Pondicherry is synonymus with French heritage in India. Many of the monuments in Pondicherry bear an imprint of French influence. Just walk along the streets, you will feel the uniqueness of the city
Pondicherry (officially renamed as Puducherry) is a centrally administered territory located in the southern part of India, about 160 km south of Chennai (formerly Madras). The town served as the capital of French territories in India until 1954 when it was ceded to the Government of India. Pondicherry is synonymous with French Heritage in India and centuries of French rule has imparted this place a strong French feel in its architecture and monuments.
There are a number of monuments in Pondicherry which bear an imprint of French influence. It includes the French built children’s park with a statue of Dupleix, the Mairie building which currently houses the Puducherry Municipality, Romain Rolland Library, Le Café, The Church of Lady of Angels, statue of Joan of Arc at Dumas street, the French war memorial and the French consulate building.
The oval shaped design of the city centre with right angled street intersections and the boulevard encircling the main city all have a marked French influence. The street signs are bilingual, in French and Tamil (local language). The road along the sea, which is part of the Pondicherry heritage, is a classic example of French construction. Various French learning institutes have been set up recently and most of the good hotels in the town require their staff to be proficient in French language. Just walk along the streets, you are bound to experience the French influence that has subtly merged with the local culture, yet maintaining a unique identity of its own.
What to see
Sri Aurobindo Ashram, founded in 1926, is the place where the world renowned saint Sri Aurobindo and his revered disciple Mother Mirra Richard, popularly known as Maa, spent the most part of their life. Aurobindo preached his ideas of spiritual discipline and a peaceful community from this ashram. The ashram consists of many buildings and the inmates are a diversified community of around 1,200 members and each day the inmates do a certain amount of productive work in one of the various departments of the Ashram. The ashram draws lots of respect as it is the Samadhi place of Sri Aurobindo and attracts millions of visitors from across the globe. The Ashram has a number of guest house accommodations for short term genuine visitors to the ashram, more details on the availability and booking conditions can be found on their official website (www.sriaurobindoashram.org/index.php)
Pondicherry Museum, located on Rue St Louis, houses an excellent collection of articles and provides a glimpse into the rich heritage of Pondicherry. The Archaeological section displays the findings from the excavations of the ancient port city of Arikmedu (200 BC to 200 AD) like Roman pottery, burial urns, coins and ornaments. The Sculpture gallery has bronze statues and sculptures from the Chola and Pallava period. The French gallery covers the most significant part of the museum and it displays coins, arms and lifestyle articles corresponding to the French period in India. The museum is open from 10:00 to 17:00 and is closed on Mondays and other public holidays. The entrance fee currently is Rs 2.
Auroville, situated around 10 km from Pondicherry, is an international city, founded by Mother Mirra Alfassa, the chief disciple of Sri Aurobindo. This place also known as the city of Dawn was designed by a French architect. The city is spread over an area of 25 sq km and its inhabitants are from nearly 30 countries. The majority of people are from India (33%), France (18%) and Germany (15%). The Matri Mandir is the most remarkable monument in this area and is in the form of a massive golden globe which is meant for meditation and concentration. Detailed information about this universal city can be found on their website (www.auroville.org/index.htm)
The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, constructed in Gothic style, is one of the most attractive churches in Ponndicherry. This highly revered church is thronged by thousands of believers to offer prayers. The stained glass windows highlighting the life of Jesus are quite impressive.
Romain Rolland Library is one of the oldest libraries in India and named in honour of Romain Rolland, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi and a renowned French scholar. The library has a collection of more than 300,000 volumes in many languages and includes some rare French books. A separate section is provided for children's books, which is intended to inculcate reading habits in children. Recently published books and magazines are also available for the general public. Located on the Romain Rolland Street, the library is closed on Mondays and all public holidays.
Chunnambar Backwater resort, located about 8 km from Pondicherry along the Cuddalore road is an ideal place to relax and unwind and to admire the beautiful backwaters. You can stay on one of the Tree houses, but unfortunately they were closed when we were around. There is a multi-cuisine restaurant and bar named Seagull, which offers excellent views of the surrounding areas. Various boating options are available, but the most popular one is the trip to the Paradise beach, return tickets cost Rs 75 (1.6 USD approx) per person. The motor boat with nearly 20 people on board takes you to the beach, which is quite clean and you can easily spend a couple of hours exploring the surroundings. Swimming is prohibited due to the dangerous nature of underlying water currents.
How to get there
By air: The nearest airport to Pondicherry is the international airport at Chenai which is around 160 km away. Regular taxi service is available from the airport to Pondicherry and the fare is around Rs 2000 (40 USD).
By train: Pondicherry has a train station but as of now it does not have many connections. The nearest railhead which has good connections with rest of India is Villuparam junction around 45 km away. Train timings, availability of berths and fare can be checked on the official Indian railway website - www.indianrail.gov.in.
By bus: Plenty of buses are available on the Chennai-Pondicherry route. There are two routes available, the scenic ECR route (East Coast road) and the grand trunk route (also known as by-pass), both these routes take almost the same time (3-4 hours). However, tourists wanting to get off at Chennai international airport should use the grand trunk route as it goes via the airport and the buses halt on the main road just outside the airport.
Where to stay
Mid Range: Ginger hotel, Pondicherry, USD 30-40
We stayed in Ginger hotel which was real value for money. Owned by the Tata group, India’s most respected corporate house, this chain of hotels are present in over 20 cities of India and cater to the needs of the mid-segment travellers. The hotel has a multi-cuisine restaurant, book store and a 24 hour café brewing up different varieties of hot and cold coffee and serving delicious snacks. The room was clean with comfortable beds, the housekeeping was efficient with rooms getting cleaned every day. An individually controlled air-conditioning unit, LCD television, refrigerator and an electric kettle along with complimentary tea and coffee making kits was also provided.
Address: Old Venus Theatre, Oulgaret Municipality, Pondicherry-605008
Splurge: Sunway GRT Grand, Pondicherry, USD 90-120
This excellent and aesthetically designed hotel is part of the GRT group, which has quality hotels and resorts in a number of cities of Southern India. The rooms are spacious and clean, there is a multi-cuisine restaurant and a 24 hour coffee shop to keep you busy.
Address: 155D, 100 feet road, Pondicherry-605004