Monday, 14 May 2012

Exotic ECR Express

I have been travelling in the East Coast Road for three years now. It is an exotic stretch of 166km of roadway running between Cuddalore and Chennai through Pondicherry. Here is an account of the journeys that I have enjoyed while travelling from Chennai to Pondicherry. After College closes on Friday for the weekend, I take the bus from CMBT or Government Bus Stand at Koyambedu. Being in a hostel, visiting home is allowed only once every month. So there is a lot to take home- Dirty Jeans, Shoes and a whole lot of stories, mostly about my fellow hostelites sneaking away. Usually the bus is not full when it starts from Koyambedu promising a relaxed journey throughout. With so much anticipation about the much awaited weekend of the month, the only question that lingers in the mind is “How long will it take to reach home? Usually three, sometimes four and rarely five. Inside the city, the bus takes a jam packed, bumper to bumper route through Vadapalani, Guindy, Taramani and Tiruvanmiyur. Though it is badly hot and profusely sweating, you can still be in peace.

Once the bus stops at Tiruvanmiyur, a whole lot of pandemonium kicks the peace out of you. The bus gets jam packed- IT Professionals with classy laptop bags each bearing a name (Cognizant, HCL, TCS…), School and College students drenched in sweat from head to toe with their load, elderly couples with cloth bags and trembling feet. While some are drunk, some others travel with the very motive to drink at a Saturday night party (You can make this out from their conversations!-a bit of eavesdropping is a lot of fun). A few might smile at you every time your eyes screen the passenger crowd. Some might recite their history and expect yours in return. The best of all, some might be on the phone the entire journey, giggling at times to make you realize that someone is sitting next to you. At times, when the camaraderie works out well, they even share their food-mostly a packet of Brittania Milk Bikis and a bottle of soft drink (A perfect trademark of every Indian traveler). So when you travel you are sure to make some strange encounter.  

ECR has something for everyone in the family. MGM and VGP Universal Kingdom has always been the favourite landmark for any kid travelling by ECR. For a wildlife enthusiast, The Madras Herpetology Centre is a great treat and for the diehard Grand Prix fan, there are a number of tracks to give Car Racing a try.

If you are an aesthetic, ECR has a lot in store for you. Very near Tiruvanmiyur is Cholamandal Artists’ Village. It is a haven for those exceptionally inclined towards artistic works. The next hot spot is Dakshin Chitra, an irresistible hangout especially for those with an interest to understand and enjoy culture,traditional lifestyle and architecture. It houses a plethora of building models, each symbolizing a definite culture. There are eateries to give you the taste of different culinary styles.

As the journey continues, a debate on a hot topic, usually politics might slowly rise between two co passengers who are completely strange to each other. The debate would slowly catch fire as more and more people add fuel to the flames. After intense and rigorous arguments, they would settle only for an another to start.
Something remarkable about buses is they promise you Point to Point Service. And yes they stop at every possible point driving you to inexplicable restlessness and exasperation. Alright, there is no other go. It is better to look out and enjoy nature than bothering about the clamorous passengers. A number of trees on either side provide ample shade from the blistering sun. Slashing waves and the cool breeze will simply lure you to sleep. But I have always made sure not to sleep for the only fear that someone would kidnap me!

ECR is the best getaway for our Romeos and Juliets offering those cinematic and dramatic backdrops for their duet- lonely road, rusty bike, long paddy fields, a little stream on one side and a vast shore on the other. Every now and then, a bike would ply past (Whooshh!)leaving one in absolute envy.

Set in the lap of nature is Mahabalipuram or Mahabs, as everyone loves to call it. It is undoubtedly a major tourist spot that draws thousands of tourists every day. Get nostalgic and smell History! Even today, a number of temples and chariots are found that were once built by great Kings Centuries ago.

The bus usually stops at small hotels for a break of 10 to 15 minutes. These hotels are mostly thatched huts with urinals that stink like any other public urinal in our country. Looking at the M.R.P is of absolutely no use in these hotels. You pay twice. For a man travelling with his kith and kin, his wallet would weigh only half of what it would have weighed before. And the food, one bite and you will decide whether to dump or throw.
Edakazhinadu, Uthandi, Panaiyur are little villages that dot the scenic ECR. Most of the houses are lit by traditional lamps.There are little rivers and streams that run through these villages. Being estuarine, they are ideal spots for fishing and prawn hatching. If you are lucky, you will spot evening markets selling fruits and vegetables fresh from the farm, fancy stores, candies and definitely fish(juicy and fresh for dinner).
A good number of birds with beautiful plumage can be spotted along this road. The best places being Muttukadu (Boat House), Kovalam and Marakkanam.
Even as a beautiful sunset awaits in the west, there is something in the east as well. Tall chimneys and power stations form the landmark of Kalpakkam, which houses MAPS (Madras Atomic Power Station). It is in this power packed township, a lot of research is being carried on for the development of nuclear energy in India. There is just one more place left on ECR before entering Pondicherry and that is Marakkanam, a stretch of land that is covered with large heaps of salt, as white as snow. Ever enjoyed the beauty of salt? A pinch from these big heaps is what makes a dining a fine dining.

As in the beginning, there is very little crowd in the bus. Enter Pondicherry and the first thing that welcomes is Auroville, an international settlement started to spread peace in the lives of everyone. Again this stretch of ECR is dotted by a number of small villages like Kalapet, Puthupet, Bommaiyarpalayam. The bus turns right to enter the city limits and Pondicherry embraces me in its full glory. The much awaited weekend is set to start. The next two days are going to be absolutely spectacular. Whatever, a travel through ECR is exotic enough to show you everything-Nature, History, Science, Culture and what not!

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