The beautiful city of Puducherry, famous for its French roots and consequent ways, has a couple of siblings from when the French East India Company first took it over. One of those siblings is Mahe. Mahe, the smallest district in the country of India, is full of surprises for the uninitiated.
Mahe holds an old-world charm that is different from anything you would see in the country. While the most commonly spoken language here is Malayali, there is a small community of people who are direct descendants of the French living here and they still speak French! In fact, a little bit of that romantic language has seeped into the local dialect. So, if you manage to talk to the locals in Malayali, you’re in for an interesting conversation. Interested in knowing more about this fascinating corner of India? Our Mahe travel guide covers it all, and then some!
Mahe was under the control of European trading companies for the longest time. Prior to their arrival in 1724, this area was a part of three villages (Chirakkal, Kadathanadu, and Thulunadu) that made up the kingdom of Kolathunadu. The French East India Company formed an accord with the ruler of Kolathunadu to construct a fort in the first year of their arrival. The area saw a little period where the Marathas took control but that was short-lived as Frenchman Bertrand François Mahe De La Bourdonnais reclaimed control from them in the year 1741.
Throughout the next century, the area where Mahe now sits saw the British and French struggle over its control, and power changed hands at least twice. However, it remained under the jurisdiction of the French until the very end. While the rest of the country was freed from its European rulers in 1947, Mahe was French-controlled until 1954, when its anti-colonial struggle finally resulted in Mahe joining the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry.
In fact, there’s a very light-hearted debate perpetually in progress about the origins of the name of Mahe. While one opinion is that the town was named after the river Mahe, there is another one that says that Mahe was named after Bertrand François Mahe De La Bourdonnais.
The culture in this town is very similar to the one you get to see on the Malabar coast, with the addition of the French influence over every aspect of life. The majority population here speaks in Malayalam, while a smaller chunk speaks in Arabic. There is a small community of French speakers in the area, some of whom are direct descendants of the French living in the area for more than a century. The one way you can experience the vibrant history of this place is in the old buildings that still stand strong. To be honest, they make for some amazing photographs!
Also Read: Pondicherry Travel Guide
If you plan on getting to Mahe by air, you will have to either take a flight to Calicut International Airport, or Kannur International Airport. The former is a little farther from Mahe, at about 86 kms. On the other hand, Kannur International Airport is only 35 kms away. So, depending upon what places you want to check out before finally entering Mahe, you can land at either airport.
However, you can easily find taxis, government-run as well as private buses, or rentals from both airports to take you around the place.
The closest railway station to Mahe is Mahe Azhiyur. It is called Mahe Railway Station and is within the town limits. You can easily find trains coming in from Chennai, Mangalore, Trivandrum, and Bangalore.
If you’re looking for a major railway station close to Mahe, you can go to Thalassery, which is 9 kms away from Mahe. Thallassery has trains coming in from pretty much all corners of the country.
Considering the fact that Mahe is right in between Kannur and Kozhikode, you have great connectivity via road. The town of Mahe has National Highway 66 directly going through it. If you’re coming from the Eastern side of the country, you can get really close to Mahe via State Highway 30, State Highway 38, or State Highway 34.
KSRTC has buses that go to the tiny coastal town on a daily basis. You can find private buses going to and from Mahe as well. So, you have multiple options to get in and out of the town via road.
Mahe is a beautiful town all throughout the year. However, there are a few factors that will make or break your experience, with the biggest one being the climate of the place. So, here’s a breakdown of Mahe in summer, winter, and monsoon.
On average, Mahe sees the lowest temperatures between late November and late February. During this time, you can expect the temperatures to hover around 20℃ and 31℃. The best part is, since Mahe is a coastal town, you get a nice breeze almost throughout the day. We recommend visiting Mahe at this time of year as you get to go around without the heat of the summer or the rains of the monsoon.
In Mahe, the monsoon comes in around mid-April and continues to shower the area until November. On average, it peaks in July and you get some very intense rains that sometimes average out at about 42 inches. If you want to experience the beauty of Mahe along with the rains, we recommend you go there in May or August since you get a decent amount of rain, but you won’t have to stay inside your accommodation of choice for the entirety of your stay.
If you plan on going to this beautiful place during the summer, traveling and staying would be the most convenient. However, it can get pretty humid for the extent of the season. The temperature swings between 24℃ and 33℃, on average. While the temperatures sound okay, the humidity is something you should seriously consider before making a plan.
