Many people think that Pondicherry was only under French control, but it is not so. The Dutch, Portuguese, English and Danes have been to this former fishing village which has now turned into a major port city. This former French town is famous not only for its beaches, but, also for its relaxed and peaceful atmosphere. The brilliant architecture of the city is testament to the 260 years of French rule. The spick and span, symmetrically aligned streets still bear their original French names.
There are lots of lovely places to visit in Pondicherry – the most unique one being Auroville. The construction of this ‘universal town’ was started in 1968 under the guidance of the mother, a painter-musician who became Sri Aurobindo’s disciple and close companion from 1924 till his death in 1950. The development of this Utopia is still in progress. Several countries have offered to set up permanent pavilions reflecting the culture and ethos of their countries.
Apart from Auroville, Pondicherry offers a wide variety of beautiful beaches which you can enjoy. Even though the sand beach on the road near the city has been covered with boulders after the Tsunami, there are other sand beaches which are open to the public. These include Karaikal Beach, Mahe Beach and Yanam River Cruise. The best beach is Paradise Beach, which offers a lovely mix of a sea ride along with the beautiful golden sand of the beach.
However, if you are not interested in beaches, you can enjoy the lovely churches in the city. French missionary zeal in the 17th and 18th centuries saw a number of imposing churches built here. The Eglise de Sacre Coeur de Jesus, situated on the south boulevard, stands out as an oriental specimen of Gothic splendour. It contains rare and beautiful stained glass panels depicting events from the life of Christ. The Eglise de Notre Dame de la Conception Immaculee, on Cathedral Street, was first built in 1692. It took its present shape in 1791. The Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges, in Rue Dumas, is notable for its masonry – which uses the finest of limestone mixed with white of the egg – making for a texture identical to that of white marble. It is modelled on the Basilica at Lourdes, in southern France.
There are many ways to reach Pondicherry. The closest airport is in Chennai, which is around 135 kms from Pondicherry. The other nearby airports are: Trichy – 220 kms and Bangalore 320 kms away. Even though the Union Territory has a railway station, its usage is minimal as only 2-3 trains arrive there in a week. Villupuram is the nearest junction and is fairly well connected to places like Chennai, Madurai and Trichy. However, the best way to reach Pondicherry is by road. There are frequent buses, almost every 15 minutes in the day from Chennai’s new bus stand in Koyembedu. The express buses take three-and-a-half hours. Preferably, take the buses coming by the East Coast Road via Mahabalipuram, instead of the National Highway, as the ECR is far more scenic with shimmering sea to give you company most of the way.
Pondicherry is a very peaceful, calm and serene place known for its beauty. The cost of living in the city is quite affordable and it’s very safe for foreigners. All in all, it’s a place which is a must visit for one and all.