3 day trip

Pondicherry and the charm of Rajagiri fort

Continued from here 

Capture

The next morning, without even planning it, the entire family was up and ready early for yet another walk by the beach. I guess we were all eager to make the best of the sand and the seas when we could. Once there, Anand and I walked in the bylanes near the beach while the rest of them enjoyed their morning walk. IMG_1495Just as we returned to join them, we realised there was another unexpected treat lined up for us at the promenade- there was a rangoli contest as part of the Heritage Festival. There were about a 100 participants out there in the morning recreating kaleidoscopic visual treats with just coloured powder and sheer artistry.

IMG_1564.jpg
This one was our favorites

Needless to say, this gave us a very colourful start to the day.

 

We had a breakfast at Surguru and realised the restaurants too were in on the Heritage Festival and had special menus with local foods. Much to our disappointment, we entered it to find they only served it in the evenings. Our review of the place – the food was good, but considering the menu only has everyday south Indian breakfast items, the money may be better spent in a simpler place.

We picked up some snacks for Bangalore from the Auro Cottage bakery and made another stop for food to eat on the way from Bon bakes, a little further ahead. Their almond cream croissants are to die for. We only tasted the food later in the day or we’d have bought a lot more of them.

Our next stop was only at the Rajagiri fort that we had missed seeing completely the first time around. This time we went straight in and it’s a surprisingly huge area, not apparent from the entrance.

Tip: Rajagiri fort has a huge number of monkeys. They are smart, quick and will take things from your hands even if not food, just out of curiosity. Do not keep your bags down and be very alert of your surroundings when consuming food.

IMG_1743.jpg
They’re always watching!

These are some of the structures we happened on.

Granary: A huge granary with vaulted chambers each for possibly different types of produce or maybe produce from different times of the year.

Gymnasium: Just a closed large hall with not as much ventilation as one would think would be needed in a gymnasium.

IMG_1614.jpg
The gymnasium

Elephant Tank: This was my favourite place (as always). It’s a very large step pond that had water even in February. Somehow very few tourists noticed it since it’s on the side, which makes it even better. The pond is surrounded by a pillared arcade

IMG_1725.jpg
Breathing space

 

Horse stables: These are endless rows and rows of sections used as horse stables and possibly also barracks.

IMG_1585.jpg

Kalyan Mahal: This was presumably the vast area in front of the mosque. All that remains now are stubs where pillars were supposed to be and pavilion with a very polished stone in the shape of a bolster.

IMG_2176
Any guesses on what the bolster may be used for?

 

Mohabat Khan Mosque:  It was a multi-tiered structure with layers of windows. Mohabat Khan was a very trusted friend of Raja Desing, the king of Gingee, and fought several battles beside him till his death. We were wondering if there was a way to go up this structure, but nothing seemed apparent.IMG_1606

While Mom went ahead, reached half way atop the stairs to the fort and came back down to find us, we made our way up while she rested. It’s not an easy climb by any standards. However, the steps are wider and therefore less precarious than the Krishnagiri fort. Dad, Sis and I made our way up and Anand reached us after a while too.

IMG_1672
A stunning top-view of the temple after the climb

Halfway up, a splitting headache threatened to attack me in the heat and we decided to find a shady spot to rest on the way till Anand reached us. My very energetic Mom yet again made her way up to meet us and the 4 of us rested and took pictures till Anand got back after exploring the top of the fort. Since it was past lunch time by now, he too came back after almost reaching the top, concerned that the rest of us would be waiting hungrily.

 

At the top there is a Ranganathaswamy temple, a clock tower, an Audience hall, a granary, a cannon, the treasury and a Kamalakanni Amman Shrine and a sacrificial slab in front of it.IMG_1669

As per the Hindu legend, the presiding deity, Kamalakanni, is believed to be the widow of demon king Acalamaccuran.

