A rare French colonial centre in India, Pondicherry is known for its quaint colonial-style cafes, beautiful promenades and partying scene. It’s a perfect destination for a seaside vacation. If you’re planning a visit to this beautiful coastal town, here are some of the best tourist attractions and destinations that you should definitely not miss.
White Town was the residential quarters of the French in Pondicherry. The entire neighbourhood has great examples of colonial French architecture, and is often compared to seaside towns in the south of France. With heritage buildings and a large number of French cafes, the biggest highlight is the White Town Promenade, one of the most beautiful promenades in India. With well-defined seating, amazing sea views, and beautiful cafes such as the Le Cafe, the White Town Promenade is one of the most visited places in Pondicherry. Hidden behind its French exterior are influences of Indian and local Tamil cultures as well, evident in the handicrafts markets and street food.
The Pondicherry University Beach in Kalapet is the northern-most beach in Pondicherry, and one of the least commercialised and secluded beaches in the Union Territory. Known for its golden sands and popular resorts such as Tanto, this beach is extremely popular among foreign tourists. It is also a lot cleaner than other beaches in the region. Located on the border between Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, this beach is also in proximity to the Auroville township.
An important architectural landmark in the region surrounding Pondicherry, this golden meditation temple is located right in the middle of Auroville and acts as a de facto centre of the entire town. While entry into the golf ball-shaped Matrimandir is open only to Aurovillians, visitors who register a day in advance can go to the viewing point near the structure.
The experimental city/township of Auroville is without a doubt one of the biggest tourist crowd-pullers near Pondicherry. Living there requires forsaking the use of money, and the long-term and absolute commitment to its principles of unity. Located approximately 8 km from Pondicherry’s city centre, one of the most popular destinations in Auroville is the Auroville Main Road Market. While it has far fewer shops and stalls than most common markets, the marketplace is pretty well-known for its handicrafts and traditional merchandise made and marketed by Aurovillians.
Alcohol is prohibited in Auroville, meaning it attracts a different crowd from the one in Pondicherry. This and a burgeoning offbeat tourism scene has given rise to a number of great cafes, bakeries and restaurants in the area that are known for their gourmet menus, locally-sourced food and variety of cuisines. Of particular note is the famous Auroville Bakery & Boulangerie, which sources all its ingredients locally and has a beautiful garden seating area.
Paradise Beach is perhaps the most beautiful beach in Pondicherry. Located where the Chunnambar River meets the Bay of Bengal, the beach is inaccessible by road and can only be reached via a five-minute ferry ride from the boathouse. The beach is well equipped with lifeguards and despite its remoteness, there are a few restaurants and eateries. Paradise Beach is not only bigger than other beaches in Pondy, it is also one of the emptiest and cleanest beaches in the Union Territory.
One of the best ways to experience Pondicherry’s pristine natural beauty is to take the ferry from Chunnamber Boat House, located near the mouth of the Chunnamber Creek, which operates boating and other leisure services. While the Chunnamber Boat House is best known as the sole access point to Paradise Beach, it also has options for a number of great activities such as backwater boating.
Serenity Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Pondicherry, for good reason. While its natural beauty alone is reason enough to visit, in recent years it has also become quite popular as a surfing destination. The beach has board rental shops and popular surf schools, as the waves here are perfect for surfing. Surfing classes for beginners can be had for around Rs. 1,500 per session.
Located just 7 km from the centre of Pondicherry is the ancient settlement of Arikamedu, which once served as an important trading post in the region. Ruins of the settlement have been a subject of intensive studies, and several excavations at the site have revealed trade links to the Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus Caesar. The site is spread over nearly 34 acres, and is currently managed by the Archaeological Survey of India. Its importance can be gauged by the fact that it is mentioned in the famous 1st-century map Periplus of the Erythraen Sea, where it is identified as Emporium.
This famous old temple is the only Hindu place of worship in White Town. Dedicated to the elephant-headed Hindu god Vinayaka (Ganesh), the temple is famous for its depiction of all the forms of the god, and also for the myths attached to it. The temple is one of the few in the region that predate the French occupation of Pondicherry, and is one of the most popular places of worship and pilgrimage in the town.
The Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Pondicherry’s White Town is one of the oldest and grandest churches in the region. It’s history goes back to the 18th century. The present cathedral is the last of four churches built on this ground since 1699, and is an architectural landmark in Pondicherry. The cathedral was visited by Mother Teresa, and it holds an important annual feast known as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Blessed Virgin Mary, on 8th December.
While its identity is deeply rooted in its French heritage, the actual history of the region goes back nearly 2000 years, when ports and settlements such as Arikamedu (8 km from Pondicherry) served as a point of contact with the Roman empire. Check out the Pondicherry Museum, which houses several rare artifacts. Apart from items establishing the presence of trade links with Rome, the museum is also home to sculptures and stonework from the Pallava and Chola dynasties. The museum is also popular for its wealth of exhibits relating to the French rule in Pondicherry.
This beautiful beach is one of the best lesser-known beaches of Pondicherry, and is the closest to Auroville. While the waters here are dangerous for swimming, the beach is often uncrowded, and is easily accessible from the arterial East Coast Road. The beach is also a popular nesting ground for Olive Ridley Sea Turtles.