Pondicherry is a charming seaside town lying 160km south of Chennai. Though not packed with tourist attractions it is still a great place to relax and soak up the unique atmosphere stemming from its French colonial past and south Indian location. The town is well suited to those who like to walk or cycle around, check out the architecture, eat great food or even get in touch with their spiritual side.
Formerly renowned as the ‘French Riviera of the East’, Pondicherry has more recently gained fame as a location in the blockbuster movie Life Of Pi.
Pondicherry proper – rather than the urban sprawl that surrounds it – is quite easy to navigate and is basically divided into four ‘quarters’: French, Tamil, Muslim and Christian. The Tamil area hosts the markets, temples and hustle-and-bustle of the town, but most tourists will head for the quaint and picturesque French Quarter where streets retain their French names, locals still use bicycles to get around and crumbling (and renovated) French-era villas stand next to old churches.
The French Quarter is a great place to wander or cycle around, stop to take photos, find a spot for coffee and croissants and relax with a good book. In the shady streets you can sometimes catch the aroma from local bakeries blending with the sea air.
Pondicherry is famous for its association with Indian spiritual guru Shri Aurobindo and the Mother. The grey and white buildings that dot the French quarter are owned by the Aurobindo trust and a visit to the Aurobindo ashram is a common reason to visit Pondicherry, as well as a trip to nearby Auroville, a fascinating part of the guru’s legacy.
Despite what the travel guides say, you can’t compare Pondicherry to Goa with its numerous beaches, or to Kerala with its backwaters, but it does have its unique charm and we can safely recommend a 2 to 5 day stay here.