French Colonies in Pondicherry

by Surojit Palmal
French Colonies in Pondicherry

French Colonies in Pondicherry or Puducherry or Pondy is the living example of a slice of France in India. Even though Pondicherry has been ruled by the English, Dutch and the Portuguese, but 200 years of French influence has had the most amount of effect on Pondicherry. It was the last French Colony in India and became a part of India in 1954.

Now a Union Territory, Pondicherry is also called Mini France because of its predominant French influence. When Pondicherry became a part of India the citizens were given a choice between taking up Indian or French Citizenship. Till today there are people with French citizenship living in Pondicherry. The people there retained the French style of living, they carried forward the French culture, the streets and cafes retained their French names, and a majority of Tamilians there speak fluent French. No doubt Pondicherry French Colony is known as the French Riviera of the East.

The French town Pondicherry is a beautifully planned town with grid style streets, French architecture, French styled building with high walls, parallel angled streets that will make you feel like you are in France and not India. The buildings in French Colony are painted in bright yellow and blue with white highlights that give a very vibrant look.

French Colonies in Pondicherry

The White Town

The White Town

 The area that attracts most visitors is the White Town Area. This was made and dedicated to the white people living in Pondicherry during the French rule. Most of the buildings here are very old and most walls are painted white or yellow. The area is located on the seaside of the promenade facing Bay of Bengal. This area of the French Colony Pondicherry has beautiful and elegant mansions.

You can feel an old world charm from the fascinating models of buildings in the French quarter of Pondicherry. These days a lot of these heritage buildings are converted into guest houses, cafes and restaurants that are worth visiting. The French quarter in Pondicherry has 4 main streets: Rue Suffren, Rue Dumas, Rue La Bourdonnais and Rue Romain Rolland. To explore the essence totally it is advisable to roam around the streets on your feet.

The heritage French Villas in Pondicherry are another sight to visit. The buildings look gorgeous painted in bright yellow, peach and white. The villas have a huge compound, windows with wooden grills, huge entrances and spectacular balconies.

The French Streets in Pondicherry is another site to cherish. Other than the grid pattern what makes the streets more special are graffiti on the roads and walls. On every point you will witness beautiful forms of arts that will mesmerize you completely.

Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pondicherry

The Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry is the ideal place for anyone seeking spiritual enlightenment. The Ashram was built by Sri Aurobindo in 1910. The Ashram started getting prominence soon after and became an important spiritual destination. There is a shop, a museum and a library inside the ashram. The main attraction is Sri Aurobindo Samadhi and Samadhi of The Mother.

Auroville & Matrimandir

Auroville & Matrimandir

Auroville is another major tourist attraction for tourists. The idea of this place was to have an area where people from different cultures and nationalities, following different cultures can harmonize and live peacefully. This was an experiment to witness peace within diversity. The architecture is mesmerizing to look at. Entry is free in Auroville. Everyone visiting there needs to watch an introductory video and only then can they access the passes for Matrimandir.

Matrimandir can be like any other sightseeing spot for many. But those who want to meditate seriously can enter the Matrimandir premise.  You need to take prior permission a day before you plan a visit. Usually they give appointments for the next day itself. But in case of a huge rush of tourists they will give you an appointment for the next available day. Visitors are allowed for 15minutes to meditate inside. Children below 10 years are not allowed inside the chamber. 

There are also a good number of cafes inside the premises of Auroville that you can visit to grab a quick bite.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart of the Jesus

 This 100 year old church with 24 main columns is situated on the south boulevard. The church is very close to the Pondicherry Railway Station.  You will notice a very distinct Gothic style of colonial architecture in this church. The tinted glass panels are a depiction of the life events of Jesus Christ. With the presence of a significant Christian community in Pondicherry the churches here are well maintained and popular.

The church is open from 6 am in the morning to 10:30pm at night. The timings for mass are 5:30 am, 12pm and 6pm from Mondays to Saturdays. On Sunday the mass timings are 5:30am, 7:30 am, 12pm and 5pm.

Botanical garden

On the south of the new bus stand in Pondicherry the Botanical Garden is situated. In 1826 an aquarium and botanical garden was established. Spread over an area of 22 acres this one is one of the famous places for tourists visiting Pondicherry. There are many exotic plants in this garden. There are a total of 22 themed plots in this garden that are quite a treat for the visitors.

Promenade Beach

Promenade Beach
Image Source : Wikimedia Commons

The Promenade Beach is a 1.2km stretch that starts from the French War Memorial and ends with Dupleix Park on Goubert Avenue. This is one of the cleanest, less crowded and less polluted beaches ever. You can enjoy your walk along the beach and enjoy quick snacks from the various shops that sell street food here. In the middle of the beach there is a spectacular four meter high statue of Mahatma Gandhi built in black stone. The beach becomes a No-Vehicle Zone after 6pm and is therefore popular among walkers, joggers and yoga enthusiasts.

