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Old 11th August 2013, 12:49   #1
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Default Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram

My wife and I, being from western coast of India (Goa and Mangalore, respectively), have seen numerous sunsets by the sea. My wife had never witnessed a sunrise by the sea. So we decided to go to Pondicherry for the long weekend of August 9th, 10th and 11th. Since Pondicherry doesn't have too many tourist places (beaches do not excite either of us!), we decided to go to Madras Crocodile Bank and then to Kanchipuram as well.

On Friday morning, we left home at Sarjapur by 5.30 AM, instead of the planned 4 AM. As suggested by BHPian Ampere and others, we took the route via Krishnagiri - Vaniyambadi - Arcot - Vandavasi - Tindivanam - Pondicherry, instead of the shortest Krishnagiri - Tiruvannamalai - Tindivanam route (as the latter is supposed to be in a very bad condition). This trip also helped me evaluate the free OpenStreet map of India plugged into my Garmin GPS device. I'll publish the review of this map shortly.

We reached Hosur by 6 AM or so. There was a massive traffic jam because of flyover construction exactly in front of a government office (RTO or Excise, I forgot). Trucks waiting for checking/clearance were parked all along the narrow stretch next to the construction zone. Perhaps going via Bagalur would have been faster.

We did not have any problem till Arcot, except being slowed down by trucks at diversions near flyover construction zones (and there were plenty). There were far more KA registered cars overtaking us, than TN registered cars. We were going "slow" at 80-90 KMPH, exceeding 100 KMPH only once for a few seconds, that too by mistake at a downward slope.

It was easy to spot the bypass to Vandavasi at Arcot, thanks to a clear signboard (although its font size is too small). GPS suggested me to go through Arcot town, since the bypass wasn't mapped. I took my only break on this stretch for a few minutes (you know for what). At another location, there were policemen guiding us to take another bypass, since there were no signboards. Even this bypass wasn't programmed in the map.

The biggest headache came in Vandavasi, where we were supposed to take a flyover. The approach to the flyover is at an angle. As I got closer to the flyover, I saw that it is narrow, and the whole width was occupied by oncoming traffic. I thought it was one-way, and went on the narrow stretch on the left side of the flyover, which led us to a market and bus stand. After a local vendor helped us with the directions, we took another 20 minutes to cover the 200 meters to reach the flyover!

We reached Hotel Jayaram in Pondicherry at 12 noon, exactly as planned. Not finding any decent resting spots after Arcot had helped us in reaching on time, despite a delay in starting. We were delayed in Pondicherry though, just about half a KM before the hotel, because of a huge crowd. We found out later that a South Indian cinema hero's film was supposed to get released that day, but didn't. So the crowd was uncontrollable. We almost missed the hotel too, since the board was completely covered by some local politician's cutout and another huge hoarding. Luckily, we were slow and noticed the board at the last moment. The twin bed AC room in the hotel was decent, and worth 1700 Rs tariff (excluding tax).

Later we went to Tanto Pizzeria for lunch, near Auroville. I had been there once before, a few years ago, and the pizza was excellent. There were two French chefs, baking the pizza in a traditional firewood oven right in front of you. However, I was mighty disappointed this time. The pizza was good, but a fish dish called "oven fish" was boring. The place was filled with houseflies, and there was no attempt by the management to control the flies.

Then we visited Auroville and were back at the hotel by 4 PM.

Later in the evening, we went walking to the beach road, because of chaotic traffic all around. As advised by hotel staff, we carried our enormous umbrella. The 1.5 KM walk wasn't good either, due to absence of footpaths. Even the little available space on the roadside was covered by enormous hoardings about a local politician.

My wife was pleased to find out that ornaments sold on the roadside were of good quality and yet, quite inexpensive. We couldn't spend much time at the beach though, as it started raining soon. Our umbrella usually covers both of us, the wind got us wet. We had to take an autorickshaw back to the hotel, for 60 Rs. This was 10 Rs more than what hotel staff had told us. Our rickshaw driver was very enthusiastic though. He would tell every empty rickshaw on the road to go to beach, because there were hundreds of tourists trying to get into rickshaws!

We dined at our hotel itself. The vegetarian food was excellent. It was easy to guess, because the restaurant was overcrowded with local people.

