Pondicherry, a Union Territory and once French Colony in India, is a very popular getaway location in Southern India. Famous for its architecture, beaches, food and spiritual retreats. Its also known as “The French Riviera of the East”. Pondicherry is also a city with a dual personality, half Indian sea side city, and half french town.
Pondicherry is first and foremost a beach town, and while the once famous Promenade is still a major toursit attraction, it has off-late been overshadowed as the city’s pre-eminent beach by the nearby Paradise Beach – which is about 8km south of town on the Cuddalore Highway. Auroville beach too, in the opposite direction – 12km to the north is also a much better beach to visit, with shallow waters and small waves making it a good place to swim. The main attraction otherwise is walking, or cycling around the French Quarter and sampling some of the delectable cuisine on offer. Pondicherry’s French Quarter is officially as close as you can get to a beautiful European town, without leaving the country. The mueseums in the area are also worth a visit especially Pondicherry Museum and the Bharathidasan Museum. Mahatma Gandhi’s magnificent statue on the Promenade is also a major tourist attraction and landmark.
12km away, one finds Auroville, which is worth a visit for both the Matirmandir – their showpiece building signifying Aurobindo’s philosophy and beliefs, as well a for the many restuarants, shops and hotels that dot the area around it – which are mostly run by emigrant French or Italian citizens, and provide a very authentic culinary experience.
The best way to get around Pondicherry is by renting a bike, or even better ( and in the non monsoon season ) – a bicycle. All travel options including rental car, bike, scooty and bicycle are easily available along Mission Street and MG Road. The Pondicherry Tourism Department also has a daily bus covering all the attraction of the area, which serves as a good introduction to the city, or might be just the thing the time-strapped tourist is looking for. But anything longer than a weekend is best spent exploring the city on foot and by bike, and leaving ample time to relax by the beaches, and savours the city’s mixed cultural influences – especially in Architecture and Food. Le Cafe, on Rue de Bussy is a 24 hour cafe that serves very good food, and comes highly recommended.
The best part of Pondicherry though remains the many walks one can take through the beautiful French Quarter ( which is the area bounded roughly by NSC Bose St, SV Patel Rd and Goubert Ave). One option is to take Puducherry’s heritage walk. Focus Books sells heritage walking trail brochures, but for those who want to go on their own – start at the north end of Goubert Ave, the seafront promenade, and wander south, past the French consulate and the Gandhi Statue. Turn right at the town hall on Rue Mahe Labourdonnais, past the shady Bharathi Park, from take a leisurely walk down Dumas, Romain Rolland and Suffren Sts.