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Old 29th August 2013, 13:06   #1
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Default Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry : A Recall

Disclaimer

1) The visit to Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry as described here was undertaken some eight months ago.
2) I had been to both the places twice and the photos will be a mix from these two visits

A search on the forum in TBhp revealed that there were not many travelogues on Mahabalipuram

The Genesis

Mahabalipuram had always been a destination which intrigued me. Not that I was too much of a religious person. The thought of a temple being constructed by the sea shore and carved out of rock was enough fuel to get my engines revving.
Being based at Kochi, it was convenient too. However, with my job finding me more glued to the office than to the driver’s seat, a drop in to the shore temple gradually went to the back burner.

My weekend getaways so remained constricted to single day affairs and when I had the opportunity to take some leave, I carved out the sketches to places like Chikmagalurs, Ooties and Mysores. The notion of it being my ‘neighbour’ did not contribute to me making solid plans to materialise it too.

As days tripped along keeping as much or greater pace with life, one fine day out of the blue, I was told that I will be deputed to Arakkonam for three months.

“Grrrr... ARAKKONAM?? Of all the places? How could they do such injustice to me?” I thought.
I have been there before and the name only gave me memories of barren land, dry weather, horrible heat and dirty roads!!

All blessings come in disguise they say. Little did I know that my memory bank of torrid heat in Arakkonam were soon to be replaced.
Come end of December, and I was at Arakkonam with no high hopes or great expectations.
One good thing though that I had at my disposition was time. I dove head first into Google maps.

Mahabalipuram, which was resting on the back burners was brought afront and the following weekend, I found myself driving to Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry, accompanied by my wife and two kids.

Planning

Ofcourse, the first part of planning was reading through travelogues in Team-Bhp.
Came across this thread of arindamray .

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...icherry-3.html (After 10 long years - Mahabalipuram & Pondicherry)

Quite an exhaustive one at that and everything was provided on a platter.
That guy has done everything short of writing a history book on the thread!!!

So, with the prelude set, its time to revv the engine and tread those roads

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picture courtesy: friendly Bhpian vaisakhr

Last edited by dhanushmenon : 29th August 2013 at 19:34.
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Old 29th August 2013, 15:48   #2
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Default Re: Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry : A Recall

Route options

Anyone coming from Chennai, its quite a straight forward road from the city through ECR. It is a fantastic drive.
People like me, who come from west of Chennai has some options to explore.
I have visited these places twice during my stay at Arakkonam and each time, I took a different route.

Route 1

NH 4 (Kanchipuram)- Sriperumbudur- Vandalur- Covelong- Mahabalipuram

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Route 2

Kanchipuram- Chengalpattu- Mahabalipuram

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I would recommend Route 1 though its longer.
Mainly because:
1) Crossing Kanchipuram town is not a very happy affair
2) Roads after the town, towards Chengalpattu is just normal
3) The route via Sriperumbudur is more leisurely and scenic than the other one

Things to be careful of in Route 1

1) The diversion at SriPerumbudur is one which requires a keen eye. As the road peels off, you could easily mistake it for a service road.
2) The road from Sriperumbudur initially, is a bit narrow (single lane at best) and un assuming. You would never imagine that this narrow road would further give way to wide, well laid roads.
3) Be careful in the initial two Kms of your drive in this road. There are unmarked depressions and a speeding car can very well be taken by surprise. My Figo hit the bottom and developed a leak on the Oil Sump.
However, after this, the roads are pretty neat, tidy and minimal traffic too
4) The roads and junctions around Vandalur and the crossing over towards Covelong road is tricky

And then the drive started...

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Passing through Kanchipuram town, you get to see these even from the main road.

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"And then... there was light..."

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The slant rays of the setting sun converted even a normal tree trunk to an object of beauty

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The last flight home as the sun sets

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Twilight is the time when nature takes out its paint brush...

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A random click. Creative thinking from my better half

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Last edited by dhanushmenon : 29th August 2013 at 16:58.
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Old 29th August 2013, 19:56   #3
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Default Re: Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry : A Recall

Mahabalipuram

A bit of generic knowledge before we get ahead.

