Monday, 17 February 2014

Offbeat trip route: Pondicherry – Rameshwaram – Kodaikanal Part 2

To avoid the length of my travel blog, I have divided it into 2 parts. You can read first part of travel blog at Offbeat trip route part-1. First part was consisting of Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry whereas in this part, I have tried to cover my travel experience from Rameshwaram and Kodaikanal places.
            We were waiting for this trip from long time. Every year we plan a trip to celebrate our wedding anniversary. This time we selected mahabalipuram – Pondicherry – Rameshwaram – Kodaikanal for 9 days. Without any doubt, travellers for this trip were me and Wife Renuka.

To read part 1 of my travel blog, click on Offbeat trip route: Pondicherry – Rameshwaram – Kodaikanal Part 1 

Day 5: 12th Feb 2014 – Pondicherry – Rameshwaram – Dhanushkodi Beach:
             We reached at Villupuram station and boarded train at 8 PM on 11th Feb. We reached Rameshwaram in the early morning by 4 am. It was different experience to see a huge see while crossing Pamban channel. It was almost full moon night which was spreading twilight on horizon.
              We reached at hotel by 4.30. Hotel manager was waiting for us and we did checked in. we took rest and woke up by 7.30 am. Hotel location was very close to very close to sea and Temple. Room was very clean and well equipped with basic amenities. We kept morning slot for snorkeling. After breakfast, we left for snorkeling. Hotel owner Jayaram arranged snorkeling for us. After 20 min walk (Road parallel to sea and close to TTDC hotel), we entered into shallow water. As water level is around 3-5 ft. we were able to walk on sea bed for around 500 meters inside. After entering 500 m inside, now we were able to see corals. Now we prefer swimming to we can enjoy beautiful view of corals during snorkeling. The underwater world is just so unique. The more you look around, the more you see – Flat coral, Finger corals, brain corals, Blue colored corals, Cat fish, sea cucumber and some small fishes. Overall experience was just mind blowing. Our 2nd anniversary day was started with a wonderful experience.

Blue Coral Cottage

Blue sea

                We had lunch in restaurant which was near to Temple. It was authentic south Indian meal with a lot of rice and 3-4 types of curries. Ambiance was very average. After heavy Lunch we had some rest in hotel. We had a booked an Auto for local sightseen and for Dhanushkodi beach.
               We left hotel by 2.30PM in noon. Rameshwaram is full of temples and most of temples have strong connection with lord Ram. Rameshwaram is the place from were Lord Ram built bridge to across the sea to Lanka to rescue his wife Sita from her abductor Ravana. In Rameshwaram, Wherever Lord Rama and His ally moved or stayed, that place became a Hindu pilgrimage place.
              Our first temple to visit was Rama Tirtham, where Lord Rama took rest for some time. Temple is small but beautiful, made up in typical Dravidian style, with pillars and statues over it. There is small Mandapam inside pond, surrounded by the water from all sides, with steps to reach there, but you have to cross water before stepping up. Just opposite to temple, there is huge temple come museum of lord Krishna. You can see moving statues which tell you a story of Lord Krishna.

Ram Tirtham
Ram Tirtham

Mandapam at temple

               Our next visit was at Five-faced Hanuman Temple. It is famous for Hanuman idol and floating stone. There is a big statue of Lord Hanuman in black color, having five different faces. Just in front of the statue is a small temple devoted to Him. Photography is not allowed here. According to the legend, when Ahiravana a great demon (brother of Ravana) took unconscious Lord Rama and His brother Laxmana to Patal Lok (In hell) to hide them .Lord Hanuman went in search of them and came to know that demon Ahiravana can only be killed if lamps which were put in five different directions are extinguished simultaneously .So Hanuman became the 5 gods in different directions, named 1-Hanuman 2- Hayagreeva 3-Narsimha 4-Garuda 5-Varahswami and extinguished all the five lamps simultaneously and then Ahiravana was killed and Lord Rama and Laxman were saved from his clutches. This five faced statue signifies the face of those five Gods in one God Hanuman.

God Bless you!

             We can see a floating stone but not allowed to handle it. We actually wanted to check the stone hence our auto driver took us to Seetha Ram temple. Here we were allowed to see and handled medium sized stone. It was floating on water so I thought it must be light in weight. Pujari asked us to lift the stone. I was unable to lift it and me and wife somehow able to lift it. It was heavy and nature’s wonder. Temple is very small but beautiful and peaceful. Again here, photography is now allowed and I was not able to click photo of it.
                Last point before we move to Dhanushkodi beach was Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam House. He is also known as missile man for his contribution in INSTRO and to developed high range missiles. Dr.Kalam’s house, now converted into a small museum. Its small two storied building of blue color with blue gate in a small colony .There are many posters and Dr Kalam’s picture since his childhood till he became President of India .His journey of achievements, displayed in very simple and impressive way. There is a shop on top floor where you can buy shell products. 
             Now our journey for Dhanushkodi beach begins. After few km, you can see sea on both side and some paddy fields. We saw wet land birds in route like black ibis, sea gulls and flamingos. We reached till Dhanushkodi check post point by 4PM. If you hired Auto then you need to take Maxi cab from this point as Auto’s are not allowed. If you have hired Jeep then you can do a further journey. Maxi Cab charge INR 2000/- for 1 van were 20 people can accommodate. We were only 10 tourists there and we lost round hour waiting for other tourist. By 5 PM, we decided to pay double i.e. INR 200/- per person and our journey to Dhanushkodi village begins. All maxi cab drivers are very arrogant and they never reduce single rupees.

