2 Day Chola Tour, Pondicherry and more
On my recent trip to Tamil Nadu, I wanted to do a classical tour but at the same time cover places like Mangala Heritage, Nagapattinam and Dindigul which could easily be included in an itinerary to make it (the itinerary) more relaxed.
My first stop was Chennai. Though it had rained continuously the week before, I was fortunate enough to get clear weather. After checking into my hotel, I proceeded for lunch at Sabita Radhakrisha’s house. Sabita is a freelance writer, food columnist and broadcaster. Nowadays she also entertains clients at her house over lunch, where she cooks authentic Tamil Cuisine. The more adventurous can do a cooking class with her. She has a beautiful house, filled with knick-knacks which the husband and wife duo have collected from their travels. Sabita is also a textile activist and on request shows you her extensive and rare collection. A stop at her place for lunch or dinner makes for a good introduction to the Tamil cuisine and way of life.
To add a twist to the ordinary, imagine learning about the history of San Thome Church, its architecture and the history of the locality from the Father of the Church himself. Sounds interesting doesn’t it? So the next time you are in Chennai get in touch with us to make it happen. Before proceeding to your next destination, whether it is Mahabalipuram or Pondicherry I would recommend that you make an early morning stop at Koyembedu Flower & Vegetable market. The sheer size of the market and the riot of colours make it a sight not to be missed.
Going back to Pondicherry after 2009 I was dreading that the juggernaut of modernisation would have changed this quaint little town. I am happy to say that the French Quarter (White Town) hasn’t change much. Pondicherry is a one of the few cities in India where walking is such delight. I will not talk much about Villa Shanti here again since I have already covered its excellent food and the hotel in other sections of this magazine. Instead I will talk about Palais de Mahe. As usual CGH Earth does not disappoint.The service was excellent and the rooms are very spacious. Palais de Mahe boast of a pool too, which is rare amongst the smaller properties in the French Quarter. The inclement weather meant I didn’t have opportunity to use it though. Over the years there have been a few Bed & Breakfast which have mushroomed all over. Two of these which are worth mentioning; Gratitude and La Closerie Bay of Bengal. Gratitude is a lovely heritage home restored by INTACH from a French colonial home. The owners of this chic, eight-room B&B are passionate about textiles and pottery. The property’s highlight is its central courtyard and the giant mango tree which dominates it. When you enter the property a sense of calm and peace envelopes you. La Closerie onthe other hand is much more contemporary. A water body in the center of the property draws your attention and (like Gratitude it) has only six rooms, each having a different character and price. Both options can be looked at for the value conscious traveller. I came upon both these properties on my walk with INTACH who not only tell you interesting stories about the town and buildings but you also step inside a few of the buildings to see the restoration project. For me the only way to enjoy Pondicherry is to stay inside the French Quarter and discover the place on foot. Get in touch with us to know more about an exclusive product that we have created – A French Day in Pondicherry; where we try to create the feel how a French local would spend time in the city.
Sometimes we are in a hurry to reach the final destination and miss out on places of interest on the way. Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) makes of an ideal stop in your Tamil Nadu itinerary. If Pondicherry is distinguished by its French legacy, Tranquebar is distinguished by its Danish past. Its relics include a gateway sporting the Danish Royal Seal, a fort that’s Scandinavian in appearance rather than Dravidian, a string of imposing colonial bungalows and two early 18th-Century churches(.) Start early from Pondicherry covering Chidambaram enroute and then stop to take a sneak peak at Danish history at Tranquebar, once a Danish trading post, that lies 100 miles south of Pondicherry on the Coromandel Coast. The Neemrana property “Bungalow on the Beach” is right next to the sea and worth an overnight stay. I would recommend the rooms on the first floor (Crown Prince of Denmark and Queen Anna-Sophia) for the refreshing sea-breeze and veranda to enjoy the view of the sea and Dansborg Fort.
The other possibility is the stop for lunch at Bungalow on the Beach and proceed to Mangala Heritage homestay. It is a 100 years old Chettiar house with five rooms. One ofthe rooms does not have a bathroom. All the rooms are painted in an earthy colour giving them a warm glow under the tungsten bulbs at night. Even though it’s an old house you do have uninterrupted electricity courtesy of power back and hot water. The property is located in the back drop of a village surrounded by paddy fields and in front of the homestay is the temple tank. Arun is the caretaker who speaks good English and is always around when needed. The food at Mangala Heritage is an all vegetarian affair but if you let them know in advance about your meal plan they make a conscious effort to serve different local dishes to mix it up. I really enjoyed the food here as well as the filter coffee. Even though I’m a tea drinker, when traveling in South India I become a coffee drinker because the local coffee is so good. As for the activities, in the morning you can go to Nagapattinam Port to see the fisherman bring the fresh catch of the day. Later go with Arun for a walk around the village and to see the Mucukunda Murals which I have already spoken about.
From Mangala you can either proceed towards Kumbakonam or Tanjore. Just before reaching Kumbakonam you cross a town called Nachiyar Koli which is famous for Brass making. Don’t go to the big factories but enter any one of the houses (close to 500 )which are involved in Brass making. They are very happy to see visitors and you can spend as much time as you want watching process.
Finally let me come to the highlight of my tour – The Two Day Chola Tour. All of us do the major temples of Tamil Nadu, be it the Big Temple, Darasuram and Gangaikondacholapuram. But in this two days the tour proceeds a little differently. Keeping Tanjore as the base for your exploration you trace the rise and fall of one of the most important dynasties of Asia – The Chola Empire. The Chola Empire ruled close to 500 years from 8C – 13C AD and build close to 5000 temples spread all over South India with a few temples in Sri Lanka and further East. Of these around 250 temples still survive. To understand the flow of events, we cover five temples chronologically each corresponding to one century of their rule beginning with the Vijayalayacholeswara temple of Narthamalai, the first temple built by this dynasty and ending with Kampahareswarar, the last temple built by a Chola king . The tour is conducted by a professor who used to lead the British Museum Tours to India. The highlight of the tour for me was the rare sculptures that we saw in some of these temples, especially in Gangaikondacholapuram which was about the family lives of the gods with their wives and children. Here we also re-enacted pouring of Ganga water into the temple well as was done by Chola King Rajendra a thousand years ago. On the last day of the tour, we end with a Chola dinner– a 12th century menu but cooked in the 21st century kitchen and see some Chola period coins which the professor carries for us.
For more information about my trip drop me a email.