Sunday, July 16, 2006

A long wekend in Pondicherry and Mahabalipuram...

Well, the blog's been due for an update but haven't got the time or thought to fill it up. The travelogue on the Pondicherry-Mahabalipuram trip is still pending. Umpteen reminders from friends have got me down to penning that down now.

It was after a long time that the gang boys decided to et out of town and this wasn't a chance to be missed. So off we were to Pondicherry on a sultry June 21st night - Vikram a.k.a GA, Sathwick, Sudhakar and myself.
Reached Reached Pondicherry at about 5:30 in the morning and could immediately feel the coastal stuffiness hit us. We packed into a city bus and were off towards our abode - St James Beach Resort. Landing there we found the accommodation not bad at all. The last room before the beach begins and tall, shady coconut trees swaying in the coastal breeze.

Soon we were off to explore the city that was a French colony not so long ago. First stop was near Auroville where we rented 2 scooters - A Kinetic and an Activa for the two days. Had breakfast at a cozy little bakery which served some really good bread-based stuff and omelettes.
Then took a walking tour of Auroville. It was a disappointment to say the least. First the caretakers weren't helpful in room enquiries (the thing is unless one has a guest pass, one cannot visit all the places inside Auroville, like the kitchen). When we went to the Matri Mandir, we saw that it was under renovation and could not go inside it. So effectively, there was nothing to see inside Auroville. After the disappointment in the first half of the day, we then went and had a hearty lunch at Saravana Bhavan. Almost completely wiped the plate clean off their Special meals :-)
Still, we were in the dark as to what to do in and around Pondicherry. So we headed straight to the tourist office on Beach Road where we collected brochures and maps of all the tourist attractions in Pondicherry. Beach Road in itself was a good sight - a scaled down Queen's Necklace-kind of road. Then we sat down to tick off the tourist places one by one. The vast expanse of the sea was a treat to watch!

Pondicherry as a city is a planned one by the French. You can see the clear demarcation between the French section and the local section of the city which is demarcated by a long moat-like drain. On the French side of the moat, you find all the French style buildings while on the other side, it is the typical Indian look. We decided the tour the French section first. Having a beach on that side helped pretty much to favor that decision.
First we were off to the Chunnambar Boat House which boasted of adventure sports and a tree house to stay in. When we reached there, again, it was a major disappointment. The only adventure sport they had was a motor boat ride which was pretty worth it. The only other attraction was a swing tied to a tree on which we tried all kinds of stunts!
Then we were back on Beach Road. Sat on the beach for quite some time and made use of all the photo-ops. There is a Gandhi Statue, A Nehru statue, a Indian army war memorial, a French WW1 war memorial, and an imposing lighthouse. By then it was darkening already. We just rode around till dinner and decided to catch the live football action (it was a Czech Republic match, I think) at one of the French ristorantes. We reached our resort pretty late around 12 and then almost immediately went off to sleep. It was an early morning for myself, Sath and Sud as we wanted to catch the sunrise on the beach. Ga didn't want to give up his precious sleep so he stayed back :-D

After clicking a lot of sunrise shots, we decided to play footer on the beach. Good fun to do it early in the morning. Soon, we were pretty tired and headed back to the room the freshen up and begin day number two at Pondy.
First, we zeroed in on Hot Breads for our breakfast, and what a spread they had! Each item at the bakery was delicious and fulfilling. After stuffing ourselves properly, we were off to the famous hand made paper factory. After browsing and buying several items at the retail outlet, we toured inside the paper factory awed by both the manual and mechanical process that goes into making this paper. It was a great sight to watch. Lunch was at another popular hangout, La Tasserie. Post lunch we visited the Vinayakar temple and Aurobindo Ashram that contains the samadhi of Aurobindo.

After that, we visited the various big churches listed in the map as well as the railway station. Late evening and we went to the bazaar part of the city with the huge market (it seemed an exact replica of KR Market). Then we caught up on a play by a Bangalore troupe at Alliance Francaise.
Later, we had dinner at Hotel Mass near the main bus stand. Then we were back to the resort for the night. Early next morning, shopped for some port wine, dropped off the rented bikes and were of the Mahabalipuram on the neat East Coast Road which runs parallel to the beach all the way.

Reached Mahabalipuram at around 1230 and found a pretty good accommodation to stay, again a stone's throw away from the beach. And a very inexpensive one as well. It had a verandah with a hanging chair in it as well. Soon after, we had freshened up and started out by visiting the world famous Shore Temple, a UNESCO world heritage monument. It was amazing to know that this was reclaimed from the sea in 1973 and preserved. The erosion due to the sea water and salts are plainly visible on all the sculptures. This temple is part of 6 other temples that are collectively referred to by ancient sailors as "the seven pagodas". The guide did tell us that the other 6 temples were visible when the sea water had receded just before the tsunami that hit coastal Tamil Nadu in Dec 2004.

After this, we were back at the room to wake up GA, have lunch and proceed on to Arjuna's Penance, a 27m long sculpture marvel depicting the 12 year penance of Arjuna (or is it Bhaaageerath's penance for Ganga?).
Then we walked around the place checking out the Varaha Cave, the light house, the Ganesha temple and Krishna's butterball. The butter ball is a natural rock which looks precariously balanced at the top of a slope, looking ready to roll down a tthe slightest push. Awe-striking stuff!

At around 8, we went and sat at the beach taking in the cool evening sea breeze on an empty beach. Dinner was had at Moonraker's, which seemed to be the most popular hangout in Mahabalipuram. Especially interesting were the photos and news clippings adorning the walls of the restaurant - they were all of our freedom fighters which was good to see. After dinner, we were back to our accommodation to catch up on some well deserved sleep.
Next morning, we visited the Five Rathas, which has different temples carved out of a single rock. The best fun we had was jumping around for 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon' type snaps.

Post-lunch, we were off to Tiger Caves, a sculpture which is in the form of a tiger's face. There was a huge rock which provided nice shade and wind just outsie the beach. All of us just lied down there and dozed off on the cool grass for about an hour. After a while, we just walked around on the pristine beach and then we were ready to leave. We went to the hotel, checked out and left for Chennai to catch the train back to Bangalore.
On a parting note, here is a funny board I came across in Mahabalipuram :-D

More pics from the trip can be found HERE

Was watching parts of Neal n Nikki over the weekend...
Seeing Uday's nothing-acting and Tanisha's clothes, guess it should be called "Nil n Naked" :-)


Fortune Park Hotels Ltd said...

Mahabalipuram is a treasure house of ancient Tamil art, culture, civilization, & history. A coastal city, Mahabalipuram has an immense place of importance in Tamil history and mythology. This beautiful coastal city of Tamil Nadu is ordained with a number of temples and places of archeological importance. It is not surprising therefore, that because of the overabundance of these places Mahabalipuram is often referred to as a legacy in stone. The unique instances of art, culture and architecture that has been preserved by the kings of the then Pallava dynasty proves to be a delight to the eye even today and it is not for nothing that Mahabalipuram is known as an “open air museum”. The richness of Mahabalipuram has made it one of the most favorite tourist places of South India. Hotels in Mahabalipuram are for tourists from different walks of life. As the place is more of a tourist destination rather than a business one, there are many leisure hotels and budget hotels in Mahabalipuram.

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Aswathi Cedar said...

Quiet useful and will be a guideline for those who are going for the first time.I had been there last year.There a lot to see and had best part is seaside guest house to stay. You had took nice photo too.

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