Tag Archives: Club Mahindra

Pages From My Travel Dairy: Adieu, CM

Continuing with my account of our short holiday at Club Mahindra’s (CM) resort at Pondicherry, thanks to my sister-in-law

Day 4:

The final hours and summary observations at the resort:

So it was the day for us to pack up.

And packing up wasn’t difficult at all because all that we had was laid out before us in plain sight. Because there wasn’t any storage space in the room to put things away.  A good strategy because there was no danger of forgetting things behind!

We made our last trip to the restaurant, the royal court of Shri Srinivasan (our chef, if you have missed the earlier posts, and a good reason to visit the resort). And rounded it up with a tumbler and more of the divine concoction from the hands of our Merlin.  Before the ritual was over, I asked him if he would take me as his understudy, seriously.  He dismissed me as being frivolous. One day I might…

This restaurant is an amazing place to see the magic that could be wrought through proper training. For starters, the guys here dress so well. Never imagined one could look so graceful in a dhoti-shirt ensemble as a service attire, of course spotlessly clean, as I saw the one day. They move noiselessly and without fuss negotiating the tables and the guests.  Looks like there’s no ‘not my table’ syndrome – any table the guy sees as needing service is his table. These youngsters may not appear overtly friendly but they’re not unfriendly, by any stretch. Try much as I did, could not tease out of Shri Mohanraj, the young resort manager, if they did employ some special techniques to get these guys into shape and motivate them on an ongoing basis.

On inquiry some interesting tidbits shared by Mohanraj:  a) CM does involve villagers around the place creating some direct employment opportunities and b) On Fridays they allow guests to prepare and present their own recipes working out of CM’s kitchen!

It felt nice to be in an ambiance that we shared with the trees, the shrubs, the plants, the grass, the birds…none threatened, all living peacefully…the bliss of ‘vanaprasthashrama’ (retiring to the forests withdrawing from active life) in a capsule? Don’t miss seeing some unusual specimens –  those trees at the periphery of the resort that grow wild and almost horizontally, banyan vines snaking away over large distances, plants running amuck with more flowers than leaves and some normally-not-sighted-birds at their busiest in the mornings.

Though I still felt the resort could certainly do with more landscaping and lot more plants and some charming water structures like streams, ponds, miniature water-falls…I sincerely trust they don’t pack up the unused spaces with more guest dwelling units.  Do resorts have the concept of FSI (Floor-Space-Index)?

What we didn’t jump into: Lots of play-things for kids including rifle range, archery, pedal-cars, cycles, some roller-coaster styled new scream-raising contraptions…daily house activities including a visit to a village nearby (we shouldn’t have missed that one) that could do with more active guest participation (needs some innovative approach).

Keeping with the CM tradition, the travel-desk wasn’t an alluring spot to halt. CM, by design, does not plan to have its resorts intersect with tourism, it appears. They’re not proved wrong as no one is complaining.

The ‘Library’ may be ignored.

The house-keeping is quite responsive – you’ll want to trouble them for extra adaptors for charging batteries.

The only real inconvenience, if I’m asked to put my finger on, was the mattress-bed on the floor for the third occupant – tough to get up or lie down if your joints are not well oiled/cushioned.  It didn’t occur to me to ask for a raised cot – am sure they would have obliged.

On the whole an enjoyable experience as one would expect at a CM resort. Our thanks to one and all who made it happen for us.

A few halts on the way back to Chennai:

Arikamedu:

Arikamedu is a coastal fishing village 4 kms from Pondicherry.

Did you know Arikamedu-Virampatnam (a neighboring village) together find mention as Poduke, a major port in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea in the first century CE and as Poduke emporion in Ptolemy’s Geographia of mid first century CE? Poduke is a Roman name and is also said to be a corrupted version of the Tamil name Potikai, meaning a “meeting place”, also known for the local Poduvar clan. (Podhigai TV?)

