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Chennai, Mahabalipuram, Kanchipuram bike trip in July 2004

The south was done ... Kanyakumari is our land's end. North up to Hyderabad and upto the western coast of Mangaluru. Now, the only direction which my CBZ haven't gone from Bengaluru was East ... and the biggest town on the east coast is Chennai ...

There are two possible routes to Chennai. One through Chittoor, Ranipet, Kanchipuram and Sriperumbudur, the NH4, which is around 320 kms. Other one was through Krishnagiri, Vellore, joining the NH4 at Ranipet. The Bengaluru - Krishnagiri stretch is NH7 and the Krishagiri - Ranipet section is NH46. The total distance in this route is about 350kms. Though the second road is longer, it is the official Chennai road. The Mumbai - Chennai section of the Golden Quadrilateral connecting the four metros goes through this road. People who know Bengaluru (Bangalore) must have seen the Old Madras Road, which is nothing but the Chennai highway through Chittoor.

Me and Pavan decided on the later, the more official/popular road via Krishnagiri. We hit the Hosur road and headed off to Chennai, on the same CBZ. It was on a saturday early morning ... early is as early as 4.30. The plan was to reach near Kanchipuram by noon. Hosur road is close to where I stay in Koramangala. Pavan came over to my house the previous night, we packed both our stuff into a single bag and kept the alarm for morning 3.30.

Hosur road was free of traffic. Something that you can see only at odd hours of the day ... We started slowly at a cruising speed, reached Hosur around 5.00, took the Hosur flyover and continued to Krishnagiri. By 5.30 there was daylight and we found ourselves travelling towards Krishnagiri through an amazing stretch of road. The Golden Quadrilateral is planned to be a 4/6 laned road with a wide divider. No potholes, no menacing trucks with glaring headlights coming from the opposite side, no hazzles, no troubles. Indeed an express highway all the way connecting the four metros.

We made it to Krishnagiri (90 kms from Bengaluru) past 6.00. Krishnagiri town is towards the left and there was a huge flyover to make the traffic uninterrupted. Another flyover follows this a km ahead, where the Chennai highway splits off the NH7, which continues to Kanyakumari straight above the flyover. This NH7 is part of the North - South corridor planned from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. For Chennai, you need to take a left and enter the NH46. The Golden Quadrilateral continues here through the Krishnagiri - Vellore - Ranipet highway.

Past Krishnagiri was Bargur, Jayalalitha's constituency in 1991 and 1996, where we took a close to half an hour coffee break. Almost 150 minutes and 150 kms past Bengaluru, sun was very much out by then. Next was Vaniyambadi and the roads strated getting blocked in railway crossovers. You can see the flyovers being constructed to make an uninterrupted express highway till Chennai, but we had to take the narrow roads frequently interrupted by railway signals.

With numerous Road/Flyover constructions going on in this stretch, and hot sun, it was tough till Walajapet, just past Ranipet, where we entered the NH4 and could again see completed 4 lane roads. It took us close to 9.30 to reach there. Breakfast near Vellore added to the delay. But, it was a welcome break, and the food was really good. Me hogged a plate each of masala dosa and puri!!!

Past Walajapet, we could enter the completed Golden Quadrilateral again, driving through this stretch in good daylight and feable traffic was fun. I kept a consistent 100 km/h and it took us only 25 minutes to cover around 40kms. Just imagine the full Bengaluru - Chennai highway, with a good stable vehicle. U shud be able to cover the whole distance (around 350 kms) in under 4 hours!!!

Okie ... back to real world of bypass construction in Kanchipuram. It took us almost half an hour to figure out which way to go. We saw the road going to Chennai, via Sriperumbudur, but our current target was Kanchipuram town, the land of Kanchipuram silk, numerous temples and the capital of Pallava dynasty.

Pavan had shortlisted three temples which would be of interest. First one was Kailasanathar Temple, almost on the way to the Kanchipuram town. The temple is made of limestone and had been very vulnerable to weathering and some of the sculptures had lost its sharp features. Nevertheless, they were marvelous. We went inside the temple, which has a big 'Siva Ling'. The main priest told us that Archeological Department has taken over the temple. He also showed us a corridor around the temple, most of the distance you have to crawl. We did all those, took and posed for some photographs and rushed to the next temple in the list - Ekambaranathar Temple.

Ekambaranathar temple is not only the tallest and widest temple in Kanchipuram but also one of the tallest (with a 57 meter gopuram) in South India. This is built around a 3500 year old mango tree (called Sthala-Virutcham), which is believed to have four branches with leaves of four different colours, shapes and taste. Well ... I said 'believed to have' since, all I cud see was a dry tree with no leaves at all. To be fair, the Gopuram (rather Gopurams - couple of them were around) was huge and looked beautiful. Also there was a 'Aayiram Kaal Mandapam', the hallway with a thousand pillars and an array of 1008 Sivalingas that decorate the inner walls of the temple. There was also a large pond in the middle thronged by a lot of fishes. But, by then it was too hot to get out bare footed on to the ground. This temple lies in the middle of the town and was close to couple of other important places there, the Sankara Mutt and the Kamakshi Amman temple.

