The union territory of Pondicherry located in South India is one of my favorite destinations for a holiday or a quick getaway. Also called Puducherry or just Pondy, this unique town was a French colonial settlement till as recent as 1954. Hence, the “French connection” is unmistakable and distinct here.
With the new part of the town being characteristically South Indian, the town offers an eclectic mix of cultures and traditions. It is common to see people speaking in French in the older part of town and the names of the streets here in all three languages: French, English and Tamil. It is home to the famous Sri Aurobindo Ashram and the town has a characteristic spiritual vibe that is in a sense all pervading.
For the itinerant, Pondicherry is a haven with numerous attractive tourist hot spots. For me, however, the quaint charm of the place is what draws me to the town again and again. The rendezvous of the old with the contemporary that seem to blend in parts and co-exist in others presents a characteristic contrast in the city like none other.
Though I have been here multiple times, here are a few of my favorite haunts I never tire of visiting.
Manakula Vinayagar Temple: This temple dedicated to the elephant God, Lord Ganesha is an extremely revered temple and attracts huge crowds. With reverberating positive energy, this ancient temple is believed to have been in existence since the 17th century. Apart from the main temple, I love the vibrant market place in the vicinity that is chock-o-bloc with activity and of course the popular temple elephant that is stationed outside the premises for sometime in the morning.
The promenade and seafront: Pondicherry boasts of the wonderful Goubert Avenue or Beach road which is a must see for anyone visiting the town. Closed for traffic during dusk, the lively road is a great option for a stroll or even to simply unwind gazing at the sea while the sun goes down. With dozens of restaurants, street food and shopping options, the avenue is as popular with the locals as with the visitors.
Walking around the old town: Cobbled roads, heritage bungalows and colonial architecture greet you in abundance in the older part of the town. With the French influence is still intact, it is also the area where the soul of the city or Aurobindo ashram is located. Serene and peaceful, the hues of yellow, white and green of the surroundings only compliment the setting.
Shopping: Pondicherry is one of the best places to pick up exclusive hand made paper, incense sticks, candles, essential oils, pot pourri, organic clothing, jewellery and the like. Most products are meticulously hand crafted by the locals and the stores affiliated to the Ashram. Reasonably priced, the products have impeccable finishing and quality and make for some simply great souvenirs. The Ashram paper factory, Auroboutique and Splendour are some of my favourite outlets.
Eating at Surguru spot: In the centre of the old town, is Surguru spot that offers an amazing spread of simple vegetarian food. Conveniently located and with great taste, this is yet again one of those places that I never tire visiting.