• Ajaz Shaikh

Perfect Travel Blueprint For Chennai & Pondicherry Backpacking Trip

The union territory of Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry; generally known as ‘Pondy’) was under French rule until 1954. Some people here still speak French (and English with French accents). Hotels, restaurants and ‘lifestyle’ shops sell a seductive vision of the French-subcontinental aesthetic, enhanced by Gallic creative types and Indian artists and designers. The internationally famous Sri Aurobindo Ashram and its offshoot just north of town, Auroville, draw large numbers of spiritually minded visitors. Thus Pondy’s vibe: less faded colonial-era ville, more bohemian-chic, New Age–meets–Old World hang-out on the international travel trail.

Day One : Reach Chennai 

For best price you can book Mumbai - Chennai Roundway ticket one month in advance for around Rs. 4500. To make the best out the day reach Chennai by 12 noon.

But Why Pondy?

A short 2-3 day trip can be planned for it.India has a vast coastline on both East & West. I have visited Western coast only, so time for the eastern coast.Till date only seen Sunset on the seashore. Time to see the Rising Sun.To witness various shades of cultural diversity of India.To be with myself.

St. Thomas Mount National Shrine, Chennai

Situated on a little slope, St Thomas Church in the Guindy suburb of Chennai; inside the range of Chennai International Airport, is a standout amongst the most consecrated and in addition ravishing places of worship in the city.

The St. Thomas Mount hill top offers a 360 degree panoramic view of Chennai city. To the right from the Banyan tree, one can see the Kathipaara junction road crossing and from the entrance of the gate, one can see the awesome view of the Chennai airport too.

As indicated by enthusiasts, this is where St Thomas, who was a supporter of Lord Jesus lived and furthermore accomplished affliction around 2,000 years back. Notwithstanding the religious significance, this place is likewise known for its rich excellence. From the ridge, you can appreciate dumbfounding perspectives of the adjacent district. On a visit to this devout place, you can encounter the holiness and commitment that exists here. What’s more, the lavish and magnetic magnificence of the congregation and its environment will most likely keep you charmed every through; see from the peak are extremely honorable and is an absolute necessity for everybody.

Madras War Cemetery, Chennai

The Madras War Cemetery, right in the heart of the city of Chennai, is a recognition of the glory as well as horrors of the war our ancestors have fought to make this world a more peaceful place. In short, it houses the last remains of around 855 martyrs who laid down their precious lives at the battlefronts in the devastating Second World War and also a Memorial stone for 1000 more who died fighting in the Great War before that. In 1952, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Indian Government together established this cemetery to commemorate those who died to save our lives. Among the tombstones, there are three non-World War martyrs and a small memorial for a sea merchant as well. It must be remembered that the headstones are not only of soldiers who fought but of doctors, nurses and other support staffs as well.

Top class maintenance by the authorities has kept the cemetery in great shape. Even though it has its roots in a sad and bloody past, the cemetery lawn feels like a serene and peaceful place for the dead to rest. It hosts the Armistice Day homage every year on November 11 with wreath offerings and Guard of Honours. Anybody interested in war-time history or wants to pay their respect to the martyrs should visit the Madras War Cemetery. It is not only a remembrance but a tangible proof of the cost of war.

Besant Nagar Beach, Chennai

Besant Nagar Beach is otherwise known as Elliot’s beach. The beach is named after the chief magistrate and superintendent of police Edward Elliot. This beach is located in Besant Nagar and this beach is said to be the end point of the Marina Beach shore. This calm beach is quite clean and you can peacefully spend time here.

Besant Nagar beach is also fondly called as Bessy beach by the locals. The neighbourhood is an affluent one and it mostly consists of individual houses and bungalows. Besant Nagar beach is the second most visited beach in Chennai after Marina beach. Here are few things to do and places to visit near Besant Nagar Beach.

So, basically i had to chose between Marina Beach and Besant Nagar Beach.

Dinner: Dindigul Thalappakatti - Popular for South Indian Style Chicken & Mutton Briyani

In recent years they are spreading their branch’s globally. Their biryani is a different, they make it with Seeraga Samba Rice and Secret Homemade Grounded Spices which is different from the Muslim style or basmati riced dum biryani.

First time tasting their biryani, so different, felt like home cooked taste, entirely different from other biryani, perfectly spiced, had around 4 soft well cooked chicken one big piece, it comes with 3 side dishes, onion raita, dalcha, and sauce like spicy gravy.

After such a well spent day and filled stomach, lets start a roadtrip to Pondicherry.

