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Tourist Places To Visit In Pondicherry
Pondicherry is one of South India’s most favoured tourist places. One of the smallest Union Territories of India, Pondicherry has heritage sites dating back to the pre historic era, monuments, temples and buildings that are a beautiful combination of different historical periods dating back to Indian Maharajas and the colonial rulers, not to mention the beaches, one of Pondicherry’s most naturally splendid offerings.
Pondicherry finds a delicate balance of co-existence between different cultures and between the past and the present. The town can be described as a cultural conglomeration that is tailor made for tourism. The sea-facing French Quarter that separates from the Indian Quarter by a canal has French styled colonial buildings in peach, brown and pink, tree and bougainvillea lined streets most aesthetically decorated with colourful graffiti on them. Cross a few streets and you get to the busy Indian or Tamil Quarter with houses built in traditional Tamil style and plenty of temples and market places. Grab your camera and get set to explore one of South India’s most charming heritage towns.
Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Sri Aurobindo Ashram, founded in 1926 by Sri Aurobindo, is situated in the eastern quarter of Pondicherry along the coastline. Sri Aurobindo was a philosopher, yogi and a poet who had also been an influential leader of the Indian freedom struggle. Sr Aurobindo settled down in Pondicherry with a few of his followers as a spiritual community. Sri Aurobindo later handed over responsibilities of the Ashram to Mirra Alfassa, later known as the Mother who founded the Auroville, a spiritual township in Villupuram district.
The primary principle of the Ashram is community life where the ashramites live and work for a common well being. There is a library and academy where the ashramites learn fine arts and centres for physical education. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have their samadhis in the Ashram.
There are rooms for stay in the Ashram’s guest houses. You may contact the Ashram’s Bureau Central Office for details. There are daily tours around the Ashram, the Auroville Township and around Pondicherry. You can participate in the cultural programmes and join in the Collective Meditation around the Samadhis. You are also welcome to volunteer to work in any of the Ashram’s department while you’re staying there.
Manakula Vinayaka Temple
Known as Bhuvanesha Ganapathy, the east facing Ganesha in Manakula Vinayaka Temple is also known as Manakula Vinayaka after the pond (kulam) near the temple that was dry and sandy (manal). This is one of Pondicherry’s most ancient Hindu temples, probably predating French occupation in the area. The temple is situated in the French Quarters, about 400 m west of the Bay of Bengal. The temple is said to be around 3 centuries old, having withstood attempts by the French under Dupleix to bring down the structure.
The Brahmotsavam in the months of August-September sees a crowd of pilgrims and tourists throng at the shrine. Check out the gold plated Vimanah on top of the sanctum and the golden chariot. The temple is open from 5.45 am-12.30 pm and from 4.00 pm-9.30 pm.
French War Memorial
The French War Memorial was erected in memory of the Indian soldiers who laid down their lives fighting for the country during WW1. The Memorial was erected in 1971 with a list of the slain heroes etched in a bronze plaque.
If you take a trip Pondicherry around in July, visit the Memorial on Bastille Day i.e the 14th of July when the slain soldiers are remembered with illuminations and decorations on the Memorial on which stands the Soldat Inconnu or Unknown Soldier.
The French War Memorial is in Goubert Avenue, opposite the Mahatma Gandhi statue in the French Quarter. The Memorial is open from 10.00am-5.00pm.
This is not the only beach, but one among many in Pondicherry. The Promenade Beach is a favourite among the tourists. The beach stretches 1.2 km from the War Memorial to the Dupleix Park and is an idyllic place to watch sunsets and sunrises. One good time to be at the beach is when the moon is up and about and its light falls on the frothy, silvery white waves. You’d find a number of tourists at the moonlit beach and the lights from the harbour add to the charm! Sit on a rock, watch the waves and feel the cool breeze tug at your hair as you munch on the chaat, popcorns or peanuts.
The street that runs by the beach is closed for vehicles by 6.30 pm. So you can take a leisurely stroll, meditate or do yoga by the beachside.
