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Old 31st December 2011, 13:49   #1
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Default Braving Cyclone Thane to see Temples, Basilicas

Prelude: Holiday season vacation to Goa and Hampi went awry with hotel bookings. For a long time I wanted to cover Rameshwaram/Danushkodi/Thoothukudi and it was agreed that this time it will be a trip - covering Velankanni - > Rameshwaram -> Danushkodi -> Thanjavur and back to Madras via Pondicherry.

But things didn't work out as per the plan. There was a storm brewing when we started on 26th December. It was nicknamed as 'Thane' after it became a cyclonic storm two days later. Thane wreaked havoc on its own trip across Pondicherry/Cuddalore and it caught us in its wake near Vizhupuram on 30th December morning.

Travelogue:

Mode of Transportation: Tata Safari
Accommodation: Thanks to Team BHP and Lonely Planet Book - Picked out the Hotels on the way with provisions for adequate car parking facility. But still things go wrong because of bad timing and the impending bad weather.

For starters, I will start with the cyclone - Thane and the damage it caused as we crossed its path.

The top photos show the wind fury as Thane rushes across the land at around 145 km per hour (according to the weather report). You can see the way the trees sway in the wind. The wind was so strong it toppled trees, banners and blew away roofs. It also resulted in many trucks to fall by the wayside and resulted in numerous accidents as panicked dim witted drivers tried to escape from the cyclone.

Journey continues ...
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Old 31st December 2011, 14:06   #2
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Default Re: Braving Cyclone Thane to see Temples, Basilicas

One more picture of a fallen truck - the result of the cyclone which finally blew over by afternoon. The rains though continued unabated till we reached Madras by evening.

The picture of the ruins in Danushkodi was not the result of this cyclone - but that of its predecessor in 1962.

Enough of storms for now. I will continue the travelogue in a chronological order now.

A few Samples of Places we visited in this trip:
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Old 31st December 2011, 15:22   #3
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Default Re: Braving Cyclone Thane to see Temples, Basilicas

Thanks for sharing, does seem like you had a rough time !
I just about escaped the storm since I visited Dhanushkodi on 28 Dec morning and was on my way back to Bangalore by 11:30 am. A friend called me on the way and enquired about my safety since he saw TV reports of rough weather in Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi.

I saw a Silver Gray coloured Safari with LTD sticker on the right side of rear bumper, TN 07 registration parked outside a shop on the Dhanushkodi road about 0.5 Km from the NH49 turn off. Was this your car by any chance ? I had also posted this on the sticker sightings thread (no picture though).
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Old 1st January 2012, 15:50   #4
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Default Re: Braving Cyclone Thane to see Temples, Basilicas

Thanks NPV. I saw lots of KA registered cars in Rameshwaram. Surprisingly a few of them came to Tanjure as well. But most people holed up in Tanjure and Trichy on 30th Dec instead of venturing into the NH45 which leads you to Madras via Vizhupuram.

26/12/2011: We left Chennai by 9.30 am and reached Pondicherry by 11.30 through ECR. The winding road through numerous villages tends to keep your speed within triple digits.

The first port of call was to the Sacred heart Basilica in Pondicherry. For the Roman Catholics it is said that if you partake in a Mass in 3 Basilicas you get plenary indulgence. There are 20 Basilicas in India - with 17 of them in South India. You can see details of basilicas in India here : Basilicas in India

This church - about one hundred years old has red painted exterior with exquisite stained glass panels. The French called this Eglise De Sacre Coeur De Jesus ( Sacred Heart of Jesus Church).

After a quick lunch and a bit of shopping, we were on our way to Karikal - another French Colony located near Nagapatinum. Bay of Bengal always appears restless during late October to late November. But this time it decided to throw one more ugly surprise before the year ended by whipping up a storm.

We reached Karikal and hunted for a hotel with car parking facility. Karikal, in the earlier times was a Cholan Port and the French left the town sleepy and laid back. The roads are narrow, the traffic is chaotic and most hotels are not well kept. We managed to find a hotel after searching for nearly 2 hours.

Contd ...
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Old 3rd January 2012, 13:25   #5
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Default Re: Braving Cyclone Thane to see Temples, Basilicas

Next day we started to Nagapattinum and then to Velankanni which is about 16 km from Nagai. The roads were ok but a bit narrow. Our Lady of Good Health Basilica in Velankanni is a 16th century church - completely expanded in the last few years. Being the year end, there was a massive crowd for thanksgiving. We quickly paid our obeisance and started on our way to Rameshwaram through ECR.