IMG_1679
Kamalakanni shrine and the sacrificial slab

There were some really beautiful trees of the frangipani flower (chempakam/plumeria) at the point where the rest of us waited for him. That flower’s fragrance is a favourite of both mine and Dad’s. Once Anand joined us, all of us got together on a mission to get a small branch of it for Mom to plant at our home in Bangalore. Since the branches were quite high, it involved a lot of jumping and Anand cleverly using the handle of his camera bag to try to loop it over the branch to pull it a little lower.

IMG_1660
The action spot

Meanwhile, while all of us were engrossed and pitching in ideas to help, sneakily we had a simian friend reach his camera bag and open it up to check for food! despite his angry growling and snatching at the bag, mercifully my reflexes kicked in and I managed to pull the bag away from him. Well, cameras are expensive, you got to do what you got to do. Even if it is intimidating a creature 1/4th your own size and feeling relieved it worked.

 

So after that little bit of excitement, the family walked back down and out of the Rajagiri fort. Just outside of it is the Saad-at-Ulla Khan mosque named after the last Mughal governor who was the Nawab of the Carnatic. However, it’s doors were closed so we could only afford a peak into it through the grills.IMG_1765

We drove a little ahead in the area and got to the Shiva temple. It is well maintained with lawns that make it a nice spot to sit and relax. By now we were ravenous, and mercifully had the croissants and other eats we’d gotten from the bakery. We dug into them with gusto and everyone unanimously agreed that that would keep us going a while longer after which we could lunch. Note that we ate inside the car, there are a huge number of monkeys in the vicinity and they WILL snatch your food if you are in the open.

Tip: We recently purchased a car organiser with an insulated section. We found it very useful during this trip since most places were really hot and we needed to keep such cooked food from going bad. To give you an instance of how sunny it was – At one point it was too bright to look ahead and I asked Anand to help hold my bag to let me replace my regular glasses with my shades. Turned out, I was already wearing shades 😐

Once satiated, at least temporarily, we went inside the Shiva temple, which has 2 structures, the smaller one even surrounded by a moat. IMG_1785.jpgDespite this being such a long post, there was still so much more to see at Rajagiri. There were another larger temple pond, a prisoner’s well and multiple temples. I guess we need some reason to visit again someday. However, we had to drive back to Bangalore and we had a long way ahead of us.

We decided to stop at the Ramana Maharshi Ashram at Thiruvannamalai. We entered into a place with loads of trees and foreigners. It is the ashram of the philosopher Ramana Maharishi who emphasised the personal experience of self-realization. There are quite a few small sections- a meditation hall, an area where the devotees chanted the Vedas (?), accommodation for devotees, a library of related books, a kitchen etc.IMG_1804.jpg

After a short while, we went to a restaurant just opposite to it that mercifully still had good simple lunch (though limited in variety) despite it being 3:30 pm already. Thus satiated, there ended our trip with a glimpse of both Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu that left us yearning to visit again, except maybe in cooler weather 😉

Tip: Thiruvannamalai itself has a lot of old, huge and beautiful temples. If you have the time, they may be worth the visit.

Up next : China: Beijing- The old Great wall and the new TV Tower

 

3 day trip

Pondicherry: The usual and the unusual

Continued from here

Capture

The next morning, Anand, Dad and I were up for a walk in the morning to the Rocky beach again. Even though we were late for sunrise, we were still greeted with the sky in brilliant hues even between the buildings just as we got there. While Anand got busy being the shutterbug he is, the 2 of us had a lovely walk and sat by the water a while too, making the best of the location.

IMG_1288.jpg
Picture perfect scenes

We returned to the hotel, freshened up and after a breakfast made our way to Auroville. After a mandatory 10 min video viewing, we were given free passes to the area. It was disappointing that the video spoke more of the construction of the Matri Mandir (which is admittedly interesting) and nothing about the philosophy and beliefs that drove the creation of the society within Auroville.

IMG_1398.jpg

Tip: If you want to see inside the Matri Mandir, you need to go personally the previous day and get a pass. While the pass is not charged, the visiting time the next day is only early in the morning before the regular tourist inflow. While I haven’t been there, Anand has and he does admit it’s impressive. However, it depends on how many days you have in Pondicherry and what else you’d prefer to do then.

