For those who may be confused, we’ll simplify. Puducherry is a union territory of India, located on the South-Eastern coast of peninsular India. The union territory consists of 4 districts primarily, with the wen-known Pondicherry acting as its capital and central tourist hub. In many ways, geographically, Pondicherry mimics the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, with pristine beaches, a year-round warm climate, beautiful backwaters created along an extensive network of sea inlets and clear, beautiful skies. The sea that Pondicherry faces, the Bay of Bengal, is notorious for being very turbulent, and all who are seated along its face those consequences. The coastal stretch of Pondicherry is protected by a 2 kilometre long seawall, aiming to break harsh waves before they hit the coast.
While many of its surrounding areas have extensive pre-colonial history, not much is known about the social and cultural history of Pondicherry before the arrival of the Dutch, Portuguese, French and British traders. Wile we know that the area was once under the Pallava Kingdom’s rule in the 4th century, and the Cholas of Thanjavur, Vijanagar dynasty, and Sultan of Bijapur between the 10th to 16th centuries, not many written records exist. The 1674 settlement of the French East India Company is what many believe is the official starting point of the cities history. This important port city has seen rebellions and immigrations, festivals and riots, calm and turbulence – and it has taken all these things in its stride to create the most positive melting pot of cultures. The people of Pondicherry and overwhelmingly positive, hospitable and honest. Entire sections of the main city’s tourism activities are based on goodwill and serenity. The food of Pondicherry reflects perfectly the wide variety of influences that it has – the elegance of French cuisine, the flavour of South India food, and the focus on experimentation and ambience that has a distinct European air. It is said that many foreign travellers come to Puducherry and feel, suddenly all at once, like they have come home.
For those prepared to forsake the glitz and glamour of a big city for the idyllic beauty of a multi-cultural tight knit community, Pondicherry is paradise. The colourful buildings, the European architecture, the smiling faces make Pondicherry the ideal location for all – friends, family, backpackers and more!
3 to 4 days
Best time to visit:
The summers in Pondicherry, like most of the region are scorching. We recommend visiting from November to February, the peak of winter.
Pondicherry can be reached via the airport that is just a 15 minute ride from the Boulevard Town, where primarily most tourists reside. The airport has good connectivity with almost every major Indian city. It can also be reach from various South Indian cities by rail. Travel within the region can be enjoyed via a car or auto rental system.
Don’t miss out on these 22 must-visit places in Pondicherry:
- Paradise Beach
- Sri Aurobindo Ashram
- Scuba diving
- The Promenade
- Serenity Beach
- Chunnambar Houseboat
- Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
- Pondicherry Botanical Garden
- Old Lighthouse
- French War Memorial
- Rock Beach
- Mahatma Gandhi Statue
- Aayi Mandapam
- Ousteri Lake
- Statue of Dupleix
- Immaculate Conception Cathedral
- Eglise de Notre Dam des Anges
Auroville, or the ‘City of Dawn’ is an experimental township located just outside Pondicherry city. Part of Auroville overspills into Tamil Nadu as well. Designed by renowned architect Roger Anger for its founder, Mirra Alfassa aka ‘The Mother’ in 1968, it aimed at being a universal town where people of all genders, nationalities, and occupations would come together in progressive harmony, to live in celebration of human unity. In many ways, the minimalist living and multicultural residents of the township have achieved this goal, though some instances of misconduct and complaints of high resident tariffs have maligned the settlement’s original manifesto.
Many people call Auroville an attempt at a Utopia, with a simple internal method of currency, a lot of which depends on barter as well as residents who sing praises for the simple, wholesome living offered here. Thousands of visitors flock to the area, every day (in peak season) to assuage their curiosity towards the region as well as drink up the untouched, unpolluted, calming atmosphere of the dense greenery within which it is nestled.
Ideal for those hoping to escape the hustle-bustle, commercialisation and fast-paced wasteful living of the city. True to its name, Auroville welcomes all from families to solo backpackers – as long as you’re prepared to do your part in the community’s good.
If visiting for a day, account for a 4-5 hour time in the complex, including time to lounge around it’s various scenic and serene spots. If you are planning to stay within the complex, 1 week to 10 days Is the recommended duration, though some refer staying for a month or so as well.
