Puducherry: Could it be called the ‘ultimate’ beachfront? Well, the answer is, ‘maybe’. Perhaps, nowhere in India at least could one spend a whole evening enjoying the panoramic view of the ocean with the grandeur of French colonial architecture forming the backdrop. You are in Puducherry, the confluence of French and Tamil heritage, where not only the West meets the East, but supplement each other as well.
To shake off the tag of a mere ‘weekend getaway’ and scale up the destination as an upmarket one, the Government of Puducherry is charting out elaborate plans. When in place, the initiative is set to infuse more ‘economic meaning’ into the whole exercise. The awakening of a new and vibrant Puducherry has begun…
What is all the more interesting is that the 1.5-km stretch – Goubert Avenue, running parallel to the ‘unending’ promenade – which houses the Chief Secretariat, the seat of Government and many other heritage sites of the ‘French quarter’ (also known as White Town) of this colonial era city, will remain closed for vehicular traffic from 6 pm to 7.30 am. No wonder, it has become the most preferred destination for everyone, including tourists, who wants to unwind in the company of the majestic Bay of Bengal. On the rocky beach, one may find many a spiritual tourists immersed in meditation while the promenade and the road adjacent are generally packed with health-conscious people who want to shed sweat jogging or taking a brisk walk, and others who simply loiter around with selfie sticks to get that ‘perfect’ click.
“The stroll along the boulevard was a unique experience. A walk in the morning along with my baby was really wonderful. The unique traffic regulation pattern was something unheard of in other parts of the country,” these words of Athithi, a tourist from New Delhi, sum it up.
“The Government of Puducherry wants to infuse more ‘economic meaning’ into the whole tourism exercise by scaling up the destination from a mere ‘weekend getaway’ to a known upmarket one”
Malladi Krishna Rao, Minister for Tourism, Puducherry
The town, once a major Port of Call of the French colonial era in India, is already a famous weekend destination for people from the neighbouring states. But, of late, the overcrowding of tourists has prompted the authorities to wake up to the need for widening the basket of tourist attractions. The Government of Puducherry also wants to infuse more ‘economic meaning’ into the whole exercise by scaling up the destination from a mere ‘weekend getaway’ to a known upmarket one. As a result, Puducherry can attain the tag of a major tourism destination in South India. “We can fully utilize our potential in this regard so that tourists who come calling can stay for longer duration,” says Malladi Krishna Rao, Minister for Tourism, Government of Puducherry.
In 2017, the total number of tourist arrivals to Puducherry stood at 16.63 lakh, registering an increase of 9.74 per cent than the previous year. Of this, 1.31 lakh tourists were foreign nationals. Apparently, the French led the tally with 25,250 tourists followed by the United States of America (11,939) and the United Kingdom (9712). “By 2022, the Government of Puducherry wants the tourist arrivals to touch 25 lakh,” says P Parthiban IAS, Secretary, Department of Tourism. Currently, tourism is one of the major employment providers for us. Roughly, the industry’s contribution to the GDP is around 25 per cent. However, we have ample scope for improvement. It is against this background that the Government is framing its new tourism policy and taking fresh initiatives to develop new tourism products as well as improving the amenities at the existing destinations. This, we hope, will give the much-required impetus to our efforts to achieve our targets on time,” the Secretary says.
“Currently, tourism is one of the major employment providers for us. By 2022, the Government of Puducherry wants the tourist arrivals to touch 25 lakh”
P Parthiban IAS, Secretary, Department of Tourism, Puducherry
For Puducherry, the development of various tourism products and through it the growth of the economy in general is much dependent on the successful implementation of the Centrally-sponsored Swadesh Darshan Scheme. Leveraging the Scheme, the Government proposes to develop tourism products under three umbrellas: Coastal, Heritage and Spiritual Circuits.
The Coastal Circuit with an allocation of Rs. 85.28 crore includes development of seven new beaches and improvement of amenities at the existing beaches, among others. The Rs. 66.3-crore Heritage Circuit plan involves beautification and extension of the beach promenade towards the southern and northern sides. The Government has set aside Rs. 40.67 crore under the Spiritual Circuit project, which mainly focuses on enhancing tourist amenities at pilgrimage centres in the Karaikal region. “We are supposed to execute all the work by the end of this year. Under each scheme, majority of the work has already been assigned to the contractors. Puducherry Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) is the nodal agency for the implementation of these projects, for which the Central Government is allocating funds in a phased manner,” says R Mounissamy, Director, PTDC.
Parallel to this, the French Government-backed Rs. 1827-crore Puducherry Smart City project, aimed at substantially enhancing the infrastructure facilities in the region to bring it on par with a world-class city, will provide further momentum to its tourism prospects. The Puducherry Smart City Development Limited (PSCDL), a special purpose vehicle for execution of the project, has invited Request for Proposal (RFP) from consultants to design, develop, manage and implement various components in the project.
Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage (INTACH)
Noticing the waning French character of the cityscape caused by unbridled and unplanned construction activities, not in tune with the historic legacy, INTACH was prodded into action to salvage and regain the colonial era charm of the city. The Puducherry Chapter of the organisation, set up in 1985, floated INTACH Conservation Cell in 1998 launching several initiatives with an initial grant-in-aid from the Town and Country Planning Department.
