The largest French colony in India until the French left in 1954, Pondicherry (officially Puducherry) retains much of its colonial flavor. A stroll through the French Quarter reveals gardens overflowing with bougainvillea, and churches and whitewashed villas interspersed with quaint little cafés.
While Pondicherry’s French Quarter feels more Gallic than Indian, cross over into the Grand Canal to find yourself transported to a typical Tamil village. For the spiritually minded traveler, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram teaches yoga and meditation to the ever-changing contingent of expats who go to Pondicherry and end up staying longer than anticipated. It’s also possible to visit on a sightseeing day trip from Chennai.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Pondicherry is a must for colonial architecture buffs or fans of Sri Aurobindo.
- Wear comfortable shoes and sun protection, as Pondicherry is best navigated on foot.
- While there are beaches north of town that are suitable for swimming, the coastline right off Pondicherry can be rough.
How to Get There
Located on the southeastern coast of India, Pondicherry is about a 3-hour drive from Chennai and a 1.5-hour drive from Mahabalipuram. The town is well connected to both destinations by train and bus, though many travelers prefer to book a private transfer or visit as part of a guided day trip or multi-day tour of the region. When to Get There
Although Pondicherry is a year-round destination, it’s never a bad idea to consider weather when planning a trip to South India. The region is pleasantly warm and relatively dry during the winter months (December through February), but by April or May it can get oppressively hot. Monsoon season generally runs from June through September, with plenty of rain.
Most visitors to Pondicherry venture out to Auroville, just outside of town. There you’ll find an intentional community full of residents from around the world, mostly followers of spiritual leader Sri Aurobindo. At the heart of the community sits the golden Matrimandir, a large dome-shaped meditation hall. Day-trippers can see it from the outside, but entering requires advanced reservations.