Exploring French colony in Pondicherry and Auroville

Exploring French colony in Pondicherry and Auroville

 

Pondicherry is a quaint little town on the Coromandel coast of Bay of Bengal. Pondicherry or Puducherry was the last French colony in India. It became a part of India in 1954 as a union territory. At the time of transfer to India, the citizens of Indian and French origin in Pondicherry were given the choice to take Indian or French citizenship. There are still some French citizens in Pondicherry who retained their French citizenship. The French colony in Pondicherry makes you feel as if you are not in India. The White town of Pondicherry still has strong French influence with French names of streets and many of the Tamilian speaks fluent French.

Though everywhere on the internet, you will see and read about Pondicherryi’s French quarter but it is less than 10% area of this union territory. Pondicherry is an interesting place to spend a weekend but at the same times, I feel it is a little hyped up in some ways. Maybe because the French colony in Pondicherry looks quite different from any other place in India. Personally, Pondicherry has a special place in my heart and travels because it was a destination on my first solo trip. Pondicherry buildings

The French colony of Pondicherry has a typical French colonial style of buildings with compounds and high walls. These buildings are mostly painted in yellow and blue with highlights of white. These vibrant-looking buildings make it one of the favorite destination among travelers and photography enthusiasts. The NGO INTACH worked a lot in Pondicherry to preserve the old buildings and heritage of the white town of Pondicherry. These days most of the old houses are turned into heritage hotels or restaurants. Puducherry

How to travel to Pondicherry

By Air – The nearest airport of Chennai is 150 Km from Pondicherry and it is connected with all major cities in India.

By Train – There is a small railway station in Pondicherry and few trains arrive & depart from here weekly. For more information check the Indian railway’s schedule here. Otherwise, Chennai is the closest railway station.

Also check Train travel in India & safety tips and How to plan & travel in India

From Chennai to Pondicherry

Taxi is the fastest and convenient way to travel to Pondicherry from Chennai though it is a bit expensive. One way travel cost between 1800 to 2500 INR. There are several online options like MakeMyTrip, Goibibo and Ola outstation for booking a cab.

The most economical way to travel to Pondicherry from Chennai is by bus. There are buses every 15 minutes from Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT). The local buses, which stop on several stops on the way to Pondicherry cost only 80 INR.

The A/C and Volvo buses travel non stop and cost between 250 to 300 INR. The advance bus tickets can be booked on Redbus’s website.

On my first solo trip to Pondicherry, I traveled by bus and it was quite convenient. I rented an autorickshaw from Pondicherry bus stop to my hotel in White town of Pondicherry. The cycle rickshaws are also available on bus terminus. Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus (CMBT)

Best time to visit Pondicherry

The winter months from October to February is the best time to visit Pondicherry in terms of weather. There are occasional rains during this time of the year because of retrieving monsoon.

April to June is the peak summer season and temperature can go up to 42 to 43-degree Celsius.

From July to September is the monsoon season and temperature can vary from 35 to 42-degree Celcius depending upon the rainfall. The humidity is relatively high during this time of the year and it can go up to 93-94%. Generally, the temperature remains mild during this time. Pondicherry buildings

Things to do in Pondicherry and places to visit in Pondicherry in 2 days

Most of the attractions for sightseeing in Pondicherry are in the French quarter area. Matrimandir in Auroville is a must visit place when in Pondicherry, it is 14 Km from the French Quarter. There are some nice beaches in Pondicherry if you also want to relax in the sun and sand. Pondicherry buildings

Places to see in White town of Pondicherry

Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pondicherry

This ashram is developed where Sri Aurobindo settle in 1910 after coming to Pondicherry. Initially, it was a small living place but as his followers started coming and living here from across the world, it took the shape of an ashram. Sri Aurobindo Ashram

There is a library, shop, and museum inside the Ashram but the main attraction are the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in the garden area of the ashram. Also visit their publication close by.

Tips for visiting Ashram – Entry is free. Mobile phone and cameras are not allowed inside. You have to remove shoes before entering the ashram.