Auroville or the City of Dawn is an experimental township that is based on the principles of spirituality and peaceful co-existence among human beings as taught by Sri Aurobindo. You will have a wonderful rejuvenating visit to the place. From the Matrimandir Viewing Point, an elevated garden area called Park of Unity, check out the golden domed Matrimandir, that glistens and glitters under the light of the sun. The Matrimandir is a huge spherical ball like structure surrounded by 12 petal like formations, which is used as a concentration and meditation hall.
Auroville is located in the Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu and shares a little space with Pondicherry. The township is about 10 km north of Pondicherry.
Immaculate Conception Cathedral
This is probably one of Pondicherry’s most ancient cathedrals. The first cathedral is said to have been built by the Jesuit Fathers in 1692 with the help of Louis XIV, the King of France. The Cathedral was brought down by the Dutch, was rebuilt and brought down again and the third in that order was brought down by the British during the Seven Years War. For the fourth time a church was built in the same place and was consecrated in 1791 by Bishop Champenois.
The people call the Cathedral 'Samba Kovil,' the localized version of St.Paul’s Temple (Kovil). The Cathedral is a beautiful structure of ancient French and Portuguese architecture. It is situated in Church Street, about 2.5 km from Pondicherry’s Bus Station.
Le Palais Du governor was a palace and the residence of Dupleix, the French Governor during the French occupation of Pondicherry. The palace was built on the site of the Hotel de la Compagnie. Currently known as Raj Niwas, the palace is the residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Pondicherry. The stronghold built in Indo-French architectural style, has a collection of ancient artefacts like coins, antique furniture, statues and porcelain crockery. Sections of the sprawling palace, with its gardens and parks are open for tourists. Visitors who are interested on a sightseeing trip to the Raj Niwas will have to apply for permission online and will be given a schedule of the date and time to visit.
The Pondicherry or Puducherry Museum is one of the town’s most noteworthy tourist places. There are artefacts including bronze and stone sculptures and carvings from the Chola and Pallava Dynasties, collections of shells and fossiled tree trunks, ancient modes of transport and excavated objects from the archaeological sites of the Arikamedu Roman settlements. Check out the Grand Piano of the 18th century and the grandfather clock and furniture used by General Dupleix.
The Puducherry Museum is at St.Louis Street in the French Quarter or White Town, quite close to Raj Niwas. It’s open from 9.00am-6.30pm and is closed on Mondays and National holidays.
Gingee Fort was considered as one of the most impregnable forts by the Maratha ruler Chhatrapathi Shivaji. The fort was built in the 13th century by the Chola rulers and had later additions and modifications by the Hoysalas, Vijayanagaras, the Sultanate of Bijapur, the Marathas, Mughals and later in the 18th century by the French and the English.
The massive stronghold that sits on three hillocks called Rajagiri, Krishnagiri and Chandrayana durg must have looked awe inspiring and probably intimidating to the enemy ranks even from afar. There are stables, palaces in ruins, granaries, a huge pond called Elephant Tank and temples to Kamalakanni the guardian deity on the hilltop and one to Venkatramana, on the plains.
Local traditional ballads sing praises of the young Bundela Rajput King Raja Tej Singh, locally called Desinghu Raja, who fell out of favour with the Mughal Empire of which he was a feudatory and died at the age of 22, fighting a bitter battle with a very small army, to save the Gingee Fort against the Mughals. Soon after his death, his queen committed Sati and soon after, the Gingee Fort fell out of limelight.
Arikamedu should be a must see in your visit to Pondicherry if you’re interested in antiquity. Nestled beside the Ariyankuppan River, Arikamedu sits on a medu or a mound. You’ll be surprised to see that nothing much exists, except for some ancient walls and pillars and a seminary house that was built in 1771 for the Jesuit missionaries and abandoned in 1783. But Arikamedu has once been a bustling port town that bartered its own beautiful beads, gemstones and spices with Roman traders and got back lamps, glassware, wine and olive oil in return. In fact, Arikamedu was known as the mother of the bead centres of the world.
The place has been excavated a number of times and most of the artefacts are displayed at the Puducherry Museum.
Arikamedu looks so enchanting with plenty of coconut and mango groves that you’ll want to spend a day there. Arikamedu is about 4 km from Pondicherry.