Next morning, we cancelled our sunrise-by-the-beach plan because of overcast conditions. We headed to Madras Crocodile Bank, south of Chennai (about 10 KM north of Mahabalipuram). It took us about 2.5 hours to get there, about 110 KMs. We knew of this place from National Geographic. We both are fans of Dr. Brady Barr. I believe this place helps create awareness among people. As long as we don't trouble these animals, they don't bother us. There is a small box mounted on a pole with the message "open to see the most dangerous animal in the world". No points for guessing what it shows when you open the doors.

This place has most of the 23 species of crocodilians that exist today (Dr. Barr has caught them all in the wild). Certain areas are out of bounds for tourists, as breeding of endangered species is going on. They also have some snakes such as python in there. Having binoculars helped us in checking out the crocodiles and alligators in detail. Some photos:

Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04139.jpg

Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04145.jpg

Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04156.jpg

Spot the croc:
Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04167.jpg

India's oldest crocodile:
Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04175.jpg

Details about India's oldest crocodile:
Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04177.jpg

Some turtles (second largest species in the world):
Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04178.jpg

Fully grown gharial in an aquarium (a dumbo guy asked if it is alive):
Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04184.jpg

There also is African saltwater crocodile. This is the only crocodilian that HATES basking in the sun (all crocodilians bask, and keep their mouths open to dissipate heat). So they have created a small shelter for this crocodile.

They also have a snake farm (which has a separate entry fee). Here they breed different species of snakes. They extract the venom, which is later used for creating anti-venom. The guide explained well in broken English. We were so mighty impressed that we spent more than half an hour, just watching the demo!
Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04199.jpg

Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04200.jpg

Last edited by rohanjf : 11th August 2013 at 19:02.
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Old 11th August 2013, 13:37   #2
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Default re: Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram

Our next destination was to Kanchipuram. We left Madras Crocodile Bank at 1.30 PM, for the 90 KM trip. Our plan was to do some shopping in the evening, stay at MM Hotel (where there is no concept of pre-booking the room) and go to some temples next morning. Finding the road to Kanchipuram wasn't difficult (the GPS was giving directions correctly). However, we were stuck at a traffic jam at Vandalur for nearly an hour, thanks to some road construction. Finally we reached Kanchipuram at 4.30 PM. We could not find any resting points on the way. However, we did see Renault-Nissan factory, Royal Enfield factory and some other factories at Oragadam. I was sooooooo thrilled to spot Nissan Terrano test mules. Wife clicked some photos of them, complaining what I can spot in that camouflage.

By this time, we had decided to change the plan. We would not stay in Kanchi, and return to Bangalore the same day instead.

As we entered Kanchi, we found our first point of visit: Varadaraja Perumal temple. We were offered services by a guide (for a fee of 500 Rs). This service let us visit all corners of the temple quickly, instead of standing in queue.

The temple compound has the main worship area with different dieties, and an old building on the left side. I was more interested in this, more than a thousand years old building. This one is supported by hundreds of pillars, each with a different carving. It was erected by Chola kings, and improved by Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagar. It helps when a country follows one religion I guess, even if the dynasties change, the same faith helps new dynasties retain and improve old artwork. The roof contains design patterns used in Kanchi sarees!

There is lot of damage to the temple. It all started with plunderers with other faiths trying to destroy this temple. But it has stood the test of time!

The entrance to the temple (from inside). Notice the chains hanging on the four corners. They are of granite. Obviously, you cannot make rings and then assemble the chain, unlike metal. The carving has to be done on a single piece of rock to obtain a chain:
Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04213.jpg

The temple lake. The guide told us that there is an idol of Lord Vishnu carved on a fig tree, immersed at a depth of 40 feet. The lake is 60 feet deep. The idol is immersed because that was the only way to save the idol from the plunderers. There is a tradition of bringing the idol out of the water for 48 days. All the water is pumped out and the idol is taken out. The next date is July 2nd, 2019. When the idol is put back in the lake, it rains heavily that day and fills up the lake.
Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04215.jpg

Stone carving of a European aristocrat. The dress seems to indicate Portuguese or Spanish:
Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04218.jpg

Apparently, this is the first depiction of a gun in India, and according to the guide, guns were invented in India more than a thousand years ago. Unfortunately, one cannot get a clear picture because visitors are prohibited to go on that side (there is a metal gate).
Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04220.jpg

