Pondichérry, though small in geographical size, was the largest French colony in India. The city has a long and interesting history of trade and war. There is a strong French influence on the architecture of the city, especially in the old quarters, with Rues and Boulevards lined with Mediterranean-style houses and bakeries, although the city remains very much Indian. French is still understood, and the whole city makes for a pleasant mix of the East and the West. It is also known as The French Riviera of the East (La Côte d'Azur de l'Est). If you have spent some time in Tamil Nadu and approached Pondichérry by land, you will very likely experience mild culture shock on discovering French architecture and restaurants serving steak and good wine. Pondichérry is very much a city with a dual personality: crossing the central canal from the east to the west reveals two different cities with very different characters.
Tamil is the main language spoken in Pondicherry. The city was essentially a French possession in the Tamil-speaking area of the region. You need to be able to speak Tamil if you wish to live in Pondicherry.
Expect to be able to get quite far in South Asia as an English-speaking tourist. Persons in Pondicherry with a university education may be able to converse with you in English.
French is no longer an official language or widely spoken in Pondicherry and has been largely supplanted by English, but can still be heard among elderly persons raised during French colonial rule. However, the language is considered an aspect of life in Pondicherry that draws tourists from the surrounding regions. Telugu and Malayalam are the two official languages, but their use is generally confined to specific communities.
Pondichérry is well connected from all sides. Chennai is 160 km north of the city.
You can also hire a taxi from Chennai International Airport. It costs around ₹2,500 (Indian rupees), as of August 2018.
The road from Chennai to Pondicherry (the East Coast Road, commonly called ECR) is a scenic highway and a normal journey would take about 3 hours. Most tourists, however, cannot resist the seashore kissing the ECR and take a number of stops en route. This route passes through Mahabalipuram, Kalpakkam, Pudupattinam, Idaikkazhinadu (Alamparai or Alambara Fort), Mudaliarkuppam, which has a boat house, Marakkanam (contains large areas under salt pans), and Kanagachettikulam/Kalapet.
Another road from Chennai to Pondy is National Highway 45 (NH45), also called the Grand Southern Trunk (GST) Road. This route passes through Tambaram, Chengalpattu, Madhurantakam, Melmaruvathur and Tindivanam.
The ECR Road and NH45 are tolled roads. The journey from Chennai to Pondichérry takes about the same amount of time on each road.
Pondichérry is about 320 km away from Bangalore. Drive down National Highway 7 (NH-7) till Krishnagiri, take a left off the main highway (road signs mark the route) and then take National Highway 66 (NH-66) to Pondichérry. This route passes through Uthangarai, Chengam, Tiruvannamalai, Gingee and Tindivanam. You can reach Pondicherry either through Tindivanam (via Gingee) or Villupuram (via Thirukovilur). Gingee Fort is also on the way to Tindivanam and worth spending some time at. It's an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) Heritage site. The total travel time should be about 5-6 hours. Pack some food or snacks for the way as there are no good restaurants en route.
Pondichérry connects to the GST or NH-45 in two places: at Villupuram by NH-45A and at Tindivanam by NH-66.
There are many coaches connecting to Pondicherry from a variety of cities. Getting to Pondichérry involves a 3½-hour road journey from Chennai by bus. One can board a bus from Chennai Moffusil Bus Terminus (CMBT) in Koyambedu, Thiruvanmiyur or Guindy. You can be sure of getting a seat on the bus only if you board it from CMBT in Koyambedu, which is the main bus terminus in Chennai. However, the cheapest way of reaching Pondichérry from Chennai is taking the East Coast Road (ECR) bus from Tiruvanmiyur. The fare from CMBT is around ₹150 depending on the bus service. PRTC (Puducherry Road Transport Corporation) operates air-conditioned buses and the fare is ₹280. The ECR bus will drop you at the main bus terminal in Pondichérry, on Maraimalai Adigal Salai. Auto-rickshaws are available from outside the bus station. The fare can be bargained down to ₹50 to go to the French Quarter.
