I am a marketing professional holding a postgraduate degree in management. I live in Chennai and have traveled extensively in Tamil Nadu.
Pondicherry is a coastal town south of Mahabalipuram, and it is a favorite weekend getaway for the residents of Chennai. Most of this town looks closer to Tamil Nadu in culture, language and ethnic mix, but the French connection can be felt through the architecture in the heritage town and a small population of French nationals who continue to live there.
Why Is Pondicherry Unique?
Pondicherry is unique because of its French connection. It had been under French rule for centuries before becoming part of independent India in 1947. This coastal town is often referred to as the French Riviera of the East. The French touch is still preserved through its heritage buildings.
The heritage buildings in Pondicherry (or Puducherry) look very different from those of the British colonial structures seen elsewhere in the country. Besides the heritage town, Puducherry has other attractions like beautiful beaches, and an experimental town called Auroville.
9 Best Places to Visit in Pondicherry
- Residential Buildings in the White Town
- Aurobindo Ashram
- French Consulate
- Promenade Beach
- Chunnambar Boat House
- Auroville Botanical Garden
This peaceful town has a sleepy nature and time comes to a standstill, so it is a perfect place to unwind during the weekend.
1. Residential Buildings in the White Town
The old French town is the most important place to visit since it has kept much of its heritage. It is also called the White Town, as white (i.e., French) people stayed in this part of the town in the olden days. The heritage houses were designed based on the Franco-Tamil architecture, an amalgamation of the two styles.
The houses in the French part of the town have certain distinct characteristics. Most of the houses have a courtyard with some greenery and an arched gate. Bougainvillea is an integral part of their gardens. High compound walls ensure the privacy of the occupants. White, peach and yellow are the predominant colors used on the walls.
2. Aurobindo Ashram
Mirra Alfassa, a French national more famously known as Mother, and her spiritual collaborator Sri Aurobindo, an Indian national, had a major influence on the spiritual movement in Pondicherry in the early twentieth century.
Aurobindo Ashram is a spiritual hub founded based on their principles and is in the heritage town where meditation sessions are held regularly. It has a library where one can find books on yoga by Sri Aurobindo and teachings by Mother.
A distinct French touch can be seen in the Pondicherry churches. Our Lady of Angels Church, Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Conception Cathedral are well-known churches in Pondicherry.
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4. French Consulate and Other Official Buildings
The French consulate building is closer to Promenade beach and has a touch of yellow on its walls. Other monuments worth a visit are the Legislative assembly, Pondicherry Museum and almost every building that one stumbles across in the White Town.
5. Promenade Beach
The main beach in Pondicherry is called the Promenade beach, and it is right next to the White Town. One can go for a stroll in the evening to enjoy the breeze and its picturesque surroundings. The beaches in Pondicherry are a little rocky and look different from the sandy beaches of Chennai.
6. Chunnambar Boat House
The Chunnambar Boat House is on the East Coast Road on the way to Cuddalore. The boat takes the visitors on the backwaters to a secluded beach near the mouth of the backwater. With pristine sand and clean water, this is the most beautiful beach in Pondicherry and it is rightly called the Paradise beach or Plage Paradiso in French. One can spend an hour or two at the beach before taking a return boat.
Jawaharlal Nehru Street and M G Road offer some interesting street shopping experiences in Pondicherry. One would get anything from garments to electronic goods at reasonable prices. One should also visit Casablanca, an outlet with an ethnic and classical touch in the heritage town.
Auroville is a town in the state of Tamil Nadu very close to Pondicherry. It was conceptualized and created by the Mother as an experimental town where people from all over the world can live in harmony and achieve progress cutting across religious, linguistic and racial barriers. One can experience the French connection at Auroville too.
Matrimandir is a place of spiritual significance and is called the soul of Auroville. The building has a prominent golden dome, and it houses an inner chamber that serves as the meditation center. A 20-minute walk from the visitor center takes us to the viewpoint from where the golden dome offers a stunning display.
9. Auroville Botanical Gardens
The entire town of Auroville is created on the principles of sustainable living, and one feels very connected with nature, there. There is lush greenery everywhere, which is not so common in other parts of Tamil Nadu. Auroville Botanical Garden is an example of how community efforts can help improve the green cover.
Where to Stay and What to Eat
Pondicherry has a plethora of stay options. If one wants to stay in a beachside property, there are good options like Promenade in the middle of the town, St. James Court on the outskirts or Bonjour Bonheur Ocean Spray away from the town.
One can also check out heritage stay options in the White Town. There are many such heritage options available, and one can pick the good ones based on the latest online reviews.
There is a French restaurant by name "New Banana Cafe and Restaurant" operating on a terrace in Rue Cazy Street. It is patronized mainly by French nationals and other Europeans. Since the menu was not elaborate, we ended up trying everything they had, like crepes, tarts and quiches. The food was enjoyable even for someone not used to French cuisine. So the French touch can be felt through the food in this quaint town.
How to Get to Pondicherry
At around 100 miles south of Chennai, this town can be reached in two hours of drive time. The East Coast Road (ECR) is the preferred route from Chennai. The scenic road to Pondicherry is so popular that "the journey itself can become the destination".
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© 2019 Mohan Babu