Based on recent excavations, it is inferred that the site has been in continuous occupation since at least 2nd or 3rd century BCE to much more recent times!

An obscure fishing village boasts so much of history. Presently comprising a few brick structures in ruinous condition, looked after by ASI, the access was considered unsafe by the locals and the travel desk, dissuading us from venturing out. A great disappointment. It would have been interesting even to look at the artifacts retrieved at the site, if not the site itself. Unfortunately it was not to be.

So it was no Arikamedu.

Paradise Beach near Pondicherry, on the way back to Chennai:

A short boat-ride, best part of the outing, took us to the island beach in under half-an-hour. The guy told us these waters were not very deep, up to 10 feet at places and shallower where red flags bobbed. The beach: pristine, litter-free stretch of sand.  There wasn’t much to see or to do in the noon hours.  So we did the next best thing to do under the circumstances – returned to the mainland in quick-time.

A board planted on the shore in faded paint talked about more exciting options of making it out to the sea by different modes and farther too.

Dominating the pier where we (un)boarded, moored was a large luxury boat, avowedly available for parties. Covered with curtains of vetti-ver grass all over, it was a veritable tinder-box ready to go off on merest spark, I thought. How did the Fire-Safety clear it? (Now, who are they?)

Panchamukha Anjaneya Temple:

It’s a village ‘Panchavatee’ about 10 kms away from Pondicherry. The imposing idol of Anjaneya is a whopping 36 ft in height making it one of the largest of its kind – in comparison, it’s 32 ft high at Nanganallur and 18 ft and cut out of a single rock and as old as god himself at Namakkal.

Back to Chennai:

It was late afternoon when we were finally back home…and there was work to do. Following morning we had a train to catch on our next leg – a ten-day trip to Srirangam/Tirupparaithurai and places around.

Looking back, I think we covered quite some ground in those four days with the resort and the road claiming fair share of our time. And, are happy for it.

Some other time for places like Cuddalore, Thiruvakkarai, etc.

End

 

 

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Pages From My Travel Dairy: A Place Where Magic Happens!

Continuing with my account of our short holiday at Club Mahindra’s (CM) resort at Pondicherry, thanks to my sister-in-law…

Day 2:

The plan for the day was to head for the Gingee Fort some 60 kms + away from the resort.

Running late we made haste to the restaurant for our breakfast.  A chalk-board informed us Shri Srinivasan was our chef. The spread was good as always to cater to different palates. While some may have felt it suffered in comparison to other CM resorts – was it really so or the hall was just smaller? – looking at the gustatory delights laid out before me, I felt more like a sultan at a loss to know where to begin in his harem. After a sumptuous meal we headed for the coffee counter.  And there he was in his throne! A gaunt gentleman in full regalia of a chef standing ram-rod straight.

Ye world, abandon your vain pursuits forthwith and head here; for, this is where the magic potion is made that will transport you to heights of sensual decadence you never imagined! Well, there I got carried away a little – but that’s what Srini’s concoction does to anyone. Coffee that he lovingly mixes right before you in a steel tumbler and a davara – utensils ubiquitous in any Tamil house serving the same purpose as cup and saucer. When he hands out the frothy in a tumbler held inside the davara for catching the spill-over, don’t ever use the davara to cool the coffee in his presence – sends him into spasms.  You’re supposed to take it straight from the tumbler as it cools.  Let me give you a tip of my own: Coffee tastes best when it is poured against the back of your mouth using the lip of the tumbler. Yes, no sipping.

Srini is a one-man brand that CM will do well to shout about from roof-tops. And he could be one reason for CM members to flock to this resort.

I had two suggestions to make: a) use of brass tumbler and davara would lend authenticity to the ritual and b) CM could offer for sale an entire coffee-making and dispensing kit including pouches of coffee powder; and Srini would demonstrate the use of this kit to produce the magic he does.  A good source of additional billing for CM.

