The first thing that you need to do to start a road-trip is to wake up early. The thrills of cruising along empty roads and reaching significant pitstops in time, that you could never imagine at rush-hours, gives you a major high. For this particular journey, you specifically need to start your day at 5 am to ensure that you manage to complete your itinerary.
Start from your place at 5 am and hit the ECR straight from Thiruvanmyur. Take the bypass over Mahabalipuram and head straight to Puducherry. You can stop anywhere enroute to see the sunrise.
If you have not stopped much in between, you will be in time for a lovely early breakfast at Puducherry. While not all cafes here open before 10 am in White town, there are a few that roll out their breakfast menu from 7.30-8 am onwards. Le Café, Café Des Arts and even the café housed in the precincts of Alliance française de Pondichéry start their operations early. They offer everything from typical South Indian idly, dosa, vadai to Continental options like omelets, bacon and croissants.
After relaxing over some coffee, croissant or dosa and filter kaapi, you should move out of Puducherry early to reach your next destination.
Cuddalore and Chidambaram
Driving for just about 20 kms on ECR, you will hit the Cuddalore. Cuddalore, located along the coast of Bay of Bengal, offers spectacular views of nature. It also houses some magnificent temples, apart from the beaches and other natural surroundings.
Next on your list should be the beautiful temple town of Chidambaram. It is about an hour’s drive from Cuddalore. Known for its surreal setting, ancient Dravidian architecture and imposing Gopurams, you can easily spend a couple of hours around. Chidambaram stands for everything a traveller would expect from a quintessential Tamil Nadu temple town. The famous Natarajar temple here is the only one in the world worshipped by both Vaishnavaites and Shaivaiites. And yes, it’s a perfect place to have a delicious South Indian meal for lunch.
You can drive post lunch for another hour and reach by evening to port city of Karaikal. It is the destination for those who seek solitude, leisure, serenity and piety. Known from times immemorial for its rich religious heritage, Karaikal is a must visit. It is a peaceful destination off the beaten path of the South Indian tour Circuit. You will also find a number of medium range hotels to high-end ones. Depending on your budget, you can choose an option to spend the night over at Karaikal. Karaikar Ammiyar temple, Kailasnathar temple and the Karaikal beach are some places you should definitely visit here.
You can have a nice hearty breakfast at your hotel or at numerous other eateries in Karaikal and set off on the second day of your road trip. Spend the morning hours at the numerous temples that dot the place or head to the beach.
Just about 45-minute-drive from Karaikal is the popular church town of Velankanni. The Portuguese-era church is a popular pilgrim site for Christians across the country. The architecture of the church and the delicious aroma of the biriyani floating all around will surely make you stay longer than you wish.
Once you have satiated your eyes and tummy, brace yourself for a close to a two-hour long drive to Manora Fort in Thanjavur district. It was built by Maratha ruler Serfoji II in 1814–1815 to commemorate the successful advance of the British over Napoléon Bonaparte. It is an eight- storeyed, hexagonal tower, which is 23 m high overlooking the Bay of Bengal. The hexagonal fort with eight-storeys derives its name Manora, from the word Minaret. It is located away from the town of Thanjavur in a place called Mallipattinam.
Port City of Thondi and Devipattinam
From Manora Fort, you can drive down through the ancient port city of Thondi, and Devipattinam, famed for mosques and temples and head to Mandapam Camp. With an imposing Kelaniya Bungalow, it is the place from where Indian Tamils were sent to work on colonial-era tea plantations in Ceylon. It is also the place where Sri Lankan Tamil refugees arrived in boats.
The famous Pamban bridge that connects Mandapam to Rameshwaram offers stunning views —both the Palk Straits and Gulf of Mannar as well as the beautiful islands that go all the way to Sri Lanka. This is the perfect place to also view a stunning sunset.
You need to book a hotel in Rameshwaram to crash for the night. The city has a lot of options for a sumptuous vegetarian feast.
Next morning wake early to drive to Arichalmunai, the last point in the ghost town of Dhanushkodi to watch sunrise.
Then spend an hour in the ruins of Dhanushkodi that will offer a dramatic setting and do not forget to check out the baubles sold at Mukundarayar Chathiram. Do not miss the sight of the Lion Capital of Ashoka framed against the confluence of the seas, that marks Indian territory’s end point.
From here on, plan your return journey to Chennai. It will take close to 10-11 hours. So, time your breaks accordingly.