South india, two weeks

Old Jan 16th, 2020, 04:13 PM
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South india, two weeks

After a brief stopover in Delhi (with a pleasant stay at Andaz Delhi) met up with the in-laws and then we all landed in Chennai.

Although there were many interesting things that may take us back to Chennai one day, on this trip we headed straight to Covelong bay, at the Taj Fisherman’s Cove. It is a pleasant hotel on a small strip of private beach on the Bay of Bengal. We had a quick walk on the beach followed by a nice meal in their beachside restaurant. They served a nice flavourful seafood menu for Christmas eve. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate with some rains but the flavours and spices were well done. After my unsuccessful attempt to stay awake in the evening, we got up early to enjoy the sunrise and had a pleasant buffet breakfast. We had initially chosen Intercontinental for this stop, but were happy with Taj, particularly the food. It probably isn’t an international beach destination by any means but as a stopping off point to visit nearby attractions it was quite enjoyable.



The next morning we visited the Mahabalipuram complex. Very nice site, not too crowded once you navigate the entrance/parking situation. Was remarkable that Shore temple survived the tsunami. Arjuna’s penance and Pancha Rathas were also quite impressive.



It was a 2 hour drive on good roads to Pondicherry. All very much enjoyed the city. One of the more photogenic streetscapes I can think of. The aged French colonial structures with all the energy of a modern India make for quite the setting. My photo skills do not do it justice by any means. There were some wonderful shops to be found as well. We stayed at Pale de Maye. Great location, nice colonial style (new building) room and facilities with a nice pool. Service was great apart from being slow at breakfast. Our meal was just ok, the recommended Villa Shanti was full, and we were all still quite jet lagged by dinner time in any case. The tour we had quite interesting, as are the ashram and Auroville.



After two nights in Pondy The first of our long drives awaited. First stop was Chidambaram. This was to see Nataraja temple, in honour of the dancing Shiva. We arrived in time to see prayers. This was a first glimpse at how spiritual and devout south India is. Next we were off to Gangaikondacholapuram. it is not quite as hard to pronounce as it would seem, we all practiced a fair bit though. This is a very well preserved temple, similar to the one in Thanjuvar. Here however there are very few crowds, definitely a worthwhile stop. It was off to lunch at Mantra Koodom (CGH Earth property in a forest near a branch of Kaveri river). Lovely grounds and had a very pleasant veg thali lunch. The last stop was Darasuram, a smaller temple, but with some equisite carvings. A bit of water has flooded it, but made for some gorgeous reflections in the fading afternoon sunlight. Finally we arrived at Svatma in the evening. It was a long day of driving but a nice enough way to see the countryside of Tamil Nadu and all the rice fields.

The next day we headed to Brihadeeshwara, another large temple, the frescos painted by later empires were quite impressive as well. A little side excursion to watch some bronze workings and veena making, then back to the hotel for some r &r. Svatma was a really nice hotel. They have some live music in the evening, solid restaurant (pure veg) and a rooftop bar. Spa had some great services and the décor was quite nice. It is not going to be as palatial as any of the 5* options in Rajasthan etc. (nor is it nearly as expensive) but we really enjoyed our two nights here.

It was another fairly involved drive off to Maduri with a stop at Trichy. We visited a holy site along the river namesake of my sister-in-law. Many families performing parts of last sacrifice, antyestri, before heading to Srirangam temple. Next was a hike to the top of rock temple, with some encouragement we all made it to the top. A brief drive on to Maduri followed, staying at the Heritage Maduri. Large rooms with a nice old property but a few too many mosquitos around. It is the best option in town and the people were kind, but I wouldn’t set high expectations here. We skipped the evening aarti, which involved a 2+ hr wait and visited the Meenakshi temple in the morning. Maduri has been inhabited for thousands of years centred around the temple. You have to take off shoes, socks, and leave camera + phone behind for this one. Even for the part outside the inner sanctum (which none of us entered anyway long line). There is an elegance to this temple that perhaps supersedes some of the other living temples we saw, particularly the view over the water to the towers. My favourite temple visits however remained the Gangaikondacholapuram and Darasuram. We had a brief visit to the city palace and then were on our way out of Tamil Nadu.



The drive from Tamil Nadu to Munnar is the biggest test of resilience for the traveller on this route. There are a lot of tight switchbacks. Some of the roads are in bad shape (I believe from bad monsoon of 2018, when we had initially planned this trip for). Once over the pass there are some pleasant views of the tea plantations. Upon arrival at Ambady estate we had a nice freshly cooked meal and went to bed. The next day we had a scenic hike through their cardamom plantation and the forest behind the estate. There was a friendly NYE party and meal that evening. I would recommend skipping the Tea museum, instead simply drive/hike to a few scenic spots for some photos. There are a few too many eyesore buildings in the valley but it remains quite scenic. We really enjoyed the time in Munnar at Ambady.

