End of 2017 saw us on a short break to Rajamundry. 1st January 2018 fell on a Monday and the long weekend was spent binging on roadside Bajjis, Rose Milk, Artos soft drink and chilling by the Godavari River, a perfect way to usher the New Year.
January is one of the best holiday months with the New Year, Sankranthi and Republic Day coming one after the other. Our usual Sankranthi vacation to our home town Nellore got extended to attend a friend’s wedding in Cuddalore. Sankranthi traffic was at its peak when we drove to Nellore from Hyderabad, traffic jams on the highway, serpentine queues at toll plazas but when you have roads like the NAM Expressway, no journey seems like a strain.
After a joyous time at our village during Sankranthi, which included an impromptu visit to Penchalakona, a nature and waterfall trail near Nellore. January is not a great time for this trail and so after a short trek, we decided to do it again after the monsoons.
Pulicat’s Chief Guests
A day after Sankranthi festivities, we began our trip to Cuddalore via Chennai. The brother & co., joined us till Chennai. Enroute, we stopped at the Nelapattu Bird Sanctuary, January is the peak season for Pelicans and the place was full of migratory birds. We had been to Nelapattu before and this visit was meant for the kids.
After Nelapattu, we drove to Pulicat Lake near Sullurupeta hoping to catch a glimpse of the Flamingoes which flock the lake during the months of December-February. Initially, we did not spot any birds and as we drove further, suddenly, we could see a white stretch in the distance, the stretch was so thick, we almost thought it was salt ! Turns out to be Flamingoes, there were thousands of them !
We stopped the car and walked towards the lake and through our binoculars, watched the slender birds prance around, some with their heads under water catching fishing, some gliding from one place to the other. Here is a distant click of the birds.
We could have walked closer but the ground was marshy, the Pulicat Lake is a brackish lake and during high tide, we suppose the water comes all the way upto the road. The birds were busy going about their drill. We wished we had a bigger lens but this was closest view we could get with our camera.
Some six years ago, while returning from Chennai around the same season, we had stopped at Pulicat to see the birds, we clicked a very similar picture back then. Would any of these birds been there at that time? They must be thinking, “it’s those people again !”
We drove on till Sriharikota and after being awe just looking at the entrance of the Space Centre, we proceeded towards Chennai.
It was evening when we checked into Radisson, courtesy, the brother’s travel points. We had nothing to do the whole evening, so we visited the ancient and famous Parthasarathy Temple at Triplicane. This was the first time in many years that we spent a lot of time at this Divya Desam temple and were amazed to see the sculpture and the grandeur. We also got our dose of the delicious Puliyodharai and Athirasam. Parthasarathy Koil Puliyodharai, Athirasam and Sweet Pongal are the Charioteer God’s gifts to mankind !
For dinner, we went to Thambi Vilas. Now, what do we say about Thambi Vilas? Vegetable Biriyani, Pongal, Kothu Parotta, Chicken varieties, Ginger Soda, Elaneer (Tender coconut) Payasam etc, etc ! Hyderabad may be the Biriyani capital of the country but Thambi Vilas Biriyani is something else, the kind of Biriyani that people south of the Penna River are used to. We think Thambi Vilas should be listed as a tourism place in Chennai !
Chennai to Cuddalore via ECR
Early next morning, our feasting continued through buffet breakfast at Radisson. We picked up our friend who flew in from Hyderabad at the airport and hit the ECR. We had been advised to stay away from ECR but since it was a weekday and a drive on ECR is a must do, we decided to take the route. What a drive that was ! Butter smooth roads and beautiful scenes of the sea by the window, no wonder ECR is the most sought after road in Chennai. We passed by our childhood excursion spots, if you studied in Chennai, a school excursion to Ideal Beach Resort, Little Folks, Crocodile Bank, Mahabalipuram, would have been part of your calendar every year, whether you went on an annual pilgrimage or not, a visit to these places was a given !
We took a juice break at Kalpakkam, the location of the famous Atomic Power Station, not that we visited it but just stopping by at such an iconic place should be remembered.
