Almost it was more than 9 months, no trip or tour. We thought of taking a short break as no nearby holidays and we want to have a short travel. At home, we were debating on landscape to visit and we finalized on beaches and the destination was Pondicherry, a landscape with beautiful beaches to visit and enjoy with family and friends. The next action item for me was to apply leaves and get it approved and dates planned were 20th, 21st and 22nd September, 2018. The next agenda was to prepare itinerary and hotel booking and as usual I delegated these tasks to my wife as she is good in planning and execution. After a few analyses, we booked our stay at Hotel Jayaram at Kamaraj Salai for the above dates.
We also added Pichavaram, the world second biggest mangrove forest as part of our trip. The next debate was to decide on which route to travel as we can travel to Pondicherry by both East Coast Road (ECR), Grand Southern Trunk Road (GST). ECR is a scenic route to travel as frequently we drive close to beaches and the distance is around 150 kilometers from Chennai. Even though the roads are scenic, one needs to be careful while driving as there are many curves and at few places the roads 2 laned. GST is a much wider 4 laned route and we need to travel via Thindivanam to reach Pondicherry. As we are fond of beaches, we finally decided to drive through ECR.
September 20, 2018 – Thursday
Adayar – Kovalam – Mahabalipuram – Kalpakkam – Mudhaliarkuppam – Marakannam – Pondicherry
I had driven through ECR a few times earlier, the routes were clear to me and even though it was a known route, my excitement was not reduced as it is always pleasure for any driver or rider to drive through ECR.
We started post lunch at around 2.00 PM on 20th September as my kids had school. We skipped our lunch and decided to manage during drive. Even though it was a weekday, traffic was heavy till Sholinganallur and traffic eased out when we crossed Uthandi toll. Soon we crossed, Mutukadu Boat House, Kovalam and reached Mahabalipuram at around 3.30 PM. We decided to have a break near Kalpakkam at around 4 PM and we stopped for a small break. Soon we started and I was driving carefully as ECR has good number of twist and turns. As expected, the drive was scenic and we crossed Alampara Fort at around 4.45 PM and we reached Mudhaliyarkuppam Boat House at around 5.15 PM. We decided to skip Mudhaliyarkuppam Boat House and reached Hotel Jayaram at around 5.45 PM.
We quickly refreshed ourselves went to Promenade Beach. As it was evening, no cars or bikes were allowed inside and we parked safely at least half a kilometer away from beach and it was near to Manakula Vinayakar Temple. We had good darshan at temple and also with elephant with the temple. Then we walked to beach and spend time near Mahatma Gandhi Statue. As the vehicle traffic was completely stopped, it was wonderful to walk and my kids were happily running and playing. We had snacks, milk and ice cream and we then walked to the rock beach and the bridge at Promenade Beach. It was wonderful evening and chill breeze and we were in Promenade Beach till 8.30 PM. We returned back to Hotel Jayaram at around 9 PM and had good dinner and the highlight was the big family dosa available in their restaurant. After eventful afternoon and evening, we headed for much needed sleep.
September 21, 2018 – Friday
Pichavaram – Second largest Mangrove Forest (a must visit place)
Pichavaram mangrove forest is around 72 kilometers from Pondicherry, situated at Chidambaram, Cuddalore district. This second largest mangrove forest spread across 1100 hectares of area with 50 islands of various sizes. The water is not much deep, but wide enough joining Bay of Bengal and it is marshy lands with deep muds. Tamil Nadu tourism corporation operates different sizes and capacity boats which has ability to travel inside the dense marshy forest. The below are the important aspects for Pichavaram Mangrove Forest.
1. September to February is the best time to visit the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest.
2. It is around 72 kilometers and 2 hours’ drive from Pondicherry.
3. Boat Timing are between 8 AM and 5 PM.
4. Avoid visiting the place on public holidays or weekends as there could be large crowd.
5. 2-seater row boat – 220/- for 2 kms/2 hours.
6. 4-Seater motor boat – 400/- 5kms/2 hours (motor boats will not go dense inside the forest).
7. 8-seater motor boat – 800/-/2 hours.
8. Please carry your own food as options are limited.
9. Nearest station is Chidambaram and from there need to take buses/taxis to Pichavaram which is just 15 kms.
Bus fare is just 7/- and Taxi from Chidambaram to Pichavaram and back would cost around 700/-.