Church at Dhanushkodi village
Church at Dhanushkodi village

Ruin City

              Our experience was quite different as we went bit late in evening. Our next 20 min journey was full of thrill. They drive vehicle from shallow water, sand, land and sandy patches. Do not forget to count your bones after ride as ride is very bumpy. We saw around 300+ flamingos on Bay of Bengal side. Once you reached at ruined village, you can see Bay of Bengal on left which is clam and rough Indian Ocean on right. Village was completely ruined due to 1964 tsunami and declared as unfit place to live by Indian government. It is also known as Ghost town. According to scripture Rama broke the Setu (bridge) by one end of His Dhanush (bow); hence this place was known as Dhanus- Koti .Good place for photography and unique experience. You can see some ruined house, old railway station and church in the village.

Ruined buildings

             Now you are not allowed to see last point (nearest point to Sri Lanka) of land because of naval restriction. Chain of sand shoals between Danushkodi (India) and Talaimannar (Sri Lanka) has the only land border between India and Sri Lanka, which is the smallest in the world. We went as close as possible to see Tip of land. After crossing 1 communication Tower, Local people stopped us else we will be caught by navel in charge of attempt to cross boarder in illegal way. Just few days back few fisherman and their boats were caught by SL naval hence this area was strictly under surveillance. Otherwise if you are lucky then you may get chance to see the tip of land. You can see some part of setu (Bridge) from here. Few people still live there w/o water, food ration and power supply. This place is simple nature’s wonder.

End Point - Boarder point can be seen in this image

              We witness Beautiful Sun set in Indian Ocean standing on east coast of India. This location is simply amazing and unique experience. Our return journey started bit late (as we went far away from village towards tip of land) in evening. Due to ruin area, sounds of waves from the two sides, no people and unique geographic condition; we were getting feel of ghost town.

Sun set in Indian Ocean standing on east coast of India

             To our surprises when we reached at hotel, Jayaram brought a cake for us and we all celebrated our second anniversary. All guests from hotel were invited by Jayaram and joined us in celebration. It was big surprise for us. All French, Italian, Maldives and Indian couple/family joined us and we all spend an hour together. We had new friends from different part of world. After this small party, I and Renu went for dinner in restaurant Ahaan. This restaurant is in star rated Hotel Daiwik. It is the only rich ambiance restaurant with good food. Snorkeling, Dhanushkodi and dinner; It was a perfect day from our trip.

Anniversary Celebration at Hotel - Many friends are missing in this snap

Hotel Daiwik
  • Auto (Railway station to hotel): INR 100/-
  • Snorkeling: INR 600/- for 2 person (No time constrain, as we spend more than 1.5 hrs)
  • Lunch near temple: INR 50/- per person from Rice meal
  • Auto for local sightseen and Dhanushkodi: INR 500/-
  • Maxi cab for Dhanushkodi village: INR 400 for 2 person (Normal charges: INR 100/- per person) 
  • Auto to Daiwik hotel from temple and return: INR 200/- (including 1.5 hours waiting charge)
  • Dinner at Daiwik hotel: INR 426/- per person for buffet dinner

Day 6: 13th Feb 2014 – Rameshwaram - Kodaikanal:
             This was our last day from Rameshwaram. Early morning we went for swimming in sea. We enjoyed crystal clear clam water. After playing in water, we went in Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple. This is major attraction from Rameshwaram and famous Hindu temple dedicated to the god Shiva. Construction of temple is beautiful and massive. It also consists of longest corridor with 1000 pillars in all Hindu temples in India. The history of the temple is linked with "Ramayana" and it is believed the deity was installed by Lord Rama after the war with Ravana at the instance of the great saints to get rid of the "Brahma Dosham" (means it is a sin occurred due to killing of a Vedic Brahmin). We decided to have a Teerth snanam (Holy bath) in temple and approached to Pujari (priest) so he can guide us well. First we had a bath at Agni theertham. This is the place on sea shore and around 100 m from Main temple. After this auspicious sea bath, we entered in Temple for main holy bath. There are 22 different wells in the temple premises. All Wells are containing holy water and all are related to either a god or different characters from Ramayana. Very few people know as there are respective temples for each well. Due to taking a help from Pujari (It was paid service), we got proper information and proper chance to have a bath in well. They splash a bucket of water in group of people whereas we were getting individual bucket of holy water. After holy bath, we got quick Darshan. It was different experience for us.

Agnitheertham
Agnitheertham

Ramanathaswamy Temple
Ramanathaswamy Temple

               After Temple visit, we took some rest in hotel and left this religious but beautiful place. Now our next and last destination was Hill station Kodaikanal. We wanted to get a feel of public transport so we had public bus till Madurai. On the way to we saw Pamban bridge. It was 4 hours of journey to Madurai. When we reached in Madurai, I was bit tired due to journey. Also we wanted to reach Kodaikanal in time and there was a bus to Kodaikanal in the late evening. I enquired for cab and we hired it for drop service. Again we were lucky that we got nice driver with command on English and well aware of tourist point. We were feeling cold once we started gaining altitude for hill station. We reached in Kodaikanal by 8 PM.