Mahabalipuram also known as 'Mamallapuram' is listed as one of the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The temples & monuments in Mahabalipuram were built in 7th century and considered as one of the earliest structural temples in South India. The main attractions in Mahabalipuram are The Shore Temple, Five Rathas, Arjuna's Penance, krishna Mandapam, Varaha caves and beach.

Shore temple

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Shore Temple comprises of three shrines, where the prominent ones are dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. In the sanctum sanctorium, an image of Shivalinga embraces the site. At the rear end, one can find two shrines facing each other. Here, one shrine is dedicated to Ksatriyasimnesvara and other to Lord Vishnu. The exterior wall of the shrine to Lord Vishnu and the internal side of the boundary wall are elaborately carved and sculptured. Shore Temple is no more a living temple. The structure of the temple makes one to contemplate and perhaps, it was erected basically as a work of art. In southern India, this is one amongst the earliest and most important structural temples. In the recent years, a stone wall has been constructed to protect the shrine from further sea-erosion.

Source : open source internet and wikipedia.

A picture is worth a thousand words. So, let the pictures speak further...

First view of the temple from afar, bathed in the early morning hue.

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another long shot

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Up and close, the temple is a majestic sight to say the least

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I had reached the sight early and well in time. However, I was not spared the crowd and soon the place was thronging with visitors.

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The figurines which line the wall which surronds the temple

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Blue sky and the cloud spread

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The entrance to the temple. Notice the proximity to sea yonder the protection wall. Local folk told me that during Tsunami of 2004, some part of the temple shore was taken up by the sea.

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The view of the beach and the shack restaurant by the sea side. This is just by the side of the temple

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A long shot view of the beach

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Last edited by dhanushmenon : 29th August 2013 at 20:10.
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Old 29th August 2013, 22:30   #4
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Default Re: Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry : A Recall

After the visit of the shore temple, we walked across to the other monuments which are within walk-able distances from the shore temple.

Tips

It is better to park the car at the parking area near the shore temple and walk across to Arjuna's penance, Varaha caves and the butter ball (which are co-located).
It will be difficult to find parking space near Arjuna's penance.

DO NOT hire an auto for short drives. They will slit your throat.
On corollary, I read elsewhere on the internet that there are auto rickshaws available for Rs 150- Rs 200 for a two and a half hour trip around the place which covers all important places at Mahabalipuram. I did not see any of them though.

The Five Rathas is situated further ahead (walk-able though) in a different direction. There is parking space available near the Five Rathas too. If you have elders or small children accompanying you, then it is better to take you ride till the Five Rathas parking lot.

Knowing the local language will greatly help in your dealings with the shops. However, they are all affluent in hindi and English as well.
Road side vendors are mainly from Rajasthan and Maharashtra. So, you can manage with any language with them (South Indian languages included)

Additional things to do

1) Do not miss to buy some pearl and stone ornaments from the road side vendors who are in abundance near the shore temple.
2) Bargain well anywhere you go (including road side vendors and shops alike).
3) Do not buy anything from the first shop itself. Look around. By the time you reach back the parking lot after the visits, you will get the pulse of the dealings there and would know which shop to buy things from
4) If the vendors starts with a price of Rs 100, if you bargain well, you can get it for a price of atleast Rs 60, if not better. That much of range might not be available with regular shops.
5) Buy figurines of elephants carved out of stones from the shops. They have a wide variety and there are enough and more shops to choose from. I would suggest the small market kind of place near Five Rathas for buying these stone souvenirs.
6) The best time to buy anything is early in the morning as the shops are just being opened. At that time, the rates are pretty reasonable and you can get your object of desire without much haggling. If you go in the evening when there are enough people around, you may be taken for a ride

As soon as we came out the main gate of the heritage site, we were welcomed by a lotus pond with a statue.

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As we started moving forward, we saw numerous shops which does stone sculpting and their works were displayed in front.

