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Pondicherry: A visit to French India


Overview: One of the few places where we see the glimpses of French influence in India is Pondicherry. However, it has an even ancient past, having Chola footprints. As we started from the southern part of the UT of Pondy, we visited the ancient living temples in Bahour and Villianur. The Mulanathar temple in Bahour is believed to be an ancient Vedic centre of learning and the 9th century inscriptions on the outer walls of the temple tells the story of the village.
Around 9kms north of Bahour is the Thirukameshwarar temple of Villianur, which again is a highlight of the Cholan architecture. The temple has typical of the South Indian architecture and has a beautiful pond within the premises.
Coming to the hub of the city, the city was in existence right from the 3rd century, and the city was earlier named as Vedapuri, after the Vedapureeshwarar temple in the heritage town. This temple was destroyed by invadors during the 16th-18th centuries. Another temple built by the Cholas in the 12th century is the Varadaraja Perumal temple, which housed the deity of Vedapureeshwarar temple when it was destroyed.
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The Heritage town, in the French quarter houses several buildings with French architecture, and walking along the Promenede beach is a relaxing experience. The entire area is lined with restaurants and heritage villas offering cuisines from all around Europe. The middle of the French town also houses Aurobindo Ashram, where Sri Aurobindo spent most of his time, and also has his samadhi within the ashram. There are a few churches built during the French occupation like the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Immaculate Conception Cathedral and Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges. The Manakula Vinayaka temple in White town is another popular attraction, which predates the French rule in Pondicherry.
Another interesting place in the Tamil quarter is the old heritage house of Ananda Ranga Pillai, who was closely associated with the French Governer Dupleix.
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Though Pondicherry is not known for beaches, Paradise beach is not to be missed. White sand and blue waters welcome several tourists to this place, which can be reached via Chennambur boat house. Weekends can get too crowded, so visitors need to plan accordingly.
Moving towards the North of Pondicherry, is the township of Auroville, which was founded by 'the Mother' Mirra Alfassa. The main attraction here is the spherical dome shaped meditation place called 'Matrimandir'. When we vsited, the Matrimandir was closed for renovation, so we had to view this incredible place from a distance.
Close to Auroville is the temple of Irumbai Mahakaleshwar temple, also dating back to the 12th century.
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How to reach: Pondicherry has a railway line which is connected to places in Tamil Nadu, and also has a train running from Mumbai via Bangalore. The city also has an airport, but not many flights serve from Pondicherry. The roads leading to Pondicherry are very well laid. However, from Bangalore, the best route to take is Krishnagiri-Vellore-Arcot-Tindivanam.
Food/Accommodation: Being a popular tourist destination, Pondicherry has several options for food and accommodation catering to all.


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