Timing – 8:00 AM – 12:00 PM, 2:00 PM – 6:00 PM ri Aurobindo Ashram and Publication Pondicherry

Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

This 100-year-old basilica is a fine example of a Gothic architect in oriental style. It is situated near the Pondicherry railway station. The exterior and interior of the basilica are very well maintained. Basilica’s red and ecru color exterior looks beautiful. The beautifully designed stained glass windows depicting the life of Jesus Christ are the main attraction in it.

Tips for visiting – You can take pictures inside the Basilica but remember it’s a place of worship so don’t make noise or do elaborate photo session inside.

Timing – It remains open from 6:00 AM – 10:30 PM
For people who want to attend mass can visit on these timing – Monday to Saturday is 5:30 AM, 12:00 PM and 6:00 PM and on Sunday at 5:30 AM, 7:30 AM, 12:00 PM, and 5:00 PM. Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Pondicherry

Immaculate Conception Cathedral

This beautiful cathedral is situated in the middle of the white town. The cathedral is built in Portuguese style of architecture and it reminded me of beautiful churches of Goa & Diu.

This Roman Catholic cathedral is the most beautiful place of worship for Christians in Pondicherry. It looks even more beautiful at night when illuminated.

Timings – It remains open from 5.15 AM to 12:00 Noon and 3:00 PM to 8:30 P.M.
The Mass is at 5:15 AM from Monday to Saturday and 5:00 PM on Sunday. Immaculate Conception Cathedral PuducherrySource Wiki Commons

Our Lady of Angels Church

This church is built in the Greco-Roman style of architecture with two pillars on either side of Chappal. Our Lady of Angels Church is sea facing and conduct service every day. In this church, mass is offered in French, Tamil, and English. It is also well maintained from inside and outside.

Timing – It remains open from 6:15 AM to 8.00 PM. Our Lady of Angels Church Pondicherry

Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple

This is one of the oldest temples in Pondicherry and dates back before the arrival of French. The temple is dedicated to Lord Ganesha. It is made in the south Indian style of Dravidian architecture with colorful painting on the pillars.

You can seek blessings of temple elephant Lakshmi by paying some money.

The most popular attraction of this temple is Golden chariot, which is made of teak wood, brass and 7.5 Kgs of gold. According to popular belief, if you pull the chariot then your wishes will be fulfilled. The pooja’s inside the temple has different fees, you can check more details here.

There is no entry ticket for the temple. The dress code is not as strict as in other temples of South India but you should wear clothes covering full legs and shoulders.

Temple timing – It remains open from 5:45 AM to 9:30 PM Pondicherry Manakula Vinayagar TempleSource  Wiki Commons

Varadharaja Perumal Temple Pondicherry

This Dravidian style temple was built the 11th century by kings of Chola dynasty. The temple is maintained and managed by the Archaeological Survey of India as a protected monument.

The presiding deity is of the temple is Lord Vishnu and it is the biggest temple in Pondicherry. The Gopurams and inside walls are painted with vibrant colors depicting stories of Gods & goddess.

Taking a dip in the water tank of the temple is considered auspicious. It is believed that water of the tank has medicinal properties to cure the ailments.

Temple timing – 6:30 AM to 12:00 PM and 4:30 PM to 9:30 PMArulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple

French War Memorial

This monument was inaugurated in 1938 by French governor in memory of French-Indian soldiers who died during the first world war. A bronze plaque lists the names of soldiers who died during the Ist world war. Later on more plaques were added with the names of the soldier who died during world war II.

This monument is still a property of the French government. If you are in Pondicherry on 14th July, which is Bastille day (Independence day in France), then visit the monument at night when it is illuminated in memory of soldiers.

There is a ceremony on 11th November every year to mark the end of world war I and the French government official organize a function here.
There is no entry fee.

Timing – It remains open from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM French War Memorial Pondicherry

Bharathi Park and Aayi Mandapam

This 162-year-old heritage monument located at Bharathi Park in the middle of the French colony in Pondicherry. Aayi mandapam was constructed during the rule of French emperor Napoleon III to honor the efforts of Aayi, Who was a courtesan. She sacrificed for people and destroyed her own house to erect a water reservoir which will supply water for the city.