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The crocodile really did look mean and menacing!!!

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We also saw these caves enroute.

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Statue of Began. Near Five Rathas
On the background, few shops of the small market place which I mentioned earlier (for buying souvenirs and stone carvings) can be seen

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Last edited by dhanushmenon : 29th August 2013 at 22:38.
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Old 29th August 2013, 23:11   #5
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Default Re: Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry : A Recall

The Five Rathas or the Panch Ratha

The Five Rathas, also known as Panch Rathas, is a set of rock temples.

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The rathas are associated with the great epic Mahabharata. These monuments are carved out a single rock with choice of all known forms of plan and elevations.

The first ratha that is located right by the entrance gate is Draupadi's Ratha. It is shaped like a hut and is dedicated to the goddess Durga.

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Next comes Arjuna's Rath. This one has a small portico and carved pillar stones and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. There are no carvings inside this temple, but many are on the outside.

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Directly in front of Arjuna's Rath is the Nakula – Sahadev Rath. This ratha has a huge elephant sculpture beside it. It is dedicated to the God of Rain, Lord Indra.

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The Bhima Rath is the tallest of them all. The pillars there do contain lion carvings even though the ratha as a whole is incomplete.

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The largest of the Five Rathas is the Dharamraja Yudhistar's Rath.

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This rath is also dedicated to Lord Shiva and is a great example of later built South India temples.

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The customary posing shot. By the side of Bhima Rath.

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Old 29th August 2013, 23:46   #6
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Default Re: Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry : A Recall

Arjuna's Penance

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Arjuna's Penance, the world's largest bas-relief measuring 27m x 9m is the pride of Mamallapuram. This huge whale-back shaped rock contains figures of gods, demigods, men, beasts, and birds and in fact, can be said to represent creation itself.

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This beautiful work symbolizes either "Arjuna's Penance" or "the Descent of the Ganges", or possibly both.

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Arjuna's Penance: According to the story in the epic Mahabharata, Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers, offers prayers in extreme conditions in order to obtain Lord Shiva's weapon.

Descent of the Ganges: According to this story, the sage Bhagiratha, offeres prayers in extreme conditions in order to bring the river Ganges down to earth.

On the relief one can can see many scenes being carved out in support of both the stories. The left side has the main elements of the story.

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Just above the shrine, Arjuna (or Bhagiratha) stands on one leg, his arms upraised, in a yogic posture. While the right side has scenes of the natural and celestial worlds and the life-sized elephants protect their young. A natural cleft populated by nagas (snakes) separates the two halves of the relief.

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Varaha Cave Temple:

This is a fine completed architecture which lies besides the Arjuna penance. The entrance has two pillars engraved with two horned lion – bases, and a cell protected by two gate keepers.

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Krishna Mandapam

The sculptures inside this Mandapam beautifully picturize the myth of Lord Krishna during his brave and energetic adulthood.

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Krishna's Butter Ball , is a huge boulder near the Ganesha Ratha is popularly known as Krishna's butterball. It rests precariously on a narrow rock base and seems to defy the rules of gravity. It is fifteen feet in diameter and could have probably been the raw material for the temples around. It is believed that several Pallava kings have attempted to move the stone, but legend is that neither the kings nor their elephants could shift the boulder even by an inch.

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Ganesh Ratha

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Script courtesy for all historic and sculptural descriptions: http://www.mytraveltales.in/2011/10/...balipuram.html
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Old 30th August 2013, 00:54   #7
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Default Re: Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry : A Recall

Our Next destination after Mahabalipuram was Pondicherry.
Mahabalipuram to Pondicherry is 100 Kms and can be easily covered in less than 2 hours with the ECR holding in pristine condition through out.

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I had heard from someone that there was a pyramid shaped temple on the way and I had already made a note in my mind not to miss it enroute.

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I had searched Google maps for the temple, which returned no favourable results. At last, wiki mapia came to my rescue.

