Don’t be surprised if you are greeted with a “bonjour comment ça va?” by a native Pondicherrian, but not to worry, you are still in India, albeit with a French touch.
The city of Pondicherry is located on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal, it is mostly referred to as ‘Pondy’ by the locals. The city had its name officially changed to Puducherry in 2006.
Thanks to its colonial past and laid-back lifestyle, Pondicherry has a special ambiance quite unlike any other city. The French influence combined with the local Tamil culture make for a charming mix. In the “French Quarter” many street names are displayed in both French and Tamil on characteristic blue enamel boards similar to the ones used in France. The broad stone paved roads and colonial buildings of the ”French Quarter” take you back in time to a more tranquil era. Sometimes Pondicherry is romantically referred to as the ‘French Riviera of the East’.
Pondicherry, today, is an extremely vibrant town, it is growing economically and developing in to a major tourist hub. The city is also gaining popularity as a retirement destination owing to its peaceful, safe environment and slow pace of life. Artists, writers and designers too have come to settle here or spend some time. The cultural mix providing them with a good source of inspiration.
Pondicherry is also a spiritual destination, because of the Sri Aurobindo ashram and the nearby located city of Auroville. Sri Aurobindo ashram is one of the most visited ashrams and also a well-known tourist attraction that receives people by the thousands. It was formally established in 1926. Mira Alfassa, better known as ‘The Mother’, came to settle in Pondicherry in 1920 and in 1968 founded the city of Auroville.
The combination of Tamil and French cultures, the backdrop of colonial streetscapes, the spiritual aura and the many people settled here from different Indian states and countries make Pondicherry an interesting and exotic place to discover. There’s something for everyone.
The biggest among them are Pondicherry and Karaikal,both in terms of territorial area and population. Yanam and Mahé are enclaves of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala respectively. The union territory has a total area of 492 km²: Pondicherry 293 km², Karaikal 160 km², Mahé 9 km² and Yanam 30 km².
It has a total population of 1,244,464 inhabitants as of the 2011 Census.
All the four districts are a haven for tourists as they can be considered as seaside tourist resorts. The Pondicherry area boasts of having a total of 300 villages and small hamlets.
Some of those enclaves are themselves amalgamations of non-contiguous enclaves, often called pockets in India. The Pondicherry district is made of 11 such pockets, some of which are very small and entirely surrounded by the territory of Tamil Nadu.
The Mahé district is made up of three pockets. This unusual geography is a legacy of the colonial period with Puducherry retaining the borders of former French India.
The invasions started with the Portuguese setting up a factory with the Dutch showing interest in the city along with the Danes setting up an office and the English wanting to conquer the French settlements and capture entire India. The French ruled the place for the longest time, even though it was usurped by the British at times. Most of the historical buildings in Puducherry were constructed by the French and the legacy continues even now.
All of these events have made Puducherry evolve over time and gives cheer to the history lover in you. A read through the entire history section of Puducherry will help you understand the city culturally and historically. Read more…
The multi-cultural cosmopolitan town that Pondicherry is, it is not a matter of surprise that Pondicherry’s people speak in various languages. 89% of the population speak in Tamil whereas 4.8% and 2.9% of the people speak in Malayalam and Telugu respectively. The status of each language varies by district. Since people from many other states of India and different countries reside in this beautiful little town, English is used for convenience. English is also one of the official languages of the country.
Communication for government purposes in Puducherryis Tamil, like the neighbouring state of Tamilnadu. It is used by the Puducherry government while issuing official decrees. Telugu is widely spoken in Yanam, Pondicherryand Karaikal. Malayalam is spoken in Mahé and Pondicherry. There is also a sizeable population speaking in Hindi.
French is also an official language of the territory. It was the official language of French India from 1673, until 1954, and its official status was preserved by the Treaty of Cession signed by the Indian Union and the French Republic on 28 May 1956.
French remained as the de jure official language of Puducherry U.T by the Article XXVIII of the Treaty of Cession, which states that:
“The French language shall remain the official language of the Establishments so long as the elected representatives of the people shall not decide otherwise”
The 300 year old Manakula Vinayagar Temple, a shrine dedicated to Lord Ganesha, is the most famous temple here.
The other famous temples being the Sri Gokilambal Thirukameshwara temple in Villianur,a shrine which dates back to the Chola period, the Kanniga Parameshwar temple whose deity is goddess Shakti, the personification of divine feminine creative power. Lord Shiva’s temple, Eashwaran Koil located in the M.G. road is a highly visited temple.
Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which is situated on the south boulevard erected in the 18th century by the French missionaries is an excellent example of Gothic architecture.
The Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges (The Church of Our Lady of Angels), also called the White Parish by the locals, in Dumas street is modelled on the Basilica at Lourdes, France.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception located in the Cathedral Street, also called Cathedral church because of the street’s name has been there for more than 300 years.
The other famous churches include the Church of the Assumption, The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, and Church of Our Lady of Good Health.
Puducherry is one of the most popular tourist spots for national and international tourists. It is nice to walk around in Puducherry’s French quarter as it is unusually calm and gives you a sense of peace and awareness of oneself.
There are several beaches here. There is also Sri Aurobindo Ashram, where Sri Aurobindo spent his last years. There are several temples, churches, mosques, monuments and parks which attract tourists. Pondicherry means different things for different people.
Pondicherry government’s tourism tagline, ‘Give time a break’ is a perfect fit for this beautiful little town as it embodies everything about Pondicherry.
