Pondicherry recently renamed as Puducherry, is a town tucked away on the South-eastern side of India. Pondicherry has been derived from the Tamil word Puducheri signifying 'the new settlement'. Among its diverse attractions are a coastline of 32 kms, palm-fringed beaches, backwaters, fishing villages, beach resorts, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the international city of Auroville, the French boulevard town with its French heritage, and so much more. Fabulous food, fine wine, and plenty of sea to refresh your soul beckon you! It is the perfect place to come if you want to take the pace of life down a few notches.
Located on Rue de la Marine, this is one of the most well-known Ashrams in India with devotees from India and all over the world flocking towards it for spiritual salvation. The Ashram is open to public from 8 am to 12 noon and 2 to 6 pm and is top on the must-experience list to sample Pondicherry’s true flavor!
Auroville (City of Dawn) is an experimental township in Viluppuram district in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, near Puducherry inSouth India. It was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa (known as "The Mother") and designed by architect Roger Anger.As stated in The Mother's first public message about the township, "Auroville is meant to be 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. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.
Promenade Beach (or, known as, "Pondicherry Beach") is the popular stretch of beachfront in the city of Puducherry, India, along the Bay of Bengal. It is a 1.2-kilometre-long stretch in Pondicherry, starts from War Memorial and end at Dupleix Park on the Goubert Ave. It is a breath-taking sight of blue dotted with sight-seeing visitors, evening joggers and walkers.
Mamallapuram, also known as Mahabalipuram, is a town in Kancheepuram district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is around 60 km south from the city of Chennai. It is an ancient historic town and was a bustling seaport during the time of Periplus (1st century CE) and Ptolemy (140 CE). Ancient Indian traders who went to countries of South East Asia sailed from the seaport of Mahabalipuram.
By the 7th century it was a port city of South Indian dynasty of the Pallavas. It has a group of sanctuaries, which was carved out of rock along the Coromandel coast in the 7th and 8th centuries : rathas (temples in the form of chariots), mandapas (cave sanctuaries), giant open-air rock reliefs such as the famous Descent of the Ganges, and the Shore Temple, with thousands of sculptures to the glory of Shiva. The Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has an average elevation of 12 metres (39 feet). The modern city of Mahabalipuram was established by the British Raj in 1827.
The wonderful blue waters of the Bay of Bengal provide a stunning background to Pondicherry’s only waterfront café. Famous for its’ sandwiches, bakery treats and wonderful coffees to drown in, Le Café will live up to Pondicherry’s tourism tagline of “Give time a break”.
This very public and busy place houses a cultural and information centre, a school for teaching of French and a library. Teaching and activities offered by a dynamic team have made Alliance an institution of excellence for more than a century. Multi-linguism and cultures share are central in Alliance policy.
An important itinerary of Pondicherry pilgrimage is a visit to the Manakula Vinayagar Temple. The ancient temple was constructed three centuries ago and still stands in all its magnificent glory. In Tamil 'Manal' means sand and 'Kulam' means pond near the sea, earlier which was full of sand around pond. So the people called the god as Manal Kulathu Vinayagar which translates as 'God near the pond of sand'. The temple is dedicated to the worship of Lord Ganesha. The monumental interiors of the temple are decorated with forty incarnations and forms of Lord Ganesha, carved on the stone walls of the temple. The golden spire forms the superstructure of the temple and is the steeple that crowns the place of worship. Within the premises of the temple lies the shrine devoted to Lord Murugan.
Arikamedu, the ancient Roman trade centre is 4 Kms. south of Puducherry on the right bank of Ariyankuppam River. It has a long history that dates back to the second century B.C. The port town was inhabited by Romans, Cholas and French who left their mark on this wonderful place. The Roman treasure trail and Arikamedu river cruise take you down the History lane. It is an unforgettable experience that you wouldn't want to miss.
There are many practitioners of complementary and alternative therapies. Indian therapies such as Ayurveda, Siddha, Marma and several variants of Yoga can be tried out. Workshops for various types of meditative practices, including the well-known Vipassana and Art of Living, can be found here. Massage and spa treatments are widely available. Hypnotherapy, Pranayam, Tai Chi, Watsu, Homeopathy, Reflexology, Aromatherapy, Reiki, and several other types of alternative medicine are practiced here. Another wellness attraction in Pondy is the School for Perfect Eyesight run by Aurobindo Ashram that treats patients with visual defects for a week and shares simple exercises that can be followed in the long run to improve one’s sight.
Pondicherry offers tourists a host of recreational sports to partake of. The best known of these is the Chunnambar Water Sports Complex. On offer are pedal boats, kayaks, speed boat rides and the newly introduced banana rides. It is an ideal destination for all kinds of thrill seekers.
Water babies can also kick back with surfing, bodyboarding, scuba diving and free diving, at the various beaches adjoining the town. Conditions are ideal for surfers of all skill-levels and the prices are unbeatable. Divers can explore marine life underwater and see stunning corals, fishes and sea plants. Lucky ones may spot turtles and whale sharks too. The city's French quarter as well as Auroville's tree-lined roads and dirt-tracks can be explored on bicycle. More serious cyclists can join open groups that go on cycling trips several times a week. Trips may be local, focussed on improvised routes, hard exercise or road races.
The same paths are quite suitable for walks and hikes as well, and the Ousteri Wildlife Sanctuary is a particularly rewarding walk for wildlife enthusiasts. Others trails are ideally suited for trekking, and some spots make for excellent overnight camping trips.