We had another drive, much more tolerable but still about 4 hours to Purity, a resort in the back waters of Kerala. Lots of mall towns and greenery en route. At Purity we checked into a lovely room, had a sunset cruise in a small canoe along the lake, saw some fishermen with their nets (much more peaceful and scenic here then famous ones at Fort Kochin). Following day was spent on a day cruise into the backwaters. Really great experience and one of the highlights of the trip. Endless rice fields, canals, and just watching life go by for everyone living along them. Service and food on the boat and at the restaurant was great. No grand check-in for those expecting that may be disappointed, but will probably be long forgotten after a boat trip and some time at the spa. First time trying Shirodhara, very interesting and relaxing, even for the skeptic.

Last stop was Kochi. On the way we stopped at Seemati, an old saree store. Couldn’t leave the south without picking up a kaunchipuram saree (its actually from town in Tamil nadu but this fit our schedule better). Not to be outdone I also bought some silk for a robe, got it made at one of the local tailors overnight, fit isn’t perfect but pleased for the price. We stayed at Malabar Estate, in fort kochi. Visited the mattancherry palace. The Synagogue was unfortunately closed being a Saturday. David Hall café, Kashi Art café, and the restaurant at Fort House were all good, as was the hotel restaurant at Malabar. Enjoyed some of the antique shops near the synagogue, as well as Cinnamon near our hotel. Similarly to Pondicherry, the multicultural history of the town is really shining through, could be a nice place to slow down and spend a bit longer in.

Sadly not for us this time, caught an early AM flight back to Delhi, watch out for the security personal who make you take out all of your individual camera lenses and toss them around in the bins. Back in a much colder Delhi, caught up with some family. Went to Qutub Minar, inside Red Fort (last time was just there on the outside). Went for dinner at Bukhara, loved the Lamb and chicken, huge naan is a must but the dal Bukhara seemed a bit overhyped to us. (if you only have time/budget for one blow out meal in Delhi go to Indian Accent). On our last night we went to Lakhori at Haveli Dharampura. Great location inside old delhi, lovely setting and nice views from the rooftop also.

Overall trip exceeded expectations, and nobody got sick. Already looking forward to return to India now that we have a 5 year visa.
tdiddy23 is offline  
Old Jan 16th, 2020, 04:19 PM
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Thanks for the report. Seems you got to see some less known temples, very interesting.

Photos were allowed when I was in Maduri, policy has obviously changed. Mosquitoes still the same...
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Old Jan 16th, 2020, 08:33 PM
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Thank you so much tdiddy for posting your report!
Brought back a lot of nice memories for me, plus gave new ideas.

On the road to Munnar, was construction ongoing? When I was there a yr ago, some areas were completely covered in construction dust so that you could barely see the tea plantations!

Not surprised you’re already thinking of a return visit!!!


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Old Jan 17th, 2020, 01:47 AM
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Yes, thanks for posting this, tiddy. very interesting and as Calinurse says, with some new ideas. [hi calinurse!]
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Old Jan 18th, 2020, 11:24 AM
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Originally Posted by CaliNurse View Post
Thank you so much tdiddy for posting your report!
Brought back a lot of nice memories for me, plus gave new ideas.

On the road to Munnar, was construction ongoing? When I was there a yr ago, some areas were completely covered in construction dust so that you could barely see the tea plantations!

Not surprised you’re already thinking of a return visit!!!
There was some road construction. I think we crossed maybe 4 active road construction areas, but wasn't too dusty beyond that. I'm not sure what the roads were like previously but they still have some work to do. Its not like they aren't passable or anything though, rickshaws were getting through (slowly)

I hope they have some sustainability insights in terms of construction moving forward, several large tall buildings abandoned that take away from the landscape. Still a very pretty area, if we had more time and weren't with the in laws would have considered some more time here and some more involved hikes
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Old Jan 21st, 2020, 02:27 AM
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Great report! Thanks
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Old Feb 22nd, 2020, 07:27 PM
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Nice report! We visited south India about 10 years ago and its great to know that its still so fabulous! After see how much you covered, maybe its we should go back again to see some more...
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Old Jul 14th, 2020, 04:05 AM
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Thank you for sharing such a piece of detailed information about your trip to South India. Would love to know about the tourist places which you had visited during your visit to Pondicheery, Munnar and Kochi.
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