By Ankita Sinha
Pondicherry, rich in cultural and natural heritage, is one of the most sought after holiday destinations of south India for a number of noteworthy reasons. Pleasant weather all the year round, picturesque and pacifying beaches for lazing around, the rich and unique Indo-French cultural hybrid, and unmatched serenity make it not only a perfect spot to spend a relaxing weekend but also a very intriguing place to explore.
Pondicherry is well connected to the prominent cities around it through trains, buses and by air and is quite easy to reach. Despite having a radius of barely 10 kms, the town offers such a wide variety of activities that everyone feels delighted, irrespective of age or interest. Besides, easy availability of bikes and cycles to roam around at cheap rates makes roaming around feel like a cake-walk. Take a look on the list of best places to go in Pondicherry below before your Pondicherry tour so you don’t miss out on any of the fun.
Even though Pondicherry plays the host to an array of marvellous beaches, this one stands out for numerous reasons. Whether you want to have a solitary and soulful morning, watching the sunrise, introspecting beside the overwhelming sea waves and the rustling of palm leaves or you’re seeking a refreshing evening with family or friends, having a game of cards or beach volleyball and some snacks and drinks, this Pondicherry beach is the one to go. Spread across a stretch of around 1.5 kms, this beach has on the street running alongside a number of interesting places that you might want to try. If you are a history enthusiast, French War Memorial on the Goubert Avenue is the stop for you. The memorial was built by the French in Pondy back in 1971 to reminisce the soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War. For those driven by their taste-buds, the nearby Le Cafe is a must visit to savour it’s mouth-watering French, Italian and Thai cuisines.
Manakula Vinayagar Temple
On your Pondicherry tour, you cannot not visit Vinayagar temple. Home to the Hindu deity called Manakula Vinayagar (the god near the pond of sand), it is said to be originally built for establishing the deities of Lord Ram, Lakshman and Hanuman and has many related local legends too. It is known for the golden chariot worth Rs. 35 lakhs which was held on in 2003. Apart from the religious importance that it holds for the Hindus of South India, the temple also has an elaborate historical account of the French administration’s attempts to demolish it and the consequential protests from the native Hindus that subsequently saved it. The backyard of the temple also contains a shrine of Lord Narasimha, another incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Visiting the temple during the early morning hours would be the best option to save the efforts of making it through the rush for darshan.
Sri Aurobindo Ashram
This ashram has been the abode to the philosopher, poet and politician Sri Aurobindo for around half a century, the place where he attained spiritual enlightenment and then salvation.His disciple Mirra Alfassa, also known as the Mother played a vital role in administering the ashram thereafter. The international popularity of this ashram brings in visitor seeking spiritual experiences from all over the world . If you are planning a long stay in the ashram premises for spiritual healing or learning meditation, you totally are in for an experience of a lifetime. However, if you just want a brief acquaintance with the tranquil surrounding on your Pondicherry tour, welcome aboard, for it is a pleasant ride either way. The ashram premises offer a meditation center, a library and a number of guest houses for those who are there for longer stays. The tickets for entrance to the ashram and the meditation center need to be booked two days in advance. So, the first thing you want to do on a two to three days trip to Pondicherry is to get your bookings done for the ashram.
Paradise Island and Beach
This is one of the best places to visit in Pondicherry. Once you spend an evening here, you yourself will compare it to paradise without second thoughts. Paradise beach is one of the smaller, calmer and less commercialised beaches of Pondicherry, having a pristine ambience. It can be reached via the Chunnambar boat house ride which again is a delightful experience. Go to the place for activities like overnight treehouse camping, swimming or having a private time with family or friends. Also known as Plago Paradise, the island is no less than heaven for adventure junkies, for it hosts a series of water sports, namely backwater-boating, speed-boating, jet ski, and underwater diving. It has a few shacks where you can just lay down and please your senses with the fascinating landscape around. Sunsets are the most divine looking from this point in Pondicherry. You can easily spot a few shops on this Pondicherry beach that sell food items like Fried rice, noodles, snacks and drinks as well. So there is no need to worry if you don’t have your own packed food for the trip. They’ve got it all settled.
Churches in Pondicherry
Within the limited area of Pondicherry is a pool of churches, but the one that you must not miss paying a visit to is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is the oldest sacred heart church in India, more than a century old now, and elaborately decorated with glass painting of 24 saints who dedicated their lives to jesus. A biblical verse is engraved on the entrance door in French language. The intricate arrangement of chandeliers and numerous lamps brightens up the insides of the church in the most mesmerising way, etching fervent memories in the hearts of visitors.
As preoccupied as you may feel with things to do in Pondicherry, make it a point to save an afternoon or an evening for this establishment just outside the territory. Auroville, the experimental international community is the brainchild of Mirra Alfassa-the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The idea behind the township was harmonic co-existence of people from countries all across the world. The center of the community is the much appraised Matrimandir which symbolises the mother earth. Designed with 1415 gold discs and soil from 128 countries across the world, the structure indeed is a sight to behold and one of the interesting places to visit in Pondicherry. The community, which inhabits around 2300 people of 54 nationalities, is blessed with a lush green environment and its own pace of life that gives an out-of-the-worldly feeling to its visitors. One of the lesser known beauties in here is the Swaram musical center that puts on display the most enigmatic musical instruments from across the world and also provides sound therapy to visitors. Auroville is also a shoppers’ delight with stores and boutiques like Janaki, Kalki, Le Boutique de Auroville and many other local shops that sell locally manufactured products.
Museums in Pondicherry
It might be a matter of disbelief for somehow a place with such a small geographical area can contain a treasure-chest of information, history and cultural and natural heritage, but the museums of Pondicherry make it too evident. There is the Puducherry museum preserving the antiques of the times of Pallavas and the Cholas which can take you back in time; there is Anandaranga Pillai museum which exhibits the history of 18th century French India magnificently, and then there is the Jawahar Toy Museum, which celebrates the culture of the South-Indian localities. Adding to the list are Bharati Memorial museum and Bharatidasan museum, which were originally the ancestral residences of legendary poets, and now preserve our linguistic heritage, sheer treat for literature enthusiasts. So go on and take the route of your choice to history on your Pondicherry tour.
Ousteri Wetland and National Park
If you are a bird-lover, one of the best things to do in Pondicherry for you is having a trip to the national park 10 kms away from town. A bird-watchers’ paradise, the sanctuary holds a huge variety of flora, aqua-fauna and avi-fauna including species like open bill stork, tailor bird, white ibis, spotted owelets, egrets and kingfisher. If you are lucky enough, you might even spot migratory birds in large flocks. The wetland administration offers boat-riding facilities as well to the tourists but only if there is a minimal number of passengers per boat.
Coming to the food, Pondicherry has cafes and restaurants lined up to serve delicious South Indian dishes as well as mouth-watering French and Thai delicacies. Delicacies like Jumbo Pizza from Cafe XTasi, French dishes from the Frites Corner and Filter Coffee and Richie-Rich shakes and ice-creams are must haves.
Though the place is always hustling and bustling with tourists, the best time to explore Pondicherry beaches and places to go in Pondicherry would be between the months of October and March when the region experiences autumn season, with the temperature lying between 17 to 30 degrees. Grab a bike from the mission street and ride your way through the most amazing weekend that you will have in a long time, ticking things to do in Pondicherry off your bucket list.