Though very small, Pondichérry was the largest French colony in India. The city has a long and interesting history of trade and war. There is a strong French influence in the city, especially in the old quarters, with Rues and Boulevards lined with Mediterranean style houses and bakeries, although the city remains very much Indian. French is still understood, and the whole city makes for rather pleasant mix of East and West. It is also known as The French Riviera of the East (La Côte d'Azur de l'Est). If you've spent some time in Tamil Nadu and approached Pondichérry by land, you'll very likely experience mild culture shock on discovering French architecture and restaurants serving steak and good wine. Pondichérry is very much a city with a dual personality: crossing from East to West of the central canal reveals two cities with very different characters.
The main language spoken in Pondichérry is Tamil, though French is also widely spoken. Telugu and Malayalam are the other two official languages, but their use is generally confined to specific districts.
English is spoken by most educated people, and is the lingua franca between people from different linguistic districts. If you know English or Tamil, you can survive your visit to Pondichérry. French alone will not help.
Pondichérry is well connected from all sides. Chennai is situated 160 km north of the city. Getting to Pondichérry involves a three hour road journey from Chennai. One can get a bus from CMBT in Koyambedu or from Thiruvanmiyur or Guindy. You can be sure of a seat only from CMBT in Koyambedu.
The ECR bus, which can be picked up at the Tiruvanmiur stop in Chennai, is the most economical way of getting to Pondichérry, costing less than ₹100. The ECR bus will drop you at the main bus terminal, and rickshaws will be outside waiting to take you the rest of the way. Rickshaws can be bargained down to ₹50 to get to the French Quarter.
You can also take a taxi from Chennai Airport. It costs ₹1,500 (c. USD35) (Dec 2009)
The road from Chennai to Pondichérry (the East Coast Road, commonly called ECR) is a scenic highway and a normal journey would take about 3 hours. Most tourists however, cannot resist the seashore kissing the ECR and take a number of stops en route. This route passes through Mahabalipuram, Kalpakkam, Pudupattinam, Idaikkazhinadu (Alamparai or Alambara Fort), Mudaliarkuppam (has a cool boat house), Marakkanam (contains large areas under salt pans), Kanagachettikulam/Kalapet etc. before reaching Pondichérry.
The other route that can be taken to reach Pondy is through the National Highway 45 (NH-45) famously called the Grand Southern Trunk (GST). This route passes through Tambaram, Madhurantakam, Melmaruvathur and Tindivanam before reaching Pondichérry. Both the major roads from Chennai are toll roads and take approximately the same time.
Pondichérry is about 320 km from Bangalore. Drive down National Highway 7 (NH-7) till Krishnagiri, take a left off the main highway (road signs mark the route) and then take National Highway 66 (NH-66) to Pondichérry. This route passes through Uthangarai, Chengam, Tiruvannamalai, Gingee and Tindivanam. You can reach Pondicherry either through Tindivanam (via Gingee) or Villupuram (via Thirukovilur). Gingee Fort is also on the way to Tindivanam and worth spending some time at. It's an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) Heritage site. The total travel time should be about 5-6 hours. Do pack some food or snacks for the way as there are no good restaurants en route.
Pondichérry connects to the GST or NH-45 in two places: at Villupuram by NH-45A and at Tindivanam by NH-66.
Pondichérry is connected to Chennai by an electric broad gauge railway line through Villupuram. There are 2 passenger trains running daily to Chennai Egmore Railway station and Tirupati and there is a weekly express train service to Bhubaneswar. In addition to this, there is also a daily express train to Chennai Egmore. It is advisable to go by road rather than train to Pondicherry from Chennai as the journey is longer by train.
Bangalore Yesvanthapur(YPR) to Pondichérry(PDY) is connected by a 3-Tier AC Train called Garibh Rath Express. It covers a distance of 456 km in each direction however it takes 10 hours 5 mins when operating as train number 12255 at an average speed of 60km/h (excluding halts). It leaves Puducherry as train number 12256 on Saturday at 22:05 and at the end of 8 halts arrives at Yesvanthapur the next day at 08:25. It leaves Yesvantpur as train number 12255 on Friday at 23:15 and at the end of 9 halts arrives at Puducherry the next day at 09:20. Coach Composition comprises 16 AC 3 tier coaches and 2 luggage cum generator coach taking the total up to 18 coaches.
