By Mukund Sathe
Diary of a cyclist – a summary of Chennai to Puducherry cycling expedition with my co-cyclist and better-half Lata.
Day 1: 29th October, 2022 Saturday (5 KM) –
Every cycling expedition is special with entire new set of experiences and this was really special as my better half Lata was attempting her first long distance ride. This was my third expedition with YHAI and I was more or less familiar with their low budget travel norms. We checked into YHAI Chennai Youth hostel located Indira Nagar, Adyar area by noon.
Shahsank and Tiwariji from YHAI welcomed us. Shashank on cycle and Tiwariji on motorbike provided us a support system throughout our journey, accompanied by cook Kumar who served us delicious meals. This time cyclists group size was just 10, making it a very cohesive group. Though a small group, it represented the diversity of India with participants from Chandigarh, Surat, Navi Mumbai, Pune, Vasco and Bengaluru. We were alloted cycles and Shashank demonstrated the do’s and dont’s before setting out on the acclaimatization ride.
Around 5 km ride to Besant Nagar beach was a typical evening city ride on busy traffic roads. Being weekend, streets were crowded. We returned after sunset, had a dinner and moved to beds waiting for tomorrow’s long ride.
Day 2: 30th October, 2022 Sunday (44 KM) –
A bright Sunny Day!!! Winter does not have any meaning in Chennai. Due to technical glitch in mixer, breakfast was bit late. We packed our lunch and by the time Green flag was waved to inaugurate the expedition, hot day was set in. Unanimously chosen leader Alpesh from Surat fed us special sweets to energise us and we hit the pedals. We took a right turn on LB road and then couple of turns around Thiruvanmiyur bus stand to reach ECR – The East Coast Road which would take us straight to Puducherry. We maneuvered through haphazard traffic of Palavakkam and crossed Neelangarai. On the way, I visited the Neelangarai apartment where I had stayed in the 90s.
Traffic thinned down post Prarthana theatre, the first drive-in theatre of Chennai and further post VGP Golden Beach, the famous film shooting place of Tollywood. We had a pleasant surprise en route. Mr. C.D.Vivekanand, Secretary, YHAI Chennai unit had arranged for fresh coconut water for all of us.
ECR from Chennai to Mahabalipuram was a well-planned four-lane maintained road with a shoulder for easy cycling. Lata and me had travelled together on the same ECR for three years in the 90s from Chennai to Kalpakkam before ending up in marital knots.
Though it’s a coastal road, due to high land demand and constructions, you don’t get the glimpse of the sea until Muttukadu. Muttukadu has a backwater and good boating facility. The bridge offers a fantastic sea view.
By noon, we had a break at Crocodile park, home to hundreds of crocodiles and various species of reptiles. With some refreshing cucumber and raw mangoes we proceeded in the blazing hot weather. Crossed a massive desalination plant supplying water to Chennai. A few kilometres down and we hit the border of Mahabalipuram to visit Tiger Caves, the 8th century stone structures having a Shiva temple.
Though we had lunch boxes with us, we decided to reach the final destination, a dharmashala – Nemeli Sri Alavandar Nayakar Charity near Mahabalipuram bus stand. We refreshed ourselves in our rooms, had lunch, took a brief rest and moved to the Shore temple. Evening was refreshing with cool sea breeze. Being Sunday evening, the place was heavily crowded. Explored the 8th century oldest structural stone temple in South India. The area was a busy port during Pallava dynasty.
We continued Mahabalipuram exploration visiting Arjuna’s penance, Krishna’s butterball, Krishna Mandapa etc. Post dinner we had a small walk and tried out the famous Jigarthanda from Madurai.
Day 3: 31st October, 2022 Monday (74 kms) –
It seemed to be a cool morning with cloudy weather. We hoped to have same weather throughout and we almost had it throughout the day. On special public demand, after breakfast we had a cycle detour to five Rathas and Arjuna penance for a group photo.
