Pondicherry, the most prominent French colony in India, is like a slice of history frozen in time revealing its beauty one avenue at a time. The union territory was under the French reign until 1954 and thus has a strong influence of the French culture, art, architecture and cuisine. The city is like a huge football ground with two teams: The French team and The Tamil team. Unlike many other heritage cities where different cultures and territories flow into each other, Pondicherry has a visible geographic demarcation of the areas. The city is divided into two literal parts by a canal. The White Town or the French Quarter is the one that faces the sea whereas the Tamil Quarter starts from the canal and has organically developed its way out, away from the sea.
If you know me by now, you already know that I am a sucker for heritage places and the stories that come along and let me tell you, Pondicherry does serve up to the expectations. In addition, my extreme fondness for the place is also because of my 5-month internship in Auroville, when I would visit Pondicherry at least twice in a week to simply gawk at the head turning architecture and the colourful Franco-Tamil houses. I have spent hours aimlessly walking around the streets of the White Town and clicking numerous pictures of the stylized Promenade and the cute corners. I think its safe to say that a huge chunk of my heart has permanently decided to stay there. Even after my internship in 2013, I have visited the town every two years and I am still not bored of it at all.
How to reach:
Pondicherry is well connected to various towns of Tamil Nadu and even its neighbouring states via rail routes, air routes as well as road routes. In fact, I prefer flying to Chennai and then taking a bus/cab from Chennai to reach Pondicherry. I love the scenic drive on the East Coast Road that connects both the cities and smaller pit stops like Mahabalipuram makes it even more worthwhile.
Like any other big touristy town, Pondicherry also offers a variety of stay options fit for all budget groups. However, if you are looking for an experiential stay, I might as well suggest you to stay in the White Town. Even I never stayed in The White Town until this trip but now I have a strong opinion on this one. There are some gorgeous rental apartments on Airbnb, which are affordable as well as super high in cultural quotient. And, if you don’t mind spending a big penny, you can definitely opt for some super chic boutique hotels in the French Quarters.
I stayed at Villa Bayoud that is located right on the Promenade. The sea facing room in the 200-year-old French-style Villa costed me a fancy 4000 bucks for a very basic space. Although, what convinced me to pay that amount was the location. It was a no-brainer deal. The ambience, the fact that my window straight away opened on the Promenade, me spending my entire night sitting by the window listening to the waves crash on the boulders while sipping wine and the most breath-taking sunrise view was all worthy of the price paid.
Check out the detailed article on the Villa here:
A lot of heritage structures are in the White Town itself and can be conveniently traversed on foot or even a cycle, provided you at least have a couple of days in the city. Otherwise, a scooter works just fine for the one with less time. Don’t judge me but whenever I visit The French Quarter, I make it a point to go to and fro on every street making sure I have seen, witnessed and visually documented every French building there. It gives me immense pleasure to do so.
PRO TIP: Renting a cycle/scooter in Pondicherry is the most efficient and affordable way of getting around. They have a union of companies that rent out vehicles and they all have the same price, so no conning there. You can also enquire about this with the place you are staying at.
An important way of experiencing the cross culture in Pondicherry is by visiting the numerous bakeries and cafes that lie on the lazy streets with its understated glow. There are cafes that will suit all budgets and will give you a refreshing break from your daylong expeditions. I, for one, love the idea of café hoping and have visited many places there. I think that is the best way of exploring a new territory. Also, why satisfy your craving soul with just one sit down meal in one place when you can keep roaming, exploring, and nibbling on the go.
Some of my favourite eateries are
1. Café Des Arts for a snack and the artwork
2. Villa Shanti for a glass of boutique wine
3. Café Pamplona for a quick dessert
4. Le Dupleix for a sit down dinner with live music
5. Apachi Chettinad for a traditional south indian meal
6. Le Maison Rose for a fancy dinner and ambience
7. Le Café for late night munching as it is open 24 hours
8. Baker street, The Pasta Bar Veneto and Zuka are also some of my favourite eateries outside the White Town.
Note: When in Pondicherry, let loose on your diet plans and just generously feed yourself. You don’t wanna return back with regrets for not eating some of the yummiest banoffee pies. Also, Puducherry being a union territory, has the cheapest alcohol of all (thanks GOI). What better way to end your day other than sipping wine while eating desserts?!
Thank me later.
What to do:
Pondicherry, now renamed as Puducherry, is a lazy coastal town that boasts of a unique one-of-its-kinds cultural history. I have been so fascinated by the fusing Franco-Tamil culture that I just spend all my time walking on the shaded avenues in the French Quarters. Blame it on my architecture genes, I love clicking pictures and making sketches of the colourful houses and buildings. Even if you are not an architect or an artist, the streetscape will surely leave you mesmerised.
Apart from being lost in the RUEs, visiting Aurobindo Ashram should be necessarily included in your to-do list. The peace and serenity I feel in that space is unmatched.
Pondicherry also is home to many beautiful churches as well as typical south Indian temples that are worth paying a visit.
– Exploring the beaches on the outskirts of Pondicherry like
the light house beach, serenity beach, quiet beach, etc.
– spending evening on the rocks at the Promenade (I usually pack myself a dessert or two and take a book along for reading)
– explore the streets for some home grown brands, their stylized boutiques and their warehouses (the White town has plenty of those)
– don’t forget to wake up super early to witness the magnificent sunrise (East Coast and its magic)
– take a day trip to Tranquebar or Peechavaram
– visitng Auroville while you are in Pondicherry is a must. (writing a separate article for this)
Lastly, Puducherry might be the new name of the town but Pondicherry is an emotion.