We had our breakfast at around 7.30 AM and at 8 AM we started to Pichavaram. I was driving at medium speed as we wanted to enjoy the scenic drive which is full of twist and turns. The roads were 2 laned and it was empty. After travelling around 40 kilometers, we stopped and had tender coconut on road side and continued our drive. One need to be careful as we need to take a left turn from the main road and need to travel further 10 kilometers to reach this mesmerizing destination. There are sign boards for guidance and during drive, we just need to follow these sign boards. We reached the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest at around 10 AM and we had enough parking space to safely halt our car. We then brought tickets for motor boat. As per the norms, the motor boats were not supposed to take us deep inside. The boat man informed that he was ready to take us deep inside the forest, if we pay additional amount separately to him. We used our bargaining skills and settled to pay additional 500 Rupees for a deep drive inside the forest and it was worth paying the amount. The boat started at around 10.15 AM and the travel inside the mangrove forest was mesmerizing. There were wonderful places inside the forest (movies like Dasavadharam, Thuparivallan, etc., were shot there) and the boat man stopped at 2 to 3 places inside the forest and we stepped down and kids enjoyed a lot. After eventful 2 hours, we finally reached the shore at around 12.15 PM. There was also a tower inside the boat house and we spent around next 30 minutes in watching the big landscape. We finally started from Pichavaram Mangrove Forest at 1 PM.
We were hungry and searching for a good vegetarian restaurant for lunch. Unfortunately, we were unable to spot any vegetarian restaurant while returning back to Pondicherry. We stopped in between and had tender coconut again and managed with biscuits and fruits. We finally reached Hotel Jayaram at around 3 PM and had our lunch. We then had an hour rest and started again at around 4.30 PM to explore other destinations. We went to Aurobindo Ashram and meditated for some time. It was such a calm and neat place for peaceful meditation. We then came out and explored nearby French type buildings and roads by walk. The lights were fading and we then travelled to Serenity Beach and spend good time there. It was dark in the night and at around 9 PM, we reached our hotel and had good dinner and headed for much needed sleep after an eventful day.
September 23, 2018 – Saturday
Paradise Beach – Chunnambar Boat House
As the name suggests, it is like a mini paradise island to spend quality time with family and friends. We need to travel through boat to reach this destination.
We got up early and completed our breakfast at around 7.30 AM with the plan to reach Paradise Beach early. As I already visited this place once, I was aware that, it would be crowded as the day progresses and finding a parking slot for our car would be a challenge. So, to avoid crowd, we started from our Hotel at 8 AM and reached Chunnambar Boat House at around 8.20 AM itself. The place was almost empty with less crowd and we found a good parking slot to park our car. We need to purchase tickets for the boat travel to reach Paradise Beach and counters were not yet opened. The kids were playing nearby and at around 9 AM the counters were opened and we saw the crowd was gradually increasing as it was a Saturday. The tickets rates were nominal and it was 150 rupees per person. We purchased tickets and brought a few snacks and water bottle at the entrance before boarding into the boat. It was approximately 20 minutes travel in the back waters and we reached Paradise Beach at around 10 AM. It was hot and humid and crowd was less as we reached early. We were playing in the beach water and the complete area was guarded by police. There were restrictions inside the beach where we were advised not to cross few boundaries inside the beach and message boards were kept. If we cross, there will be heavy fine and the boundaries were constantly monitored by guards. A few of travelers violated the advice and crossed the boundaries and eventually got caught by the guards. So, one has to be careful in adhering to this restriction inside the Paradise Beach and apart from this restriction, it was really wonderful with white sand, places to sit inside huts, water showers, neat rest rooms and a restaurant. We saw people comes with ball and playing equipment and playing. At around 11.30 AM, we saw the entire beach was completely crowded. We were completely enjoying and spent more than 2 hours, despite hot climate. At around 12.30 PM we decided to start and waited in queue to take our turn to onboard the boat. At around 1 PM we got into the boat and reached Chunnambar Boat House at around 1.30 PM and in next 30 minutes we reached Hotel Jayaram for lunch. After lunch at around 3 PM, we vacated the hotel and started our return journey to Chennai through ECR. In between, we stopped for tender coconut and at around 4 PM we reached Mudhaliyarkuppam Boat House and spent sometime there and again started at 5 PM. Traffic was bit heavy and we reached our home by around 8 PM after a memorable trip.