Pondicherry, Rameshwaram and Madurai
After spending a fun filled day at Mahabalipuram among the ornate stone carved temples and interesting monuments we headed further south to Pondicherry. The drive to Pondicherry was a long one, but the smooth and scenic East Coast Road dotted with lush green trees and the sparkling blue sea made up for the two and a half hour long car journey. We reached our hotel, Le Pondy in the afternoon and set about exploring the beautiful property. After a quick nap we felt charged and refreshed and headed out to explore the city.
Pondicherry, for a long time, was colonized by the French, and even today one can see traces of the French in its quaint bright yellow-coloured villas, boutiques, elegant cafes, antique street lamps and tree lined streets in the French Quarters. Apart from the architecture, the French influence is also evident in the cuisine, so don’t be surprised to find soft steamed idlis and crispy buttery baguettes offered in the same cafe. Next, we saw the Pondicherry lighthouse, but only from the outside, as visitors are not allowed to enter the lighthouse and the Police headquarters that is situated right opposite the seaside Promenade, which according to me, is the best tourist attraction in Pondicherry.
The Promenade is a long stretch of road and pavement that overlooks the sea and makes for the best walking track. After six in the evening vehicles are prohibited on the promenade and therefore the entire road and pavement is open to walk for the public. We travelled the entire 1.2 km long stretch by car and then got off next to the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial. After visiting the promenade beach we walked on the promenade and watched the sun set over the sea which turned the sky into a pretty shade of orange and pink. For dinner we went to a cute little restaurant –Dilliwalla 6 which is located close to the promenade and gorged on sumptuous Indian food. We returned to our hotel which to our delight was lit up with festive fairy light to celebrate Diwali and retired to the pool side to enjoy a session of live music as a part of the Diwali festivities.
The next morning we went to the hotel’s private beach and enjoyed the sun, sand and cool sea breeze. In the afternoon, we headed to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and after a spending a few minutes of solitude in the ashram and perusing through the books of the ashram’s library we left for Auroville, also known as the City of Dawn. Auroville is a township that is named after Sri Aurobindo which aims to be a town that can be a home to people from all over the country and promotes peace and unity. We saw a mini documentary about Auroville, its vision and how it came into existence and after a 1 km walk filled with greenery and dotted with spiritual signboards we saw the Matrimandir, a golden metallic sphere known as the centre and soul of Auroville which is actually a meditation centre. Tired by all the walking, we made a dash for the cafeteria named
Dreamer’s Cafe and dug into the melt-in-the-mouth chocolate pastry and heavenly cold coffee. On our way back to the hotel, we visited the Basilica of the sacred heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Conception church.
After spending three wonderful days in Pondicherry we left for Villupuram which is 39km away from Pondicherry to catch our train to Rameshwaram. We all were excited about this particular train ride because unlike any other train, the Rameshwaram Express crosses the Pamban Bridge which is a railway bridge that is right above the Palk Strait just 12.5 metres above the mean sea level and opens up like the Tower bridge of London, to let small ships pass under it and also runs parallel to the Gandhi Road Bridge. We woke up at 7:30 in the morning to see the train pass over the Pamban Bridge and the entire experience of seeing the waves crashing right below the train was indeed spectacular.
We reached Rameshwaram early in the morning and after a hearty breakfast of idli, dosa, and filter coffee we set off to visit the Ram mandir, Ram Kund, Lakshman Tirtham, the five faced Hanuman temple, Ramar feet temple and Gandhamdhana Parvatham which was perched on a hill and showcased a beautiful view of the city. In the afternoon, we went to the Dhanushkodi beach which is located at the tip of Pamban island in Rameshwaram where the waters of Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean meet. The drive to Dhanushkodi was unique and pretty because there were beaches on both the sides of the road and the sea waves lapped close to the road. In the evening, we went to the Gandhi Road Bridge which is opposite the Pamban Bridge and stood there waving to the train that passed over the bridge. The experience of watching the train slowly crossing the Pamban Bridge just a stone’s throw away from the water with the setting sun in the backdrop was indeed surreal. Our next stop for the day was the APJ Abdul Kalam national memorial, a beautiful structure dedicated to the missile man. Several of his belongings were on display and we also saw his paintings and wax statues that depicted his major life events.
Later in the evening we went to the famous Ramanathaswamy temple but unfortunately photography was prohibited within the temple premises. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and it is one of the twelve Jyotirlinga in India. This temple is known for its stunning architecture, beautiful and colourful pillars and has the longest corridor amongst all the Hindu temples in India. The next day we left early morning by car to our last destination-Madurai.
The drive from Rameshwaram to Madurai was 171 km by road and it took us almost three and a half hours to reach, but thanks to the well-built roads we weren’t travel weary at all. First we headed to the Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal, which is a palace that was built in the 17th century by King Thirumalai Nayak of the Nayaka dynasty. The palace has a huge courtyard and is an impressive structure, however the original palace was four times the size of the present palace but unfortunately it was destroyed over time. After a taking a tour of the palace grounds we visited the St Mary’s Cathedral and then proceeded to do some saree shopping. Our last and final stop for the day was the Meenakshi temple which is dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi who is another form of Goddess Parvati. The temple is said to be in existence since the 6th century but it underwent major renovation in the 17th century. This temple too is a structural marvel with 14 huge colourful gopurams (tower like structures) that depict scenes from Hindu religious texts and has some beautiful and intricate carvings on the pillars, wall and ceilings. The temple also has a water tank and a golden lotus statue in the centre. We had to wait in the que for a long time but it was worth the wait and after seeking the blessings of Goddess Meenakshi, we headed back to our hotel to spend our last night in Madurai.
The next day we caught a flight back to Mumbai and soon enough our most awaited trip had come to an end. The trip down south was every bit as amazing as we had imagined it to be and even though we ended up eating south Indian food almost every day surprisingly we never grew tired of it and I have to admit that the one thing I miss the most is the authentic filter coffee of the South. All in all, our trip was a memorable one and the final Kktwins verdict is a perfect score of 10/10! If you happen to love temples, beaches, churches and kanjivaram sarees then south India is the place to be!