Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Munnar Pondicherry Road Trip 2011


Hi friends,
I’m back with my latest road trip. We undertook this adventure from 12th to 18th June 2011 in my Ford Ikon TDCi. Places covered are Vellore, Munnar and Pondicherry. My pals Ratna, Sonu and Narendra accompanied me. I’ll keep the log short and simple due to time constraints. Let pictures do the talking.

Pre-Ride: (12th June 2011)

I filled up the fuel tank at BPCL bunk in Lakshmipuram. Ratna, Sonu and I started to Vellore from Guntur at 10.00 pm on 12th June. Reached Chilakaluripeta at 11.00pm and picked up Narendra.

Me and Sonu relaxing..
Route: Guntur – Ongole – Nellore - Naidupeta (NH5 up to here) - Tirupati (SH) – Chittoor – Vellore (NH205 and NH18 up to here).

Due to 6 lining work going on, NH-5 was full of diversions up to Ch.peta. From then, the road was very smooth and I was cruising at 100+ kmph most of the time. Beware there are few unmarked speed breakers (on the NH…!!!) at the entry and exit of Ongole By-pass road. 



Vellore Entrance
We stopped near a lorry lay bye at Nellore for a 30min cool off, both for our bodies and the engine. From Naidupeta we have to take a right turn towards Tirupati. The difference between NH and SH is quite obvious- road to Tirupati was badly maintained with lots of speed breakers which limited our speed to no more than 50kmph.

From Tirupati, the road to Chittoor was decent and it was nearly 4.00am the next day by the time we reached there. Vellore was another 120km away from there and we reached at around 6.30am, on 13th June. We took a 1hr break to fresh up and recharge ourselves for the exciting journey ahead..!

Ready to Roll.....!!!

Distance travelled: 500kms approx.

Day- 1: (13th June 2011)

My friend from VIT, Susheel suggested that we visit the famous Golden Temple in Vellore. After enquiring route from the locals, we finally reached the place that was aesthetically pleasing and very beautifully built. Unfortunately, photography was strictly prohibited, so you can Google up to let your imaginations take shape.
Golden Temple, Aerial View

As you can see, the main golden temple is situated at the centre of the star shaped path, which has a total length of about 1.5km. Well, the only thing that bothers is that you have to walk this entire length in the hot sun without your footwear..!!! Damn man! And for someone like us who were completed exhausted with a 500km travel, it was indeed a disturbing thing to do …!  It was about 11.00am by the time we were out of the temple. We had our breakfast at the temple canteen. (However, I strictly believe I should have taken rest in the car coz I had to drive another 400km that day).
My Ikon parked at Perandurai

Our destination for the day was Perandurai (and not Munnar) as the forest check post at the entry of Munnar foot hills would be closed by 6.00pm and it was impossible for us to make it. Although lengthy, I preferred NHs mostly since I have learnt a lesson from my previous adventure that it is better to avoid unknown SHs.

Route preferred: Vellore - Krishnagiri (NH 46 up to here) - Dharmapuri - Salem (NH7 up to here) – Kumarapalyam - Perandurai (NH47 up to here).

Started from Vellore at 12.00pm and reached Salem at around 4.00pm. I topped up diesel of 12 lit. at Thoppur (Between Dharmapuri and Salem). My Ford Ikon was due for an Engine Oil change and hence we searched for a good garage and finally landed at Sri Saakthi Motors, Salem By-pass. After the service, had some snacks at a hotel opposite Vinayaga Missions and started to Perandurai and reached there by 6.00pm.
MNP Lodge, Kangeyam

Unfortunately, the town had only 3 hotels and none had any vacancy. We cursed ourselves for not having taken a room at Salem. But It was too late/far to go back and luckily, Google maps turned out to be handy then. I was optimistic of staying in any town that was in closest proximity to Munnar foot hills check post. I zeroed in on Kangeyam, a town 40km away on SH96 with a hope to find a lodge with a vacancy. Luckily, MNP lodge, Main road, Kangeyam came to our rescue. The manager offered a small room for the four of us until morning with a meager rent of only 400rs.

I was so tired with the entire driving that I fell asleep immediately after taking a bath- too tired to realize I didn’t even had my meal that night !

