Area : 492 sq kms
Population : 97 million
Capital : Pondicherry
Climate : Throughout the Year - Warm
Languages spoken : Tamil, French, English
The origin of this erstwhile French colony is buried in legends. According to one view, the town was once called Vedapuri, and was a seat of Vedic culture and the abode of Sage Agastya. Professor Jonvean Dubrouil, the French archaeologist, believes that the Ashram of Agastya stood on the very spot where the main building of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram stands today.
Remnants of an ancient port town have been excavated at Arikamedu, 6 kms from Pondicherry. These indicate that the town had trade connections with Rome and Greece around the period 100 BC to 100 AD. Pondicherry continued to flourish even during the Chola period, as the discovery of the Chola coins from the eleventh and twelfth centuries indicate.
The history of modern Pondicherry starts with the arrival of the French in 1673. They went on to rule for most of the next 281 years, and even today, Pondicherry exudes a Mediterranean ambience, with its chic streets, elegant houses, ornamental gardens and afternoon siestas. The restaurants offer a rich variety of food: French, Indian, Creole, Vietnamese and Continental.
Pondicherry is oval-shaped, with streets aligned at right angles. The skillfully planned township is distinguished by a 3 km long esplanade that skirts the town. The main mode of transport is the bicycle.
The Union Territory of Pondicherry actually comprises 4 coastal regions - Pondicherry and Karaikal (both on the East Coast of Tamil Nadu), Mahe (on the West Coast of Kerala) and Yanam (in Andhra Pradesh).
Places to visit
Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Established by Sri Aurobindo, a revolutionary turned poet, and later developed by the Mother, a Paris-born painter musician who became Sri Aurobindo's disciple and close companion, the Ashram has grown into a centre for the practice of Integral Yoga, a seat of learning and a training ground for sadhana. In the main building of the Ashram is the Marble Samadhi where Aurobindo and the Mother have been laid to rest.
The 1.5 km long promenade running along the beach is the pride of Pondicherry. On the sea front are several landmarks: the statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Jeanne d'Arc and Dupleix, the elegant war memorial raised by the French, the heritage building Mairie, the 27 metre tall old lighthouse, the circular shaped two storied structures on either side of Gandhi maidan.
The Pondicherry Museum
The Museum brings back memories of the glorious past of Pondicherry, from the days of the pre-Christian era down to the present day, providing glimpses of the art and culture of the people of this region during the Pallava, Chola and Vijayanagar days. Artefacts from the excavations at Arikamedu can be viewed here.
Located 10 kms north of Pondicherry, Auroville is described as "the City of Tomorrow". Auroville was envisioned as a Universal Town, where people from different nationalities, faiths and beliefs, can live in peace and harmony. Here, an attempt is being made to replicate, on much larger scale, the experiment being carried out in Sri Aurobindo Ashram for the evolution of a new society as envisioned by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. This society would be one where people "live freely as citizens of the world, obeying one single authority - that of the Supreme Truth ... a place of peace, concord, harmony". The construction of Auroville was started in 1968, under the Mother's direction. Several countries have set up pavilions here.
The Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden in Pondicherry was created in 1826. When the garden came under the control of the eminent botanist Perottet "rare and interesting plants" were procured from Calcutta, Madras, Ceylon and Reumian. Its' collection numbers 1500 species.
There are about 32 temples in Pondicherry. Of these, Manakula Vinayagar temple, Sri Vedapureeswarar temple, Kamatchiammalle temple and Varadarajaperumal temple are famous. The Gokilambal Thirukameswarar Temple is architecturally the best. A rath yatra (temple car procession) takes place in May/June.
French missionary zeal in the XVII and XVIII Centuries saw a number of grandly embellished churches built in Pondicherry. The Church of the Capuchins was the first one built and the old only one to survive the destruction of the town in 1761. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception built in 1791 has interesting ornamental features. The Church of Sacred Heart of Jesus (has excellent stained glass windows), the Cathedral, the Eglise de Notre Dame A'es Angles are particularly noteworthy.
Anglo-French textile mills
This mill, established over 100 years ago, is still functioning and an ideal place to buy souvenirs and gifts.
Mansion of Ananda Rangapillai
He was a courtier of the French Governor, Dupleix, and the mansion is a fine specimen of Indo-French architecture.
Chunnambar Water Sports Centre
Facilities for boating are available at the Boat House on the River Chunnambar, 8 kms from Pondicherry. The backwater and the lush greenery on both sides of Chunnambar provide an ideal setting. Boats are available on hire on all days of the week.
How To Get There
Air : Pondicherry does not have any airport with in its boundary. But it lies very close to Chennai , which has an international airport. Chennai is accessible from all over the country. Almost all public and private airlines operate regular flights to and from Chennai .
Road : A good road network, originating from National Highway 45, covers Pondicherry. The most convenient way to Pondicherry is either from Chennai (150kms) and Bangalore (320kms).
Rail : The nearest railhead is Villupuram (36 kms), which is connected to Chennai and Madurai / Trivandrum. One can also take a train from Bangalore to Cuddalore and then reach Pondicherry by road.