Discover India’s Old World Charm in Puducherry (Pondicherry)

Discover India’s Old World Charm in Puducherry (Pondicherry)

New age meets the old world in the truly unique town of Puducherry.

This well-loved township harbours its signature French heritage, set amongst a heady fusion of multicultural influence.

‘Pondicherry’ will typically evoke visions of a time-warped French charm. But this union territory has since reimagined itself as ‘Puducherry’, which poignantly translates to mean ‘new love’.

A collective community is spawned from the town’s cosmopolitan past, seeking peace of mind through plurality and a modernised spirituality.

‘Le petit Francais’ – A walk through the French Quarter

Indo-French matrimony is best celebrated whilst strolling the town’s French Quarter ‘à pied’.

Kijelia Sausage trees, a smattering of white, pink and purple bougainvillea and parked white Hindustan Ambassador cars line the dreamy boulevards of Puducherry.

An elevated view from the Old Lighthouse surveys the grid layout of the old colonial quarter. The town’s canal divides the map otherwise characterised by typical South Indian house-to-house hotchpotch.

Other historical differences are specifically outlined. Mustard yellow and white buildings belonging to the French, whilst grey and white architecture is attributed to the sacred Sri Aurobindo ashram community.

Elsewhere, multi-coloured facades from mint green, to turquoise, to earthy orange, punctuate the streets with Tamil and French script stacked together on iconic road signs.

A walk from the French Quarter towards the Bay of Bengal to take in the sailing regatta offshore passes the triumphant statue of Joan of Arc, instated in a garden close by to the largest Mahatma Gandhi statue in Asia.

Architectural echoes are obvious

Top floors converted in the traditional Tamil Chettinad style fuse with classic French arches and columns below. Neat courtyards and balconies give off more than a touch of colonial decadence.

A Fusion City

France’s café culture has found its way onshore here too.

Cool jazz bleeds through dappled shelter of a vineyard style porch. You kick off your sandals, nurse real coffee and review a lunch menu of Tartine grilled sandwiches and all the fresh fruit juices.

The afternoon offers a drop-in yoga class next door.

Cafés also pose as boutique shops draped in vintage bohemia, trading coffee table books of Japanese photography, antique rocking horse toys and zany bed throws stocked from Rajasthan.

Come sundown, Puducherry’s fine dining boasts Asian award-winning quality, typically jetting in consultancy from French chefs.

Ambiance is set by a contemporary feel to old French charm, where the line between ‘heritage’ and ‘boutique’ is blurred

Guests book their table in advance for a menu of French and Indian fusion, where French cuisine is prepared using traditional Indian techniques and locally sourced produce.

The head chef at one of the heritage hotels tells of dishes that are “simple, natural and fresh”, like subtly spiced slow-cooked chicken with caramelised cauliflower mousse, and sides of citrus salad and cauliflower baked in an Indian tandoor oven.

Tiger prawns and swordfish are ordered in the morning from the market no more than a kilometre from the kitchen – pan and breads are locally fresh-baked in Auroville.

The evening is complimented with crisp cocktails and fine wine.

A Spiritual Township

Standing still in the aisle beside a teak wood confession box, silenced by the magnitude of Gothic style Basilicas, the open stain glass windows invite the outside in. The caws of crows rattle around domed ceilings.

The effigy of Mother Mary is garlanded and dressed in a brown sari, as opposed to indigo blue. Shoes are removed prior to Domas Church entrance, left out in carefully tended church gardens of flame trees and cannonball flowers.

All religious sects are welcomed here. Puducherry’s spirituality does not wish to be sectarian and deliberately allows for a soul searching space to yourself.

The Universal City of Dawn

Arriving in 1910, the guru Sri Aurobindo became the spiritual visionary behind the ashram community in Puducherry Town and inspired the ‘Universal City of Dawn’, otherwise known as Auroville.

Since 1973, Auroville has emerged as a township of thousands of people made up of various nationalities, functioning successfully without political or religious creed as a self-sustaining community.

The base of this brilliant golden disc dome has lotus petal structures and the twelve gardens surrounding are said to mirror the astrological galaxy from a bird’s eye view.

Sri Aurobindo champions a vision for the new age, promising ‘collaboration is the way to divinity’.

A Union Territory

Peaceful Puducherry proudly adopts a global perspective, striving to trail blaze in Modern India with open arms and without forgetting her exotic and very special roots

India offers a different aspect of her personality for every traveler to the country. Match India’s rhythms to your heart, its colours to your mind, and discover an incredible travel experience that is truly yours alone.

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This page was paid for by Ministry of Tourism, Government of India. The editorial staff of CNBC had no role in the creation of this page.