One of the most beautiful places on the Eastern coast of India, Pondicherry is a fantastic place to head to for a relaxing few days. Officially known as Puducherry, it is the official capital of the Union Territory of Puducherry. It’s a sparsely populated, tiny place with a mere area of 492 km2. Pondicherry’s elevation is averaged at sea level, with a 2km long sea-wall against it to protect it from the sea.
The city falls under the Puducherry district and is bordered by Tamil Nadu. Most of its population shares the same culture as that of the state. Pondicherry is famous all around the country for its ‘French colonies’ and here’s why; In 1674, the French East India Company established its headquarters in the city. It remained a part of ‘French India’ throughout the reign of the British until 1954, and then it got incorporated into the Indian Union along with the rest of French India. It has established itself as a major tourist spot in the past few years, especially because of its well maintained, aesthetically pleasing infrastructure. It isn’t a very dynamic place with a lot of things to do, but with the right people you can have a pretty serene couple of days. And we promise you, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Places to visit in Pondicherry –
Promenade Beach and Rocky Beach -
The main beaches that are the closest to the city are the Promenade Beach and the Rocky Beach. As the latter suggests, they are both rock beaches, not sand. You can’t get into the water or make sandcastles or play volleyball. Both these beaches are almost in one single run, and located at a kilometers distance from the railway station. Being a fairly small city, you can reach these beaches on foot, or just take an auto. The public transport here is not very expensive if you can communicate with them properly. We’d suggest that you do either of the following two things or even both, if you have the time - Go watch the sunrise at the Promenade Beach. It’s a beautifully cathartic experience. You will find a handful of people out for their morning walks, with the most adorable dogs. You can sit on the rocks that make the coast of these beaches and enjoy the view and feel the cold water touch your legs and run away. You can also enjoy fresh ‘nariyal pani’ (coconut water) around the beach and begin your day all fresh and healthy. But well, if you’re not an early riser, you can also go to these beaches for an ‘after dinner’ walk. Opposite to these beaches are a great number of restaurants and shops. You will find a lot of people sitting on the beach with their family and enjoying the cool breeze of the night. You can sit for a while, play ludo or something with your friends and even opt for some desserts in the parlors across the beach.
Paradise Beach -
Now let’s talk about the most exotic beach of Pondicherry, Paradise beach. It is situated in Chunnambar, close to the Pondicherry town. So you will have to first take an auto or a cab to the port of Paradise Beach. You can get the tickets to the beach here and deposit anything that you want to. Since it is a tiny isolated beach, to reach this beach you need to get on a ferry ride of 20-30 minutes. The ferry ride is very comfortable, safe and gives you the most luscious views. The beach has beautiful, golden sand. It is adorned with a few shacks, a place for some rain dance, volleyball nets for a typical beach experience. You can go in the water, but they don’t let you go in too deep. You must carry a change of clothes if you plan to go in the water. There are a few eateries and if you want to try your hand at sea food, that’s available too. There are a few activities available at the Paradise beach too. You can easily find fishing rods and nets on rent.
Serenity Beach -
Another beach in Pondicherry that is definitely worth a visit is the Serenity beach. It is located at a 10 km distance from the main city and is a gorgeous getaway. We’d suggest that you take a cab to reach the beach (Ooh, nice rhyme). Its coast is lined with fishermen, rocks, and resorts. Surfing is a popular sport in the vicinity and the ways are high enough to allow you the opportunity. You will also find multiple surfing schools in the area. So we’d highly recommend you to give this uncommon sport a try. You never know what secret gifts you might have within you!
Karaikal Beach –
It is still one of the most unhampered and unadulterated beaches of Pondicherry. It has shallow and clean water and offers ample opportunity for multiple kinds of water sports. You can also go there for a long romantic walk or a breathtaking sunrise. You can go kayaking or canoeing at the beach or just meet some cute strangers and play volleyball with them.
