Charming Puducherry – the city that warms your soul

The Auroville dome at Puducherry - a prominent facade dotting its skyline

The flawless blend of history, culture, architecture, natural beauty, spirituality, and serenity – Pondicherry is a must on every traveller’s list. It is one of those places that feels as familiar as home no matter whether it is your first visit or the tenth one. Such is the hearty character of Pondicherry that it tugs at your heartstrings and keeps you coming back for more.

The city, now officially known as Puducherry is a Union Territory sitting cosily by the East Coast of India surrounded by the state of Tamil Nadu on one side and shyly kissing the Bay of Bengal on the other. Once a strategic trade route, the city’s air reeks of French, Dutch, Roman, and Tamil cultures. And while its culture is something it shows off subtly, it is Pondicherry’s serene beaches and spiritual vibes that facilitate the instant familiarity you feel.

The beautiful coastline of Puducherry – dotted with many lovely beaches

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Pondicherry is its immaculate beaches. The city has four beaches – Promenade Beach, Serenity Beach, Paradise Beach, and Auro Beach. They are not only some of the cleanest in the country, but some of the least crowded as well. And being on the East Coast, they are the perfect locations for you to catch breathtaking views of the sunrise every morning – an experience you must not miss.

Owing to its short expanse, everything in Pondicherry is close to everything else. As such, you can see the whole of the city within two to three days at a leisurely pace. To experience the city at its best, it is advisable that you stay in the French Quarter – a small section in the heart of the city known for its French-inspired architecture. The French Quarter also happens to be close to the Promenade Beach where you can enjoy a walk in the mornings and evenings or dine by the beach watching the waves crash on the rocks while the sea breeze keeps you company. The promenade is also where you will find some of the most famous landmarks of the city such as the Old Lighthouse, French War Memorial, Gandhi Statue, and a local handicrafts market where you can shop for souvenirs.

The Gandhi statue near one of the beaches in Puducherry

Other tourist spots include the many churches dotting the landscape of Pondicherry. These churches have architectural influences that range from Roman to French architecture. Apart from churches, Pondicherry is known for the famous Botanical Gardens and Bharathi Park where you can enjoy a leisurely afternoon picnic with friends and family.

If you are looking to explore your spiritual side and escape from the concreteness of city-life, head to Auroville. Founded in 1968 by Sri Aurobindo’s collaborator Mirra Alfassa, Auroville is a place with no boundaries and it welcomes people irrespective of gender, caste, creed, nationality, and religion. Here, you get the opportunity to spend some time in the lap of nature and connect with your inner self as you disconnect from the world outside. You may even attend some of their workshops and retreats.

While speaking of Sri Aurobindo, pay your respects at the Aurobindo Ashram back in the French Quarter. The ashram emphasises the importance of yoga as an essential ingredient in personal growth. Being a silent ashram, you may be required to abstain from any conversations and leave your phones outside.

When you are done looking within, it’s time to head to Chunnambar Boat House and allow the breathtaking views of the backwaters and Paradise Beach to wow your senses. And if that’s not enough, the best of Pondicherry is yet to come – scuba diving! Go underwater for a surreal encounter with corals and exquisite marine life. It is an experience that will leave you a different person, for good.

The famous Promenade beach at Puducherry

Best time to visit Puducherry

While you can visit Puducherry throughout the year, in order to find the city at its finest, plan your holiday in the monsoons or winter months, that is from August to March, as the weather is perfect for sightseeing and activities such as scuba diving and surfing. That said, you may want to book your hotels in advance as they tend to overcharge owing to the inflow of tourists during this time.

How to reach Puducherry

While Puducherry is easily accessible from Tamil Nadu, Bangalore, and Hyderabad by road, for tourists coming from all other places, the best way to reach is to fly to Chennai and take a bus to Pondicherry. There are buses to Pondicherry every half hour. Opt for the one that takes the East Coast Road so that you get to enjoy views of the Bay of Bengal on one side of the road and greenery and small villages on the other. Getting around Pondicherry is fairly easy given that it isn’t a very big city. Hire an auto-rickshaw for the day to take you around town or rent a bicycle or scooter. The city is picturesque and safe for solo travellers.

Important tips

  • Book hotels and scuba diving slots well in advance.
  • Drink plenty of water even if the breeze is cool and pleasant.
  • Cards are accepted in almost all places, but carry change in cash for commuting and buying tickets to various attractions.

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