Affectionately called Pondy, the Union Territory of Puducherry, is not your regular beachside getaway. Here, you are not only sightseeing but truly experiencing an amalgamation of a colorful colonial past and present Indian sensibilities.
You can do as much as you want or nothing at all on your Pondicherry holiday. There are experiences to be had that go beyond just visiting a monument or temple. Being about a three-hour drive from Chennai also makes it an easy weekend getaway.
On your way from Chennai to Puducherry, a brief detour to the 8th-century shore temples of Mahabalipuram is highly recommended. Overlooking the Bay of Bengal, the exquisitely carved granite temples are a testament to the craftsmanship of the Pallava period. In its past life, Mahabalipuram was a popular trading port that today is famous for this UNESCO listed World Heritage Site.
Crossing over from Tamil Nadu into the Union Territory of Puducherry, you sense an immediate shift in the pace of life. You move from the busy humdrum of everyday chores to the mellow vibe of a cozy seaside town.
Having said that, there isn’t a dearth of activities you can part take in. A history buff, adventure junkie, a gourmand, or just plain curious; Pondicherry will not disappoint you.
Explore the Franco-Tamil quarters on two wheels
Puducherry, formerly a French colony, thrives in its dualism with the compact old town still displaying its colonial division of French and Tamil quarters.
Cruise on your bicycle, passing old Chettiar Mansions whose doorways are adorned with colorful flower designs (Kolam), in the Tamil Quarter, crossing over into wide bougainvillea bejeweled boulevards, with picture-perfect French doors and windows in the French Quarter.
For a more immersive experience, a must-visit is the INTACH center. The organization is responsible for the restoration of many of the old Mansions in the town. Or cycle around the old town on a more structured tour through SITA Cultural Center.
Turn wastepaper into art at Auroville
The universal township of Auroville, located about 45min outside of Puducherry, is well known for its distinctive model of self-sufficiency and sustainability. Being a vast complex, a day on your own, does not do justice to understand the work that goes on to keep this community thriving.
The best way then is to book a guided tour through Insight Explorations based in Auroville that gives you an introduction to life here. Another more participative way is to take a wastepaper craft workshop at Wellpaper. It employs ladies from local villages, guiding them with product development and marketing skills. Some of these ladies conduct workshops, which you can partake in and return home with new skills acquired on your holiday.
Dine at a restaurant with no name
Food has to be the highlight of your Puducherry trip. The cuisine here is a heady concoction of French and Tamil flavors. From tranquil French-inspired cafes to traditional restaurants serving hearty Tamilian cuisine, the setting is as much a decider as the food itself.
A must visit in Pondicherry is the restaurant with no name. Located in the courtyard of the restored Maison Perumal Hotel, the setting, and the food both contribute to your experience here. While you would go here primarily for its Tamilian fare, it does a wonderful job with a lot of world dishes giving them a local makeover.
Ride the waves
If active holidays are your thing, then Puducherry fits the bill perfectly. With the Bay of Bengal right at its doorsteps, it attracts many surfing enthusiasts with its hollow rolling waves. It is the perfect place in India for you to take the plunge, literally.
One place to start is the Kallialay Surf School. Located at a 10min drive outside of Puducherry, it is India’s first surf school. Run by brothers Juan and Samai, who spent their life growing up in Auroville, it offers courses for beginners starting from 5 to 15-days.
Walkthrough Roman ruins
While you are engaged in this conflicting dual of whether to laze on the beach or jump on the wave, history beacons you from close quarters. One of the only archeological sites with a Roman presence in India sits quietly about 30-min drive from Puducherry.
Located amidst mango and coconut groves, lie the ruins of the ancient trading port city of Arikamedu. Though most of the current structure framed by the ASI fencing is a French Missionary ruin, the excavations deeper inside the thicket reveal its connection with Rome.
Famed for its beaded jewelry, terracotta objects, and spices, Arikamedu traded this with wine in amphora jars and elegant Roman clay pots. A few of the excavated artifacts are on display at the Puducherry Museum.
Cruising through mangroves
If nature attracts you, then the mangrove forest of Pichavaram, spread across almost 1,100 hectares near Chidambaram, is a treat for your senses. The second-largest mangrove forest in the world, it is a playground for diverse flora and fauna. It also serves as a magnet for migratory birds that flock its lush trees.
Located about a two-hour drive away from Puducherry, Pichavaram currently doesn’t boast a conducive tourism infrastructure. There are, however, speedboats managed by Tamil Nadu Tourism and a few local boatmen to take you around the mangrove at a fixed cost.
Considering the weather along this coastal belt of India, visiting during the colder months between September and February makes the trip more pleasurable. A quaint day out on the backwaters, kayaking, or canoeing through the mangrove is a beautiful offbeat excursion out from Puducherry.
With a plethora of activities in and around this ‘French Capital of India,’ Puducherry tempts you with some fascinating and soul-stirring experiences.
About the Author: Namrata is a travel and food writer for Ticker Eats The World. Getting lost in the labyrinths of historic cities is her ideal holiday. She has a penchant for unique and off-beat experiences and thus embraces slow travel. Although the world is her oyster, India is home. When not designing experiential holidays for travellers (and herself), she writes about her personal travel experiences. Follow her travels on Instagram and her blog – happypheet.in
Photos: Unsplash and Pixabay