Auroville is an experimental township at an hour’s journey from Pondicherry. It was founded by Mirra Alfassa, a disciple of Aurobindo and fondly known as the 'Mother' of Sri Aurobindo Society. You can set apart one entire day for Auroville and hire a cab to the place. Auroville is an effort to promote peace and harmony among citizens, a hub of progress and education, where people are welcomed irrespective of colour, caste and creed. People from all over the world come to Auroville to dedicate their entire lives to the teachings of Sri Aurobindo. The most famous tourist attraction in Auroville is The Golden Dome in the Auroville ashram, the ‘Matrimandir’, the temple of the Mother. It is a 30 m high globe, with a lotus shaped urn. People have described their experience as extremely tranquil and life changing. The Auroville ashram also has a lot of cafes and markets. Its markets are known for its fragrances. You can buy scented candles, incense sticks and handmade perfumes at the shops. You can visit all of this for free but if you want to visit the ‘Matrimandir’, you will have to go to Auroville a day in advance and book your tickets for the next day. Make sure to look up the regulations and the timings on the official website of the Matrimandir. Mind you, you will have to be physically present to get a ticket for yourself. Having somebody else go on your behalf does not work there. The ticket will get you a guided tour of the inside of the Matrimandir. We know it’s a lot of trouble but trust us, it’s gonna be worth it.
Another place that you can cover on your Auroville visit is the Auroville Bakery and Boulangerie. It is one of the most popular food joints of the town. All the items on the menu are made from materials from the Auro farm. Even the cheesecakes are made from the locally produced cheese in Auroville. The café has another beautiful outdoor sitting arrangement where you can enjoy your coffee with the city life of Pondi. Some of the other popular cafes in the area are Marc’s Cafe, The Greek Cafe and Bread and Chocolate Cafe. Ararat Restaurant, Tanto Pizzeria, known for its wood-fired pizzas, are also great options. You will also find a few ‘vegan-only’ options in the place. Auroville also has beautiful Botanical Gardens that spread across 50 acres, making it the largest one in the region. They feature a full-fledged artificial Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF), which is native to the region. People often go to Auroville for a full day, make their reservations for the next day at Matrimandir, go around the other placed throughout the day and then leave the next morning after a visit to the temple.
Auroville Beach -
Auroville also has its own beach, named after the town itself. It is situated 12 kms away from Pondicherry and lies on the right hand side of East-Coast Road. The beach hasn’t been tampered much by human encroachment till now. There aren’t a lot of food outlets or other establishments. It closes at around 6:30 in the evening and the best place to visit it is right before sunrise and sunset. The beach is also popular for being an important olive ridley turtle nesting ground.
Aurobindo Ashram –
Named after its founder, Sri Aurobindo, the ashram serves as a place set up with the aim of helping people attain moksha and inner peace. It does not have any branches and exists only in Pondicherry. You can stay in the guest houses of the ashram, though you also have a lot of hotels around Pondicherry. Tours, exhibition and video programs are organized in the ashram to impart the teachings of the founder. The facilities offered by the Ashram, such as the library and the main building can be accessed only after receiving a gate pass from the Bureau Central or guest houses of the Ashram. Along with this, the ashram also has a spiritual centre which consists of four houses. These houses were inhabited by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo for different intervals of time. There exists a samadhi as well under the frangipani tree where the bodies of Mother and Sri Aurobindo were buried.
