hard bargain in local tongue, bright-red kepis worn by the police…the aura of this place drifts around striving to capture the attention of its visitors.
One of the many colonial architecture in French quarter
However, if Goa is what you have in mind, then probably you’re headed for disappointment. Unlike Goa, Pondicherry has no elaborate set up for tourists; the party scene here is almost next to nonexistent. The individuality of this place lies in steering clear of notions tourist spots seem to represent. Pondicherry is famous for its spiritual culture, which reflects in the way of life of its inhabitants. The society is a blend of conventional and modernity. Shake free of preconceived notions, and approach this city with fresh eyes, and brace yourself for surprises.
Staying and Getting around in Pondicherry
Though the city might not be a fully-fledged tourist spot, a number of businesses here depend on tourists. The best time to visit the city is during the monsoon and winter. The main season in hotels is from November to March during when the hotel tariffs shoot up. The summer days are warm and unrelenting, but the evenings become pleasant with the sea breeze. The accommodations vary from French colonial houses turned into hotels, to hotels on the promenade overlooking the sea, from beach resorts scattered around the coast, to modest ashram guesthouses. Beware; the alluring heritage houses burn a hole in one’s pocket.
It is unlikely to get lost in the city of Pondicherry, but it is highly likely to go around in circles, all thanks to the perpendicular streets and grid patterned town. Rent a bicycle or a bike and ride around the town to explore its highs and lows. This is the best form of transport within the city, and also the cheapest. Take it for a spin on the beach road and find yourself relaxing to the soothing sea breeze. To go to places away from the city, hire an auto or even better a taxi.
Things to do in Pondicherry
Be a day or a week, down here is a list of things to do while holidaying in Pondicherry
Watch the sunrise or take a stroll in the promenade
The main Pondicherry beach has no widespread brown sand stretching into the ocean but rather a wall of jagged rocks. However, the beach road or the Promenade is a treasure of the city. It is a place where almost half of the town’s population is sighted during the mornings and evenings indulging in leisurely walks. The pavement is clean, lined with trees, benches, and free of traffic. Watch the sunrise at dawn and streets lights twinkle at night. Head out of the city to find numerous beaches ideal for swimming, sunbathing, and even surfing.
Take a heritage tour
The white town or the Boulevard is one of its kind – series of shaded cobbled streets lined with colonial houses, mostly in the hues of white, grey, and yellow surrounded by the promenade on one side, and typical bustling streets of south India on the other. The French quarter is furthermore, the home to some of the finest attractions of the town. The French consulate is a fine place to start the tour by having a peek into the French connection of the city. The busiest portion of the French quarter also happens to be the calmest one – Shri Aurobindo Ashram, an apt place for meditation amidst deafening silence, alongside the Manakula Vinayagar Temple by far the most famous temple of the city known for the blessings given by its resident elephant. The tranquil parts of the town are the Bharathi Park, and the nearby museum which is small but nevertheless, has numerous artifacts on display. French era furniture, sculptures along with artifacts from a nearby Roman excavation site make the display collection exclusive. A church is the most expected sight from a colonial town and not to disappoint Pondy has its own share of churches, out of which the Sacred Heart Basilica stands out for its Gothic architecture.
Eat and drink all you want
The famous seafront Le Café on Beach Road
There is no shortage of cafes and restaurants in Pondicherry. In fact, the food here is mouth wateringly distinctive – courtesy to the union of flavors from two completely different cultures. Have a ball by savoring croissants, baguettes, steaks, pizzas, pastas, and of course curries. The cuisine choices here are many, and perfect to experiment with your palate. Alcohol is cheap and free of service tax – this is a redundant statement to mention. If you are expecting to wear off your dancing shoes, then be prepared to face the obvious lack of clubbing spots in the town. The town shuts down by 11pm.
- Cafe Xtasy, Mission Street. American, Italian, Continental, Offers great pizzas
- Le Club, Dumas Street (French Italian Indian vietnamese)
- Le Space. Rue Labournnaies (French)
- La Maison Rose, Romain Rolland St (European, Contemporary, Asian fusion)
Shop till you drop
As you go around the city, the number of shops selling diverse items is hard to miss. The heritage and culture of Pondy lend its inspiration to the arts and crafts that are produced locally. The Jawaharlal Nehru Street is the destination for street shops and branded stores. Handmade jewelry, candles, incense, lamp shades, sculptures, ceramics, paintings, eco-friendly clothing, antique colonial furniture the list of the things made in Pondicherry goes on. The eco-friendly and sustainable outlook of this town transcends into the work of artisans. Pondicherry is the destination for aesthetically stunning and eco-conscious shopping.
Take a boat to Paradise Beach
The now pretty famous, Paradise Beach near Pondicherry
The Chunnambar Boat house located 8km away from the main city is a popular tourist spot. Go boating in the backwaters; take a boat to the Paradise Beach which is an island beach ideal of relaxing, and enjoy a picnic surrounded by waters. Chunnambar also offers tree houses for overnight stays, and a restaurant for meals and snacks. It is a perfect adventure spot. Go rowing, fishing, swimming, bird watching, trekking or view the sunrise from a tree house, or simply meditate.
Yoga, Meditation, and Auroville
Auroville - The a spiritual international community in Pondicherry
The spiritual culture of Pondicherry attracts thousands of people all over the world. The Aurobindo Ashram is a spiritual community which preaches Aurobindo’s teachings on integral yoga. A visit to the Ashram sheds light into the lives of Aurobindo and the Mother whose vision is the town of Auroville. Pondy nurtures the spiritual calling of its visitors and thus a great many places are available to learn and practice meditation, and various forms of yoga. The city of Auroville shares the same spirit of Pondy only heightened by its own infuse of cultures. Visit the town for remarkable adventurous experiences.
Scuba diving in the Bay of Bengal
It is the first and the only diving center in the East coast of India. Temple Adventures offer a wide range of diving sites, and packages to choose from. They are open all around the year and welcome people with little to no experience. Professional courses for certification are also available. Check out their website for more information.
If more time is on your hands…
If you’re looking for more spots to explore around Pondicherry, then here is a quick list.
1. At 7kms from the city is the town of Arikamedu, an excavation site where the Roman artifacts displayed in the Pondy museum were found. Though abandoned, this site attracts curious visitors.
2. In the outskirts of the city, there is Ousteri Lake, which is a bird sanctuary and home to hundreds of native and migratory birds.
4. Close to Chidambaram are the Mangrove forests of Pichavaram, which is one of the largest in the world. Backwater country boat rides take visitors into the dense forests to offer unparalleled experience.
Wear cotton clothes - it's usually hot in Pondicherry!
Don't make your itinerary very hectic. Leave some time to relax and explore.
French quarter is the best part of town, with colonial architecture streets, cafes and restaurants.
Bicycle or a motorbike is the best mode of transport for moving around and exploring in Pondicherry.
If you want to spend most of your time exploring Auroville and see its way of life the better stay in Auroville which offers various stay options.
Important Links for Pondicherry
Following is a number of links to check out for more info:
The list of things to do, to see, to experience, in the coastal town of Pondicherry happens to be an incessant one. No travel guide, however thoroughly written, could paint the exact picture of the town. The judgment is left to the visitors. As they say, the beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.
Nafeesa is a twenty-two-year-old practicing writer, who hopes and aspires to become a famous published writer. Apart from her dabbling in writing, she happens to have a degree in nutrition, and manages a juice bar business, and constantly dreams of a nomadic life.
This post was originally published on Trodly Travel Blog.
Featured image by Sarath Kuchi