Pondicherry is the capital city of the Union Territory of Puducherry and is a very famous weekend destination for folks from Chennai and Bangalore. It is also well connected by train and bus which makes it a convenient tourist place.
How to reach Pondicherry:
Pondicherry is ~150 kms from Chennai and ~350 kms from Bangalore. It takes 3 hrs by road from Chennai on the East Coast road and the drive along the coast is very scenic. The drive from Bangalore is around 6 hrs. There are trains from Chennai & Bangalore too, but they take longer time. Spicejet has started one flight from Sep 2017 under the Udaan scheme which connects Pondicherry to Vijayawada via Hyderabad. We took this flight from Hyderabad to Pondicherry and back.
Attractions in Pondicherry:
Pondicherry was the largest French colony in India and the influence is visible in the architecture of the hotels, offices, restaurants and houses. Most of the people speak English and Tamil. Many still speak French. The main area in Pondicherry is called white town and most of the attractions are in and around this area. Paradise beach is the only attraction which is far and needs one to hire auto/car. We took our rented scooty for Paradise beach. Next day was Dussehra and we hired a car from Auroville for half a day to explore Pondicherry.
Paradise beach is undoubtedly the cleanest and best beach in Pondicherry. It has white sand beach and is well maintained. It is also called Plage Paradiso and is in a place called Chunnambar.
Paradise beach time: 9 am to 6 pm Entrance ticket to the beach : Rs.10 for adults and Rs.5 for children above 4 yrs. Ferry ticket price: Rs.200 per person (for pickup and drop) You can also go to Paradise beach by road. Follow the Google Maps to reach it via road. If you are going for the first time, you may want to take the ferry because of the backwater ride. The 15 min ride on the backwater is very scenic and calm. The same ferry is supposed to get you back after 2 hrs, but we did not see any 2 hrs rule being implemented. We stayed there for almost 4 hrs.
Activities at Paradise beach: Jet ski, banana boat ride, row boat, courts for beach volleyball, fish spa (Rs.200 for 30 mins spa). Activities for kids: Trampoline (Rs.150 for unlimited time), rain dance and motorised merry-go-round. We went on a weekday and many of the activities were not available. Food at Paradise beach: There is a small beach shack at Paradise beach which is supposed to have a huge menu. However, there are not many items available and I suggest you carry your own food. There is nothing filling for lunch, except for some sandwiches and cup noodles. On the day we went, they had veg cutlets, finger fries, egg sandwich, finger fish, crab and prawn starters. They have ample varieties of biscuits, chips, chocolates and juices though. Everything was priced almost double the MRP. A cup of veg Maggi Noodles was Rs.80 and water was Rs.30 per litre.
There is a stall selling coconut water too. Other than these 2, there are no food stalls inside Paradise beach.
Chunnambar Boat house: Tickets to the ferry are available at Chunnambar boat house, which opens at 9 am. However, they hardly ever open at 9 am. We reached at around 9:30 am and they opened after around 15 mins. There is a separate ladies queue for the tickets. Ferries go every 15 min and are full even on the weekdays.
There is a seagull restaurant at the boat house which serves lunch and dinner. The food is however, very average.
The good part about paradise beach is that its very clean. There are changing rooms and showers available at the beach. Though there are not many trees at the beach, there are enough man-made shades to relax.
The disappointing part is beach is accessible only from 9 am to 6 pm which makes it impossible for one to enjoy early morning and late evening.
Rock beach is the place in Pondicherry where all the action is. It is also called Seaside Promenade. One end of it is the Gandhi memorial and the other is the statue of Dupleix who was the Governor-General of French India at some point of time. Most of the attractions are within a kilometre or two of rock beach. The beach can be compared to Marine drive in Mumbai. Swimming is not possible here because of the big waves. The road around the area is closed to vehicles after 5:30 pm and is good for evening stroll. The parking area is jam-packed and its better not to take vehicle unless you have a driver to park it elsewhere. The vehicles are towed religiously from the no-parking zones.
Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple:
This is a Ganesh temple in the white town. It looks small from outside, but its very grand inside. Inside of the temple is adorned with pictures/ sculptures of various forms of Ganapati. Photography is not allowed inside the temple. The temple elephant Laxmi is one of the most loved here. She accepts cash and fruits as donations and showers her blessings. Temple timings: 5:30 am to 12:30 pm Evening: 4 pm to ~10 pm
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
This is the main church and is around 1.5 kms from the rock beach. Its worth a quick visit for the architecture and historical significance. The inside of the church is colourful and is a delight for photography enthusiasts.
Botanical garden is around 2 kms from the rock beach and is located at a convenient place with access to public transport. There is also enough parking space inside. The place is worth a visit only if you have kids. There is a toy train and the kids play area which is maintained. The other sections are either too small or not well-maintained. The aquarium inside the garden was closed on the day we went, but the rock garden, fossil garden etc were open. It can be given a miss if you are short of time. Botanical Garden timings: 9 am to 7:30 pm (Last ticket sale at 6:30 pm) Garden ticket prices: Rs.20 for adults, free for kids below 12 yrs Toy train timings: 10 am to 1 pm and 2:30 pm to 5:30 pm Toy train tickets: Rs.10 for adults and Rs.5 for kids.
There are other attractions like Bharati park (huge park that has jogging track, small kids play area and some beautiful sculptures), Immaculate Conception Cathedral , Aurobindo Ashram and Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges. The other beaches are Serenity beach and Auro beach. Auro beach was close to Auroville and we visited it one evening; only to be disappointed with the dirty water and beach.
While you are in Pondicherry, I will recommend trying Auro Pizza for their fresh wood-fired pizzas. Its a very small place with hardly 3 tables to seat people, but they already have franchisees in Bangalore and Chennai.
The owner was very friendly and suggested which pizza would be good as per our taste. He even invited us inside the kitchen to show how the pizza is made.
If you are in Pondicherry for a couple of days and staying outside Auroville, I highly recommend visiting Auroville/ Matrimandir for a short visit. Look out for my blog post on Auroville to know details on how to visit Matrimandir.