Puducherry (formerly called Pondicherry and generally referred to as ‘Pondy’) was under French rule until 1954 and some people here still speak French (and English with French accents). Hotels, restaurants and ‘lifestyle’ shops sell a seductive vision of the French-subcontinental aesthetic, enhanced by Gallic creative types whose presence has in turn attracted Indian artists and designers. Thus Pondy’s vibe: less faded colonial-era ville, more a bohemian-chic, New Age–cum–Old World hangout on the international travel trail.
If you’ve come from Chennai or some of Tamil Nadu’s inland cities, Pondy may well seem a sea of tranquility. The older part of this former French colony (where you’ll probably spend most of your time) is full of quiet, clean, shady cobbled streets, lined with bougainvillea-draped colonial-era townhouses numbered in an almost logical manner. The newer side of town is typically, hectically South Indian.
Part of the vibe stems from the presence of the internationally famous Sri Aurobindo Ashram and its offshoot just out of town, Auroville, which draw large numbers of spiritually minded visitors.
Enjoy the shopping, the French food (hello steak!), the beer (au revoir Tamil Nadu alcohol taxes – Pondy is a Union Territory), the sea air and plenty of yoga and meditation.
Puducherry is split from north to south by a partially covered canal. The ‘French’ part of town is on the east side (towards the sea). Nehru (JN) St and Lal Bahadur Shastri St (Rue Bussy) are the main east–west streets; Mahatma Gandhi (MG) Rd and Mission St (Cathedral St) are the chief north–south thoroughfares. Many streets change names as they go along and often have English, French and Tamil names simultaneously.
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