Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Offbeat trip route: Pondicherry – Rameshwaram – Kodaikanal Part 1

We were waiting for this trip for a long time. Every year we plan a trip to celebrate our wedding anniversary. This time we selected Mahabalipuram – Pondicherry – Rameshwaram – Kodaikanal for 9 days. Without any doubt, travelers for this trip were me and my Wife Renuka
              Mahabalipuram is town from Tamil Nadu, just 60 km from Chennai city. It is an ancient historic town and was a bustling seaport during the 1st century CE. Major attraction is sea temples and famous beautiful stone curving. Also Crocodile bank is hardly 15km away which is must visit place to know more about reptiles.
               Pondicherry, it was the largest French colony in India. There is a strong French influence in the city. Nice way to get the feel of city. You can also visit to Auroville international city in day. Paradise beach, Aurobindo Ashram, Promenade road, Auroville Mantra mandir, Oustery Lake and French cuisine are the places which should not miss from Pondy.
             Rameshwaram is located on Pamban Island separated from mainland India by the Pamban channel. It is considered to be one of the holiest places in India to Hindus, and part of the Char Dham pilgrimage. Dhanushkodi is famous location which is close to Rameshwaram. Now a day, snorkeling is also available in Rameshwaram. Next location was Kodaikanal which is famous hill station and popular among honeymoon couples.

auroville mantra mandir
Auroville Mantra Mandir

My travel plan:
We had booked spice Jet flight - Pune Pondicherry Pune via Bangalore as that was the only air service provider. Unfortunately spice Jet suspended their service a month before our travel dates and we got new flight from Pune to Chennai. We got replacement flight but via Bangalore.
  • Flight SG227 Pune to Bangalore on 7th Feb
  • Flight SG 2902 Bangalore to Chennai on 8th Feb
  • Flight SG 208 Chennai to Pune on 16th Feb.
From Pondicherry to Rameshwaram, we had booked train ticket which was night journey. From Rameshwaram to Kodaikanal, we preferred Public transport as well as hire cab service. 

Day 0: 7th Feb 2014 – Pune – Bangalore:
               We started from Pune to Bangalore by Spice Jet Airways at 10 PM. Once we reached Bangalore airport we got to know that next flight was delayed by 4 hours and it will take off by 9.30 AM. Now we were stuck whole night on airport. We meet former legendary Indian cricketer Anil Kumble at airport. It was great to meet him.

Ready for Journey
  • Pune to Pune flight: INR 10500/- for 2 person (return/round journey)
Day 1: 8th Feb 2014 – Pune-Mahabalipuram – Pondicherry: 
               We boarded next flight for Chennai at 9.30 AM. I already rented a car from Pondicherry and driver was ready at the airport when we landed there. Our first destination on trip was Crocodile bank which is around 40km away towards south on ECR road. Place is really amazing and have a huge pool of reptiles like crocodiles, Turtles and snakes. They also have Asia’s largest captive crocodile names Jaws III. You can spend 2-3 hours easily. For more information I have created different travel Blog on Crocodile Bank. Click on World of Crocodile - Madras Crocodile Bank Trust for detailed travel blog.


Saltwater Crocodile

Marsh/Magar crocodile

Gharial Crocodile

Aldabra Tortoises

               Our next destination was Mahabalipuram. We had lunch A2B-Adyar Ananda Bhavan on ECR road which was good in taste. The roads were wide, and very well-maintained. The traffic too was not too heavy, making this a very fast trip. Mahabalipuram was a bustling port during the time of the Pallavas (7th Century CE). However, Roman and Chinese coins dating to the 4th Century CE have also been found, making this an active port engaging in trading even during the late Classical period. The place is today famous for the various sculptures dotting the Mahabalipuram coastline that were built by the Pallava rulers. Our first stop in Mahabalipuram was Shore Temple. Temple along with all the sculptures have been declares as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984. It is a Spectacular piece of Art surrounded by a stone wall on which a stone carved in “Cow” shape is placed. It is located very close to beach. You can spend more than hour watching beautiful stone curving, lord Shiva and lord Vishnu idol. Beach is also closed to temple and very clean. I found sea bit rough and not safe for swimming. Sea surfing is also available which we missed due to limited Time frame.