Day Two : Good Morning “Pondi”

After such a day one spent at Chennai, let start day two exploring Pondicherry

Morning Walk at Promenade Beach, Pondicherry

A popular beach adoring the coastline of the city of Pondicherry, this long 1.2 kilometers is a haven for travelers and beach enthusiasts. Starting from the War memorial and ending at the Dupleix Park on the Goubert Avenue, the beach is also a favorite haunt for locals for the morning and evening walks besides being an all-time favorite picnic destination. As you explore the beach, you will find a statue of Mahatma Gandhi which is followed by a sea-facing restaurant to enjoy some local culinary delights.

For those who want to enjoy the warm moments and pick up some souvenirs there are small tea, snacks and souvenir shops from where you can pick a memory or enjoy some peanuts while taking in the cool breeze of the sea. The sunrise and sunset views from the beach are especially beautiful and so does the view of moon shimmering on the sea waters. Some of the popular nearby attractions which the travelers can also visit while visiting Promenade beach are War Memorial, Chief Secretariat, The Promenade, Le Café and Dupleix Park.

Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry

Sri Aurobindo Ashram may be located in a couple of non-descript looking buildings, but is one of the most sublime places in Pondicherry. As soon as one enters, the most beautiful stillness descends on the being. The place is ideal for lighting incense sticks and being immersed in quiet meditation. It has an area exclusively dedicated to the writings of Sri Aurobindo. The Ashram has programs where young (and established) poets can read out their works. A section of the ashram also sells soaps, candles etc manufactured by the residents. If you are in French colony area of Pondicherry.

Strictly no use is mobiles phones or capturing pictures inside the premises, because of which I don’t have pictures to post.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pondicherry

One of the most sacred and religious places of Pondicherry, the Church of Sacred Heart of Jesus is situated 2.5 km away from the Pondicherry Bus Station on the south boulevard of the town. One of the 21 Basilicas in India and the only one in Pondicherry, this church was set up by the French missionaries in 1908 which was given the status of the Basilica in 2011. One of the most beautiful Catholic Churches of Pondicherry, the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus beautifully showcases the Gothic architecture. Biblical words can be seen engraved on the entrance in Latin along with the images of Jesus and Mother Mary on the door at the entrance. Occasions such as New Year, Christmas Eve, and Easter Day are celebrated at the church in a grand way.

The lives of Christ along with the saints of the Catholic Church have been captured in the stained glass panels of the edifice. The centenary celebrations were held in the church during 2008-2009, and it was during this time that postal envelopes along with a unique postal stamp were released. The church is the first ever basilica in Pondicherry, the 6th one in Tamil Nadu, the 20th in India, and the 50th one in Asia. Thousands of people flock to the Sacred Heart Basilica to attain peace. This beautiful church is a must-visit if you are planning a trip to Pondicherry for it is going to seclude you and take you to a world of tranquillity away from the fast-moving life of the city in a mode of complete relaxation

Pondicherry: A Corner Of India That Is Forever France

A portion of France still exists in India in the French Quarter in Pondicherry, which has a history of being  acquired and colonised by the French East India Company to set up a trading centre. Pondicherry had been passed on to multiple colonial powers of Dutch, Portuguese, English, but predominantly French. Even now there’s a huge French influence in Pondicherry, now a Union Territory of India. When Pondicherry was handed over to India, the residents were given an option to maintain their French passports. The residents (Indians and non-Indians originally) in Pondicherry are French citizens, the streets have retained their French names, the residents speak French, there are restaurants and cafes serving French food with menus in French language, the villas in French architectural styles prevail.

Lunch Time: Surguru Spot

Soul satisfying food. The South Indian Thali meal is to die for. Quick service and good food at dirt cheap prices. Must try. A must visit eatery in White Town. The food is so nicely made, like a much tastier version of home food. The place is clean and hygienic which is the first thing you look for.

Paradise Beach, Pondicherry

Enjoy a break from the colonial landmarks and historic attractions of Pondicherry and relax on the virgin sands of Paradise Beach. This serene and private beach sits at the tip of a peninsula where the Bay of Bengal and Chunnambar River converge. Officially called Chunnambar Beach, Paradise Beach was given its popular name by the local residents who delight in escaping to a quiet haven close to the city center.

Access to the beach is via a short boat ride from the northern shores of the Chunnambar River. Sit on the boat’s upper deck and watch as the white-sand, palm-lined sandbank comes into view. Step off the boat, go walking along the seashore and paddle in the warm water. The views are delightful along the river and out across the Bay of Bengal, so make sure to pack your camera.

Bring your bathing suit and enjoy a swim on the ocean side of the beach.

Ganesha Temple - Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Devasthanam

An important itinerary of Pondicherry pilgrimage is a visit to the Manakula Vinayagar Temple. The ancient temple was constructed three centuries ago and still stands in all its magnificent glory.

