Pondicherry travel guide– Pondicherry is one of the few places in India where history meets modernity. Officially known as Puducherry and popularly known as Pondy, Pondicherry is a lively destination that offers everything- colonial architecture, pebbled beaches, historic sites & heritage, a beautiful seaside promenade, and more.
PONDICHERRY HISTORY & CULTURE
Nestled on the Eastern coast of India, Pondicherry is one of the seven Union Territories of India. The Union Territory of Puducherry includes four coastal regions namely Puducherry, Yanam, Mahe, and Karaikal. Pondicherry was once the home for the French and they blended South Indian culture with their own unique tradition.
Therefore, the beautiful French Quarter in Pondicherry gives you a feel of Indian French culture as the portion of France still exists in India. French-style villas, streets, languages, and cuisine are some of the examples with a touch of Dravidian style culture.
HISTORY OF PONDICHERRY
Before it’s independence, Pondicherry was under Dutch, Portuguese, British and French rule. While it got independence from French Administration on 1st November 1954, however, it legally became a part of The Republic of India on 16th August 1962.
In addition to that, the province was consecutively ruled under southern Kings such as the Cholas, the Pallavas, Vijayanagara, and the Sultanate of Madurai.
Before visiting Pondicherry, I had this imagination that I’ll be welcomed by Instagram-friendly French alleys. On the other hand, we were welcomed by overcrowded streets, roadside shops, Dravidian-style temples, mosques. The French colony is just a small part of Pondicherry which people refer to as the White Town. The rest of Pondicherry has an Indian vibe.
HOW LONG TO VISIT PONDICHERRY: 2-3 DAYS
I visited Pondicherry for 3 days and explore many things. From my point of view, 2-3 days is enough to visit primary attraction if you have limited time. You’ll get to explore, French Quarter, Old Quarter, Auroville, and beaches.
BEST SEASON TO VISIT PONDICHERRY
Popularly known for its serenity and panoramic attractions, Pondicherry lies in the southern part of Indian and therefore it has a tropical climate. However, there are specific months when the weather is pleasant and the temperature falls down. Irrespective of what the season is, Pondicherry can be experienced throughout the year.
Pondicherry in Summer
The summers in Pondicherry starts in mid-March and ends in June. As Pondicherry is a coastal city, it witnesses a long summer. The temperature lies between 26-degree Celsius to 42-degree Celsius making this city extremely hot and humid.
The humidity during these months can exceed as high as 93 percent, which itself makes the weather hot, sticky and sweaty. If you’re interested to experience the history and culture of this beautiful city, it may not be a good idea to visit during this time of months.
The hot weather will most probably make you tired and dehydrated. However, summer is the best season if you want to visit the beach. Because of the hot and humid weather, the beaches are less crowded which makes it perfect to enjoy various water activities such as kayaking, surfing, scuba diving, and jet skiing, etc. or you can just calmly lie or walk around the beach.
During summer, the most famous festival Villianur Temple Car Festival happens. This special religious festival is held between mid-may and mid-June on the full moon. During the festival, a temple car carrying an image of God Sri Gokilambal Thirukameshwara circles around the city.
Pondicherry in Monsoon
The monsoon season in Pondicherry starts in July and lasts until September and temperature generally varies from 25 degrees Celsius to 35 degrees Celsius. During Monsoon, you can expect heavy to light rainfall and it also brings humidity.
It’s a great season to visit Pondicherry as you can experience the charm of the natural essence of Flora and fauna. Monsoon is also an important season for locals as they celebrate the birthday of Sri Aurobindo with great pride and energy. The birthday also falls on Independence day and therefore the celebration happens in Aurobindo Ashram.
Pondicherry in Winter
Winter months starting from November to February and is the ideal time to visit Pondicherry. The temperature ranges from 21 degrees Celsius to 32 degrees Celsius. The weather during winter is extremely pleasant. Days are bright and sunny whereas nights can be chilly.
Among all three seasons, winter is the best season to explore the city delightfully. When visiting in winter, do not miss the international Yoga festival which was held on the 7th of January. During the festival, visitors can also experience workshops, seminars, and exchange ideas on various topics. As winter is the best season to visit Pondicherry, expect some hustle-bustle around the cities and beach area.
WHY VISIT PONDICHERRY
Often called “French Capital of India”, Pondicherry is known for its French-style colonial buildings, beautiful temples, splendid promenade, sandy beaches, etc. There are various reasons why you should visit Pondicherry.
Pebbled beaches- Pondicherry has 4 primary beach- Paradise beach, Auroville beach, Promenade beach, and Serenity beach. Unlike the other beaches in India, Pondicherry beaches are clean and well-maintained. The pristine shoreline with sparkling waters and golden sand will allow you to relax and soak up under the sun.
