Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Things not to miss out on during your Pondicherry visit || 10 things to do in Pondicherry

Step into Pondicherry and you'll wonder if you're in India or France. The French colonized the place a long time ago but some of that allure still hovers in this union territory located 
160 kms south of Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The architecture is French, the road signs are in French, a lot of people speak fluent French and most restaurants serve steak and wine!

It is a quaint little place and you can see everything there is to see in Pondicherry in a day or two. But if you have more time, you can just relax, slow down and find meaning and purpose in the simple things in life. From yoga and meditation to pottery or just sitting by the beach and sipping on coffee, there are numerous ways to unwind in Pondicherry.

If you’re up for a weekend getaway to Pondicherry, here is a list of 10 things you should definitely do while in Pondicherry.

#1  Take a walk in White Town

Walking down the French Quarter known as the White Town tops the list of to do things in Pondicherry. Known for its French-style villas dripping with bougainvillea and quiet, wide, cobbled streets, the French Quarter was the base of the French East India company from 1675 to 1954, with a brief time spent in the hands of the British. The French quarter will surely take you back in time! It is spotlessly clean, well organised streets with name plates everywhere, minus any garbage, noise or crowd. The French Colony will leave you mesmerised with its unique architecture, design and colour palette. White Town is lined with numerous French villas converted into little cafes and restaurants or bookstores and antique stores which are worth a visit.

#2  Breakfast at the French bakeries

There are several bakeries in White Town worth trying for a delicious French breakfast experience right here in India. Most of the bakeries exist right from the colonial period and are still run by French locales who reside in White Town. They serve everything from Croissants, baguettes, quiches, tarts, pies, rolls to a variety of freshly baked breads and cakes. Washed down with a cup of South Indian filter coffee, breakfast at these bakeries give you a great experience. Recommended: Baker Street, Hot Breads, Daily Bread, Daily Fresh, Bread Basket, Bon Bakes, Zuka Choco La Te Cafe.

#3  Sunrise

There are some things in life that you can never get tired of, and watching the sunrise is right on top of that list. And if you want to behold a magical sunrise, you have to be in Pondicherry. Usually on the Western coast where we live, we get to watch the magnificent sunset in the Arabian Sea. But in Pondicherry, you get to experience sunrise at the horizon of The Bay of Bengal. That feeling of the sun coming out of the deep blue sea can lift your heart and make your day! Simple joys of life...

#4  European cuisine

Pondicherry cuisine is the perfect blend of different cultures and customs. Heavily influenced by the European cuisine, good steak, pizzas, pastas and wines are available at most restaurants. The aura of the little restaurants all around Pondicherry adds to the ambience. Suggestions: Le chateau, Rendezvous, Satsanga, Cafe Ole, The Indian Kaffe Express, Kasha Ki Aasha, La Terasse. You are spoiled for choice with the hundreds of restaurants in Pondicherry. You don’t need to decide where you want to eat. Just walk into any cafe with a French sounding name on any street and they pretty much have similar stuff.

#5  Chill at Auro Beach or Promenade

Enjoy an evening walk down Pondicherry’s sea-front promenade, Goubert Avenue, lined by colonial buildings or bask in the sun and relax at the Auro Beach in Auroville. The Bay of Bengal shore has something to it. Rocks of all shapes and sizes line the promenade and you can let your hair loose and soak in the soothing sea breeze by sitting there. Also heading here well past midnight is a good idea too. It’s serene, less crowded and perfectly safe. (I did it and I am back home safe. So chill)

#6  Midnight Coffee at Le Cafe

If you are a coffee lover and Le Cafe is the place for you. Since the beaches in Pondicherry do not have beach shacks, unlike Goa, Le Cafe is the best place to relax and unwind. It is situated across the waterfront and has outdoor seating. Even though most people recommended it for breakfast, I’d say it is pretty good for the night too. You can come here for a coffee or desserts after dinner or come here for breakfast and enjoy the sunrise from here.

#7  Visit churches and check out the monuments

There are 32 churches in Pondicherry such as Church of Our Lady of Angels, Sacred Heart Church, Dupleix Church, Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Conception Cathedral to take the name of few of the biggest and oldest ones. Their beauty lies in the French architecture and the solace they hold within. Irrespective of your religion, just a few minutes of silence and reflection within these churches can put your mind at peace.

The French War Memorial is majestic in its simplicity. By the beach on Gobert Avenue, it is a simple construction of four pillars erected in memory of all the French soldiers who lost their lives in World War I. Not too far away is the Statue of Dupleix, installed in honour of Joseph Francois Dupleix, a Governor General of the French Establishment in India.

As if to remind you that you're in India, not France, there is a statue of Mahatma Gandhi not too far away from the memorial. Located on the Promenade, the statue is surrounded by 8 monolithic granite pillars from the 17th century. The entire monument is very striking, especially when seen from a distance.

At various points in time, Pondicherry was under the control of the French, the British and the Dutch. The Pondicherry museum houses various relics and artefacts from those periods. There are also sculptures and other archaeological findings from the Arikamedu Roman settlement.

#8  Wander around Grand Bazaar and the Tamil Quarter

This colourful and chaotic bazaar contains everything from bananas, okra and ginger to fresh flowers and fish. It’s a feast for the senses. Take a walk around the residential mansions of the Tamil quarter where you’ll see some its unique Franco-Tamil architectural features. There are also brand stores and stores where you can buy clothes, handicrafts, books and so on.

#9  Shop till you drop

I don’t usually propagate shopping as an essential part of your holiday itinerary, but it’s hard to resist when you’re in Pondicherry and a bargain hunter. Most shops are along the stretch of Mission Street. Thanks to the low taxes, handicrafts, leather goods and textiles are fairly cheap. Pondicherry is home to the Hidesign leather-goods chain that has expanded overseas. It’s also a great place to pick up French colonial furniture and antiques. Suggestions: Kalki (on Mission Street for hand-painted silk clothing and perfumed candles), Casablanca (for international brands), Nirvana boutique (on Suffren Street for kitsch souvenirs and gifts), La Boutique D’Auroville (on Jawaharlal Nehru Street for jewellery, leather goods, clothing and handmade paper).

#10  Visit Auroville

Many people DO NOT visit Auroville on their Pondicherry visit. But a visit to Auroville is recommended. For those who don’t know, Auroville is a township created with an aim to create a locality where people of all nationalities can live in peace and progressive harmony. The place is a study of calm and composed. Several workshops and therapies in and around the area help people get over their personal demons and be at peace once again. If time permits, even visit the Auro Ashram. Even for the casual visitor, Auroville is an enchanting place. It is a hippie village where people from all over the world come, work and live for mediation and rejuvenation. If Rishikesh and Varanasi fascinates you, Auroville is a must visit place to add to your itinerary.

Pondicherry is unique in itself and you won’t find a place like it anywhere in India. Pondicherry will forever remain the mini France in India. Whether you're looking for peace and quiet or you're in the mood for some history and adventure, Pondicherry is the place to be. Let me know if this post inspired you to visit Pondicherry and if you did go there, how did you like the experience by commenting below.

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