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Great weekend drive: Gingee Fort, Pondicherry, Mahabalipuram & East Coast Road

Continuing with my past travelogues, this is the second post (this was the first) on my road trips to the Union Territory of Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu (Wikipedia link, do read if not familiar with Pondicherry). As I mentioned earlier, I may not be able recount every name or for that matter, everything since, well…. it’s been a while!

Date: 8-9th December, 2007

Four of us, one car. One weekend, two destinations.

We left Bangalore around 6am on the same route as before. Soon after the Tamil Nadu border, we stopped at the A1 restaurant adjoining the Reliance Petrol station for breakfast (not sure if it’s still there now).

Hosur Road HP petrol bunk
The A1 restaurant was opposite the HP station on Hosur Road

The food was good, prices were economical, facilities were good (toilet, snack store etc.) and it was clean. By 8am, we were back on the good roads. Then we took the diversion on to the bad.

En route Pondicherry morning
The route is picturesque albeit, has its share of rough patches
En route to Pondicherry
The "highway" is narrow too

It was pretty much a non-stop straight drive to Pondicherry but we did take a break once we reached Gingee. I first noticed the hill on the way back from my first trip to Pondicherry.

Gingee Fort brick wall
Gingee Fort in the distance

This time, I made sure I checked it out. Only problem is, you have to climb quite a lot of steps to get to Gingee Fort. And it was hot.

Gingee fort pathI don’t remember if there was an entrance fee to the place but I did remember seeing a guy at the entrance. Either that or he was a beggar. Spare him some change anyway.

It took us nearly 20 minutes to climb to the top (we did stop at intervals for a breather and to drink lots of water). But once we got to the top, I didn’t regret the climb.

Gingee fort paddy field

Gingee Fort panaroma
Gingee Fort: A panorama comprised of 4 shots

According to Wikipedia, Gingee Fort was called the “Troy of the East” by the British and was well-fortified.

Gingee Fort door monkeyGingee Fort pillars

Gingee Fort panaroma
(A panorama comprised of 3 shots)

Gingee Fort templeGingee fort structure grassAfter spending around 15 minutes and after being sick reading some of the “___ hearts ____” messages that ruined the stone structures, we decided to make our way down.

Gingee fort temple structure
L-R: Ramesh, Loi and Joe

Gingee Fort treeIf you have an hour to spare and the stamina to climb a hundred steps or so, do make the effort to go to the top. Gingee Fort is not something you come across everywhere in India.

By 1:30pm, we were in Pondicherry and we drove straight to Beach Road — for two reasons. One, we were going to hang around Beach Road anyway and second, Loi was going to see an ocean/sea/bay for the first time in his life! For someone from a North East Indian state, the longing to hit the beach is one big aspiration. Though there really wasn’t much of a “beach” in Pondicherry city, the waters of the Bay of Bengal were good enough now.

Pondicherry Loi ocean
Loi's first taste of a 'coast'

After letting Loi enjoy his time (for a few minutes), we had lunch — decent, nothing worth recommending.

Pondicherry lunch restaurantAt lunch, we discussed our plans for the rest of the evening. The plan was to leave for Mahabalipuram that same day but we decided to take it easy and set off the next morning. Problem is, we hadn’t booked rooms. So after lunch and strolling around a bit, we tried all the hotels/lodges/guesthouses in and around Beach Road. Unfortunately, most of them were full or too expensive.

So we drove a bit away from town and found a resort where we got a hut for the four of us for around Rs. 1000 (sorry, don’t remember the name of the place). It was pretty basic but we took it as we only needed a place to crash for the night. After filling in the necessary paperwork, we checked in and then headed back to Beach Road. We hung around Beach Road until the sun set.

Pondicherry Le Cafe evening
Le Cafe on Beach Road, where we had our evening coffee
Pondicherry Ajantha sea view hotel
The Ajantha Sea View hotel on Beach Road

Pondicherry statue nightAfter our evening snack, we went around looking for… restaurants for our early dinner! 🙂

We decided on the Hotel de Pondicherry — ‘cos it looked all classy.

Hotel de Pondicherry bar restaurant
It's a fairly high-end joint

After dinner, we walked a bit more to soak in as much as we could of Beach Road as this was our last night in Pondicherry.

Pondicherry door lightPondicherry street nightThe next morning, we checked out of the resort at the break of dawn and got on to the famed East Coast Road to head for Mahabalipuram. We wanted to get on to this road early to avoid the traffic and it was a good move. It was a beautiful drive!

