India with a French accent, Puducherry (as the Union Territory of Pondicherry has been officially renamed) charms visitors with its pleasant seafront, quaint French architecture, spiritual atmosphere and a climate that favours art and expression. And, of course, there are the handicrafts, leather apparel, and amazing seafood.
Easily approached from Chennai via the scenic East Coast Road, the former French enclave has just a few square kilometres of scenic French architecture spread out over a neatly arranged block of streets that retain their French names. Every building, though, speaks volumes of its past. Some host luxury hotels such as Le Dupleix and Le Promenade, while others have been turned into cafés and pizzerias. Prominent among them are Rendezvous, Satsanga and Don Giovanni among scores of others.
The Aurobindo Ashram, named for the revolutionary poet-saint Aurobindo Ghosh, is a prominent and pervasive presence in Puducherry. One half of the town, with its grey-painted buildings, is administered by the Ashram; the other contains French offices and institutions such as the Romain Rolland Library, Alliance Francaise and the French Institute.
About 12 km north of Puducherry is Auroville, established by Aurobindo’s spiritual collaborator Mirra Alfassa from Paris. After Aurobindo’s death, she became the spiritual guide of the community he founded and became known as the Mother. Auroville, and its central edifice, the awe-inspiring Matri Mandir, was constructed according to her vision.
Charming beaches such as Serenity Beach and the Auroville Beach draw visitors from all over, but they eventually consume themselves shopping for clothes, jewellery and leather apparel at Nehru Street.
If you plan to go during a weekend, avoid driving, as the Beach Road is barricaded off for the convenience of tourists.
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