India or known as Bharat in ancient times has a rich culture of more than 10,000 years. The actual documented history dates back to almost 5,000 years. The more you travel within India, the more intriguing variety you will find in all corners of the country. One such scenic corner is Puducherry or Pondicherry. This french colony steals our heart with soft white Pondicherry beaches and delicious french cuisine.
Puducherry gets its name from Putucceri, which means new village or settlement. Although we know Puducherry (known as Pondicherry prior to 2006) due to its french colonies, cafe culture and Auroville, it has a strong history of at least 2000 years. The archaeological site of Arikamedu proves that this port was bustling with maritime activities and trade exchange with the Romans in as early as 1st century AD. Later it became more commercially developed under the careful supervision of Pallava dynasty and Chola dynasty. After the formal settlement of french colonies in the 17th and 18th century, it got its present unique blend of Tamilian and french cultures.
Me and my husband are avid travelers. However, we took a break of one year after my daughter’s birth. We needed a peaceful location for our comeback travel where I could rest with my daughter and yet enjoy the travel. And of course shopping was on my list, too! So we decided to check the best option on the list – Puducherry! Of course as we were traveling as a family, our travel time and options were limited and had to be family friendly (read: baby friendly!).
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How to travel to Puducherry?
Puducherry has its own airport which is connected with flights from quite a few places like Bangalore, Hyderabad, etc. Another way to reach is to take a flight to Chennai and then travel by road to Puducherry. We chose the later. Our early morning flight reached Chennai at around 8.30 a.m. So we hired a car and were in Puducherry at around 12.30 pm. We took a small break for the yummy south Indian breakfast en route. This road trip on the picturesque East Coast Road (ECR) was quite scenic as it runs along the Bay of Bengal coastline.
There are many boutique hotels in Puducherry as many people have converted their colonial style houses into hotels. We chose The Promenade hotel being closest to the beautiful promenade, a prime attraction in Puducherry and the other major attractions. The market being close was just another point in my favour! You will get good home stay options in Pondicherry hotels too!
Puducherry has very hot weather and the sea makes the climate humid. The best time to travel to Puducherry is in the winter months when it is relatively cool there.
This is a part of our ‘India travel Guide series‘!
Top guide to things to see in Puducherry with your family
Here are a few sight seeing places in Puducherry:
This is one of the best Pondicherry beach with a promenade where you can walk on the long stretch and have long chats. This place reminded me of the Queen’s necklace area in Mumbai. One can see a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the front of it. There are many stalls set up in the evening and a nice place to spend evenings.
Out of all the Pondicherry beaches, Paradise beach is indeed a paradise. You can reach here by way of a quick boat ride in around 20-30 mins. This Puducherry beach is very clean and full of soft white sand and walking on the white sand is absolute bliss. The water here is crystal clear. You can spend time in the water, play some sports, enjoy coconut water and bhajiiyas and then come back. The beach is still unspoiled and that’s what makes it a real paradise.
I had read about this place in some books and wanted to experience a similar kind of peace and tranquility the protagonist of the novel could experience. When I visited this place, it was so much more. Even with a small kid, I could experience so much calmness in the surroundings of the ashram. You have to maintain complete silence as you visit it. The main building consists of a house in which Sri Aurobindo lived. At its center is their Samadhi in a white shrine which is beautifully decorated with flowers by the Ashram members. You can browse through the life of Sir Aurobindo throughout the building.
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Auroville is a world village where people from all over the world come to stay as a single community. It is a symbol of peace and harmony. The famous Matri Mandir made up of gold is located here and used for meditation. You get to see a show about Auroville and view the Matri mandir from a distance in the entry ticket. You need a buy a day pass to actually go inside the Matri mandir and meditate. The residents of Auroville make many things and sell them which can be bought from the stores inside. The yummy croissants and cakes in the Auroville bakery make up delicious snacks. The entire place has a calm and cozy vibe which helps settle your nerves! You can find out more about it on its website – Auroville.org!
