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Old 11th February 2011, 15:04   #1
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Default Chennai - Madurai - Alagar Kovil - Munnar - Thanjavur - Chennai

I've been itching to do a long drive in the Figo ever since we got it in June. My sister's kid's head-shaving ("mottai") at Alagar Kovil near Madurai provided the perfect opportunity. We turned that into a Madurai + Alagar Kovil + Munnar + Thanjavur trip (6 days).

Around 1300 kilometers of awesome driving in the Figo. The car did great, overall mileage was 18.6 before we hit the hills (just before Theni) and 17.6 after coming back from the hills (calculated at Thanjavur). Top speed I touched was 145, and the car had much more juice left but I didn't have the guts to accelerate further.

As you can see, I'm not much of a writer. So I will try to keep this brief and upload the photos.


SATURDAY:

We started from Chennai in the night (Friday night). Except my wife and myself, the others in the family all preferred to travel in a sleeper bus starting at 9:30pm. The original plan for my wife & self was to start next morning, but we couldn't sleep, so we locked the house and started at 11:30 pm. It was thick truck and bus traffic till Uthiramerur, after which the drive was fast and without incident. The wife slept off and I just kept driving, without a single stop. Speed varied between 80 to 100, and I didn't want to do more than that in the night time. I encountered several trucks which were aimlessly drifting between lanes with their sleepy drivers (!). But I was wide awake with not a trace of sleep, and kept myself extra cautious about these sleepy drivers. I promised myself that I would pull over and take rest at the slightest hint of sleep, but I didn't feel sleepy at all. Well, I had taken a couple of hours sleep before starting, maybe that's why.

At around 5:30 AM we were in Madurai. I called mom asking if their bus had reached, and whether they had checked-in. It turned out they were just reaching the outskirts of Madurai! We were 2 hours behind, but we had overtaken them somewhere. But I was confused with the routes inside Madurai, and fiddling with my iPhone for a long time trying to get a GPS signal. It finally didn't, and then I tried using my Android phone (LG Optimus One) and voila! It gave me clean, simple turn-by-turn voice directions straight to the hotel.

Side note: I kinda used this trip as a "practical test" of iPhone vs Android - using an iPhone 3GS and an Optimus One running Froyo. On both I installed Vodafone sim cards with the exact same plan (Rs.98 GPRS plan), configured push mail and Facebook push notifications. As it turned out, the Android out-performed the iPhone in almost all aspects. It would get mail, but the iPhone would say "connection to server failed". It would get FB notifications several minutes before the iPhone would. And GPS... as I mentioned above, in Madurai and Munnar when I really needed it, the Optimus one's built-in offline GPS app "NDrive" is the only thing that worked. I did have "Mobile Maps India" installed on iPhone as well, but it didn't pick up GPS signal in most places. Except graphics and games, the Android out-performed the iPhone in all other aspects. Well, enough of this side note I guess.

So as it turned out, we all entered the hotel at the same time - both the bus party and us. Talk about coincidence huh. It was early morning, and I wasn't feeling sleepy (!) after driving some 450 kms non-stop. So we all had a bath and went out looking for the famous "Murugan Idli Kadai" for breakfast. We had great idlis and vadas, and I have to say the place is worth every bit of the hype. This one in Madurai is the original, and the ones in Chennai are its branches.

After breakfast we returned to the hotel and we were talking for some time, and I dozed off without realizing. Someone woke me up and said lunch. I said, ok. Surprisingly I did feel hungry already. We went to a nearby hotel and had a normal thali lunch. After lunch, we went to the temple area and the ladies wanted to do some shopping. I just tagged along as I'm not much of a shopper, so I just helped carry stuff and clicked photos.

Then for dinner I wanted to treat my wife to the famous non-veg place in Madurai: "Amma Mess". (you see, I had done my research on what to look for where in Madurai.. he he). The rest of the family (including me) is vegetarian, so no one joined us. We had a great dinner in Amma Mess, returned to the hotel and went to bed early. Parking is a problem in Madurai, so once I had plonked my car in front of (behind, actually) the hotel, we did all running around in autorickshaws. Much easier, and also it gives a "feel" of the place like driving oneself doesn't.


