Mamallapuram and Pondicherry
30.03.2009 - 05.04.2009 32 °C
From Varanasi we had the longest single journey of our trip; 38 hours on a train down to Chennai (Madras) in the south of India. We decided to pay for a better class of ticket due to the length of time we would be spending on board so opted for an air conditioned carriage. Any illusions of luxury we had were shattered when a family came into our six person berth with an unbelievable number of bags and boxes and took up every bit of available space (they had other family members with them at either end to help them carry all the stuff). Their child had a particularly penetrating scream which she wasn't shy about unleashing at any point of day or night, often for long periods of time. The other people we were sharing the berth with were an old couple. The woman was fine but the man, when he wasn't telling us how we should eat, was wheezing, coughing and snoring.
We arrived in Chennai very tired but relieved to be off the train. We didn't want to spend any time in Chennai so got a rickshaw to take us to the bus station so that we could get to Mamallapuram which is two hours away. The driver then offered to take us all the way for a price that wasn't too bad. The choice between going to a chaotic bus terminal then cramming onto a packed local bus in the midday sun or sitting where we were and getting taken straight to our destination in comfort wasn't a hard one to make. We enjoyed the rickshaw ride along the ocean road and were in Mamallapuram in the early afternoon.
Mamallapuram is a fishing village on the coast of Tamil Nadu that faces the Bay of Bengal. It has become popular with travellers in recent years and with its long beach, cheap accomodation, good seafood and laid back pace (by Indian standards anyway) it is easy to see why.
At the southern end of the beach the impressive Shore Temple is set in its own grounds and looks out towards the ocean. The temple is comprised of two spires and is adorned with intricate stone carvings.
On one of the days we were in Mamallapuram we hired bikes and cycled to Shore Temple and some of the other main sites. These included the Five Rathas where there are a number of stone carved temples and life sized stone animals including an elephant and a cow.
We also went to Ganesh Ratha where there are more stone carvings and Krishan's Butter Ball, a massive rock which is precariously balancd on a slope. After that we cycled 4km's out of the village to the Tiger Temple.
The only other activity we did in Mamallapuram was visit the sculpture museum. We also spent quite a lot of time relaxing in our hotel or swimming in its pool or doing the same on the beach and in the sea which had some excellent waves. After three nights we got up early and caught a bus to Pondicherry at 6.45am in order to avoid the heat and the crowds later in the day.
Pondicherry (now called Puducherry) is only a couple of hours down the coast from Mamallapuram so we arrived the same morning we set off (a first for us in India). We got a cycle rickshaw to a hotel, chilled out for a bit, then went to explore the city.
Ponidcherry was a French colony unitl the 1950s and as such is characterzed by French architecture, tree lined boulevards and a seafront promenade. It still has a distinctly Indian feel to it but is a world apart from the hustle and bustle of some of the other places in India that we have visited.
We walked along the promenade and past the large statue of Ghandi, into Bharathi Park, had a quick look at the Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception and down to the Sacred Heart Church which is distinguished by striking Gothic architecture.
The following day we checked out of our hotel and walked to the Botanic Gardens which don't seem to have been tended to much since they were opened in 1826. Maybe that's a bit harsh but they certainly aren't up to the standards of most botanic gardens.
We then went to a few cafes to kill time until our night train to Trivandrum in Kerala that evening which was going alright until we found out that we didn't actually have seats for the train. There is a strange system for booking tickets online in India which often involves being put on a waiting list and not finding out if you have a seat until a few hours before travel. Every other time we have been on a waiting list we had got seats, but not this time. We went down to the bus station to see if we could get a bus and found out there was only one every 24 hours. Fortunately it was leaving in two minutes so we got on board and were glad that we could continue our journey without a delay.