By- Saakshi Gulati
The ECR is full of hidden gems. What if we told you that you get a glimpse of French, Roman and Dutch architecture if you travel 350 km from Chennai! Yes, you heard that right!
We have included few itineraries below. Choose the one based on your time and interests.
Itinerary 1 – (weekend plan or 2 day trip) Drive down to Mahabalipuram (60kms) from Chennai. Explore Mahabalipuram and learn surfing at Covelong Point. Alternatively, spend the weekend in Puducherry. Itinerary 2 (3-4 day trip) Day 1 - Drive down to Mahabalipuram and explore Mahabalipuram (60 km) Day 2 - Wake up and visit the Shore Temple at sunrise. Drive down to Pondicherry (100 km) Day 3 and 4 - Explore Auroville and Puducherry. Drive back to Chennai (170 km) Itinerary 3 (4-5 day trip) Day 1 - Start early from Chennai. Enroute stop at Mahabalipuram (60 km). Explore the UNESCO world heritage temples. Continue your journey to Puducherry Day 2 - Spend the day at Auroville and Puducherry. (100 km) Day 3 - Drive down to Tranquebar and explore the land of singing waves (116 km) Day 4 - Drive to Velankanni Church and Point Calimere wildlife sanctuary (200 km) Day 5 - Drive back to Chennai If you have more days in hand, add Rameshwaram, Dhanushkodi, Tuticorin, and Kanyakumari to reach the southernmost tip of India. This would ideally require a minimum of 10 days.
Here are the places along ECR that you can cover when you start from Chennai :
In the small town of Covelong, few kilometers ahead of Mahabalipuram, is India’s first surfing village. The surf school trains fishermen to surf and also provides them with an alternative source of income. What better way to start the weekend than to ride the waves!
Stay: Surf Turf
Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO world heritage site, also called as the ‘land of seven pagodas’ dates back to the 7th Century. The carvings at the temple are beautiful and depict the Dravidian style of architecture. There are various monuments and you can spend hours at end exploring and admiring the various temples. Make a visit during the early hours of the morning or late afternoon when the sun rays fall on the monuments and add a surreal golden hue to them.
Budget stay: Butterball bed and breakfast
Eat: Try the fresh catch of the day at Moonrakers, for a fine dining experience head to The Wharf or Waterside at Radisson Blu Temple Bay Resort by GRT hotels
Sadras, the fortress town was established in 17th Century by the Dutch as a part of Dutch Coromandel. The magnificent Sadras Fort, built for commercial purposes by the Dutch, is a vast compound enclosing a huge granary, stable and structures used to mount elephants; unfortunately only one of these structures survives. Sadras was a hub for trading muslin cloth, pearls, and spices. The Dutch held it until 1825 but was later destroyed by British. The fort is around 17 km from Mahabalipuram, near Karapakkam atomic center. It is overlooked by many tourists. The silence in the air, old rusting cannons, bell tower and overgrown weed transport you back in time! The fort also houses a Dutch cemetery with inscriptions dating back to 1620. There is also a secret passage which is now shut for the tourists.
Alamparai Fort was constructed by Mughal emperor Nawab Dost Ali Khan in 1735. It was later gifted to the French. When the French were defeated by the British, the fort was captured and destroyed in 1760. The fort once had a 100-meter long dockyard that ran into the sea but it was badly affected by the Tsunami in 2004. The dilapidated remains of the walls fringed with palm trees can still be seen overlooking the beach. Hire a local fisherman and take a boat ride along the pristine backwaters here.
The one-of-its-kind unique village, Auroville, has people from different communities, nationalities and walks of life staying together in peace, love and harmony. This place gives you a different perspective of life and many a times tourists from different parts of the world end up settling in at Auroville. Visit Matri mandir or take up yoga and meditation classes that are offered by many residents here. You can also engage yourself in various workshops and volunteering activities.
Stay –Mango Hill
Eat – Check out Auroville bakery, Bread and Chocolate, Tantos pizzeria and Well Café for some lip-smacking food.
Puducherry is a perfect blend of heritage, beach, adventure and cultural experiences. Explore the French quarters with fuchsia yellow buildings and bougainvillea, soak in the beauty of beaches, cycle around the city, visit the temples and churches, go café-hopping and try some authentic French food! There’s something for everyone in Puducherry!
Stay – Villa Shanti or Palais De Mahe
Budget – Les Hibiscus
Interested in a glimpse of Rome in India? Arikamedu, an ancient lost city, is believed to be the only city with an archeological evidence of existence of Roman and Tamil trade relations. What remains now are dilapidated structures but it is fun exploring the ruins. Remnants from excavation process here can be seen at Puducherry museum. You can explore it through the day and spend the evening at Puducherry.
PICHAVARAM MANGROVE FOREST
Pichavaram is the India’s largest and world’s second largest mangrove forest in the world and home to many birds as well. Mangroves have trees like Avicennia and Rhizophora which remain rooted in water. A boat ride through the backwaters and narrow canals is an experience in itself.
Stay: Grand Palace Stay, Hotel Saradharam and Hotel Akshaya
Tranquebar is a quaint coastal town where the only sound is of the singing waves crashing the rocky shores of Bay of Bengal. This town was once a Danish settlement, and its influence is clearly seen in the houses and streets. A short stroll down the street transports you back in time.
The Danish fort is now converted into a museum and has artifacts displayed from the bygone era. Also visit the post office, Zion Church, Maritime Museum, Masilamani Nathar Temple, Dutch cemetery and New Jerusalem Church
Stay: Bungalow on the Beach – A Neemrana property. Neemrana has beautifully restored an old governor’s bungalow. This boutique property is sure to enchant you with its high ceilings and incredibly large rooms. Sit back, relax and soak in the beauty of Tranquebar.
Point Calimere or Cape Calimere lies in Nagapattinam district and is the apex of the Cauvery River delta, and marks a nearly right-angle turn in the coastline. The forests of Point Calimere, also known the Vedaranyam forests, are one of the last remnants of the dry evergreen forests that were once typical of the East Deccan dry evergreen forests eco-region. The Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary, with an area of 24.17 sq km, was created on June 13, 1967. Migratory birds like Terns, Plovers and Sandpipers can be seen from October to March. And if you thought you could spot black bucks in Rajasthan alone, then you need to visit this sanctuary. It houses several black bucks. According to mythology, it is believed that Lord Rama stood at Point Calimere to survey the kingdom of Lanka before commencing the war. Ramar Padam, a small shrine here, contains the stone footprints of Lord Rama. You can also visit the remnants of Chola lighthouse, destroyed by Tsunami.
Stay –Flamingo House, a Forest Rest House is available in Kodikkarai
-The writer is a travel blogger and you can read more of her travel pieces on Seatback Upright