In Tamil ‘Manal’ means sand and 'Kulam’ means pond near the sea, earlier which was full of sand around pond. So the people called the god as Manal Kulathu Vinayagar which translates as 'God near the pond of sand’.

The temple is dedicated to the worship of Lord Ganesha. The monumental interiors of the temple are decorated with forty incarnations and forms of Lord Ganesha, carved on the stone walls of the temple. The golden spire forms the superstructure of the temple and is the steeple that crowns the place of worship. Within the premises of the temple lies the shrine devoted to Lord Murugan.

According to Hindu mythology, Lord Murugan is the younger brother of the presiding deity of the temple, Lord Ganesha. The architecture in which the temple structure is stylized is typical of the Deccan era and bears similarity with temples of other states of South India.

Manakula Vinayagar Temple was in existence before the French came and settled in Pondicherry i.e. before 1666. During the tenure of Dupleix, there were attempts to destroy the temple but the temple was finally spared owing to strong protests from the Hindu population and the threat of British and Maratha invasion of the territory.

Devotees and pilgrims gather in large numbers in the temple everyday to offer their prayers to the reigning deity and to seek blessings of Lord Ganesha. The pilgrims are entertained by the temple elephant Lakshmi who gathers coins from the tourists and showers blessings through her trunk.

The stone carvings and the golden shrine create a blissful aura around the temple making it a true abode of the temple deity, Lord Ganesha.

After a holy visit to Ganesh Temple, you can take a walk around Botanical Garden or you can also do shopping, before you hit for dinner and unwind yourself.

Day 3: Chennai & Pondicherry Backpacking Trip

Let start day 3 with something divine.

Auroville Matrimandir, Pondicherry

It is arranged at the focal point of Auroville started by The Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. It is a structure of otherworldly noteworthiness for experts of Integral yoga. It is called soul of the city and is arranged in an expansive open space called Peace. Matrimandir does not have a place with a specific religion or order. The Matrimandir, and its encompassing patio nurseries in the focal Peace Area, is available to general society by arrangement. The four primary columns that help the structure of Matrimandir, and convey the Inner Chamber, have been set at the four principle bearings of the compass. These four columns are emblematic of the four parts of the mother as depicted by Sri Aurobindo, and are named after these four viewpoints.

Visitors should bear in mind that the Matrimandir is not a ‘tourist’ site; it is a place for individual silent concentration. A place which should be visited in an appropriate physical and mental state.Visits to Matrimandir are free of cost. Bookings for passes to Matrimandir cannot be done by agents, guides or tour operators. Passes for the Matrimandir Viewing Point can be obtained for free at Auroville’s Visitors’ Centre, after watching a short introductory video on the Matrimandir.

Mahabalipuram: Eastern Coastal Road

The picturesque East Coast Road along the Bay of Bengal coastline is the most popular route. Get amazing views of the water and sun reflected in it, as you drive along this route. An added advantage is that you pass famous sights like Alambara Fort, Mahabalipuram, Mudaliarkuppam, and Kalpakkam, a nuclear facility. You can stop and explore these locations at your own pace. Get ready for an amazing road trip.

Bhuk Lagi Hai: Mamallaa Heritage, Mahabalipuram

The Golden Palate - must try place for a vegetarian person travelling to Mahabalipuram. Wok To Dhaba -  A pretty decent place to have non veg food if you are visiting Mahabalipuram. Though the menu does not gives you a lot of options.

Pancha Rathas, Mahabalipuram (5 Rathas that belong to 5 Pandavas)

The Five Rathas or Panch Rathas are five monolithic temple structures built by the Pallavas in early 7th century AD. Situated in a common complex to west of the Shore temple in Mahabalipuram, the Pancha Rathas display exquisite carvings carved out from a single large boulder.

They are named after the Pandavas Yudhisthira, Arjuna, Bhima, Nakul, Sahadeva and their wife Draupadi. However as the names might suggest, the temples are not related to the Pandavas of Mahabharata fame but, unfinished masterpieces of the Pallava dynasty.

The construction of the Rathas is believed to have been started by King Mahendravarman I of the Pallava dynasty. It was continued by his son Narasimhavarman I in early 7th century AD. The temple were however left incomplete after the Narasimhavarman I’s death.

Based on the amazing ornamentation and sculptures however, it can be safely assumed that they were supposed to be temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, Vishnu, Indra and Durga.

Krishna’s Butterball, Mahabalipuram

Forever (hopefully) perched on a steep rock slope in the historic town of Mahabalipuram, India, the massive round boulder known as Krishna’s Butter Ball refuses to give in to gravity or the shoves of tourists.