East Coast Road MamallapuramEast Coast Road MamallapuramEast Coast Road MamallapuramEast Coast Road Mamallapuram fishermanEast Coast Road Mamallapuram boat morningWe had to stop at certain points on the journey to take photographs.

The drive from Pondicherry to Mahabalipuram took us nearly 2 hours. En route, we saw the many projects that were taken up along this stretch to rehabilitate those affected by the 2004 Tsunami.

Once we reached the coastal town, our first stop was the Shore Temple.

Mamallapuram Shore templeShore Temple Mahabalipuram

Shore Temple MahabalipuramShore Temple MahabalipuramShore Temple Mahabalipuram Bay of BengalAfter the temple visit, we had breakfast from a beach side resort.

And then, hit the beach.

Mamallapuram beachMamallapuram beach sand

Mamallapuram beach Loi run
Loi doing the Baywatch run... he didn't get very far.

Mamallapuram beach statueAfter a while, we got a bit of drizzle from the skies, so we headed back to our car. We drove off to our next stop, the Paanch Rathas of Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Paanch Rath panaromic
(A panorama comprised of 4 shots)

Paanch Ratha templeIt’s not a very big site so we were done in around half-an-hour. After that, we decided to drive down to the other side of Shore Temple for lunch.

Mamallapuram beach fishing boatsMamallapuram Santana restaurantMamallapuram Blue Elephant restaurantMamallapuram Tina Blue ViewMamallapuram Bizarre BazaarThis is a part of Mahabalipuram that can be best described as a “mini-Goa” with its funky-named restaurants and stores selling the hobo-wares. And if you haven’t experienced Goa (or didn’t get what I wrote)… here is where you’ll find a lot of restaurants serving sea food and where you can do your shopping.

It was close to the beach as well which made it a good place to hang out. I bought some stuff for a friend and then decided to lunch.

Mamallapuram Moonrakers restaurant
Moonrakers: We sat all the way up

The reason we sat all the way up is because they asked us to. You see, a lot of restaurants here don’t have the license to serve beer. But they still stock it and serve… but in steel glasses and only upstairs. So the officials don’t catch them.

Since it was quite hot, we really couldn’t do without a glass of chilled beer. The sea food at Moonrakers was obviously very fresh with the fishermen being so close.

Mamallapuram Moonrakers seafood
Left: Fresh sea food; Right: REALLY fresh
Mamallapuram Moonrakers lunch
Yum.

The food at Moonrakers was really good for the price (which was very reasonable).

After a satisfying lunch, it was back on to the ECR for Chennai.

Mamallapuram Chennai ECRMamallapuram East coast roadIt was yet another picturesque stretch. The drive on the ECR really is quite a pleasure ride… of course, that is unless you are someone who lacks lane discipline and ruins it for others.

We reached Chennai and then asked around as to how to essentially get out of the city and on to the Chennai-Bangalore highway.

After an hour or so in Chennai traffic, we finally made it to the outskirts.

And if you thought the ECR was the last of the good rides you’d get in Tamil Nadu…

Chennai Bangalore highway cloudChennai Bangalore highwayChennai Bangalore highway bridgeChennai Bangalore highway hillsChennai Bangalore highway signChennai Bangalore highway sunset… it’s not. 🙂

The Chennai to Bangalore highway is one of the best roads in India and even though you have to pass through 4 to 5 toll gates, it’s worth the money.

Seven hours later, we were in Bangalore city.

It was quite a packed weekend. Left on a early Saturday morning and returned on a Sunday night. Saw quite a bit and yet, we never really felt rushed or tired. Probably because it was my second time to Pondicherry so we really didn’t go around there much.

Safe to say, if you want a good road trip in South India — this is definitely it!

Camera used: Canon Powershot A95; post processing done in Photoshop CS3, especially the blues which were cyan heavy

P.S: I know, twice I’ve been to Pondicherry and I still didn’t go to Auroville. Well, there’s always a third time! 🙂

Photos from my first trip to Pondicherry

Continuing with my past travelogues, this is the first of two posts on my road trips to the Union Territory of Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu (Wikipedia link, do read if not familiar with Pondicherry). As I mentioned earlier, I may not be able recount every name or for that matter, everything since, well…. it’s been a while!

Date: 26-27th August, 2005

Two cars. Nine of us. Independence Day weekend.

We set off early morning from Bangalore city and headed down Hosur Road, past Electronic City, for the Tamil Nadu border. The highways (once you enter Tamil Nadu) are remarkably better than Karnataka’s roads but this being India, they don’t stay good for long. You have to get off the main highway off to a smaller road that leads to Puducherry.