Pichavarm and Chidambaram:
We all have a dream travel list, which we start building right from childhood. One of my childhood dreams was to visit mangroves! We had a mention of Sunderbans in our Geography lessons. I always had a wish to see those and traverse through them. And this dream of mine got fulfilled on our trip to Pichavaram.
So the story goes like this. As we planned this trip to Pondicherry, I automatically searched for the offbeat destinations and I found Pichavaram! It is the second largest mangrove field by area in the world. So I did some more research, read a few reviews and finalised our plan to visit this beauty. Even though I was a bit skpetical about what to expect, Pichavaram was not to be missed!
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Pichavaram is located at about 3 hours distance from Pondicherry. You can plan one day trip here. But remember that there aren’t any food joints here as this is a small village and hence plan accordingly.
Pichavaram boat ride:
Not many people are aware of this place. It is not at all touristy. We had hired a car to reach there. The driver mentioned that Pichavaram was supposed to be smugglers hub and that’s the reason people don’t venture here at night. That sounded scary! I was worried if this was actually the place I was looking for. We reached there to find very little crowd. At first glance it looked like any other boating place (costing Rs.300 per person for a 2 hr ride), as the mangrove fields were far off!
There are no motorboats there as they cannot be taken through mangrove fields as it would damage the plants. So we went through a rowing boat. The boatman was indeed a knowledgeable person. He told us that it was these mangrove fields which prevented Chidambaram being engulfed by Tsunami. After about 20 mins into the boat, we reached near the mangrove fields. What a sight it was! Thick mangrove fields with the roots of mangrove plants shooting out!
Now there is a catch here.The so called official ride takes you from outside these fields. But the boatman asks for extra money in the range of 200-300 Rs. They take you through the fields where even sunlight cannot reach. Imagine going through a cave of mangrove plants! Wow! An experience which no words can describe! There are small crabs around and thick mangrove plantations. The noises that the creatures make gives it a Discovery channel vibe (hehe..)!! The mangrove plants are all around and at times you need to bend to pass through them. At a point,the plants were so thick that our boat got stuck into it. The boatman is of course used to all this and he pulled out our boat easily!
We were for about an hour in these forests. It was indeed a tick in my bucket list .A surreal experience! If this was not enough, we also spotted so beautiful birds and saw sun setting at this beautiful location.
The place is near Chidambaram in Cuddalore district. Chidambaram is yet another wonderful place, having an ancient Hindu temple of Lord Nataraja. You can club the visit of the temple along with Pichavaram. Do not miss the evening puja at the place to get the divine experience.
Shopping in Puducherry
If you love shopping then I bet you will have a gala time in Puducherry as I did. Here are a few things you can buy:
- Hidesign comes first to my mind when I talk about Puducherry. This brand which has become famous around the world has factory in Puducherry. So don’t forget to get a wallet, a purse for you from there.
- Puducherry is also known from leather items like wallets, belts, purses etc. They are manufactured at the Auroville ashram.
- If you love handmade papers then visit the paper factory. You will be spoilt for choice for the beautiful papers. I grabbed a few of them and still have kept them as I just don’t want to part with them. Also I bought a handmade paper photo album and have written all the memories of my daughter along with her pictures.
- Candles, perfumes, scented agarbattis make you go crazy. I just didn’t feel like leaving the shop and bought a bunch of them. The musk pack that I got still is there in my cupboard giving beautiful fragrance to my clothes.
- Many tourists also but cottage industry and handmade items from Auroville ashram.
Food in Puducherry:
Puducherry is also known for its cafes and bakeries. You should not leave without tasting their delicious baguettes and croissants with fresh coffee. French soup is a delicacy which you must not miss here! And of course pizzas and few continental items are always on the menu. But an experience of the french cuisine is an integral part of experiencing Puducherry!
Puducherry is a perfect trip if you are looking for relaxation. White Pondicherry beaches, quiet french colonies and cafes keep you entertained. You can combine it with trip to Chennai and visit to the world heritage site of Mahabalipuram.
If you have been to Puducherry, do write to us about it!
Let’s fill this travel shutdown with travel memories!
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