“Since then, we have been working with the Government of Puducherry and the public to conserve the architectural heritage and townscape of Puducherry. Initially, we collaborated with Institute Français de Pondichéry (IFP) and Ecole Francaise d’Extrême Orient (EFEO) on various projects. It was the late Françoise l’Hernault (1937-1999) of EFEO who initiated the movement to protect the architectural heritage of Puducherry. This work is now being continued by a team of dedicated architects, engineers and other interested persons,” says Ashok Panda, Co-convener, INTACH Puducherry Chapter.
INTACH works in collaboration with the Public Works Department, Town and Country Planning Department, Puducherry Planning Authority, Department of Art and Culture, Department of Education, Puducherry Tourism and Transport Development Corporation and individual Heritage-building owners, builders and architects.
The timely intervention of INTACH has not only helped revive the colonial era face of the city but also augment the prospects of heritage tourism. In the year 2000, INTACH helped restore a French-era building, which had been used as a Government office, and convert it into a boutique heritage hotel, Hotel De L’Orient, unveiling the new product range of heritage hotels.
“Soon, the idea of heritage hotels caught the fancy of business groups, which followed suit. Another signature initiative of INTACH was Maison Perumal, the heritage hotel of the Kerala-based CGH Earth Experience Hotels in the Tamil quarter. We were the architects behind Palais de Mahe, a green-field project of the Group, in the French quarter as well. The property resembles a typical French Mansion with high ceilings and arched doorways,” Panda says.
Taking a cue from the success of these heritage hotels, many others are now jumping on the bandwagon. The entrepreneurs are contributing to this process through the makeover of old properties and the construction of new ones based on French and Tamil architecture. “It has become a new trend in Puducherry now. Many residents are volunteering to restore their property, giving them a French touch and converting them to homestays. If this trend continues, the entire French quarter will come to resemble a slice of France adding luster to the very idea of heritage tourism,” he adds.
The popping up of such heritage properties that marked the beginning of a change in the profile of the city’s tourism landscape has helped the authorities realise the immense potential of heritage tourism. “We are proud in a way that we are the pioneers in this transformative process,” says Dinu Ramakrishnan, General Manager, Palais de Mahe. “It was Palais de Mahe, which first tapped the upmarket clientele through its heritage charm. I am sure Pondy will definitely become an upmarket destination with the multi-crore projects being implemented by the Government.”
But it is not all French here. The eyes cannot miss the richness and beauty of the Tamil tradition as well. Maison Perumal epitomizes this spirit of coming together. “The architectural character of the property, which is rooted in Tamil culture with a dash of colonial influence, is essentially a tribute to the Tamil heritage of the town,” says Sam John, General Manager, Maison Perumal. “In fact, we promote the property as an ‘Art Boutique Heritage Hotel’. We provide a permanent platform for local artists to showcase their work. Like architecture, traditional Tamil cuisine is also something which one cannot afford to miss. We ensure that the guests have authentic Tamil dishes,” he adds.
Though many of these new tourism initiatives of the Government have come to benefit the people indirectly, the industry is yet to embrace the concept of Responsible Tourism ensuring participation of the local communities in a way that benefits them. “Our Government is committed to ensure people’s participation in tourism initiatives. For this, we have already entrusted the Puducherry University to undertake a study on how to ensure active participation of local communities in tourism activities,” says Mounissamy.
The lack of coordination among various stakeholders, who act in isolation, seems to be a major handicap as far as Puducherry’s tourism sector is concerned. “Various stakeholders have their own individual forums like the Hoteliers Association or the Travel Agents Association. However, the absence of an umbrella organisation is often felt as a major shortcoming in streamlining the tourism activities,” says Dinu Ramakrishnan.When asked about it, the Director of Tourism was more than willing to welcome the idea. “If such a move comes from the part of the trade, the Government will support in whichever way possible.”
“We have entrusted the Puducherry University to undertake a study on how to ensure active participation of local communities in tourism activities” – R Mounissamy, Director, Puducherry Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC)
Given the happenings on the tourism front, Puducherry offers ample opportunities for potential investors as well. “The current room inventory will be inadequate considering the target that we have set in terms of tourist arrivals. Till 2016, Puducherry Government offered an incentive ranging from Rs. 25 lakh to Rs. 1 crore for tourism ventures. Due to the current financial constraints, we have temporarily suspended the scheme. However, we will resume the support as and when the financial situation improves,” says Mounissamy.
While the tourism authorities are leaving no stone unturned to tap every possible foreign market, the recent high-profile visit of Chinese Ambassador to Puducherry has presented a new possibility. “Drawn by the spiritual flavour that Puducherry offers, many Chinese cities have expressed willingness to have cultural tie-ups with us. Presently, the city of Dali in the Yunnan Province of China has come forward in this regard. If things pan out as per plan, we will enter into an agreement within three or four months,” says the Secretary. The proposed ferry service from Chennai to Rameswaram with stopovers at Puducherry and Karaikal will further boost Puducherry’s tourism prospects.
