13 things to do in Pondicherry- The Indian French Riviera

The time was 3 am, another night in the wards with my patients. The sugar levels in my body going down and the hunger levels skyrocketing. There, I get a text from my close friend Bhupi, which read “Let’s plan a Goa trip”. Lost in those thoughts, I was jolted back to reality with another popup with a similar message “Let’s go somewhere, I need a break”, this time it’s from another close friend Hriday…So then as for every trip successful or a failed one, we made a WhatsApp group!!!! After loads of brainstorming and “pseudo” brainstorming, finally, we changed our group’s name from “Goa Trip” to “Things to do in Pondicherry”.

Puducherry aka Pondicherry fondly called Pondy is a union territory (UT) situated on the southeastern coast of India. The UT was a French Colony till 1954, with the glimpses of the French architecture being vividly evident. There is no doubt that Pondy is known as the “French Riviera of the East”.

And yes!!! We boarded our flight for this epic all-boys trip… Though Pondicherry has an airport, we decided to fly to Chennai first as the tickets to the former were pretty expensive. After alighting our flight we booked a cab to ferry us to Pondicherry. The mesmerizing views of roads lined with coconut trees and the soulful music playing in our car was just a bliss. And yes a filter coffee break is a must!!!!! And after a 3-hour drive over 150 km, we reached our hotel in Pondy.

Pondicherry has a plethora of hotels to choose from depending on your budget, but I would recommend staying somewhere around the French Quarters. Also, there are loads of hostels for solo travelers to meet up with fellow mates. Once we checked in, it was time to get on some sightseeing. The best way being hire your own bikes and riding around the streets of this town.

French Quarter

First things first. So when in a former French Colony how could we skip the French Quarters. Also known as the White Town, this area is still home to many French citizens. Walking down the boulevard we were all lost in the vibrant colors of the streets, the tranquility of the neighborhood, the tempting cafes, and of course the majestic French architecture. The best way to explore is by taking a stroll in this peaceful area or bicycle ride through the calm… And yes don’t forget to take photographs of the Instagram worthy houses and cafes….

Paradise Beach

This pristine beach with its golden sand and the turquoise water stands true to its name… The beach is situated on an island, 7 km from the mainland is reached by a ferry from the Chunnambar Boat House. The island is opened from 9 am to 6 pm daily. Sit on top of the ferry and enjoy the backwaters while you reach the island and once on the beach relax down and feel the sand or enjoy playing a game of volleyball or cricket.

Promenade Beach

Known by various names including the Rock Beach, Gandhi Beach, or simply the Pondicherry Beach, it is a rocky beach backed by the cityscapes. The esplanade more than a kilometer long, is the perfect place to admire the cerulean sky during the day or just watch the waves hitting the pebbles at night. The proximity to the renowned Gandhi Statue, the War Memorial, and the major hotels and restaurants make it a holidayer paradise.

Scuba Diving

The activity which excited us the most was SCUBA DIVING. The Temple Adventures Travel is a five star PADI certified SCUBA DIVING SCHOOL based out of Pondicherry. After enquiring about the dive, we were told its a two-day program. On the first day, we were called to the main office of Temple Adventures travel, located in a bungalow which has a small pool where we were given instructions for scuba, the equipment use, breathing techniques, and the hand signs to be used for communication. Fortunately enough they had underwater goggles similar to the power of my spectacles facilitating my vision. So those having glasses need not worry about compromising the underwater views. On the second day, we were called to the office at 6.30 am and taken to the diving area on minibusses.

After changing into the body-hugging scuba suits, we boarded a motorboat and were taken in the sea!!!!! Escorted by a group of young and lively trainers our trio had mixed emotions aptly described by the Swedish word “Resfeber” which means anxiety and anticipation tangled together!!!! So after reaching the middle of the sea, surrounded by the emerald green water beneath the blissful blue sky, Yes I was ready to dive and go in there…And trust me, it seemed like a totally different world under the calm waters…The fishes passing by completely ignoring your existence, shades of green and blue waters surrounding you, the sunlight becoming scantier as you are going down and a sense of complete freedom. A detachment from the stress of life, from worries, and just peace with the aquatic flora and fauna all around you!!!!

The cost for the entire scuba experience is 8500-10,000 INR, which includes the entire gear, and transportation. Can look for more information over here.

Pro Tip: Avoid any form of intoxication the night before your dive. Many people chicken out when they are about to dive and refrain from the attempt. But trust me Scuba diving is absolutely safe and the underwater experience is divine!!!!

Aurobindo Ashram

Balancing the adventures, and to explore our spiritual side, we went to the Aurobindo Ashram. Situated in the French Quarter, the Ashram was founded in 1926 by Aurobindo Ghosh after leaving politics and embracing spirituality. After leaving for his heavenly abode in 1950 he was succeeded by Mother (Mira Alfasaa). Typically you spend 1-2 hours in the ashram. One can visit the library, the spiritual hall, or buy some souvenirs at the ashram.

