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Pondicherry : Gingee fort- the heat and the rewards

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Planning for parents’ often involves a lot of worrying- whether they’d like the food, the price of the food(they didn’t), the place, whether it’d involve a lot of walking, trekking or whether they’d be bored on the long drive. Hence with a lot of trepidation, we finally got my family (parents and sister) together with us to head off to my first visit to Pondicherry.

It was a long drive, but made easy with stops for tender coconut, Dad and Anand plucking tamarind from the trees on the roadside for Mom, a playlist with songs in all languages we knew, having yummy buttermilk and chopped fruit packed by Mom, translation of boards in Tamil thanks to her too,  and lots and lots of conversation and ribbing. After an early breakfast just after Hosur, our first place on the itinerary was at Gingee to visit the fort. It was hot and involved climbing, so we headed back to  Gingee town to get some lunch before we proceed.

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Quite a dramatic view, even from below

Tip: it’s a small town without too many restaurants, but opposite to the bus stand there are a few. You can’t go wrong ordering a “meal”/thali in Tamil Nadu.

There are 2 visible boards in the general area your online maps will point you towards- one is the Krishnagiri fort and the other is the Rajagiri fort. Right at the start, you have steps ascending to great heights. Our confidence high after lunch, we decided to head up. The steps are not the most convenient- they are significantly narrow at many points and inclined at some others.

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Endless stairs

Also since we drove from Bangalore just that morning, the only time we could reach here was early afternoon which is probably the worst time.  Anand, Dad and I managed the uphill climb. Dad was impressively fit due to his walking routine despite not being a regular trekker. IMG_1074We almost gave up after a point 3/4th of the way to the top due to the heat but Anand who had gone ahead insisted that it may be worth the effort of going all the way uphill.

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A father-daughter moment

And it was indeed quite a treat, there were granaries, multiple temples, and even a small palace.

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Tip : it is hot, no matter what time of the year it is. We’d highly recommend you wear full sleeved cotton fabrics, cover your head with a hat/cap and carry plenty of water when you visit either of the forts. It is going to be hot despite this, but at least it’ll reduce your chances of a heat stroke or dehydration. Do not be misled by the sight of local kids running up the stairs, sometimes barefoot, without a care in the world. You may not survive the same! However, the place only opens at 9 AM and closes at 4:30 PM so an earlier or later trek is not feasible either. There are no food stalls/water/drinks there so you’ll have to be prepared with refreshments yourself.

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We headed back to the town for a quick stop just to ensure we were all re-hydrated with a glass or 2 each of lime juice that seemed heaven-sent.

Just opposite the Krishnagiri fort is a Shiva temple. It’s inside a cave and has a large linga very simply adorned with some oil lamps by a very old priest. It’s surrounded by monkeys, though.

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We checked out the Rajagiri fort next and went straight into the very last point you can reach with a car – the Venkataramana temple. It has a huge gopura and a 1000 pillars. If you have a 1000 pillar ancient temple on your list and hate crowds, this is your go-to spot.

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Notice the gentleman with the cricket bat? Young men were actually playing cricket here!

It’s a sprawling temple and significantly cooler once you enter the temple area due to the stones used. The place has beautiful carvings-especially at the entrance, a small temple pond and layers of structures one inside the other, typical to older temples.  IMG_1249.jpgIt has 3 mantapas inside: Kalyana Mandapa(for weddings), Urchava Mandapa (for temple festivities) and Yaga Sala Mandapa (for rituals)IMG_1209.jpg

We next headed to the spot at the Rajagiri fort entrance. However, they were just closing- 4:30 PM and so we decided to visit it on our way back.

We checked into the hotel and headed off to Appachi for a Chettinad dinner simply because we’re biased towards structures in ancient houses. We did enjoy our meal and then headed to the Rocky beach/Promenade beach. It’s less of a typical beach and more of a promenade by the beachfront. It is quite a delightful place for people to have walks in the more pleasant time of the day in a safe space with the waves providing a calming background score. The place is really just what you want to visit to get to see a slice of the people in Pondicherry from all walks of life, all ages, languages, and communities.

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Space to sit and stare in the city

With no prior research, we happened to have landed in Pondicherry at the time of the Pondicherry Heritage Festival. Also, we were just in time for the finale of the day so were treated to an exciting performance by a troupe of young boys of all ages performing acrobatics with flaming rings and juggling fire torches. After that, with ice-creams in hand, we had a charming walk on the shore passing by the Mahatma Gandhi statue, the French War Memorial, the office of the Department of Revenue housed in a lighthouse, and the numerous other buildings with architecture from times gone by.

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The silhouete of the statue of Gandhi later in the day

Up next : Pondicherry- the usual and the unusual

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