Annai India Gandhi Road Bridge
Annai India Gandhi Road Bridge

             We had booking at The Carnival Resort which is round 2 km away from main lake. We like hotel arrangement, Room and overall hotel property. They gave us Room with forest + Valley view facing. It was simply amazing view. Room was very clean and well equipped with all amenities. 24*7 running hot water was must as temperature was 5-6 degree Celsius. Everything was perfect about hotel expect distance. As it is 2km away from lake, every time you need to hire taxi but this place is away fromcity noise. After dinner in resort, we ask travel desk for local sight seen. They arranged us sharing basic vehicle for next day.

Carnival Resort Room
Carnival Resort Room
  • Holy bath in temple: INR 25/- per person
  • Dakshina to Pujari: INR 301/-
  • Hotel room rent at blue coral cottage: INR 1980/-(2 night stay)
  • Bus to Rameshwaram stand (bus No 1): INR 10/- for 2 person
  • Bus to Madurai: INR 150/- for 2 person
  • Bus to Arapalayam bus stand: INR 22/- for 2 person
  • Lunch on highway: INR 252/- (south Indian dishes)
  • Cab for madurai to Kodaikanal: INR 2400/-
  • Toll at Kodaikanal: INR 40.
  • Dinner at Carnival hotel: INR 220/- (Panjabi veg + roti only)

Day 7: 14th Feb 2014 – Kodaikanal:
             It was a lazy morning for us and weather was stunning. Clouds over mountain offers different views all time. We were ready by 10 PM for local half day sightseen after breakfast. One Bengali enthuse couple (60+ ages), one Delhi base honeymoon couple and 2 lovely French ladies joined us on trip. Our first point was coakers walk. This is an around 1 km walk along the edge of steep slopes on the southern side of Kodaikanal. If you are lucky then you can see beautiful village view on your left and valley view throughout the Coakers Walk. Mostly (Expect Summer) valley is covered with mist and cloud. We saw valley view but for hardly minute. My personal feeling is this place is not to view surrounding but to get a feel of beautiful nature and pleasant atmosphere with your love one.

View from Room

Hotel Carnival
Hotel Carnival

View from Coakers walk
View from Coakers walk

View from Coakers walk
View from Coakers walk

              Our next destination was Lake View point. This point offers you an aerial view of Kodaikanal Lake. After some quick photo session, we moved ahead. Next 1-2 point was valley view point named as Green valley point and Silent valley point. But due to mist, we didn’t see anything. We all were just enjoying weather. After this we stopped at Pine forest. It is popular only because of many Indian movies had cinema shooting in this forest area. Mainly couple songs from movie were filmed here. It was nice forest to have a walk. More you go in deeper more peace and nature feel. Just make sure that you will find a way back. It is good to visit if it is not crowded so better to avoid on weekends. On next day (Sat), Forest was too crowded when we pass from this location for Berijam Lake.

Lake view point
Lake view point



Pine forest
Pine forest

Lovely walk in Dense Pine Forest
Lovely walk in Dense Pine Forest

             After forest view, we saw Pillar rock view point. You can see two rock combination which looks like Load Ganesh’s trunk. They have entry fee to see these pillar rock which doesn’t make any sense as such. Same pillar can be also seen from road side and for that you don’t need to pay any amount. Also there is very less space to park your vehicle which create little traffic problems. Most of the time cloud plays a lot around this valley to give you nice photogenic seen.
             Now on our return journey, we saw Kodaikanal golf club. This is also tourist point only because of films shooting. There was nothing special as such. Van driver stopped at one mall for some shopping and then we moved ahead. When we reach close to Kodaikanal city, he stopped for last stop from trip which was Shola falls. There was small stream of water and even weather was so cold that no one was interested to put their hands in freezing cold water flow. We had small trek as we heard there were a lot of forest birds and nice forest. But due to short of time, we didn't go deep inside. We came back by 2 PM for Lunch in city.
               After lunch Van dropped us in hotel whereas other people went ahead for temple tour which we didn’t opt as part of package. After quick break, we came in city area for to visit lake. Star shaped Kodaikanal Lake is the biggest attraction from the city. You can enjoy the lake by Boating, Horse riding or by cycling. And even if you are not interested in any of the activity then walking around lake is wonderful experience. We had cycling around lake as all type cycles are available on nominal rent. This is the best way to see lake from all angles. We had 2-3 rounds around lake.




              For boating paddle boat, rowing and shikara style boat options are available. Even boating chargers are quite cheap as compare to other hill station lake. We rented a 2 seated paddle boat for an hour. Boating in evening time was an amazing experience as fog settling on lake. It was one of the memorable times which I spent with my wife. There was few little grebe Ducks swimming around lake. We feel good to observe them closely while doing boating.