The tag marked as 'B' in the above map is the pyramid temple.
The lat-long of the place is 12.053297 N, 79.877442 E.

It is a Nataraj temple and the place is unique for the peculiarity of construction of the temple. When I visited there, there was none to be seen around and did not even look any bit a tourist bound place.

Notice the proximity to the sea in the background. We can easily walk across to the beach there. However, since there was no one to ask around, I am not sure whether the beach is a private one or it is open to public

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However, the place deserves some recognition and hope it comes through in due course and time.

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Chunnambar Boat House and Beach

Its a decent boat house with facilities for refreshments and play area for children.

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The boat rides take you to a near by beach head. The beach is pretty nice and the overall package with boat ride and the beach was a pretty nice experience

Sailing through a mirrage

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The first sight of the beach and shacks

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Paradise beach... quite a striking name, ain't it??

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The beach was beautiful and safe.

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Sand castles!!!

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My son tries his hand on boat-ing

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Old 30th August 2013, 09:39   #8
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Default Re: Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry : A Recall

Auroville

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From the ECR, approaching from Chennai, there is a broken and muddy road which leads to Auroville on the right side.
Though there are sign boards, it is easy to miss.
One would wonder whether this is actually the road which leads to a world renowned establishment!!
The road is not so wide and can at best accomodate two SUVs side by side on a tight fit. It was slushy too.

By the time we reached Auroville, my tyres were already wearing 'saffron'

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Enough has been said about Auroville. So, I won't waste my words on that.
I will let the pics take on

model of Auroville city centre

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cross sectional view of the Matri mandir

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First sight of the premises as you enter from the parking lot towards the ticket counter. I dont remember the fare for ticket. As far as I remember, it was free, if not Rs 20/-.

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From the ticket counter to the matri mandir view point is a distance of around 900 metres. It is a comfortable and leisurely walk through shaded pathways. For people coming with kids and elders, there is a motor vehicle shuttle too.

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An interesting tree along the walkway to Matri Mandir

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Seen along the walkway

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There are shops for auroville souvenirs and a couple of shops for refreshments near the ticket counter.

A shot from the verandah near the refreshment centre.

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The famous banyan tree. This is the geographical centre of Auroville. The complete establishment is built around this tree. Initially when this place was chosen to build up Auroville, there was only this banyan tree on a barren plateau over looking the Bay of Bengal.

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The first glimpse of Matri mandir.

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The Matri mandir is a stupendous sight, to say the least.
It stands proud amidst lush green lawns as if a golden light has been illuminated in the centre. It is particluarly beautiful when the sun is right on top and on early morning hours with the slant rays of the sun.

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The entry to matri mandir for meditation has to be booked atleast 24 hours in advance. It can be booked online too.
Visitors are not allowed inside Matri mandir. It is a strict silence zone.
People who come to see the superstructure has to be content by seeing it from a distance across the lawn.

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Auroville is definitely not a place which I will miss in my next visit also.
There's so much of peace and tranquility to that place which cannot be equated to words

Last edited by dhanushmenon : 30th August 2013 at 09:44.
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Old 30th August 2013, 21:36   #9
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Some random sights from Pondicherry

Pondicherry has French heritage that runs through its veins.
There are many museums, churches and French buildings which you can visit whilst at Pondicherry.
You will easily realise the tack with which the French note and the Indian culture has seamlessly woven strings around each other. All it takes is a stroll around the place and a little bit of interaction with the locals.

A few things not to be missed at Pondicherry. (Not in any particular order)

(1) A stroll along the Promenade and a leisurely evening cuppa of coffe at Le Cafe. Its hard to miss Le Cafe. It's bang on the centre of the walkway along the sea side
(2) Tasting the wares on the evening food stalls along the promenade beach side
(3) Aurobindo Ashram
(4) Handcrafted lamp shades and curios
(5) Walk along the streets and take in the beauty of those peculiar and colourful French buildings and architecture.
(6) Taste the French cuisine (joints are aplenty)
(7) Chunnambar Backwaters and Paradise beach
(8) Auroville
(9) Pyramid temple
(10) If possible, see the sunrise from the seaside at Promenade. Believe me, it is really a great rejuvenating feeling and also a sight to behold. (Alas, I do not have any pics of those )

The Promenade

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The Gandhi statue. It is 4 m in height. Notice the eight granite pillars which surround the statue.

