9 Places With the French Touch in Pondicherry
Pondicherry is a coastal town, and it had been under French rule for centuries till India became independent in 1947. This coastal town is often referred to as the India's French Riviera.
The nine places worth visiting are as given under
- Any house in the heritage town
- Aurobindo Ashram
- French Consulate
- Promenade beach
- Chunnambar boating
- Savitri Bhavan
This peaceful town has a sleepy nature and time comes to a standstill. So it is a perfect place to unwind for two days.
Pondicherry's French connection
Major part of this town looks closer to Tamil Nadu in culture, language and ethnic mix while the French connection can be felt through the architecture in the heritage town and a small population of French nationals who continue to live there.
The heritage buildings in Pondicherry (or Puducherry) look very different from those of the British colonial structures seen elsewhere in the country. Besides the heritage town, Puducherry has other attractions like beautiful beaches and an experimental town called Auroville.
How to reach?
At around 100 miles south of Chennai, this town can be reached in two hours of drive time. The East Coast Road (ECR) is the most preferred route from Chennai. The scenic road to Pondicherry is so popular that "the journey itself can become the destination".
List of Things to do
1. Residential Buildings in White Town
The old French town is the most important place to visit since it has kept much of its heritage. It is also called the white town as white people (read French) stayed in this part of the town in the olden days. The heritage houses were designed based on the Franco-Tamil architecture, an amalgamation of the two styles.
The houses in the French part of the town have certain distinct characteristics. Most of the houses have a courtyard with some greenery and an arched gate. Bougainvillea is an integral part of their gardens. High compound walls ensure the privacy of the occupants. White, peach and yellow are the predominant colors used on the walls.
2. Aurobindo Ashram
Mirra Alfassa, a French national more famously known as Mother and her spiritual collaborator Sri Aurobindo, an Indian national had a major influence on the spiritual movement in Pondicherry in the early twentieth century.
Aurobindo Ashram is a spiritual hub founded based on their principles and is in the heritage town where meditation sessions are held regularly. It has a library where one can find books on Yoga by Sri Aurobindo and teachings by Mother.
A distinct French touch can be seen in the Pondicherry churches. Our Lady of Angels Church, Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Conception Cathedral are well-known churches in Pondicherry.
4. French Consulate & Other Official Buildings
The French consulate building is closer to Promenade beach and has a touch of yellow in its walls. Other monuments worth a visit are the Legislative assembly, Pondicherry museum and almost every building that one stumbles across in the white town.
5. Promenade Beach
The main beach in Pondicherry is called the Promenade beach, and it is right next to the white town. One can go for a stroll in the evening to enjoy the breeze and its picturesque surroundings. The beaches in Pondicherry are a little rocky and look different from the sandy beaches of Chennai.
6. Sunnambar Boating
Sunnambar backwater is located south of Pondicherry on the way to Cuddalore. They offer boating facilities that take one to a secluded beach near the mouth of the backwater. With pristine sand and clean water, this is the most beautiful beach in Pondicherry and it is called the Paradise beach or Plage Paradiso in French. One can spend an hour of two at the beach before taking a return boat.
Jawaharlal Nehru Street and M G Road offer some interesting street shopping experience at Pondicherry. One would get anything from garments to electronic goods at reasonable prices. One should also visit Casablanca, an outlet with a distinct ethnic and classical touch in the heritage town.
Auroville is not in Pondicherry union territory but it is a neighboring town in Tamil Nadu. It is worth a visit when one is in Pondicherry. It was conceptualized and created by the Mother as an experimental town where people from all over the world can live in harmony and achieve progress cutting across religious, linguistic and racial barriers. One can feel the French connection at Auroville too.
It is a place of spiritual significance and is referred to as the soul of the city. The structure has a prominent golden dome, and it houses an inner chamber that serves as the meditation center. This is a recent structure as the construction got completed in the year 2008. A walk for around 20 minutes from the visitor center would take one to the viewpoint from where the dome structure comes in full view.
9. Savitri Bhavan
It is an education center to spread the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and Mother. It has a reading room with books related to their teachings and a picture gallery where many paintings are on display. Programs such as classes, exhibitions and musical events are also conducted every day inside the premises.
Connecting with Nature
The entire town of Auroville is created on the principles of sustainable living and one would feel connected with nature. There is lush greenery everywhere not so common in other parts of Tamilnadu. Auroville botanical garden is an example of how community efforts can help improve the green cover.
Pondicherry has a plethora of stay options. If one needs to stay in a beach property, there are good options like Promenade in the middle of the town, St. James Court on the outskirts or Bonjour Bonheur Ocean Spray far away from the town.
One can also check out heritage stay options in the white town. There are many such heritage options available and one can pick the good ones based on the latest online reviews.
There is a French restaurant by name "New Banana Cafe and Restaurant" operating on a terrace in Rue Cazy Street. During our recent visit, we realized that it was patronized mainly by French nationals and other Europeans. Since the menu was not elaborate, we ended up trying everything they had like Crepes, Tarts and Quiches. The food was enjoyable even for someone like me not used to French cuisine. So the French touch can be felt also through the food in this quaint town.