Boating at beautiful Star lake
Boating at beautiful Star lake

Little Grebe
Little Grebe in Kodaikanal Lake

Little Grebe
It's too cold here - Little Grebe duck in lake

             I kept late evening time free for shopping. In Kodaikanal, all most all the shops are stocked with homemade chocolates. It is one of the major local product and available in very cheap rate as compare to other places. Apart from chocolates, Eucalyptus Oil, herbal oils, verity of tea powder and spices are famous and quality products. We took many chocolate boxes and some special spices. Renuka purchased some homemade thread hearing which she liked a lot. Everything in Kodaikanal shut down by 8.30 (expect few restaurant). During our shopping, when we asked good place for dinner, everyone told us to have it in restaurant Astoria. We enjoyed nice south Indian food before we reach hotel for some rest.

Evening walk at Coakers walk
  • Half day local Sightseen tour: INR 200/- per person
  • Coaker’s walk entry: INR 5/- per person
  • Coaker’s walk camera chargers: INR 10/-
  • Lunch at hotel Aryaas: INR 150/- for 2 person (veg meal)
  • Cycle on rent at Kodaikanal lake: INR 20/- per hour
  • Paddle Boating: INR 50/- for hour
  • Chocolates rates in Kodaikanal: INR 300/- per Kg. It may vary between 250/- to 400/-
  • Dinner at Austroy: INR 240/- for 2 person (South Indian dishes)
  • Taxi to hotel carnival: INR 100/-

Day 8: 15th Feb 2014 – Kodaikanal – Berijam Lake:
            Today we decided to visit Berijam Lake in first half and rest in second half; before we catch bus for Chennai. We rented a private car for this trip. It’s car owner’s responsibility to get permission to enter in forest area. He told us to be ready by 10.30 AM. We left on time, due to winter thick mist was playing around. Driver told us that if we are lucky then we can get the view of valley and aerial view of lake. Soon we entered in forest area. Forest was dense and we were hearing different calls from birds. We reached at lake view point and there were no mist so we were able to view lake and dense forest. After small pit stop, we went to lake area which was just 3-5 km from Berijim Lake view point.

Early Morning view

Berijam Lake and forest
Berijam Lake and forest

            Berijim Lake is around 30 km away from Kodaikanal. Only 35 vehicles are allowed in the forest. Journey towards Lake is very beautiful and full of greenery, dense forest. It gives of feel of forest once you go deeper. There are 2-3 valley view points and your journey ends at the Berijim Lake. Lake is very clean. Local and forest says, wild animal use this lake as a source of drinking water. Indian bison, elephant, cheetah are the animal found in this forest. To be honest, considering number of vehicles chances to spot wild animal is very minimal. Also to see wildlife, you need to enter in deep forest which is not allowed. Tourists do visit the lake and return back whereas when we were there, we started exploring forest area which is allowed on foot. Not able to spot any mammals but saw some beautiful forest birds. The place is full of nature beauty, huge dense forest and peaceful location.

Road to Berijim Lake

Berijim Lake
Berijim Lake

Way to Forest

               If you want to get a feel of forest on foot then there a forest trail available in dense jungle. For that either you need to go with forest officer or with expert person. We went there and enjoyed forest beauty with 1 forest research team. Road is blocked at the Lake check post. From there people take right turn to walk towards lake. Rather than taking right, walk straight for approx. 200-300 meters. On same road, you will find small board on left saying “shola Forest trail”. You can enter in the forest from that point on small narrow dirt foot trail. Take forest guide else either you may lost in jungle or may fall in danger. We spend around 35-45 min with research team (They were doing study on some raptors and giant lizard). As we were running short of time, 1 member from that team dropped us back on road and he went inside to join his team.

Way to Shola Forest

Forest view
Forest way

             We came back in Kodaikanal for Lunch by 2.30 PM. We had lunch in hotel Hill top tower. Overall food was good. Our return journey bus to Chennai was at 7.30 pm. We had time in hand so we decided to spend some time nearby lake and last min shopping. We reached in hotel by 5pm and had some rest. We board Praveen semi sleeper bus with a lot of nice memories from entire trip by 7.30 pm.
  • Berijim forest trip: INR 1200/- (Car rent only)
  • Forest entry: INR 150/- per car
  • Lunch at hill top tower: INR 390/- for 2 person (Panjabi veg)
  • Taxi to hotel carnival: INR 100/-
  • Room rent in carnival: INR 4400/- for 2 nights (Deluxe room)
  • Taxi to Praveen bus pick point: INR 150/-

Day 9: 16th Feb 2014 – Chennai to Pune:
            We reached in Chennai by 6.30 AM. We went to Chennai airport to keep luggage in store room. We spend some time in T Nagar and then came back on airport. We were not happy to check-in to the flight, but it’s not possible to extend our stay. We board flight by 4 in evening and reached at our sweet home.

Sahyadri ranges

On Clouds 

  • Auto to Chennai airport: INR 150/-
  • Lunch at airport: INR 350/- (heavy snacks)

Contact number for reference:
  • Jayaram (Blue coral cottage, Rameshwaram): 0-4573221703, bluecoralindia@gmail.com 
  • Snorkeling (Edward): 0-9047177540
  • Auto for Rent at Rameshwaram: G. Sathish– 0-9698870234.
  • Chandrashekhar for car rent (Madurai): 0-8883808380.

I will try to upload more and more travel blogs. Thanks for reading this Travel Blog.

