The Ultimate Guide to Pondicherry
Pondicherry – The name does ring a bell, doesn’t it? After all, most of us in India know it as the capital of the Union Territory of Pondicherry or Puducherry, on the south east coast of India.
But wait. There is more to it. This pretty and quaint former French Colony is known for its cobbled streets, old world charm, vibrant yellow buildings, the culture reflecting the amalgam of Indian and French heritage.
Due to the dominant French influence which is visible in parts of the city, Pondicherry or ‘Pondy‘ is also known as “the French Riviera of the East”.
Table of Contents
Extended weekend and a plan
Having wanted to visit Pondicherry since long, an extended weekend in the month of November gives me and my friends an excuse to make an impromptu plan to visit the city.
It is a nice and pleasant 3 hour ride from Chennai Airport to Pondicherry through the beautiful East Coast Road or ECR (State Highway 49) as it is known. It has been raining and hence the rain soaked surroundings have become even more beautiful, with the Bay of Bengal on one side and small towns and villages of Tamil Nadu on the other.
Did you know that the ECR starts from Chennai and extends all the way up to Kanyakumari, all along the coast of the Bay of Bengal?
En route, we stop at a small road side restaurant at Chengalpattu for lunch. The traditional thali is simple and tasty and we relish the local food.
Pondicherry – Day 1
After a while we reach Pondicherry. For a while, the place seems like any other small Indian city but the moment we approach White Town, the French quarters of Pondicherry, the vibes are different. For starters, the tree lined boulevards are dotted with french style buildings . The hues are vibrant mustard and yellow everywhere along with a pink and a white here and there and make the place look pretty as a picture. The names of the streets are in French and start with Rue (street in French).
We reach Le Dupleix, a luxury heritage hotel with a colonial heritage, which we have booked after a lot of research. The hotel, an 18th century French Colonial Villa is a beautiful piece of architecture originally built for the Mayor of Pondicherry but has a contemporary look and feel to it.
You can book the hotel here.
Check in is smooth and we are greeted by these views:
The hotel has very nice heritage feel to it. We fall in love with our room and the surroundings.
Exploring the Promenade Area – Day 1
It is almost evening. After a bit of rest, we head over to the nearby beach also known as the ‘rocky beach’.
The weather plays hide and seek. One moment it is raining and the other moment the sun comes out.
Thank God, we have our raincoats on. It seems like we won’t really be able to see the famed sunset of Pondicherry since it has again turned cloudy.
However, there is finally some balm for the senses when we see this:
Exploring the streets of the French Quarters or White Town at night
It is getting dark and gloomy again and we decide to head back to the hotel. We have already decided that we will visit it tomorrow. However, while walking back to the hotel, the street lamps against the lively yellow walls present a beautiful surreal picture.
It is an easy and pleasant walk back to the hotel. On the way, we stop a while at Our Lady of Angels Church, at the corner of Surcoof and Dumas Street.
The fourth oldest Church in Pondicherry has an old world charm and offers mass in three languages namely French, Tamil and English. There is a beautiful statue of Mother Mary in the grounds of the Church, holding baby Jesus in her arms. We enter the Church and spend some time in the peaceful environment.
Churches in Pondicherry – Apart from Our Lady of the Angels Church, there are other beautiful Churches in Pondicherry. Click for more details.
|Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus||Door No, 132, South Boulevard, near Railway Station, MG Road Area|
|Immaculate Conception Cathedral||204, Mission St, MG Road Area,|
|Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine||Matha Kovil Street, Villianur|
|St Andrew’s Church||Near School, Reddiarpalayam|
|Hallelujah Assembly of God Church||51, Thennanjalai Road, Pudupalaiyam|
Our next stop is Café des artes. This vibrant yellow café gives very cool vibes and is one of the most instagrammable spots in Pondicherry. However, it is closed (It has since opened. We visited during the time when Covid was still existing).
We have decided to have dinner at our hotel’s inhouse dining restaurant – ‘The Governor’s Lounge Bar’. The bar is aesthetically adorned with an elaborately embroidered tableau by the renowned French designer Jean Francois Lesage.
Since the place is famous for its authentic French cuisine, we order some food and wine to go with it. The food is fresh and sits easy on the taste buds, however seems quite overpriced.
We are tired and head to sleep, exhausted but happy.
Exploring Pondicherry – Day 2
It is a wet morning. The in-house restaurant serves made to order breakfast. We binge on the light and fluffy medu vadas (donut shaped fritters made with black lentils, spices and curry leaves) and the crispy dosas.
