Wheel down the East Coast Road, where earth and sea and sky meet along the legendary Coromandel Coast in eastern Tamil Nadu state, in the sizzling South. Get set to enjoy a wonderful earth-friendly tour of some of southern India’s most alluring destinations, while pampering the flexitarian and climatarian holidaymaker in you. All you’ll need is a flight into Chennai and a flight back home, maybe from Madurai or Bangalore…The rest of this extraordinary adventure is all overland in hop-on-hop-of mode.
A road journey through the magical Coromandel, which runs from Chennai along the coastal plain all the way to Kanyakumari at the tip of the peninsula, recaptures the very essence of the Southern cultural landscape.
It’s impossible not to soak in the spirit of its ties with the past as you navigate your way through the different geographies. Those intimate interfaces with the land and its people can never be tapped on a flight; it’s the road journey through this exotic land which presents this most precious of gifts to you.
Though Chennai, Madras of yesteryears, serves as an excellent gateway to the allurements of the Coromandel Coastal tourist hot spots we would be remiss not to sample the wondrous offerings of the port city itself.
How is it possible to forget that Chennai, was the hub of a brisk international trade for spices and textiles. The allure of the aromatic spices for the Dutch, French and English traders unleashed a treasure trove of narratives back home.
Exploring Mylapore, the oldest district in the city, will recapture those historic times from the days the spice trade with Rome was at its peak. Mylapore has an old connection to Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. There is a strong belief still alive, that he first arrived in Kerala to preach the gospel. Later he travelled across South India spreading Christianity before coming to Mylapore, where he was martyred in72 CE. You can make a quick stop at St. Thomas Church near the beach.
A trawl down the frenetic streets of Sowcarpet rewards you with the best street eats in the city. Shoulder your way through the bustling crowds from the heritage spaces of George Town to Mint Street, Sowcarpet’s hub for culinary adventures from all four South Indian states and beyond. George Town was the former Black Town of colonial-days Madras. Now it’s a heaving mass of a wholesale market, teeming with buyers and vendors.
The treasures of the East Coast Road (ECR) await, so putting the charms of Chennai aside for later explorations one should move out of the city and quickly get on to the famous coastal highway for further adventures.
The Cholamandal Artist’s Village is a highly recommended stopover. It’s one of the finest places to explore some aspects of the artisanal wealth of South India. The Madras Arts Movements played a pivotal role in creating this exceptional place for the development and nourishment of the arts and handicrafts, first put together here by 38 artists. The line-up of painting galleries, handicraft displays, galleries and a sculpture garden in this artists village, is a treat not to be missed
Another must-visit hot spot is Dakshinchithra, 25 km from Chennai on the ECR. This unique museum showcases living installations of houses of South India. It’s an architectural treat of fantastic dimensions and truly unique in countless ways. You can also watch artisans at work or enjoy a dance performance here.
The scenic drive, richly complemented by the oceanic vistas of the Bay of Bengal stretching far into the horizon, is truly mood-lifting as you bowl along the smooth two-lane highway towards Mahablipuram and Puducherry. The rich sea and shore biodiversity offers an exceptional insight into the local marine and forest wealth and natural habitats of the geographies you pass through. Along the way you can make quick stopovers at unspoilt virgin beaches or hidden coves. The route is dotted with a scattering of tiny villages and seaside resorts, roadside cafes and juice and snack stalls— so the drive is quite pleasant.
At Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram, you can enjoy a nice break taking photos around the famous shore temples, the intriguing rock caves, spectacular sculptures— and the amazing sunsets. The beaches are pretty popular so you may want to spend the night and head out to Pondicherry the next day.
The seaside resort of Pondicherry presents a delightful picture of it of its French colonial days. Quickly drop off your bags in your hotel room and go exploring by bike. You don’t want to waste a minute of your time in this pretty town. Cycle your way around its serene vistas of tree-line boulevards lined with bougainvillea-drenched bungalows, and many other Franco-Tamil and French buildings scattered around town. Enjoy viewing the street art and lively café culture. Stop by at the historic monuments and heritage hotels to soak up the rich atmospherics. Head out for the popular beach promenade where locals gather to shop, gossip and just chill. Indulge in a lovely spa treatment, sample an exquisite French meal and learn all about the famous Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville with its international community.
Veering away from the East Coast Road you can drive inland and head out to Chidambaram famed for its Chola-era Natraja Temple. From here drive on to the temple town of Thanjavur famous for its fabulous Brihadeesvara temple with its 252 shivalingas. Further ahead is jasmine-growing Madurai, famous for its exquisite Meenashi Temple of deep antiquity.
Madurai has an international airport, so if you want to terminate the tour you can just fly home from here; there’s no need to drive all the way back to Chennai.
Rummaging through your memory bank long after you’ve shed the dust of India from your walking shoes, random vignettes will pop up of that alluring, somewhat elusive, connection with the Coromandel Coast which will never fade away. It may be just the ticket to bring you back to India for another memorable customised driving holiday.