Puducherry or Pondicherry (as it was formerly called) was a French settlement colony on the east coast of India until 1954. Puducherry is the capital of the Union Territory of the same name ,comprising also of Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam. With a nice coastline along the Bay Of Bengal, it was known as “The French Riviera of the East” under the French. It’s new name Puducherry means “new town” in Tamil which is the official language.
Puducherry is bounded by the state of Tamil Nadu with which it shares most of its culture, heritage and language. It still harbours remnants of its French past which is easily noticeable in it’s old quarter and even in the names of streets and buildings. French architecture can be seen in many of the old buildings here.
Apart from remnants of its French past, the Aurobindo Ashram , Auroville, and the beautiful beach and promenade are its main tourist attractions.
Puducherry has a small airport which handles only small aircraft but there are flights from Bangalore and Hyderabad to Puducherry. Chennai which is 135 kms away is the nearest major airport.
The nearest railhead is Villupuram situated 35 kms away.
It is well connected by road from all the major cities of South India.
The Beach and Promenade
Puducherry has a 1.2 km long rocky beach along the Bay of Bengal. The beach is well maintained with a nice promenade and a couple of small parks beside the beach. No vehicles are allowed on the beach road and so it is very peaceful.
The Rock Beach
The Beach with part of the promenade
The Promenade stretches from the War Memorial to Dupleix Park and is well paved and lined by trees. Many of statues and memorials are located on the Promenade. Many Government offices also dot the Promenade.
The road at the Promenade is called Goubert Avenue and is one of the popular tourist destinations here and there are many memorials dedicated to eminent personalities here. Some of the landmarks here are:
The Gandhi Statue
The Gandhi Statue at the Promenade is one of the iconic images of Puducherry.A four metre statue of Mahatma Gandhi, surrounded by eight granite pillars with intricate carvings is a landmark of Puducherry.
The Gandhi Statue and the intricately carved pillar
The Kargil War Memorial
The Kargil War Memorial was built at Puducherry beach by the Indian Army in memory of the soldiers of the Kargil War. It is lit up at night and on special occasions.
The Kargil War Memorial
The French War Memorial
Located along the Promenade overlooking the sea , opposite the Gandhi Statue is the French War Memorial. This is a memorial dedicated to the residents of the former French colony who died in the first World War.
Dedicated to Dr. B R Ambedkar,(the architect of the Indian Constitution) this memorial stands next to the Tourist Information centre on Goubert avenue. Unlike the other memorials , there is a library and research centre here. A lit up water fountain adds to the attraction at night.
The French War Memorial and Dr Ambedkar Memorial
The French Quarter
That part of Puducherry which still retains remnants of it’s French past is called the French Quarter. Puducherry having been colonised by the Dutch, Portuguese, English and French during various periods of history has had a very colonial past. But it is the French stamp that still persists.
When Puducherry was handed over to India, the citizens had a choice to choose their citizenship. So there are French citizens here, many people speak French, there are restaurants serving French cuisine and French architecture is seen in many places. Some of the street names are in French too.
Although the best way to explore this French past is to take a walk in this French quarter ; one can see remnants of the French past all over Puducherry.
Some remnants of a French past in pictures….
Statues of Dupleix and Schoelcher with french inscriptions
A street name in French with Tamil translation!!! and The name and address of a church in French
Another feature of Puducherry just like Goa, are the large number of liquor shops. Liquor is cheaper here.
Something to lift your Spirits!!!
From Spirits to Spiritual……
Sri Aurobindo Ashram
A place for inner peace and meditation, Aurobindo Ashram is another popular landmark of Puducherry. Unlike most ashrams, Aurobindo Ashram is set in a modern setting. Founded by the Indian philosopher and yoga guru Sri Aurobindo in 1926, it now has nursing homes, a dining room, library, a playground and even offers accommodation at reasonable rates. After the death of Sri Aurobindo in 1950, the responsibility of the ashram was taken over by Mira Alfassa ( “The Mother”) who was one of Sri Aurobindo’s ardent followers.
The Ashram Guest house on Goubert Avenue overlooking the beach has affordable accommodation which can be pre booked. The views of the sea from this guest house are really beautiful.
The Ashram and guest house
Auroville which is also called The City of Dawn is a township built to realise human unity in diversity. This concept of Auroville as an ideal township of human unity was the vision of “The Mother”. It later got the backing of the Govt of India and was taken to the UNESCO which gave it a status of project of importance for humanity. It is also an experiment in sustainable living.
Auroville was formally inaugurated in 1968 with around 5000 people from 124 countries assembling near the central banyan tree. They had brought soil from their own countries and the soils were mixed in a lotus shaped urn which is now the focal point of the Amphitheatre.
Located 10 kms north of Puducherry city, most parts of Auroville township lie in the state of Tamil Nadu with some parts in the union territory of Puducherry .
The residents of Auroville come from various social and cultural classes and backgrounds representing humanity as a whole. The population here is constantly growing and approximately one third of the population are Indians.
The township is well planned out with zones dedicated to cultural , industrial, international, residential activities with a central zone dedicated to Peace. The Peace area houses the Matrimandir and the Amphitheatre which contains the Urn of Human Unity which contains soil from different parts of the world. This area creates an ambience of peace and serenity.
The Green Belt which is another interesting part of this planned township has organic farms, dairies, orchards, forests and acts as a barrier to human encroachment.
Located in the centre of Auroville, this golden coloured metallic dome is considered the soul of Auroville. It is surrounded by a large open area called “peace” from where the future city will radiate. Absolute silence has to be maintained here. A spiral ramp leads to the “inner chamber” which is completely white and there is a pure crystal glass globe at the centre which suffuses a ray of electronically guided sunlight that falls on it through an opening at the apex of the sphere. The luminescent globe radites light to the chamber.
There are no guided meditations but one has to learn to be silent, concentrate, meditate and realise oneself.
The Banyan Tree
A magnificent Banyan tree more than 100 years old is part of the Matrimandir complex with peculiar aerial roots spread over a large area. Banyan trees are generally considered sacred in India and perhaps that prompted Mother to choose it at the centre of Auroville.
The Banyan Tree
Guesthouse at Auroville
The Seagull Restaurant
There are many restaurants serving various cuisines with a definite French emphasis. But we go to the Seagulls restaurant whenever we visit Puducherry. The restaurant itself is pretty old and in need of maintenance. Nothing very spectacular about the food either. Then, what is it that attracts us? What we enjoy there is the ambience and the views from the restaurant.
This restaurant has an open air space partly jutting into the sea with palm trees around. Sitting there at night with the sea breeze wafting along and the moon playing hide and seek among the coconut tree fronds can be an enchanting experience.
The Seagulls Restaurant
Well, I hope this roundup of Puducherry has given you a fair idea of what to expect on your trip to Puducherry.
Do keep your comments and feedback pouring in till we meet next week at Cambodia. Yes, its going to be Vietnam and Cambodia for a few weeks ahead. No worries, no preparations needed; just sit back on your armchair and I will take you there…..