The French East India Company was established in 1664, as a part of an expedition to develop new trade routes in the East. After establishing their first factory in Surat (Gujarat) the French continued their Indian expansion on the Eastern Coast of the peninsula, covering the Coromandel Coast, Odisha Coast, Malabar Coast and a few territories in Bengal.
However, it was Pondicherry that had the biggest cultural impact of the French, that it continues to resonate to date- one only has to visit its famous French Quarters; to agree with us! Even the street names in the city continue to be the ones given by the French colonials, paying homage to their celebrated artists and army generals.
Fun Fact- when the union territory (UT) was given back to India by the French in 1954, the residents were given the option to retain their French passports and continue to be recognized as citizens of France!
Pondicherry offers so much to the enthusiastic traveller that perhaps a single trip may not be enough to explore the beauty that engulfs this UT. A quartet of districts make up the UT, namely Puducherry, Karaikal (bound by the state of Tamil Nadu), Mahe (Surrounded by the state of Kerala) and Yanam (bordered by the state of Andhra Pradesh).
Though they are all a drivable distance from one another, covering all 4 enclaves should be divided into 4 different weekend getaways, one for each season of the year!
Travel from January to March
The coastal town in Kerala, is India’s smallest district. Even so, the French influence is clearly pronounced in its architecture- take the government building for example! Here’s what all to see in Mahe
Tagore Park: The park with beautiful walkways is Mahe’s most spectacular sunset spot as well! Here a statue of the French Icon, Marianne; commemorates the French Revolution.
St Theresa’s Shrine: The shrine dating back to 1757, is one of India’s oldest. It is a must visit for history lovers.
Hillock: The amazing picnic spot, is also home to Mahe’s legendary lighthouse. Offering spellbinding views of the Arabian sea, Hillock is the ideal location for a day of leisure at Mahe.
Travel between April to June
The small coastal town gracing the Coromandel coastline, is beach lover’s paradise. Yes, we are asking you to visit Karaikal during summers, only so that you can truly enjoy its breathtaking beaches and get drenched with fun whilst indulging in the many watersports on offer. Here’s what all to see in this small district:
The Karaikal Beach: Every watersports enthusiast must visit this gem! From canoeing to beach volley ball, this beach has everything you need. It houses a pristine lighthouse which offers stunning views of the horizons of the Bay of Bengal and the city alike. There are a few shops and facilities here, though one must bear in mind that the walkways close by 6:00pm sharp.
The Karaikal Ammaiyar Temple: it is a Hindu temple dedicated to goddess Punithavathi, that was constructed in 1929 by Malaiperumal. The temple receives many a devotee during the famous Mangani Tirunal festival (the festival of the mango fruit).
Our Lady of Angel’s Church: Constructed by the French, circa 1822, in neo-gothic architecture, this is one of the oldest churches in Karaikal. History has it, that the church was originally built in 1739 but was demolished by the British. The present day church is also one of the tallest structures in Karaikal; towering over 133ft. The Thetheravu Matha festival, celebrated on 15th August; beckons religious travellers from all over.
Travel between July to September
The small district of Pondicherry, rich in culture and history- boasts of equitable climate through the year! The official languages here are French and Telegu and the culture here represents this mélange. Here are the must visits when in Yanam:
Coringa Wildlife sanctuary: One of the countries largest mangrove sanctuaries, it is home to numerous birds and many endangered animals like crocodiles, otters, turtles, etc. Apart from being a treat to the eyes and sense alike (with all its natural beauty), the sanctuary also offers sporting activities like pedal boating.
Hope Island: Embedded in the Bay of Bengal, slightly off the coast of Yanam, is the tadpole shaped island called hope. It was named so, for the respite it offered the weary sailor. It offers gorgeous views and a chance to disconnect from everyday life, and enjoy some much needed time off.
Sri Veereswara Swamy Temple: Legend has it that devotees throng this temple from all over the country seeking blessings for their married life or solutions to resolve the problems inflicting it.
Kakinada Port: a minor port, as it may be, enthralls travellers with an array of watersports and natural beauty.
Travel between October to December
Being the foodie heaven that it is; dotted with stunning and super delicious French cafes, every visit to the “French Capital of India” should begin with a tour of the famous restaurants here. We did the homework for you and found that Les Saveurs, Courtyard Restaurant, Rendezvous Café and Blueline are absolute must visits. Once you’ve treated the tummy, here’s where to head to for a treat for the eyes as well:
Paradise Beach: the peaceful beach also known as Plage Paradiso, is a boat ride away from Pondicherry. Engulfed in mangrove trees, the beach is mesmerizingly beautiful. The shacks here have you covered for the travel munchies!
Auroville: Established by Mirra Alfassa, a follower of Sri Aurobindo, in 1968- this is a “Universal Town”; where people from all over the world regardless of their culture and custom can live in harmony.
Basilica of Sacred Heart of Jesus: Set up by French missionaries in 1908, the Basilica boasts of excellent architecture complete with engraved Biblical text in Latin. The church is a sanctuary from the everyday bustle of life.
French War Memorial: Built in 1937 to commemorate the French soldiers, this is an absolute must visit for history enthusiasts. The museum also houses some of the largest collection of Bronze articles from the Chola and Pallava dynasty.
This Union Territory, marks the largest footprint of the French East India Company in India. Who wouldn’t love to visit these locales steeped in history and culture?