Distance travelled: 350kms approx.

Day-2: (14th June 2011)

We woke up early so that we could reach Munnar by noon.
The Super Car...!!

Route: Kangeyam – Palladam (NH67 up to here) – Udumalaipettai – Munnar (SH up to here).


I took the NH67 till Palladam. It came to my notice that in Tamil Nadu, there were bakeries everywhere which would otherwise have been hotels here in A.P. So, our only breakfast was some pakodas near Palladam. From here one can notice a distinct change in the vegetation as we travelled towards Kerala, the shrubs made way for Coconut trees and there were lots of Wind farms. The place was so windy; the wind mills were working to their full capacity, I suppose.

A Chit Chat session





I got the diesel tank filled at a HPCL bunk, Gudimangalam, and to my surprise my car gave a whopping 21kmpl mileage with A/C on. Thanks to the smooth NHs that were a part of most of our journey.

A great shot






After Udumalaipettai, the limits of Indira Gandhi National Park started and there was a forest check post where we had to enter details of the passengers/driver/owner/vehicle. There were around 6 check posts in total till we reached Munnar. We had to repeat the process at every post and pay a fee of 20/30 Rs.





  










The route became very scenic as we ventured deep into the forests. After crossing Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, we reached Marayoor, home of one of the last existing sandalwood forests in the world. The forest is under strict supervision and heavily fenced. 


Thoovanam Falls



At 1.00pm we reached the entrance of Eravikulam National Park, home of the Nilgiri Thar, an endangered goat species. But that was of least interest to us at this age, our main focus being on the numerous honeymoon couples that visited the place. For the entire time I stayed at this place, I cursed myself for not having married yet. They were having the time of their life and it was a delight watching them.




We took a bus ride into the park up to certain distance and had to walk the remaining distance.  OMG, this is the best place I’ve ever seen. At a height of more than 6000ft the wind, rain, fog…everything was intense, like literally getting blown away. Even with an umbrella over me, it’s hard not to get drenched in the rain. You can also watch the Anamudi peak, the highest peak in south India at a height of 8000ft (Google it). The bus ride also took us under a waterfall; it was like heaven on earth.


Narendra in a jovial mood




The Nilgiri Thar
After an hour of this incredible experience, I started the car engine to continue with our journey to Munnar. To my disbelief, the engine temperature didn’t rise even after a 30min drive, thanks to the intense rain and cold. There are two waterfalls on the way- Thoovanam and Lakkam falls which are a must stop and watch sight. 

Completely drenched..!!!
 
Finally at 3.00pm our destination for the day- Munnar lay in front of us. It was situated at a height less than the surrounding hills, so not as cool as I had expected it to be. We checked into Munnar Mansion hotel which had a tariff of 1300Rs. After having our lunch at Saravana Bhavan (food is absolutely delicious served on a banana leaf), we slacked up for an hour and started exploring the places.








Attakkadu Waterfalls
There are four roads that lead out of Munnar, one towards Marayoor( which we had just travelled), the second towards Madurai(Our intended route out of Munnar),  the third towards Kodaikanal (Also known as Mattupetty road), and the last towards Cochin. Each route has its own places to see. As the day was already coming to an end, I preferred the Cochin route which had only a few places to see.


The first place was Pothamedu view point, from where you can get a view of the distant hills and clouds hovering over them. At the very first instant you feel like you are in the Himalayas.  Then, we reached Attukkadu Waterfalls, after travelling on a very narrow road. Be careful while driving as the route is very steep with tight bends. The force of the water is so heavy that one can feel the small bridge built across it vibrating. This the largest water fall I’ve ever seen. The picture will tell you why.

Gonna shop with a umbrella handy



At around 8.00pm, we returned to Munnar town, and did a lot of shopping. Tea (many varieties) is a must buy here and very cheap. Spices are fresh but a little bit costly. Homemade chocolate is also famous in Munnar. Apart from these it’s better to refrain from buying anything else. We had noodles for dinner and hit bed at 11.00pm

Distance travelled: 200kms approx.