That aside, after a walk through paths mostly shaded by trees we reached the Matri Mandir viewpoint. On the way are different boards describing the 12 qualities symbolised by flowers and colours. One can only see if from afar on the same day as the visit. IMG_1361.jpgThere is a free shuttle service too so you don’t necessarily have to walk both ways. After a bit of shopping in the stores at the exit, we headed out. On the way back there are several stores selling handmade woven hammocks. They will even custom make one for you if you have the time to wait. Mom was delighted with her purchase and the demo they gave her of the weaving process too.

We stopped for lunch at the restaurant of a Belgian lady and had a really nice meal with each dish served one at a time since she was the only cook with just one helper. Mom managed meanwhile, like she frequently does, to have a chat with her about her entire family and very interesting life.

Our next stop was an unconventional choice in Pondicherry, The Science Centre and Planetarium simply because I’d been longing for the past 2 years to visit the Planetarium at Bangalore and hadn’t been able to and Mom hadn’t been to one before so we figured it may be interesting. The place is a much smaller version of the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum in Bangalore, just one floor of a small building so is the planetarium. However, the staff are willing and eager to help and it’s a really fun experience to get re-introduced to science concepts you last recall from your middle school exams in a fun way.

IMG_1412
Small reminders of the great scientific minds from the past

Sidenote: if you are in Bangalore and haven’t been to the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum, go now! It’s an incredibly under-rated and fun place where you can easily spend a day- and not just for kids.

It’s the perfect excuse to be silly and giggle while pretending you are learning all of the important stuff you’re supposed to know in the first place. All of us had an absolute blast trying the various controls that are thoroughly entertaining. Make sure you do not miss the cool interactive exhibits all around and outside the building- whether it is the contraption that lets you carry your own weight up or my personal favourite- the parabolic reflectors that let you communicate across a distance even while whispering.

IMG_1410
This would be useful for high-rise apartments with power outages- the self-help elevator

Tip: The shows in the planetarium are at a slightly flexible schedule simply because they tend to wait for sufficient audience. So our show at 3 pm in English started a little later around 3:30 and we luckily didn’t miss much. Do check the show timings unless you also speak Tamil because alternate shows are in Tamil and there are only a few shows per day. Also, Monday is a holiday.

We dropped into the Promenade beach to watch some of the dance performances and also visit the Heritage Exhibition that was on due to the celebrations. The latter had a potter’s demonstration on the wheel too that understandably had people transfixed at the hypnotic sight that combined precision and fluidity with such grace.IMG_1439

Anand had noticed a church-  Eglise De Notre Dame Des Anges on his wanderings that morning and we all headed right there. It’s the most cake-like church I’ve ever seen. Coloured in pastels with huge arches and a calm interior with no other people it felt like being enveloped in a fairy tale. If you’re up for it, it is apparently the only church in Pondicherry to have a mass on Sunday in all 3 languages – French, English and Tamil.IMG_1465

Hungry by now, we looked up places and headed off to a restaurant at Serenity beach. Unfortunately we didn’t enjoy the food as much except for the starters but on the other hand, we were right by the beach, behind the shacks of the fishermen and we saw boat after boat piercing the darkness with just a torch each and slowly making its way back home at the end of the day.

IMG_1026
Love has no language ? Or maybe has too many!

Up next : The charm of Rajagiri fort

3 day trip

Pondicherry : Gingee fort- the heat and the rewards

Capture.PNG

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.

IMG_1190.jpg
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.

IMG_1064
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.

IMG_1107
A father-daughter moment

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

IMG_1139

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.

IMG_1163

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.

IMG_1189.jpg

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.

IMG_1204.jpg
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.

IMG_1305.jpg
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.

IMG_1320.jpg

The silhouete of the statue of Gandhi later in the day

Up next : Pondicherry- the usual and the unusual