Nearly all cities in Tamil Nadu are connected to Pondicherry through cheap government buses that will stop at smaller towns and villages, though no centeralized timetable exists and departure times and routes must be obtained from the nearest bus station to where you are. These buses will almost certainly arrive at the Pondicherry Bus Stand.
Private coaches will connect to Pondicherry from a variety of cities including Chennai and Bengaluru. The coaches along the ECR from Chennai are well frequented and a variety of coach types, from regular urban-city-bus to semi-sleepers and full-sleepers. There are long-distance coaches to Mumbai and other cities of India too. It is possible to find out which buses are available from redbus website.
Pondichérry is connected to Chennai by an electric broad gauge railway line through Villupuram. There are 2 passenger trains running daily to Chennai Egmore Railway station and Tirupati and there is a weekly express train service to Bhubaneswar. In addition to this, there is also a daily express train to Chennai Egmore. Puducherry is also connected by weekly trains to Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai besides Mangalore, passing through Kerala.
Bangalore Yesvanthapur (YPR) to Pondichérry (PDY) is connected by a 3-tier AC train called Garibh Rath Express. It covers a distance of 456 km in each direction however it takes 10 hr 5 min when operating as train number 12255 at an average speed of 60 km/h (excluding halts). It leaves Puducherry as train number 12256 on Saturday at 22:05 and at the end of 8 halts arrives at Yesvanthapur the next day at 08:25. It leaves Yesvantpur as train number 12255 on Friday at 23:15 and at the end of 9 halts arrives at Puducherry the next day at 09:20. Coach Composition comprises 16 AC 3 tier coaches and 2 luggage cum generator coach taking the total up to 18 coaches.
1 Pondicherry station is centrally located along the South Boulevard.
Pondichérry has an airport with facilities for the landing of small aircraft like Dorniers and Cessnas. Spicejet operates daily flights from Hyderabad (with connections from other major Indian cities). Flights from Bengaluru also operate on a daily basis. Cabs meet arriving flights at the airport, and charge ₹350 to the centre of town. You can also take a 30-minute auto rickshaw from the airport to the centre of town. The rate for taking an auto rickshaw from within the airport complex to the city centre is about ₹150, as of Apr 2013. If you walk to outside the airport complex and flag down an auto you may be able to negotiate a better rate.
Chennai airport is the nearest international airport, which is approximately 135 km from Pondicherry. Chennai airport is nicely connected to major cities in India as well as abroad. A one-way cab ride from Chennai airport to Pondicherry is approximately ₹1,500, and takes around 3 hours.
Bicycle and motobike
Pondicherry has narrow streets reminiscent of Western Europe. It is highly advisable that you do not attempt to drive around in a car, and instead purchase or hire a two-wheeled transport vehicle, such as a bicycle or motorcycle. It can however be difficult to ride smoothly in Pondicherry due to significant number of pedestrians on smaller streets, while roads would likely be used by cars and trucks. Pedestrians have right-of-way in the city.
There are several rental outlets on Mission St and MG Rd. The prices as of January 2016 are ₹300/day for a gearless scooter, and ₹500/day for a geared motorcycle and ₹40-50/day for a bicycle. You will need to provide some identification document as collateral and an advance of ₹500 only in few rental service shops while rest of them provide without documents or advance. Make sure you check the cycle thoroughly before taking it on rent. Many of the rentals also provide delivery and pickup at the hotel which is very useful. (Usually the number of days for these vehicles are calculated 9AM-9PM.) The motorbikes are easily available in a couple of two-wheeler rental shops in Mission Street.
The Pondicherry tourism development corporation has daily bus services for tourists and it covers all the important tourist spots to be seen in Pondicherry. It is the best and most economic way to tour Pondichérry.
There is a sparse network of buses and shared-auto-rickshaws that can be ridden for ₹5-20 per ride depending on distance.
Shared-auto-rickshaws can be found at the bus stand, along certain points on Bussy Road and Grand Canal - the most common route is from the bus stand, along Bussy Road, around Grand Canal, and then back up Bussy Road to the bus stand - but be sure to ask if the auto goes to your destination as not all autos will follow this route. The services in informal and unorganized so it is impossible to centralise the timetables.
