Seaside resort Pondicherry has a special ambience, not felt anywhere else in India. It is a blend of spiritual aura, French colonial heritage, Tamil culture and the cosmopolitan flair of many nationalities in a small but varied town.
The inherent ambience of Pondy, as it 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. The visitor is greeted by mellow colours of cream, yellow, pink and grey with flamboyant bougainvillae bursting over gates and compound walls of cool courtyards.
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 centre of old colonial part of the town and 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 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 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 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.