The inherent ambience of Pondy, as Pondicherry is fondly called, becomes most evident in the oldest part of the town, which flanks the seashore boulevard. Colonial buildings, some which trace back to the 18th century, line along a grid of straight clean streets and house the French institutions, private homes and businesses, and the sprawling premises of the famous Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Mellow colours of cream, yellow, pink and grey greet the visitor with flamboyant bougainvillea bursting over gates and compound walls of cool courtyards.
Quiet beaches and peaceful resorts to the north and south balance the town's bustling, yet easy going life.
But Pondy hasn't only its own special attractions to offer. It is a perfect base to explore the rich destinations around it, even in daily trips: Auroville, the international City of Unity; the imposing Gingee Fort, the holy temple towns of Kanchipuram, Tiruvannamalai and Chidambaram, the heritage sculptures and magnificent rock temples of Mamallapuram, and the cool and lush hillstations of Yercaud and Kodaikanal.
The Government Park is the center of old colonial part of the town and it provides a cool and lush green anchor around which most government buildings are situated: the Lt. Governor's Palace, the Legislative Assembly, Government Hospital, but also the Ashram Dining Room in a beautiful Villa, the Cercle de Pondichery, which is a private club, and an old Hotel Qualité.
The oldest streets start from the Park as well as J. N. Street, the main shopping artery, which connects into the tamil part of the town which was formerly divided form the French quarters by a now covered canal. Monuments abound in Pondy and each one has a story to tell. The Aayi Mandapam at the centre of the Park is the most well known monument. Built during the reign of Napoleon III in France and named after a 16th. century courtesan, Aayi, who demolished her house and built a watertank instead. This was to appease a passing king who had mistaken her candle-lit home for a holy place. This reservoir served French engineers later to bring water to the town.
Like any other place in India Pondicherry has its own unique festivals with its own colourful ambience, like The International Yoga Festival in January, Maasi Magam in February - March at the beach of the Fishing Village and Fête de Pondichery in August.
Pondicherry is best accessible by road from Chennai, Bangalore and even from Kerala. Chennai has an international airport, which directly connects to the highway to Pondy. And good transit hotels are available in the vicinity for travellers who arrive in the night.
Pondicherry has a wide choice of hotels for most visitors: beach resorts for the easy going tourist and families, heritage hotels for those who want to experience something else, high class commercial hotels for the corporate visitor and the neat Ashram Guest Houses for the spiritual seeker. And ambient restaurants serve a rich variety of French, Indian, Asian and continental food, with the latest pizza for an American bite.
For the shopper, Pondy has a lot to offer and is fast becoming a favourite shopping destination of the southern metropolitan cities. Pondy is soft on your purse with taxes low or non-existent. It is known for its traditional doll making and textiles and silks. But it is also the birthplace of several world-class brands in leather, pottery, aromatics, fashion and handmade paper. These excellent products came to renown solely by their superb quality. A new trend is the proliferation of exquisite decor boutiques and export-quality antique furniture galleries.