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A vibrant city with the imposing...
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From sun-kissed beaches and revered shrines to venerated churches and cultural centres - there is no dearth of tourist attractions in Tamil Nadu. Yet, one of the most popular experiences opted by visitors to the state is a road trip from the capital Chennai to Puducherry (lovingly referred to as Pondy as it was earlier called Pondicherry) on the East Coast Road (ECR). Running along the Bay of Bengal coastline, this road corridor is considered to be one of the most scenic in the state, offering mesmeric views and unforgettable driving pleasure.
Head to the Marina Beach, touted to be the third-largest of its kind in the world. Stretching for 13 km, it is a popular spot amongst locals but in the early hours of the morning, it is cocooned in peace and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore add to the tranquillity. Let the peace sink in before you begin your day-long adventure.
Enjoy beautiful art
As you drive along the beach, note the various buildings on the opposite side - All India Radio, Presidency College, Madras University, MA Chidambaram Stadium and many more.
Make a stop at the Cholamandal Artist’s Village (an approximate 35-minute drive away). Established in 1966, it is an artist's haven that houses museums, art galleries, a craft shop, an open-air theatre, a bookstore and a restaurant.
Enjoy a visit to the South Indian village
Close by (about 20 minutes away), is the heritage museum Dakshinachitra. Designed like a traditional South Indian village, it displays over 4,000 artefacts and 1,000,000 pictures that offer a glimpse of the rich lifestyle of the region. Grab a bite from one of the restaurants (offering both vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare) adjacent to the museum before heading off.
Drive another five kilometres (around eight minutes) to reach one of the most popular surfing destinations in the southern part of the country – Kovalam. Every year, it hosts an international surfing festival, which is attended by people from around the world. Apart from a well-known surfing spot, Kovalam is also an established fishing village so, do not forget to try locally-prepared seafood. If you have time, you can also visit the Hazrath Thameen (Tameen) Ansari Dargah in the area.
Sight the majestic crocodiles
The famous Crocodile Bank is a mere nine-minute drive away. Get a close look at the crocodiles from here. From muggers and saltwater crocodiles to rare gharials - the centre conserves and helps in the breeding of these majestic reptiles. You’ll come across turtles, lizards and snakes as well. The centre also organises night safaris.
Click pictures of a noted monolith
The backwaters and the Bay of Bengal will keep you company on either side as you drive down to the Tiger cave (nine minutes away from the crocodile centre). A monolith, it is the first ancient structure en route to Mahabalipuram on the ECR. It features 11 head carvings of the mythical Yali (a beast with a lion’s face and horns).
Capture the heritage of Mamallapuram in your lens
Mamallapuram (Mahabalipiram) lies about nine minutes away. This seaside town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site complex boasting stunning bas reliefs and rock-cut temples, intricately-carved sculptures and monuments. With several legends and myths embedded in its folklore, a rich and glorious past, pristine beaches fringed by lush groves, and historic sites, Mamallapuram attracts hundreds of tourists, photographers and documentary filmmakers, and historians.
Embark on an hour-long drive to Alamparai Fort. A thriving port during the rule of the French and the British, it is now being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). A brick and limestone structure spanning 15 acres, it was commissioned in the 17th century by Muslim rulers and was presented as a gift to the French.
Explore the landmarks
Drive the last hour of your day-long journey to arrive at Puducherry, often referred to as the French Riviera of the east. Its quaint boulevards lined with trees, colonial-era buildings, sprawling sea-facing promenades and mystical backwaters will welcome you with open arms.
Between October and February. The weather is pleasant and cool during this time of the year.
Indulge in a hearty traditional South Indian breakfast of ghee (clarified butter)-roast dosa (crepes), steaming idlis (rice cake) and filter coffee at restaurants located at a walking distance from the Marina Beach. Break for lunch at one of the road-side eateries or swanky restaurants around the crocodile bank.
● It is advised to dress appropriately as there are many temples and religious sites along the way that you might want to visit. ● Try to follow the local culture of eating with your hand. The effort will be appreciated. ● Carry identification proof and passport-size photographs. ● Drink packaged drinking water and carry some munchies for hour-long distances.