Best time to visit:
In truth, the weather is not one of the best draws of the region. Auroville has sweltering days through out the year. We recommend making the trip during the peak winter months where the relatively cooler winds and the nightly showers offset the day’s scorching heat.
Many car rental and auto ride services exist from Pondicherry city. We recommend renting an auto since it can then be effectively used to navigate around the complex, especially with a seasoned auto-driver who knows where to take you. Most Pondicherry hotels have recommendations for the same.
Don’t miss out on:
- Marc’s Cafe
- Arka Wellness Centre
- Youth Centre
- Peace Tables
- Auroville Beach
- Cinema Paradiso
- Adishakti Theatre
- Quite Healing Centre
- Yoga and meditation picnics
- Savitri Bhavan
- Auroville Bakery and Boulangerie
- Kala Kendra
- Cycling through the tree lines roads
- Botanical Garden, Auroville
- The many handicraft boutiques and craftsmen centres
- Cultural Pavillions
- Bodhi Beach
- Guest Service (Located above Solar Kitchen)
- Forest trek
- Paradise Beach: Just a ferry ride from Chunnambar away, Paradise Beach is located along the Cuddalore Road and is a beautiful stretch of palm trees and pristine water, a slice of the coastal culture of the region. The sandy beach is somehow both white and golden, and the juxtaposition of the slightly darker blue waters agains the clean sands has a beautiful visual effect. The picturesque beach features seaside shacks, lounges, changing rooms, showers, and clean toilets. A favorite of both locals and tourists, we recommend visiting it during the weekday for an un-crowded experience.
- Sri Aurobindo Ashram: One of the most spiritual places not only in Pondicherry but int he entire region, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram is dedicated to the learned Sri Aurobindo (after whom Auroville is named as well). Founded in 1926, the Ashram offers tourist tours, and at all times a line excited to enter is visible. Inside, visitors can view the colourful tropical gardens that surround the building but aren’t visible from outside the walls. You can also visit the Samadhi or mausoleum of Sri Aurobindo under a frangipani tree. Designated areas provide space for yoga and meditation. Just before exiting, be sure to visit the ashram’s book store, where you can collect a souvenir the proceed of which go towards social good.
- Scuba diving: Owing to the diverse marine flora and fauna of this untouched region, many people enjoy the unique experience of scuba diving off the coast of Pondicherry. The region’s warm tropical water creates the perfect environment for flourishing under water life, as well as a comfortable diving experience.
- The Promenade: The city’s main beach is naturally dotted with rocky stretches. Emerging from these, the smooth promenade is the centre for social life and energy in the city, especially at night when people emerge from their shelter from the morning heat to enjoy strolls in the cool winter months. This naturally refreshing walk is famous not only for photographers, spellbinding sunsets and picturesque colourful European building, but also hidden treats like ice cream vendors and variety of food.
- Serenity Beach: For the most tranquil day you can enjoy, Serenity Beach is extremely well named and true to its name. The golden sands and blue waters of the beach invite one and all, and the many straw umbrellas that dot its coast give it a feeling of not even being in India. From many points on the beach you can enjoy a panoramic view with a feeling of being pleasantly engulfed by water.
- Arikamedu : This unique archaeological site has much to offer to history and architecture buffs, nature lovers and photographers. A visual treat, the site is made primarily of the more modern bright red rick and other elements from Roman 19th century architecture. The structures are adorned with Roman lamps, glassware, stone beads, and several other things. Arikamedu is one of the less explored sites int he region, making its isolated beauty even more magnificent.
- Chunnambar Houseboat: Also known as “Plage Paradiso”, Chunnambar Boathouse is an amazing spot to have a picnic or enjoy a boat ride on the backwaters of the Chunnambar River, at the place where it meets the dynamic Bay of Bengal. The lounge, sun-kissed beaches, and adventure sports make it an ideal day trip to enjoy with a large group.
- Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: This elegant deep red and white gothic structure is a Christian church and revered place of worship in the region. Known for the 28 stained glass painting of saints, the windows of the basilica depict the life of Jesus, and is a must visit during the day when the sunlight streams in.
- Pondicherry Botanical Garden: The word ‘garden’ is rather underwhelming for this 22 acre expanse of botanical forestry in the heart of Pondicherry. Built originally by the French colonists, the gardens are one of the largest repositories of rare and exotic plant species in the globe, and are well-nurtured even today. With over 1500 species of plants, the intermingling of flora and French architecture here is truly picturesque.