Since, it was already 12 by that time, we skipped entering both. Just went up to the Kamakshi Amman temple and took some photos from outside and then proceeded for lunch at Saravana Bhavan. Past noon, in the blazing sun, it was safe to take the shade inside an airconditioned hotel and have a slow, extended lunch. We did just that. The food was again good and with full stomachs we proceeded to our next destination - Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) - by around 2.00.

From Kanchipuram, there is a state highway up to Chengalpet (Chengalpettu) and couple more routes towards east, all joining the East Coast Road (ECR). The one we took was through Chengalpet and Thirukalukundram, joining the coastal road at Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram. At Thirukalukundram, there was couple more temples. It seems a divine kite visits a hill year every day noon, hence, the name Thirukalukundram (The hill of holy kite). There was also a nice tall temple with a good gopuram, standing tall in the middle of the town. The road was scenic throughout. Except for the heat, the place looked beautiful and verdant.

By 3, we entered the ECR through a tollbooth and took a side road leading to Mahabalipuram town. Didn't waste much time wandering around, instead went straight to the first decent looking hotel and took a room. Took couple of hours rest and a brief nap before getting out at around 5' O clock.

Mahabalipuram (or Mamallapuram) reminded me of Kanyakumari. The look and feel was quite similar. But what was striking about Mahabalipuram was numerous granite/marble statuettes and roadside shops where people make/sell such statuettes. All brilliant and costly for an amateur!!!

We first went to see the 'Five Rathas' as a guy in the hotel warned us that, it would close by 6.00. With a cursory glance, the 'Five Rathas' looked 'nice' work of granite sculpture, with around 5 different pieces in a ground. Some looked like a temple or a house from outside, one of them almost a full sized elephant, one in the shape of a bull. Infact, what interested me more was a group of foreigners (read it as females) who visited the place. But, a piece of information Pavan gave me almost put me in awe. All the 5 pieces I mentioned where carved out of a single piece and not from 5 different ones as it would look. Then, I had to pay some attention to the intricate carvings in the rock and it truly was inspiring.

From 'Five Rathas' we moved to the Cave temple, on the way taking a look at these marvelous people at work carving poetries in granite and marble. Cave temple was a again sets of huge granite rocks and numerous carvings in it. I payed little attention to the historic details after I spotted more sets of pretty looking foreign/desi travelers. Ok ... I am not digressing, we went up the cave temple, took a picture of the lighthouse from there came down the cave temple and roamed around for some time. All thanks to a set of French Mademoiselle who did pretty much the same thing. A stroll around this area will lead you to a huge rock carving called 'Arjunas Penance'.

Time to head towards the Mahabalipuram beach and more letching - this time a cute looking desi girl responding pretty much to what we were doing. Ok ... enuf ... the beach was good, but rough. People were warned from swimming, but the water was enticing. The shore temple is located along the beach. Got a glimpse of it from outside, but did not really care to go inside. We took a long walk along the beach and back. By the time we got back, it was already dark. We did some shopping in the beachside shops and baught some shells and ate fried fish. Then we drove along the ECR to the nearest petrol bunk and filled in the tank, which was almost empty.

Back to the hotel, a bath, dinner, followed by another stroll in the town. But, it didn't look very safe exploring the city in the night with lots of dark/unlit corners around. After a marathon chat session, we hit the bed by 11.00.

Sunrise would have been quite a good sight. On the way to out around 6.30 we got a glimpse of the red giant coming out. But, by the time we reached the beach he was up hiding behind some clouds. Bad luck. Fine, the beach was good for some more time. And with not much crowd (again, read it as female crowd) around to divert attention we had a fun time in water. Didn't go in much though, respecting the warnings saying 'Dont swim'.

Time to say goodbye to Mahabalipuram. A quick shower and breakfast, we were back again in the ECR, heading towards Chennai. With the Bay of Bengal visible on one side and nice breeze coming from there, ECR was a different experience. The road was good too, with speed limits displaying '80 kmph', which means you have to drive at atleast 80, which was not tough.