Auroville

Auroville is an experimental township with a purpose to realize human unity in diversity, located 10 km from mainland Pondicherry. Founded in 1968 by Mother, the inauguration was attended by representatives from 124 countries. Currently, the town has 2500 people from 59 nationalities.

The Maitiri Mandir, Auroville.
The Maitri Mandir, Auroville.

Though Auroville is a township with a large area, not all places are open to tourists. The Maitri Mandir is a centrally placed structure that is an area for meditation open mainly for Aurovillians, though others can visit it with a tourist pass. Other attractions in Auroville include the Auroville Bakery, numerous cafes, Botanical Gardens, and a recreational center. The Auroville Beach is very secluded and a hatching ground for Olive Ridley Turtle, if lady luck favors, you might even be able to photograph one.

Pro tip: Try the famous Auroville Cheese at the Auroville Bakery and also the cheesecake. You will definitely thank me!!!!!!!!

Surfing

After having an adventurous Scuba and visiting the spiritual ashram we were all pumped up with adrenaline for our next endeavor on this trip. The traditional beach activities i.e. the banana ride, water scooter, etc. were all available out there. But we wanted something different, something completely new for us…And here it was SURFING!!!!!!

So after searching the net and asking the locals we found the Kallialay Surf School. It is located on the iconic SERENITY BEACH which is a 25-minute bike ride from White Town. The beach itself is a very beautiful place to stay or spend a few hours. Having reached the surf school we opted for a group lesson and headed for the beach with our surfboard. The initial part of the training was on the beach where we were taught how to stand on the surf and cruise through the waves that lasted for some 15 minutes.

This part went pretty smoothly and I was like “Dude this is easy!!!” But then the reality struck…My entire fitness quotient was put to test, a real tough test!!! And frankly, surfing is not easy, I repeat not at all easy… It’s like doing a week of Cardio in an hour… After trembling from my surf “n” number of times and swallowing liters of saltwater finally I was able to surf!!!! Yippee…… The feeling of standing on the surfboard unsupported and able to cut through the tides was just ecstatic. Unfortunately could not capture the moment.

The surf lesson lasted for 1 and a half hours and we paid roughly 1800 INR at Kallialay Surf School. You can look over here for more information.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

The cathedral built more than 120 years ago was given the status of Basilica in 2011. The Gothic style architecture of the monument combined with sacred vibes makes this place a worth visit.

French War Memorial

The French War Memorial was built in 1970 to honor the soldiers of World War One. Located near the White Town, it is open from 10 am to 5 pm and won’t consume much of your time. A quick glance is a must…

Varadaraja Perumal Temple

Varadaraja Perumal Temple also known as Vedapureswarar Varadraja Temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. A Dravidian type construction, this temple is also situated in the White Town area. The sounds of the chimes and bells with the fragrances of incense and jasmine flowers enthrall the mind and awaken spirituality in every soul once you enter the temple. Take the blessings of for a safe and memorable trip…

LightHouse

New Light House, Pondicherry
The New Light House

To guide the ships and prevent any untoward accident in the seas, The Old LightHouse was constructed in 1836 by the French. Later on, in 1979 a New Light House was built in the southern part of the town… Though the former is closed the latter is open for the general public. The observatory offers spectacular views of the city for a meager 10 INR!!!!! Open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, should visit this “Guiding Tower”. On select days a few cultural programs are arranged on the campus of the lighthouse.

Pubs and Bars

Being a union territory, alcohol is dirt cheap in Pondy. And knowing the proper places to chill around is an icing on the pie. Pondicherry is home to an array of lounges playing all types of music and bars to suit everyone’s pocket. I personally fell for the “Asian House Club”…The others which we hoped around were the Toxic, L’Aqua and the Storytellers Bar.

Pro Tip: If you are with your boy gang, I would seriously advise you to chuck the pubs and enter a local bar. My pick being Poudou Poudou….Imagine sumptuous food being served on a rooftop bar having trees transversing it with local Tollywood music in the air…To add to memories the waiter did not understand Hindi or English, neither did we understand Tamil but the bond we built with him was so strong that despite the language barrier, we had all our dishes custom made and to perfection!!!!!

Cafes

If you love to hang around in cafes just as I do, Pondicherry is your place. There are so many cafes out here, listing a few good ones is really cumbersome. The ones which I love are Cafe Des Arts, The Indian Kaffe Express, PY Cafe, Crepe in Touch, and Rendevozous Cafe. Apart from these, you can sit in almost any cafe you see in Auroville. All of them are equally good and extremely welcoming…

Pro Tip: Almost everyone advised me to visit the Le Cafe, but frankly I found it really overhyped and not worth the price but it is open 24 hours which makes its hit…

The other places which are worth going to are the Pondy evening market, the Gandhi Statue, the Pondicherry Museum, and the Governor House. A minimum of two days is required at Pondy and an average of 3-5 is more than enough to cover the major attractions…It is an absolutely safe place for solo females and families alike… So why not head to Puducherry for the next bachelors or hen party or just a nice family vacation or else a solo trip to rediscover yourself…

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