Planning a road trip this weekend? Choose from these destinations around Chennai
Initiate any talk about a weekend vacation around Chennai, and usual names of Pondicherry, Mahabalipuram and Pulicat are likely to crop up. This time, we urge you to go beyond the tried and tested and explore the unexplored. From rural, offbeat routes through antique markets to boating in the mangroves, here’s our pick of out-of-the-ordinary road trip destinations to ease your weekender planning.
Maheshwari Marimuthu, the founder of Pondicherry-based On & Off Roaders Motor Club, invites you to join their organised rides to destinations such as Mudaliarkuppam and Haritam from Pondy. “The former is a popular meeting place for supercar owners. You can find Ferraris and Lamborghinis gathered after their respective rides,” she says. The group is also planning an Independence Day ride to Bahour, a village that can be accessed through a lone rural road that runs for around 20 kms. “The last time I hit that route, I stopped by a roadside shop on the road that sells tasty idlis and other South Indian food,” she recalls. You can either take the NH 32 or the ECR. The latter will take you through other tourist places such as the Chunnambar Boat House.
Time: Around four hours.
Expect: Vendors selling regional sweets. Stop by the sugarcane fields and the Bahour Lake.
Stay: Gulkhand House on Serenity Beach. `6,400 per head. Details: airbnb.co.in
Pichavaram Mangrove Forest
The second biggest mangrove forest in the world, Pichavaram Mangrove Forest is the choice of many explorers like Ashwin Rajagoplan, a travel writer and president of the Don Bosco Past Pupils Association in Egmore. The Pondicherry-Karaikal Fort Road is a fine route and a crowd favourite.
On the way, once you go beyond Pichavaram and continue for another hour, you will reach Karaikal, which features 18th century architecture dating back to the time of the Tanjore kings. The vegetation spreads over 2,700 acres, with roots permanently rooted under water (similar to the Sunderbans, the only one that beats Pichavaram in size). A boat ride along this natural wonder lets you spot birds like egrets and pelicans.
Time: Just over five hours.
Find out: About the popular sub-culture of shrimp farming that has been prevalent in this area for ages. It is now under threat due to an ongoing awareness movement against the practice. Few locals, however, want to have no part in the movement.
Stay: Pichavaram Adventure Resort. From around `3,540 per head. Details: 9442591466
Prasanth Joseph Pearrio of city-based eco-tourism company Soulful Adventures recommends a quick getaway to Yelagiri, near Vellore (around 230 km from Chennai). Also called Biker’s Paradise, the hill station finds temperatures dropping to around 16 degrees.
Time: Around five hours.
Route map: With a consistent monsoon-like climate, the route is perfect for riders, informs Prasanth.
Make time: For paragliding and camping, two popular activities at the place.
Stay: MariGold Ridge. Around `4,810 per head. Details: 9655167374
Visitors rave about the smooth roads and negotiable curves that lead to this beautiful hill station in Andhra Pradesh. Alternatively referred to as Andhra’s Ooty, it is named after a former British collector and has relatively pleasant temperature when compared to its humid surroundings thanks to its altitude (over 4,000 feet). The NH71 route will get you there in the quickest time. If you take a right detour once you reach the Anantapur Highway, you can stop by Sri Venkateswara National Park, in the middle of the Eastern Ghats. The journey is breathtaking, offering stunning views of the hills as you zip past rows of trees on either side of the road.
Time: Around six hours.
Don’t miss: The sunset view from the hill top.
Stay: Horsely Hills Holiday Homes Resort. From around `2,000 per head. Details: 9440671253
Dabbaguli, near the Karnataka border, is a little settlement popular amongst bikers and other adventurers as the River Cauvery runs through it. Surrounded by hills clothed in carpets of emerald and pine green in monsoon or amber and chocolate brown during the peak of summer, the landscape is awe-inspiring, to put it lightly. However, the location is remote, as the spot is only accessible by a 15-km ride through a dirt track. “But it’s totally worth the bumpy ride,” says Brian Ammanna, co-founder of the Bangalore Jawa Yezdi Motorcycle Sports Association, who made a trip with six other bikers three months ago. The ramshackle structure, with metal shutters and political posters stuck to its derelict walls, is also popular with bikers for its bisi bele and chow chow bath. Brian recommends you spend at least two hours in Dabbaguli before heading back home. “You can trek downhill along the river, for some Instagram-worthy shots. I also know some friends who have camped there overnight, but you might need to get permission from the local taluk office,” he notes. Be it stopping by Kanchipuram to check out the pilgrimage sites or handloom centres or taste the famous biryani at Ambur, you won’t be short of interesting pitstops.
Time: Around seven hours.
Click away: Wild elephants that you can spot along the route.
Stay: Eagleton Golf Village. Around `5,400 per head. Details: 9845691121
It’s a great time to visit Papikondalu, what with the West Godavari tourism development committee planning to renovate the place and surrounding areas to attract more tourists. You can ditch a straight drive and head to Pattiseema instead, from where you can hitch a boat ride in a recently introduced air-conditioned ferry to Papikondalu. Also called Papi Hills, the region has seen a surge in tourists in the last few months as time is running out for major parts of the hills that will be submerged under water if the ongoing reservoir project (which will raise the level of the river) is completed in two years’ time.
Time: Around 12 hours.
Make room for: Bongulo Chicken, a meat dish prepared in bamboo logs heated over coal.
Stay: Hotel Shelton Rajamahendri. From around `3,400 per head. Details: 8832499999
Kudremukh National Park
The city-based biking group Blind Riderz Organisation Motorcycling Club (BRO) are set to host their Freedom Ride to Kudremukh, letting you visit the Kudremukh National Park, which is recognised by the UNESCO as a biological hotspot. “The route goes through the city of Bengaluru, after which we take a deviation towards Mysore. We start at sunrise, and reach by sunset. We will also be taking the riders to popular coffee plantations at Chikmagalur,” says Teja Kodali, one of the principal riders in the group.
Time: Around 12 hours.
Birdwatch: Lion-tailed macaques and
Stay: Silent Valley Resort. Around `5,200 per head. Details: 9379839043
Popular for its house-boating culture, this destination also sports Sterling Holidays’ newest resort, named Dindi by the Godavari. One of the highlights of this place is the abundance of greenery on the property, featuring rare species such as the Victoria Amazonica, a leaf that can grow upto six feet in diameter.
From snorkelling to bird-watching, the activities list is chock-a-block at this popular hotspot in Tuticorin. You can also swim near the coral reef at the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve.
Listed by the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation as one of the top lesser-known getaway destinations in Tamil Nadu, Alamparai Fort has a history that dates back to the 18th century. The ECR route has a dirt track in the end.
Karaikudi’s Antique Market
There is an unexplored lane in Karaikudi, near the Muneeswaran Temple, which Chirag Jain of the tour organisers Nirvana Nomads says has antique furniture on display and sale. “Almost all of it was once owned by the Chettiyar community in Chettinadu centuries ago,” he says, adding that one can find any-thing from old doors and paintings to furniture and ancient crockery.