Now if you’re ready to take it up a few notches, try rock climbing in the ravines near Auroville or abseiling/rappelling. If you’re not scared of heights try parasailing on the beach close to the new lighthouse. If you just want to look then try a spectator sport Pondicherry-style. Watch local players demonstrate their skill and concentration at pétanque, at the Joan of Arc statue. Popular in France and Spain, Pondicherry is the only place in India where this game is played.
Aurobindo Ashram has played a significant role in the socio-economic-spiritual fabric of Puducherry since its establishment almost a century back Therefore it is not surprising that the Ashram and its various branches together occupy some of the best heritage properties in Puducherry. The Ashram Walk covers the northern section of French Puducherry, taking you through many grand buildings of French lineage, including the Raj Nivas, French Institute. Also included in the walk are some shops that sell products manufactured by the different Ashram ancillaries.
The buildings in French section of Puducherry are an enduring legacy of French history in India. It tells the story of a colonial adventure in a far away land, fighting many odds, overcoming a new and difficult terrain and the historic rivalry between the European powers of the time including the Danes, the Dutch and the British besides the French.
The buildings in the Tamil streets are characterized by rows of tiled roofed buildings almost joined together by continuous wall to wall constructions. While the older buildings more or less retain their 'Tamilness', the later constructions have acquired certain gallic features behind the Tamil facades. A synthesis of these two styles has resulted in a town that has a unique 'Franco Tamil' architectural identity.
The Ousteri Wildlife Sanctuary is the Pondicherry area's most significant wildlife haven. Over 160 species of birds, both aquatic and terrestrial, have been observed in the area, including the Darter, the Black-headed Ibis, the Spot-billed Pelican, the Eurasian Spoon Bill and the Painted Stork. Over 60 species of butterflies have been spotted in the Sanctuary, including endemic species such as the Common-banded Peacock and the Crimson Rose. Various species of frogs, turtles, lizards, snakes and mammals are also found here, while at least 25 species of fish have been recorded in the lake's waters.
The seasonal Bahour Lake, a freshwater wetland, is also an important area for birds. A variety of corals, fishes and crustaceans are just a few of the marine species found in the coastal waters off Pondicherry. Olive Ridley turtles, a Schedule I species, have nesting spots in several places along the coast, as well as in Karaikal. The Directorate of Forests and Wildlife runs artificial hatcheries to protect vulnerable eggs. In 2013, they were able to successfully release 500 hatchlings into the sea.
Visitors can choose their mementoes from Pondicherry's many specialities - ceramic tableware and ornaments, terracotta toys and trinkets, incense and scented candles, handmade paper lampshades and stationery, Buddha and Ganesh figures carved out of stone, brass statues and lamps, colourful hammocks, crocheted hats and dream catchers, papier-mache vases and idols, handmade dolls, bamboo knick-knacks, and of course, antique furniture and curios. Articles crafted from locally abundant plants are a great option for souvenir collectors as well; options range from stylish Kora grass bags, coconut shell bowls and figurines, palm stem paintings, eco-friendly palm leaf baskets and trays, to wooden toys and puzzles. Bargain-savvy shoppers will enjoy picking up cheap export surplus clothing, duty-free steel articles and custom-made footwear in the bustling markets of the city. Auroville boutiques present a contrasting experience, with their selective merchandise and calm ambience. A trip to Goubert Market and the Sunday market will give the traveller an authentic bazaar experience and a peek at local life. And at the end of a tiring day of shopping, one can always relax with an inexpensive drink!
Pondicherry's culture, arts and crafts reflect its traditional Tamil heritage, French influences, a fusion of the two, as well as connections with nearby Auroville. Bharatnatyam and Carnatic music are as prominent as modern performing arts. Customary Tamil festivals such as Masimagam are celebrated with fanfare just as Bastille Day is. The city holds several music, dance and theatre festivals every year, in addition to regular performances. Film screenings and festivals are also gaining popularity. Painting, photography and sculpture exhibitions take place at galleries and other venues. Some boutiques, cafes and restaurants showcase the works of local artists, such as drawings or pictures of scenes from local life.
Few things demonstrate Pondicherry's rich historical heritage and diverse contemporary culture the way its cuisine does. Traditional Tamil cuisine is very popular and many eateries serve snack items like idlis and dosas, full thalis and special dishes. French and Continental cuisine is not far behind, with a host of restaurants specialising in authentic and fusion dishes. Inventiveness is the keyword and travellers are sure to encounter unique dishes not to be found anywhere else.
Cuisine from the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala exert their influences, and numerous restaurants offer Chettinad, Udupi and Hyderabadi specialities. Food aficionados can enjoy Italian, Arabian, Chinese and Vietnamese food here. Dishes from Punjabi as well as North-eastern cuisine make an appearance in several menus. The experiences range from luxurious fine dining to quick street food, with the ambience as varied as the cost.
Bakeries, cafes, chocolateries and juice bars abound. Health food enthusiasts have quite a few options to choose from, too. The Puducherry Tourism Department has been conducting an annual food festival, generally in July, to celebrate and showcase the diversity of the cuisines available in the city for the last 5 years. It is an excellent opportunity to sample a vast majority of the food experience on offer.
Away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, Puducherry is a quiet little town on the southern coast of India. The unmistakable French connection, the tree lined boulevards, the quaint colonial heritage buildings, the spiritual sceneries, the endless stretches of unspoilt beaches and backwaters and a surprising choice of restaurants serving a melange of cuisines provide a heady mix of experience that draws travellers from near and far to the city. Go ahead, give time a break!