Pondicherry: The French Colony of India
I always wanted to visit Pondicherry since a long time. But due to hectic schedules at work, I was not able to plan my trip. However, one day I was talking with my friend who studies in Chennai about going to Pondicherry together and I was so excited that the very next day I sent an application for one week leave to my boss. I got the leave approved and I booked my tickets to Chennai. So, here begins my trip to Pondicherry. Finally!!
I went by flight till Chennai where my friend picked me up and then we took a local air conditioned bus from the nearest bus stop to Pondicherry (There are a number of state-run and private buses which to go Pondicherry at regular intervals – Both AC and NonAC and they are priced reasonably). We got to sit immediately, however, you should be prepared to stand for a while in case the bus is full. Once the bus started, we were in for a scenic experience. The bus goes via the ECR route (East Coast Road) and has a spectacular view of beaches on one side and greenery on the other.
Journey from Mumbai to Pondicherry
Flight – 2 hours
Bus – Approx. 3.5 hours. (Will suggest you to book the bus ticket beforehand as it will give you preference of seats and give you the timings of the bus so that you can plan your air tickets accordingly)
Total – 6 hours (Taking into consideration the travel time from the airport to the bus stop and the wait for the bus)
After a journey of three and a half hours, we got down at the Pondicherry bus depot and took a rickshaw to go to the French Colony. Once we reached there, we went to few hotels to check the rooms and services. After going to some 4 hotels, we finalized on Dumas Guest House on the Dumas Street. We really liked it because it was very peaceful and was located only 20 meters from the promenade. The tariff was around INR 2,800 a night including breakfast. And one more reason we loved the place was because the owner was extremely sweet and helpful.
Getting around Pondicherry
I will personally recommend hiring either a car or a bike to go around places in Pondicherry.
See, Eat & Relax
Also known as the French town/ White Town, it will make you wonder if you are in India or France. Since we were living in the French colony, we went walking through the different lanes and by lanes most of the time. The entire town has classic French colonial architecture and design. There are beautiful white, grey and mustard walls and houses with arched gateways surrounded by trees with pink and yellow flowers. The entire atmosphere is so soothing that walking around automatically fills you up with some positive energy.
There are a number of café’s around which are a must try, especially the one’s which offer wood fired pizza’s, steaks and wine. A lot of designer and ethnic clothing boutiques have opened which have an amazing mix of French and South Indian prints.
Situated on the Goubert Ave, it is one of the cleanest promenades I have seen till date. It is approx. 1.5km stretch which is perfect for evening strolls, watching the sunset or just sitting on the rocks and sipping some chai or coffee. The best part is that the entire stretch is shut for vehicles in the evening from 6.00pm to 7.30pm. This is done so that people can walk, cycle, exercise and have a good time at the Promenade. A lot of cafes, restaurants and hotels are situated on this stretch.
There is a French war memorial and a huge statue of Mahatma Gandhi constructed at the Promenade which is a major tourist attraction. There are also many shops selling Aurobindo and Auroville products and many other antiques.
We sometimes cycled in the evenings to the Promenade and it was sheer fun. (A must try)
Auroville is one of the must visit attractions of Pondicherry. Situated approx. 45 mins from the French Colony, Auroville is an experimental township founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa who is famously known as ‘The Mother’. It is a place where people from different cultures, nationalities come to attend several workshops, therapies, and sessions to seek inner peace. There are various hotels in and around Auroville for people to stay and enjoy the peaceful town.
The major highlight of Auroville is the golden lotus shaped Matrimandir. It has a huge opening from the top and has reflective glass inside which lights up the entire room when sun rays hit the glass. It is a perfect place for meditation and concentration. Prior bookings are required to go to Matrimandir and it is open only till 11am.
There are various boutiques which have Auroville products such as candles, lotions, handicrafts etc. They also have bakery’s baking fresh bread, croissants, cakes, and baguettes every day which smells and tastes delicious.
Though we had our fair share of the Promenade/ Rocky Beach as they call it, we were still missing the experience of sand on our feet, so we decided to head to the other side of the town which is separated by a canal (formerly known as the black town). During our search, we stumbled upon a beach approx. 1 hour away from our hotel. But we could not find out the name of the beach as there was hardly anyone there. Clean and beautiful, the beach was surrounded by coconut trees and fisherman’s boats. The experience of sitting on the soft sand and looking at those waves and creativity of the clouds was pure serenity.
The next day we went to the famous Serenity Beach, which comes on the way to Auroville. This beach had more people and activities going on. We saw people surfing and paragliding. The best part about this beach is that there is a huge rock pathway which enables you to go a little on top and see the entire beach. The view was just spectacular from there.
