Pondicherry

Pondicherry (also known as Puducherry) is the former French capital of India. Having been colonised by the French back in 1674 the city was held under French rule until the 1960’s, and although fifty years have passed the ambience of French heritage is still apparent today.

This French influence tied in with the rich Indian culture and seaside setting is what brings tourists here, to this relatively small town on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. On one end you’ll find busy bazaars, rich south Indian cuisine and chaotic streets, on the other you’ll find heritage homes, eccentric cafés and croissants. It’s a fusion of India and France, 2016 and 1920.

Situated 4 hours south of the state’s capital Chennai, many choose to come here on their travels through southern India. Whether it’s for a relaxing seaside getaway, a taste of colonial times or a visit to an Ashram, Pondicherry has some quaint characteristics that you don’t want to miss.

Getting there

Pondicherry is connected by various bus routes from surrounding cities Chennai, Bangalore, and Madurai.

Being quite a small city there is no local airport or train station. The closest train connection is via Villupuram, which services trains to Chennai, the state capital of Tamil Nadu.

Getting around

Tuk Tuk (Auto)
There are many tuk tuks (or Auto’s as the Indians call them) around town who won’t shy away from asking you if you need a ride. If you’re going short distances in town be prepared to pay 50 – 100 rupees. To a bus station out of town you’ll pay around 100 – 200 rupees.

Walking
There are many areas of this former French capital of India that are pleasing to stroll around, including the tidy seaside promenade, the colonial White Town and the French Quarter. Venture further to the outskirts of any of these areas however, and you’ll find yourself in the standard cluttered and chaotic atmosphere that India likes to present us with. Not to say those areas aren’t as equally interesting in their own way.

Moped or Scooter
If you would like to visit Auroville, a popular town located 10 kilometres north of Pondicherry, or any other sights located out of town you can rent a moped or scooter from the centre of the city. This will cost you around 300 rupees for a day, plus a holding deposit.

Bicycle
The quiet areas of Pondicherry are frequently populated with bicycle riders and many tourists opt to rent a bicycle from many of the stalls around town. You can rent a bicycle for around 150 rupees for the day.

Not to miss

Heritage Town
Having once been colonised by the French, Pondicherry maintains many French influences especially in the centre of the city, also known as Heritage Town. The architecture of the buildings here stand out from the rest of the city, painting a picture of a once colourful and vibrant place. Although many buildings are now decrepit and run down, small businesses have revived some and turned them into charming café’s and restaurants. The Pondicherry Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) runs tours of Heritage Town every weekend at 4pm. Visit the centre for more details.

White Town

Take a tour with The Blue Yonder
Travel Good BadgeThe Blue Yonder is a tour company that provides unique travel experiences that directly benefit the local communities. They are committed to responsible tourism practices and promote the exchange of cross-cultural experience between travellers and locals. Some of their unique experiences in Pondicherry include a walk through the local markets or a visit to a conscious farm.

Goubert Salai Promenade & Gandhi Statue
One of Pondicherry’s most iconic sights is the Goubert Salai beachside promenade. It’s a clean, relaxing stretch of road where you can take a stroll, watch the daily life of the local people or sit in one of the cafés with views of the ocean. This is also where you will find Pondicherry’s famous Gandhi Statue.

Gandhi Statue

Auroville
Auroville is one of India’s most new age cities, a unique township founded in 1968 by one of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram’s spiritual collaborators. Nowadays Auroville maintains a strong spiritual atmosphere and sense of community, with many of its inhabitants involved in practices such as agriculture, handicrafts, alternative technology, community activities and developmental projects. Many people choose to visit Auroville on a day trip but there are also guesthouses available and many volunteer opportunities for long-term visitors. If you only have one day you can either join a tour from the PTDC in Pondicherry or start at the Auroville Visitor’s Centre. For more information visit http://www.auroville.org/

The SITA Cultural Centre
The SITA Cultural Centre offers a range of daily activities that teach visitors about the cultures of southern India. Learn how to dance Bollywood style, take part in an Indian cooking class, learn to make pottery or relax with an Ayurvedic massage. You can find a list of their daily activities here.