Beautiful Temples and Churches- There are a lot of magnificent churches as well and some of them are Immaculate conception Cathedral and Gothic Sacred Heart Basilica. While Pondicherry was home to French, it still reflects the essence of Tamil Culture. There are various temples where you can visit and among them is Manakula Vinayagar Temple which is 500- year old and the Gokilambal Thirukameswar Temple.
Local Cuisine- The cuisine of Pondicherry is a perfect blend of different cultures. Along with the traditional authentic south Indian food, you can also get to experience the authentic French cuisine.
The colorful French Quarter- French have left the biggest impression in the cities of Pondicherry, known as “White Town”. This town is filled with bright mustard and white house, pebbled streets, Instagram-friendly cafes, prestigious museums, etc.
HOW TO REACH
- By Road- Pondicherry is very well connected to nearby states and districts by bus and train. Chennai is the nearest city from Pondicherry and is situated just around 160 km via East Coast Road. It takes around a three-hour road journey from Chennai. Buses are easily available from CMBT in Koyambedu or from Thiruvanmiyur or Guindy and will drop you to Pondicherry Bus Main station on Maraimalai Adigal Salai. Besides Chennai, Bangalore is yet another major city which is well connected with Pondicherry. The distance is around 310 km through the shortest route NH77. We book the bus online in advance which started late at night and we reach early in the morning. You can also book the bus that starts early in the morning. Bus services are also available from major places such as Thanjavur, Chidambaram, Tricky, and Coimbatore. You can also drive or take a cab from these cities to Pondicherry.
- By Train- The nearest railway station to Pondicherry is Villupuram railhead and is well connected to Trichy, Chennai, Bangalore, Kanyakumari, Villupuram, Howrah, Mumbai, New Delhi, Mangalore, and Madurai. You can take a taxi from a taxi stand at the railway station to your desired hotel.
- By Plane- While Pondicherry has its airports, however, it is a small one and you will have less chance of getting a direct ticket. Chennai is the nearest city with the largest airport that is only 150 km from Pondicherry.
BANGALORE TO PONDICHERRY
Bangalore is considered as the Silicon Valley of India where there is a hub of multinational companies offering many job opportunities. However, there are no such places to enjoy your leisure time. In this monotonous hectic life schedule, Pondicherry is one such nearest destination where you can rejuvenate yourself. Moreover, Pondicherry can best be explored via road trip.
As the duration of travel time between Bangalore to Pondicherry is about 6 hours. Hence, a lot of travelers plan their holiday at Pondicherry. Even though the distance between Bangalore to Pondicherry is around 310 km, you can expect a great difference in Terrain, culture, and taste of foods.
Pondicherry beaches are one of the coolest beaches in India and are the nearest one from Bangalore. There are a lot of options available where you can stay according to your preference. Unique and eye-catching cafes serving delicious and authentic foods, beautifully designed temples, a township for people seeking spirituality, Pondcicheerry surely welcomes every traveler with open arms.
CHENNAI TO PONDICHERRY
Chennai itself is one of the most beautiful places in India. Famous for historical monuments, pristine beaches, temples, etc, Chennai attracts a lot of tourists all around the year. Tourists who visit Chennai, also plan their vacation in such a way that they can also do a road trip to Pondicherry.
A drive from Chennai to Pondicherry is around 3 hours via East Coast Road and you will get to experience the beautiful scenic view with less traffic. On the way to Pondicherry from Chennai, you can also visit Mahabalipuram- The land of Caves and Carvings. Some spots such as the Panch Rathas (Five Chariots), The LightHouse and the Shore (1400 years old temple are worth visiting).
GET AROUND IN PONDICHERRY
- By Foot- Pondicherry can be best explored by walking around the streets of White Town and Promenade. Many sightseeing places are within 2-3 kilometers of one another. The promenade beach has the longest seafront and is the best for morning and evening walks.
- By Motorcycle, gearless scooter or pedal cycle- Renting a bike or pedal cycle is the best and convenient way to explore the city. There are various rental outlets available in northern Mission ST, between Nehru and Vysial Sts. To rent a bike or cycle, you will need to provide some identification document and some advance.
- By Auto Rickshaws and buses- On the other hand, you can also take shared auto-rickshaws and buses that are cheaper and frequent. However, if you take auto rickshaws without sharing, the driver may quote you a higher price. Prepare yourself for some bargaining. From Serenity beach to French Quarter, White Town, it cost INR 150 and from Pondicherry to Auroville, they charged INR 300.
YOUR STAY OPTIONS
When it comes to hotels, Pondicherry has a lot of options available according to your budget. We decide to stay at Serenity beach. We booked a romantic studio in Serenity beach with a stunning view of the sea right across to our room.
