27
Feb 10

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! :)


21
Feb 10

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 idli-dosa 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:


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