A lot of what we formulate in our heads emanates from what we read in a magazine or what we see in a movie. The road trip especially is a concept popularized by the west and if you have seen enough movies, something dramatic always ends up happening on this ride. It’s either a gruesome murder or hitchhiking gone wrong. When you move away from the world of fantasy, you get a trip that is precisely just a road trip!
December is a good time to opt for a road trip in Tamil Nadu (TN) because the climate is best here during these months. Although such a trip requires tedious planning at-least of the route it is worth it. We list here the top reasons why a road-trip on the East Coast Road (ECR) should be on your travel bucket list.
Highway is my way: Safe and Savvy roads
As a couple we have a trusted partnership of me driving and her navigating and that’s exactly what we did in this 10 day road trip as well. But the pleasure of a drive lies mostly on the condition of the roads, especially in India.
The famous ECR is what we had to drive through; it is a two-lane highway that extends entirely along the coast all the way from Chennai to Kanyakumari covering more than 800 Kms. It’s not a National Highway and the quality of turf truly amazed me considering this was just a state highway. We had a well-oiled Maruti SX4 and some credit does go to the vehicle but the performance of a vehicle is only as good as the road it moves on. These roads made the ride an absolute delight and it is not just a short patch that I am talking about. From Pichavaram to Tharangampadi and then all the way down to Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi these roads were safe and savvy and I can say with supreme confidence that Tamil Nadu has some of the best, if not the best, roads in the country. It is no surprise that some of the connecting national highways offered great roads as well, as we moved from Madurai to Kodaikanal to Trichy and finally Vellore.
Get the full driving route here.
Food: Diverse like poetry and verse
Food is always one of the main motivating factors in all Rararaasta trips. Being Tamilians ourselves we were overwhelmed by the variety of changing cuisines across the state. The coastal route is a paradise for seafood lovers unlike in the north of India.
Tamil Nadu is one state where both vegetarians and non-vegetarians can be satiated equally, contrary to popular belief. Infact we as vegetarians struggled to manage a decent lunch as we hit the road to Pichavaram, finally all we managed to eat was some lemon rice. Region-specific cuisine is very popular in TN and hence it was seafood galore till Karaikudi! Karaikudi belongs to the Chettinadu district and the cuisine here is renowned all over the world for its unique ground spices and meat. Early travel and trade perhaps influenced Chettinadu cooking to incorporate english spices like fennel, star anise and cinnamon. But if you did some basic research or just politely ask the locals, you will find absolutely delicious vegetarian specials like Vendakka mandi and kandarappam.
Madurai is popular for Kongu Naadu cuisine that is again dominated by meaty dishes, while we satiated ourselves with several glasses of the legendary Jigarthanda. Trichy again a very traditional town stupefied us with the most amazing meal we’ve ever had. Chellamal Manpaanai Samayal is a must visit for everyone who not only wants to taste a traditional meal but also learn methods of traditional cooking. The name literally translated to Mud-pot cooking and believe it or not we had not less than 35 unique dishes on a banana leaf all cooked without a drop of refined oil! Finally if you are a coffee-lover, TN is heaven. Ranjani is very finicky about her coffee and hence drinks tea mostly while traveling. This just means she loves her cuppa so much that she ends up drinking tea rather than any dull, pedestrian cup of coffee. But on the road in TN a perfect tumbler of great coffee awaits you every 100 meters especially at the small roadside shops. I was sure my title as the “world’s best coffee maker” was in jeopardy.
Faith: He’s kind and comes in different kinds.
India is a multi-faith country and it becomes even more apparent and visible when you visit states like Kerala and TN where the diversity of religions is statistically significant. As we drove along the ECR we came across many churches and mosques. Pristine white churches, colorfully sober mosques and radiant towering gopurams of temples kept following us all along the highway reminding us that if there is one weapon against our adversity, it’s our diversity. It is even more intriguing to note that Shrine Basilica at Velankanni or the Nagore sharif Dargah are visited by people from across the country despite belonging to varied faiths. We too had a very humbling experience of visiting a dargah for the first time!
The temples will lure you from a distance simply by their grandeur and majesty in the form of the gopurams and I can say without any bias that these places of worship and far better in cleanliness and public access compared to many one would find in the cities especially in the North of India.
Warm and friendly hosts- they love to say cheese.
Meeting a local and starting a conversation isn’t too difficult for me but it is very important to ask politely before shooting their picture or video. In my experience the success rate to accost a local has been just about 50% and so when we went on our TN road trip I had my own qualms. It could simply be the fact that I spoke Tamil with ease that probably convinced the locals to open up with their stories or maybe the people living in all the rural towns were warm and friendly, I would like to believe the latter.
In each town we could garner so many stories and unforgettable experiences . On occasion a few started asking us about our trip and discussing about their jobs and families,this made us feel like we were family. Ganga especially charmed us with her innocence. While selling paniyarams right in front of Chettinad Palace at Kanadukathan she cajoled us to eat more of her paniyarams and even made Ranjani sit and prepare one set with her. She felt so embarrassed to be clicked but made sure she looked perfect in the photos. Then there was Kaveri selling Sukku Coffee in Kodaikkanal,we were drawn to the smell of her brewing the beverage while on a morning walk. After enjoying a great cuppa we realized we didn’t carry any money and she generously told us that we could pay her the next day. We used this excuse to go back again the next day when she even agreed to share her secret recipe!
Hidden gems – playing treasure hunt on road
While choosing between a renowned destination and a spot that is modestly researched, we would mostly pick the latter and put that place on priority for travel. The pleasure that accompanies discovering something new, irrespective of its accessibility is always supreme to walking through a well-maintained tourist spot that makes you feel like an also-ran. On this road-trip we were in for a treat as we kept stumbling upon so many unknown gems of historical importance. Temples built by the Chola Kings most of which are anywhere between 700 and 1000 years old are abundant in Tamil Nadu. Not all of them are documented e.g. the ruins at Valikandapuram and Senthamangalam which we spotted on our driving route just because of their grand architecture. Similarly we decided to drive in search of the old palace of the Nawab of Arcot following google maps, we were in for a surprise when we found a beautifully maintained historical structure with no proper roads and no markings as well on the GPS; the only other explorers other than us were some stray dogs and grazing cows!
Cholas, Khilji, Marathas, Nawabs, British, French and Danish have all been here in Tamil Nadu, they ruled and contributed in some way to the greatness this state is today associated with. We probably just covered a tiny bit of TN during this trip but we have with us enough proof that it is undoubtedly one of the most welcoming and enjoyable states to travel especially on a “road-trip”.