We booked it through Airbnb. You can also stay near to Promenade beach. Some of the hotels also offer French-inspired decor and hospitality. We have one detail review of the Tanto far Beach retreat stay in Pondicherry.
Some of the luxury options include Le Pondy, Hotel de L’Orient, Villa Shanti, Mango Hill, and La Maison Tamoule. On the other hand, options in affordable hotels are Pleasant Inn, Accord Puducherry, Ocean Spray, etc.
WHAT TO EAT?
Pondicherry is a paradise for food lovers. You will find a variety of restaurants, cafes, and bars in Pondicherry offering authentic cuisine. Some of the restaurant where I tried their foods are:
- Villa Shanti- The ambiance of this place is just amazing. This restaurant offers multi-cuisine. We tried there Ravioli & Stuffed Chicken Breast.
- Le Cafe, Promenade- This is the only cafe where I keep visiting every evening during my trip. This cafe is White Town’s only cafe which is located on the waterfront and is open for 24 hours. This cafe is maintained by the government. We love the place because of the atmosphere and breathtaking view.
- Gelateria Montecatini Terme (GMT)- If you have a sweet tooth, don’t forget to try authentic Italian style gelato available in various flavors such as mango, guava, pineapple, etc.
- Tanto Pizzeria and Cafe Xtasi- is one of the best places to enjoy mouth-watering wood-fired Pizza.
SHOPPING IN PONDICHERRY
Pondicherry is a great place for street shopping. We ended up buying a lot of things without spending too much. There are a lot of shopping spots but we liked the one lined up right outside the Vinayagar Temple. Don’t forget to bargain while going for street shopping.
You can buy candles, incense sticks, essential oils at an affordable price.
PLACES YOU CAN VISIT
Here are some beautiful tourist attractions and sightseeing places that you should not miss when in Pondicherry.
1. Explore White Town
White Town is like a heaven for photographers. Vibrant yellow and wite walls, fresh European style streets, beautifully colored doors, hanging balconies, arched gates lined with bougainvillea, Instagram friendly cool cafes make this place even more beautiful and scenic. The White Town is also referred to as the French Quarter. As the name suggests, this section of Pondicherry was a secluded area and was solely reserved for the White (French) people who settled here.
Walking around the streets of the White Town, witness the beautifully designed French buildings and some old heritage buildings that had been turned into boutique hotels. This French part of Pondicherry is closely located to the seaside of Promenade facing the Bay of Bengal.
2. Rock Beach/Promenade Beach and the Gandhi Statue
Also known as Rock beach, Promenade beach is one of the most famous and most visited beaches of Pondicherry. It is about 1.2 km long stretch that starts from the War Memorial and ends at the Duplex Park on Goubert Avenue. Right in the heat of Promenade, there is a magnificent statue of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. The statue is four-meter high, made up of black stones and surrounded by 8 granite pillars. The space in front of the statue is a place where various cultural and musical activities performed throughout the year.
At Promenade beach, you can see half of the town taking a leisurely walk or spending their evening just be sitting near the beach. The roads of the Promenade gets close for vehicles from 5 pm in the evening to early morning making it perfect place to roam around in the evening freely.
The place also plays a significant role as it is close to many nearby attractions namely the statue of Joan Arc, the War Memorial, Old Lighthouse, the heritage Town Hall, etc.
3. Aurobindo Ashram
Sri Aurobindo Ashram is a spiritual community where you’ll see the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo, a freedom fighter and a scholar. The ashram is extremely peaceful and calm. Before entering the ashram you’ll be asked to remove your shoes and maintain complete silence. Phones should be switched off and photography is prohibited. This is a place where peace has its own aura. The ashram is open to visitors between 8 am to 12 pm and 2 pm to 4 pm and there is no entry fee. It is a holy destination for people seeking spirituality. Located in the heart of White Town, Aurobindo Ashram has also a bookstore, where you can buy if you’re interested. What really takes my breath away was the beautiful display of unique and exotic flowers. If you’re someone who enjoys the serenity, this place is for you.
4. Auroville & Matrimandir
Also known as “The City of Dawn”, Auroville is an experimental township located 8 km from Pondicherry. It was founded by Sri Aurobindo and Mira Alfassa in 1968 and designed by the French architect Roger Anger. The idea of creating the township was people from all over the world regardless of culture and traditions come and live together in peace. This place is considered to be one of the top places to visit in Pondicherry.
The primary highlight Auroville is Matrimandir (the golden dome) which literally means “temple of the mother”. Standing in the middle of the beautiful garden, Matrimandir is a symbol of spiritual significance to those who practice internal yoga. To go inside the temple, you need to get a pass in person which you can book at least 2-4 days in advance. Therefore plan your visit accordingly. However, if you do not have enough time and you’re here only for a couple of hours, you can also take a free pass from the visitor center to walk to the viewing point. According to locals, if you meditate here, you can feel the energies in your blood.