Pritesh Kulkarni 
Pune

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Offbeat trip route: Pondicherry – Rameshwaram – Kodaikanal Part 1

We were waiting for this trip for a long time. Every year we plan a trip to celebrate our wedding anniversary. This time we selected Mahabalipuram – Pondicherry – Rameshwaram – Kodaikanal for 9 days. Without any doubt, travelers for this trip were me and my Wife Renuka
              Mahabalipuram is town from Tamil Nadu, just 60 km from Chennai city. It is an ancient historic town and was a bustling seaport during the 1st century CE. Major attraction is sea temples and famous beautiful stone curving. Also Crocodile bank is hardly 15km away which is must visit place to know more about reptiles.
               Pondicherry, it was the largest French colony in India. There is a strong French influence in the city. Nice way to get the feel of city. You can also visit to Auroville international city in day. Paradise beach, Aurobindo Ashram, Promenade road, Auroville Mantra mandir, Oustery Lake and French cuisine are the places which should not miss from Pondy.
             Rameshwaram is located on Pamban Island separated from mainland India by the Pamban channel. It is considered to be one of the holiest places in India to Hindus, and part of the Char Dham pilgrimage. Dhanushkodi is famous location which is close to Rameshwaram. Now a day, snorkeling is also available in Rameshwaram. Next location was Kodaikanal which is famous hill station and popular among honeymoon couples.

auroville mantra mandir
Auroville Mantra Mandir

My travel plan:
We had booked spice Jet flight - Pune Pondicherry Pune via Bangalore as that was the only air service provider. Unfortunately spice Jet suspended their service a month before our travel dates and we got new flight from Pune to Chennai. We got replacement flight but via Bangalore.
  • Flight SG227 Pune to Bangalore on 7th Feb
  • Flight SG 2902 Bangalore to Chennai on 8th Feb
  • Flight SG 208 Chennai to Pune on 16th Feb.
From Pondicherry to Rameshwaram, we had booked train ticket which was night journey. From Rameshwaram to Kodaikanal, we preferred Public transport as well as hire cab service. 

Day 0: 7th Feb 2014 – Pune – Bangalore:
               We started from Pune to Bangalore by Spice Jet Airways at 10 PM. Once we reached Bangalore airport we got to know that next flight was delayed by 4 hours and it will take off by 9.30 AM. Now we were stuck whole night on airport. We meet former legendary Indian cricketer Anil Kumble at airport. It was great to meet him.

Ready for Journey
  • Pune to Pune flight: INR 10500/- for 2 person (return/round journey)
Day 1: 8th Feb 2014 – Pune-Mahabalipuram – Pondicherry: 
               We boarded next flight for Chennai at 9.30 AM. I already rented a car from Pondicherry and driver was ready at the airport when we landed there. Our first destination on trip was Crocodile bank which is around 40km away towards south on ECR road. Place is really amazing and have a huge pool of reptiles like crocodiles, Turtles and snakes. They also have Asia’s largest captive crocodile names Jaws III. You can spend 2-3 hours easily. For more information I have created different travel Blog on Crocodile Bank. Click on World of Crocodile - Madras Crocodile Bank Trust for detailed travel blog.


Saltwater Crocodile

Marsh/Magar crocodile

Gharial Crocodile

Aldabra Tortoises

               Our next destination was Mahabalipuram. We had lunch A2B-Adyar Ananda Bhavan on ECR road which was good in taste. The roads were wide, and very well-maintained. The traffic too was not too heavy, making this a very fast trip. Mahabalipuram was a bustling port during the time of the Pallavas (7th Century CE). However, Roman and Chinese coins dating to the 4th Century CE have also been found, making this an active port engaging in trading even during the late Classical period. The place is today famous for the various sculptures dotting the Mahabalipuram coastline that were built by the Pallava rulers. Our first stop in Mahabalipuram was Shore Temple. Temple along with all the sculptures have been declares as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984. It is a Spectacular piece of Art surrounded by a stone wall on which a stone carved in “Cow” shape is placed. It is located very close to beach. You can spend more than hour watching beautiful stone curving, lord Shiva and lord Vishnu idol. Beach is also closed to temple and very clean. I found sea bit rough and not safe for swimming. Sea surfing is also available which we missed due to limited Time frame.

Shore Temple

Mahabalipuram Beach

                After Shore temple and beach, we headed towards Lighthouse. It is 100 years old massive construction. You can go on the top but not much to see apart from village view. I will recommend this place if you have extra time in hand. One of the major attractions in town is "Descent of the Ganges", also known as "Arjuna's Penance". The sculpture, made from 2 huge rocks placed side-by-side, shows the decent of the Ganga from Shiva’s tresses led by Bhagirathi, while various Hindu gods and goddesses, along with mythical and domestic animals, watch in admiration. On one side of this bas-relief was a set of sculptures that depicted the agrarian life in the town. The sculptures were all life-sized, and were a treat to the eyes. It is really quite remarkable that this was even possible in the early 7th century. Just next to Arjuna’s Penance, you can see small hill with open lawn. A huge rock is on hill slope in such way that it may feel that it will roll down. It is amazing to see nature wonder. It is mainly known as balancing rock or Krisha’s butter ball.