The white color Aayi Mandapam is surrounded by well-maintained gardens and lawns. There is no entry fee.

Timing – 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM Aayi mandapamSource Wiki Commons

Pondicherry Lighthouse

This lighthouse was constructed by the French government in the 18th century to guide the ships coming to Pondicherry. Now, this 29-meter high lighthouse is converted into a museum after a new lighthouse was made by the Indian government.

You are not allowed to climb the lighthouse due to security reasons. You can view it from outside. Earlier it was opened from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM for visitors to climb. This lighthouse is a piece of history and when you visit Promenade beach you can see this. Light House Pondicherry

Gandhi statue

This is one of the biggest statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Asia. The statue of Mahatma Gandhi was installed here in 1965 but the pillars around it were erected in 1866.

These pillars were brought here from Gingee, a fort 70kms from Puducherry. There is a tunnel which goes from Pondicherry to Gingee fort but it is closed by the government because of the poor ventilation system and silt inside the tunnel.
It’s on the beach front so no ticket and it remains open 24×7. Gandhi statue Puducherry

Promenade Beach

This 1.2 km long stretch along the bay of Bengal starts from War Memorial and end at Dupleix Park. The promenade is mainly a rocky beach and a nice area is developed along the sea beach. Promenade Beach overview

This is very popular among tourists as well as locals as you will see a lot of morning walkers, joggers, jaywalkers and people doing yoga.Yoga at Promenade Beach

Every evening lots of street food vendors set up their stalls and you can enjoy various food items here. A good place to enjoy mornings and evenings when in Pondicherry.

The vehicles not allowed after 6.00 PM on the road running along the Promenade beach. Promenade Beach Pondicherry at night

Rock beach

This rocky beach is a part of the Promenade in Pondicherry. Situated in White town of Pondicherry, it is one of the most popular places among tourist. The beach here is mostly rocky and it is not advisable to go inside the sea from this beach. It’s more like Chowpati in Mumbai where you can go for a picnic. Pondicherry rock beach and pier

Also read about Best beaches of North & South Goa

Matrimandir and Auroville

Matrimandir is 14 Km from French quarter in Pondicherry. You have to go to Auroville by private vehicle or hire an autorickshaw.

There is no entry fee for Auroville but you have to mandatory watch an introductory video on the Matrimandir in the visitor’s area. After watching the video you can take passes for the Matrimandir viewing point, which is approximately 1 Km from the visitors center.

You can either walk to the viewing point or take a free electric shuttle service from the visitor center.

There are a few more points to explore between Matrimandir and visitor’s center. These are the International Zone, with interesting locations like Savitri Bhavan, Unity Pavilion, Bharat Nivas, Tibetan Pavilion, and Inuksuk. It will take 2 to 3 hours minimum to visit these places. Inside Auroville

There are no tickets and it is free of cost to visit Matrimandir in Auroville.

Timing – The passes for Matrimandir can be obtained between 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM from Monday to Saturday and 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM on Sunday. It remains closed on Tuesday. Matrimandir Auroville

Tips for visiting inner chambers of Matrimandir

If you want to go inside the Matrimandir to meditate in the chambers then you have to take prior permission. This booking can be done personally by visiting Auroville a day before. Most of the time they give the booking for the next day but if there are too many visitors then it will be for the next available date.

The booking for visiting the inner chamber of Matrimandir can be done between 10:00 to 11:00 AM and 2:00 to 3:00 PM on all days except Tuesday. Visitors are allowed to concentrate (Mediate) for 15 minutes inside the inner chamber.

The bags, mobile phones, and cameras are not allowed beyond viewing point. You have to deposit these at Access office in Matrimandir before visiting the inner chamber of Matrimandir or garden around it. The visitors are encouraged that they should not carry valuables with them.

Children under 10 years are not allowed beyond viewing point.