It was cloudy all the way. ECR from Nagapattinum to Thondi was well laid and the travel should have been a breeze. There are always problems. First my Garmin didn't know ECR. It was back to the olden days - asking people for directions. trouble is there are not many around on the way. You had lots of cattle for company which ended up slowing you down. Come to think about it, the maniacal 3 wheelers also seemed to have one goal in common - hurtling down the road at whatever speed they were capable of.

To add to our woes, Ramnad and the neighboring towns/villages had declared hartal in support of Mullai Periyar issue - so no food on the way.

We eventually reached Rameshwaram by about 4 pm. More crowd from all over India.

Rameshwaram is called as the Varanasi of the South India. This is a famous pilgrim spot for both Shaivites and Vaishnavites alike. A Hindu pilgrimage to Benaras remains incomplete without a pilgrimage to Rameshwaram.

Ancient puranas and Vedas describe the Sethu Yatra - Agneya, Bhagavatha, Padma, Shiva and Skanda Puranas to mention a few. Sethu Yatra is also extolled in several Sanskrit and Tamil works from the period of Valmiki Ramayana.

By this time, the severe depression which lay off Southern Coast of India had transformed itself into a Cyclone. It was yet to be named though. The hunt for the hotel started in right earnest.

Contd...
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Old 3rd January 2012, 14:13   #6
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Thanks for the lovely pics, Prowler! And please continue the wonderfully crisp, fact-filled narration . Any videos of the cyclone?

Last edited by Blue Thunder : 3rd January 2012 at 14:17.
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Old 3rd January 2012, 18:38   #7
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Default Re: Braving Cyclone Thane to see Temples, Basilicas

Quote:
Originally Posted by Blue Thunder View Post
Thanks for the lovely pics, Prowler! And please continue the wonderfully crisp, fact-filled narration . Any videos of the cyclone?
Thanks Blue Thunder. We could capture some scenes of the Video only through a Mobile camera as we were in a tearing hurry to escape the fury of the storm.

Almost all the hotels in Rameshwaram denied any availability of rooms. We could see people coming from North India and Karnataka sitting on the pavement before the hotels. We were not better off either despite knowing the local language. Finally one hotel - Sumathi Lodge agreed to take us on a much inflated rate. It appeared as if it was a ploy by the hotels to deny rooms initially and then jack up the rates for the helpless travelers.

With that over, we left for the Ramanathaswamy temple. What was originally a small temple built by the early Cholas had transformed into a gigantic structure now - added over the last 1000 years. This temple boasts of 1200 columns and towers over 160 feet from the base.

Of the 36 theerthams, there are in all 22 wells around the temple and significantly, the water in the wells taste different from each other.

Contd...
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Old 3rd January 2012, 21:18   #8
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Default Re: Braving Cyclone Thane to see Temples, Basilicas

We visited Pondicherry for the first time on Dec 29th and same night found ourselves in the middle of the worst Hurricane/Cyclone to hit Pondicherry.

We slept 150m from the beach in 140kms wind, which sounded like flying in a doorless aircraft. There was water on the floor & corridor. The tree next to my car fell away from it. Even the entrance to the resort was blocked until next evening. When we drove through Pondy on 30th evening, it looked like a war zone.

We came back on Dec 31th without seeing anything. We are glad we survived it without any harm. But Auroville, the top attraction of Pondicherry has been destroyed badly.

Cyclone Thane
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Old 4th January 2012, 15:55   #9
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Default Re: Braving Cyclone Thane to see Temples, Basilicas

Thank God you escaped unscathed Samurai. From your pictures, you must have had a close call. Lucky that the tree spared the cars.

I am wary of parking the car anywhere near a tree during rainy days.

When you are in Rameshwaram, you need to cross almost 2 km of a bridge over the Bay of Bengal - either in Annai Indira Gandhi Road Bridge or the Pamban bridge. Pamban bridge was commissioned in 1914. It is a cantilever type of bridge which allowed workmen to haul the moving part up when small ships needed to pass under it. The English and the Indian crew who built the steel bridge at that time, it must have been a herculean task.

This bridge faces the worst kind of weather every year and it is a feat it still is up. The road bridge was built in the later part of 20th century. Talking of bridges, there was a rail link from Pamban - the main land of India to Danushkodi - the end point of the small island - about 18 km from Rameshwaram island. On the night of 25th December 1964, ( there must be something dark about this time - 1964/2004), a train carrying about 115 people was washed away in a tidal wave killing all of them and reducing the Danushkodi township to a ghost town. It wiped out almost 2000 people.

