Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Scratching the surface of Southeast India

In early 2009, a group of us travelled to Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu, India, for a friend's wedding. After giving her our blessings, four of us hung around a little longer to see a bit of this part of India. This is some of what we did:

beach cafe
overlooking the Bay of Bengal at The Blue Line
The first stop was the Union Territory of Pondicherry, or Puducherry. It's very tiny on the Indian map, but this enclave was the largest French colony in India! Not surprisingly then, there's a strong French influence in the city, especially in the old quarter. Lose yourself in the rues and boulevards lined with Mediterranean style houses and bakeries.

Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple
Sacred Heart Church
But don't be expecting something right out of France though--the city remains very much Indian. The central canal splits Pondicherry between east and west, giving the city a dual personality.

Try renting bikes (if possible) to explore Pondicherry. There's very little traffic so cycling around should be quite a breeze.

Next up was Mamallapuram, or better known as Mahabalipuram. This town dates back to as far as the 7th century, and the structures here (mostly carved straight out of granite) are among the oldest existing examples of Dravidian architecture. One of the highlights here is the Shore Temple (right), part of the group of monuments that has been listed as a UNESCO heritage site. Other sites to consider include:

Five Rathas: This site contains five rathas, literally chariots, dating from the 7th century. The sculptures are complemented by some enormous stone animals, including a large elephant.

motorcycle diaries

Arjuna's Penance (left). A giant bas-relief filled with detailed carvings.

Krishna's Butterball is a giant natural rock perched precariously on a hillside. We saw people posing under it as if carrying the rock, or simply sitting under it. We preferred not to take chances.

Krishna's Butterball
Getting around: we rented mopeds to take in the sights. Quite thrilling, personally, considering the only vehicle I can confidently control is a bicycle. I'm happy to report though that I caused no accidents (and my pillion was most impressed until she found out I don't have a driving/riding licence).

The final stop for this trip was Chennai, formally known as Madras, which was the departure point for most of us. For that reason, I shall leave the city for another in-depth post if or when I visit it again.

Recommended duration of stay

Pondicherry and Mamallapuram are good for 2D1N each. Of course, if you want to hang around the ashram(s) and see more of Pondicherry, then more time would be required.

Getting around

Pondicherry and Mamallapuram are accessible by road via the East Coast Road. All three destinations are easily accessible via the East Coast Road. It also helps that they are separated by bus rides of a maximum of about 2 hours so you won't be wasting very much time on the road. Buses run between both towns several times a day, likewise to Chennai.