Do you sometimes long to leave our hectic life behind you and you don’t really know where to go? Well, go with the idea that I will let everything come to me and look for culture, adventure and human warmth on the plane to South India and maybe you will find what you were looking for! Armed with a dose of self-confidence, a camera and a backpack, not much can go wrong… or can it? With the following tips the chance is small.
Chennai: first stop
When you travel to the South of India, you usually fly to Chennai, also called Madras, or Mumbai, also known as Bombay. If you arrive in Chennai, it is not highly recommended to spend the night there. It is better to take a pre-paid taxi to Malallapuram. This will cost you 1000 Rupees (about 14 euros) and the advantage is that you pay this at the booth just outside the airport so that the taxi driver cannot charge you extra, which often happens in India.
What can you find in Malallapuram?
Where to stay?
Above all, you can find peace there. This coastal town, which consists of only about 10 streets, is often a place that is used to recover from the flight or to let all the experiences gained sink in. I stayed in the Sea Breeze Annex and it cost me 800 Rupees for 1 night in a clean room with private bathroom. However, I later heard that you could negotiate a cheaper rate at the same hotel. However, do not confuse this hotel with the Sea Breeze because it is much more expensive.
Malallapuram itself has a number of sights, but when you ask for more information at the tourist office you will be told that there is nothing to do in that city, so it is a matter of taking your travel guide at hand. What is definitely worth a look is The Shore Tempel. This construction consists of two towers that were completely carved by men from the city hundreds of years ago. In the meantime, the combination of wind and water did its job and the structure is therefore suffering from erosion, but it is still worth going inside. A ticket will cost you 200 Rupees, while for the Indians this is only 20 Rps, but you do have a bigger budget than the average Indian citizen, right? The nice thing is that the tradition of carving can still be experienced today. The people who will try to sell you numerous carved products will be happy to tell you about them. You can find those stalls along the path to The Shore Temple, but if you walk further towards The Krishna Mandapa and Arjuna’s Penance you can find the better stalls. All in all, as already mentioned, this is a place to relax.
If you still want to take up the challenge of taking public transport, you immediately face a practical problem in Malallapuram. There is 1 bus station, but there are only buses waiting for passengers who have to go to the east of the country. Chennai, Pondicherry, Chidambaram are located west of Malallapuram. You simply take the road back before you entered Malallapuram by taxi and stand at the side there. A bus passes every 15 minutes. You ask the locals which bus goes to your destination (because the destination is in Tamil on the bus and that is of no use to you) and then you jump on the bus because it usually does not come to a complete stop.
The Sabhanayaka Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram, a true experience!
The wonderful architecture
I went to Chidambaram, a typical Indian town/village and visited the aforementioned temple. Unlike the temple in Malallapuram, this will blow you away. So you have 4 parts inside the temple and there is 1 point where you can see all 4 at the same time. Each part is decorated with numerous images in different colors. Before you can enter the temple, you must hand in your shoes at the stalls just in front of the temple. In exchange for 10 Rupees you will get it back after your visit. Guides are usually also available at those temples. I didn’t use that, but every tourist is free to make that choice of course. You can take a camera with you and you can take pictures outside, but once inside your camera must disappear in your backpack. There are plenty of believers around who will point this out to you.
Plenty of gods to pray to
Inside you can find various altars and mini temples where you can make a sacrifice for each god. You can also smell the smell of sour milk while you want to take a closer look at the various statues of gods. It is definitely recommended to make sure you are in the temple when they briefly show you the most important statues of gods in the central area that are normally behind golden doors. All the believers then stand around drumming to catch a glimpse of those images and some even lie down on the ground and spontaneously start praying. The temple visit will last no more than 3 hours. That is, apart from the typical markets, the only thing you can really visit in Chidambaram.
Pondicherry, something completely different on your way…
If you are already more or less used to dusty cities, Pondicherry will be a pleasant surprise. This is also a coastal city, but it is completely different from what you have seen so far. For example, the French took control of this city when India was still a colony and you notice that.
Walking French trails
You can stroll along the Goubert salai, a kind of boulevard along the beach, and enjoy the architectural European-inspired wonders along this road. Every now and then you see Indians playing petanque here and the French touch can also be found in the outfit of the local police.
Auroville, a fascinating ashram
Not far from Pondicherry you will also find Auroville. This New Age place attracts quite a few people because you can search for your spiritual self here. Architectural experiments in which the west mixes with typical Indian elements can be viewed here. Income here comes from environmentally friendly agriculture, home-made products such as herb mixes, cheese, paper, tea, etc., also from education and development projects and last but not least from a computer software company called Aurolec. Solar panels and wind turbines provide the energy for the 50 square kilometer complex. You can visit the complex in 1 day or you can even stay there to better understand the harmony and vision of life. A ride on the auto rickshaw will cost you 180 Rupees. You can also go there by bus and you even get it for free if you stay in a hotel of one of the Sri’s. A Sri is a kind of spiritual leader. I stayed at the Park Guest House where I was allowed to stay for 880 Rupees in a neat double room with a view of a communal well-kept garden and it was also ideally located.
A few more things worth checking out!
You can also visit a paper factory in Pondicherry, which is of course connected to some Sri, an art gallery, Aurodhan Art Gallery, and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The latter is the most famous Ashram in India and was founded by the philosopher Aurobindo Ghose. This is really worth a visit, if only to feast your eyes on the beautiful courtyard, the mausoleum that is decorated daily with fresh flowers and the Western-style rooms that have a high bourgeoisie character. In this city you can catch your breath for a few days and, above all, breathe in the fresh air before throwing yourself back into the Indian hustle and bustle.
- Bangalore, a true shopping paradise in India
- Tourist spots in South India