- Bharati Park
- 1 Botanical Gardens (Entrance east), ☏ . A nice park, though a little in disarray. Entry free. An aquarium, maintained by the Directorate of Fisheries is also a must-see while in the Gardens. Entrance ticketed.
- Chunnambar Boat House - (which is crowded on holidays and weekends) 10 km south of the city on the way to Cuddalore and connected by local buses. You can take a motorboat to Paradise beach from here.
- Government Museum
- 2 Mahatma Gandhi's statue, Beach Rd.
- Oustery Lake - (only as a view but not developed). Declared a bird sanctuary with boating run by tourism corporation
- Paradise Beach - You need to hire a motorboat for pick up and drop to the beach from Chunnambar Boat house which will cost you around ₹200.
- Puducherry New Light house- only between 3-5PM a nominal entry fee
There is not much to do at the beach if you are travelling solo but a perfect place for romance.
- The globe(matrimandir)
Also known as the area of 'Peace' is a well-built globe with reflectors. You need to make booking in advance between 9AM and 4PM if you are a first-time visitor. Entry is free but only allowed on Sundays, and the place is strictly used for meditation.
- Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
- The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
- Our Lady of Lourdes - Villianpur - (7 km from Pondicherry towards Villupuram)
- Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Devasthanam
- Manakula Vinayagar Temple
- The ancient Kalatheeswarer Temple (Chetty kovil) in the heart of town. You can worship most of the Hindu Gods here.
- Sri Aurobindo Ashram
- Villianur Thirukameeswarar Temple
People also often visit Auroville from Pondicherry City. Consult the guide for that town for more information.
There is not much one is expected to do at Pondichérry. You would understand this better once you get there and understand the pace of life.
You can also do some serious meditation at the Auroville, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, or going to Bharatanatyam performances that are often organized there by the Auroville Cultural Exchange in the local temples, or at major hotels.
You can also go fishing in a Catamaran or while away your evenings at the Rocky Beach. You can also hire scooters (mopeds) and go on long drives for the sandy beaches that dot the coast line.
You can also experience staying in a traditional 'Parapachai' house - an affectionate name given by connoisseurs to traditional green colored houses. First class experience.
- Casablanca and Titanic, Mission St. The latter is a factory outlet of the former.
- French Quarter Architecture, the other side of the canal road to the coastline.
Temple Adventures, 9, Archbishop Gandhi Street, Colas Nagar, 1st Road Opposite Indira Gandhi Stadium, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Scuba diving club. There is a great range of corals, lion fish, grouper, kingfish, moray eels, eagle and manta rays, parrot fish, sea snakes, triggerfish, butterflies, angels, bannerfish, crustaceans, and if you're lucky, even sharks, whale sharks, turtles and dolphins.
- The Healing Hands Center. Classes in ancient massage and Thai massage. The ten-day course and the one-month professional course run every month and are recognized by THAI (Thai Healing Alliance International) and by NHPC (Natural Health Practitioners of Canada).
What to buy
- Handmade paper - The range of colours and scope of textures of Pondicherry’s homemade paper is marketed all over the world.
- Leather - Making leather in meticulously is what separates Pondicherry from rest of the cities in India. Well polished and creative products with quality brass buckles are available in reasonable prices here.
- Pottery - Pondicherry is known for artisan and ceramic work. Different kinds of shops offer distinctive styles such as Rhinestone Art and Golden Bridge.
- Textile and clothes - Since a long time, Pondicherry has been involved in the production of garment textiles and household items. There are also plenty of stores which sell T-shirts and some well known types of clothes at surprisingly low rates.
Pondicherry is known for its wide variety of cuisines ranging from South Indian delicacies like idly and dosa to seafood like fried fish, prawn bajji and parota.
French influence can be seen to some extent in the local food. The best options are still the local delicacies; the excellent seafood. Good French food is available at restaurants around the French part of town.
