Pondicherry – French Capital of India, Cafes and Beaches
Reminiscence of French Colony in the face of bright yellow buildings, the smell of freshly baked French Gourmet from the cafes, the gentle breeze along the pavement on Rock Beach, colourful buildings with gates adorned with bougainvillaea, the chaos of White Town, placidity embracing vibe of Auroville and tranquillity of serenity beach – Ah! Is not Pondicherry tempting you to pack right now to experience the colonial essence?
All of this is true but there runs a parallel side, a frustrating and murky one, especially for solo female travellers. Being true to travel blogging, I do not want to throw a fantastical picture when I had my moments of anguish and discomfort. I was completely flabbergasted when random local guys would stop and ask for a selfie (What? Are you kidding me?), annoyed to death with all the unwelcoming stares and lost my temper so many times. The colourful pictures of Pondicherry visit painted on the charts of travellers has a lot of dark spots, I personally experienced.
However, I realised that though it was turbulent to my mind at times yet some places totally stole my heart. The calm and peace intensified to ignore the stares occasionally coming my way as I walked on the soft sand of Serenity Beach, swam through the blanket of waves in the open sea and witnessed the gorgeous sunset. (As I write this, I feel a tickle in my heart, there is something that I left behind, something so precious and beautiful).
How to Reach Pondicherry
Pondicherry is well connected from various places in South India like Chennai, Vellore, Bengaluru etc. There are many direct buses from Vellore and Chennai that connects to Pondicherry and takes about 4 ½ hours to cover the distance. Alternatively, you can opt for train or flight also from Bangalore or Chennai.
I travelled from Bangalore in the morning. There are no direct buses from Bangalore to Pondicherry in the morning. The direct sleeper buses are available only at night. I had to break the journey via Vellore. It takes around 4 hours to reach Vellore from Bangalore. From Vellore, you may opt for a general bus or AC bus. I boarded a general public bus from Vellore bus station.
PS: Everything is written in native language and it might be difficult figuring out which bus leaves for Pondicherry. Ask the conductors or people around to guide you.
Places to Visit in and Around Pondicherry
The Union Territory fondly known for its colonial French reminiscence is known for its cult cafes, white sand beaches and serene outskirts. As much as I loathed the place, in the beginning, I delved deeper, spreading my arms under the open sky to slowly feel its aura.
The place, not the kind that steals my interest, is a stretch of artificially made beach area crowded and populated with a lot of tourists. It is not a place to catch my fancy until evening clumsily swims in and holds me back to feel the balmy breeze. Seemed a lot like lost and feeble cousin of Mumbai’s bandstand, it is a nice place to take some shots with the glorious bridge, rocks and sea, all in one frame.
PS: The beach is in White Town, close to the former French colony. It is a hotspot for a number of cafes, souvenir shops and the famous highly Instagrammed yellow coloured buildings.
This beach is around 16kms from the main city of Pondicherry and is maintained by Chunnambar Resorts. There are boats operated from 9 am from Chunnambar Boat House to Paradise Island which takes you through the gorgeous backwaters. It takes around 20 minutes to reach the place. The beach is clean with the stretch of white sand and shades placed to spend time leisurely basking under the sun.
PS: The beach closes at 4 pm which means the last boat from the Island leaves at 4 pm. Plan accordingly. The price for the two-way ticket is around Rs 300/-
The insipid beach holds no inspiration of any sort, flocked by local people throwing unwelcoming stares. However, finding an escape is what you need, so walk along the shore and far towards the left. There comes a point with some logwoods stumbled on the sea banks and fishing boats to the other side makes a good place to make use of your camera.
Frankly, it isn’t a place to know in a day. To embrace the aura and soak into the beauty of the place, one needs to stay here for a while. Maybe a week or even more is needed to get into the soul of the place. The muddy unpaved roads, flowers blossoming in vivid colours, the chirping of birds, the quietness, culture and everything about the place is soul feeding. A day is definitely not enough to know the vibe of the place. It is known for Matri Mandir – The Golden Round Shaped Temple, amazing vegan cafes and an enriching culture.
PS: It is around 15 km from Pondicherry main city. It can be accessed by bus or taxi or auto service.
It is a crime to not feel and taste the essence and aroma of French food. As a connoisseur of mouth-watering food, the slightly bland cheese rich French food in the cafes is must try. Apart to from sampling the food, the quaint cafes also make satisfactory appetite to your vision with gorgeous interiors and graffiti. In and around White Town, there are many cafes to definitely jump into.
Must Try – Cafes Des Arts, Café Carte Blanche, Satsanga, Café Xtasi, Rendezvous Café, Le Club, Tanto and Le Café.
Eglise De Notre Dame Des Agnes Church (Domus Church)
The baroque church is one of the oldest churches in Pondicherry that boast of Greco-Roman architecture. The main chapel is gorgeously adorned with two pillars with exquisite work. The church strikes the right chord of beauty with its pink walls that were initially done with a mix of paint, egg and limestone. The church interiors are stunning and illuminated with opaque colourful windows with a high ride ceiling. Surrounded by a beautifully landscaped garden, it definitely is a jewel to seek some time of solitude.
Basilica of Sacred Heart of Jesus
The cathedral is located close to the railway station and stands marvellously in the middle of the city with the excellence of its Gothic architecture. The mix of white and red walls and pillars along with the exquisite interiors of the church makes it unique. The church consists of pictures of 28 saints who were related to the devotion of Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is mostly crowded in the evenings.
Serenity Beach 🙂 🙂
I kept the best for the last. If it wasn’t for this pristine beach, Pondicherry would not be such a delightful experience. Justifying the name, the beach is located around 8kms from the main city of Pondicherry and is the perfect place to calm your senses and feel the vibe. Amidst the sleepy fishing town, the beach is haven for surfers. The waves take you in its charisma and coax you to stay a little longer. This is the best beach in Pondicherry, a must stay to enjoy the best of beach life.
PS: Do book a beachside resort or accommodation to witness the shades of the sea, enjoy the sound of waves in the silence of the night and witness the gorgeous sunrise. You will thank me later. I stayed in Nature’s Loft Resort, Serenity Beach.
Important Things to Know
- Most of the places in Pondicherry are not close to each other. The best option is to hire a bike or scooty to explore the city and the beaches. If you don’t know how to ride, it is best to hire a cab for a day.
- White Town and the French colony within it can be best explored on foot. However, there are rickshaw pullers who can give you a tour of the place.
- There will be a lot of unwanted stares and comments, so if you are a solo female traveller, it is best to dress accordingly especially at night.
- The accommodation can be booked by many booking portals. It is best to book an accommodation in White Town to stay close to Rock Beach & French colony.
- If you are planning to spend a night or two in the beach, I vouch for Serenity Beach without a second thought.
- If you have a day or two extra, you can take a trip to ruins of Arikamedu. The Pichavaram Mangroves are also good for a day trip.
- There are a lot of water sports activities like kayaking & canoeing at Karikal Beach, surfing at Serenity Beach and scuba diving that you can enjoy during your trip to Pondicherry.