WHY WAIT FOR THAT LONG, EXPENSIVE VACATION WHEN ALL YOU NEED IS SOME FUEL AND A FEW GOOD HOURS TO EXPERIENCE THE BEAUTY OF BEACHES, HILLS AND GET A TASTE OF HISTORY. SIMPLY CHENNAI GIVES YOU A LIST OF GETAWAYS CLOSE TO HOME THAT NEVER GO OUT OF STYLE
Visages of the past, by Shylaja Chetlur.
Long, breezy shores, misty idyllic hills, fascinating historic remnants and sleepy beach towns—Chennai and its surroundings area is blessed with some of
India’s most gorgeous travel destinations waiting to be explored. Be it the ancient Dutch architecture of Tranquebar or the vibrant migratory birds lining the Vedanthangal sky, the city is every resident’s pride, as it allows you to explore the best getaways in just a day or two.
Here’s one place that gives you the pleasure of a smooth Sunday drive as well as a scenic location. Along the clear, sunny skies and the breezy shores of Bay of Bengal lies Tranquebar—the charming little Panchayat town that has played a significant role in Chennai’s evolution. A Danish Colony from 1620 to 1845, Tranquebar in Nagapattinam has its own place in history. You enter it through the town gate, Landporten, which is a part of the fortifications that were built around the town in the 1660’s. A must-see is Fort Dansborg. Interestingly, until the end of the 17th century, the fort was used for residential and storage purposes. It also houses a small museum where you can find artifacts preserved from the Danish settlement.
While here, do to visit the town’s gorgeous churches that are cultural and architectural wonders. The Zion Church on King’s Street was built in 1701 and is said to be the oldest Protestant church in India. Further down on the same street is the New Jerusalem Church, which was built in 1718 after the arrival of German missionaries. Finding its own little space in the Christian heritage of this town is the Masilamani Nathar
Temple on the beach. This shrine dates further back than all others in the town to 1306, the Pandian era. If you’re craving for some more history, the Ziegenbalg Museum Complex on Admiral Street will make your day. Unlike a conventional tourist getaway, Tranquebar gives you a rare glimpse of the civilisations gone by. Best time to visit July to October
Distance from Chennai 232 kms Time taken by road 5 hours
This historic town is where the surging Cauvery drains into the Bay of Bengal. It is also where the remarkable Chola dynasty had once established its capital. Poompuhar, one of Tamil Nadu’s lesser-known beach towns, is located in Nagapattinam district and has numerous credentials to earn it a spot in history books.
It is said to be the erstwhile city of Kaveripattinam, which, marine archeologists believe, was washed away by a tsunami in 300 BC. It is where the ancient Tamil Buddhist poem, Manimekalai is set; ruins of a 4th-5th century Buddhist monastery and a statue of the Buddha have also been discovered here. The city is descriptively mentioned in one of Tamil literature’s greatest epics, Silapathikaram. A reference to this is the Silapathikara Art Gallery, where scenes from the epic adorn the walls and have been sculpted by the Mamallapuram Art College.
The beach here is rough and powerful, and perfect to watch the sunrise and sunset. With all its historic relevance, Poompuhar is best explored in a day, when you can explore the life and times of people who had flourished here and the footprints of whom have been left behind in the town’s glorious monuments.
Best time to visit September
Distance from Chennai 222 kms Time taken by road 4 hours
This little fishing village is best known as the place where the Taj Fisherman’s Cove—a luxury beach resort is located. Originally a port town developed by the Nawab of Carnatic, Covelong was taken over by the French and then destroyed by the British in 1752.
But even if you don’t intend to go to the Taj, you can treat yourself to some freshly prepared and mouthwatering seafood here,
which is available in the little shops and restaurants. The beach, backwaters, tall palm trees, refreshing breeze, excellent coconut water and beach food make for a picturesque short vacation. This is also one of the few places in Tamil Nadu where wind surfing takes place. If a beach retreat is what you have in mind, the private beach at Taj Fisherman’s Cove is ideal for a lazy sunbath and some cocktails. You could even book one of their premium cottages and villas and spend the day at the spa and evening by the sea. While you’re here, you must visit the beautiful Catholic church and the remains of an ancient Dutch fort that was built during the colonial times. This sleepy beach town is perfect for a quick one-day getaway after a hectic week.
