With its stately buildings and beachside promenades, Pondicherry seems to belong to another era.
Coconut trees sway gently in the breeze, and a bright, blue sky spans overhead. From a beachside stall, chai-wallas (tea sellers) serve up piping hot masala chai and ice-cold kulfi (traditional Indian ice cream).
Although French colonial history lives on in Pondicherry’s auberges and cafes, its heart is still unmistakably Indian.
Pondicherry’s coastline is perfect for indulging on hot, lazy afternoons over a plate of local treats.
Check out Paradise Beach (5mi/8km from Chunnambar town), Mahe Beach (14mi/22km south of Kannur city), or simply stroll down Pondicherry’s 1mi (1.5 km) promenade.
True to the city’s mixed heritage, the promenade boasts memorial statues of both Mahatma Gandhi and Joan of Arc.
Feeling more adventurous? Plunge into the sea with one of the city’s scuba diving or snorkeling guides. They will gladly initiate newbies.
Or visit villages on the outskirts of the city by bike or motorcycle, with cheap daily or weekly rentals.
A highlight would be a day-trip to Tiruvannamalai, where you’ll find the main temple complex, filled with dozens of worshippers. This spot is far less explored than popular places such as Rishikesh.
Sri Ramana Maharshi lived in caves near here, and you can hike up on holy mountain, Arunachala. During full moon, thousands of people circle the mountain on foot, and that’s quite the experience (if you’re one for huge crowds).
As you walk around the mountain, stop off at the little temples along the way. These temples are in honor of the nine grahas, or celestial planets.
The Pondicherry Museum offers a primer on south Indian art and history, displaying artifacts from the Pallava and Chola dynasties.
In search of something slightly more offbeat? With its hundreds of handmade dolls from all over India, the Jawahar Toy Museum has you covered.
Anyone looking for a more hands-on cultural experience should head to SITA Cultural Centre, which gives workshops on local crafts like flower garland making, Thanjavur painting, and Kolam making.
Most importantly, pay attention to the sights and sounds of the town. Tamil cultural traditions live on outside of museums, and are an important part of daily life as well.
With its unique ambiance and elegant, vine-covered houses, Pondicherry’s charming, historical French Quarter merits a long walk – or book yourself in for a stay at one of its leafy B&Bs.
Join picnickers at nearby Bharati Park. With its wide paths and abundant flower blossoms, it looks like a tropical version of a French public garden.
Don’t neglect Pondicherry’s vibrant spiritual center. At Manakula Vinayagar, a 500-year old Hindu temple, you may catch a glimpse of Lakshmi, the temple elephant.
The French Quarter contains the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the former home of the Bengali freedom-fighter-turned-saint. On annual darshan days, you can join thousands of devotees to pay tribute to Aurobindo’s former quarters.
Check out Auroville, just a ten-minute drive from Pondicherry. Known as the “City of Dawn”, it’s a unique, utopian woodland township, with thousands of Indian and international residents and volunteers.
Stay for a day, or even months! The community hosts visitors and volunteers for year-round events, workshops, and training seminars on anything you might be interested in exploring, from meditation to permaculture.
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