Pondicherry has an unusual, enchanting Mediterranean atmosphere not felt anywhere else in India. The French ruled this territory for 300 years, and today it stands as a living monument to French culture in India as it was only ceded to the Indian union in 1954. The White Town with its tree-shaded, leafy lanes is still reminiscent of the Mediterranean with its seaside promenade, immaculately white painted buildings, cobbled paths of the French Quarters and its pretty colonial bungalows all of which lend a quaint charm to this tiny city. Several heritage buildings have now been converted into hotels and home stays, offering travellers a peek into the colonial life led here, and it is one of the only places in India with French restaurants and cafes serving croissant! It is also fun to explore on an early morning cycle tour. As a contrast, explore the other side of town, which is typically Tamilian and therefore far more chaotic and cluttered but exudes its South Indian culture and its own charm. Pondicherry is also fast becoming a favourite shopping destination, and, with taxes almost non – existent, it offers excellent value. It is best known for its traditional doll making, textiles and silk weaving, as well as for leather, pottery, incense and handmade paper.
Pondicherry is also synonymous with Auroville, the ashram set up by Indian spiritualist thinker Aurobindo Ghosh and a French woman Mira Alfassa referred to as Mother. A thriving community of over two thousand Indians and foreigners live at the Ashram, working towards universal values like peace and brotherhood. The sprawling gardens and meditation centres are serene and evoke a sense of peace and tranquility and its workshops and factories make commercial products like leather goods, handmade paper and incense sticks and burners.