Breakfast done, it is time to once again head to the rocky beach just to take in the morning views and also some exercise since we are loaded with food!
It has just rained and the air is heavy with the dewy petrichor of the post-rain morning. The greens and the yellows have a very soothing effect.
We once again pass the Church on our way to the beach. In the morning, it looks like this:
Once at the rocky beach, we decide to have some coffee at the only waterfront café in White Town, the ‘Le Café’. The café remains open 24 X 7 and is a great place to chill out during late nights .
The place has a history. This was the oldest Post office in Pondicherry, constructed way back in 1793 . It also functioned as a harbour office, and a Customs house ! Their hot espresso, sandwiches and ice creams are famous.
We decide to explore the various attractions dotting the promenade.
French War Memorial
The War Memorial was built in 1937 to mark the memories of French Indian residents who lost their lives fighting for France during the World War I.
In fact, every year on the occasion of Bastille day on July 14, the day starts with the French citizens and the French consulate in Pondicherry paying tributes to war heroes at the Memorial. The national anthems of India and France are played to celebrate the friendly relations between India and France and in the evening, fireworks displays are held on the Promenade area.
Standing tall opposite the Old Port Pier is the 13 feet high statue of the great Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the nation of India.
The statue built by the renowned artist, Roy Choudhary, is considered as one of the major landmarks in Pondicherry. Eight beautiful white carved pillars brought from Gingee Fort, 70 Kilometers away from the city surround the statue.
This iconic landmark of Pondicherry which dates back to the 19th century, was constructed by an engineer Louis Guerre.
The lighthouse is built over a rectangular base and is 29 metres high. We are not able to go in since the same is unfortunately under maintenance.
There is a new light house which is located in the Kirapalaiyam village, however the old one is still important from the historical perspective.
The graffiti walls
Statue of Dupleix
The 2.88 meter tall granite statue of Joseph François Dupleix, the last French Governor of Pondicherry is visible from afar. It is located in the children’s park at Place du Republique.
The statue is a mark of respect to Dupleix who saved Pondicherry from British domination during his reign (1742-1754). It shows Dupleix with the map of Pondicherry in one hand and a sword in the other.
Apparently the Governor had a dream of establishing a French colony in India, but after facing defeat in the second Carnatic war, he left for France.
Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Sri Aurobindo Ashram is more than 90 years old and is named after the well-known Indian philosopher and spiritual guru, Aurobindo Ghosh.
Founded in 1926, the Ashram has a large and diverse community of almost 1600 members, who live and work in a number of buildings spread throughout the area. At its centre, in a tree-shaded courtyard, lies the Samadhi, a white marble shrine where the body of Sri Aurobindo is laid to rest.
There is a disciplined entry and exit and there is quiet and peace all around. We pay our respects and spend a bit of time in the Ashram. The environment is serene and we feel far away from the maddening crowd, at peace.
Lunch at Maison Perumal restaurant
It is lunch time and we have already decided that we would try the Maison Perumal restaurant, a traditional heritage restaurant serving Chettinad cuisine. We walk down to the restaurant and are greeted with warmth.
The ambience is very warm and welcoming and the tables are arranged in the open-air courtyard. Service is quick and friendly.
Food is fresh and subtly flavoured, with a fine balance of spices. We try both the vegetarian and non vegetarian options and are very impressed with the food.
Pondicherry is a paradise for foodies and has all kinds of cuisines, with some of it having French influence. Small patiserries and cafetarias dot the streets and often you will find the smell of freshly baked bread, or coffee or chocolate wafting in the air.
Post lunch, we roam around a bit, taking in the sights of the bustling city, unlike the White Town which is quiet. MG Road is the main shopping area and we make purchases of some nick nacks from the various street sellers.
On our way back, we see the Varadaraja Perumal temple, one of the oldest Vishnu temples around Pondicherry, built by the Cholas in the 11th century.
The temple has a five tiered 110 feet tall Raja Gopuram which reflects the perfect craftsmanship and creativity of Dravidian-style architecture.
We are now at the beautiful Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple .
The stories of Lord Ganesha (Elephant God) inscribed on the walls of the temple mesmerise us. Since this is a temple which is more than 500 years old, the Temple is highly revered by Hindu devotees who come from all corners of India to pay their respects.
Evening is again spent at the Promenade. We have panipuris and icecreams at one of the many eateries dotting the promenade.