Best time to visit September to January (mornings and early evenings)
Distance from Chennai 40 kms Time taken by road 1 hour
Not too many tourists flock to this lush, blooming hill town on the Eastern Ghats, which is why it is one of the most pristine getaways from Chennai. With its crystal clear waters and verdant greenery, the ‘Yer’ or the lake that it gets its name from, is a breathtaking emerald coloured freshwater with a gorgeous landscaped garden on one bank and an artificial floating fountain in the centre. Boating is the most popular
With its crystal clear waters and verdant greenery, Yercaud is a breathtaking emerald, offering scenic views of golden sunrises and flaming sunsets from numerous vantage points and hills surrounding the town.
activity here and you can choose from a row boat and a pedal boat to go on a half-hour cruise on the lake. Also take time out to spend a few moments by the smoky Killyur Falls, which are about 3 kms from the lake.
Most resorts at Yercaud rent out bicycles and there’s no better way to explore its idyllic locales than biking. With the majestic Shevaroy hills surrounding the town, there are numerous vantage points, from where you can watch the golden sunrises and the flaming sunsets. The best of them is the Lady’s Seat—a cluster of rocks believed to have derived their name from an English lady who spent her evenings here admiring the landscape. The Pagoda Point— literally meaning ‘Pyramid Point’— gives you a spectacular view and scenic view of a small Ram temple is an added attraction.
While Yercaud’s no-fuss beauty makes it a trekker’s paradise, it is also a great choice for family picnics with children-friendly locations like the Deer Park and the Anna Park. The National Orchidarium
here has 30 species of orchid and is said to be the third largest orchidarium in India.
With all that nature to be explored, this little hill town takes you off the beaten path and gives you the time of your life.
Best time to visit December to June Distance from Chennai 340 kms Time taken by road 5 hours 30 minutes
Though not as sprawling as Ooty or Kodaikanal, Yelagiri can almost effortlessly refresh your senses like a true nature retreat should, with its misty hills, placid lakes and no obvious distractions like technology and shopping.
Spread across an area of 30 sq km and an altitude of 920 metres above sea level, Yelagiri is the prettiest hills station on the Eastern Ghats’ Jawadh Hill ranges. Its highest point, the Swamimalai Hill (4338 ft), is a place trekkers will love. The starting point of the trek is the eastern side of the lake and it takes about an hour of climbing to reach the peak. It’s best to start early in the morning and reach the peak when the sun is still mild. Spend some time on top and take in the breathtaking view of the entire valley from here. If you’re looking for relatively simpler treks, we recommend you try the smaller peaks like Javadhu and Palamathi Hills. Another idyllic place to spend your afternoons and evenings is the
beautiful Jalagamparai Waterfalls , formed by the gushing Attaru River. But they are dependent on the monsoons and may be drier during the non-monsoon season.
Also close by is the artificial lake of Puganur, which is ideal for boating. Yelagiri may lack swanky tourism facilities, but it is a beautiful place to visit if you’re still in the mood for some action. Head to this town during May, when the government hosts the annual Summer Festival, which includes vibrant cultural programmes, and a showcase of tribal traditions, music and art.
While it’s fun to explore Yelagiri as a hill station, you could double it up as an adventure trip too. The Yelagiri Adventure Sports Association (YASA) regularly organises paragliding, rock climbing, trekking and cycling activities here. For details of their upcoming events, check out yasa.co.in.
Best time to visit September to
January Distance from Chennai 258 kms Time taken by road 3 hours 30 minutes
Literally meaning ‘the hunter’s hamlet’, Vedanthangal has one of India’s oldest bird sanctuaries, which dates back to the time of the British, when the government set it up as a destination for bird watchers. It remains so till date, hosting over 40,000 birds from around the world every year, out of which at least 26 are rare species.
On a lucky day, you can find exotic migrants like garganey teal which flies in from Canada, snake bird from Sri Lanka, grey pelican from Australia, grey heron from Bangladesh, glossy ibis from Sri Lanka, painted stork from Siberia and spoonbill from Burma. The sanctuary, which was declared a reserved forest in 1962, is also a splendid example of the breathtaking South Indian countryside with its muddy trails, beautiful lakes, cool breeze, lush green pastures and clear skies.
Best time to visit Novmber
to March Distance from Chennai78 kms Time taken by road 1 hour
The historic hamlet of Poompuhar
Covelong is all about beaches, backwaters and excellent seafood
BHUSHAVALI The crystal clear waters and verdant greenery of Yercaud
Yelagiri is a true nature’s retreat
HK RAJASHEKAR Vedanthangal is a bird watchers’ paradise