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Exploring Pondicherry - Promenade Beach, French Heritage, and Auroville

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Fondly known as "Pondy," Pondicherry (also called Puducherry) is a popular tourist destination. It's a 21st-century city steeped in history and surrounded by quiet beaches. Pondy was once the stomping ground of French colonists, who groomed the settlement to resemble their homeland. Today, travelers marvel at colonial-era houses and cathedrals, and visit tranquil spiritual centers.

Pondicherry's French Heritage

 

The French Quarter is many visitors' first stop in Pondicherry. In stark contrast to most of urban India, the streets here are a picture of calm. Start off at Goubert Avenue, which runs parallel to Promenade Beach, and is speckled with monuments including The French War Memorial, the Gandhi Memorial, and Dupleix Park. Beyond this, you'll see bright yellow buildings including the École Française D'Extrême-Orient and the French Consulate. Peaceful Bharathi Park and the Botanical Gardens are both good options for a quiet picnic. When you've finished wandering along cobblestone streets, why not go for dinner at a European-style restaurant?

 

Sri Aurobindo Ashram

 

After leaving politics behind in 1910, Sri Aurobindo settled in Pondicherry and by 1926 had established the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, in collaboration with his spiritual aide "The Mother." Sri Aurobindo’s endeavor soon attracted disciples and visitors from around the world and continues to do so today. Every morning, crowds gather at the narrow doors of the pale-grey Ashram building. You can make your way through its revered rooms, peruse displays and exhibitions, and pay your respects at the flower-strewn resting places of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

 

  • Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Marine Street, Pondicherry 605002; Tel: + 91 413 2233649; Website: Sri Aurobindo Ashram

 

The Puducherry Museum

 

It might be small but the Puducherry Museum is packed with fascinating objects. Here, you can view Pondy’s evolution through the ages - from the Megalithic to the colonial era. Fragments of earthenware from ancient Greece and Spain, which were excavated from the neighboring Arikamedu site, are on display too. You can also see artifacts from the Chola and Vijayanagar periods that preceded the French occupation. Large sections of the museum are dedicated to the French era; you can walk through rooms filled with furniture, arms, books, and journals from the period.

 

  • The Puducherry Museum, 1 Romain Rolland Street, Pondicherry 605001; Tel: +91 413 2223950; Website: The Puducherry Museum

 

Historic Churches

 

The colonial-era churches of Pondicherry are a sight to behold. The Immaculate Conception Cathedral was built in the 18th century and is inspired by the Baroque school of architecture. On the southern boulevard, the white and red, neo-Gothic Sacred Heart Basilica, with its famed stained-glass paintings depicting the life of Jesus and 28 other saints, cannot be missed. At the Notre Dame des Anges, a statue of Joan of Arc stands at the entrance. Inside a blend of limestone and eggshells has given the church's interior walls a grandiose, marble-like appearance.

 

 

Auroville

 

In 1968, Sri Aurobindo’s chief spiritual aide, The Mother, established the township of Auroville, just over 14 km from Pondicherry. The aim was to erase the boundaries of humanity and unite people. While the township does open its doors to long-term visitors, you'll still be welcomed if you choose to drop by for a day. The star feature of Auroville is the golden-hued, metallic sphere of the Matrimandir, a spiritual haven for those who'd like to meditate and work towards spiritual awakening.

 

  • Auroville, Auroville, Viluppuram 605101, Tamil Nadu; Tel: +91 413 2623424; Website: Auroville