There are around two dozen cafes inside Auroville which serve a wide variety of cuisine. Check the details here.

Also, read about My spiritual experience in Himalayan Ashram Satkhol

Auroville beach

Auroville beach is 7 km from Matrimandir and 7.5 Km from the White town of Pondicherry. The beach is clean and lined with palm and coconut trees. The beach is not crowded with tourists. There are several food stalls and shacks on the beach, which serve fresh seafood. The surf is low and soft, which makes it a good place for swimming. During your visit to the French town of Pondicherry spend some time on the beach of Auroville beach. Auroville Beach

Hotels in White town of Pondicherry

During my first visit to Pondicherry, I stayed in Hotel De L’Orient by Neemrana group of hotels. This is an 18th-century building and you can experience the old world charm here. Now it is the most expensive accommodation in Pondicherry.

If you are on a medium budget then stay in Le Dupleix, Villa Bayoud or Le Chateau.

When you are traveling on a budget then stay in Executive Inn or Chaplin Hotel. Hotel De L'Orient

Also, read Best places for solo female travelers in India

Places to eat in Pondicherry

There are so many good eating joints in Pondicherry. It’s foodie’s heaven because of the wide variety of cuisines available in the small area. In Pondicherry, they have Italian restaurants serving wood-fired pizza & other Italian dishes, continental cuisine, burgers & sandwiches, south Indian cuisine, and Creole cuisine. Since it was a French colony so there is some good French bakery selling Baguette, Croissant, Macrons, and Eclairs, etc. It is not possible to eat at all good places during a short trip to Pondicherry but one should eat at some of the places to get the feel of food in Pondicherry.

Café Xtasi
Their pizzas are some of the best in Pondicherry. Though they serve several types or salads and pasta, their wood-fired pizzas are the most popular items. They have more than 25 different types of vegetarian and non-vegetarian pizzas. The toppings on pizzas are more than usual capsicum, tomatoes, onions, salami, and chicken.

Carte Blanche
This restaurant is in Hotel De L’orient. Carte Blanche is one of those places where you can have a formal sit down dinner. Their Creole cuisine is most popular, which is a mix of French and South Indian cuisine. They have inside and courtyard seating area with plants & shrubs around.

Villa Shanti
This is one of the most popular multi-cuisine restaurants in Pondicherry, they serve all most all cuisine. You can have continental, Indian, Italian, French with a wide variety of desserts. The interior is all white and the service is good.

Baker Street
This French bakery serves lots of desserts, sandwiches, crepes, burgers, quiches, etc. You can go there for a meal or just for snacking.

Appachi Chettinad
Though you are in the French quarter of Pondicherry, chances are your taste buds tickle for typical south Indian Chettinad food. In that case visit Appachi, which is an old house now converted into a restaurant. The thatched rooftop and pillars give a typical Tamilian house feeling. You can order a la carte or try a Thali meal. Since it is cooked in Chettinad style so food is slightly spicy.

Kasha Ki Aasha
They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they close early by 8:00 PM. Their breakfast menu is one of the most popular meals of the day. The European styled thalis are something unique though they don’t have a big menu like many restaurants of Pondicherry. Pondicherry at night

Travel tips when traveling to Pondicherry

* It is hot and sunny throughout the year. Carry cotton clothes and keep yourself covered to avoid suntan.

** Drink lots of water to keep yourself hydrated.

* Pondicherry is safe but don’t venture out alone at night because some of the streets are very quiet.

** It was once French colony but don’t compare it with Goa. Dress slightly conservatively.

* Alcohol is cheaper in Pondicherry in comparison to the surrounding states. Due to this many people from Chennai and other surrounding area come here on the weekend.

** You can rent a bicycle or scooter to explore the White town of Pondicherry.

* There is no party scene in Pondicherry like Goa and most of the places close by 11:00 PM.

** If possible visit Pondicherry during the week and avoid traveling on weekends to beat the crowded. Pondicherry crowds over the weekend

Also read more about Indian souvenirs & what to buy in India and What to wear in India

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