French Colony –
So we know what tempts you the most to visit Pondicherry. The pictures in front of those beautiful French walls, isn’t that right? So, a great portion of Pondicherry still holds in a little France in itself. There is no pinned point as to where this colony begins or ends. It is planned according to the French grid structure and has perpendicular streets. The Heritage Walk in the French Quarter of Pondicherry is mainly through the four streets: RUE DUMAS, RUE ROMAIN ROLLAND, RUE SUFFREN and RUE LA BOURDONNAIS. You will find tens and hundreds of beautiful walls (Basic tip: Bicycles look really pretty against those walls. Make sure you get those pictures for the ‘Gram. Oh, and those vintage walls, you really can’t miss them). This colony has a great number of cafes and resorts and markets. You can either walk or rent a bicycle to take a tour of this place. It is usually full of tourists and also has a great number of markets. You will find boutiques all around the place selling the most exquisite kind of stuff. The houses and villas here have the most beautiful landscapes, majestic doors and big verandahs. The outsides of these houses are usually painted in various colours and adorned by bougainvillea. The streets always look vibrant, adorned with decorations and you will, most probably run into a female vendor selling hand-sewn pouches. You will get the most intricate pouches for a mere 30 bucks.
Religious Places –
You will find a number of temples and churches in Pondicherry.
The Basilica of Sacred Heart Jesus -
The most famous of all is The Basilica of the Sacred Heart Jesus. The only Basilica, and one of the 21 in India, it is located very close to the Pondicherry Railway Station. One of the most beautiful Catholic Churches of Pondicherry, the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus marvelously showcases the Gothic architecture. The lives of Jesus Christ along with the saints of the Catholic Church have been portrayed in the stained glass panels of the building. Thousands of people turn to the Sacred Heart Basilica to find peace every year. This beautiful church is a definite must-visit if you are planning a trip to Pondicherry. It will seclude you and take you to a world of tranquility and solitude, away from the fast-moving life of the city in a mode of complete calm and composure.
Immaculate Conception Cathedral –
The Immaculate Conception Cathedral, situated in White Town is one of the oldest churches of the city. Four churches have been built on the ground on which the present church stands since 1699. The church was visited by Mother Teresa and to this day holds a feast on 8th December knows as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Blessed Virgin Mary. Believers from all parts of the country flock to this architectural marvel every yearto attain blessings in this feast.
Apart from this, there are a good many temples around the city. Most of them have a typical South Indian architecture, painted in beautiful colours, decorated in detailed, ornate sculptures. Few of these temples are the Gokilambal Thirukameshwar Temple, Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple and the ISKCON Temple. Most of the temples are situated in the nearby villages of Pondicherry, away from the main city.
Monuments and Other Places -
There are a few monuments and statues around Pondicherry that you will probably see when you visit other places. There are also a few gardens that you can pay a visit to if you’re visiting Pondicherry for a longer period. The Botanical Garden at Pondicherry has over 1500 plant species present in it. Its main attraction is the musical foundation show. The timings for the show may vary. Pondicherry also has a Museum, which houses numerous antiques, artifacts and archeological findings. It exhibits different findings from the Chola and the Pallava dynasties.
Apart from these, there are tones of markets that you can go to. Another one of our recommendations is the Goubert market. It’s a very close and congested market but if you like flowers, you must pay this place a visit. This place also sells some fresh fruits, vegetables and fish, in case you suddenly decide to go grocery shopping (Beware of the fish smell, though)! Oh, and if you’re a fan of ‘gajras’ (A flower garland for your hair, generally made out of jasmine flowers. You can also wear them around your wrist or ankles), you should definitely get the lady vendors there to tie one in your hair. It’s a lovely experience and the people there are all too excited about sharing their culture with you. Moving on to shopping,
- Mission Street is one of the main markets in Pondicherry. The shop ‘Casablanca’ is supposed to be very famous on this street. You will get stuff ranging from shoddy attired to pans and pots on this street. Oh, and we’d also recommend buying postcards from these markets. They’re made with the most beautiful pictures.
- There’s also the Pondi Sunday Market where you will get a plethora of things to choose from for very low prices.
