Pondicherry: The French connection

Some places are such that they resonate with you.

When your visit them, the feel of the city strikes a chord in you.

We felt this way in Pondicherry (or Puducherry). It seemed like we could just live there absorbing the city. I don’t know whether it was the quaint French houses or the wonderful people or the global cuisine serving restaurants or the beautiful beaches. It just felt right.

It might not have been the best time of the year to visit Pondicherry. Summer was round the corner (sun was beating down in other regions) and the temperature during the day was pushing the mercury upwards. We hoped that Pondicherry being a coastal town would have tropical weather round the year. By the end of our trip we realized both were true. The days were hot and humid but the evenings were very pleasant.

Our amazing stay

We stayed at a small boutique hotel just a couple of streets from the Promenade beach. An old French building had been converted to the hotel. We got a beautiful room (at a great deal) which had a private balcony towards the street. The proximity to beach, the French architecture, the wonderful setting of the room and the service were all just perfect. We loved every bit of our stay.

French houses
Old French houses (Not our hotel but nearby)

Delicious food

Pondicherry is a cauldron of multiple cultures. It might be the French connection or the influence of Sri Aurobindo that Pondicherry attracts travelers from around the world. And as these cultures mix and mingle, we get to have authentic cuisines from regions far and beyond. We enjoyed every meal we had and it would be hard to choose our favorite among

Wood fired oven pizza (lots of it) with loads of ice tea on a sweltering hot day (Tanto)

Beetle leaves and figs salad complemented by zucchini and walnut crepes (Villa Café)

French grilled fish with butter sauce (La Chateau)

Rich and creamy gelato (GMT – Gelateria Montecatini Terme)

The quirky town

A part of city called the White town is the French old town. Puducherry has expanded far and beyond but the feel of the white town is special. This area has the old French house, colorful bougainvillea hanging over the fences, little or no traffic on the street and is sprinkled with great cafes and restaurants. We enjoyed driving our hired scooter around the streets and took long walks to take in the atmosphere.

White town
Bougainvillea in the White Town

During the day we touched the various sights of the city: Church of Our Lady of angels, Sacred hearts cathedral, Aurobindo Ashram and Vinayakam temple. I know all of these are spiritual places and they were really so peaceful. If you are looking for some inner peace, Pondicherry might just be the right place for you.

Sacred heart cathedral
Sacred heart cathedral
Vinayakam temple
Vinayakam Temple elephant Laxmi giving blessings

During evening we visited the market near the Gandhi statue to try out the local chat and snacks. And shopped for lots of cheap clothing (after much haggling) at the weekend night market near Jawaharlal Nehru road.

Another famous place in Puducherry is Auroville. This is a model town setup under the spiritual guidance of the Mother who propagated the ideology of Sri Aurobindo. It is based on unique philosophy of human unity:

A universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.

Matrimandir from a distance

The most recognizable feature might be the Matrimandir which is a meditation center. We got to know that it is not a tourist spot. Actually only the serious enough people would get access to enter the Matrimandir. One has to visit the visitor center in-person to get a pass a day or more in advance. So we couldn’t get access to go inside the center. Now without a pass, people like us could go to visitor center and get an overview of Auroville through photos, messages and the mandatory video. Then we had to walk through a long passageway to view the Matrimandir from a distance. It is as majestic as in the picture and the stories behind the development give it a mysterious attraction. Definitely next time we would venture inside the meditation center. By the time we returned back to the visitor center, the heat was exhausting and the cafes in the visitor area gave us a pleasant retreat.

Messages on the way to Matrimandir

Beautiful beaches

The Promenade beach is in the heart of the old town. In reality it is not a beach but rather just a promenade. The whole stretch is line with huge rocks where we sat for hours. In the mornings and evenings the beach road is vehicle free and we found throngs of people walking, jogging or just sitting along the length of the beach (just like us). It is crowded but even the crowd is non-intruding and atmosphere has a good feel to it. After day long activities this is perfect place to relax.

Promenade beach
Promenade beach

The Paradise beach is towards the south of Puducherry, about 30-40 min drive. You have to take a ferry to get to this beach. It is a perfect family beach. You get all sorts of facilities (changing rooms, showers, restaurants, lifeguards) and the areas for getting into water are marked. But due to this the beach gets really crowded on holidays and is definitely not romantic in that sense. The beach is clean and water is a bit sandy similar to all east coastal beaches of India.

Paradise beach
Crowded paradise beach

The Serenity beach is tucked away to the north of Puducherry on the Chennai road. Not as clean as Paradise but the beach is more secluded and hence more relaxing. The man-made jetty-like rocky branches extend long way in the bay and give you a beautiful place to sit in the middle of water. We would not miss any opportunity to return this beach precisely for this experience.

Serenity beach
Serenity beach

We ended our trip with a promise to come back soon.

Do you have a story to tell about your Pondicherry experience? Drop in a comment or send us a mail. We will definitely reply. All the interesting tales will be published in a special feature.


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