THE HARBINGER OF CHANGE
Dr. Kiran Bedi IPS (Retd.), the Lt. Governor of Puducherry, plays an instrumental role in promoting the Union Territory as a major tourism hub in South India. She is actively involved in leading and guiding various tourism activities as well as waste management initiatives. Under her supervision, Velrampet Lake and Kanaganeri Lake in Puducherry were recently resurrected and thrown open to the public for boating and other recreational activities. She has opened the gates of Raj Nivas, her official residence, for the public to see and understand the architectural character of one of the best maintained heritage buildings of the region. Bedi also spearheaded the sanitation drive to clean Grand Canal, which separates the French and Tamil quarters of the city.
Where to Stay
GET SOAKED IN FRENCH-NESS
French at heart. Perhaps, there is no better way to describe Palais de Mahe, the boutique hotel of CGH Earth Experience Hotels at Rue Bussy, Puducherry. It is a typical French mansion with high ceilings, arched doorways and colonnades, and ochre yellow wall flourishes. The beauty and grandeur of the colonial style architecture make the rooms distinct. Even the design of room keys or the door hinges evoke memories of Francophile tradition. Palais de Mahe offers a contemporary progressive cuisine. No wonder, it has become the most preferred upmarket property in Puducherry. For reservations, contact, ph: +91 484 3011711 / 712 or log on to: www.cghearth.com
LEISURE MEETS LUXURY
Le Pondy is a premium leisure resort beautifully lounged at an estuary between Chunnambar River and the Bay of Bengal in Puducherry. A famed destination for family outings, weddings and group recreational activities, the resort is also known as The French Riviera of the East. Le Pondy comes from Joys Resorts and Hotels, a multi-domain conglomerate. Luxury pool villas and high-end private presidential villas with sea and lake view rooms exquisitely furnished and sprinkled with luxury and convenience offer an unparalleled experience. For reservations, contact, ph: +91 471 2516600 or log on to www.lepondy.com
BASK IN GLORY OF TAMIL HERITAGE
The moment you step in, you just don’t want to leave ever. You feel a rare sense of belonging. You bask in the privilege. Such is the warmth of the hospitality at Maison Perumal. Truly incredible – be it the architecture, the attire of the caretakers, the aroma or the furniture. Housed in a 130-year-old Chettiar mansion, Maison Perumal, the boutique heritage hotel of CGH Earth Experience Hotels at Perumal Koil Street, encapsulates a time when the prosperous Tamil communities thrived in Puducherry. The structure has been meticulously restored to its original glory by INTACH. For reservations, contact, ph: +91 484 3011711 / 712 or log on to: www.cghearth.com
How to Reach
SpiceJet operates daily flights to Hyderabad and Bengaluru from Puducherry. Look for convenient onward connections on the SpiceJet network for travel to and from other metros and cities. For details, log on to wwww.spicejet.com
Chennai International Airport is 150 km away from Puducherry – a three-hour road trip along the scenic East Coast Road. For more details about road and rail connecivity, log on to www.pondytourism.in
Where to Shop
Nehru Street is ideal for shopping. Sunday Market is a popular one-stop shopping destination for weekend tourists. For branded shops and boutiques, take a stroll through various streets in the French quarter. Shops run by Sri Aurobindo Ashram can be an ideal option for handicrafts and souvenirs
Where to Eat
For authentic Tamil cuisine, Maison Perumal can be your first choice. Looking out for a food fusion, step into Palais de Mahe. Visit Auroville for authentic Italian snacks. Cafes, of course, are aplenty in the French quarter
- Experience the spirit of Puducherry
through heritage walks and food trails offered by PTDC, INTACH and Storytrails.
For details, log on to
- Take a tour of Puducherry on a cycle rickshaw. With a treaure trove of stories, the rickshaw-wallahs (pullers) are the best guides one can get. Maison Perumal offers ‘Life of Pondy on Wheels’, a unique ride showcasing shooting locations of the Academy Award winning ‘Life of Pi’.
- Enjoy a two-wheeler ride to Auroville, the international-universal township project. A widely reforested landscape spread over 2250 acres of land, the town offers a unique culture, achitecture and over 180 social enterprise units.
Major Projects Under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme
- Development of Dubrayapet, Arikamedu, Chinna Veerampattinam, Chun nambar, Nallavadu / Narambai, Manapet and Kalapet beaches
- Development of tourist amenities in Yanam
- Extension of beach promenade –Rs. 20.03 crore
- Revitalisation of streetscapes in the heritage area – Rs. 8.74 crore
- Cultural complex with art and digital museum – Rs. 20.7 crore
- Franco – Tamil Village
- Beautification of Grand Canal
- Development of tourist amenities at Sri Kokilambal Thirukameswara Temple, Puducherry; Gangai, Natheeswarar Temple, Thirukanchi; Sri Badra Kali Amman Temple, Karaikal; Sri Jadepureswarar Temple, Karaikal; Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple, Yanam and St. Vinorpu Annai Church, Nellithope