God’s own Country – I – The journey begins from Good ol’ Madras

As a travel policy, every year, we make it a point to go on a vacation with family, this apart from the short trips to our hometowns. This year, Kerala beckoned us in the month of July. Our itinerary included a 2 day stay at Thekkady and a night in at a boat house in Kumarakom. Being an off season, we got some real good deals and surprising of all, we were even able to find train tickets easily ! Train tickets? Well, we had 4 senior citizens and 2 small kids, so taking the train seemed a better idea, in terms of convenience and economy too.

Namba Madras !

So, our trip plan was for all of us to reach Chennai from our respective places and take a train to Kottayam, from there we were to hire a cab to take us to Thekkady, our first destination. While the family was going to join us from in and around Nellore, we travelled from Hyderabad to Chennai by the Chennai Express ! This writer had a few jitters before boarding the train considering a few incidents of train robberies in that particular train this year. Thankfully, there was a lot of police security doing the rounds and we had a big group travelling together who stayed awake till late in the night, we could sleep in peace for a few hours !

The train reached Chennai station right on time at 6 AM. The brother came to pick us up from the station. Madras, the city that holds our childhood memories, looked beautiful early in the morning as we drove through the beach road, a lot has changed about the city but somewhere, the old world charm of Madras peeps through.

Vada curry, any one?

We had time till 1 PM before the rest of the family joined us at Chennai, so we refreshed at brother’s place and headed out for breakfast to Durga Bhavan near Velan Theatre, Nanganallur. If you ever go to Chennai and stay in and around Nanganallur, make sure you have breakfast/lunch/dinner at this eating joint. The world famous Madras Sambhar still reigns here, most restaurants in Chennai seem to have lost the once famous Sambhar touch, this little known hotel has retained the taste and flavour.

Every item on the menu was ordered, starting from Idly, Vada to Pongal, Dosa, Idiyappam all served with fresh chutneys and Sambhar on fresh plantain leaves, you cannot ask for more, if you are looking for culinary bliss ! Try their Vada curry, a dish made out of mashed Masala Vada mixed in the usual kurma masala, have it with the Idiyappam, a killer combination !

Walking down the memory lane

Any one who lived in Chennai can never forget Pondy Bazar, the one stop shop for everything you want and need in life ! For this writer, some of the fondest memories of Chennai are all tied up with Pondy Bazar. Shopping for school uniforms, shoes, school supplies, groceries, tagging along with mom to those shops selling “steel saman”, festival shopping and to top it all, our alma mater, located in the heart of T.Nagar !

So, when we had some waiting time while brother attended his business, we went for a walk in Pondy Bazar. It was such a happy feeling to walk down the footpath lining the hundreds of shops in Pondy Bazar, literally a walk down the memory lane. The famous platform shops have all been moved to a shopping complex, the platform is now free of clutter. The famous flower market has also moved to this complex. It used to be a riot of flowers and garlands, hanging by the road side back in those days. Now, only a few samples are showcased outside. IMG_0400edited

The shops inside the complex sell everything under the sun from trinkets, to clothes, accessories, crockery, toys, you name it, you will find it there. Times have changed but somethings haven’t yet, like these Jimikkis ! IMG_0396edited

Our favourite shops 5 Star fancy shop,  Flora, Alankar, our mom’s favourite provision store, Salam Stores were still there, they have all upgraded their layouts. It was fun shopping for some stuff in Salam stores. The only thing we couldn’t get was some flavoured milk at the Aavin outlet in Pondy Bazar. We then moved to Mount Road/Anna Salai, the moment you reach the main road, it still feels like you have been transported to the British times, the elegant red buildings are still intact. They seem to add character to the city scape. IMG_0401edited

Then, of course, we have Chennai’s ever favourite MTC buses, the life’s experiences you learn by travelling in these buses are stories for a lifetime ! IMG_0402edited

We walked across the ever busy Mount Road to the main Aavin outlet and bought some flavoured milk. Back in those days, whenever mom would take us to Mount Road on some work, flavoured milk at that outlet was a must. This time, it was for the kids, handy when you can’t find milk easily during the journey.

Chennai’s age old icon 

Madras Central, we loved hearing the name, it meant holidays to hometown Nellore. One of the most important railway and busiest stations in India, Chennai Central is the iconic building of the city. After more than 2 decades, we were once again at Chennai railway station going on a vacation. Our family reached Chennai just in time for lunch. We checked into the prepaid AC waiting hall because Trivandrum Mail, our train to Kottayam was scheduled to leave at 7.45 PM and we had about 6 hours to while away. If you are in Chennai on transit or have to wait for a train, the prepaid AC waiting halls are a very good option. They are clean, comfortable and very economical. The washrooms are well maintained too. All this for Rs.20/- per hour per person !

We had lunch at Ratna Cafe outlet inside the railway station. The piping hot Sambhar rice still makes this writer’s mouth water, even after 2 months ! This was followed by caffeine attacks, every half an hour, on the fresh filter coffee at the Madras Coffee House. What’s the fun in visiting Madras, if you don’t have filter coffee?

With 3 more hours to go and kids getting a little bored, we took them for a ride around the Beach road, while the Senior Citizens tried to catch up with a few winks back in the station. We visited the Anna Square and MGR Sqaure, the two popular school excursion spots for an entire generation kindergarten kids of the 1980s !

A visit to the new Express Avenue Mall followed, the kids had lot of fun in the play area while we binged on ice cream and pastries. At 6.30 PM, we headed back to the railway station and got ready to catch our train. Parcels of Biriyani from Thalapakatti Biriyani outlet and once again Sambhar Rice from Ratna Cafe accompanied us into the Trivandrum Mail. For the kids, it was their first over night train journey, for us, it was a long time since we were travelling in train as a big bunch of family, there was excitement all around. Tiredness sent us off to sleep early, we woke up briefly in the middle of the night in time to get a glimpse of Palakkad Junction and then when we woke up, we were in God’s own Country !




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