Shore Temple

Mahabalipuram Beach

                After Shore temple and beach, we headed towards Lighthouse. It is 100 years old massive construction. You can go on the top but not much to see apart from village view. I will recommend this place if you have extra time in hand. One of the major attractions in town is "Descent of the Ganges", also known as "Arjuna's Penance". The sculpture, made from 2 huge rocks placed side-by-side, shows the decent of the Ganga from Shiva’s tresses led by Bhagirathi, while various Hindu gods and goddesses, along with mythical and domestic animals, watch in admiration. On one side of this bas-relief was a set of sculptures that depicted the agrarian life in the town. The sculptures were all life-sized, and were a treat to the eyes. It is really quite remarkable that this was even possible in the early 7th century. Just next to Arjuna’s Penance, you can see small hill with open lawn. A huge rock is on hill slope in such way that it may feel that it will roll down. It is amazing to see nature wonder. It is mainly known as balancing rock or Krisha’s butter ball.

Mahabalipuram Lighthouse
Mahabalipuram Lighthouse

Arjuna’s Penance Mahabalipuram
Arjuna’s Penance Mahabalipuram

Krishna Mandapam mahabalipuram
Krishna Mandapam mahabalipuram

Krishna's Butter Ball
Krishna's Butter Ball

              Our last spot before we leave Mahabalipuram was Five Rathas. This site contains five Rathas, literally chariots, dating from the 7th century. The Rathas have an association to the great epic Mahabharata which describes the heroes of Mahabharata with their wife Draupadi which is termed as pancha pandava rathas. The five Rathas are (1) Draupadi’s Ratha, (2) Arjuna’s Rath, (3) Nakul – Sahadev’s Rath, (4) Bhima Rath and (5) Dharamraja Yudhistar’s Rath. The sculptures are complemented by some enormous stone animals. The Rathas were built in the 7th century AD by the Pallava kings. Definitely a must visit place.

Five Rathaas - Mahabalipuram
Five Rathaas - Mahabalipuram

Lion at Five Rathas

Elephant at Five Rathas
Elephant at Five Rathas

             We left this beautiful town by evening time and headed towards Pondicherry. There were lots of paddy fields along the ECR road. You can see many beautiful birds during winter time. We reached in Pondicherry by 7.30 PM. We became good friends with the driver during our journey. He was able to speak English very well and in Tamil Nadu, someone having command on English/Hindi language is must. We also got to know that he is not the driver but the owner of the car. He worked in Gov. Income tax department on higher post. He dropped us at Le Reve Bleu home stay hotel. 
             Location of hotel was in Tamil colony (Pondicherry is majorly divided into 2 parts, Black town and white town OR Tamil colony and French colony); location was not good but close to railway station and beach road at walk able distance. Room was quite clean and we were only Indian couple in hotel along with French travelers. There was a common hall and kitchen where you can meet other travelers. All rooms from hotel have its own color and theme. We booked Red colored Lover theme room. After taking rest for a while, we went for dinner at ‘La Terasse’. Pizzas were very tasty and we like overall ambiance. Pondicherry offers you a verity of pizza, continental and French cosine. We decided to try different restaurant during our Pondy stay. Walk with your life partner on seaside Promenade road after dinner was wonderful. When we reached in hotel, we met with an old French couple. They were travelling in India from last 3-3.5 months. We chatted in French and English language and shared each other’s travel experience. Their respect towards Indian culture made me feel proud.

