Tag Archives: Tamil Nadu

Pondicherry

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Pondicherry

After leaving Kumbakonam our next stop on our trip was the town of Pondicherry. This small town was the largest French colony in India, and was so right up to 1954. The French influence is still very much in evidence, the architecture, French street names, bakery’s and French speaking Indians. Pondicherry has three different areas. There is the heritage quarter, white town and the new town which is basically like stepping back into India. Our stay in Pondicherry did not start too well. On arrival we had problems with accommodation, one was nothing like as described, another after booking online told us on arrival that they had no rooms available. When I showed them our booking reference, we was informed that it was a computer error,and I was plagued by ” what I can honestly say” was the worst cough I have ever had and was feeling quite ill. Not a good start. So it was good that we had a full seven days stay in the town so I had time to recover. Once we finally got the accommodation settled it was time to enjoy Pondicherry “in between coughing fits that is”. Over the first few days of our stay, we discovered that we had arrived during an Indian festival called Pongal. It is a four day harvest festival dedicated to the different Gods to promote a good crop growing season. What is really nice about it is that many of the locals create intricate designed drawings (mandalas) on the pavements, created with many different coloured powders. A truly amazing sight. In Pondicherry there isn’t many notable sights to see, but that is not to say it isn’t a very nice place to spend some time. It is far removed from main stream Indian, and was a little bit of calm and serenity after our very busy previous few weeks.

So our week consisted of taking walks along the promenade with its nice refreshing breeze, to visiting some of the many good restaurants in the area. Notable sights are the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, also the Pondicherry Museum, which is housed in a very beautiful ornate building. A bit further out of town if you want to venture further is Auroville “which we did not visit”, but it’s described as a township devoted to an experiment in human unity community. It was founded in 1968 by the spiritual leader Mirra Alfassa who is also known as “Mother”

Restaurants & Eateries

Le Chateau I can highly recommend the restaurant in the hotel where we stayed. Le Chateau, the food is excellent, staff are first class. Also the kitchen is housed behind a glass wall where you can see the chefs preparing and cooking the food.

Cafe del Flora A great place to just chill and relax. The cafe is owned and run bu a nice French guy, and serves baguettes, quiches and various other delights and good coffee.

Sicily’s Another nice place right on the seafront, serving great coffee, delicious cakes and really good pizza.

Not a lot else to say about Pondicherry except if you are touring southern India it’s a nice place to stay. Next stop Mahabalipuram.

Tiruchirapalli (Trichy), Thanjavur and Kumbakonam.

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Tiruchirapalli (Trichy), Thanjavur and Kumbakonam.

We travelled from Madurai to Trichy by coach with Parveen Travels, who I have to say we’re very good indeed, and would throughly recommend travelling with. They have various offices located throughout southern India and it’s worth checking them out. The journey took around two and a half hours, and was very pleasant indeed. Having read a lot about these three cities whilst doing our research, and reading about the unique temples in each of them, we felt we had to include them on our trip. I won’t go into detail about each city, as quite frankly, and not to sound too harsh they are just very busy Indian cities with little else other than the temples.

I will concentrate on the main sights, and give you a little insight into each.

Trichy.

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple

The temple occupies an area of 155 acres (63 ha) with 50 shrines, 21 towers, 39 pavilions and many water tanks integrated into the complex. The temple town is a significant archeological and epigraphical site, providing a historic window into the early and mid medieval South Indian society and culture. Numerous inscriptions suggest that this Hindu temple served not only as a spiritual center, but also a major economic and charitable institution that operated education and hospital facilities, ran a free kitchen, and financed regional infrastructure projects from the gifts and donations it received “article extracted from Wikipedia”. Two other places of interest in Trichy, are the rock Fort with the seventeenth century Vinayaka (Ganesh) temple at the top. Entrance to the temple is in the very busy, China bazaar street. It’s quite an arduous climb to the top, up some very steep steps at times, which you will have to do bare footed, as it’s a Hindu temple. “Still don’t quite understand this rule, or who even made the rule up”. Upon reaching the top there are far reaching views across the city. The other interesting structure is Our Lady of Lourdes church , which is modelled on the basilica of Lourdes. The church is at the start of bazaar street so visit this first then walk along the China bazaar to get to the Rock Fort. These you could quite easily visit in one day. We originally had four nights booked in Trichy but we cut this down to three, as apart from the above there is not much else to do in the city.

Thanjavur

Is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Brihadishwara Temple and is by far my favourite temple on this trip. The Gopura’s (temple towers) are not brightly coloured like most of the other temples we have visited, but are left in original sandstone. Which in my opinion is more pleasing to the eye. Brihadishwara Temple is one of the largest in South India and is dedicated to the god Shiva. Also in town is the Thanjavur Palace. The Thanjavur Maratha Palace Complex, known locally as Aranmanai, is the official residence of the Bhonsle family which ruled over the Tanjore region from 1674 to 1855. Most of it is now derelict but there some interesting artefacts inside and some nicely preserved sections. Note the palace is closed between 1pm and 2pm and entrance costs 200 INR which includes entrance to the library, art gallery and the museum.

Kumbakonam

Around one and a half hours drive from Thanjāvūr is Kumbakonam, the last stop on our temple trail. Kumbakonam is a very busy, bustling place,we felt more so than the other cities which we had visited, it was manic. It also didn’t help by the fact that our hotel was situated by a very large bus station, with their horns bellowing from early morning and until late at night. We had only booked two nights, so we only had one full day to explore. Their are quite a few temples to visit in Kumbakonam but we only managed one, probably as at this stage in our trip we were quite frankly all templed out. We decided on visiting the Airavatesvara Temple. It’s situated a little out of town, it’s nice and quite, and set in some well manicured grounds. Just perfect. The style of the temple is very much like the Brihadishwara Temple in Thanjāvūr, but on a much smaller scale. So if you are doing the same sort of itinerary as us, and like us “templed out” then it is one to visit.