SUNDAY:
Today was the d-day for the "mottai" (head-shaving) for my sister's kid. The event was scheduled not in Madurai itself, but another place called "Alagar Kovil" which is some 20 kms away. Alagar Kovil is supposed to be as old as the Madurai Meenakshi temple itself, and is a famous temple in its own right. The temple is situated in what looked like the ruins of an old fort. My mom later told me that it used to be the old Madurai fort. Driving there was a breeze, but once we reached there we had a small incident. I was trying to park the car and on the left front side there was a small vessel (metal pot). It was so small that I didn't see it, and ran straight into it. A local woman appeared from nowhere and made a scene. I calmly parked the car, got out and apologized. Of course, she wanted money. I thought, ok its my fault - and gave her the money she asked for (1000 bucks!). It definitely wasnt worth that, but I've seen enough instances of locals damaging cars in such incidents, so I just gave her the money she asked. Then my brother in law and his brother got into a long argument with her and took the money back from her and gave it to me. She wouldn't accept a lesser amount. I was worried they were going to damage my car after we went into the temple, but luckily that didn't happen.

We did the mottai ceremony and bathed the child. Went into the temple and spent some time there. Old temple, I mean really old. The temple has a nice atmosphere. The famous "Alagar Kovil Dosai" was available luckily. After that, we drove to a nearby hillock called "Pazhamudir Solai" nearby and visited the temple there. Evening was spent around the Meenakshi Amman temple, shopping, shopping, more shopping. Overall we had a great time at Madurai!

One thing we noticed about Madurai is that the locals are very polite. They don't use abusive language at the drop of a hat, which is a surprise for a Chennaite like me. We loved the way the locals talk and the way they live. Food also seems very clean and tasty. Seems to be a grand, self-sufficient, proud city.



On the way to Alagar Kovil:
Chennai - Madurai - Alagar Kovil - Munnar - Thanjavur - Chennai-picture-540-fileminimizer.jpg
Chennai - Madurai - Alagar Kovil - Munnar - Thanjavur - Chennai-picture-541-fileminimizer.jpg

Alagar Kovil tower:
Chennai - Madurai - Alagar Kovil - Munnar - Thanjavur - Chennai-picture-559-fileminimizer.jpg

Some renovation work going on at Alagar Kovil tank:
Chennai - Madurai - Alagar Kovil - Munnar - Thanjavur - Chennai-picture-560-fileminimizer.jpg

Last edited by rajushank84 : 11th February 2011 at 15:14.
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Old 11th February 2011, 15:13   #2
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Default Re: Chennai - Madurai - Alagar Kovil - Munnar - Thanjavur - Chennai

A few shots in and around Madurai temple:

Chennai - Madurai - Alagar Kovil - Munnar - Thanjavur - Chennai-picture-525-fileminimizer.jpg

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Found this outside our hotel room. Is this thing supposed to be male or female?

Chennai - Madurai - Alagar Kovil - Munnar - Thanjavur - Chennai-picture-1265-fileminimizer.jpg
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Old 11th February 2011, 15:25   #3
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Default Re: Chennai - Madurai - Alagar Kovil - Munnar - Thanjavur - Chennai

MONDAY - Munnar!

We started the drive at 6 AM itself! Partially because we didn't want to waste the day, and partially because the rest of the folks (except my wife & me) were returning to Chennai in an early-morning train. So we all checked out at the same time. We were very soon at the road to Theni, after filling diesel at a bunk on the outskirts of Madurai. After Theni my wife slept off and i continued to drive. I missed the road that goes to Bodhi, but just as soon as I missed it I had an instinct and took a U-turn, and I was right. It was the correct road.

The one thing that struck me on this drive is the length of the hill roads - around 50km of ghat roads! A driver's dream. It looked like we climbed up one hill, then down that hill and then up another hill. Stopped for tea in two places. One tea shop served delicious sandwiches which we enjoyed thoroughly.

The hill road to Munnar is a joy to drive! Anyone who enjoys driving should do this route at least once! At one point it was almost like a go-kart route, with one curve immediately following another in quick succession. Mostly third gear drive, though sometimes second gear was needed. The Figo easily climbed all the hill roads with its loads of torque, and I never had to rev much or even do half-clutch.

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Old 11th February 2011, 15:30   #4
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(... pictures continued ...)

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By 10 AM we were in Munnar. SN Tourist Home informed us that checkout is at 12 noon, so the room would be available only then. So we started off for sightseeing. I parked my car at SN itself and requested a cab, because I wanted to enjoy the place instead of think about routes/driving etc. The guy gave us a Jeep (Commander)! Wow! After a long time I was going to sit in one of these jeeps! I was very excited.

The driver took us to Mattupatty Dam, boating there at the lake, Kundala lake, Echo point and Top Station. It was very misty by the time we reached Top Station. We had a delicious Kerala meal at Top Station. We were back in the hotel by around 5. Took rest for a couple of hours, and then we took the car out to go into town for some shopping. Parked the car in an available space and walked around window-shopping. Then had dinner at Saravana Bhavan (not the real SB) in the main road. Not able to find words to express the GREAT time we had in Munnar, so posting pics to hopefully express that better.
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Old 11th February 2011, 15:40   #5
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(... more pictures ...)

