Day 1: (Mahabalipuram, Pondy, Cuddalore)
We drove to Mahabalipuram first and the idea is to have a quick look at the rock sculptures of 5 rathas, Arjuna's penance and the shore temple. However, you plan it doesn't matter you end up spending more time than envisaged in 5 Rathas and Shore temple. The last stop is the Arjuna's penance, which I have seen it before. But I couldn't leisurely look at it. I just rushed through took some photographs infront of the monument and moved on. I dont like these things to happen but due to paucity of time during these kind of tours, you end up doing things which are not to your liking. Do you know, in front of Arjuna's Penance, there is a fantastic Perumal Temple which is more than 1000 years old. We did visit and pray and had a delicious "thathiyonam" (curd rice) prasadam.
Enroute to Pondy, we finished our breakfast, rather a late one around 10.30 AM in front of the Great Lakes School of Business Management on the ECR. I have been Pondy atleast 5 times but never managed to visit the global village, Auroville. So I was determined not to let go off this opportunity. In Auroville, 2000 people from 43 countries stay and there is a big meditation hall in the shape of a golden ball, called Matrimandir. To meditate in this hall, you need to take permission atleast 2 days in advance.
We went in, had a look at the Matrimandir and took snaps standing in front of it. Without snaps, what is there in the tour? At times, I feel that we travel hundreds of miles to just stand in front of a monument and take photographs. We dont spend time understanding the significance or the efforts involved in building it but we are just happy taking a snap in front of it. Mind it, to reach the Matrimandir, which is gold plated you have to walk 1 km. For elderly people, there is an electric car which takes you. There are stalls in Auroville which sells soaps, agarbathies and perfume made using natural herbs. When we checked out the price, we were really astonished. A natural soap, weighing 75 gms costs Rs65. Not much of sale happening but people keep looking. We should have stopped at that but we ventured and looked at their boutiques. Beads, short kurtas, perfumes and candles are all being sold at very high prices for the Indian consumer. Probably, they are targeted at the visiting foreigners, where their EURO and Pound can buy it.
After Auroville, went to Pondy and found out a hotel by name Ram International. The lunch was fabulous but more than that the hospitality of our table bearer was excellent. He was so good that he served us as if we were royals. I think more than the food, people make these businesses successful. This bearer, who in his 40's, really made it a wonderful lunch. We tipped him generously (of course, generous according to Indian standards) and left for the Pondy beach.
Pondy beach should no way be called a beach because there is no sand. The beach has been barricaded with stones and then a concrete pavement. You can walk on the pavement but you cant touch the water. Spent sometime there before heading towards the Aurobindo Ashram. The streets around the Ashram are very neatly maintained and there is absolute silence around the ashram. There is a "no horn" sign around all the streets of the Ashram and people follow it truly. Inside the Ashram, as usual, there is absolute silence. I have vivid memories of visiting this Ashram as a 12 year old boy and after that I have visited it atleast another 3 times. Every time I visit, I always think that I should go and read about Aurobindo and the Annai, their thoughts on life, why they chose Pondy etc., but I have not done it so far. Even when I went in this time, I gathered the same feeling. It is only a click away now on the web but somehow it doesn't occur. For these kind of things to happen, there should be some divine intervention, I guess.
Straight out of the Ashram, Santro started towards Cuddalore. There is nothing special in Cuddalore but as a part of our tour program we have two important temples to cover. Pataliswaram Sivan Temple and the Hayagriva temple (the God of Learning) at Tiruvandipuram. Both these temples are few kms away from the Cuddalore so has to go to Cuddalore. Again here, these temples are more than 1000 years old and they are truly astonishing. I keep wondering how the flats built 25 years ago are crumbling but these temples have withstood the test of time for more than 1000 years. We did manage to have a good darshan at Hayagriva temple but the Devanatha swamy Perumal temple was too crowded for the evening pooja, we have to just pray from outside. If we had waited, it would have taken more than an hour to complete the darshan.
Left Cuddalore around 6.45 and has to drive 120 kms to reach Tiruvanamalai for the night stay. We were in two minds to drive in the night and reach TVMalai or stay back at Cuddalore or Panruti. But decided to drive and reach Tiruvanamalai or otherwise we would loose couple of hours in the next day morning. That night drive was little difficult as it was only a double track road with no centre median and beaming headlights. I had to be extremely focussed on the road. After a strenuous 2 and half hours of driving, we reached Tiruvanamalai.