- There are a lot of elegant boutiques in the White Town area of Pondicherry. Some of them are, Janaki (Romain Rolland St, White Town), Cluny Embroidery Centre (Again, Romain Rolland St., White Town) and La Maison Rose
- There are a lot of shops on Jawaharlal Nehru Street, which is very close to the Mission Street. You can check these places out for a wide variety of bags, clothes, jewellery, and a lot of handmade pottery. Also, fun fact: The founder of the famous luxury bags chain ‘Hidesign’ grew up in Auroville, which is why you will find a large number of outlets for the brand in the city.
- You can check out the beach bazaars that you will find near places like Auro Beach, Serenity Beach. These bazaars have a very village-y vibe about themselves and will sell you the coolest stuff ever.
- Situated on Aurobindo Street, is a cozy little place called ‘SUNDart’. It sells the prettiest handmade stuff, ranging from kid’s toys to clothing.
Places to eat –
Now moving to our favourite part, Pondicherry has so many beautiful little cafes that it’s just gonna melt your heart.
We’ll start with Café des Arts, which is a must visit, in the French Quarters. It has a beautiful interior. Most of these cafes should be preferred to go for breakfast. They serve delicious English and French breakfast dishes and give out a very touristy vibe. Café de Arts is located in a bungalow of sorts, and instead of regular halls, you get to sit in actual rooms.
Then, PY Café on Mission Street is one to be visited at night. The lights really decorate up the place. You can sit on the terrace and enjoy a pleasant breeze. Pondicherry also has a great selection for crepes in a lot of cafes, especially Crepe in Touch on Mission Street and at Artika Café Gallery in White Town. Another famous café is Café Xtasi, which is known for its 21 inch wood baked pizzas. Carte Blanche, Villa Helena, Le Dupleix are few among many other places where you can enjoy amazing French cuisine.
You will also find a few budget friendly restaurants facing the sea, opposite to Promenade Beach. We’d also suggest you to try the famous Chicken Chettinad here. Appachi Chettinad is a typically Tamil place in a French Pondicherry where you can relish yourself with great South Indian cuisine. Satsanga is another must visit place. Their steaks are very famous. It doesn’t have the best ambience, but they offer you food worth your money. Another great place for a romantic evening is The Lighthouse, a rooftop restaurant at the Promenade Hotel and La Pasta, which has a plethora of dishes in the Italian Cuisine.
Also, good news for most people (especially Delhites) – Since the legal age for alcohol in Pondicherry is 18, you get it very easily and for extremely low prices. A great place to enjoy the night life of Pondicherry, (which to be honest isn’t much) is Asta – Drink, Dine, Dance and Repeat, in the Sunway Manor. But to be very honest, we wouldn’t really recommend you to o there unless a lounge party is what you really want. Save those for your Hauz Khas Village trips, Pondicherry has a lot better to offer. Zero House and Paradise Lounge are a few other options for the same. There are way too many places in Pondicherry with amazing food for us to list them all down. So we’ll just leave you to apply some hit and trial in the city. Just tap into any decent place that you see while taking a walk in the city and be surprised. And do tell us what you found best!
Things to do in Pondicherry –
- We’ll begin with what we told you earlier. Go watch the sunrise! A visit to Pondicherry isn’t complete if you don’t witness the sunrise atleast once. The light reflecting back in the water of the majectic beaches,with cold wind brushing your face will leave you with a lifetime memory of such an alluring view. The best thing is that the place has very less and limited visitors at that time and you can enjoy without being pressurized by the crowd that follows in daytime.
- Next has to be SCUBA DIVING! Yes, you heard us right. In fact, Pondicherry is the only diving spot on the eastern coast of India. Scuba Diving is organized by Temple Adventures, a certified PADI centre. Apart from Scuba diving, they offer marine conservation, defense training, films and movies, CSR, disabled diver training, and much more under the supervision of a highly experienced team of divers.
Other diving spots in Pondicherry that you might consider are Aravind’s Wall, Cool Shark Reef, Temple Reef, Ravines, 4 Corners, The Hole, and many more.