Interesting for the History buffs, is there was a train service called as Boat Mail - till 1960s from Madras Egmore to Danushkodi where you board a ferry service to Talaimannar in Ceylon ( present Sri Lanka). This was established during the British Raj. British Raj administered large tracts of land from South India extending to Ceylon from its Madras HQ.

Long before the English arrived on the shores of India, the great Chola Empire had established its rule over Ceylon crossing Rameshwaram and Danushkodi. They even set up a choultry to cater to the needs of its people traveling across the sea. Chola Empire extended its influence from Madurai to Mekong and it was the only Hindu Empire which spread Hinduism across south Asia. Cholans ruled for close to 1500 years and remain as the one of the remarkable dynasties in Asia - for their great excellence in Temple architecture, arts and literature.

Contd...
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Old 9th January 2012, 14:06   #10
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Default Re: Braving Cyclone Thane to see Temples, Basilicas

Next day dawned with the news of the Cyclone being named as Thane and we wondered if it would be possible to jeep to Danushkodi. They mentioned that the sea was rough in Bay of Bengal. But the hotel had arranged for us a Jeep for Rs.1200/- to take us to Danushkodi - about a 3 hour trip. We got on to the rickety Jeep by 9 and left for Danushkodi.

The driver claimed that he was doing MBA part time and seemed a bit knowledgeable about Rameshwaram and Danushkodi. The Jeep ride was harsh and it made enough noise to make me swallow 3 tablets of Aspirin. It crossed the 18 km from Rameshwaram to Danushkodi in about 45 min. The driver engaged the front wheel drive by crawling underneath the Jeep when we got after the tar road just near the entry point of Danushkodi.

The tidal wave which swept through the town in 1964 had left the buildings in complete ruin. Before it happened, it was a town with decent amenities - Bank, Pier, Railway station and many government buildings. Now you see only ruins there - peppered with huts of fishermen near the shore.

It was overcast and the sea was indeed a bit rough. But that didn't deter us or other tourists who flocked there.

On the way back we visited Kothanda Ramar Temple a couple of Km from Danushkodi for which the roads are properly laid.

Back from our exhaustive excursion, we piled on our luggage to our Car and then off to Tanjure. It is back on the ECR past Thondi and then through a winding State Highway to reach Thanjavure - or Tanjure.

Looks like we have an appointment with Thane after all.

Contd...

(Sorry about the long posts which occur at inordinate intervals )
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Old 9th January 2012, 14:25   #11
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Default Re: Braving Cyclone Thane to see Temples, Basilicas

We reached Tanjure by late afternoon. Went straight to Ashoka Lodge ( another insightful lead from Lonely Planet). It was an old building converted to a hotel. The hotel is clean - albeit very dated. You have indian toilet - but the rooms have air conditioning. The main reason we selected this hotel was it had ample car parking. You can park a few buses there.

The rains started in good measure too as we reached Tanjure. Tanjure or 'Thanjavure' as it was called in Tamil was once the granary of South India. It largely remains a quiet city drawing little attention to itself - despite having vast treasures - Cholan, Nayak and Maratta architecture and a World Heritage UNESCO site - Big Temple there.

One more thing for the travellers, you can get the famous Tanjure Coffee in most Vegetarian hotels here. The rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting through your nostrils does wonders to the tired souls.

You can have Devar's Biryani or settle down for traditional Tamil Veg fare. We found out that the latter is delicious here despite being a sworn carnivore.

We decided to check out the Big temple - hardly 2 km from Ashoka lodge.
Big Temple or Brahadiswara Temple is a masterpiece in Dravidian Architecture.

"The perfect symmetry of the structure, the elaborate arrangement of impeccably sculpted stone figures adorning the outside walls and the visual symphony of the large stones meticulously placed one atop another with amazing mechanical precision - will leave you spellbound." To borrow from Chola Temples

Contd ...
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Old 11th January 2012, 13:13   #12
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Default Re: Braving Cyclone Thane to see Temples, Basilicas

Wonderfully written travelogue Prowler. Big Temple brings me memories of home (My parents stay in Kumbakonam, about 30kms from Tanjore). Waiting for more!!

5 * indeed !
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Old 11th January 2012, 14:17   #13
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Sorry about the delay in completing this travelogue.