Mahabalipuram Lighthouse
Mahabalipuram Lighthouse

Arjuna’s Penance Mahabalipuram
Arjuna’s Penance Mahabalipuram

Krishna Mandapam mahabalipuram
Krishna Mandapam mahabalipuram

Krishna's Butter Ball
Krishna's Butter Ball

              Our last spot before we leave Mahabalipuram was Five Rathas. This site contains five Rathas, literally chariots, dating from the 7th century. The Rathas have an association to the great epic Mahabharata which describes the heroes of Mahabharata with their wife Draupadi which is termed as pancha pandava rathas. The five Rathas are (1) Draupadi’s Ratha, (2) Arjuna’s Rath, (3) Nakul – Sahadev’s Rath, (4) Bhima Rath and (5) Dharamraja Yudhistar’s Rath. The sculptures are complemented by some enormous stone animals. The Rathas were built in the 7th century AD by the Pallava kings. Definitely a must visit place.

Five Rathaas - Mahabalipuram
Five Rathaas - Mahabalipuram

Lion at Five Rathas

Elephant at Five Rathas
Elephant at Five Rathas

             We left this beautiful town by evening time and headed towards Pondicherry. There were lots of paddy fields along the ECR road. You can see many beautiful birds during winter time. We reached in Pondicherry by 7.30 PM. We became good friends with the driver during our journey. He was able to speak English very well and in Tamil Nadu, someone having command on English/Hindi language is must. We also got to know that he is not the driver but the owner of the car. He worked in Gov. Income tax department on higher post. He dropped us at Le Reve Bleu home stay hotel. 
             Location of hotel was in Tamil colony (Pondicherry is majorly divided into 2 parts, Black town and white town OR Tamil colony and French colony); location was not good but close to railway station and beach road at walk able distance. Room was quite clean and we were only Indian couple in hotel along with French travelers. There was a common hall and kitchen where you can meet other travelers. All rooms from hotel have its own color and theme. We booked Red colored Lover theme room. After taking rest for a while, we went for dinner at ‘La Terasse’. Pizzas were very tasty and we like overall ambiance. Pondicherry offers you a verity of pizza, continental and French cosine. We decided to try different restaurant during our Pondy stay. Walk with your life partner on seaside Promenade road after dinner was wonderful. When we reached in hotel, we met with an old French couple. They were travelling in India from last 3-3.5 months. We chatted in French and English language and shared each other’s travel experience. Their respect towards Indian culture made me feel proud.

Hotel Le Reve Bleu
Hotel Le Reve Bleu

Our Day one was amazing and looking ahead a beautiful trip.
  • Breakfast at Bangalore airport: INR 390/- (South Indian food, sandwiches and coffee)
  • Crocodile Bank entry: INR 20/- per head
  • Crocodile Bank Camera chargers: 25/- per camera
  • Crocodile Bank handy camera chargers: INR 100/-
  • Snake park entry fee: INR 10/- per person
  • Lunch at A2B hotel: INR 350/- for 2 people (Panjabi food + rice)
  • Shore temple entry fee: INR 10/- per person
  • Light house entry fee: INR 10/- per person
  • Light house Camera entry: INR 20/-
  • Panch Pandva entry fee: INR 10/- per person
  • Non A/C Car Rent (Chennai airport-Pondicherry): INR 2700/- (including toll and parking)
  • Dinner at Le Terasse: INR 280/- for 2 person (Large Pizza and garlic bread)

Day 2: 9th Feb 2014 – Pondicherry:
             We woke up bit late and had breakfast in hotel. We meet our hotel owner a French lady Christel. She was extremely nice, helpful person. She shared maps, tourist books with us so we can able to explore city easily. We decided that we will just roam around and explore the Pondy city. Architecture in Pondicherry is very classic and gives you feel of French culture. French quarter/colony is also majorly divided in two parts, grey-white building area which belongs to Aurobindo Asharam and yellow colored building having French Architecture influence. After spending good time in French colony, we had lunch at Surguru restaurant for south Indian cuisine. Food was very delicious and it is must try place when you are in Pondicherry. 

Building in French quarter

Lunch at Surguru

            After our lunch we meet our friend, Mr. Joshi. He gives two wheeler vehicles on rent. We had discussion on what n when to see which places during our 3 days stay here. He has very detailed information about Pondicherry and very cooperative person. Before we start our sightseen, we had coffee at “cool cat coffee” on Anmlatada Madam Street. It is one of the best filters Coffee I have tasted in south India till now. Place is very small but the way he prepare the coffee is quite interesting.
           For Evening we decided to visit Oustery Lake. This lake shares the border of Tamil Nadu state and Union territory of Pondicherry. It is also a good place to spot migratory birds. Boating facility is available in lake and you can spot birds during ride. We reached at lake on bike by 4 PM. We booked seat in a boat and had 20-25 min ride. I told boatman that I wanted to click photographs of birds so he switched off boat engine near to island. Island is in the center of lake which is homing of migratory as well as native birds during winter. You can spot Asian Pelican, Grey Heron, pond heron, egrets, Darters, Oriental Darter, Oriental ibis, glossy ibis and river tern birds. This lake is also having large variety of lotus flowers. Boating is available between 9.30 am to 5.00 pm. Fun to visit this place and prefer evening to avoid harsh sunlight.