The giant boulder appears to be frozen in its roll down the hill it sits on, and no one is quite sure why. The huge boulder is likely a glacial erratic that got stranded in a serendipitous position on the hill, but local legend has another version of the story. According to Hindu mythology, when the great god Krishna was just a baby, he was fond of stealing butter. Following this tradition, the big orange stone has been likened to a giant dollop of purloined butter that the god dropped.

The actual name of the stone is “Vaan Irai Kal,” which translates to “Sky God’s Stone,” and according to one source, the more playful name was given to the rock by a local tour guide. However it got its sort of silly name, it stuck.

Reinforcing the stone’s strangely balanced position, the slippery stone slope is used by local children as a slide. Today Krishna’s Butter Ball is a popular tourist attraction. Visitors to the site love to try to get behind the stone and try to push it down the hill. So far no human power has been able to budge the buttery boulder.

Shore Temple & Beach, Mahabalipuram

The Shore Temple is the icon of the ancient monuments of Mahabalipuram. The temple gets its name from its location on the Coromandel shore overseeing the Bay of Bengal. The sculptural excellence symbolizes the heights of Pallava architecture. The Dravidian style of architecture dates back to the 7-8th century. It was built under the rule of King Narsimha Varma. The visual delight of finest architecture, the sculptures and intricate and full of vivacity. The granite rock cut carvings are proof of the sheer brilliance of the artisans who have created this magnificent structure. The structural designs can be only called ‘poetry in stone’. It has been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.

Erected on a 50 feet square platform, the temple is a pyramidal structure rising to the heights of 60 feet. The characteristic specimen of Dravidian temple architecture, Shore Temple is one of the oldest structural stone temples of South India. The temple basks in the glow of the first rays of the rising sun and spotlights the waters after sunset.

The Shore Temple has three shrines, devoted to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. The main temple is a five-storeyed structure sculpted out of granite dedicated to Lord Shiva. The pyramidal structure is 60 feet (18 m) high and sits on a 50 feet (15 m) square platform. In the Garbha Griha, sanctum sanctorum, a Shivalinga is worshipped. At the rear end, there are two shrines facing each other. One shrine is dedicated to Ksatriyasimnesvara and the other to Lord Vishnu. In the shrine, Lord Vishnu is seen reclining on the ‘Seshanag’, which is a symbol of consciousness in Hinduism.

The temples both interiors and exteriors are elaborately carved and sculptured. The images on the sculpted panels illustrate scenes from everyday life in an incredibly real and artistic style. The reliefs of Nandi bull is magnificent and worth checking out. The archeological department has excavated certain other figures from the site.

Shore Temple is no more a temple worshipped. The structure of the temple is awe-inspiring, it was erected basically as a work of art. In the present day, Shore Temple makes the background of Mahabalipuram Dance Festival held annually in January/ February. The festival was organized to promote the traditional dance as well as tourism in Mahabalipuram.

The Great Kabab’s Factory - Radisson Blu Hotel, Egmore Chennai

This is probably Chennai’s best fine dining restaurant,you are served one of the best kebabs and North Indian delicacies in a table d’hote fashion,6 non-veg Kebabs unlimited assortments of Indian breads and biryani was on the menu having galouti Kebab, grilled prawn & Gulab jamun I was flabbergasted. The restaurant has an amazing ambience and is totally worth every penny of yours.

So if you want to get away from the crowd and just be by yourself in a serene location, Pondicherry is just perfect!

Some Tips:

  • Travel: From Mumbai to Chennai – Best way is by air as you can save a lot of time. For cheap air tickets drop a mail to contact@zefcoauxiliaryservices.com to avail best offers.

  • From Chennai to Pondicherry (to & fro) – PRTC AC bus is good, comfortable and economical. You may do bus booking in advance to get the perfect seat for perfect view. Though there are buses for every half an hour, so no need to worry if you miss it by any chance.

  • Stay:Many homestays are available as well as the luxurious hotels. It depends how much you would like to spend on it. One of the best options I found it awesome was Sea Side Guest view.

  • Local transport: You need to bargain a lot if you are having a public transport. The best way to roam in the city is to rent a vehicle/bike.

  • Places to visit: The Promenade, Auroville, The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Domus Dei, Paradise beach, Arikamedu is waste of time.To eat: Baker Street, Le Café, La Pasta World, Le Club, Asian House, The Great Kabab’s Factory, Mamallaa Heritage, Sri Yashika’s Pure Veg, Surguru Spot, A2B Chennai & Banana Leaf Barbeque Restaurant

  • People: Pondicherry people are kind and cheerful. Always ready to help.

Do follow me on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.