Opening Hours: 6:30 am – 7:30 pm (Open round the year)
You should visit their website to find out the charges for customized courses as per your requirements.
- You can also go for a few fun filled water activities on the sand beaches on Pondicherry, such as jet skiing, motor boating and many more. You can also rent bicycles and take a tour of the entire city. Trust us; it’s tiny enough for you to cover the entire city.
- Next come surfing lessons on Serenity Beach! We’d told you earlier too, hit the waves and learn the skill of surfing.
- Apart from these thrilling activities, you can join a lot of recreational and meditational courses that happen all around the city, try to find some quiet and peace. Speaking of peace, you can also go Bird watching in case any of you guys are interested! There’s this man-made freshwater lake in Pondicherry, called the Ousteri lake. It offers amazing views of the sunsets and you should definitely head there to watch some residential and migratory birds.
- We’ve all read and heard about the backwaters of Aleppy. But now it’s time for the unexplored backwaters of Pondicherry. For a mere 300 bucks, you can take a boat ride at the Chunnambar Boat House and ride in their beautiful wooden boat houses, gazing at the lush greenery of Pondicherry. It is a serene experience and something that one should definitely try.
When to go -
Although Pondicherry is located along the sea and is comparatively pleasant almost round the year, the best months to visit this place are from October to March. It gets a little too hot after that. So you can fly to Pondicherry to escape the winters of the northern parts of India.
How to get there –
Pondicherry has its own independent airport and railway station. So if either of those is convenient for you, go for it. However, the fares for a direct flight to Pondicherry may not always fall under budget. A hack to that is that you can take a flight to Chennai, and then take a bus or train from there to Pondicherry.
If you take a flight to Chennai and decide to take a bus, you will find innumerous local and private buses running to and fro Pondicherry. The bus station is a little far from the airport but you will easily find Ubers and Olas running throughout the city. (You will have a little bit of a language problem at first and that goes for any city with a prominent regional language, but you will be able to communicate with most people in a few words in English) It takes an average of 2.5 to 3 hours to reach the main city of Pondicherry. If you are a group of 5-6 people, you may also hire a taxi or take an Ola//Uber Intercity. These might turn out to be a tad bit expensive, so keep that in mind. The journey from Chennai to Pondicherry is quite pleasant once you get out of the main city of Chennai. You can have the sweetest road trip living your ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ moment. However, if you’re looking for a pocket friendly way to reach Pondy in its truest sense, try to find a train. The closest railway station to the Chennai Airport is the ‘Tambaram’ railway station instead of the Chennai Junction. You will get a ticket for mere 90 bucks. Most of these trains only have general compartments and the trains get quite full in Tambaram, so we would advise you to take the train while coming back from Pondicherry, and not the other way around. But please have a look at the train schedule before you decide on an option.
While coming back from Pondy, in our personal experience we’ve felt that the best way is to take the 5:30 am train to Tambaram station. It starts from Pondicherry, so you’ll get ample space to settle. But mind you, while getting down at Tambaram, you will have to be quick and efficient.
A lot of people also prefer to take a flight from Bangalore. On an average it’s a 5 hour flight from Bangalore to Pondicherry. Even if you take a bus or cab, it will take you around 7-8 hours to reach the place. A train would take you 9-10 hours as well. So enough about these boring logistical details. Let’s move on to the better stuff.
Where to stay –
Pondicherry has a lot of places that offer you nice and affordable stay.
- One of the primary choices for people when it comes to stay is the Aurobindo Ashram. But we wouldn’t suggest the Ashram if you wanna have a fun friends’ trip. There are a few restrictions in the Ashram so as to maintain the sanctity of the place. But if you’re in the city on a solo trip, trying to actually delve into the culture of the city, this is the place to go.
- There are a lot of places near the Promenade beach, such as the Hotel du Arc. Apart from that, you can also stay in the loose huts near Auro beach. The beach is hardly at a 500 m distance from the huts and you can easily go there for an early jog.