The Rock Beach

The Rock Beach

This is an extension of the Promenade Beach. This is a rocky beach and it is advisable to not go down in the water here. This beach acts more like a picnic spot where people gather together to have a good time.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral

In the heart of the White Town, this Roman Catholic Cathedral stands as one of the most beautiful forms of Portuguese architecture. It would not take a second to remind you of the beautiful churches in Goa or Diu. This church is very popular among the native Christians in Pondicherry. Visiting the church at night is a sight in itself as the structure looks even more fascinating when illuminated.

 The church is open from 5:15 am to 12pm in the morning and from 3pm to 8:30pm at night. The Mass timing is 5:15 am on all days except on Sunday when the time is 5pm.

Varadharaja Perumal Temple Pondicherry

The Varadharaja Perumal Temple Pondicherry Temple was constructed by kings of Chola dynasty during the 11th century. You can witness a prominent Dravidian style of architecture in this temple. The chief deity is Lord Vishnu. This is the biggest temple here in Pondicherry. The walls inside the temples are painted with depictions of different divine stories of Gods. The water tank inside the temple is considered holy. It is believed that a dip in that water can cure people of their ailments.

French War Memorial

In the memory of the French-Indian soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War, this French War Memorial was inaugurated. Later the names of soldiers who lost their lives during World War II were also added here. This is a French Government Property. On Bastille Day, which is the Independence Day of France on 14th July, this monument is illuminated every year in the memory of the soldiers.  

The monument is open from 10am to 5pm.

Bharathi Park and Aayi Mandapam

Aayi Mandapam is a heritage 162 year old monument situated in the Bharathi Park in French Colony of Pondicherry. This monument was erected by Napoleon III to honor the sacrifice of Aayi, a courtesan who destroyed her own house and erected a reservoir for water supply in the city. The formation is completely white in colour and is surrounded by lush green lawns.

Pondicherry Lighthouse

Pondicherry Lighthouse stands at a height of 29 meter. It was constructed by the French Government to guide the ships coming to Pondicherry. Later this monument was constructed as a museum and is a popular tourist spot in the French Colony Pondicherry. However it is not allowed for anyone to climb up the lighthouse for security purposes. It can only be visited from outside. The lighthouse is well visible from the Promenade Beach.

What to eat?

Pondicherry is a hub for foodies because of the availability of a variety of Indian, French, Franco-Tamil and other cuisines here. There are many beautiful cafes and restaurants in Pondicherry French Colony that one needs to explore. Because of the heavy French influence they serve amazing quiche, croissant, éclairs and macrons that one must taste. Along with that you can also try the Italian cuisine served there. Their Creole cuisine is another popular cuisine which is an amalgamation of South Indian and French cuisines. You will also get authentic Chettinad food there. So basically you will get a mix of everything nice here so do not forget to explore and expand your taste buds.

Some of the popular places to eat in Pondicherry are:

Carte blanche –

Situated in the hotel De L’orient, Carte Blanche is a place to have a full fledged dinner. The ambience is spacious with both indoor and outdoor setup. The place oozes out French charm.  Look for their special Creole cuisine and specifically their lobsters.

Café Des Arts –

This is one of the places serving the best breakfast in Pondicherry. The décor is chic with graffiti art and coloured walls. Try their crepes and sandwiches.

Café Xtasi –

This is undoubtedly one of the best places in Pondicherry that serves delicious pizzas. Their wood fired pizzas are very popular. They offer a huge variety of more than 25 different types of Pizzas with usual and unusual toppings. So do visit this place once you are in Pondicherry,

Villa Shanti –

This is a multi cuisine restaurant serving Indian, French, Italian, Continental. Some of their popularities are Pasta, Ravioli, and stuffed chicken

Baker Street –

Do visit this place if you are searching for a bakery in Pondicherry. They serve amazing savory as well as desserts that include burgers, quiches, Danish, puff pastries, sandwiches, crepes, cakes etc.s

Appachi Chettinad –

If you want to enjoy a homely authentic chettinad meal then this place is a must visit. The décor would give you a Tamilian homely feel. They have thalis as well as separate dishes in their menu to try from.

French town Pondicherry
Colony French City Colonial India Landmark

French town Pondicherry as a tourist spot is very popular and is gaining momentum with each passing day. The colonial buildings, elegant cafes, vibrant beaches and places of spiritual importance make this an all rounder destination promising a lot of diversity. India as a land of diversified culture holds a lot in its historical and cultural past that reflects through places like Pondicherry. If you are interested to see an amalgamation of diversified culture then the French Colony Pondicherry should be on top of your travel list. Visit this quaint town and explore the beauty of French Colonial culture and enjoy a bite size of France in India.

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