Chennai and Mahabalipuram
No matter how often I travel, visiting a new place is always exciting and I can’t help but compare it to reading a new book because it seems as thrilling as diving into a whole new experience where every new place is like a fun, adventurous chapter and this time the kktwins ventured to the South of India and added a new book titled Sun, Sand and Good Times to their collection of #kktraveldiaries!
I am a fan of temperate weather and what else can be more pleasant than the south of India in the months of November? This year we chose to celebrate Diwali in Pondicherry and along the way we visited Chennai, Mahabalipuram, Rameshwaram and Madurai. From the 3rd of November to the 11th of November we appreciated and greatly admired the majestic beauty of temples, the serene beaches, the quaint cafes and the peaceful churches. We travelled with our parents and my school friend Drishti and her parents. Infact, we have often travelled together in the past and this trip like the many other trips we’ve had, was nothing short of fun, laughter and great memories.
Without further ado, I’ll launch into all the places we visited, the restaurants we went to and the things we saw. If you are planning a trip to any of these places, I’m sure this blog will be of great help to you! So let’s begin!
Our first stop was Namma Chennai (a phrase which is equivalent to Aamchi Mumbai). We had an early morning 5 am flight so that we could go sight-seeing and thoroughly enjoy the charms of this beautiful city. The best way to experience a city and its culture is through the food and so the first stop was at Murugan Idli shop, where we had our first taste of authentic Idli, medu vada (often spelt Medhu Vada, (yes the spellings are really funny with an extra ‘H’ added for good measure!), dosai and four types of chutney and hot Sambhar. We ate on banana leaves and I discovered that they have a variant of idli called Podi idli which means Idli sprinkled with delicious masala powder. We ended this grand breakfast with the most delectable filter coffee. Ever since this trip, I have become a fan of filter coffee which has a rich, slightly bitter taste and an aroma that takes me straight to seventh heaven!
San Thome Basilica
Since we landed early and still had time for our check in at The Park, we first headed to San Thome Basilica which is a picturesque white church replete with pointed turrets, stained glasses and high arches. It has a basement where we attended a prayer as well. This church is one of the only three churches in the world built over the tomb of an apostle of Jesus. This one is built over the tomb of Saint Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. The other two are St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Galicia, Spain.
Next, we headed to the Kapeeleshwar Temple which has the most colourful and ornately carved and sculpted roof that I have ever seen.
Next, we visited the Vailankanni Shrine where we lighted candles and prayed to Jesus.
Around 2pm we checked into The Park Hotel at Chennai which is a beautiful and luxurious hotel with a rooftop pool, a step layered architecture and is interestingly built where a film studio stood before. As homage to its ‘filmy’ past, the lobby, rooms and spa has posters of old movies and famous Bollywood actors and actresses.
After checking out the hotel and taking a quick nap, we visited the Marina Beach and saw a glorious sun set while eating hot corn cobs and a local delicacy called ‘sundad’. On the way, we also saw The Ripon building, the Madras High court as well as the sea facing and imposing police headquarters.
Day two in Chennai, we visited the Parthasarathy Temple which is similar in structure to the Kapeeleshwar temple.
Fort St. George, a beautiful and peaceful church atop a hill where we heard hymns being sung and could hear them down till the parking lot through the loudspeakers.
To beat the heat, we spent the afternoon shopping in the air conditioned shops at T Nagar and visited Pothys and Nalli to buy silk Kanjivaram sarees and dupattas, which are a speciality of Chennai. The Diwali shopping crowd at Pothys was humongous and staggering to say the least. Never before have I seen such a crazy rush in a shop which made me wonder if they were handing out free sarees!
In the evening we headed to Marina beach again and went up to the Light house where we had a bird’s eye view of the sea and the city of Chennai when the last rays of the sun illumined the city into a golden panorama. We again gorged on corn cobs and potato spirals from shacks that generously dotted the beach.
We ended the day by lounging at The park’s rooftop pool side.
The food in Chennai was truly delicious and every day we tried a new restaurant. We ate at Sangeetha, Woodlands as well as Sarvana Bhavan which serves equally delicious food like the Murugan Idli shop. We also bought Mysore pak, is a lip smacking sweet, which is quite popular in Chennai.
In a jiffy, we had already spent two nights in Chennai! The next day, early in the morning, we started for Mahabalipuram, which has been renamed as Mamallapuram. (I prefer the old name!) It was a two hour drive, (56 kms) from Chennai and we left early because we had a chock full schedule of sightseeing to follow. We were to spend just one night in Mahabalipuram and though it is a very small city, it has many things to see.
The most popular tourist attraction is the Shore temple. Though it is nothing like what we saw in the movie- two states, (it was digitally enhanced in the movie), it is a temple with beautiful carvings which survived the Tsunami. We made the mistake of visiting it in the afternoon when it was sweltering, so seeing it in the evening would be a better idea, when the weather is cooler and more pleasant.
We also saw the Five Rathas, Arjuna’s Penance, Descent of the Ganges and Krishna’s butter ball. Except for Krishna’s butter ball which is a natural phenomenon, the Five Rathas and Arjuna’s Penance are carved on stone and make for interesting monuments. It is advisable to hire a guide who can explain the significance of these monuments in more detail.
After seeing the monuments, we cooled ourselves with nectar sweet coconut water available at many roadside shacks and by 3 pm we reached our hotel, Radisson Blue Temple Bay Resort, which is a sprawling and breathtakingly beautiful property. We spent the rest of the day exploring the hotel, enjoying high tea and playing games, swimming in the infinity pool, strolling at the private beach and daydreaming while swinging on hammocks where we dozed off watching the sanguine sunset and enjoying the balmy caress of the sea breeze.
The next day we started for Pondicherry by car which was a two and a half hour drive spanning 96 kms but since the roads are well levelled and as smooth as silk, travelling was not tiring at all.
With this we reach the middle of our trip and with much more fun and frolic to reminisce, the rest of our adventures will be chronicled in our next post. Till then keep travelling, fill up the pages of your travel diaries and assuage the wanderlust in you, coz the world is full of amazing places to see and interesting cultures to appreciate!