- 28 pie, MG road (opp. Petit Seminare school), ☏ . Daily 11AM-11PM. It calls itself "an authentic vegetarian pizzateria". Offers Exotic Italian pizzas & grilled items, burgers, ice cream, shakes and many sides. Rich atmosphere. Free wiFi available.
- Anjappar, Near Jeeva Theater Signal. Open every day.
- Aristo, Nehru Street. Nice terrace on the roof of the hotel; good French and Indian food.
- Atithi, Kamaraj Road, Shivajinagar (In Hotel Jayaram). All Days. Fantastic south Indian food. Very reasonably priced. Try out the 6 feet family masala dosa ghee roast.
- Batisto, ECR Road, Next to D Gowda Petrol Bunk, Behind Laloo's puntcher shop.
- Don Giovanni, Mission St. At the rooftop of Hotel Corbelli on Mission St, this authentic Italian restaurant's chef is from Bologna, and the food is fantastic.
- Hot Breads, Nehru St, a pleasant European bakery.
- Indian Delights Veg. Restaurant, 493 Mahatma Gandhi Rd (opposite a hotel (the clock tower hotel)). Opens at 5AM, delicious variety of typical south Indian dishes. Very cheap, popular with locals, not touristy.
- Karai, 100 Feet Rd. Nellithope. Multi-cuisine restaurant, good for Chettinad food. Also, try the French onion soup.
- Marine Drive, Periyamudaliyarchavadi, ECR Auroville (opp to Auro Beach, on ECR, 5.5 km from Pondicherry), ☏ . Multi-cuisine restaurant. Open garden and covered area with sea brees. 11AM-11PM.
- New Banana Cafe, 36 Cazy St, ☏ . Fresh french food in a peaceful environment. Free Wifi. ₹100-200.
- Pizzeria Trattoria, Auroville Rd (on the way to Auroville). This restaurant serves Pizza and other Italian delights. Seems to be managed by a French person, food was good. Prices are reasonable, but the quantities are smaller.
- Rendezvous, 30, Rue Suffren. Closed on Tuesdays.
- Satsanga, 30, Labourdonnais. Open every day.
- Sri Murugan Cafe, No. 160, Kosakada Street opposite Municipality Central Parking Place. Veg-only Indian restaurant with great dosas. You might be the only tourist here for weeks. ₹25-50.
- Surguru, at the corner of Sardar Vallabhai Patel Rd and East coast Road, in the basement of the hotel. Has delicious Indian food, At breakfast time try the delicious poori or paper roast (paper dosai).
There are a multitude of liquor shops and wineshops around the city, perhaps owing to the French influence. Alcohol in Pondicherry is not taxed as it is in Chennai and is therefore significantly cheaper. At a takeaway shop, a beer should cost around ₹80-100 (as of 2017).
Good branded liquor like Smirnoff, Bacardi and different Scotch whiskies are very inexpensive as there is no sales tax in Pondicherry.
- Choco La, Mission St. Small, cosy, clean chocolate shop on Mission St. Also features chocolate cakes, coffees, etc. A bit on the expensive side.
- KBS coffee bar, 19 Chetty St (second left from Raja theatre signal near Bharathi street cutting). 5:30AM-8:30PM. Open since 1972, this is a good place for some South Indian coffee. ₹15 for a coffee.
- Le Club (French Italian Indian Vietnamese), 38, Dumas St (Near Park Guest house), ☏ . 7AM-11PM. Wonderful garden restaurant with a high class bar and chill out atmosphere, but slightly overrated and quite expensive.
- Seagulls (Walk south down to the end of the beach. It's at the end of the first alley on your left.). Nice bar that organizes musical concerts occasionally. They sell imported beer.
In addition to these listings, on the beach road abutting the French quarter enjoy fine dining in a good ambiance with continental and Indian cuisine, has a nice buffet on weekends. Mimicry artists will sometimes entertain you at your table.
- Continental Hotel. Reasonable little place, quite well located for beach access / bars / wandering potential, and with a rooftop bar. Good selection of cheap beers: ₹80 for an 8% Tuborg. ₹400-500 for a single with fan, ₹550 for a single with aircon, ₹1000 on up for doubles.