Pondichérry has an airport with facilities for the landing of small aircraft like Dornier, Cessna, etc. Spicejet operates daily afternoon flights from Bangalore (with connections to/from other major Indian cities) since January 2013. Several airlines have shown interest in flying to Puducherry Airport. Cabs meet arriving flights at the airport, and charge ₹350 to the centre of town. You can also take a short (30 minute) auto rickshaw from the airport to the centre of town. The rate for taking an auto rickshaw from within the airport complex to the city centre is about ₹150, as of Apr 2013. If you walk to outside the airport complex and flag down an auto you may be able to negotiate a better rate.
Chennai airport is the nearest international airport, which is approximately 135km from Pondicherry. Chennai airport is nicely connected to major cities in India as well as abroad. A one-way cab ride from Chennai airport to Pondicherry is approximately ₹1,500, and takes around 3 hours.
By bicycle or motorcycle
The best way to see Pondichérry and its surrounding areas is by renting out a "pedal cycle" or a "motorcycle" or "gearless scooter". But as traffic increases, it is increasingly difficult to walk in many streets as they are crowded. There are several rental outlets on Mission St and MG Rd. The prices as of January 2016 are ₹300/day for a gearless scooter, and ₹500/day for a geared motorcycle and ₹40-50/day for a bicycle. You will need to provide some identification document as collateral and an advance of ₹500 only in few rental service shops while rest of them provide without documents, advance,etc. Make sure you check the cycle thoroughly before taking it on rent. One traveller reported that a cycle they rented at Sri Durga Parameshwari rentals on Mission Street developed a puncture within an hour of riding it; they speculated that was probably due to a problem with the tube itself. Many of the rentals also provide delivery and pickup at the hotel which is very useful. (Note: Usually the number of days for these vehicles are calculated 09:00-21:00.) The motorbikes are easily available in a couple of two wheeler rental shops in Mission Street. The Pondicherry tourism development corporation has daily bus services for tourists and it covers all the important tourist spots to be seen in Pondicherry. It is the best and most economic way to tour Pondichérry.
- Auro Beach - (Opposite to Auroville City)
It's a small beach compared to Promenade and other beaches in the town. You can find ice cream and snack vendors around the corner.
- Auroville city
- Bharati Park
- Botanical Gardens (Entrance east). A nice park, though a little in disarray. Entry free.
- Chunnambar Boat House - (which is crowded on holidays and weekends)
You can take a motorboat to Paradise beach from here.
- Government Museum
- Oustery Lake - (Only as a view but not developed)
- Paradise Beach - You need to hire a motorboat for pick up and drop to the beach from Chunnambar Boat house which will cost you around ₹200.
There is not much to do at the beach if you are travelling solo but a perfect place for romance.
- The globe(matrimandir)
Also known as the area of 'Peace' is a well-built globe with reflectors. You need to make booking in advance between 9AM and 4PM if you are a first-time visitor. Entry is free but only allowed on Sundays, and the place is strictly used for meditation.
- Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
- The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
- Our Lady of Lourdes - Villianpur - (7km from Pondicherry towards Villupuram)
- Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Devasthanam
- Manakula Vinayagar Temple
- Sri Aurobindo Ashram
- Villianur Thirukameeswarar Temple
There is not much one is expected to do at Pondichérry. You would understand this better once you get there and understand the pace of life.
You can also do some serious meditation at the Auroville, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, or going to Bharatanatyam performances that are often organized there by the Auroville Cultural Exchange in the local temples, or at major hotels.
You can also go fishing in a Catamaran or while away your evenings at the Rocky Beach. You can also hire mopeds and go on long drives for the sandy beaches that dot the coast line.