In addition to that, pay your visit to their restaurants and shops. The use of organic ingredients from the Auroville farms in the area.
5. Serenity beach
Serenity beach was my favorite spot in Pondicherry. This beach is so beautiful and peaceful. It is one of the cleanest beaches and is properly maintained by the locals. The view of the Serenity beach was just perfect. Fishing boats line in the shore, fishermen swing and preparing their nets for the pick of the day, colorful houses, palm trees, magnificent rocks makes this beach worth visiting for. This was my perfect place to start a day with sunrise and spend the afternoon feeling relaxed.
Moreover, this beach is also famous among the surfers as the big waves of the beach gives amazing surfing opportunities. You can also find various surfing schools here offering coaching class for newbies.
6. Paradise Beach and Chunnambar Boat House
Also known as Plage Paradiso, Paradise beaches us locate in Chunnambar. It is an isolated beach and can be reached by taking the ferry across the backwaters which take around 20-30 minutes from Chunnambar boat house located 8 km away from the main city. The view of the backwater on the way to the beach is just breathtaking and is surrounded by green and thick mangrove forest. You can also spot a lot of birds on the way to the beach. The sand of the beach is soft & pristine with blue waves of the water. Because of the high current in the water, it is not advisable to go deep.
At Paradise beach, there are a large number of huts spread across the beach which provide shelter in ran and strong winds. Moreover, they also have a changing room facility where you can change after having fun in the water.
In addition to that, there are various stalls and shops available offering coconut water, kulfi, and few snacking options. Don’t expect varieties of food though.
The beach remains open from 9 am to 5 pm. The entry fee is 150 INR per person with the additional cost of parking, boats, and ferries. The Chunnambar also provides tree houses for overnight stay.
7. Pondicherry Museum
Pondicherry Museum is a perfect place for those who are interested in the history, arts, cultures and archaeological findings. Located at St. Louis Street, near White Town, Pondicherry museum has a collection of old sculptures, handicrafts, archaeological findings Arikamedu settlement, rare bronzes and stone sculptures from the Pallava and Chola dynasties, etc.
PLACES NEARBY PONDICHERRY
There are few other places as well near Pondicherry that can be a part of your 2-3 days itinerary trip.
Arikamedu is an archaeological site in Kakkayanthope which is around 7 km away from Pondicherry. This is the only site in India that confirmed the connections between Indian and Roman Empire. It is famous for manufacturing unique bead jewelry.
Close to Chidambaram, Pichavara is a village located between the Vellar estuary in the north and Coleroon estuary in the south. The Mangrove forests of Pichavaam is one of the largest in the world and is the second-largest mangroves in India. It is around 78 km from Pondicherry. Enjoy a boat ride into the dense forests for the unique experience.
OTHER ACTIVITIES TO ENJOY
- Surfing- Lately, Pondicherry has become one of the top places for surfing. There are various schools offering surfing lessons every day.
- Scuba Diving- Organized by Temple Adventures, Scuba diving has become the most fun things to do in Pondicherry. The marine life gives you a glimpse of kingfish, sea snakes, parrotfish, angelfish, manta rays, etc.
- Enjoy Nightlife- Pondicherry has an amazing night clubs and bars for all the party animals. Spend your night boozing with your friends. Some of them are Pub Zipper, L’Aqua, Dragone Lounge, Ozone Bar, etc.
- Experience Yoga- If you’re looking to escape the city’s hustle-bustle for a day, then head over to Yoganjali Natyalayam and practice yoga under the guidance of some professional practitioners.
- Learn Clay Modelling- If you’re an art lover, then is the perfect place for you. Visit the Golden Bridge Pottery Centre to learn the basic of pottery-making.
THE GOOD & NOT SO GOOD OF PONDICHERRY
- The cit is well-planned. You’ll be able to explore without getting lost
- The cost of living is quite low.
- Peace and calm
- Clean beaches and backwaters
- Traffic and rash driving
- Hot and humid weather
- Not a good place for Mall lovers
- Pondicherry Airport is yet not fully functional
IS PONDICHERRY WORTH YOU VISIT?
While on a trip to Pondicherry, you’ll experience the traffic and noise everywhere. However, this city has never failed to mesmerize its visitors with its scenic and serene charm all around the year. I recommend checking out government official website for any additional information required.
SAFE FOR SOLO FEMALE TRAVELER
Pondicherry is quite safe for female traveling solo. The people here are well behaved and respectful towards women. However, this place is still a little conservative outside the White Town, therefore it is recommended to wear a proper dress. Take the basic safety precautions and you’re good to go.
For me, Pondicherry was a perfect place to spend some day relaxing at the beach, exploring the history and cultures, indulging in local and French cuisine.
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