Pondicherry highway
You pass through a lot of villages and small towns

The route we took passes through Krishnagiri – Thirvanamalai – Gingee and was expected to take us 6 hours.

Temple Tamil Nadu
A temple at Thirvanamalai

We reached Thirvanamalai at around 7:30am and stopped here for breakfast. It was at a local restaurant/mess so I don’t remember the name — but you’d be hard-pressed to find a bad idlidosa joint in Tamil Nadu.

By noon, we were in Pondicherry. The (Government run) hotel we stayed at was just after the Pondicherry entrance checkpoint, to the right. It wasn’t much of a place (especially the restaurant) but I do remember the rooms our friend booked were the “suites”. They were big, had A/Cs and looked like a suite… by 1980s India standards. But hey, it was cheap. Around Rs. 600 or so. (Mind you, this was off-season 2005).

We freshened up, had lunch and headed straight to Beach Road.

Pondicherry Beach road
Pondicherry Beach Road
Pondicherry beach
That small stretch of sand you see is all the "beach" you will get in Pondicherry city
Pondicherry Beach road bench
It was very sunny (& hot) in Pondicherry

Most, if not all, of what you’ll want to see in Pondicherry is in and around Beach Road and the “rues” (‘rue’ = ‘street’ in French) behind it. The old French colonial buildings, the Aurobindo Ashram and the big churches are all within walkable reach from here.

Pondicherry elephant
This was at a temple near the Aurobindo Ashram

Pondicherry evening cloud

Pondicherry building night street lamp
The best my point-&-click camera could do at night

After some shopping and dinner, we called it an early night. The plan was to wake up early (funny how it always is on my trips) and head to Beach Road to watch the sunrise.

Which we did.

Pondicherry early sunrisePondicherry photographing sunrisePondicherry sunrisePondicherry green rocks

Pondicherry fishermen
Fishermen heading out to work

Pondicherry Gandhi statue
The Mahatma Gandhi statue on Beach Road
Pondicherry old lighthouse French War Memorial
Left: The old lighthouse; Right: French War Memorial

After breakfast, it was church-hopping. First up, the Eglise de Notre Dame de la Conception Immaculee (The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) on Cathedral Street.

Pondicherry Eglise de Notre Dame de la Conception Immaculee (Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception)Pondicherry Eglise de Notre Dame de la Conception Immaculee (Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) interiorsPondicherry Eglise de Notre Dame de la Conception Immaculee (Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) statueNext, Sacred Heart Church on the south boulevard.

Pondicherry Sacred Heart church
'L'Eglise de Sacre Coeur de Jesus'
Pondicherry Eglise de Sacre Coeur de Jesus
'Le white pedophile' preying on local children

Okay I kid. Maybe the kids were from out of town. 🙂

The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is famous for its glass paintings depicting events from the life of Jesus Christ.

Pondicherry Sacred Heart Church interiorsPondicherry Sacred Heart Church glass paintingThen, we walked to the Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges (The Church of Our Lady of Angels).

Pondicherry yellow house

The Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges (The Church of Our Lady of Angels)
The Church of Our Lady of Angels

The Church of Our Lady of Angels interiorsPondicherry Church of Our Lady of Angels windowPondicherry orange house

Pondicherry Alok Ranjith Sumeet
L - R: Pale face, Grumpy & PJ

Pondicherry Indian Ocean

Pondicherry statue
Back: The pier; Front: Some famous dude

After grabbing some ice-cream, we took advantage of the lower cost of fuel in Pondicherry and headed back to our rooms to check out. We left Puducherry by noon and decided to head back Bangalore.

Pondicherry shop signboard funnyWord of advice: Be careful about buying liquor in Pondicherry (as with fuel, liquor is cheaper too) and taking it out of town, there are multiple police inspection points you will have to stop at.

We took the same route back and only stopped on the way to have lunch. Lord knows where it was that we stopped but it was terrible. Best to have lunch at Pondicherry itself and then leave as the options are very slim on the journey back.

Gingee fort, Villupuram
Gingee Fort in Villupuram

I really found Gingee Fort interesting and told myself I wanted to check it out the next time I was around these parts.

Pondicherry Bangalore highway
It rained on the way back

Not that it hindered our journey. It was still a lovely drive and that is one thing about heading to Pondicherry from Bangalore (or even Chennai) — it’s one of the best daytime drives you’ll have in South India.