Also Read: Best Homestays In Pondicherry
Even though it is beautiful, Mahe is really small. It is almost 4 sq. km in area and can be easily explored on foot. Moreover, the town gets cut in half by a national highway that goes through it. So, it only makes sense for you to get on a vehicle if you’re going out of town. Otherwise, you might get around faster on foot than in a vehicle.
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"All the beauty and influence of the French have now disappeared. All you get to see is a run-of-the-mill coastal town."
A lot of people who know of Mahe say that the French influence, in all its beauty, has disappeared. However, this is far from the truth. Between the French-speaking society, called the Union Des Française de Mahé, and the beautiful French buildings scattered around town, you can experience the beauty of a past era at its best.
Mahe has a lot of history from the time it was colonized by the French. If you’re the kind to enjoy the stories and want to check out whatever pieces of history still exist, you can visit this museum for a heritage walk and see the relics of a time bygone.
Did you know that Mahe was known for its surfing spots in the 70s and 80s? In fact, the waves here were known to be big enough that rookie surfers were often discouraged from surfing in these waters. While that spirit of adventure might not be as prominent today, you can still visit the Water Sports Complex and indulge in activities like pedal boating, motor boating, and much more.
Hillock is arguably the greatest spot to see the Arabian Sea in Mahe. It’s a very short walk and at the end of it, you can be in the company of nature and have a peaceful picnic. Another spot to enjoy the natural beauty of this town is the walkway along the Mahe River. It is great for an evening of relaxation. You can stroll down the entire stretch, or sit down on one of the many benches set up there while the river flows right by you.
Puthalam Temple is an ancient temple dedicated to Goddess Bhagavati. It is located in the middle of the city and holds religious as well as historical significance. As soon as you get there, you can see evidence of the strife between the Indian and French armies, preserved within the temple to tell those stories. If mythology, history, and religion are things you find interesting, this is one place you cannot afford to miss.
Situated right by the Mahe Riverfront, Tagore Park is one destination that you shouldn’t miss when you visit Mahe. There is a walkway right behind the park that leads to a lighthouse. This lighthouse was built when there were rulers keeping an eye out to sea, and the entire walkway from the park to the lighthouse is very pretty and peaceful. Moreover, the views of the sunset that you get from the base of the lighthouse are other-worldly. So, if you’re in the town for a laidback getaway, visiting Tagore Park should be on the top of your list.
Azhimukham is an estuary of the Arabian Sea and Mahe River right at the tip of the town. There are plans to make a walkway that connects this estuary to the riverfront. This walkway includes the Mahe Bridge and Tagore Park as well. Moreover, the very last point of the walkway gives you great views of Government House. So, you might be able to catch a glimpse of all the attractions in Mahe from here!
Also Read: Walking Tour Of Pondicherry
Why Is Mahe A Part Of Puducherry?
Mahe was under French control for a short while after India got liberated from British rule. In 1954, Mahe joined India as a part of Puducherry to spearhead their struggle into successful freedom. This is how, though topographically separate, Mahe is a part of the Puducherry Union Territory.
What Is Special In Mahe?
More than anything, the places and experiences that Mahe offers its visitors are the biggest specialty of this place. Places like The Hillock, Mahe River Walkway, Puthalam Temple, and Tagore Park are some places that you should definitely check out.
Why Is Mahe Famous?
There are two reasons why Mahe gets the reputation it has: the residue of the French colonies and the cheap alcohol. Since Mahe is a part of a Union Territory and not a state, you get to buy alcohol without paying state taxes, giving the tourism in the area a rather strange boost.
Which Languages Are Spoken In Pondicherry?
French, Tamil, Malayalam, and Telugu are the main languages spoken in Pondicherry. But also English is widely understood by many in the region.
What Food Is Famous In Pondicherry?
Pondicherry embraces its French remains by having ratatouille, coq au vin, and bouillabaisse as part of their cusine. Among that, traditional South Indian dishes such as idili, sambar and masala dosa remain as the integral staple diet of this Union Territory town.
Is Drinking Allowed In Pondicherry?
Drinking in public is not allowed in Pondicherry.
How Many Days Are Enough For Pondicherry?
Four days are more than enough to visit all the landmarks of Pondicherry.