India’s largest French colony, Pondicherry, has a long history of trade and war that still resonates within its limits today. Located in the south-east of India inside the state of Tamil Nadu, it’s a union territory, exempting it from government taxes. The architecture, energy and streets that line this city give off the impression that what you’ve entered isn’t India, but a historic European city. Though wildly confusing because of this juxtaposition, Pondicherry has an astonishing amount of activities to pursue and if one tires of the sights, it’s a great city to just relax, escape and find yourself away from the hustle and bustle of India.
Lap up the French quarter of Pondicherry
Though small, Pondicherry’s French quarter will ensure that it takes up most of your visit there. A day spent in this neighbourhood alone won’t do it justice. Starting from one end of the famous promenade to the other, the side streets that line themselves next to the promenade and make up the little alleyways and lanes are some of the most beautiful streets in India. Tree-lined streets cast their shadows on houses painted in colours reminiscent of a Europe long forgotten; street names in French and cafes which look like they’ve been plucked out of forgotten photographs of Paris jot themselves alongside the colonial houses. Take a rickshaw ride (20 USD at most) for a guided tour or walk along the streets starting from the French embassy to the main fire station on the other side.
Stroll through the traffic-free promenade
The main promenade of Pondicherry is best seen as the sun sets. Start an hour or two before the sun sets by walking along one end. Meander slowly as the locals flood out to gather by the beach after work. Pass by the famous Gandhi statute, the gorgeous police station and stop at the famous Le Cafe - get in early or you’ll be waiting for a table - for coffee, drink or a snack. Situated next to the beach with beautiful views of the ocean, it’s within walking distance of the Gandhi statue and very fairly priced - coffees are less than 100 INR (1.5 USD). The promenade hosts several eateries along its way and is best seen at 6 pm when no cars are allowed on the street until the next morning. Soak it all in as you find yourself immersing in the relaxed Pondicherry culture.
The architecture will keep you mesmerised for days
Pondicherry is worth visiting for its French colonial architecture alone. Even if you don’t make it to the botanical gardens, Gandhi statue or find time to walk along the promenade, it’ll all be worth it if you ensure you take a guided tour (20 USD at most) or walk the streets of White Town or the downtown area and soak in the architecturally brilliant buildings. The difference in architecture here gives most tourists a mild culture shock, especially when these buildings you admire are cafes or restaurants that serve delicious food and drinks. Taking pictures of the houses is encouraged as you admire the verandahs, facades and archways of these colourfully decorated establishments.
Slow travel is well worth it in Pondicherry
Most travellers come into Pondicherry for a day or two, rushing through the sights and seeing the town as quickly as possible. Usually used as a quick stopover on the way to and from Chennai, enjoy Pondicherry for what it is and maybe spend an extended period of time here. This may be one of the places where you can slow travel and be rewarded for it with its relaxed atmosphere and endless amounts of architecturally beautiful buildings that you’ll keep discovering the longer you stay.
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