Camera used: Canon Powershot A95; post processing done in Photoshop CS3, especially the blues which were cyan heavy

A small video from this trip:


Photos from my Bylakuppe trips (and Nisargadhama Wildlife Reserve)

Since I’m done with my recent travelogues, I decided to go back through my photo collection and share my older travel experiences. I’ve traveled quite a bit down and around South India, and though I may not be able to recount my experience exactly, I’ll try my best to re-trace the steps.

I’m starting off with Bylakuppe, a Tibetan settlement in Karnataka state and around 3hrs drive from Bangalore city. I’ve been to Bylakuppe twice —  first, in 2008, en route to Coorg and the second time, with AOL India’s Shutterbugs group.

First visit to Bylakuppe (October 2008)

It’s kind of weird to be traveling for an hour or two through Karnataka’s smaller towns, seeing the locals and sign boards in Kannada and then suddenly seeing a lot of Tibetans and Buddhist monks in one large piece of land off Mysore road.

We were en route to Coorg and had heard of Bylakuppe from friends, so we decided to make it the lunch stop in our journey. It was noon by the time we arrived and we decided to quickly check out the Golden Temple before having lunch.

Bylakuppe Golden Temple entranceI don’t remember which day it exactly was but when we arrived at the Golden Temple, the monks were on a break (I guess) as few were seen inside the temples and halls.

From inside the Golden Temple:

Bylakuppe Golden Temple BuddhaBylakuppe Golden Temple roofGolden temple Buddha statueBylakuppe Golden temple window paintingBylakuppe Golden temple empty

A few from just outside the Golden Temple…

Bylakuppe temple buddhist kids playingBylakuppe temple monk shadeBylakuppe buddhist hostel… before lunch.

Bylakuppe lunchBylakuppe restaurant flyBylakuppe monk lunch

I forgot the name of the restaurant we had lunch from but it was a garden restaurant on the road that leads to the Golden Temple. Don’t expect anything fancy in Bylakuppe, most restaurants (and there are only a few) serve simple Tibetan dishes. You do get South Indian food just outside the Golden Temple and the standard “fried rice” fare is available at some restaurants. But don’t go asking around for Chinese food! Tibetans hate them!

If you are wondering what we had, it was thukpa (noodle soup; veg & beef) and tingmo (steamed rice bread).

It was shocking how cheap it all was. Three of us ate all that for less than Rs. 100!

On the way out, we checked out the other places of interest in Bylakuppe (or at least the places that looked interesting to us)

Bylakuppe Nalanda Institute gate
Bylakuppe Nalanda International Institute

Bylakuppe corn fieldsBylakuppe Nalanda InstituteBylakuppe Ramesh Loi car

After this, we headed back to the highway for Coorg.

Second visit to Bylakuppe (March 2009)

My second visit to Bylakuppe was with my office photography club called Shutterbugs. It was a weekend trip, leaving on a Saturday morning, spending the night at Kushal Nagar and heading back the next day. Fortunately, this time, we arrived at the Golden Temple when prayers were in full force.

Bylakuppe temple Buddhist blowhornsBylakuppe temple Buddhist studyingBylakuppe temple Buddhist study roomBylakuppe temple Buddhist studyingBylakuppe temple Buddhist prayerBylakuppe temple Buddhist prayerBylakuppe temple shutterbugs

Since we had all day to spend in Bylakuppe, I got a chance to go around the whole vicinity this time around and explore the place better.

Bylakuppe Buddhist lone kidBylakuppe temple Buddhist treeBylakuppe temple pagodasBylakuppe temple Buddhist kidBylakuppe temple BuddhistsBylakuppe Golden templeBylakuppe temple Buddhist touristsBylakuppe model townshipBylakuppe temple Buddhist kidsBylakuppe garden geese swanBylakuppe temple fountain

Bylakuppe Golden temple

As the day darkened, we headed to Kushal Nagar which is pretty much the largest town in the area and took rooms at a cheap lodge. We set out again the next day, rather early, for Nisargadhama which was fairly close by.

NisargadhamaNisargadhama hanging bridgeNisargadhama monkeys treesNisargadhama monkey plateNisargadhama monkeys fightingNisargadhama monkeyNisargadhama monkey benchNisargadhama KaveriNisargadhama tree river streamAfter Nisargadhama, we headed back on to Mysore Road for Bangalore, stopping for lunch at Hotel Mayura River View in Srirangapatna — a very nice (& affordable) restaurant by the river banks.

Hotel Mayura River View KaveriHotel Mayura River View KaveriHotel Mayura River View KaveriAs I sat there by the river, the setting oddly got me thinking about ‘Jungle Book’.

Camera used: Canon 450D w/ 18-55mm kit lens

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