Pondicherry is the good life, laid back, sunny and sandy, good food, good alcohol. My favourtite part of the city are the cobblestoned streets of the French quarter, they’re just ‘Oh! So French!’ right in the middle of the Tamil hinterlands. Just walking these streets tops my list of things to do in Pondicherry. The following is a list of the remaining 9 fun Pondicherry things to do in no particular order. Activities in Pondicherry are all about chilling out and relaxing!
1. Embrace Pondy’s cultural diversity
Pondicherry is indeed a unique and strangely complementing melange’ of French and Tamil sensitivities, the wide cobblestoned streets leading to the bustling bazaars so typical of Southern India. There’s complete religious harmony too with shrines like Varadaraja Perumal in the Hindu Quarter, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in the Christian Quarter and Khutbah and Meeran mosques in the Muslim Quarter. And of course you can always choose to meditate in silence in the leafy courtyard of Aurobindo Ashram.
2. Soak up all the French-i-ness
The church of Notre Dame des Anges (the only one that has mass in three languages – Tamil, French & English), the marble statue of Jeanne d’ Arc in front and the tomb of French governor Marquis de Bussy in an adjacent cemetery, garden concerts at the Alliance Francaise’s Maison Colombani – Café de Flore; enjoy all things French! Get a French culture booster shot at Alliance Francaise and Institut Francais de Pondicherry (IFP).
3. Take a boat ride at Chunnambar
7kms south of on Cuddalore road are the serene backwaters of Chunnambar. Spend a lazy afternoon boating or go for a sea cruise and spot dolphins. You could also pack a hamper, speed boat to Paradise Beach and make a nice picnic of the day.
4. Get blessed by an elephant
Hand a coin to Lakshmi, the resident elephant at the Manakula Vinayagar temple, and you’ll get her blessings; a thump from her trunk on your head. Having survived attempts by French missionaries to pull it down, the popular 500 year old shrine is dedicated to the elephant-headed god, Vinyagar.
5. Indulge in Franco-Tamil cuisine at a restaurant with no name
Maison Perumal is a restored Chettiar mansion that is now a resort. But like in a house, the rooms are not numbered or named and the restaurant too has no name. Gorge on delectable seafood platters amidst brass ooralis, sepia photos and coloured glass window panes filtering the sun in rainbow colours.
6. Take in a breath of fresh air at Bharathi Park
A treasure trove of 900 exotic plants, an aquarium, a toy train and a musical fountain, this is the perfect place for an evening walk. In the centre stands the white Aayi Mandapam. The park is centrally located at the site of the demolished Fort Louis and military parade ground.
7. Learn something new at Auroville
The inhabitants of Auroville are able to sustain themselves with the aid of the craft, Auroville products are world renowned. You can learn from them the craft of making different items like handmade paper (Auroville Papers), indigo-dyed clothing (The Colours of Nature), incense manufacture (Encens d’Auroville) and bodycare (Maroma Spa). All processes here are environment friendly and energy-efficient.
8. Take a history lesson at Pondicherry Museum
Once upon a time Pondicherry was a flourishing port town called Poduke and there was a Roman trading settlement at Arikamedu. The century old Law Building, erstwhile residence of the French Administrator, displays Roman pottery and Megalithic burial urns. There is a transport gallery with palanquins, carts and the Pousse Pousse, a vehicle pushed from the rear and steered by a rider, on display. Other pieces of interest include period furniture like tête-à-têtes (S-shaped sofas), comptoirs, escritoires (writing tables and desks) and the cot used by French Governor Dupleix (1742-1754), whose bust adorns the museum.
9. Go Café Hopping
The place is heavily influenced and what is French culture without cafés? Baguettes and croissants, French pastry and great coffee or wine; most importantly superb ambience! There are cafés that have live music some evenings too, try out as many different ones as you can!
The most amazing artsy craftsy environment friendly stuff – handmade paper, lampshades, jewellery, ethnic Indian clothing, trinkets, paintings, candles, all this and more you’ll find in the Auroville store. The Hidesign store in Pondy is pretty amazing too. On the streets, you’ll find amazing cotton kurtas and skirts and pyjamas at bargain prices.
That’s the best of Pondicherry for you!