Pondicherry to Mahabalipuram to Kanchipuram

Trip Start Jan 01, 2014
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Trip End Dec 31, 2014


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Where I stayed
Great Temple Bay

Flag of India  , Union Territory of Pondicherry,
Thursday, November 25, 2010

NOTE: You can click on the picture to enlarge it.

November 23 to November 27: Chennai to Pondicherry (also Puducherry).


The organization of this travelogue will be in chronological order, because that will make it easier to keep track of this journey with so much detail and information. Our group of eleven arrived late in the evening on November 23, and did not arrive at our hotel until after midnight on the 24th.   I finally got to bed at about 2:30AM.


Some practical information before the travelogue:  The climate in South India in November-December  is hot with high humidity, and even special wash and wear clothes do not dry quickly.   Clothes left out in the open will feel damp, so it's a good idea to keep them in plastic bags.    Bring t-shirts and polo shirts over short sleeve sports shirts.    You can have laundry done in Madurai at very good prices, so you won't have to pack so many fresh clothes for the 21 days of this journey.   If you need to recharge batteries or your camera frequently, you need the special  triangular 3 round plug with one larger (top one) than the other two.  Some times you must push hard to get the plug into the power socket. You will have access to 110/220 outlets at the Dream Hotel in Cochin.   Be prepared to eat spiced food with curry/cumin flavors often.   Even when you request food be prepared without any spice, they cook with spices.   If you order your meat medium rare, prepare to get well done steaks.  Some in our group loved it, while some of us tired of it in the first few days in India.    Many restaurants prepare decent Chinese food as a good alternative.   Fish and chips in India is nothing like what we find in the US or England, and  they often serve french fries cold.  


Alcoholic drinks can be very expensive - especially in hotels, but most places serve beer for a small bottle at $2.20 (100 rupees)  or $3.30 for a large bottle (150 rupees).   Kingfisher beer is popular here.   In a bar in GOA, I paid about $.88c for a small bottle of Kingfisher beer. You can purchase liquor by the bottle in Pondicherry in the French Quarter, but you cannot pack it in your carryon luggage.   I bought a bottle of whiskey (Indian and Scotch blend) for about $5.00 that was pretty decent.


India is a Hindu country, and besides all the famous gods, there are many minor gods and demi gods.   Rather than naming all the gods, here's a short-list:
Bhagwan - Eeshwar  -  Paramatma: Hindus believe in the oneness of god.  Brahma: god of creation.  The two major gods are Vishnu: god who protects the good people, and  Shiva: god who destroys the evil.  Ganesh: god of goodluck.  Rama: one of the reincarnation of Vishnu.   All the religions in India believe in karma.

Photo description sequence: left to right, and top to bottom

1. Our Tour Director, Ssridar  2.  paper factory visit   3.  Pondicherry French Quarter

4.  New Delhi airport   5.  Chennai marina beach   6.  Pondicherry museum sign

7.  Typical strip mall    8.  Chennai: British Fort St George   9.  Pondicherry: Elephant Temple





 

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Nov 24: Today was the city tour of Chennai, founded by the British East India  Company in 1639.  Chennai was chosen for its location because of its access to the Pacific Ocean.   Our tour by coach included Georgetown (the oldest shopping market), a short visit to Marina Beach, past Fort St George (the oldest bastion of British power), St Thomas Basilica (St Thomas is supposedly interred here), Mahatma Gandhi's statue, then our drive towards Pondicherry (also known as Puducherry and the Frenh Riviera of the east).





The climate here is hot with high humidity, so everything feels damp – even hotel towels.     I usually pack too much clothes, but for this trip, I made the right decision to over-pack, because I didn't know about the reasonable cost of laundry service.   Most shirts can't be worn more than once, and even people who have fast drying clothes said their clothes do not dry after an overnight.   Another problem with the high humidity is that most of us suffered from congestion, and coughed almost every day.   It helps to bring Tylonol cold capsules to help reduce the congestion and headache.


On our way to Pondicherry, we stopped at Dakshima Chitra, a South India crafts center, for lunch.  They have a bazaar in the back where they sell handmade crafts from several districts in South India.  We arrived in Pondicherry at 5PM. 

 
Nov 25: PONDICHERRY, now called Puducherry, with its French institutions and businesses has a 1500 meter long beach with monuments dedicated to Gandhi, War Memorial built by the French to commemorate the soldiers who died in WWI, and the light house that's 29m high that over 150 years old.  Puducherry was settled by the French, and the architecture and wider roads with the Paris-like street signs provides the final touch of making it feel like France.  Some of the buildings look similar to those found in the French Quarter in New Orleans.   Many still speak French in this area of Pondicherry.  Pondicherry is also known for having 35 colleges and universities.  


The hotel, the Radisson Temple Bay, was very nice.   It's a resort hotel that matches those found in Bali with a huge swimming pool that ran the length of the buildings that's about 200 yards in lenth.  Our rooms were of good size with a sitting area, and huge bathrooms.  There are also family units on the property surrounded by greenery and flowers.   I was assigned room 112, fronting the huge swimming pool.  


Our tour of this city was a visit to a paper factory where they sell wrapping paper, note books, paper crafts, bags, and greeting cards.   We were then coached to the French Quarter to visit the Sri Arubindo tomb.   Picture taking was not allowed. 