Owing to its occupation by the Portuguese, Danish and mainly the French, Pondicherry is a mish-mash of cultures and it is rightly called as the ‘Europe of India’. This ambiance and culture is being maintained and promoted by the locals as well as the government.
Puducherry is more of a weekend spot for domestic tourists, it is only a few hours travel from major cities such as Chennai and Bangalore. Puducherry also receives a lot of international tourists.
The town has been put on the international map after the success of the Academy award winning feature film, ‘Life of Pi’.
Related Links: Places to visit in Pondicherry
Pondicherry boasts of a population of 675,000, according to the 2011 Indian Census. The ratio between the number of men and the number of women is 1:1, a statistic which only few other states in India can boast of.
The average literacy rate in the Union Territory is 76% which is a lot higher than the national average of 59.5%. Literacy rate is 82% among the males and 71% among the females. In Pondicherry, 11% of the population is under 6 years of age.
Most of the people who are settled in Pondy are from the neighbouring states of Tamilnadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. People from West Bengal, Gujarat and Odisha also dwell in sizeable numbers here and most of them are people who are devotees of the ashram.
Surprisingly for a small town, Pondicherryhas a lot of expats, most of whom are French. They settle here for various reasons that include doing business or working in aprivate organisation or NGO.
There are several French Institutions like LycéeFrançais, Ecole Françaised’ExtrêmeOrient, IFP, AllianceFrançaise, French Consulate, etc, which contribute to this growing expat community.
Many foreigners are drawn to the ‘universal township’ of the UNESCO endorsed Auroville because of its concept of transforming human nature into divine life.
Architecture (and Town Planning)
One of the most striking features about Pondicherry is that it has a lot of colonial buildings which can be traced back as early asthe 18th century. The speciality is that the roads are built along a grid of straight clean streets. You can find the grid pattern of roads even in other cities like Ernakulam which was done only of late.
The colours which are predominantly used in the buildings are cream, pink, yellow and grey with beautiful bougainvillea which you can find protruding from the compound walls and gates of the houses here.
The town was geographically divided during the colonial era as ‘French town’ and ‘Tamil town’ thanks to the architectural. The French quarters of the town is still unofficially called ‘White town’ by the locals.
According to the current prices, the Union Territory’s Gross State Domestic product for 2004 is estimated at $2 billion. Pondicherry is largely dependent upon chemical, food processing, tourism, textiles, metals, engineering and Information Technology. Tourism is also a an entity whose contribution of late has been increasing, thanks to the Sri Aurobindo ashram, Auroville and the many beaches that you can find here.
Agriculture is also one of the mainstays of Puducherry’s economy with crops like rice pulses, sugarcane, coconuts and cotton grown abundantly.
The Union Territory’s potential for fisheries is huge. With a coastline of 45 km and 675 km2 of inshore water, 1.347 ha of inland water and 800 ha of brackish water, it makes it a point to note about Pondicherry’s huge potential for fisheries.
It has more than 27 marine fishing villages and 23 inland fishing villages with a fishermen population of about 65,000 out of which 20% of them are actively engaged in fishing. Commercial fish rearing, irrigation tanks and ponds are also tapped.
Pondicherry has around 400 MW availability of power. With the development of Port, SEZs and other industries for trade and commerce, the demand for power is likely to increase.
For better connectivity for the tourists and for trades, the government of Puducherry has decided to expand the airport so that the air services can be improved gradually over the years so that it is capable to land aircraft like Boeing 737NG and ATR 42. Thanks to its name as a tourist destination, it is advisable to improve the air services to cater to the tourists from other countries.
A Memorandum of Understanding on this regard has been placed for the expansion of the airport in two phases, to the Airports Authority of India.
The Puducherry government is taking up a lot of new projects to improve its socio-economic set up. They are as follows:
- Laser Show Complex.
- Yacht Marina.
- Botanical Garden.
- Handicraft Bazaar.
- Film City.
- Improving Chunnambar Water Front.
Summer in Pondicherry lasts from April to early June and sometimes the temperatures soar as much as 40°C with the highest temperature recorded being the 41 °C (106 °F) mark.
The average maximum temperature is 36 °C (97 °F). Minimum temperatures are in the order of 28–32 °C (82–90 °F). Summer in Pondicherry is followed by a period of high humidity and occasional thundershowers from June till September.
Pondicherry receives maximum rainfall during the period from October to December as the northeast monsoon sets in the middle of December. The best time to visit Puducherry is between October and March.
The annual average rainfall in Pondicherry is 1,240 mm (49 in).
With highs of 30 °C (86 °F) and lows often dipping to around 18–20 °C (64–68 °F), winters are generally warm here.
Government & Administration
Puducherry is not a separate state but a Union Territory of India which is represented in the Centre by the Lt. Governor, which implies that the governance and administration of the territory falls directly under the federal authority in New Delhi.
However, along with Delhi, Puducherry is one of the two union territories in India which is entitled by special constitutional amendments to have an elected legislative assembly and a cabinet of ministers which means that it enjoys special privileges like that of a state. The government is permitted to make laws with respect to specific matters under the special provision as a Union Territory. For changes in legislation, it may require approval from the government or the assent of the President of the country.
The Union Territory is represented by the Centre and is represented by the Lieutanant Governor whose residence is Raj Nivas(Le Palais du Gouverneur), which is situated near the park. It used to be the former palace of the French Governor.
The central government takes pains to involve more directly in the financial well-being of the territory, as against the states where financial administration, given a budgeted central grant is the responsibility of the state governments.
Especially in the indirect category, Puducherry, has at various times, enjoyed lower taxes.
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