Hotel Le Reve Bleu
Hotel Le Reve Bleu

Our Day one was amazing and looking ahead a beautiful trip.
  • Breakfast at Bangalore airport: INR 390/- (South Indian food, sandwiches and coffee)
  • Crocodile Bank entry: INR 20/- per head
  • Crocodile Bank Camera chargers: 25/- per camera
  • Crocodile Bank handy camera chargers: INR 100/-
  • Snake park entry fee: INR 10/- per person
  • Lunch at A2B hotel: INR 350/- for 2 people (Panjabi food + rice)
  • Shore temple entry fee: INR 10/- per person
  • Light house entry fee: INR 10/- per person
  • Light house Camera entry: INR 20/-
  • Panch Pandva entry fee: INR 10/- per person
  • Non A/C Car Rent (Chennai airport-Pondicherry): INR 2700/- (including toll and parking)
  • Dinner at Le Terasse: INR 280/- for 2 person (Large Pizza and garlic bread)

Day 2: 9th Feb 2014 – Pondicherry:
             We woke up bit late and had breakfast in hotel. We meet our hotel owner a French lady Christel. She was extremely nice, helpful person. She shared maps, tourist books with us so we can able to explore city easily. We decided that we will just roam around and explore the Pondy city. Architecture in Pondicherry is very classic and gives you feel of French culture. French quarter/colony is also majorly divided in two parts, grey-white building area which belongs to Aurobindo Asharam and yellow colored building having French Architecture influence. After spending good time in French colony, we had lunch at Surguru restaurant for south Indian cuisine. Food was very delicious and it is must try place when you are in Pondicherry. 

Building in French quarter

Lunch at Surguru

            After our lunch we meet our friend, Mr. Joshi. He gives two wheeler vehicles on rent. We had discussion on what n when to see which places during our 3 days stay here. He has very detailed information about Pondicherry and very cooperative person. Before we start our sightseen, we had coffee at “cool cat coffee” on Anmlatada Madam Street. It is one of the best filters Coffee I have tasted in south India till now. Place is very small but the way he prepare the coffee is quite interesting.
           For Evening we decided to visit Oustery Lake. This lake shares the border of Tamil Nadu state and Union territory of Pondicherry. It is also a good place to spot migratory birds. Boating facility is available in lake and you can spot birds during ride. We reached at lake on bike by 4 PM. We booked seat in a boat and had 20-25 min ride. I told boatman that I wanted to click photographs of birds so he switched off boat engine near to island. Island is in the center of lake which is homing of migratory as well as native birds during winter. You can spot Asian Pelican, Grey Heron, pond heron, egrets, Darters, Oriental Darter, Oriental ibis, glossy ibis and river tern birds. This lake is also having large variety of lotus flowers. Boating is available between 9.30 am to 5.00 pm. Fun to visit this place and prefer evening to avoid harsh sunlight.

Island in the center of Oustery Lake
Island in the center of Oustery Lake

Dalmatian Pelican
Dalmatian Pelican

Dalmatian Pelican
Dalmatian Pelican

Oriental Darter
Oriental Darter

Lotus bed

Landing is an art - Dalmatian Pelican
Landing is an art - Dalmatian Pelican

             We spend rest of the evening on Promenade road. This road is closed for vehicle from 6.30 PM to 7.30 AM. Local and travelers can enjoy the walk along seashore in evening as well as in early morning. A lot of food stalls are available but we didn’t try much. We saw French War Memorial which is close to Gandhi statue. It is very simple and beautiful war memorial for French soldiers who laid down their lives, for their country during the First World War. It looks more beautiful at night. Unfortunately entry is restricted.
             For Dinner we went to famous pizza restaurant Café Xtasy. They have around 74 types of pizza considering veg and non-veg items. Sizes of pizzas are also larger than what you get in brand pizza chain. Our day 2 ends with delicious dinner.