- Old Lighthouse: A must-visit, especially from afar on a sunset stroll down the promenade, the Old Lighthouse was once an integral part of the port city’s economics. Built int he 19th century, this is arguably the most important spot to visit in Pondicherry, historically speaking. Once offering guiding light to ships hoping to avoid an unfavourable end at the Red Hills, it is an engineering marvel even today. Teetering on unstable land, the mammoth structure is the tallest monument on Pondicherry’s humble skyline.
- French War Memorial: From amongst the lush green monotone of the surrounding gardens emerges the most pristine white monolith you’ve even seen. Built in tribute to the lives lost in the First World War, the tribute is a solemn place that honours the beauty of the valiance of the soldiers. On Bastille Day (14th of July), which is French National Day, the memorial is decorated with lights and locals gather to share a moment of silence in remembrance.
- Rock Beach: The most beautiful place to be during golden hour, Pondicherry’s Rock Bec is a photogenic location like none other. A well-maintained beach made up of large flat boulders, the beach is an amazing place to spend hours staring at the endless sea as you enjoy the sea breeze and smells of street food vendors wafting through. While it does get crowded on weekends, a weekday visit is a must.
- Mahatma Gandhi Statue: Just across the street from the Jawaharlal Nehru Statue, the Mahatma Gandhi statue is a well-visited place, but tourist and locals alike. The famous statue is covered by a resplendent canopy and flanked by 8 towering granite monolithically towers. The material of these towers is said to be have brought from the famous site of Gingee, 70 kilometres from the city centre.
- Aayi Mandapam: Also known as Park Monument, Aayi Mandapam is a beautiful garden with many picturesque mini-monuments inside with example of fine craftsmanship and architecture. The place’s history is also unique – a woman names Aayi gave uo her own house so that a water reservoir (build during the time of Napoleon III) could be erected, providing water for the entirety of Pondicherry. Now in the midst of the protected land, Bharati Government Park, Aayi Mandapam is a must visit
- Ousteri Lake: A serene oasis in the middle of a bustling area, the Ousteri Lake is a fan favourite for boating and picnics. A generally well-loved place for appreciating the abundant nature of Pondicherry the lake is an ideal spot to grab a bite and lounge. A must-do is coffee from the local vendors while enjoying the sunset.
- Statue of Dupleix: Dupleix was a French governor who ruled Pondicherry up until 1754. Measured at 3metres tall, the statue was built in 1870 and is located on Goubert Avenue. The granite marvel is significant to the legacy and influence of the French colonial times on thee history, culture, cuisine, and linguistic peculiarities of the people in the region.
- Immaculate Conception Cathedral: This resplendent white structure is also known as ‘samba Kohli’ locally. The Immaculate Conception Church is a gold and white structure built in the Portuguese style that is most commonly seen in Goa. A monument to the influence of Christianity in the area, it is known as the mother church for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Pondicherry and Cuddalore.
- Eglise de Notre Dam des Anges: One of the most recognisable structures in Pondicherry, the Eglise de Notre Dam des Anges is a pale pink and yellow structure that stands proud amongst the more humble residential building around it. A perfect specimen of the effect of French architecture on Pondicherry, the church has a beautiful white chapel within and is known for its statue of Mother Mary holding baby Jesus in her arms. Many tourists also visit the church for the many relics and statues of Joan of Arc within. If possible, make sure to catch a Sunday mass here.
A bright pink wall on Pondicherry city’s wall declares, “Everyone is at home in Pondy,” and truly, there is no better way to describe the city. The fact that locals have thick Tamil accents with French undertones is so uniquely and gloriously Pondy, it’s hard to be in a bad mood while here. The narrow winding, colourful lanes all open up to the large expanse of turbulent sea, a humbling experience, no doubt. And just in case you’re not absolutely blown away by the beautiful buildings, monuments, and multitude of old French mansions converted into restaurants, the serenity of Auroville is sure to give you the experience of a lifetime. This city is a spiritual experience – it just depends on how you wish to experience it, beer-bellied atop a quaint restaurant or under the shadow of the iconic Matrimandir.
With so many experiences under one umbrella, Pondicherry is a must-visit location in India.