Introducing Puducherry (Pondicherry)
The older part of this former French colony (formerly called Pondicherry and almost always referred to as ‘Pondy’), has a lot of quiet, clean, shady, cobbled streets, lined with mustard-yellow colonial townhouses numbered in an almost logical manner. You’ll probably spend most of your time in this part of town, and if you've come from Chennai or some of the inland cities, old Pondy may well seem a sea of tranquillity. The newer part of town is much more typically South Indian.
Puducherry was under French rule until 1954 and some people here still speak French (and English with French accents). Hotels, restaurants and ‘lifestyle’ shops sell a seductive vision of the French-subcontinental aesthetic, enhanced by Gallic creative types whose presence has in turn attracted Indian artists and designers. Thus Pondy’s vibe: less faded colonial ville, more a bohemian-chic, New Age–cum–Old World node on the international travel trail.
Part of the vibe stems from the presence of the internationally famous Sri Aurobindo Ashram and its offshoot just out of town, Auroville. These draw large numbers of spiritually minded visitors and are responsible for a lot of the creative artisanry.
Enjoy the shopping, the French food (hello steak!), the beer (goodbye Tamil Nadu alcohol taxes – Pondy is a Union Territory), the sea air and, if you like, some yoga and meditation.
Puducherry is split from north to south by a partially covered canal. The more ‘French’ part of town is on the east side (towards the sea). Nehru (JN) St and Lal Bahadur Shastri St (better known as Rue Bussy) are the main east–west streets; Mahatma Gandhi (MG) Rd and Mission St (Cathedral St) are the chief north–south thoroughfares. Many streets change names as they go along and may also have English, French and Tamil names all at the same time.