Continuing from the Big Temple of Tanjure, Emperor RajaRaja Cholan started construction of this Big temple by 983 AD and completed it by the year 1010 AD. It was a monument patterned after a cosmic structure "Mount Meru". The vimana (super structure) weighs about 80 tons carved out of stone. The Naiks who came after the Cholans in 1535- 1675 AD added additional structures and a temple dedicated to Subramanya. The Marathas who came after the Naiks embellished the temple - adding the monolithic Nandhi before the main temple.

The Saraswathi Mahal and the Tanjure Palace they built nearby bear testimony their rich architecture and excellence in Art. King Sarfoji II ( 1798- 1832) was an eminent scholar in many branches of learning. The library the Naiks started in 1500s was enriched with more collections. The Book collection of this library exceeds 60,000 and the library contains most of the personal collections of Sarfoji MahaRaja - ancient books in many European Languages.

Enough of history for now. It is really pathetic to see the descendants of Maratha rulers eking a humble living in parts of the Tanjure Palace which badly needs some renovation. We bought reprints of paintings by Ravindra Verma for Rs.350 a piece here.

The Sarathwathi Mahal and the nearby Temple like structure is located in the backyard of a School. The climb through incredibly narrow winding stairs can take your breath away. One has to be a midget to go through that or a contortionist.

Next day we made a quick trip to Poondi Basilica near Thiruvaiyaru. The road is narrow and the traffic is chaotic. Poondi Basilica is devoted to Mother Mary of the Lourdes. The main statue in the altar was brought from France. Poondi is a remote village and hence the church thoughtfully provides food and lodging within their premises. Their mess is clean and the food is basic but well prepared.

Next is a halt at the ancient Grand Anicut - just about a few Km away from the Poondi basilica. Cholan Karikalan built this stone dam in 270 BC and the dam was completely redesigned by the English in 19th century.

Further excursions were brought to a halt by the impending storm. Weather reports indicated a cyclone threatening to cross near Pondicherry/Cuddalore. The incessant rains forced us to return to our lodge. The return trip was earlier planned through Kumbakonam and Darasuram/Gangai Konda Cholapuram to see the Cholan temples. Now it appeared that, a hasty retreat is called for.

Returning via Pondicherry to Madras through ECR was not wise - it was decided. Past experiences cautioned us to avoid the ECR on a stormy day.

So it had to be NH45 via Tiruchi. This Grand Southern Trunk road is the arterial road from the south to Madras and is likely to be kept open and so we started by 9 from Tanjure to Trichi. It was a short run and we made quick work of the 45 km.
From there it appeared that the normal traffic you would expect in NH45 was lesser than usual. Most people decided to stay indoors or so it appeared.

It began to rain cats and dogs and the roads became water logged as we neared Vizhupuram. The wind was so furious that it howled like a siren. The wind rocked our car as if it was a boat. The few cars we saw on the way tried to drive like maniacs in the torrential downpour. I stopped the car near fallen truck briefly and a M 800 which followed us rammed into us.

Our ORRs were useless in such rains. I used the rear view camera as a ORR. I had modified the connection to the camera supply in such a way that when I turn on the parking light, the camera started too. It can work when the reverse gear is engaged or when the parking lights are on. This helped me a great deal in this rain.

I got out of the car furious with the dumb driver who rammed us. But a quick look showed that his bonnet had caved in while there was no damage to Safari's back bumper. I thanked my stars and Tata. I felt sorry for the driver who apologized to me profusely. He said that he couldn't stop the car in time as his brakes failed in the water.

We continued on our journey through the next 45 min with the wind howling furiously. Thane - the cyclone uprooted trees, ripped out traffic boards, pumped the area with copious rains, flattened crops and generally made a mess.

The wind subsided after that 45 min of fury. Only the rains continued to batter. We made a halt on the crowded Aryas hotel in Tindivanam for our lunch. Dozens of cars had taken shelter there.

We reached Madras wet but relieved by 4.30. Next time - better check the weather report thoroughly before you turn the ignition.

Thanks for remaining with me in this long winded Travelogue.
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Old 11th January 2012, 14:26   #14
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Wonderfully written travelogue Prowler. Big Temple brings me memories of home (My parents stay in Kumbakonam, about 30kms from Tanjore). Waiting for more!!

5 * indeed !
Thank you a*ed. Lovely place Kumbakonam - such magnificent temples. It is almost 15 years since I visited Kumbakonam.
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Old 19th January 2012, 10:36   #15
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Default Re: Braving Cyclone Thane to see Temples, Basilicas

It is an awesome travelogue. You had great experiences with the rain and road. Pondicherry and Cuddalore are still under the curse of Thane Cyclone. Many villages around Cuddalore are still with out power. Auroville needs a big amount for renovation.
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