SITA Cultural Centre

Other attractions & sights

Sri Aurobindo Ashram

The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is a world famous ashram located in the heart of Pondicherry. It is open to visitors from 8:00am to noon and 2:00pm to 6:00pm, where guests can take a walk around the peaceful grounds, admiring the serenity and reading about the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

Pondy Bikes

Discover Pondicherry in early morning with a Pondy Bikes tour. Starting at the SITA Cultural Centre you will ride around the quiet streets, past the colourful houses of the Muslim area to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and the French Quarter. The tour costs 1200 rupees per person including bike hire and drinking water.

Manakula Vinayagar temple

The Manakula Vinayagar temple is one of the most famous ancient temples in Pondicherry, built over 400 years ago before French colonisation. Each year many tourists and pilgrims visit this temple, which is dedicated to the god Ganesa,

Do some Yoga

With Ashrams comes Yoga, and this spiritual art is quite a popular pastime here in Pondicherry. The SITA Cultural Centre runs classes every Monday at 6pm, Wednesday at 6:30pm and Saturday at 9:30am. There is also the Raja Yoga Centre and Yoganjali Natyalayam who offer classes as well.

Relax at a European styled café

With the European influence in Pondicherry many cafes have sprouted throughout the town giving visitors a little taste of coffee culture. Cafes like Café des Artes and Kasha Ki Aasha serve a range of French snacks such as crepes and croissants. Many also have tranquil settings and rooftop terraces where you can escape the midday heat.

Do some shopping

Pondicherry has two main markets, the Sunday Market on every Sunday between M.G Road and Nehru street, and the Grand Bazaar, between M.G Road and Bharathi Street. You can find anything from garments to spices to flowers and fruits, all at very reasonable prices.

Travel Good BadgeIf you’re looking to shop for a cause, Kriti Eco Boutique is a fair trade shop that sells various products made by women in rural communities around India.

Food & drink

Pondicherry is a good place to take a break from Indian food, if that is what you want. Full of European influence you can find many types of pastries, pizzas and desserts all throughout the town. Baker Street is everyone’s favourite place for baguettes, croissants and cakes. There are also a number of high-class restaurants where you can dine on a reasonably priced western meal, and enjoy a cocktail or 2.

If it’s Indian food you’re after then of course you can find it here. Aside from you’re every day restaurants and street food, Surguru does a great thali in a lovely garden setting. The Indian Kaffe Express also offers all your favourite Indian dishes.

If you’re looking to dine with a view visit Le Café on the promenade, and conveniently open 24 hours. For a splurge dine at The Promenade Hotel’s rooftop restaurant, BlueLine, for views over the Bay of Bengal.

Accommodation

Unfortunately Pondicherry does not have any hostels for the budget backpacker. Instead there are many guesthouses and hotels located throughout the city. Most travellers choose to stay within Heritage Town as it is within walking distance to all the main sights. One unique style of accommodation is a Pondicherry Heritage Hotel. It might not be inside the backpacker’s budget but it certainly won’t break the bank balance at 1500 rupees per night. Our pick – The Heritage Hotel Coromandal.

When looking for accommodation sites like TripAdvisor and Booking.com can really be your best friend. Put your dates into TripAdvisor and you can search by price as well as seeing the ratings, helping you pick the best value for money. Use Booking.com to search 500,000+ hotels in more than 200 countries worldwide.

Worth noting

There are 4 pharmacies and 3 medical clinics located in Pondicherry, as well as a number of hospitals. For emergencies the ambulance number is 108.
Pondicherry is a relatively small town making it rather safe compared to larger cities in India. It is always important however, to maintain a degree of caution and avoid travelling alone at night. The number for the Police is 2338876.

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