Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry (or Pondicherry), the popular French colony, co-exist along the Bay of Bengal. As one drifts along the coast from Chennai, meandering through fishing hamlets and the backwaters, the other city becomes evident. Hiring cabs in Chennai and retaining the same for a day or two would allow the traveller to explore remnants of history en route.
There exist more than one route to drive through and the most popular are the East Coast Road and the Grand Southern Trunk Road.
Along the East Coast Road:
The drive of over 160 km in a Chennai to Pondicherry taxi is barely felt as the journey is absolutely scenic. Driving past the buildings of Chennai, the road gently gets less crowded as one crosses the outskirts of the city. The Cholamandalam Artists Village, right at the beginning of the drive is a place for art lovers. This is a live exhibition of art and craft, in all its forms, in Injambakkam. It is the largest artists’ commune in the whole of India and has, besides the sale of goods, workshops for the interested.
As you drive on along the coast is Dakshinchitra, a traditional heritage village recreated perfectly, including the nuances of the lifestyles of Southern India and its culture.
For the religious, there are plenty of temples, old and new, along this beautiful coast. One temple worth mentioning is that of the NityakalyanaKrishnan temple at Thiruvidandai. Over 2000 years old, this temple is part of the 108 DivyaDesams and a must-visit on the list of most Hindus. The Pallavas are said to have constructed this temple.
The next stop would be the most popular destination of Mammalapuram, or Mahabalipuram. This coastal town is historical as it served as the port from 1 CE and continued to be so till the reign of the Cholas. Popular for its marvelous stone carvings and the mastery that’s gone into stone sculpting, this town displays the temples and monuments which are over 2000 years old.
The AlambaraFort in Kadapakkam was constructed during the Mughal Era and stands the testimony of time. This speaks of the Anglo-French battles and the involvement of Dupleix.
Along the Grand Southern Trunk Road:
Drive through the National Highway to reach the town of Maduranthakam. It was once ruled by the Pallavas remains but now remains unnoticed until looked for. The Rama Temple by the lake is over 1600 years old and was constructed by the Pallavas. This town was also ruled by the Cholas and has been touched by several other rulers including the Sultans. And also attractive Vedanthangal bird sanctuary near Maduranthakam.
If you want to explore the rock-cut cave temples from the 7th century on the banks of the Palar River, then stop by at Mamandur, which is also preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Soon after Mamandur, a short detour will take you to the Genji or Gingee fort. This fort was called the Troy of the East by the British and is flanked by three hillocks which the adventurous can trek.
Adjacent to the fort on the detour is the temple town of Thiruvannamalai, visited by many travellers as the place of worship to Fire, one of the five elements. Also, this is the place where the ashram dedicated to the saint Ramana Maharishi is.
Driving past Tindivanam, one can again take a short detour of a few kilometres to visit two significant places, the fossil-rich protected area of Thiruvakkarai and hilltop temple of Mailam.