Chennai - Madurai - Alagar Kovil - Munnar - Thanjavur - Chennai-picture-682-fileminimizer.jpg

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Old 11th February 2011, 15:48   #6
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(... more Munnar pictures... )

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Old 11th February 2011, 15:58   #7
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Old 11th February 2011, 16:11   #8
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Chennai - Madurai - Alagar Kovil - Munnar - Thanjavur - Chennai-picture-866-fileminimizer.jpg

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TUESDAY
The next day we decided to go on the Cochin route. The Marayoor route we skipped because the Rajamalai is closed for the Nilagiri Thar to breed, and we aren't fond of trekking, so we decided it is better to take the other direction. Again got a jeep. Started with the tea museum which most people don't seem to like, but somehow I liked to learn about Munnar's history and how tea is made. Though photography is prohibited in the tea museum, I sneaked a couple of shots.

After the tea museum we went to Aatukal (Aatukad?) falls and Pothamedu Viewpoint. Clicked photos and lazed around in the misty weather in both places. Spent more than an hour in the Blossom Park, and we were back in the hotel by 2PM. Had a "Kerala Meal" in SN itself, and slept for a couple of hours.

Evening again we went into town for dinner, this time in an auto. Shopped around, got some Kerala items like pickle etc. One interesting pickle I picked up is called "Kadukkumango" - seems like cut mangoes with different spicing. Then vadu-mangoes, chilli in brine Kerala style, groundnut candy and some handicraft items. Then had dinner in a roadside place where a lot of foreigners were having parottas and dosas. The food was excellent. Returned to room in an auto.

About SN Tourist home: The place is actually good, but I was very disappointed because of 3 things the guy had confirmed to me were availabe when I enquired over the phone and booked, but when we arrived there he said they dont have these facilities: (1) Credit Cards acceptance, (2) hot water and (3) room service. They do have hot water but it is only from 7-9 AM/PM. They dont accept credit cards! And they dont have room service! This was very disappointing! But having said that, the room was spacious and good value-for-money at Rs.1100 per night. However, I had planned my finances around the credit card aspect, so was in a dull mood when I learned I had to spend out of pocket for the whole Munnar trip. This did dampen our enjoyment a little bit that day. I wish the guy had told me these things when I specifically asked over the phone. I think, he might not have understood what I was asking and just said "yes sir"! But anyway, we enjoyed the Munnar trip a lot despite the dampener.




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Old 11th February 2011, 16:20   #9
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(... continued ...)

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Old 11th February 2011, 16:25   #10
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WEDNESDAY:

Started at six! Non-stop drive all the way to Thanjavur. I drove via Bodhi-Theni-Madurai-Trichy. When we started off, the mist was very thick and we could hardly see the road. At around 7:30 the vehicles started hurtling at us from the opposite direction. I don't know why Munnar drivers never honk! Is it some kind of superstition that honking at a blind corner is bad?!


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It was traficcy up to Madurai, and it took all of half an hour (10 AM to 10:30) to drive from one end of Madurai to the other. But after that it was the NH45 to Trichy where I touched 145kmph, and held a steady 120. The road from Trichy-Thanjavur is also almost four-laned and I could hold 100 for the most part. Reached Thanjavur by 12 noon.

Last edited by rajushank84 : 11th February 2011 at 16:33.
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Old 11th February 2011, 16:32   #11
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EDIT: Just realized that I forgot the Thirumalai Nayak Mahal photos from Madurai (Sunday). Attaching those pictures here:

This is the palace in Madurai, which was used by the Nayak kings.

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Old 11th February 2011, 16:40   #12
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At Thanjavur we found a TTDC hotel which seemed to have ample parking. We got an excellent value-for-money AC room at Rs.1025 only. The room had hot water, room service, a sofa, two big chairs, double cot, AC, two dressing tables and TV with dish. What more can we ask for! Anyway, we put our stuff there, had a quick bath and started out. After lunch at Hotel Gnanam (horrible service - they are obsessed with the foreign customers only), we headed to the palace. Had a good time clicking pictures.

Then headed to the temple. Unlike the Madurai temple, this temple is more tourist-friendly and they allow us to click pictures in most places except the inner sanctum sanctorum. I loved the different temple structure and architecture. Spent time till around 6PM, then did some shopping for Thanjavur dolls outside the temple, and returned to TTDC. We found a Poompuhar Emporium next to TTDC, and did some handicraft shopping there too (finally a place that accepts credit cards!).

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Old 11th February 2011, 16:48   #13
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Old 11th February 2011, 16:58   #14
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Chennai - Madurai - Alagar Kovil - Munnar - Thanjavur - Chennai-picture-1242-fileminimizer.jpg
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