You can also experience staying in a traditional 'Parapachai' house - an affectionate name given by connoisseurs to traditional green colored houses. First class experience.
- Casablanca and Titanic, Mission St. must see shopping. the latter is a factory outlet of the former.
- French Quarter Architecture, the other side of the canal road to the coastline.
- The Healing Hands Center. Classes in Ancient Massage / Thai Massage. The ten-day course and the one-month professional course runs every month and are recognized by THAI (Thai Healing Alliance International) worldwide and by NHPC (Natural Health Practitioners of Canada).
What to buy
- Handmade paper - The range of colours and scope of textures of Pondicherry’s homemade paper is marketed all over the world.
- Leather - Making leather in meticulously is what separates Pondicherry from rest of the cities in India. Well polished and creative products with quality brass buckles are available in reasonable prices here.
- Pottery - Pondicherry is known for artisan and ceramic work. Different kinds of shops offer distinctive styles such as Rhinestone Art and Golden Bridge.
- Textile and clothes - Since a long time, Pondicherry has been involved in the production of garment textiles and household items. There are also plenty of stores which sell T-shirts and some well known types of clothes at surprisingly low rates.
Pondicherry is known for its wide variety of cuisines ranging from South Indian delicacies like idly and dosa to seafood like fried fish, prawn bajji and parota.
French influence can be seen to some extent in the local food. The best options are still the local delicacies; the excellent seafood. Good French food is available at restaurants around the French part of town.
- 28 pie, MG road(Opp. Petit seminare school)- An authentic vegetarian pizzateria in pondicherry. Most of the outsiders loves to pass time during their leisure time. Offers Exotic italian pizzas&Grills, burgers ,icecreams, shakes and many sides. Rich atmosphere & Good taste is assured. Opening hrs:11 am to 11pm for 365 days.Ph:0413-222 72 82. Free wiFi available. facebook.com/28pie.
- Anjappar, Near Jeeva Theater Signal. Open every day.
- Aristo, Nehru Street. Nice terrace on the roof of the hotel; good French and Indian food.
- Atithi, Kamaraj Road, Shivajinagar (In Hotel Jayaram). All Days. Fantastic south Indian food. Very reasonably priced. Try out the 6 feet family masala dosa ghee roast.
- Batisto, ECR Road, Next to D Gowda Petrol Bunk, Behind Laloo's puntcher shop.
- Don Giovanni, Mission St. Located at the rooftop of Hotel Corbelli on Mission St, this authentic Italian restaurant opened only in 2009. The chef is from Bologna, and the food is fantastic.
- Hot Breads, Nehru St, A pleasant European bakery.
- Indian Delights Veg. Restaurant, 493 Mahatma Gandhi Rd (opposite a hotel (the clock tower hotel)). Opens at 5 in the morning, delicious variety of typical south Indian dishes. Very cheap, popular with locals, not touristy.
- Karai, 100 Feet Rd. Nellithope. Multi-cuisine restaurant, good for Chettinad food. Also, try the French onion soup.
- Marine Drive, Periyamudaliyarchavadi, ECR Auroville. (opp to Auro Beach, on ECR, 5.5 km from Pondicherry), ☎ +91 413-2623939. Multi-cuisine restaurant. Open garden and covered area with sea brees. 11AM-11PM.
- New Banana Cafe, 36 Cazy St, ☎ +91 96 26 561259. Fresh french food in a peaceful environment. Free Wifi. ₹100-₹200.
- Pizzeria Trattoria, Auroville Rd (On the way to Auroville). This restaurant serves Pizza and other Italian delights. Seems to be managed by a French person, food was good. Prices are reasonable, but the quantities are smaller.
- Rendezvous, 30, Rue Suffren. Closed on Tuesdays.
- Satsanga, 30, Labourdonnais. Open every day.
- Sri Murugan Cafe, No. 160, Kosakada Street opposite Municipality Central Parking Place. Veg-only Indian restaurant with great dosas. You might be the only tourist here for weeks. ₹25-50.