French War memorial
French War memorial

Pizza at Cafe Xtasy
Pizza at Cafe Xtasy

  • Lunch at surguru: INR 190/- (INR 124/- for meal and INR 59/- for Dosa)
  • Bike Rent: INR 750/- (for 3 days)
  • Petrol for Bike for day: INR 140/- (approx. 2 Lit)
  • Cool cat coffee: INR 15/-
  • Oustery Lake boat ride: INR 60/- per person
  • Dinner at Café Xtasy: INR 469/- (Large Pizza and garlic bread)

Day 3: 10th Feb 2014 – Auroville international City:
               Our today’s destination was Auroville international town/center. We woke up by 7.00 and left our hotel by 8.30 after breakfast. We return our bike to Joshi and took non geared Active for day trip. It becomes easy to carry few thing and we both can enjoy driving. Auroville is around 12 km from Pondicherry. Township is located in Villupuram district in the state of Tamil Nadu. It was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa (also known as "The Mother") and designed by architect Roger Anger. Alfassa's first public message about the township was, "Auroville is meant to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity." Auroville’s population is around 2400 coming from 50 nationalities, 990 of whom are of Indian origin.
              Road towards Auroville center is goes through forest area. Once you reach in Auroville, you suppose to visit white building which is Visitor's Center. First you need to watch short film about the history of Matramandir and Auroville. This is required to get a pass to see mantra mandir from outside or inside. If you want to see mantra mandir (spiritual meditation center) from inside, you need to book your seats 2-3 days in advance. There are no charges to get inside mantra mandir. Check for white board where they have mentioned statistic about this place. After this we headed towards Mantra mandir. Walk to Mantra mandir goes through forest and you can feel silence. There is a huge banyan tree which is very old. You can see some beautiful birds on the branches of banyan tree. After a walk for 20 min, we reached at viewing point from where we can see the Matrimandir from a distance. It is a huge Golden metallic sphere in the center of green lawn. Real gold is used on the surface of sphere. Place is very beautiful. According to Mother, this represents "a symbol of future realization". Inside the Matrimandir, a spiraling ramp leads upwards to an air-conditioned chamber of polished white marble referred as a place for spiritual meditation center.

Way to mantra Mandir, Auroville

Numbers, Facts from Auroville

spotted owl
spotted owl  - Auroville is very rich for forest birds

Mantra Mandir - Auroville
Mantra Mandir - Auroville

             After watching mantra mandir, we came back by visitor’s bus which is provided by Auroville. This service is only use to drop tourist back to visitor’s center. We were accompanied by 1 Belgium couple in Auroville. We are still in touch with other and they invited us to visit their hometown in Belgium. After mantra mandir you can visit red colored building from visitor’s center. All are having different shops and all items have unique designed in all category. We had some food from cafeteria. They servers tasty food and nice juice made from different-different flowers. It was quite unique experience and we will visit this place in future for Mediation. 
              For Lunch we preferred restaurant Tanto as many people suggested us this place for pizza and pasta. We ordered both but I didn't like pasta at all. Pizza was average in taste but my wife like it very much. During our return journey, we visited Auro beach. Beach is not clean at all still quite popular in tourist. We were disappointment with the beach condition and left this place. We came to our room for some rest. 

Auro Beach

             We kept evening slot free for local sight-seen. Our first destination was Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple mainly known as Ganesh temple. This temple was in existence before the French came and settled in Pondicherry. Lord Ganesh facing the east coast near the Bay of Bengal was named as Bhuvaneshar Ganapathy, now called as Manakula Vinayagar. One of the major attractions in temple is Laxmi elephant and her blessing. If you give her a money or banana then she gives you a blessing by keeping her trunk on your head. It was an amazing site to watch. Aurobindo Ashram is located close to this temple. The Ashram was founded in 1926 by Sri Aurobindo Ghose, an Indian freedom fighter, poet, philosopher, and yogi. Before entering the Ashram you need to turn off your cell phones and leave your footwear outside. Inside the Ashram is a Marble Samadhi of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo decorated with fresh flowers. The atmosphere is really soothing and peaceful. There is a library cum bookstore inside the Ashram were we can get a lot of insight on the work of Sri Aurobindo and his life.

Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple - Laxmi Elephant

Aurobindo ashram
Aurobindo ashram

           Our last location of day was “Eglise de Notre Dame Des Anges” church a.k.a. “the Church of Our Lady of Angels”. It is close to promenade road. Church is very colorful and more beautiful architecture in the inside. By time now we were tried and had some snacks in ‘Hot bread cafe’. We came back to room for some time. We decided to have dinner in restaurant “Hotel Le Dupleix” as hotel owner and Mr. Joshi suggested us for fine dining. Originally this hotel was built to serve as the residence to French Mayor of Pondicherry latter converted into luxurious hotel. Ambiance of hotel was lovely. Food was very tasty and we tried Couscous with curried summer vegetable (average veg dish but curry was tasty), Ravioli con fungi (nice veg dish) and Sautéed snapper fish fillet (amazing seafood but I customized it to make it bit spicy). Do visit their wash room for unique wash basin. Service was also good and they made our dinner as perfect. Before we reach on room, we had famous “death by chocolate” ice cream at Richie rich ice cream parlor. A wonderful day comes to an end.

Eglise de Notre Dame Des Anges
Eglise de Notre Dame Des Anges

Eglise de Notre Dame Des Anges
Eglise de Notre Dame Des Anges - interior 

Hotel Le Dupleix
Hotel Le Dupleix

  • Bike parking at Auroville: INR 10/-
  • Flower juice at Auroville: INR 20/-
  • Lunch at TANTO: INR 410/- (Large Pizza and pasta)
  • Petrol for Bike for day: INR 70/- (approx. 1 Lit)
  • Dinner at Le Dupleix: INR 950/- for 2 person and w/o any kind of drinks
  • Ice cream at Richie rich: INR 120/-

Day 4: 11th Feb 2014 – Pondicherry and Pondicherry – Rameshwaram:
           It was a lazy day for us. We work up bit late and left for Paradise beach. Actually we wanted to visit that beach on early morning but boat service which takes you to that paradise island beach starts after 9 AM. Local says it is island beach but actually beach area is covered by water from 3 sides and access by road/on foot to beach is not an easy so paradise island.
           We reached Chunnambar Boat House club to catch boat for paradise beach. This boat club also offers you some watersports but I didn’t find quality up to the mark. Boat leaves only if there are enough passengers. Unfortunately we were only 2 and we waited for around 30-35 min for other passengers. By 10 PM we left boat house club for beach. In 20-25 min we reached at paradise beach. Beach is very clean but sea is rough. It is not at all ideal for swimming. Some food shakes were available with limited food options. Guards were everywhere on beach to stop you from entering in to water beyond your knees/waist but I did not see a life guard. Sun was quite harsh so we preferred a small walk and decided to return. Being a beach lover we have seen a lot of beaches across India and I was bit disappointed. Overall beach was good and can better if we came in evening slot. Last boat for beach leaves by 4 and returned by 5.30 PM. That will be better time slot to avoid harsh sunlight conditions.

Chunnambar Boat House

Paradise Beach
Paradise Beach

Paradise Beach
Paradise Beach

               We came back to our hotel by Lunch time. We had south Indian lunch at Surguru and explored city bit. We took some rest before our check out. Christel came from home to hotel to say au revoir to us. She invited us to visit her home and her new hotel which is under construction. We have to catch bus for Villupuram railway station which is around 38-40 km away.
              Our next destination was Rameshwaram and for that we were supposed to catch a train (booked ticket well in advanced) from Villupuram at 8 PM. Generally tourist prefers cab service but we choose to experience local transport. To our surprise when we asked for help to locate the bus for Villupuram, group of driver/conductor not only helped us to find bus but also arranged seats and carry our luggage. We reached to railway station and got a train in time. It was an overnight train to Rameshwaram.