The beaches in and around Pondicherry are mainly used by fishermen and hence you would see plenty of boats and fishing nets around.
Caution: Be prepared to take the smell of the fish.
Restaurants and Café’s
A foodie’s delight, Pondicherry is one of the best place to try various cuisines. If you are a seafood lover, then Pondicherry is the place to be. Some restaurants even serve amazing steak (My friend and I don’t eat steak, but most of the people with whom we interacted suggested us to try some steak and wine). Well, here is the list of cafés and restaurants which we went to during our stay in Pondicherry.
Le Cafe: It is a café, situated right at the Promenade and serves amazing refreshments and snacks. It is open 24/7, so you can go at any time of the day and enjoy the amazing view of the Bay of Bengal.
Le Club: Situated at Dumas Street, it is a fine dining restaurant which was right next to our hotel. So we went there for dinner one day. The menu is quite unique and offers French cuisine with an Indian touch. We tried their prawn curry with saffron rice which was to die for. The place was so lively and bustling with energy that it instantly lifts your mood.
Bon Bakes: It is a bakery located on the Bakers Street (famously known as the market). It is a very sophisticated looking bakery and nothing like the old French colonial boutique cafe’s that we had visited till now. But while strolling through the market, we felt like having a coffee and when we saw Bon Bakes we went inside. They serve some amazing coffee and their Irish cake is to die for. They have a variety of cakes, croissants to offer.
Surguru: A complete delight for people who love to eat South Indian dishes for breakfast. The vada’s and dosas are a must try. It is situated at the Mission street.
Satsanga: The owners of our hotel had suggested us to go to this place and had said that it is a must go restaurant when you are in Pondicherry. But unfortunately it was under some maintenance work, so it was shut when we went there.
Tanto: It comes on your way to Auroville. They serve some delicious wood fired pizza with fresh toppings. It is a little away from the city and has a very quiet and peaceful surrounding. If pizza and beer is your thing, then you should definitely not miss out on Tanto.
There are a plethora of different restaurants and cafes around, but we couldn’t go to all of them. Some of them which I would really like to visit the next time I go to Pondicherry are:
Café Des Art, Lighthouse Grill, Villa Shanti, Café Carte Blanche, La Maison Rose, Café de Flore.
Quiet Healing Center
Situated 10 mins away from Auroville, near the serenity beach, it is one of the most amazing healing centers I have ever been to.
Quiet Healing Center is Auroville’s wellness center on the beach which offers various healing therapies and workshops. It is a place where you feel relaxed and rejuvenated as soon as you enter. This place hosts people from different parts of the world who book their sessions 4-5 months in advance. They also have rooms for people to stay so that they can completely concentrate on their therapies and classes. They have many therapies such as foot massage, healing touch massage, deep tissue massage, acupuncture, aquatic bodywork, Shiatsu, yoga sessions etc.
I went for the aquatic bodywork, also known as the Watsu therapy. It was a unique experience for me.
Therapy: It is done in a mid-sized swimming pool with warm water and soft tune playing in the background. You are accompanied by a therapist who keeps you floating on the surface all the time. It involves stretching, folding of the body along with slight pressure points at the joints to relieve pain if there is any. It also includes an underwater session where the therapist gives you a nose clip and takes you underwater and helps you relax. It is a sort of water dance which offers complete relaxation of the muscles and mind. The session usually lasts for 1.5 hours. Prior bookings are recommended.
This was one of the most exhilarating experience I have ever had and I will suggest that you should not at all miss this place and therapy if you ever visit Pondicherry.
There are many churches in Pondicherry which were built during the French Colonial rule. They are a work of architectural beauty and spending some time inside these churches definitely gives you the solace you need. If you are an art connoisseur then you should definitely spend some time going to various churches here.
Well, traveling around the streets of French Colony, soaking in the sun at the beaches, gorging on some delicious cuisines, finding inner peace and serenity in Auroville, relaxing the body with Watsu Therapy, I couldn’t have asked for more happiness and good energy from my vacation.
However, there are many more places which I could not visit and will make it a point to go during my next visit. Some of them are:
- Old Lighthouse
- Shri Aurobindo Ashram : It is a must visit
- Chunnambar Boat House : It is great picnic spot and for people who love boating
- Paradise Beach
- Pondicherry Museum
- Cafés and Restaurants we missed out on
- Botanical Garden
Note: Many people think that Pondicherry is similar to Goa, but in reality they are poles apart. Goa is a place where you can party whereas Pondicherry is a place to enjoy some quality and peaceful time.
P.S.: Wander as much as you can, as it is the only happiest place to be in!!