Touted as the French Riviera of the East, Puducherry is situated on the east coast of India, 135 kms south of Chennai. A former French colony, Puducherry was earlier known as Pondicherry.
Though the city is very much an Indian city, it has retained its French influence. Tree-lined avenues and Mediterranean style houses will encourage you to believe that you are in a different land. Puducherry became a Union Territory after its integration into India.
The Union Territory of Puducherry consists of four small unconnected districts: Puducherry, Karaikal, Yanam and Mahé. Puducherry and Karaikal are bordered by Tamil Nadu, Yanam by Andhra Pradesh and Mahé is enclosed in by Kerala.
Auroville is among the prime magnets which attract tourists to Puducherry. The French Quarter, the creole food, the arts, crafts and music of the former French colony are added attractions.
- If coming by car, take the East Coast Road via Mahabalipuram as it is far more scenic.
- The climate in Puducherry is generally humid, so wear plain cottons.
- If planning to visit in summer, don’t forget to carry a hat and sunglasses for protection from the harsh sun.
Pondicherry is the French interpretation of the original name Puducherry meaning “new settlement”. Legend has it that the sage Agastya established his Ashram here and the place was known as Agastiswaram.
Excavations at Arikamedu, about 7 kms to the south of Puducherry, show that Romans came here to trade in the 1st Century AD. In 1674, Francois Martin, the first French governor, started to build Puducherry and transformed it from a small fishing village into a flourishing port-town.
In the 18th century, the town was laid out on a grid pattern and grew considerably. Clashes between the English and French changed the fortunes of Puducherry. In 1761, Puducherry was razed to the ground in revenge and lay in ruins for four years. Only after 1816 did the French regain permanent control of Puducherry. In 1954, the French handed Puducherry over to independent India.
Soak in the history and heritage of Puducherry. Go for the French Heritage Walk and the walk through the Tamil quarter. If spirituality is what interests you, then head for the Aurobindo Ashram. The Ashram Walk will give you an overview of the Ashram, its growth since its establishment almost a century ago. If you are looking for sun, surf and sand, head for the beaches on the outskirts of Puducherry. Visit Auroville to learn more about the experiment to realize human unity. Or just head for promenade or the beaches that dot Puducherry and just chill.
Visit the Puducherry Museum to learn more about its heritage. Museum has a collection of rare bronzes and stone sculptures from Pallava and Chola dynasties. Bharathi Memorial Museum: Dedicated to freedom fighter and poet Subramanya Bharathi, who composed some of his finest patriotic and romantic compositions in Puducherry. Take a walking tour of Aurobindo Ashram which will enlighten you about the spiritual centre. Or opt for the French Heritage Walk or tread the Tamil quarter to learn more about the Ville Blanche (White Town) and Ville Noire (Black Town). Auroville abounds with people following creative pursuits. Learn more about creative dance, calligraphy and music.
Puducherry is a shoppers’ paradise and is known for its textiles, furniture, leather, pottery and food products. The former French colony is also the place if you are looking for antique and restored furniture. Leather products manufactured in Puducherry often figures in the list of shoppers. Excellent ceramic and pottery products made by master craftsmen make it a must buy in Puducherry. High quality non-toxic incense sticks and cones, scented candles, perfumed oils and sachets, food products like jellies, marmalades and pickles, jewellery, modern décor items, Indian art, glassware and handmade paper products are some of the products that you can buy in Puducherry.
Where to stay
Being a popular tourist destination, hotels in Puducherry tend to be booked throughout the year. It is advisable if you book your rooms in advance. The former French colony remains hot and humid throughout the year, so it would be advisable if you book AC room. Being a beach town, Puducherry has a considerable number of resorts which offer the best in luxury in addition to offering panoramic view of the ocean.
Where to eat
Puducherry offers a variety in terms of cuisines. From South Indian delicacies like idly and dosa to fresh, from continental cuisine to Creole, authentic French to Italian; Puducherry will spoil you with options. Creole food in Puducherry is not only a potpourri of French and Tamil cuisine, it also has influence of Portuguese and Dutch. French food is available in several restaurants especially those located in the French quarter. The restaurants typically offer non-vegetarian specialties. Some restaurants also offer exotic dishes like bébé octopus a l’Armoricaine. Vegetarians need not be disheartened as some chefs do prepare vegetarian dishes on demand. Some of the best, fluffiest and tastiest croissants, breads, quiches, pastries and baguettes can be found in Auroville.
Best time to visit
Puducherry remains hot and humid throughout the year. During summer (March to April), temperature hovers around 41 degree Celsius. Monsoon season is between June and August. Winter (December-February) is relatively pleasant with temperature dipping to 25 degree Celsius. Ideal time to visit Puducherry is between October and March.