The central part of the roof. It is in the shape of a turtle's shell (Koormavatara). There is delicate stonework, not evident from my average camera. There are 8 birds and many more animals.
Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04225.jpg

The platform directly below the roof. Notice the head and right front hand of the turtle. A couple can get married sitting there.
Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04226.jpg

Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04227.jpg

The sculptures that can never be taken out of the platform. But they can be swiveled around. Notice the two grooves on the left side, where the statues have been broken. Such grooves exist for all statues below the platform. The statues and platform are carved on same rock. In fact, all pillars are also monolithic. Carvings mostly depict battles. Some spears, which are basically tubes, make hollow sound when tapped with a piece of metal (such as car key). Since people have been tapping like that for ages, the stone carvings are wearing off! At one particular place, there are 4 spears of 4 warriors on 4 sides of the pillar. One spear makes hollow sound, one makes the sound of silver, another one that of gold, and the fourth one of stone. Well, I don't really know how silver and gold sound like, so I have to take the guide's word.
Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04229.jpg

A closer look at the granite chain:
Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04232.jpg

A complete look of the main temple. The pyramid (gopura) at the end (extreme left) is the most decorated one. However, it is not used. The doors are always closed. It seems that the king who built the temple, wanted that to be the entrance. However, after he built it, he started calculating how much he had spent on that. So Lord Vishnu decided he will not let such a door lead to a temple dedicated to him. Hence, the entrance is on the opposite side of the grand door.
Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram-dsc04233.jpg

This temple houses five wives of Lord Vishnu. On 12th August is the celebration of the wedding of Lord Vishnu with one of the wives. So the doors of the rooms (garbhagudi) dedicated to other wives were locked. The temple also houses Dhanvantari, the doctor of the gods.

There are also depictions of Rati Manmatha. One of the temple priests advised us to check that place out, which has erotic images. True love had a real meaning back then, eh!

After the temple visit, we went shopping for Kanchipuram sarees to an outlet just outside the temple. There we got 20% discount, plus 8% more after bargaining. For the 8%, the salesman agreed to give without any haggle. So I guess we should have asked for 15% instead of 8%. Keep that in mind if you go shopping! And yes, we could pay by credit card for no additional charge. There is an ATM right across the street though.

It was already 6.30 PM by then. We immediately left for Bangalore. Finding the road was a little difficult, as my GPS device's touchscreen stopped functioning. At some junctions, there are no sign boards. My mobile switched off due to low battery, so we couldn't use google maps.

Once we were on highway, it was a smooth sail. Since it was night, I did not exceed 80 KMPH. I was mostly cruising at 60-70 KMPH. There weren't many vehicles on the road, except in towns that we passed through. It rained heavily when we reached Vaniyambadi, and I could not see the road at all, because of oncoming vehicles' high beams.

I was hoping to reach home by 11 PM. But there was an accident at Hosur, exactly where the flyover construction is going on. The accident involved a tipper and a few motorbikes, and possibly a Wagon R. Finally I entered Attibele at 11.15 PM. I don't understand why I have to pay toll there, since I have to take right at Attibele instead of going straight on the Electronic city highway. Just another way for government to loot us!

Since it was past 11 already, no restaurants/eateries were open anywhere. Finally we had to cook Maggi at 11.30 in the night, before going to bed.

All in all, I drove about 860 KMs, with AC on for more than 90% of the time. I got 18.7 KMPL.

Last edited by rohanjf : 11th August 2013 at 18:57.
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Old 11th August 2013, 19:13   #3
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Default re: Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram

Thread moved from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 11th August 2013, 19:39   #4
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Default re: Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram

That's a nice travelogue covering all smaller details. Wonderful Croc pictures and lovely close snaps of the exquisite temple work!

Btw, which car did you drive for the trip? As per your log, it seems you were driving well within the fuel economy zone. 18.7KMPL is very decent.
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Old 11th August 2013, 22:34   #5
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Default re: Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram

Thats a nice and crisp travelogue, Rohan. Where is the croc in the 'Spot the Croc' photo? I couldn't find any.

Btw, for a small fee, you will be allowed to hold a baby-croc and take a snap of yourself. I have a photo of myself like that. Is it still available? There was also this baby-snake. But I was scared to hell to hold a snake.

