Tree-lined boulevards, charming colonial heritage buildings, breathtaking virgin beaches…magnificent monuments… nicknamed the ‘The French Riviera of the East’ or ‘India’s Little France’ Puducherry or Pondicherry is an amazing union territory tucked in India’s coastal region known for its unique French culture that attracts thousands of tourists from all over.
Comprising of four regions i.e. Puducherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam, what makes this Union territory unique is while Puducherry and Karaikal are located on Tamil Nadu’s east coast; Mahe is situated on the east coast of Kerala and Yanam near Andhra Pradesh.
Once the erstwhile French colony, Ponidicherry has a rich history with excavations even finding evidence that point to this union territory once being the trading centre where Roman goods were imported probably in the 1st century AD.
A destination like none other in India, what probably draws hordes of tourists here is its Sri Aurobindo Ashram set in the international city of Auroville by Sri Aurobindo Ghose, one of India’s best known philosopher-poets. Known for the spiritual assistance and yoga that it provides, this Ashram attracts devotees from different parts of the globe. Mirra Alfassa, was one such follower who stayed on and was instrumental in setting up Auroville as we know it today. Also known as the ‘City of Dawn’ Auroville, is a community that accommodates people from different nations with the purpose of unifying peoples with diverse backgrounds. A self sufficient community, one can find gardens, farms, libraries, an amphitheatre, even wildlife areas, while sections of the community engage in small-scale industries, the aim here being one of continuous learning.
Of the various monuments here, some of the most prominent ones are the French War Memorial, a memorial honoring those soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War.
Known for its interesting architecture, the Mairie is a beautiful French styled building opposite the Serenity Beach; other monuments here include a four meter tall statue of Gandhi amidst intricately carved pillars.
Raj Niwas though not open for the public, is a must view for its brilliant architecture. An eighteenth century building, it is home to monumental pillars, that were brought from the Gingee Fort after its fall in 1751.
Of the many statues here, the ones that deserve a special mention include the statue of Joan of Arc, a Catholic saint and heroine of France; it is set in a well laid garden in front of the L’Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges, a famous church here.
The southern tip of Goubert Avenue houses a beautiful statue of Dupleix, in honor of Francois Dupleix, who governed Pondicherry till 1754.
Of the churches here, some of Pondicherry’s well known churches include the Church of our Lady of Immaculate Conception for its medieval architecture, the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church or Eglise De Sacre Coeur De Jesus for its Gothic architecture, and Englise De Notre Dame Das Anges built in Greek Roman style. One can also find some picturesque stained glass paintings in these churches, depicting scenes out of the Bible.
Pondicherry is also home to over 350 beautiful temples, some known for their exquisite carvings built in the 10th century by the Chola kings. Some must visit temples include the 300 year old Manakula Vinayagar Temple, the Sanibagavan Temple (Pondi) i.e. home to the world’s tallest Saneeswarar idol, the Saneeswaran Temple, (Karaikal) an ancient Shiva temple built in the 7th century, the Prathyankara Temple known for its 72 feet tall idol of the Goddess.
Once home of famous poet Subramaniya Bharati and poet Kanaksubburatnam who wrote under the name of Bharatidasan, today their ancestral homes have been converted into museums and are major attractions here. Other museums here include the Doll Museumwhich though small, is still a must visit if travelling with children, and the Pondicherry Museum that houses a wonderful collection of sculptures and other archaeological findings from Arikamedu. Also on display here are coins and other items from the Chola Dynasty, apart from a wide range of paintings, handicrafts etc.
The Botanical Gardens set up here in 1826, is a beautiful place to enjoy nature and one can find a vast variety of rare and exotic plants here; an aquarium here also displays a wide range of marine life
The Chunnambar backwaters is an ideal picnic spot for a wonderful boating experience; the beach at Chunnambar also called Plage Paradiso is a natural habitat for many playful dolphins. The tree houses that can be rented here also adding to the excitement.
Pondicherry is also known for its delightful beaches; besides the Plage Paradiso other beautiful beaches here include the Serenity Beach and the Karaikal beach known for its beautiful sunrise.
At a distance of around 20 Km, Arikamedhu is an interesting archaeological site that dates back 2000 years. Evacations here have revealed pots, wine jars, Roman coins & more and are now housed at thePondidherryMuseum, while Thiruvakkarai or Tiruvakkarai at a distance of 30 km is India’s first Wood-Fossil Park
Other attractions here include the French Institute, Manakula Vinayanagar, Mailam Murugan Temple, Mansion Aandha, Mandagupettu and Ousteri Lake.
Sounds interesting? While the nearest airport is at Chennai, Pondicherry has a good network of roads connecting it to other parts of the country, and National Highway 45, covering Pondicherry. The nearest railhead is Villupuram (36 kms), but one can also take the train to Cuddalore and head to Pondicherry by road.
Want to take back a bit of this beach paradise? Pondicherry is well known for its papier mache toys, aromatherapy products such as scented candles and hand-made incense sticks, semi-precious stones, wood carvings, brass figurines, bronze idols, and palm leaf articles.
A beautiful place, it is surrounded by many interesting getaways too such as the glorious rock temples of Mamallapuram, misty hill stations of Yercaud and Kodaikanal and temple towns of Kanchipuram, Chidambaram and Tiruvannamalai.
Its well preserved French heritage along with a unique blend of Tamil cultural gives it a special ambience that just cannot be felt elsewhere, making it an enchanting and different tourists destination that one should not miss!