- Surguru, at the corner of Sardar Vallabhai Patel Rd and East coast Road, in the basement of the hotel. Has delicious Indian food, At breakfast time try the delicious poori or paper roast (paper dosai).
Good branded liquor like Smirnoff, Bacardi and different Scotch whiskies are very inexpensive as there is no sales tax in Pondicherry. A good store owned by M/s. Vinbros & Co. with best choice of variety of brands is the "TOP KNOTCH" on Tail end of Beach Road - South Boulevard.
- Le Club (French Italian Indian Vietnamese), 38, Dumas St (Near Park Guest house), ☎ +91 413 2339745. 07:00-23:00. Wonderful garden restaurant with a high class bar and chill out atmosphere, but slightly overrated and quite expensive.
- Seagulls (Walk south down to the end of the beach. It's at the end of the first alley on your left.). Nice bar that organizes musical concerts occasionally. They sell imported beer.
- On the beach road abutting the French quarter enjoy fine dining in a good ambiance with continental and Indian cuisine, has a nice buffet on weekends. Mimicry artists will sometimes entertain you at your table.
- Choco La, Mission St. Small, cosy, clean chocolate shop on Mission St. Also features chocolate cakes, coffee's, etc. A bit on the expensive side.
- KBS coffee bar, 19 Chetty St (second left from Raja theatre signal near Bharathi street cutting). 05:30-20:30. Open since 1972, this is a good place for some South Indian coffee. ₹15 for a coffee.
- Beach Guest House, Pondicherry to Chennai ECR,near Auro beach, periyamudaliyarchavady, Auroville (2 mins walkable from Auro beach), ☎ +91 9944319891. Check-in: 24 hours, check-out: 24 hrs after check-in. Large, clean resort. All rooms are with TV with English, Tamil, Hindi, and Kannada channels. Regular Single 350 AC,Duoble: 750 AC,.
- Continental Hotel. Reasonable little place, quite well located for beach access / bars / wandering potential, and with a rooftop bar. Good selection of cheap beers: ₹80 for an 8% Tuborg. ₹400-500 for a single with fan, ₹550 for a single with aircon, ₹1000 on up for doubles.
- Fullmoon Guest House (email@example.com) (E Coast Rd), ☎ +91 9600210094. Check-in: 12.00, check-out: 10.30. The guest house has seven unique AC Double twin bed rooms with attached bathroom. Five out of the seven rooms come with an equipped kitchen (refrigerator, electric stove, kitchen utensils, free wireless internet, free self-service washing machine, hot water, etc.) It is possible also to rent a room or studio apartment for weeks or months. ₹600.
- Railway Retirement Room (inside the railway station). ₹100.
- Raj Lodge, 57, Rangapillai Street. Double room single occupancy: ₹250.
- Sri Aurobindo Ashram - II, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Book in advance, if you don't want to be disappointed. The place is staffed by an elitist bunch who will only permit devotees inside the complex. A lot of pretense and little substance. The place is clean. Very strict too. No liquor, smoking, or eating non-veg. Park Guest House is on the beach with nice lawns looking upon the sea while Sea Side Guest house is on the beach road and most rooms have a nice sea view. A choice of Continental and Indian breakfast is free in both guest houses. There is also a nice new budget guest house very close to the beach, with a canteen. ₹600 to ₹1200 per day.
- Sri Krishnas Guest House, 29/31 Rangapillai St (3 mins west of GPO), ☎ +91 4132334477, 2221818 , 2221010. Check-out: 24 hrs after check-in. Large, clean hotel in the main shopping area. Rooms with TV with some English channels. French bakery 2 mins walk. Sea 10 mins walk Regular Single ₹350 AC, non AC ₹250, Double: ₹750 AC, ₹500 Non AC triple:₹900AC, ₹750 non AC (extra bed ₹100).
- Villa Labourdonnais, 25 Rue Labourdonnais (Located in the French Quarter). This ten room guesthouse owned by a French expat has hot water and a mini-fridge in every room. Peaceful location, windows in every room, popular place for backpackers. Rooms for as low as ₹400..