From Wiki:

"Sri Aurobindo (Bengali: Sri Ôrobindo) (born Aurobindo Ghose, in Calcutta 15 August 1872 – 5 December 1950) was an Indian nationalist, freedom fighter, philosopher, yogi, and poet.[2][3] He joined the Indian movement for freedom from British rule and for a duration became one of its most important leaders,[4] before developing his own vision of human progress and spiritual evolution."

To enter the Sri Arubindo tomb property we had to remove our shoes and sox.  We then proceeded to the tomb where we saw some people just clasping their hands and bowing, one lady who had both of her arms across the tomb with her head on the tomb, and some of the adherents who walked clockwise around the tomb.   There were many  people  who were there to observe and just spend a few minutes to look at the activity around the tomb.   We then visited the bookstore on premise and looked at many of the books Sri Aurobindo had authored, including such titles as Sri Aurobindo on Shakespeare, Wives, and many on Yoga. 


Half a block from Sri Arbindo's tomb is the Elephant Temple.  We did not go inside the temple, but we were able to see a wedding in progress, and I was able to take a picture of the couple while they posed for pictures. 

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From there, we walked a few blocks to the the Puducherry Museum of History with bronze artifacts of Vishna and Shiva, handicrafts, ancient weapons, and coins from many countries around the world.  On display are US pennies from 1858 and 1863.   We passed by central park that has a statue of Napoleon which was followed by lunch at the Satsanga Restaurant.   I had calamari with french fries and a large bottle of beer (US$10).  We returned to our hotel about 2:30PM to rest, and to meet in the lobby at 3PM for a pedicab ride back to the French Quarter.


It was raining, so the pedicabs had plastic covering which made it impossible to see the anything during the ride.  Our first stop was in front of the government building with a western-style architecture.  We then rode towards the waterfront to see Gandhi and Nehru's statues.

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We stopped at the Rendezvous Restaurant to see if any in our group wanted to return for dinner, but because of the rain, all of us opted to have dinner at our hotel.   We also stopped at a liquor store where I purchased a whisky made from a blend of Indian and Scotch whiskey.   At Rs230 (US$5.70), it was a bargain, but the security officer broke the bottle when we were at the Chennai airport for our flight to Madurai.    I had several drinks from it, so I got my monies worth. 

Nov 26: We had a 9:10AM departure for Mahabalipuram to visit some rock temples.   We had rain today, but our wet clothes dried quickly.   We passed by a nuclear power plant of which there are six in India.

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MAHABALIPRUM was a 7th century port city about 60 km south of Chennai. 
It is no longer a port, but they have outstanding examples of Dravidian art and architecture strewn with some of the best temple art.  

The first location has a huge rock that seem to be suspended on an incline, but we were told it's been there for millions of years, and there is no fear it will suddenly roll down.  At the same location is a temple carved into the stone showing Vishnu and Shiva.  From there, we walked to the world's largest relief sculpture, Descent of the Ganga, in stone.   Next was Arjuna's Penance (Mahabharata), followed by the Rathas (Chariots of the Gods) each created in a different style, and lastly, the twin-spired Shore Temple (a UNICEF World Heritage Site).

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After we returned to the hotel from our touring for the day, Tom and I had a whisky tasting of the booze we purchased in Puducherry.   We both thought they were pretty good for the price.



Several of us then went to the hotel restaurant for dinner.   I ordered a Caesar salad and tenderloin steak, medium-rare, but both turned out to be very disappointing.   The Caesar salad had soggy lettuce with a dressing that tasted nothing like Caesar salad dressing.   The steak came back well done, and cooked with mushrooms embedded in the steak.   It was not edible, so I told the waiter I could not eat it.   As a replacement, I ordered the grilled prawns which was much better, but a little bit too salty.   I ended the meal with chocolate ice cream.   They charged me only for the steak, beer, and ice cream.   Radisson just took over this property, and they need to do a better job with their food preparation.    Otherwise, the service was top-notch, and I enjoyed our stay at this property.

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NOTE: As a frequent traveler with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), they usually assign me with the best rooms available for the group, and sometimes fruit baskets in my room.   At this stay, they gave me a cake which I gave to the hotel staff to share.  


Nov 27: We coached to Kanchipuram, the city of 1,000 temples today to visit a couple of the temples.  The first temple we visited is 4,000 years old dedicated to Shiva, and represented by the cow.   As with Muslims who are required to visit Mecca at least once in their lifetime, Hindus are required to visit this temple at least once.  The second temple we visited carved into sandstone is 1,500 years old. 

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 After lunch, on our way back to Chennai, our visit was to the snake nest (mound) with a temple-like structure built around it.

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Nov 28: Chennai to Madurai: We returned to get a good look at the world's biggest stone relief sculpture of gods and demi-gods on a nice, sunny, morning.  We drove through some heavy traffic to Chennai airport to catch our flight to Madurai.   Our flight was a little late for departure, but we arrived in Madurai in about 50 minutes.  Our first stop in Madurai was to a monastery where young boys, aged eight to eleven chant prayers in Sanskrit  They remain here for five years of learning, but are able to visit home once-a-year.  

Our next stop was the Tirumalai Naiker Palace, designed by an Italian architect, where the king resided from 1623 to 1659.   It's huge complex with a huge courtyard and the royal red chair at the far end of the court still on display. 


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MADURAI is synonymous with tne Meenakshi Temple.
  Our third stop for the day was a auto-ricksha ride to the Sri Meenakshi Temple's nighttime ceremony where family members pull a golden chariot around the temple grounds.   There was an elephant and two camels in the procession.     The golden chariot is lit up by a motorized generator that sounds like a lawn mower engine.


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