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Well... I did warn you about the intertwined Indian culture in this French town !!!

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Cotton candy from the sea side walk way

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A few of those peculiar and colourful buildings

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Did I say that the beach does not have sand and is laden with rocks? Well, yes! It is!
However, the time spent by the sea side was very much soothing.

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As the sun sets beyond the distant horizon.

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Clicked on the return leg

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We reached back home the next day. However, my mind was still stuck on the carvings at Mahabalipuram and the soothing breeze of Pondicherry promenade.
Whilst at the office, I was still wondering
"What in the world kept me off from visiting these places for so long?"
I was no more cursing "GRRRR... Arakkonam of all the places??" Now I was rather happy that I got an opportunity to be here.


"Why did my holiday have to end so fast?"
And then the realisation dawned on me

"All good things are short lived..."

With an upward curve on my lips, I sipped my coffee and got back to work again

Last edited by dhanushmenon : 31st August 2013 at 20:33.
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Old 31st August 2013, 21:44   #10
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Default Re: Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry : A Recall

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to Travelogues. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 31st August 2013, 23:34   #11
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Default Re: Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry : A Recall

Quote:
Originally Posted by dhanushmenon View Post

Came across this thread of arindamray .
Good to know it was of help.

Nice travelogue coupled with good photos.
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Old 31st August 2013, 23:56   #12
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Default Re: Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry : A Recall

@dhanush - nice travelogue, loads of details and wonderful pictures, thanks for sharing
Brought back several memories from past trips. Haven't driven to both Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry on same trip, that's a good enough reason to do it sometime
If traveling from Bangalore would you suggest the Chengalpattu route or the one via Sriperambudur-Vandalur ?
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Old 1st September 2013, 00:20   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by arindamray View Post

Good to know it was of help.

Nice travelogue coupled with good photos.
It was definitely of great help. I had got in Touch with you back then also when I was planning the trip (if you would remember).
Your thread have me everything which I needed.
Thanks a lot.

Quote:
Originally Posted by NPV View Post
@dhanush - nice travelogue, loads of details and wonderful pictures, thanks for sharing
Brought back several memories from past trips. Haven't driven to both Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry on same trip, that's a good enough reason to do it sometime
If traveling from Bangalore would you suggest the Chengalpattu route or the one via Sriperambudur-Vandalur ?
Thank you for your kind words.

If travelling from Bangalore to Pondicherry only, I would suggest krishnagiri - thiruvannamalai- villupuram - Pondicherry.

If travelling to both mahabalipuram and Pondicherry , sriperumbudur route would be better.
But I re-iterate; be careful at the diversion from sriperumbudur and also at vandalur.
If you plot your points on a GPS, there should not be anything to worry.
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Old 1st September 2013, 00:26   #14
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Default Re: Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry : A Recall

Well compiled TL, very informative especially about the Rathas and the shore temple at Mahabalipuram. The pictures of slant rays and especially sun rays falling through the tree was awesome. When I see all these TL's I suddenly realize the number of places yet to be visited in India (leave other countries)

Thanks for sharing.

Cheers
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Old 1st September 2013, 07:32   #15
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Default Re: Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry : A Recall

Hi Dhanush!

Good narrative supported by exhaustive photography. I said photography instead of photographs, because of your art of capturing even the nitty-gritties. I am from Chennai and had visited Mahabs (as it is fondly known as) in my school and college days. We had this enthusiasm to pay attention to and admire the beauty of this place those days and see double of that now in your travelogue. Probably you can plan to cover pitchavaram, a mangrove forest, near chidambaram in your next trip. This will be further 75 km from pondy and is also famous for a Shiva (Natarajar) Temple.
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