- Flora Beach Resort, ☎ +91-09443249411, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 24 Hrs, check-out: 24 Hrs check-in. Nice and clean hotel with all the basic amenities, coconut leaf cottages. Sea shore is 100 metres' walk. A/c rooms available.
- Ginger Hotels. Excellent ambiance and very professionally run hotel. It's more of an IT company-like environment with utmost hygiene. Has a 24-hour coffee shop too. ₹1799.
- Hotel Corbelli, 170, Mission St (Near to Casablanca on Mission Street), ☎ +91 413-2225301-2225302, fax: +91 413-2225303 / 2348731, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 24 Hrs, check-out: 24 Hrs after check-in. Nice and clean hotel with all the basic amenities. Centralised A/C keeps the heat at bay. Morning breakfast buffet is included in the cost price. ₹1350.
- Hotel Vijayentra, 108, Kamaraj Road, Shivajinagar (Half a kilometer from Nehru street(main street), 1km from the bus stand.), ☎ +91 413-2245316. 24 rooms on two floors, conference facilities, restaurant.
- MangoHill, Old Auroville Road, Bommayapalayam (10km North from Pondicherry), ☎ +91 41326554 91-92-93. Check-in: 14/1, check-out: 24 hrs. 24 rooms (Thai, Luxury and Standard), spacious and clean hotel located on hills planted with mangoes and cashew trees. Spa swimming pool and multi-cuisine restaurant added. 3500.
- Raj Residency, 26, Cheran Street, Mullai Nagar (Opp New Bus Stand), ☎ +91 413 220 220 1, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-out: 24 Hrs after check-in. A guesthouse with suites and rooms which are equipped with flat screen televisions, intercom and mini bars. Every room has an attached bathroom with hot and cold water facility and individually controlled air-conditioning.
- Atithi, No.126 S.V. Patel Salai (Near Surguru), ☎ +91 413-2345000. Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 12:00. Recently opened hotel, features 60 rooms and suites. 4500.
- Hotel Surguru, 104, Sardar Vallabhai Patel Salai, ☎ +91 413 222-7290-233-4377-233-9022. Check-in: Up To 6PM, check-out: 24 Hours. Though not located next to or at the Promenade/Beach or near Aurobindo Ashram or in the French Quarter, it is within 2km of all places of interest. It has its own parking lot, good rooms and suites, 24-hour coffee shop, and one of the best South Indian restaurants in the city. ₹1,300 to ₹2,000.
- Sunway GRT. Cleanliness and service up to nice USA/European hotel standards. Not located in the center/touristy area of Pondicherry. You must arrange an auto-rickshaw (for approx. ₹1700) to get to the tourist area by the beach. Nice tasty free buffet breakfast of South Indian foods for ₹250.
- Zest Big Beach. Excellent resort, managed by the Mahindra Group, is 11km from Pondicherry on the Cuddalore road. The resort also serves great food.
Always carry passport with you and put a sticky note inside it with phone number of your travel consultant. Never pay anyone upfront, especially to agents or drivers.
Never exchange money with unauthorized foreign exchange dealers. Ask for receipt after exchanging money with the broker.
Don’t get trap in the narcotics trading, as no one wants to end his journey in prison. Switch off your mobile phones while in museums, temples and churches or they will be confiscated.
Pondicherry is allowed one French consulate as a special case, even though India's policy is generally to allow foreign missions only in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.
- Kancheepuram - It is named as ‘The City of Thousand Temples’ and belongs to 23rd century. Today, the town is mainly known for its quality silks.
- Mahabalipuram - Nestled along the Bay of Bengal, it was seventh century port of Pallava kings. Several cave temples are carved here from Granite hill which belongs to fifth and eighth centuries.
- Tiruvannamalai - Known as fifth Hindu element of fire, it is located around 107 km from Pondicherry and ranks as one of the pilgrim city in Tamil Nadu. Its name meaning ‘Red Mountain’ came from the extinct of Volcano, Arunachala.