Kailasanathar temple
Inside Kailasanathar Temple at Kanchipuram

Ekambaranathar temple
Ekambaranathar Temple Gopuram and the 3500 year old Mango Tree in Kanchipuram

Kamakshi Amman temple
Kamakshi Amman Temple in Kanchipuram

Around Thirukalukundram

Five Rathas
One of the pieces of Five Rathas in Mahabalipuram

Five Rathas
Another one from Five Rathas

Sculptures @ Mahabalipuram
Granite and Marble Sculptures for sale - from Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram beach
Mahabalipuram Beach

Highway - near Krishnagiri

We got into the Kovalam beach and roamed around for some time. Entering a private beach of 'Fishermans Cove' - a hotel owned by Taj. The security guy was polite and friendly in telling us that 'this beach is private and you cannot enter here without permission', especially with a camera in hand and guests in the hotel staring at us suspiciously. Me and Pavan were also polite and friendly in telling him that it was by accident and diverting the topic with 'We came from Bengaluru yesterday and going to Chennai' story. Ofcourse, all three of us knew, why we were there ;)

Mahabalipuram is around 70 kms from Chennai city, around 50kms through the ECR. We soon could feel the Chennai city, with growing traffic and growing size of buildings outside. Pavan took me to a hip beach in the city, at a place called 'Besant Nagar'. But, we didn't feel like getting in there at this heat. So, he instead took me to a 'Fruit Shop in Greams Road'. Hmmm ... it's the name of the shop and I don't know which road that shop is situated. Sure not in 'Greams road'. Had a nice icecream and some cool time there. Next was 'Odyssey' a gift/cards shop. And the last one before lunch was Anna university, near IIT campus. Pavan has done his BE in Anna university and he got a bit excited being there again.

Around 12.00 Pavan dropped me at 'Residency Towers'. I went there to meet Divya and Pavan went to see one of his friend. Lunch at 'Residency Towers' was great and even better since somebody else is hosting (read it as paying for) it ;)) It was a long relaxed lunch. After lunch, we headed to another beach, (god knows whats the name of it) and sat there chatting for some more time. Again, it was a nice beach with blue water and nice sand.

Me dropped Divya near her place in Adayar and joined again with Pavan. We went to Spencers, a famous shopping complex in Chennai, roamed around for some time, me baught a shirt and then went to Marina by 5.30. By this time, the sun has cooled down and there was a huge crowd around Marina. With a very long beach line and thousands of people thronging the place, it resembled me of a huge ground. It was half a km walk to reach the sea and a couple of kms length wise, along the beach, and lots of people making merry in water. But the best was yet to come - in the form of heavy showers. Nobody moved, though it was pouring down. Nobody would mind getting drenched in that Chennai heat. Even if somebody does, by the time they run back to a shelter they will anyway be drenched :)

It was fun time in the rain - double fun to watch the hysterical effect that a heavy shower and cooler weather had on the people here, especially children. By 7.00 rain subsided and we started off reluctantly, out of the city, out of the crowd, searching for a hotel in the suburbs, from where we can start off early morning towards Bengaluru. Driving through moderate traffic we reached Poonamallee (Poonamalle/Poonamalli) (around 20 - 30 kms from Chennai city) by 8.00, picked up a nice hotel there and proceeded to dine and stay there.

Early morning drive from Poonamallee was the toughest. We got up around 3 and started off by 4. The road along this stretch (up to Kanchipuram) is under construction, with lots of diversions, no white markings in the middle and lots of potholes. With a good Monday morning traffic towards Chennai, it was really scary. There were some anxious moments around Sriperumbudur, once we almost got caught in a gap in the middle of the road (due to a culvert under construction and the road diverging around a divider. Another, when a bus, coming at a high speed, continued to occupy the right side of the road and knocked us out of the road, in to the gravel. But we survived.

Past Sriperumbudur, we saw the Hyundai plant and the Rajiv Gandhi memorial (where he was assassinated) and the roads got better. By 5, we reached Kanchipuram, had some trouble finding the main road, passing under a railway over bridge, but finally made it to the completed 4 lane Golden Quadrilateral stretch past Kanchipuram. From there on, it was a matter of the top speed of my bike!!!

Sun was soon up, making it easy through the complicated diversions along Ranipet, Vellore and Vaniyambadi. We had coffee past Vaniyambadi, a photo session at Bargur and breakfast at Krishnagiri. By then it was around 9.30. Krishnagiri - Hosur stretch is one of the best in this route - again a matter of the bike's top speed. On the way, some cops stopped us, asked for papers and tried to scare us. But, ultimately they were the ones who got scared when Pavan told them that we are on our way back to Bengaluru and Chennai. This one will always sell :)

Around 11, we were at Koramangala, past the heavy traffic at Hosur road, but it took half an hour more to reach the office. Straight there, and we could sign in for the day, without costing a day's leave. Well ... not that any work could be done!!!

Chennai trip was all about beaches and temples. Two days of heat and an unexpected rain. The ECR and the Golden Quadrilateral. My first visit to Chennai and considering the cities importance, first of a lot more to come.

© 2019 Sandeep Unnimadhavan