Also, recently my s-i-l and family had been there and said there is a anaconda (read in newspapers too).

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Btw, which car did you drive for the trip?
Looks like he has a Palio MJD.
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Old 11th August 2013, 22:54   #6
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Default re: Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram

Rohan,

Whenever I read a log, the more exciting part for me is not what you guys saw, but:

The actual log of time spent in the travel, changes in climate, getting into a crowded bus-stand below flyover, an auto guy urging fellow driver to go beach, thrill of the road and last but not least... having to cook Maggi at home after driving all that distance... Is the fun part of the whole thing ! Isn't it ?


The more I hear about traffic at Hosur, the more I feel NH207 is the way to go. For guys in Whitefield its perfect. But for guys in Sarjapur/South Bangalore, its night mare for some more time thanks to the railway over bridge construction at Carmelaram.
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Old 12th August 2013, 10:38   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Satshan View Post
Btw, which car did you drive for the trip? As per your log, it seems you were driving well within the fuel economy zone. 18.7KMPL is very decent.
Thanks mate. I drive a Palio MJD, as pointed out by callvijay. However, I changed the shoes from stock 165/80 R13 to 175/75 R13 about 20,000 KMs ago. These tyres are about an inch broader, so the car's footprint has increased by about 4 inches. Before this, I used to get 21+ KMPL on highways regularly (Bangalore - Mangalore trips). I even got 23 KMPL for a Bangalore - Goa trip. Yes, I was always within economy zone, or slower. That's more to do with the fear of unknown (unpredictable behaviour of other motorists) and unseen (vehicles without functioning lights at nights), than trying to get fuel economy

Quote:
Originally Posted by callvvijay View Post
Where is the croc in the 'Spot the Croc' photo? I couldn't find any.
Clue: even though the common behaviour is to keep the nostrils out of water, many crocodilians can hold their breath and stay underwater for up to six hours.
Quote:
Originally Posted by callvvijay View Post
Btw, for a small fee, you will be allowed to hold a baby-croc and take a snap of yourself. I have a photo of myself like that. Is it still available? There was also this baby-snake. But I was scared to hell to hold a snake.

Also, recently my s-i-l and family had been there and said there is a anaconda (read in newspapers too).
No, holding baby crocodilian or snake was not available. Probably they have discontinued it. And yes, anaconda is also there. I did not click photographs of creatures in glass cages, as they produced my reflection on the glass. I did not use flash on any animals, because I believe it disturbs them (even though reptiles are pretty much blind, as they use their other senses to hunt prey or determine threat). I would request everyone to avoid using flash in zoos


Quote:
Originally Posted by ampere View Post
The actual log of time spent in the travel, changes in climate, getting into a crowded bus-stand below flyover, an auto guy urging fellow driver to go beach, thrill of the road and last but not least... having to cook Maggi at home after driving all that distance... Is the fun part of the whole thing ! Isn't it ?
You are so right. Now that I think about those undesired adventures, I smile. We wanted to walk in the rain, but I did the mistake of not carrying a polythene bag, and my small backpack was not waterproof. So we had to return to the hotel when it rained, to protect the camera.

And you should see the smiles on tollbooth guys' faces when you say "thank you" after they give you the receipt and change back. I guess no one thanks them.

And I found out during this trip that Ambur Star biryani is not some biryani chain. It is a type of biryani just like Hydarabadi Dum biryani.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ampere View Post
The more I hear about traffic at Hosur, the more I feel NH207 is the way to go. For guys in Whitefield its perfect. But for guys in Sarjapur/South Bangalore, its night mare for some more time thanks to the railway over bridge construction at Carmelaram.
Luckily, I stay after the bridge construction (if you are coming from city side). I think I will use Bagalur route next time, as I can avoid the toll as well!
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Old 22nd August 2013, 14:31   #8
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Default Re: Pondicherry -> Madras Crocodile Bank -> Kanchipuram

Rohan,
Reading your post inspired me to make the trip from Bangalore to the Crocodile Park. The destination is really an excuse to drive out of Bangalore. Even though this isn't the thread for general queries, thought I should ask you and others here if the road to Chennai has any recent construction or repair bypasses.

Also the traffic situation near Hosur. Is that an early morning situation only?

Thanks
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