Pondicherry was our pitstop for lunch. We decided to indulge ourselves and went to the legendary Maison Perumal Hotel, which we missed during our last visit to Pondicherry in January 2017. The ethnic ambience of this place is lovely. We were treated to some lip smacking Chettinad cuisine, check out the Vazhaipoo (Banana flower) Vada:
Saiva Meen Kuzhambu or the vegetarian version of Fish curry, the fish is replaced by Cow Peas. We had never heard of it and found it amusing but the taste was just too good !
That was followed by More Kuzhambu, each one was as good as the other and we scraped the plates clean and vied with each other for a spoonful of each item !
We had read great reviews of Maison Perumal and will vouch for it, when visiting Pondicherry, do have a meal at Maison Perumal.
Cruising on ECR, we reached Cuddalore around 3 PM. The first sight that greeted us was a river festival celebrating the Gadilam River which drains into the Bay of Bengal at Cuddalore. As we crossed the bridge across the river, we remembered our friend (whose wedding was the purpose behind this trip), sharing his experience of having witnessed the Tsunami from the bridge, the tidal waves swelled the Gadilam River, he could see the spray all the way from the bridge. People ran for shelter and this friend of ours boarded a random bus that dropped him off at Neyveli, 45 kms away and from there he had to walk back to his village !
Every year in the month of January, there is a festival held on the banks of the river, we saw a big fair, processions, hundreds of people having a gala time.
Once you cross the bridge, you enter Cuddalore, we hadn’t expected Cuddalore to be such a big, happening town. Everytime we visit a big town or a city, we have this “village bumpkin” look about us, marvelling at the urbanisation, we do not know why !
We checked into Hotel Yogi Ram Inn, we had booked rooms through Booking.com and they seemed to have messed up the booking because, when we arrived at the hotel, they could not find our reservation, however, the hotel guys were nice to us and ensured that we were accommodated. Yogi Ram Inn is a nice little hotel if you plan to stay in Cuddalore.
The evening was spent attending the reception and the wedding next morning. Once the wedding events were wound up, we went around Cuddalore.
If you are wondering about the Nadu Naadu in the title, that was how the region around Cuddalore was known during the Pallava times. “Nadu” in Tamil means middle and probably it meant the middle country of the region ruled by the Pallavas, which was called “Tondai Nadu”, this region extended North of Cuddalore all the way upto the Penna River.
Cuddalore has two important, ancient temples. One of them is the Padaleeswarar Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. This temple is a Padal Petra Sthalam, which means a temple venerated in the hymns sung by the Saivite Saints, the Nayanars of the 7th-9th Century A.D.
Since photography is not allowed inside temples, this is the only picture we clicked. Do not go by the humble looking gopuram, once inside, you will be mesmerised by the architecture and the sculpture, which ancient temple doesn’t leave you with that feeling? The temple reminded us of the Thiruvanaikaval temple near Srirangam, all these temple were built almost in the same time period and expanded by various succeeding dynasties till the Vijayanagar and Maratha rulers of South India.
When Lord Shiva is around, can Lord Vishnu be far? The Devanathaswamy Temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and located at a place called Thiruvanthipuram, 5 kms from Cuddalore. This is one of the 108 Divya Desams or temples important to Lord Vishnu listed by the 12 Alwars, the Vaishnavite Saints of 6th to 9th Century A.D. In 3 days, we visited 2 Divya Desams, the Triplicane Temple and the Devanathaswamy Temple, Lord Vishnu must be happy with us !
If the Padaleeswarar temple reminded us of Thiruvanaikaval, this temple gave us a feel of Srirangam, the beauty of this cultural continuity yet the diversity is something to experience.
Close to the Devanathaswamy temple, on a small hillock is a temple dedicated to Lord Hayagriva.
This is the only picture of the Devanathaswamy temple that we clicked while climbing the steps to the Lord Hayagriva Temple.
We do not know if the Hayagriva temple is as ancient as the Devanathaswamy temple because the structure looked recent or it has been renovated. This was the first time this writer was visiting a temple dedicated to Lord Hayagriva, Lord Vishnu’s avatar as the Horse-faced God who saved the Vedas from the demons Madhu-Kaitabha, hence Lord Hayagriva is considered the God of Veda or Knowledge.