Island in the center of Oustery Lake
Island in the center of Oustery Lake

Dalmatian Pelican
Dalmatian Pelican

Dalmatian Pelican
Dalmatian Pelican

Oriental Darter
Oriental Darter

Lotus bed

Landing is an art - Dalmatian Pelican
Landing is an art - Dalmatian Pelican

             We spend rest of the evening on Promenade road. This road is closed for vehicle from 6.30 PM to 7.30 AM. Local and travelers can enjoy the walk along seashore in evening as well as in early morning. A lot of food stalls are available but we didn’t try much. We saw French War Memorial which is close to Gandhi statue. It is very simple and beautiful war memorial for French soldiers who laid down their lives, for their country during the First World War. It looks more beautiful at night. Unfortunately entry is restricted.
             For Dinner we went to famous pizza restaurant Café Xtasy. They have around 74 types of pizza considering veg and non-veg items. Sizes of pizzas are also larger than what you get in brand pizza chain. Our day 2 ends with delicious dinner.

French War memorial
French War memorial

Pizza at Cafe Xtasy
Pizza at Cafe Xtasy

  • Lunch at surguru: INR 190/- (INR 124/- for meal and INR 59/- for Dosa)
  • Bike Rent: INR 750/- (for 3 days)
  • Petrol for Bike for day: INR 140/- (approx. 2 Lit)
  • Cool cat coffee: INR 15/-
  • Oustery Lake boat ride: INR 60/- per person
  • Dinner at Café Xtasy: INR 469/- (Large Pizza and garlic bread)

Day 3: 10th Feb 2014 – Auroville international City:
               Our today’s destination was Auroville international town/center. We woke up by 7.00 and left our hotel by 8.30 after breakfast. We return our bike to Joshi and took non geared Active for day trip. It becomes easy to carry few thing and we both can enjoy driving. Auroville is around 12 km from Pondicherry. Township is located in Villupuram district in the state of Tamil Nadu. It was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa (also known as "The Mother") and designed by architect Roger Anger. Alfassa's first public message about the township was, "Auroville is meant to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity." Auroville’s population is around 2400 coming from 50 nationalities, 990 of whom are of Indian origin.
              Road towards Auroville center is goes through forest area. Once you reach in Auroville, you suppose to visit white building which is Visitor's Center. First you need to watch short film about the history of Matramandir and Auroville. This is required to get a pass to see mantra mandir from outside or inside. If you want to see mantra mandir (spiritual meditation center) from inside, you need to book your seats 2-3 days in advance. There are no charges to get inside mantra mandir. Check for white board where they have mentioned statistic about this place. After this we headed towards Mantra mandir. Walk to Mantra mandir goes through forest and you can feel silence. There is a huge banyan tree which is very old. You can see some beautiful birds on the branches of banyan tree. After a walk for 20 min, we reached at viewing point from where we can see the Matrimandir from a distance. It is a huge Golden metallic sphere in the center of green lawn. Real gold is used on the surface of sphere. Place is very beautiful. According to Mother, this represents "a symbol of future realization". Inside the Matrimandir, a spiraling ramp leads upwards to an air-conditioned chamber of polished white marble referred as a place for spiritual meditation center.

Way to mantra Mandir, Auroville

Numbers, Facts from Auroville

spotted owl
spotted owl  - Auroville is very rich for forest birds

Mantra Mandir - Auroville
Mantra Mandir - Auroville

             After watching mantra mandir, we came back by visitor’s bus which is provided by Auroville. This service is only use to drop tourist back to visitor’s center. We were accompanied by 1 Belgium couple in Auroville. We are still in touch with other and they invited us to visit their hometown in Belgium. After mantra mandir you can visit red colored building from visitor’s center. All are having different shops and all items have unique designed in all category. We had some food from cafeteria. They servers tasty food and nice juice made from different-different flowers. It was quite unique experience and we will visit this place in future for Mediation. 
              For Lunch we preferred restaurant Tanto as many people suggested us this place for pizza and pasta. We ordered both but I didn't like pasta at all. Pizza was average in taste but my wife like it very much. During our return journey, we visited Auro beach. Beach is not clean at all still quite popular in tourist. We were disappointment with the beach condition and left this place. We came to our room for some rest. 

Auro Beach

             We kept evening slot free for local sight-seen. Our first destination was Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple mainly known as Ganesh temple. This temple was in existence before the French came and settled in Pondicherry. Lord Ganesh facing the east coast near the Bay of Bengal was named as Bhuvaneshar Ganapathy, now called as Manakula Vinayagar. One of the major attractions in temple is Laxmi elephant and her blessing. If you give her a money or banana then she gives you a blessing by keeping her trunk on your head. It was an amazing site to watch. Aurobindo Ashram is located close to this temple. The Ashram was founded in 1926 by Sri Aurobindo Ghose, an Indian freedom fighter, poet, philosopher, and yogi. Before entering the Ashram you need to turn off your cell phones and leave your footwear outside. Inside the Ashram is a Marble Samadhi of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo decorated with fresh flowers. The atmosphere is really soothing and peaceful. There is a library cum bookstore inside the Ashram were we can get a lot of insight on the work of Sri Aurobindo and his life.

Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple - Laxmi Elephant

Aurobindo ashram
Aurobindo ashram

           Our last location of day was “Eglise de Notre Dame Des Anges” church a.k.a. “the Church of Our Lady of Angels”. It is close to promenade road. Church is very colorful and more beautiful architecture in the inside. By time now we were tried and had some snacks in ‘Hot bread cafe’. We came back to room for some time. We decided to have dinner in restaurant “Hotel Le Dupleix” as hotel owner and Mr. Joshi suggested us for fine dining. Originally this hotel was built to serve as the residence to French Mayor of Pondicherry latter converted into luxurious hotel. Ambiance of hotel was lovely. Food was very tasty and we tried Couscous with curried summer vegetable (average veg dish but curry was tasty), Ravioli con fungi (nice veg dish) and Sautéed snapper fish fillet (amazing seafood but I customized it to make it bit spicy). Do visit their wash room for unique wash basin. Service was also good and they made our dinner as perfect. Before we reach on room, we had famous “death by chocolate” ice cream at Richie rich ice cream parlor. A wonderful day comes to an end.

Eglise de Notre Dame Des Anges
Eglise de Notre Dame Des Anges

Eglise de Notre Dame Des Anges
Eglise de Notre Dame Des Anges - interior 

Hotel Le Dupleix
Hotel Le Dupleix

  • Bike parking at Auroville: INR 10/-
  • Flower juice at Auroville: INR 20/-
  • Lunch at TANTO: INR 410/- (Large Pizza and pasta)
  • Petrol for Bike for day: INR 70/- (approx. 1 Lit)
  • Dinner at Le Dupleix: INR 950/- for 2 person and w/o any kind of drinks
  • Ice cream at Richie rich: INR 120/-

Day 4: 11th Feb 2014 – Pondicherry and Pondicherry – Rameshwaram:
           It was a lazy day for us. We work up bit late and left for Paradise beach. Actually we wanted to visit that beach on early morning but boat service which takes you to that paradise island beach starts after 9 AM. Local says it is island beach but actually beach area is covered by water from 3 sides and access by road/on foot to beach is not an easy so paradise island.
           We reached Chunnambar Boat House club to catch boat for paradise beach. This boat club also offers you some watersports but I didn’t find quality up to the mark. Boat leaves only if there are enough passengers. Unfortunately we were only 2 and we waited for around 30-35 min for other passengers. By 10 PM we left boat house club for beach. In 20-25 min we reached at paradise beach. Beach is very clean but sea is rough. It is not at all ideal for swimming. Some food shakes were available with limited food options. Guards were everywhere on beach to stop you from entering in to water beyond your knees/waist but I did not see a life guard. Sun was quite harsh so we preferred a small walk and decided to return. Being a beach lover we have seen a lot of beaches across India and I was bit disappointed. Overall beach was good and can better if we came in evening slot. Last boat for beach leaves by 4 and returned by 5.30 PM. That will be better time slot to avoid harsh sunlight conditions.

Chunnambar Boat House

Paradise Beach
Paradise Beach

Paradise Beach
Paradise Beach

               We came back to our hotel by Lunch time. We had south Indian lunch at Surguru and explored city bit. We took some rest before our check out. Christel came from home to hotel to say au revoir to us. She invited us to visit her home and her new hotel which is under construction. We have to catch bus for Villupuram railway station which is around 38-40 km away.
              Our next destination was Rameshwaram and for that we were supposed to catch a train (booked ticket well in advanced) from Villupuram at 8 PM. Generally tourist prefers cab service but we choose to experience local transport. To our surprise when we asked for help to locate the bus for Villupuram, group of driver/conductor not only helped us to find bus but also arranged seats and carry our luggage. We reached to railway station and got a train in time. It was an overnight train to Rameshwaram.

  • Petrol for Bike for day: INR 70/- (approx. 1 Lit)
  • Chunnambar Boat House entry: INR 10/- per person
  • Chunnambar Boat House Camera chargers: INR 15/-
  • Parking at Chunnambar Boat House: INR 10/-
  • Boat ride for paradise beach: INR 150/- per person
  • Lunch at Surguru: INR 145/- (Dosa and Uthappa dishes)
  • Room Rent at Le reve bleu: INR 2400/- for 3 nights
  • Auto to bus stand: INR 80/-
  • Bus to Villupuram: INR 32/- for 2 person
  • Railway non ac berth ticket for Rameshwaram: INR 460/- for 2 person

Some contact number for reference:
  • Rajshekhar for car rent in Pondicherry: 0-9486199777.
  • Le Reve Bleu hotel Pondicherry: 0=9944204935. Web: http://www.lerevebleu-pondy.com 
  • Mr. Joshi, For Bike rent in Pondicherry: 0-9345425099.
  • Other recommended hotels (My person opinion): Palais de Mahe, Le Dupleix, The Promenade, Seaside Guest house.   
To avoid bigger blog size, I have divided my trip in 2 parts. Please click on Offbeat trip route: Pondicherry – Rameshwaram – Kodaikanal Part 2 to read about our further journey.

I will try to upload more and more travel blogs. Thanks for reading this Travel Blog.

Pritesh Kulkarni
Pune