Day-3: (15th June 2011)







Worker from a tea garden




Our initial plan was to stay two days in Munnar, but as we had already seen some of the places the previous day, we were thinking on whether to vacate the room or to stay that night too and vacate the next morning. On enquiring the locals about the remaining places to see, we decided to vacate the room. We loaded the boot of my car with the luggage and started towards Kodaikanal road. One advice here, don’t rely on GPS to get to this road, you will be mislead, instead ask the locals.

There are a few good places to see on this route- Mattupetty dam where you can get boating, horse riding etc.- A very good place to visit if you have children. The elephant park is also an attraction. Echo point, as the name indicates, every loud call made from a spot on the lake embankment is returned manifold by the echo from the surrounding trees/hills- A really nice place to have some fun.

Way to top station
The most beautiful place in this route is the Top station (32kms away), the highest point on Munnar-Kodai route at an altitude of more than 1800mts. The view of the Nilgiri hills is fabulous from here. The area is known for the violet Neelakurunji plant, which blooms only once every 12 years. If you happen to feel hungry, you can have freshly cooked Maggie noodles by the locals. Some red fruits that resemble tomatoes are available here that taste absolutely delicious when taken with some chili powder topped over them.



It was 3.30pm when we returned to Munnar. Our next destination was Pondicherry, some 450km away. We had to cross the mountain roads before night fall or else it would become a problem to drive. So, we skipped lunch and left for Pondicherry.






Route: Munnar – Devikulam – Theni By-pass (NH49 up to here) – Periyakulam – Dindigul By-pass – Trichy By-pass – Villupuram (NH45 up to here) – Pondicherry (NH45A up to here).

sad to leave munnar
After around 3 hrs of driving, I was so tired of driving in the mountains and I seriously wanted them to end. Finally, they did and I was the happiest person on earth. The NH45 was newly laid and was pretty smooth, a treat for my car. We had dinner at some hotel in Dindigul City at 10.00pm. I took a two hour nap with the car parked on the roadside on Trichy by-pass road at 2.00am. 

Distance travelled: 320kms approx.

Day-4: (16th June 2011)

I woke up startled at 4.00am, thanks to Ratna yelling in my ear, and hence resumed driving. As NH45A from Villupuram was not in a good shape, we were delayed a little bit and finally reached Pondy at 8.00am. We checked into Auroma Guest House at the entrance of Auroville Main Road with an A/C room at a tariff of 1400 Rs. We rested till 11.00am,  and then visited Auroville, an international township.




I was warmly greeted by a French lady at the reception who handed us 4 passes to view the Matrimandir that needed a 1km walk. It is an architectural wonder, a sphere shaped structure studded with 1300 golden discs. Apart from this, there is nothing much to see in Auroville other than a few”exceptionally beautiful” foreign girls. We had our lunch and dawdled there till 4.00pm.

By the time we reached the guest house, Narendra was completely exhausted so we let him rest and took a leisure walk on Auro Beach which was just a 5 min away from our room. The water here was shallow, so a very good place for swimming. But as none of us knew swimming, we decided not to take chances.

Pondicherry is famous for its night life, the city springs to life after dusk.  The streets were so crowded with tourists/vendors; I found it difficult to navigate the car. So, we hired an auto-rickshaw and got down at Nehru Street/MG Street famous for shopping. Although we bought few items, I spent time walking and observing the striking aspects of the new place. We found another Saravana Bhavan hotel here and fortunately this one too served good food. We were back in our room by 10.00pm and were fast asleep.

Distance travelled: 220kms approx.

Day-5: (17th June 2011)

This was the only day of our entire journey that we spent in a single city- Pondicherry, so a real leisure day for me. Now for a brief description of the city- Apart from Auroville, all the tourist attractions in Pondy are confined to a rounded rectangle. It is divided into four quarters namely, French quarter, Tamil quarter, Muslim quarter and shopping streets. The street names are quite striking like Rue Dumas, Rue Chetty, Rue Cazy etc. 