We left Mahabalipram and hit ECR again. After crossing Chengalpattu junction, the ECR got reduced to two-lanes with hardly any road shoulder. However traffic density also was very less. At steady pace we reached a cross-road to Kalpakkam. Lata and me cherished the memories of working together for 3 years at Kalpakkam.
We were looking for a coffee break. Road took a turn at exit for Pudupattinam, and there was Kumbakonam degree coffee shop, another famous South Indian coffee chain. A strong coffee kicked the brain and our speed increased automatically.
Further road took us through dense tree covers. However we noticed many trees getting cut in the road widening process, necessary evil of progression.
Pleasant weather continued as we approached Palar river bridge near Kadalur dam. There is a natural tendency to click photos at any type of water body :-). We intentionally diverted ourselves to the old bridge which was all empty for better clicks.
All of us followed the cycling discipline of riding one behind other, as the road was narrow. While chatting with each other, generally cyclists tend to get carried away and start cycling next to each other which is risk on highways.
We reached our destination by 2PM, in time for lunch. Stay was at Prabhavathi Kodhandam Thirumana Mahal – a marriage hall at Thenpakkam. Had lunch, rested for some time and left for a fort nearby – a cycle ride of 16 Km. The Alamparai fort is a land fort on the coast near Kadappakkam. It’s a 17th Century Mughal fort which got severely damaged during 2004 Tsunami. We spent quality time until sunset and returned to the base.
Day 4: 1st November, 2022 Tuesday (38 KM) –
“Thodasa Rumani Ho Jaaye” was a Hindi movie in the 90s where Nana Patekar played a character named Baarishkar, who would predict rains. We had our Barishkar Purnima from Pune with us who predicted rains for today and since night it started raining heavily. We were really lucky to have a different weather each day. In Mumbai, we love rainy cycling as it takes out the humidity and associated sweat discomfort elements. Same was true for Chennai weather also. We had a Special Masala Dosa made by Kumar for breakfast and all set out for a rainy ride.
Enjoyed the nature with frequent breaks. Though it was raining heavily, the good road conditions made the ride smooth.
As Puducherry was nearing, a feel of satisfaction started emerging. And then we saw Puducherry welcoming us.
A few more pedals through rains and we were at Youth hostel right on the coast facing sea.
Post lunch and rest, we all moved out for Puducherry outing. Took an auto to Aurobindo Ashram. Visited Ashram and proceeded to the French consulate, French war memorial and then had a stroll on the promenade. Further we visited Gandhi statue and the market for shopping.
On the way back we noticed Puducherry Legislative Assembly. As 1st November is Puducherry foundation day, the assembly building was well lit for the occasion. While we were clicking pics, some news-reporters noticed our poses and clicked us which got printed in the next day Dinakaran newspaper local edition.
Next we visited Manakula Vinayagar temple, an ancient Gansh temple. Had supper at Surguru restaurant and returned to the hostel after a failed attempt to get jigarthanda 🙂
Day 5: 2nd November, 2022 Wednesday (25 KM) –
A lazy morning quickly turned into excitement when we were on the beach watching the fishermen’s activities. Could capture the fishermen entering the sea as well as returning with a catch.
A full-fledged South Indian breakfast and we were on saddle again for our last part of the journey – a visit to Auroville. It was a cloudy weather. We moved through working day morning city traffic and hit Auroville road. Entire stretch was through woods.
We parked the cycles at visitors’ centre, learnt about Auroville, watched a video on Matrimandir construction and proceeded to Matrimandir viewing gallery. Auroville was built by Sri Aurobindo Society and conceptualized to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The town is designed for 50000 residents, though currently it hosts about 3300 residents from 60 nations. We crossed the 100 + old banyan tree which is at a center of Auroville.
We reached Matrimandir viewing gallery. Matrimandir was built over a period of 37 years and is a structure for practicing internal yoga or meditation.
We returned to Youth hostel. Another amazing Cycling expedition of 186 Km was over with a bonus of acquiring new friends.
We saw a caption on the youth hostel walls, which summarises the purpose of expeditions.
See you at some expedition !!!