Being the wedding season, we spotted several weddings happening inside the temple and just married couples seeking Divine blessings at both the Padaleeswarar and Devanathaswamy temple. At the Hayagriva temple, devotion seemed to take another turn, we spotted writings on the walls of the temple with Hall ticket numbers and prayers for getting good marks in exams, some were happy if the Lord helped them to just pass ! By God of Knowledge, the ancients meant the personification of wisdom and asked people to pursue knowledge for knowledge sake, they never meant praying to the God to help people pass or get 100% in exams ! Lord Hayagriva will have a “face palm” expression looking what the idea of knowledge has turned into !
With that “feel good” state of mind that temples give you, we finished our temple visits and decided to drive back home. Before leaving Cuddalore, we just drove by the Silver Beach, the sea shore where the Gadilam River meets the sea. We did not go to the beach because it was mid afternoon but just stopped by to click a picture of the river ambling along before joining the sea.
Beyond the sandy shore where the boats are parked, is the sea and the river meeting point. Even if you stopped for a few minutes, nature will leave you feeling “what a wonderful thing this Nature is !”
Rendezvous with French Cuisine
Starting from Cuddalore around 12.30 PM, we once again wanted to stop at Pondicherry for lunch, this time to try some different cuisine. We looked up on the internet for options and found Rendezvous Cafe at White Town, Pondicherry. The white coloured theme of the Cafe with a terrace view of the area and the blue sea beyond is most refreshing. As for the food, look at this !
That’s Vegetable Shahlyk with BBQ Rice and this is Vegetable au Gratin with Crusty Bread.
Now don’t ask us to pronounce the words ! They also have Ratatouille, we did not try it but were excited to just see the name, we never thought one day, we would find Ratatouille in a menu in India !
Though we swear by Pongal, Avakai and hot rice (typing those very words is making this writer drool !), we thoroughly enjoyed the new tastes, when you are foodie, you consider any cuisine as your brethren ! At the end of fabulous meal, we must admit, we said “we loved it but we want to go home to our Rasam and rice !”
And so, home we went, driving back to Nellore via Chennai. We took the Tindivanam route instead of ECR because we had to bypass Chennai. Chennai traffic seems to begin just after Tindivanam and end at Puzhal where you reach NH5 towards Nellore ! It took us about 3 hours despite technically bypassing the city !
We reached Nellore where we stopped at home for the night and were treated to our comfort food, Pappu and Rasam. The next day we leisurely drove back to Hyderabad. Until we turned towards Hyderabad, we had almost forgotten that Hyderabad existed, that was the kind of absolute bliss this trip was.
- Pulicat Lake is about 90 kms from Chennai and 12 kms from Sullurupeta, the nearest town.
- The Flamingo season is usually December-February.
- It is a good idea to take your vehicle or hire one, public transport may not be convenient. If you go to Sullurupeta, you may find autos.
- Nelapattu Bird Sanctuary is 28 kms from Pulicat Lake, if you have a vehicle, you can cover both the places.
- Nelapattu Bird Sanctuary is open from 8 AM to 5 PM, Pulicat Lake is more of a drive along the lake, so there are no specific timings, however, it is advisable to avoid the place after dark.
- We heard there is some boating facility on Pulicate Lake on Tamil Nadu side, we are not sure of the location or timings. The lake extends on either side of the AP-TN border.
- ECR is a like a dream but also known for high speeds and accidents, be careful while driving on this road. Advisable to avoid ECR if you are driving on a weekend, the traffic is supposed to be high on weekends.
- Maison Perumal and Rendezvous Cafe are quite expensive dining but a good experience, especially Maison Perumal.
- The temples in Cuddalore are open from 5AM to noon and again from 4 PM to about 8PM, plan your trip accordingly.
- There are a few nice hotels in Cuddalore, we liked Yogi Ram Inn, Arcot Woodlands, Hotel Vaigai are good options as well.
- Pondicherry-Cuddalore-Chidambaram could be a weekend trip from Chennai. There are too many ancient, worth visiting temples in and around Nadu Naadu including the famous Navagraha Temples, one can plan according to their interest.
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