Pondicherry also known as Puducherry, situated on the east coast of India, 135 km south of Chennai, is a former French colony. Even years after the French left it, Pondicherry has managed to retain its French influence with tree-lined avenues and Mediterranean style houses that lend it a curious non-Indian touch. Made up of four small unconnected districts, Puducherry, Karaikal, Yanam and Mahe, the union territory of Puducherry is bordered by Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.
The best way to see Pondicherry and its surrounding areas is by renting out a bicycle or a motorcycle (Rs 40 or Rs 200 upwards per day) from the several outlets on Mission Street and MG Road.
With the slow pace of life in Pondicherry, there is not much you can do making it an ideal destination for a relaxing holiday. While there are a few tourist spots in the area, the major attraction of the area are the different water sporting facilities. Scuba Diving, Scuba Jumping and Surfing courses are available in Pondicherry and this attracts a large number of tourists to the area.
Another major attraction in the area is Auroville, an experimental township where people from all countries, races, castes, creeds and political ideologies can live together in peace and progressive harmony. Several tourists visit Auroville in order to meditate and focus on spirituality instead of material benefits.
While traveling to Pondicherry keep in mind the climatic conditions, summers can be quite unbearably hot.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN PONDICHERRY
Being a beach town, Pondicherry has a considerable number of resorts that offer the best in luxury accommodation and panoramic views of the ocean. However, since the summers are hot and tourists visit the town almost throughout the year, it is advisable to book your rooms in advance and make sure they come with an air conditioner.
BEST PLACES TO EAT IN PONDICHERRY
Puducherry offers a variety of cuisines. From South Indian delicacies like idli and dosa to fresh, from continental cuisine to Creole, authentic French to Italian; Puducherry will spoil you with its food options. Creole food in Puducherry is not only a potpourri of French and Tamil cuisine, it also has influence of Portuguese and Dutch. French food is available in several restaurants especially those located in the French quarter. The restaurants typically offer non-vegetarian specialties. Some restaurants also offer exotic dishes like bebe octopus a l’Armoricaine. Vegetarians need not be disheartened as chefs do prepare vegetarian dishes on demand. Some of the best, fluffiest and tastiest croissants, breads, quiches, pastries and baguettes can be found in Auroville.
Top 5 Reasons to Visit Pondicherry
1. Fascinating Culture and History
Where else can you enjoy the charms of the French Quarter, visit the beautifully ornate Varadaraja Perumal Temple, and take yoga or Bollywood singing and dancing lessons at the Sita Cultural Center, all within walking distance?
2. Fabulous Food
The combination of Indian and Mediterranean influences creates a wealth of options for foodies, including the best of Indian cuisine along with French wines and foods you wouldn’t expect on the subcontinent.
3. Shop Local
The city offers a shop-till-you-drop experience, including local goods such as silk clothing, shoes, candles, jewelry, handmade paper, and many more local specialties, along with outlet shopping malls full of international goods.
4. Hit the Beach
The beach and promenade are among the city’s most popular attractions, where you can swim and enjoy water sports, including scuba diving.
Just outside the city of Puducherry, Auroville is a utopian community founded as an experiment in universal living. You can visit and view marvels like the Matrimandir lotus-shaped dome gleaming with golden discs, shop, and much more.
What to do in Pondicherry
1. 300 Years And Counting
Thanks to the diligence and efforts of Jesuits nearly 300 years ago, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral still stands tall as a monument to the faith and the industrious nature of the French Jesuit Fathers who came to the then-French colony of Pondicherry. However, the church has received a number of additions and undergone some remodeling since it was consecrated in 1791. Nonetheless, you can expect grand splendor and exquisite sacred hangings in this vaulted interiors of this exquisite church. Visit during a popular service or during quieter hours, when you can view the stunning ceiling painting over the altar in peace.
2. Remembering French Culture
You may think the Puducherry Museum is going to focus entirely on French culture – but you’d be wrong. The collections and exhibits feature, rather, the interplay of French influence and local, South Indian Culture. Artifacts like terracotta elephant statues coupled with quaint French antique teak furniture, rare bronzes and stone sculptures from the Pallava and Chola dynasties seem to ask a larger question about the place of colonialism in the legacy of South India in general. Once you’re done touring the exhibits and pondering this question, make your way to the courtyard where there awaits the remains of a fossilized tree trunk.
3. Views Of The Water
Located at the edge of the waters of Rock Beach, right in White Town, is this old and iconic 95 foot lighthouse, which was erected in the 1830s. Today, this 19th century relic attracts many visitors seeking the opportunity to climb to its very top and take in views of the water on one hand and of the shimmering city of Pondicherry on the other.
4. In The Heart Of White Town
This is the largest urban park in the town of Pondicherry and sits right at the heart of White Town. With multiple activities, various monuments scattered about the park and pleasant facilities for joggers, families and children, this is the perfect space for a time-out or a green oasis from which to begin a new adventure. While at Bharathi Park, enjoy its lush fountains, a play area for kids, activities such as biking and rollerblading, as well as a well-cultivated garden.
5. Strolling On The Edge Of The Bay Of Bengal
Nearly 4 miles long, this generous stretch of beachfront rests right on the edge of the Bay of Bengal and provides visitors with a clean and well-maintained spit of land on which to relax, take a stroll, or head out for a dip. Take in a sunrise, a moonrise, or simply come at the sunset to wade into the waters or sit on the rocks and take in the waves crashing on the shore. This beautiful area is lined with the shade of palm trees so you can cool off out of the sun.
When to visit Pondicherry:
With monsoon season from October to December, and summer temperatures that routinely hit above 100 degrees from April to June, many tourists choose to visit the city in the more moderate spring and fall seasons.
How to Get to Pondicherry
Chennai International Airport (MAA) is the closest to the city at a distance of about 84 miles. There are bus connections to Puducherry starting at ₹1,500.
The Puducherry Railway Station is one of India’s oldest train hubs, with daily connections to Chennai and Tirupati, weekly service to Bhubaneswar, and overnight service to Bangalore.
The city is connected to other major centers throughout the region by well-maintained highways, including the picturesque ECR or East Coast Road to Chennai.
The Puducherry Road Transport Corporation or PRTC provides intercity bus service, with connections throughout Puducherry union territory and other major centers in the country, including Chennai and Hyderabad.
Where to stay in Pondicherry
French Quarter – this is the main tourist area of the city, lined by charming Mediterranean-style buildings, with many places to shop and eat as you stroll along the street.
Popular Neighborhoods in Puducherry
Indian Quarter – separated from the French Quarter by a canal, this is where you will find Indian/Tamil markets, shopping, and dining.
Promenade Beach – this is the city’s most popular beach area, stretching for just under a mile along the Bay of Bengal.
How to Get Around Pondicherry
Local bus service is provided by PRTC. Fares vary by zone, starting at ₹4.50.
Taxis are reasonably plentiful throughout the city, with fares that start at ₹6 per 0.6 miles.
The city is small, with most attractions within walking distance. There are a few local car rental companies, with rates that start at ₹300.