Today, we are greeted with the views of the rough sea, the waves making crashing noise.
We take a stroll along the promenade. The sea turns rough as evening turns into night, the waves making crashing noise.
Dinner is at the Hope Café, a small and vibrant place serving decent pizzas and fries.
Trip to Auroville and Matrimandir, Pondicherry – Day 3
As today is our last day in Pondicherry, hence we have decided to make the most out of it.
Breakfast is at the famous Le Pondicherry Cafe, in the Promenade area.
The cafe has a small in house store selling some nice organic chocolates, jams, curios etc. and we buy some as souvenirs.
Breakfast done, we book a cab to Auroville, to and fro. This is due to the reason that reaching Auroville is easier as compared to getting back to the city, because there is limited transportation available.
A visit to Auroville and Matrimandir is supposed to be the highlight of any trip to Pondicherry.
Auroville is an altenative and experimental community which was set up by a French lady Mirra Alfassa known to her followers as The Mother and is based on The Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy.
It is like a utopian community where people can be accepted regardless of religion, race or gender.
About 4,000 people from more than 50 nations live in Auroville which is about 20 square kilometers and includes 5 neighboring villages.
An interesting thing about Auroville is that the residents receive a standard wage, regardless of the work they do. In return, they receive all the necessary amenities of life.
We take the cab to Auroville and it takes us around half an hour to reach there. The main premises of Auroville and the residential districts are not accessible to normal visitors. There are longer stay options and for that one has to make prior communication with Auroville. You will find details here.
We pick up the free tokens for Matrimandir which is a one kilometre walk from the Visitor Centre.
It is very hot but the path is beautiful. The area is largely shaded. It takes around 20 minutes for us to reach the viewing point.
On our way, we come across a Banyan tree which is more than 100 years old. The branches seem to be everywhere.
Finally, we reach the Matrimandir viewing point. It is a beautiful golden orb said to be the spiritual centre of Pondicherry. We can only view it from afar but yet, we are mesmerised by the structure. We actually feel positive vibes.
The orb made of gold is a symbol of spiritual significance to those who practice integral yoga, a philosophy which was practised by Shri Aurobindo and “The Mother” here. It took 37 years to build.
After spending some time peacefully, we head back. Thankfully, this time we get a shuttle bus which takes us back to the Visitor Center.
Our cab driver is waiting for us and we decide to visit the various beaches of Pondicherry, the Auro Beach, the Serenity Beach and the Paradise Beach. The beaches are relatively clean and the day ends on a happy note.
Our trip has now come to an end and tomorrow we fly back to Chennai via Mahabalipuram.
While we stayed in Pondicherry for around 3 days, most of the sight seeing can be done in 2-3 days depending on how you wish to plan your itinerary.
Good to know
Best time to visit
|Though Pondicherry can be visited all year long, the best time to visit is between October to February(winters). The summers (March to June) are hot, temperatures often reaching 41-42 degree Celcius. July to September is rainy. If you wish to avoid the crowds, then you can visit during the summer and the monsoon months. However, considering how hot it was even in the month of November, I would still say that winters is the best time to visit.|
Best places to stay
|Pondicherry has accommodations to suit every budget. We stayed in the White Town known for its heritage and proximity to the vibrant Promenade. There are multiple stay options available in the main city and the beaches.|
You can find the best luxury hotels here .
Budget accommodations can be found here .
Though there are multiple options, I think a stay in the White Town gives one the real feel of Pondicherry.
|Chennai is the nearest major airport which has good connectivity with Indian as well as international airports. You can take a taxi or a bus from the airport and it takes 3 hours to reach Pondicherry.|
Pondicherry does have its own airport but has far and few flights and has regular connectivity only with Bengaluru airport.
Flight tickets can be booked here.
There are trains as well, connecting Pondicherry to major cities like Chennai, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Kolkata, New Delhi etc.
If you’re heading here from Bangalore, they run daily flights to Puducherry airport which will save you some time and money. Tickets can be easily booked on the Indian Rail website.
|Things to remember|
|It is really hot and humid in Pondicherry, almost through out the year. Carry, light and breathable cotton clothes.|
Carry an umbrella or a rain coat as rain can catch you unawares at times.
A mosquito repellant comes in handy at most of the times.
Sunscreen is essential.
You can find major travel resources here.
Do you have any comment on this post or have you experienced Pondicherry? Do share your thoughts in the comment section!
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