- Fullmoon Guest House (email@example.com) (E Coast Rd), ☏ . Check-in: noon, check-out: 10:30AM. The guest house has seven unique AC Double twin bed rooms with attached bathroom. Five out of the seven rooms come with an equipped kitchen (refrigerator, electric stove, kitchen utensils, free wireless internet, free self-service washing machine, hot water, etc.) It is possible also to rent a room or studio apartment for weeks or months. ₹600.
- Railway Retirement Room (inside the railway station). ₹100.
- 1 Raj Lodge, 57, Rangapillai Street. Double room single occupancy: ₹250.
- Sri Aurobindo Ashram (various guesthouses), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Book in advance, if you don't want to be disappointed.The guest houses are very clean. Very strict too. No liquor, smoking, or eating non-veg. Park Guest House is on the beach with nice lawns looking upon the sea while Sea Side Guest house is on the beach road and most rooms have a nice sea view. A choice of Continental and Indian breakfast is free in both guest houses. There is also a nice new budget guest house (New Guest House) very close to the beach, with a canteen. ₹600 to ₹1200 per day.
- Sri Krishnas Guest House, 29/31 Rangapillai St (3 mins west of GPO), ☏ , , . Check-out: 24 hrs after check-in. Large, clean hotel in the main shopping area. Rooms with TV with some English channels. French bakery 2 min walk. Sea 10 min walk. Regular single ₹350 AC, non AC ₹250; double: ₹750 AC, ₹500 Non AC; triple ₹900AC, ₹750 non AC (extra bed ₹100).
- Villa Labourdonnais, 25 Rue Labourdonnais (in the French Quarter). This ten room guesthouse owned by a French expat has hot water and a mini-fridge in every room. Peaceful location, windows in every room, popular place for backpackers. Rooms from ₹400.
- Flora Beach Resort, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-in: 24-hr, check-out: 24 hr after check-in. Nice and clean hotel with all the basic amenities, coconut leaf cottages. Sea shore is 100 m walk. A/c rooms available.
- Ginger Hotels. Excellent ambiance and very professionally run hotel. It's more of an IT company-like environment with utmost hygiene. Has a 24-hour coffee shop too. ₹1799.
- Hotel Corbelli, 170, Mission St (Close to Casablanca on Mission Street), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 24-hr, check-out: 24 hr after check-in. Nice and clean hotel with all the basic amenities. Centralised A/C keeps the heat at bay. Morning breakfast buffet is included in the cost price. ₹1350.
- Hotel Vijayentra, 108, Kamaraj Road, Shivajinagar (500 m from Nehru street (main street), 1 km from the bus stand.), ☏ . 24 rooms on two floors, conference facilities, restaurant.
- MangoHill, Old Auroville Road, Bommayapalayam (10 km north from Pondicherry), ☏ . Check-in: 14/1, check-out: 24 hrs. 24 rooms (Thai, Luxury and Standard), spacious and clean hotel on hills planted with mangoes and cashew trees. Spa swimming pool and multi-cuisine restaurant added. 3500.
- Raj Residency, 26, Cheran Street, Mullai Nagar (Opp New Bus Stand), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-out: 24 hr after check-in. A guesthouse with suites and rooms which are equipped with flat screen televisions, intercom and mini bars. Every room has an attached bathroom with hot and cold water facility and individually controlled air-conditioning.
- Atithi, No.126 S.V. Patel Salai (near Surguru), ☏ . Check-in: noon, check-out: noon. Recently opened hotel, features 60 rooms and suites. 4500.
- Hotel Surguru, 104, Sardar Vallabhai Patel Salai, ☏ . Check-in: to 6PM, check-out: 24 hr. Though not next to or at the Promenade/Beach or near Aurobindo Ashram or in the French Quarter, it is within 2 km of all places of interest. It has its own parking lot, good rooms and suites, 24-hour coffee shop, and one of the best South Indian restaurants in the city. ₹1,300 to ₹2,000.
