We spent very little time in “Pondi”. Our home base was in Chennai, India and we made a day trip using trains and taxis to Auroville and back. Auroville is a small planned community near Puducherry where Sri Aurobindo and a woman known as “The Mother” are trying to create utopia on earth.
The train took us directly from Chennai to Pondi in about 4 ½ hours one way (Train #56037). We departed from Egmore Station in Chennai at 6:35 AM and arrived around 11:00 in Puducherry. We sent a taxi driver ahead of us from Chennai to pick us up in Puducherry when we disembarked from the train. This driver then took us to Auroville (about 12 kilometers away by car or ricksaw), waited while we walked around, and then took us back to Chennai. Driving between Chennai and Puducherry was only 2 hours one way, but though it took more time, the train trip was definitely worth it, just for the experience.
One of the first things I noticed about Puducherry was its cleanliness in comparison with Chennai. Chennai is immaculate compared to Delhi, but Puducherry is even cleaner and more pristine still. It’s relative though. Puducherry still had some piles of trash here and there and seedy parts, but the atmosphere was pleasant. There’s a long malecon that runs along the Bay of Bengal where one could go for a jog or evening walks. The French Quarter reminded me of New Orleans.
Compared to Chennai, there were a lot of white tourists walking around. Over the course of 2 weeks in Chennai, we never saw another white person, but we saw several groups of them (maybe 10 total) as we passed through Puducherry on our way to Auroville. The Indian locals seemed relatively friendly. There were a number of rickshaws to transport people through town.
If I were going to take up residence for longer than a month in India, I’d put Pondicherry pretty high on my list of considerations. Chennai was far friendlier and easy-going than Delhi, but Pondicherry would be a good gateway Indian city for a foreigner, or at least it seemed like it would be from our short drive through it.