The City of Pondicherry is quite large. The older, central part of the city is broken up into 4 sections: Muslim, Christian, Hindu and White Town (old colonial French part of town). To the untrained eye, the other 3 sections are virtually indistinguishable, so that essentially divides the city into the White Town, and then all the rest.
The White Town is beautiful: quieter, tree-lined streets with stunning French architecture, in various states of disrepair. But compare Pondicherry with a typical tourist town, and it is really quiet in comparison. It is true that we’re here before the peak season, which starts in December, but if is not uncommon to be the only couple, or one of two couples, in a cafe or restaurant, or be the only westerners in a traditional indian eatery. But don’t be fooled that it will be a quiet city if you venture outside of the White Town.
The rest of Pondicherry is truly, properly Indian, and couldn’t be more different to the sanitised versions of India we were exposed to during our previous trip. The Rajasthan Golden Triangle is geared up for tourists, but Pondicherry, and dare I say the rest of India, still seem to be finding their feet where tourism is concerned. Thus far we haven’t found India very tourist friendly, which is a little of shock to the system once you arrive from Southeast Asia, where everything is geared up for tourists, from sim cards, to transport, to activities. Here we need to work a little harder for the same outcome.
But don’t let me put you off, we’ve found some delightful gems in Pondicherry too!
We’re staying at Villa Kalifie, in the Muslim Quarter. It’s a charming old building converted into simple, yet comfortable rooms, with communal terrace and verandas. And Mr Kalifie couldn’t been more lovely or helpful if he tried. He really would do anything to make his guests feel at home. In fact, we’ve already been treated to some impromptu appam (rice flour fluffy pancakes) with coconut and honey, and we’ve also been invited to lunch tomorrow.
Here are a few of our other favourite things:
Culture, eating, sites and activities
SITA Cultural Centre
The SITA Cultural Centre offers everything you may want in Pondicherry, from Massage to Cooking courses, Music, Mehendi (henna hands), Ayervudic introduction, Arts, Bicycle tours and much more. All the activities are reasonably priced, available in French/English, and the guides & trainers are outstanding. But if you know you’ll be visiting Pondicherry, book in advance, because courses and sessions fill up fast!
There are many Western options to choose from: Pizza, French food and Cafes, but there are some great Indian restaurants and eateries, if you prefer authentic food. Rule of thumb: Indian food is generally cheaper than western food. And of course, anything you buy on the street is going to be cheaper. (But use common sense!)
- Idli & Idiyappam – great for breakfast and lunch
Western & Cafes
- Jungle cafe – tasty, big portions & fee wifi (don’t believe the reviews on Google for this one! Their peppered chips are excellent). Good cafe for getting some work done. Excellent service.
- Smoothie bar – fruit and veg smoothies. Good chicken burgers. Patchy wifi
- Cafe des Artes – gets good reviews, but everything I have had there hasn’t been to my liking! But lovely setting, and close to the international ATM at the State Bank of India (when you have to wait for them to refill machines with cash). Wifi depends on where you sit.
You do need to make some allowances and have a sense of humour when visiting the Botanical gardens. Some parts of the gardens and park are very neglected. But if you visit knowing this, you may just enjoy it! I shall do a separate post (I hope) about the Botanical Gardens, just to demonstrate how far Indian Tourism still needs to go.
I certainly wouldn’t make Pondicherry my only destination in India, but as part of a longer itinerary, it does provide you with a different India than you won’t see elsewhere.
You can see how Pondicherry & India fared in our Unofficial Asia travel awards 2017.