Indian Religion

I feel I want to just add my take on the Hindu way of worship. Being somebody that has no faith, I still find all religions fascinating. Firstly I am a great lover of the amazing architecture of the places of worship, whichever religion this maybe. I am also fascinated by the dedication of the followers. We have seen hundreds possibly thousands of people queuing on a daily basis to give there offerings. We have witnessed train and bus loads of pilgrims travelling from all parts of India to worship at there chosen gods temple. We spoke to a group on a train that had been travelling non stop for some thirty hours to reach a a temple on there pilgrimage. I find this devotion and dedication quite mind blowing. The one thing that I will never understand though is that outside every temple we visited there are many market stalls selling flowers, coconuts, parcels of food, which are then taken into the temple and given to the gods as an offering. In addition to this millions of rupees are donated every day. My question is where does all this food and money go. Certainly not to the people who need it, as the amount of homeless people I have witnessed on the streets and living in squaller and begging for food is incredible. One fact that I looked up was that the current estimates of homeless in India run at 78 million, 11 million of which are children. These figures shocked me. That is 13 million more than the whole population of the UK. Food for thought I think.

Coimbatore,Ooty and the Nilgiri Mountain Railway

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Well, after our time in Kumarakom it was time to head further north to Ooty, which is also known as Udagamandalam. It is high up in India’s Western Ghats. It’s location is around 86km north of Coimbatore and 121km from Mysore, which is our next destination. To get to Ooty involved taking a six hour train journey “which should have been five, that’s Indian rail” from Kottayam to Coimbatore. We were in AC2 class, which is slightly better than Sleeper Class, insomuch as its air conditioned, “so much so it was like travelling inside a fridge”. Our train arrived in Coimbatore at 7:30pm. We had booked to stay for one night at the Kiscol Grands hotel, “a rather grand place but only £30 per night” we stayed in Coimbatore as we could not find any suitable accommodation at Mettupalayam where the Mountain Railway leaves from. The mountain train has only one service a day and that leaves at 07:10am. Our taxi picked us up at 05:30am, the journey to the Mettupalayam took around 1 hour. When we arrived the place was bustling with people, as the journey on the blue train which it’s known as, is a very popular tourist attraction. For the train aficionados the Ooty train is a cog railway and is 1,000 mm (3 ft 3’3⁄8 in) gauge. This informations drawn from Wikipedia, just in case my friends who read this think I’ve turned into a train nerd. The railway was built in 1908 and ascends 2203 metres. Journey time takes around 5hrs to travel the 46km. There are various stopping points where you can get off and stretch your legs, get a drink and some food “you need it as the carriages are a little snug”. As you climb high into the western ghats the views are stunning. Peaks, low valleys, tea plantations, tiny villages trickling streams and waterfalls to enthral you along the way.

The town of Ooty itself is really lovely place to visit for a few days, you would not even think you were in India “except for the manic driving and honking of horns”. With its back drop of the ghats all around you, it’s like your in an amphitheater. It’s lush landscape and very tall trees, “I likened it to perhaps somewhere like North America” and it’s own micro climate it’s the perfect place to chill. No wonder the British came here to escape the heat of cities and towns down from the mountains. The architecture, the buildings and the lovely colonial bungalows and heritage homes are really beautiful. One thing to remember is that Ooty is high in the Western Ghats and the temperature is a lot lower then lower down. For example when we were in Varkala it was around 30 degrees now it’s currently 13 degrees dropping to 8 to 9 degrees overnight so bring warm clothing.

Top Tips

Accommodation I can recommend staying at the Wyoming Heritage Home stay a really beautiful home high up on the side of a hill overlooking the town. It’s in an ideal location, away from the hustle and bustle of the town below.

Sights

  • Boat house lake, personally we could have left this one out, it’s a large man made boating lake with lots of tacky souvenir shops and amusements, but it seems a hit with the locals.
  • Thread Garden This one is definitely worth a visit. It’s the tireless work of a guy named Antony Joseph and 50 women who have constructed a floral garden of many plant species and flowers, all made just out of thread and all by hand. It took the team 12 years to complete, amazing. It’s located right opposite the Boat House Lake.
  • Botanical Gardens Now this a must visit, a beautiful oasis on the edge of town. It was built in 1848 by Scottish gardener William Graham McIvor who worked at Kew Gardens in England. Top Tip make sure you walk right up the the very top section where the very tall and large eucalyptus trees are, an amazing sight. Also another attraction that we did not visit is the Rose Garden, the reason being that the roses are not in bloom. Best time to see this we have been told is May and June when everything is in bloom.
  • Doddabetta Peak This is the highest point in Tamil Nadu at 8640 feet above sea level, affording amazing views over the Western Ghats and Ooty, although the day we visited the view was somewhat muted due to low cloud, which was a shame. If your stay in Ooty allows visit on a week day as its a very popular tourist spot. “It was really busy on a weekday so it is quite possibly manic at the weekends.
  • The Tea Factory After visiting Doddabetta peak and on the way down, it’s worth stopping and having a look at the tea factory. The production line is quite small so it’s easy to see the whole process from leaves to the end product easily. An interesting visit.