Pondicherry : A Gorgeous Town Full Of Heritage Beauty

After a beautiful road trip from Mumbai, we reached our destination, Pondicherry, also known as Puducherry. Although we were here for work, we always wanted to visit this beautiful old town, full of heritage buildings, spirituality, art, food and culture. And Pondicherry didn’t let us down even one bit. Here’s a bit of what to see in Pondicherry.

Pondicherry, officially known as Puducherry, is a city in the Union Territory of Puducherry. It’s a coastal town in the state of Tamil Nadu. Since Pondicherry was once a French colony, the city has a strong French influence over architecture, art, culture, food and also language. The streets still have French names like Rue Damas etc.

We stayed at the Hotel De Pondicherry, an old colonial era building, which has a great restaurant as well as promixity to the beach.

There’s plenty to do in this lovely city, after you have had your ample naps and relaxations! You could go for walks in its streets, hang around in lovely cafes, go for art galleries, shop around, visit one of the many museums or monuments, there are some old and beautiful temples and churches, or try the wonderful food. You could also visit one of the many Aurobindo centres, some for meditation, some have excellent libraries and they also make a wide range of hand-made paper.

Puducherry is distinctively divided into White Town and, well, the rest of it. White Town is where all the colonial heritage beauty is. If you want to stay in Pondicherry, do ensure you stay inside White Town (unless you want otherwise). The other part of town is like any other congested Indian city.

What to do in Pondicherry: Go for walks, visit musuems, libraries, read books, take long naps in the hot afternoons, hang out at cafes and art galleries, shop, and eat wonderful food.

Also go visit Aurobindo Ashram. They have libraries, hand made paper stores, meditation centres etc.
Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple
is an ancient temple, built before 1666AD.
Visit the Basilica of Sacred Heart Of Jesus, a fine example of Oriental Gothic Architecture.
The Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges (The Church of Our Lady of Angels), in Rue Dumas, is notable for its masonry – which uses the finest of limestone mixed with white of the egg – making for a texture identical to that of white marble. Visit this Church at around 5:30pm to catch some awesome light coming in through its ceiling dome stained glass.
The Cathedral Of Our Lady Of Immaculate Conception was built around 1692 AD. Do visit.
Meeran Mosque is the oldest Mosque in Puducherry, built over 350 years ago. We couldn’t see it, but try and do.

Do visit the Pondicherry Museum. They have a fantastic collection of the history around this region.

Do go for evening walks on the Beach Road Promenade.

Nearby: You can visit Auroville, hardly 10km from Pondicherry. If you want to see their meditation theatre, you must book in advance. Auroville has wonderful landscape, libraries, cafes, meditation centres, places to stay etc. You could also book a place to stay in lieu of voluntary service. Check for these at Auroville.

Tranquebar, about 4hours’ drive from Puducherry / Pondicherry to Tranquebar is a wonderful 17th Centure Danish fort town.

Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary is roughly 4.5 hours from Puducherry and has blackbucks, wolves, many species of resident and migratory birds. There is also the Ousteri Wetland and National Park, which is essentially a bird sanctuary but also has many marine species. It’s some 10km from Puducherry.

Arikamedu is an ancient archaeological site with remains of a Roman settlement. It’s about 7 km from Puducherry.

Where to stay and what to eat? : There’s plenty. We are writing another post for that!

We stayed at the lovely Hotel De Pondicherry
We stayed at the lovely Hotel De Pondicherry
Pondicherry street.
The beautiful streets of Pondicherry are worth many a walk.

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Tranquebar : A Tranquil Getaway Near Puducherry

It’s interesting how you discover something while looking for something else. In Puducherry, while trying to figure out how to reach the Chettinad towns, we learnt about Tranquebar, a 17th century Danish fort settlement, barely 2-3 hours from where we were. Tranquebar (officially known as Tharangambadi) also afforded us a chance to visit the Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary that we were so interested in. So we drove from from Pondicherry to Tranquebar, a distance of 120 km and a great drive.

Tranquebar has a very old and interesting history. It was was part of the Chola and Pandya kingdoms. In the 15th century, under the Thanjavur King, Raghunath Nayak, Tranquebar was an important international trading port. The Danish, under a treaty with the King, built Fort Dansborg, overlooked by Danish Captain Ove Gjedde, to have better control over the trade (mainly exporting pepper from India). Slowly the Danish took over Tranquebar, which was taken over by the British in 1801, and again returned to the Danish in 1814, and finally purchased by the British (along with other Danish settlements in India) in 1845.

The Danish sent the first Protestant Missionaries to India, who set up the first printing press of India, and the New Testament was translated into Tamil, for the first time, in this town.

The town is full of old Danish architecture. We couldn’t find much of the old Indian heritage left, apart from The Masilamani Nathar temple. Was the local architecture not able to stand the test of time? Tranquebar faced a horrid Tsunami in December 2004, which destroyed a lot of heritage, including a bit of the temple. But the town has recovered and extensive efforts to restore the heritage are on.

Visit this town if you are interested in tranquility and heritage. There are, thankfully, no noisy pubs, no beaches stuffed with loud ‘tourists’, no restaurants, not yet.

The main choice of stay is the lovely Bungalow On The Beach, a Neemrana Property.

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Early morning at the Tranquebar Beach.
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The Dansborg Fort, right on the beach.

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Jodhpur RIFF: The Songs Of The Desert

October breeze. Full moon nights. And the songs of the desert! These words may portray a festive mood but the actual experience is truly beyond words.

Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival) has been our musical retreat for the last two years. This is really a soulful music festival away from run of the mill electronica, rock-metal clones, or mainstream tunes. The curator tastefully brings the best of folk musicians from across the world and into a unique fusion with the traditional artists of Rajastjani folk, the Langas and the Manganiyars. You can imagine a beautiful confluence of west and the east , the Sarangis and the Guitars, Rabab and Jazz, Morchang and Violins! Different artists, languages, instruments and music genres meet and jam on the main stage.

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Nashik : An Evening In The Old Bazaars

Nashik is an ancient city with plenty of history, right from the time of Ashoka to the British rule in India. Nashik is also a prominent grape growing region of India and the fertile lands around it provide much of Mumbai and Pune’s  vegetables. It’s also a holy city for the Hindus, since Panchvati is where Lord Rama is supposed to have built his home in exile.

In one of our monsoon drives, we decided to pay Nashik a visit, having heard much about the holy part of the city, the Panchvati. We also wanted to visit Nashik before the millions came for the Kumbh Mela.

A walk through these beautiful old parts of Nashik are completely worth it. We went towards the end of monsoons in 2014, when the river Godavari was flowing with full force and some residual rains remained.

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The approach to Panchvati. This holy part of Nashik is full of ancient and new temples.
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At the Ramkund, Panchvati. There is a traditionof floating small lamps with prayers in the holy waters of the Godavari.

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