There’s much to love about Puducherry. Called Pondicherry until 2006, it’s now mostly known as Pondi. The city was the French capital of India from 1674 to 1954 and as such is decidedly different than any other part of India.
Read on to find our Top 10 list of Pondi-esque things we hope you discover when you visit.
1.French Colonial Architecture – We love the rainbow of crisp lime, burnt orange, turmeric and cotton candy pink paint and the soft lines of the buildings in the old quarter. Many have courtyard gardens and parlours with 20 foot ceilings to welcome the local society. We’ve only been in a few but they were truly gracious in form and functionality.
2. The grid layout – The neat grid of palm-lined cobbled streets means this is one of the few places we don’t get lost in India.
3. Tamil Temples – So gaudy they’re gorgeous, we love the hot pink, turquoise, aqua, teal and red on the carvings in wedding cake tiers of the Hindu temples in the Tamil quarter.
4. At Manakula Vinayakar, a temple dedicated to the elephant God, Ganesha, you can get a blessing from an elephant and enjoy the 40 forms of Ganesha painted on the walls.
5. Scattered throughout the city are a smattering of chic hotels, restaurants and shops. We love designer Vasanty Manet’s Via Pondichery Boutique for quality gifts, Aurobindo and Auroville branded artisans quality goods at the Auroville community’s various outlets around the city and both Palais de Mahe and Maison Perumal in the French Quarter for the quality of food, service and accommodation their CGH experience brand of hotels delivers.
6. Fresh air markets and kiosks and French bakeries with fabulous breads and croissants.
7. The legacy of Sri Aurabindo Ashram – Sri Aurabindo started his ashram (community) in 1926 in one small building with 24 sakhaks (followers). Now, the ashram in his name covers over 400 buildings in the town. Much of the pursuit of higher consciousness for the followers, involves alleviation of the suffering of others through empowerment projects. So, the ashram has brought life and commerce back to many of the waterfront buildings. The focus of the ashram’s community life is still the main building – an interconnected block of grey houses. At its centre, in a shaded courtyard, lies the Samadhi white marble shrine where the bodies of the founders, Sri Aurbindo and the Mother are laid to rest. You can visit at set hours most days.
8. Nearby Auroville – We’ll write more about Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in an upcoming post on Auroville, the community the Mother created near Pondicherry.
9. Notre Dames des Anges (Our Lady of the Angels) – This Catholic Church is pretty in pink from the exterior and worth a look inside as well. The interior limestone plaster is made smooth with crushed egg shells. Built in 1855, it sits facing the seawalk and ocean across Goubert Salai Beach Road. Mass is offered in English, French and Tamil.
10. And, the seaside promenade – always the promenade – comes to mind as the most pleasant of all things Pondi. It sits atop a sea wall with a view due east across the Bay of Bengal. Waves crash on the rocks below and there’s almost always a pleasant breeze along this three kilometre stretch. The walkway is wide. If you’ve been, you know what a treat that is in India. From sunrise yogis to sunset strollers, there are always people out enjoying this space and place. Perhaps it’s the 13 foot tall statue of Ghandi located midway along the path that inspires such civil harmony. Regardless, this is one of the most delightful – and safest – places to get some exercise in the city, if not the country.
Thank you to the CGH Earth Experience group for hosting our stay in Puducherry at Maison Perumal. Many thanks also to the KTM Society and Travel XS for sponsoring our travel throughout South India in 2016.
All words and photos are our own and were not shared with the sponsors before publication.