- There are a lot of Airbnb places near Mission Street, where you can rent villas and independent houses for cheap prices if you’re going in a group. You will also find such places near Paradise Beach. Although, you will have to travel a little to go to any of the other places in the city because Paradise Beach stands a little aloof from the main city.
- A lot of art galleries have also been converted into house stays. You will not only get a place in budget to stay but also have access to culturally rich art and aesthetically pleasing interiors.
- Pondicherry also has a lot of luxury resorts that you can choose if you have an extravagant budget at hand. We’d suggest that you choose a seafront heritage house to stay in if you want a great view, along with the ease of mobility. The French quarters also have some heritage homes where you can stay for a day or two for really cheap prices. Serenity House, located at 5 kms from the Airport is a great option. Another is a colonial bed and breakfast, located in White Town. If you research a little, you will find access to all of these places. There’s another French-Tamil mansion in Heritage Town Pondicherry, where you will get an amazing blend of East meets West. You can stay there and enjoy the best of both worlds!
Well, I guess we’re done with whatever we could tell you. We hope you have a great time on your visit to Pondicherry. And if there’s any new great place that you discover while you’re there, do tell us for sure! There’s a lot that still lies unexplored and untouched in the rather small city of Pondicherry still, and we’re waiting for you to find it out for us!
Places around and near Pondicherry –
One of the best things about Pondy, is that there are so many other places at some bare minimum distance that you can ‘road trip’ to. Apart from Auroville, there are tones of other places -
Famously known for its rock cut caves and temples, Mahabalipuram is situated on the Coromandel Coast, in Tamil Nadu. It takes an approximate of two hours by road to reach the place. The Mahabalipuram, full of white sand and casuarina trees is reason enough to want to go to this place. Apart from this, there are tones of temples and sites whose architectural beauty is gonna blow your mind.
Located at a distance of a mere 64 kms from Pondicherry, Chidambram, also on the Eastern Coast is famous for housing the Natraj Temple and a few others along with it. This place is a potpourri of culture, heritage, history, art and architecture. It is a splendid rendition of the Dravidian style of architecture and is famous for its many temples.
You must be wondering if temples and architecture is all these places in Tamil Nadu are known for. Well, here’s a breath of fresh air. Vedanthangal is known for its bird sanctuary which houses more than 30000 birds every year. It is the oldest bird sanctuary in the country. It takes approximately one and a half hours to reach this place and is definitely worth a visit.
Also knows as the ‘land of the singing waves’, Tanqebar has been untouched by time. This land is rich in history and stories and is great for people who want to lose themselves in its culture. It is placed at the confluence of the River Kaveri and the Bay of Bengal, a site that offers a masterpiece of a view. A little far from Pondicherry, this place is situated at a rough 120 kms from the place.
Arikamedu is situated at just a distance of 7 kms from Pondicherry. It is an ancient settlement, the ruins of which have served significantly in archeological explorations and excavations, to reveal trade links to the Roman and Greek lands. The site is currently preserved and managed by the Archeological Survey of India. It spans across an area of 34 acres and is an important name in the list of visited architectural landmarks for tourists.
These are just few of the places that are almost right and left to Pondicherry and you can turn to in case you have a longer trip planned.
The Big Guns –
What’s great about Pondicherry is that you can even cover the big cities like Chennai and Bangalore on your visit there. And if you do visit Chennai and are a big fan of books, please do go to the Anna Centenary Library, which is a seven floored public library. It has books about every possible culture that you can imagine! You can also visit the beaches in Chennai but it makes no sense if you’re already heading to Pondicherry. You can go to Bangalore to enjoy an amazing weather and experience the night life that you’ll be missing out on in Pondicherry. You’ll find everything possible in both these cities, from shopping to good food to monuments. So we’d suggest that before Pondicherry, you can spend a day or two in either of these cities and have a more varied experience.