Weekend getaway to Pondicherry
A 5-minute drive from a bustling neighbourhood that looks like any small town in India, lies the quaint French Quarter, or White Town in Pondicherry. You suddenly see people riding their bicycles, stopping only to photograph the beautiful white and yellow houses adorned with lush bougainvillea plants making it a scene worthy of the most beautiful postcards.
I've been to Pondicherry a few times now, but the first time I visited, I was so surprised when at a cafe, I heard the staff speaking to each other in French & quickly switching to Tamil & English when needed. I did not know then that French was still spoken here, but it is nice to have my misconceptions righted in the most pleasant way!
1. Walk along the picturesque streets
White Town is a treat to walk around! The treelined roads are home to walls in bright & pastel shades, homes adorned with overgrown bougainvilleas, heritage buildings, and quaint cafes & restaurants.
2. Hire a bicycle
If you are too lazy to walk all around town, hire a cycle. Ask at your hotel if they provide bicycles, else, ask them to point you to the nearest rental shop.
3. Walk along Rock Beach (Promenade Beach/Pondicherry beach)
The beachfront that is walking distance from white town is a rocky beach. It gets crowded in the evening, but very well maintained. The beach promenade makes for beautiful pictures as well.
4. Head to Aurobindo Ashram
Learn more about the teachings & principles of Sri. Aurobindo.
Children under 3 are not allowed entry into the ashram.
5. Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple
This centuries old temple is stunning with architecture similar to the many famous temples of Tamil Nadu. The colourful sculptures & carvings on its roof are truly a sight to behold. The temple is also home to an elephant who is trained to give blessings in return for food & money.
6. Check out the process of hand making paper at Sri Aurobindo Handmade Paper
This usually doesn't feature in all lists that are compiled for the most popular things to do in Pondicherry, but I love handmade paper, and used to horde it when I was younger, so when I heard of this place, I had to go have a look.
They have informal tours of the facility, and explain the whole paper making process.
It was such a great experience, and their paper was truly unique, & they create beautiful books, wrapping paper, & other stationery out of it. (yes, I bought a bunch of things!)
7. Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
This century old church is known for its gothic architecture, and stained glass windows that depict scenes from the life of Christ.
8. Immaculate Conception Cathedral
This church was originally built in 1692 by Jesuit priests with financial assistance from the French king, Louis XIV. But it was destroyed by the Dutch, after which it was rebuilt, and then it was destroyed by the British in 1761. Finally in 1791, the main work for the present church was completed, after which the building has had some additions done over time.
9. Our Lady of Angels Church
If you have time for one more church, make a quick visit to Our Lady of Angels Church. It was built in 1855 by Napoleon III in 1855 in Greco Roman Architecture. It is the only church that offers mass in French, English, & Tamil. Enquire at the church for mass timings, and see if you can catch a service in French!
10. Explore Auroville
Head to Auroville Visitors Centre, take a guided tour to understand life in Auroville a little better. If it appeals to you, spend a few days or weeks here becoming a part of a global community that works hand in hand with the local Tamil population to have created a life that is free of currency & motorised vehicles. There is so much more to Auroville than my rather superficial explanation of it, but you have to experience it to really know. I myself didn't get much time there, and I hope to go back soon to spend some quality time in Auroville.
11. Learn to Surf in Pondicherry!
If learning to surf was ever on your bucket list, this is the place to take the plunge! (quite literally! :P) A quick google search will help you book a quick 1.5 hour class or even a 15 day surfing course!
12. Laze on the beach
Since Pondicherry is a beach town, one of the best things to do apart from soaking in all the culture, is soaking up some sun on a beautiful beach. There are resorts on the beach which you can book for a beach vacation, after staying in White Town.
13. Cafe Hop
I spent a lot of time eating in Pondicherry. It had such a varied cuisine to offer from French, & Creole, to Tamil,& Indian. I found it the best way to explore some great architecture too. I visited a few restaurants that are housed within some heritage buildings.
I had beautiful pasta lunch a Le Dupliex, followed by dinner at Carte Blanche at the Hotel de l’Orient. I wanted to try Creole cuisine, a mix of French and Tamil flavours, something I was new to. The Creole fish curry was a delight, albeit slightly pricey, as were the other items on the revised menu that I was presented with. I assume it is because I was there during off -season, as the menu and prices were completely different from what we saw on Zomato.
Le Dupleix serves a brilliant breakfast, of which the highlight was the selection of freshly baked breads.
I lunched at Bread and Chocolate, in Auroville, a small but extremely busy café known for its organic chocolate and vegan fare.
Check out Palais de Mahe by CGH Earth even if it is for a quick coffee, the property is beautiful with a yellow and white exterior typical of the buildings in White Town. The interiors too had an old world charm with its carefully selected antique looking furniture and accent vintage fans. I had coffee and a jackfruit pannacotta. I have to say, jackfruit is an acquired taste, but as a Keralite who grew up with jackfruit trees in my grandmother’s backyard, it was a taste I was well used to.
For a fantastic Chettinad meal, head to Maison Perumal by CGH Earth. I had prawn curry and chicken roast typical to Chettinad cuisine.
14. Take a cycle rickshaw ride around town
A cycle rickshaw can be rewarding in two ways. One- you get to explore the town a lot faster and its much more comfortable than walking about in the sweltering heat. Two- you are helping out a gentleman who earns all his living by riding this rickshaw.
How to get there
6-hour drive from Bangalore
Nearest airport: Chennai-3 hour drive from Chennai
White Town is where you should ideally stay if you are looking to experience the French heritage of Pondicherry. All the heritage buildings are around this area, and many of them have been converted into hotels & homestays.
Le Dupliex, an 18th century French colonial villa, which was once home to Governor Marquis Joseph Francois Dupleix. The rooms with hardwood floors and stunning carved wood ceilings are a welcome change from the run of the mill hotels we opted not to stay at.