The First-Timer's Guide To Pondicherry

Monday, May 01, 2017


Though it’s often overlooked as an Asian tourist destination, Pondicherry, a former French colony on the south-east coast of India, offers a whole world of opportunity for some incredible travel experiences. Just take a look at some of the articles and tourism guides you’ll find on the city, and you’ll read nothing but praise from Western and Eastern travelers alike. Still, just like any destination, if you don’t know what to expect you’re sure to struggle with some of the practical details. If you’re planning your very first visit to Pondicherry, here’s a simple guide to making your trip one to remember…

Getting There
Most travellers get to Pondicherry from Chennai, which is roughly 170km away and in the nearby state of Tamil Nadu. You can book a bus cheaply through a number of Indian coach companies, with tickets usually costing around 450 rupees. For people who have never been to India before, it can be tough to work out where the stops are, as many of them are under a tree or just at a roadside. Once again, Google Maps can come to the rescue here! Provided you’re not too far away from the centre, you should be able to flag a cab or a rickshaw for a short ride to wherever you’re staying. When you’re arranging your travel, just make sure that the bus you ride on has air con, as many won’t. This will be no issue for a local, but for inexperienced westerners, the heat can quickly become too much to bear! It’s also good to remember that when you’re going back to Chennai, taxis are much cheaper than you’d find them the other way.
Where to Stay
Central Pondicherry has had a gradually swelling tourism presence over the past few years, and you’ll be able to find some great hotels there for a relatively low price. Comfortable beds, clean bathrooms, and helpful, knowledgeable staff can be found in many of the hotels near the city centre. As always, just make sure you read some impartial reviews on the places you’re considering. Even the most prestigious cities in the world have their dives here and there! Like many seasoned travelers, you may want to dodge the sheltered, “touristy” experience of hotels, and make sure you get a more authentic taste of the local area. One of the best ways of doing this is through a homestay. Rather than a cushy hotel room or a guest house, this will allow you to stay with some local people, eat as they eat, and do as they do. You can find some truly gorgeous residences on sites like this: www.wandertrails.com/pondicherry/experiential-stays. However much you can spend and whatever you want from your accommodation, do a little digging in advance, and you’ll find your perfect solution in Pondicherry.
Sights and Experiences

This is why you’re planning your trip in the first place: all the incredible things to see and do while you’re in Pondicherry. You could get some great stories simply by walking around Pondicherry for long enough, but here we’ll list some of the highlights that should really make your list…
Sri Aurobindo Ashram – This Ashram was founded in 1926, and became such a centre of Indian spirituality that it’s quickly turned into one of the city’s main historical sites. Though it used to teach particular schools of meditation and yoga, it’s become much more eclectic in recent years, and modern students are largely left to find their own way. Whether you have a keen interest in Indian spirituality or you’d just like to learn more about the Ashram and its local significance, visitors from many walks of life are welcome. Visit www.sriaurobindoashram.org/visitors/index.php for more.
Auroville – Though this township isn’t technically in Pondicherry, it’s a short rickshaw ride away, and a truly inspirational sight that you should make plans to see. The settlement aims to be a “universal town”, where people of all races, sexes, and spiritual beliefs can live together in harmony. It was originally founded in 1958 by Mirra Alfassa, a significant French spiritual leader in the region, often referred to as “The Mother”. One of the central parts of Auroville’s philosophy is a strong ecological ethos, with a range of sustainability projects including the reforestation of the natural areas around it. There’s also a strong drive towards gender empowerment, with programs dedicated to finding work for women in the surrounding industries. It’s free to enter Auroville, but if you wanted to check out the Matrimandir – the town’s famous meditation centre, you’ll need to arrange for a special pass. People come from all over the world to visit, so asking some of the locals at your accommodation should clear up any confusion.
Café Des Arts – As a former French colony, you’ll find a lot of the country’s influence around Pondicherry, most notably in this popular vintage-style café. If you only eat out once during your stay, make sure you do it here! You’ll be able to enjoy some delectable crepes, sandwiches, salads and coffee. It also has a vintage clothes shop, a pleasant garden and good WiFi.
Kalki – Obviously, you’ll want to pick up some souvenirs and gifts during your visit to Pondicherry, and this is a great place to do it. You’ll find an incredible range of Ayurveda massage oils, cosmetics and perfumes. You can also browse a huge range of genuine Indian incense, as well as some nice cotton clothes.
La Maison Rose – Similar to Café Des Arts, this is another two-in-one eatery and shop. There’s a wider choice of food here, and the clothes they stock are of a great quality as well. However, they’re pretty expensive by Indian standards, with a pair of silk trousers costing around 6,000 rupees.
There you have a complete first-time visitor’s guide to this fascinating, historical, and incredibly spiritual city. While the culture shock of diving into Pondicherry can be a little daunting to begin with, once you’re a little more settled you’re sure to have some fulfilling and unforgettable experiences!

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