Pondicherry, officially known as Puducherry, and commonly referred to as just Pondy, is one of the seven Union Territories of India. This former French colony is a perfect amalgamation of the traditional Indian sensibilities and French architecture, making it a dreamy escape that offers the best of both worlds.
The streets of the French Quarter of Pondicherry, also known as White Town, are dotted with charming mustard-yellow colonial structures with bougainvillaea laden walls. These are interspersed with cosy cafes and chic boutiques that offer delectable French cuisine and beverages. Simply strolling down these streets, can give the traveller an insight into the fairytale charm of Pondicherry.
Come explore the boulevards and rues (the French word for streets) of the Pondicherry that will ultimately take you down to the gorgeous seaside promenade, where the Bay of Bengal playfully splashes the shores of the famous Rock beach.
Topped with authentic French bakeries, bohemian stores and cobble-stoned paths that are delightful for a leisurely stroll or bicycle ride, Pondicherry has a lot to offer. So head on down to this dream town of the Indian Coast and chug a few beers (at the Union Territory prices; bid adieu to state taxes) or just read a book in one of the quaint cafes.
Paradise Beach, also known as Plage Paradiso, is situated in Chunnambar, close to Pondicherry town. Adorned with the golden sand, this famous and highly sought after beach is always swaying in a cold sea breeze. This is a little-isolated beach, and to reach here, you have to take a ferry across the backwaters, which takes around 20-30 minutes. The sand of the paradise beach is extraordinarily soft and grainy – and a walk along the entire beach is fantastic.
Part of the fun in reaching the beach is the beautiful ferry from the boathouse – the backwaters on the way to the beach are green and have thick mangrove forests. Especially after the monsoons, the backwaters are fresh and green. You can spot a lot of birds while on the ride – and photography enthusiasts would relish the opportunity to get some great photos here.
The currents in the water are high, so it is advisable to not go deep in the water. There are a few shacks along the main entrance to the beach, and you can get fresh coconut water and some simple snacks – don’t expect any fancy street food though. Paradise beach is a great spot to reach early morning and get a view of the sunrise on the eastern coast. You can spend hours sitting on the beach and enjoying the waves. A variety of water sports facilities are available here as well – enthusiastic tourists can try a hand at fishing as fishing rods and nets are easily available for rent.
Located in the White Town of Pondicherry, Aurobindo Ashram has been named after its creator- Sri Aurobindo Ghosh. The foundation of this ashram was laid on 24th November in the year 1926 when he was surrounded by his disciples all over after he retired from politics and settled in Pondicherry. This ashram was set up with the aim of helping people attain moksha and inner peace. Thousands of tourists from all over the country visit the ashram to experience and achieve spiritual knowledge. The ashram is by far one of the wealthiest ashrams in the world. Also, the ashram does not have any branches and solely exists in Pondicherry.
The day this ashram was set up is known as the founding day of the ashram which has been described by Sri Aurobindo in his writings as “less been created than grown around me as its centre”. Mirra Alfassa who was one of Aurobindo’s followers played a vital role in the establishment of the ashram. Soon after Sri Aurobindo Ghosh’s death in 1950, she took care of the Aurobindo Ashram and was known as the ‘Mother’ of the ashram. At present, the Ashram has over five hundred devotees, five hundred students involved in the democratic progress school and thirteen hundred patients. All these people live in the Ashram’s main building which comprises of a block of houses which are connected with each other. These houses are located nearby the ashram at walking distance.
Some of the facilities offered by the Ashram including the library and the main building can be accessed only after receiving a gate pass from the Bureau Central or guest houses of the Ashram. In addition to this, the ashram also has a spiritual centre which consists of four houses which were inhabited by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo for different intervals of time. There exists a samadhi as well in the courtyard under the frangipani tree where the bodies of Mother and Sri Aurobindo were buried. People come to pay their respect every day by laying flowers on it.
Conceived as the ‘Universal Town’, Auroville is an experimental township where people from across the world of all cultures and traditions come and live together in peace. Located around 15 km from the city of Pondicherry, Auroville is located in Tamil Nadu and was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa, a disciple of Aurobindo and fondly known as the ‘Mother’ of Sri Aurobindo Society.
This universal township was inaugurated on 28 February 1968 with the agenda that it will be a place with people willing enough to make this a hub of uninterrupted education and progress, regardless of their caste, creed, nationality or race. People from 124 countries including Indians from 23 different states came together with some of their native soil brought from their homelands and deposited in a marble urn.
Currently, over 2,800 people from over 195 different nationalities form the official residents of this township. The Aurovilleans as they call themselves live together on the principles of peace, harmony, sustainable living and ‘divine consciousness’ which was the philosophy of the Mother. Major forestation work was done by the early Aurovilleans which has made this erstwhile completely barren land into a huge patch of greenery. The project was supported by the Govt. of India, and the UNESCO passed a resolution in 1966 commending this as “a project of importance to the future of humanity”.
Called the city of dawn, this place is the epitome of tranquility and proves as the perfect escape for the ones in search of peace. The best way to experience Auroville ashram is to actually just sit in one of the cafes, and talk to some of the residents here about their experience of living in the city – you would be surprised to find out how much the people living here love the concept and the life.
The architecture of the city is as interesting as the concept. The city is planned in a circle of radius 1.25kms, and the center of the city is the famous Matrimandir along with the gardens surrounding it. Just outside this are the industrial zone, the cultural zone, the peace zone, and the residential zone. Outside this, the entire city is surrounded by a “green belt” – this is supposed to act as a barrier against urban encroachment, a wildlife habitat, and sources of food/timber/etc. This entire area was created out of a wasteland, demonstrating the ability to conserve nature while developing a town.
The main attraction here is the “Matrimandir” – you can watch an introductory video about the concept of the city, and sit here in silence to concentrate. With water pooling in from different sides, the sound of the water and cool breeze which always flows, provides a perfect atmosphere for meditation. The mandir is an architectural masterpiece with a 30m high globe with a lotus-shaped foundation urn. The entry is free of costs, and you can only buy the tickets in person at the venue, not online. The walk from the entry gates to the center takes around 10-12 minutes.
One of the things that does justice to Pondicherry’s French Roots is its beautiful Seaside Promenade. The area is well maintained, clean and beautiful and you can actually feel foam spray on your face while sipping a cooler in one of the many cafes at the promenade. Whether you’re visiting during the sunny day or the starry night, the Seaside Promenade is equally feel good.
Situated within a half hour drive of the French colonial town of Pondicherry, Arikamedu is an ancient Roman trade centre hidden from the eyes and ears of the commonplace Tamil tourism. Its name has been taken from the Tamil word- ‘Arikanmedu’ which means ‘eroding mount’. Very little is known about any Indo-Roman ties in the Before Christ era, but with the discovery and excavation of Arikamedu, extensive proofs were unearthed. This port town was occupied by the people of Rome, Cholas, and French serving as a very famous maritime centre from 1st century BC to 2nd century AD. The glass bead manufacturing factory of Arikamedu is called the mother of all bead centres in the entire world.
The first dig in Arikamedu took place in the 1940s, and since then these excavations are continuously being carried out. Out of these, the institution of Sir Mortimer Wheeler was the most encouraging. At present, the town does not have much to it other than the two perpendicular walls which were laid open and the French Jesuit Mission House which was constructed in the 18th century. More so, one can come across mango trees and coconut trees in this region. The site also comprises of numerous amphorae having the mark of the Roman schools including VIBII, Camuri and IITA present there.