Pondicherry—formally named Puducherry, affectionately called Pondy—makes you slow down and give yourself over to the quieter pleasures in life. Most people hit up the former French colony for the weekend, tanking up on the cheap and cheery alcohol and the pretty seaside views. But if you’re hankering for more than bumming around on the beach, here are five ways to get acquainted with this sunshine city on the Bay of Bengal.
Walking or bicycling down Pondy’s tree-lined avenues is the best way to imbibe its old-world charm. Soak in the bright colours and clean lines of the colonial buildings in the beachside French quarter, and cross the canal for the restored grand Tamil mansions. While it’s easy to explore the city, INTACH Pondicherry offers guided walks.
Plunge into the warm, azure waves of the Bay of Bengal. We recommend Kallialay Surf School on Bodhi Beach in Tandryankupam and scuba diving with the Temple Adventures dive centre.
The Creole dishes at the gorgeous courtyard restaurant, Carte Blanche, at the Hotel de L’Orient will have you returning for more. Head over to Baker Street for your French boulangerie fix. Give in to the mesmerising pleasure of watching a chocolate spoon melt into a chocolate cup of hot cocoa at Zuka. For south Indian food, head to Surguru on Mission Street. It doesn’t get more relaxing than catching the sunset at Le Cafe on the promenade.
The French quarter is peppered with pretty, quirky boutiques that are worth browsing through. Rummage through the factory outlets of leather goods store Hidesign and clothing store Titanic for great cut-price deals. Stop by Fleurs en Flacon, an enterprise by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, that creates organic perfumes and cosmetics (vegan toothpaste, anyone?); as with all the stores here, check timings before you turn up.
If you’re inclined toward an earth-friendly, sustainable lifestyle, swing by Auroville, about a half-hour ride from the city. The experimental township set up in the vision of Sri Aurobindo and a Frenchwoman known as The Mother, is home to an international community that offers a wide range of activities. You can meditate at Matrimandir (or just take the scenic walk to view its unusual architecture from outside); drop by the farms in its green belt to volunteer, share a meal or take a class; take a course at hubs like Pitanga Cultural Centre; sign up for therapies at the Quiet Healing Center and pick up some La Ferme Cheese before you leave. Pizza is best served at Tanto. Stock up on jams like the Naturellement range and cheeses including La Ferme’s at Farm Fresh in Kuilapalayan, which also has a cafe.
Eco-friendly wear, incense, essential oils, and esoteric books are on hand at the Visitors Centre. Lunch at the simple but scrumptious veg restaurant The Right Path or grab a cuppa at Dreamer’s Cafe before making a beeline for lifestyle stores Kalki and La Boutique d’Auroville, which also have outlets in the French quarter in the city.
Updated in June 2017.
The union territory of Pondicherry can be reached by direct flights from Bengaluru and Hyderabad; the nearest airport otherwise is in Chennai. Trains run to Pondicherry station, and to Villupuram Junction, about 35km from the city. Pondicherry is most easily accessible by road from Chennai in Tamil Nadu. Hop on to a bus from Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus or hire a cab, for the four-hour journey from Chennai. For directions on getting to Auroville, click here.
The best time to visit is from November to March. There is a free open-air beach concert every Republic Day (January 26).
Catch a play at the Adishakti Laboratory for Theatre Research, visit the tranquil Sri Ramanasramam ashram in Tiruvannamalai (100km/2hr from Pondicherry), and take in the seaside delights and shore temples of Mahabalipuram (100km/1.5hr from Pondicherry).