- Sunway GRT. Cleanliness and service up to nice USA/European hotel standards. Not in the centre/touristy area of Pondicherry. You must arrange an auto-rickshaw (for approx. ₹1700) to get to the tourist area by the beach. Nice tasty free buffet breakfast of South Indian foods for ₹250.
- Zest Big Beach. Excellent resort, managed by the Mahindra Group, is 11 km from Pondicherry on the Cuddalore road. The resort also serves great food.
Always carry passport with you and put a sticky note inside it with phone number of your travel consultant. Never pay anyone upfront, especially to agents or drivers.
Never exchange money with unauthorized foreign exchange dealers. Ask for receipt after exchanging money with the broker.
Don’t get trapped in the narcotics trading, as no one wants to end his journey in prison. Switch off your mobile phones while in museums, temples and churches or they will be confiscated.
Wi-Fi can be difficult to find in Pondicherry. Many restaurants, even fancier ones, do not have Wi-Fi.
- Le Cafe - On the beach front near near the Gandhi Statue, this cafe is more similar to Southern European cafes with wide range of food options in addition to drinks, and notably serves cold coffee. It has Wi-Fi for free, though note that it requires SMS verification to access and that some overseas mobile numbers may return an error (though this is genuinely a technical error rather than a restriction by BSNL).
- Gelato Factory- As its name suggests this cafe, located a couple of streets west from the Grand Canal on Bussy Street, serves a variety of ice cream and also drinks. It has free Wi-Fi too. 337, Mission St, MG Road Area.
- Cafe Coffee Day - This chain of coffee shops has three branches in Pondicherry, with a branch near the beach that you'll find if you keep heading north off Beach Road as it veers to the left. It provides high quality Wi-Fi but it also requires verification from an Indian mobile number. Sardar Vallabai Patel Salai.
- Le cafe Chaplin - This cafe provides free Wi-Fi though it's less of a cafe and more of a restaurant, and serves mainly North Indian food. 80, Grand Canal, MG Road Area.
- Citinet Internet Cafe and WiFi - An internet cafe that provides reasonable computers to surf the internet and notably paid WiFi (though only at ₹30 per use). Both the internet and WiFi speeds are reliable and good quality, especially good option if you need high quality internet and do not have an Indian mobile number. Opening times start at sometime around noon and end at sometime around 9PM. 78, 1st Floor, Nehru Street.
- Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER), in the Gorimedu suburb of Pondicherry city on the way to Tindivanam. JIPMER is a Central government funded institute. JIPMER is both an educational institute and a working hospital that provides inexpensive medical care to a large number of patients. JIPMER is a tertiary care referral hospital that is under the direct administrative control of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.
- Government General hospital can be reached on the Victor Simone street which is open 24 hr and can take care of all emergencies including road traffic accidents which are attended mostly free of cost. This is a Government General Hospital.
- Rajiv Gandhi Government women and children hospital is on the 100 Feet Road. It offers regular and emergency medical services in the departments of Paediatrics, Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Immunisation. It also has a High Risk clinic.
- 1 General Hospital.
Pondicherry is allowed one French consulate as a special case, even though India's policy is generally to allow foreign missions only in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.
- Auroville is nearby and is often visited as part of a visit to Pondy. A tuktuk should cost around ₹200 and a taxi ₹400 (2017).
- Kancheepuram - It is named as ‘The City of Thousand Temples’ and belongs to 2nd or 3rd century. Today, it is mainly known for its high quality silks.
- Kochi - The financial and cultural capital of Kerala. Overnight sleeper buses cost ₹1000-1500 (2017) and take 9-12 hours.
- Mahabalipuram - Nestled along the Bay of Bengal, it was seventh century port of Pallava kings. Several cave temples are carved here from Granite hill which belongs to fifth and eighth centuries.
- Tiruvannamalai - Known as fifth Hindu element of fire, it is located around 107 km from Pondicherry and ranks as one of the pilgrim city in Tamil Nadu. Its name meaning ‘Red Mountain’ came from the extinct of Volcano, Arunachala.
- Senji, a nearby town off Tindivanam, has a fort worth seeing.