Known as ‘the French Riviera of the East,’ Pondicherry is more than a typical holiday destination. Pondicherry or Puducherry or Pondy for short, is a sea-side city about 160 km from Chennai. It is centered around the renowned Aurobindo Ashram founded by Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa (The Mother) in 1926.
The French acquired Puducherry in 1674 and held control, with occasional interruption from the British and Dutch until 1954 when it was incorporated into the Indian Union. Do not be surprised if you hear the locals speak fluent French!
Attractions: Aurobindo Ashram and Samadhi, the Ashram library and craft centers that make hand-made paper, perfumes etc, Botanical garden, Pondicherry museum, SITA cultural center to learn and practice various dance forms, French war memorial, church of the Lady of Angels, St Peter’s church and Kanniga Parameswari temple are some of the key tourist spots in Pondy.
Another Pondy landmark is Auroville, a universal town, where people of different nationalities, cultures and beliefs live together in harmony. The international Yoga festival is held every year and you will find a number of yoga schools and practitioners here. The beaches of Pondy are not very crowded, offer stunning views, especially during sunrise and sunset and water sports like swimming, canoeing and kayaking. The promenade by the beach is lovely for strolling or enjoying the sea from beachside cafes.
Pondy presents a host of culinary delights from home-produced, authentic and delicious French food to local dishes. The city is filled with fine restaurants and charming cafes. Walking around or renting bicycles or motorcycles are the best ways to explore this delightful little town. As you walk around, especially in the town’s old French quarter, you might have a momentary lapse as to whether you are in India or France!
Shopping: Handmade paper, candles, incense sticks and perfumes from the Aurobindo Ashram craft industries, cotton textiles, branded leather bags, pottery, antiques, pickles, cheese and preserves.
Accessibility: Pondy airport is small and has flights landing from Hyderabad and Bangalore. The nearest airport for international flights is Chennai. The nearest railway station is Villipuram 35 km away. Pondy could be driven to and buses are also available.
Best time to visit: Through the year, Pondy is hot and humid. Best time to visit would be September – March, April and May being the hottest months of the year.