Despite the day being hot, we explored the entire French quarter on foot.   One of my college mates, Brahmendra, suggested we check out Tirupur Mall where clothes were very economical. Fortunately, we found it and did a lot of shopping. There are also some historical French buildings to be seen on the Goubert Avenue (Beach Road). We had lunch at Le Café overlooking the sea.




i bet you can't drink one full coconut













Another thing to shop for in Pondicherry is alcohol. For all the alcohol lovers out there, you can get it for 1/3rd of the amount it costs here in AP. I wondered about the profits government made by imposing taxes on alcohol. Each of us bought around 3 bottles to be taken home(Not for me of course..!!). Reached the guest house by evening and started packing our bags as there were so many items  it seemed impossible they would fit in the boot of the car. 

 





We had non-veg dinner for the first time in our journey at Goodman Restaurant nearby. Its owner, Aryavrat became a good friend of mine and presented me with a useful book “Places to see in Pondy”. Ironically, we were about to leave the city the first thing in the morning.
Distance covered: 30kms approx.

Day-6: (18th June 2011)




This day was the final day of our road trip. We started from Pondicherry at about 8.30am towards Chennai along the scenic East Coast Road (ECR). I got the diesel tank filled on the outskirts of Pondy and got a mileage of 19 kmpl. 
 









Mamallapuram, popularly known as Mahabalipuram was en route to Chennai, so we halted there for some time, visiting the places. Since I had to give my bio-metrics at T-Nagar, Chennai NSR before 1.00pm, we made a quick dash to Chennai in-time. 


We skipped lunch and it was 4.00pm by the time I finished my work and we were out of Chennai.

 





Then it was NH5 all the way up to Guntur. The urge to reach home soon was so high that I maintained a speed of 120kmph most of the time. We finally reached home at 10.00pm. Mileage was low, only 15kmpl during this leg of the journey, as I drove at very high speeds with heavy load.

Distance travelled: 580kms approx.



A few words:

Having completed this road trip of "2200kms" safe and sound, I would like to thank Ratna, Sonu and Narendra for making this happen, without you guys this would have only been a dream. My trusted Ikon TDCi performed very well even on the twisty roads surrounding Munnar and it returned an average mileage of 18kmpl.

Regards,
Mom, Huny and Mann, for their best wishes. They must have spent sleepless nights worrying about my safety.
Susheel, for providing details about Golden Temple, Vellore
Brahmendra, for giving information of Tirupur Mall, Pondicherry.

I’m grateful to Manjeera Nandiraju, one of my best friends for spending hours , editing this entire travelogue.

Signing off for now,
Ajay Kumar Meda



6 comments:

MAHESH said...

After reading ur article i felt like ...i was actually at that place
...Got the opinion that i was reading a fiction book written by a good writer
was totally drowned and to much involved into it...Fabulous work dude....keep it up !!....Gr8 job mann

Mann said...

@ Ajay.. Intresting trip and a very natural and fascinating way of describing ur experience ! As i already told u, i liked the way u narrated the whole thing :)

@ Mahesh .. Thank u :)

Anindita Ravindran said...

Ajay, this is going to be a loooooooooong comment - I just sat back and enjoyed your trip like I was in it too....so well narrated...no embellishments....just what it was! Loved the minute details and imageries. When I come to India, I should do this too.Your car looks brilliant and pretty capable...such a long trip! Did you listen to some music on the way? I can see the immense fun you had - it's like you walked us through every bit of your journey. Many of these places you've described are very familiar Ajay - Palladam, Trichy bypass,dindugal bypass, mahabalipuram, pondicherry, etc. Like you said, the bakeries are rather standard fixtures in the parts of TN you described - I miss the wonderful French bread and plum cakes they sell - I can't stand the overly sweet bakery products here. Saravana Bhavan!!!! - I would give anything to have that and also food on banana leaves - that's a unique close-to-nature taste. Coconut farms on the way - I'm glad you didn't miss the tender coconut. It's been at least 13 years since I've gone on such a trip. Thank you so much for tingling my nostalgia. You've incited me to go on a little picnic - that's exactly what I'm going to do now - even if it has to be alone - I had no plans earlier but now I do :)

Anonymous said...

we njoyed a lot..............

Anonymous said...

priyatham...............!!!!!!!!
we njoyed a lot..........
munnar i enjoyed in the whole trip...........
whole trip is nice......

Unknown said...

hey ajay, very nicely written.....
enjoy every step of ur life as u did...:-P.
will miss ya..