French dreams of having an empire in India began and ended with Pondicherry. The French arrived in 1673 and ruled for the better part of 300 years till, in 1954, Pondicherry became a part of the Indian Union. The Union Territory of Pondicherry comprises of four scattered coastal enclaves – Pondicherry (or Puducheri, as it is called today) and Karaikal in Tamilnadu, Yanam in Andhra Pradesh and, Mahe in Kerala on the West coast.
Temples and churches form an integral part of the ethos of Pondicherry. The striking thing during a visit is that people worshipping in churches or temples or those paying homage at a dargah, do so in complete harmony! The most significant of the important churches is the terracotta-and-white painted Eglise De Sacre Coeur De Jesus, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is famous for its gothic architecture and rare and beautiful stained glass panels depicting the life of Christ. The other notable churches are the Eglise De Notre Dame de la Immaculate Conception and the Eglise De Notre Dame des Anges in Pondicherry, as well as the Eglise De Notre Dame de Lourdes in Villiyanur, 9 km from Pondicherry.
The lovely 1.5 km beach is clean and the water cool, soothing and unpolluted – ideal for sunbathing, swimming or relaxing. Cooled by the breeze from the Bay of Bengal, the promenade attracts the residents for strolls, jogging or merely sitting on the parapet by the sea and letting the mind wander.
Just North of the border, in Tamil Nadu, is the ‘City of Dawn’ Auroville, envisioned as the ‘Universal Town’ and developed under the guidance of The Mother with the cooperation of many nations. Launched in 1968, and still being developed, it symbolises an experiment in international living where people from different faiths, nationalities and beliefs can live in peace and harmony. The vast meditation hall and spiritual centre, Matrimandir, lies at the heart of the township, surrounded by 800 acres of land. The 1000-odd residents live in 14 communes, speak 55 different languages, but have a common goal – to evolve into fuller human beings.
Eight k.m. south of Pondicherry is Chunnambar, renowned for its beautiful beaches and scenic backwaters. A beach resorts and Water Sports Centre here offer opportunities for yachting, wind-surfing and boating, as also a thrilling high speed ride on a hydro-plane. You can even take a sea cruise and watch dolphins at play. Another really pleasant and relaxing experience is a river cruise from the new port in Uppalam to Arikamedu, the site of the ancient Roman settlement. Karaikal, the second region of the Union Territory in Tamil Nadu, lies 132 km south of Pondicherry along the coast. It has a rich religious heritage and is the chosen destination for many pilgrims in search of peace and tranquility. Of the many shrines in the area, the most popular are the Darbaranyeswar Temple at Thirunallar, the Dargah of Mastan Syed Dawood, the Nagore Andavar Dargah and the Vailankanni Church, dedicated to Our Lady of Good Health, which is visited by people of all faiths. The temple at Thirunallar, five km West of Karaikal, houses Lord Saturn, and is said to be the only Saturn temple in India.