  • Petrol for Bike for day: INR 70/- (approx. 1 Lit)
  • Chunnambar Boat House entry: INR 10/- per person
  • Chunnambar Boat House Camera chargers: INR 15/-
  • Parking at Chunnambar Boat House: INR 10/-
  • Boat ride for paradise beach: INR 150/- per person
  • Lunch at Surguru: INR 145/- (Dosa and Uthappa dishes)
  • Room Rent at Le reve bleu: INR 2400/- for 3 nights
  • Auto to bus stand: INR 80/-
  • Bus to Villupuram: INR 32/- for 2 person
  • Railway non ac berth ticket for Rameshwaram: INR 460/- for 2 person

Some contact number for reference:
  • Rajshekhar for car rent in Pondicherry: 0-9486199777.
  • Le Reve Bleu hotel Pondicherry: 0=9944204935. Web: http://www.lerevebleu-pondy.com 
  • Mr. Joshi, For Bike rent in Pondicherry: 0-9345425099.
  • Other recommended hotels (My person opinion): Palais de Mahe, Le Dupleix, The Promenade, Seaside Guest house.   
To avoid bigger blog size, I have divided my trip in 2 parts. Please click on Offbeat trip route: Pondicherry – Rameshwaram – Kodaikanal Part 2 to read about our further journey.

I will try to upload more and more travel blogs. Thanks for reading this Travel Blog.

Pritesh Kulkarni
Pune

19 comments:

  1. Refreshed Memories. Thanks Pritesh for Wonderful Trip.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi,I gone through your Blog.Nice information.Thanks for sharing useful information about Car Rental

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much for comment...Happy traveling...!!!

      Delete
  3. India is known as a territory connected with good spiritual heritage. Rajasthan Just about the most been to states inside India, Rajasthan would be the household from the erstwhile royal kings and also queens. There are so many Visiting Places in Rajasthan like as forts, palaces, havelis, museums, ancient monuments along with other legacies connected.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Pondicherry is one of the popular tourist attractions in India. This city is also called as peaceful pondicherry or little France. This city is loaded with number of places to visit. Here are some popular tourist places in pondicherry compiled by the weekend leader.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much...Happy traveling...!!!

      Delete
  5. Its not easy to share our travel experience in detailed simply ur great Thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much...

      Pritesh
      Happy traveling...!!!

      Delete
  6. Kodaikanal is one the most beautiful hill-stations of India situated in the state of Tamil Nadu. I would suggest visiting Kodaikanal once in lifetime to explore the beautiful culture and to explore the hill-stations along with the natural beauty. You will get some of the Best Budget Resorts in Kodaikanal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much...

      Pritesh
      Happy traveling...!!!

      Delete
  7. Hi,
    Thanks for sharing these information .It will helpful for those who are planning to go there.The atmosphere of place is much different from rest of place in india.There are

    lots of place to see like Auroville Ashram,Botanical Garden,Tiruvakkarai etc..and mainly Beachs.you would

    more enjoy the seceneric beauty of beachs residing in seaside guest house in puthucherry. If you are a

    foodie, main Puducherry central area has many many French cafes and bakeries with food to kill for.. While reading post remain me about my holidays spent in Puducherry.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much for comment...Glad that you like my Blog and able to visit Puducherry virtually again.

      Pritesh
      Happy traveling...!!!

      Delete
  8. It was an interesting read. I loved reading your post well since I wish to make a trip to this fantastic place next week. You have done a great job. Thanks. Keep on writing. All the best.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much...Happy traveling...!!!

      Delete
  9. Hi. This is really very interesting and informative. I am very happy to here. I like Aurovillea and Mahabalipuram so much. Thank you for sharing about Places to visit in Pondicherry

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much...Happy traveling...!!!

      Delete
  10. Hi Prits..it's always a lovely experience to read your blog post and get to know a place through your lens. I've been planning to visit Rameshwaram with my family this year and have found out some of best Rameshwaram hotels. Keep travelling :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. All the photos and content you shared in this blog is so wonderful and interesting to read . I am so glad to read your blog . Thanks for sharing your experience and photos with us. keep posting like this.

    ReplyDelete