Incidentally my proclivity for making suggestions like the above here and elsewhere earned me the sobriquet of ’Karutthu Kandaswamy’ from my wife. A character played by Vivek in some Tamil movie wherein he throws around suggestions like confetti wherever he goes. So much so people rushed for underground bunkers on mere sight of him at a distance. Hasn’t happened to me yet!

A fall-out of becoming Srini’s acolyte was: I was generously treated to more coffee whenever the counter was open. Though it wasn’t too often owing to my health issues. A pity – so near yet so far.

Srini is by no means a one-trick pony. The ladies still talk about his cheese dosa, puttu and vattha kuzhambu. Am sure his deck has more aces than 4!

More about the restaurant and the resort in the posts to follow. For now, onward to Gingee fort…

(To be continued)

Pages From My Travel Dairy: Shore Temple At Mahabalipuram

We took a short holiday at Club Mahindra’s resort at Pondicherry, thanks to my sister-in-law.

As customary we planned it as a break to enjoy the ambiance, comfort and food at CM’s resort as well as visit places on the way and around – temples, historic sites and beaches.

Day 1:

We left Chennai on a Wednesday morning. Stopped by to have darshan at the Nithya Kalyana Perumal(NKP) temple at Thiruvidanthai and Sthalasayee Perumal(SP) and Shore temples at Mahabalipuram. These did not involve lengthy detours.

NKP and SP temples are religiously active places of worship even today and are not tourist spots.

About 30 to 40 kms away from Chennai on the ECR, NKP temple is the place to go if you find it difficult to find a soul-mate! Epigraphic evidence dates the temple between 10th to 16th centuries worshiped by Udaiyar, Rashtrakuta and Pandyan kings. You may google up on the interesting sthala puranams (legends on the origin) with their metaphorical overtones, and the rituals for netting the elusive life-partner. We did not get to have a darshan at the sanctum being under renovation.  The archakar (priest) drew our attention to a beauty-spot on the cheek of the utsavar that doesn’t go away! The mandapam pillars around the temple are richly embellished with sculptures though they do appear weather-worn.

A quiet place and a quaint village.

Our next stop was at SP temple, about 60 to 70 kms away from Chennai, located in the well-known town of Mahabalipuram. During the 14th century, the Vijayanagar king Parankusa fearing the onslaught of sea tides built this temple away from the shore as a replica of the Shore temple. At the sanctum, the reclining form of Vishnu quite unusually rests on the ground instead of the customary adisesha (snake) bed, with four hands, bearing no weapons and facing the east (unlike Srirangam). The deities here are named in chaste Tamizh! Example: The utsavar (the procession deity) is Ulagam Uiyya Ninra Perumal – he stands for the salvation of the world, not just his followers. The words roll off the tongue so sweetly!

The early Vaishnava saint Bhootath Azhvar was found in a temple tank here. All three Mudal Azhvar’s – Poygai, Bhootham and Paei – were not born naturally, it’s believed.

Surprisingly, unlike NKP temple, the mandapam pillars around this temple appeared sparse without sculptures. That too in a place like Mahabalipuram!

At this place we were informed about the original Shore temple. A must-see spot, now in ruins, managed by the Archeological Society of India and a Unesco declared World Heritage site. Before we move onto the Shore temple, mention must be made about the numerous way-side studios in and around Mahabalipuram displaying their craft – beautiful sculptures/icons from small to huge. It will be a very sad day if these disappear due to lack of patronage.

The Shore temple complex comprising at its center two Shiva shrines and one of Vishnu, without vimana (domed roof), is attributed to the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II (680-720 A.D). An early example of free-standing stone-dressed structure in contrast to Pallava’s signature rock-cut cave and monolithic rock temples. And the last of the surviving structures that Narasimhavarman I and his successors built over 200 years at Mahabalipuram. That several other structures stood along with the Shore temple, subsequently swallowed up by the sea, is strongly believed, yet to be confirmed by under-sea excavations.

Obviously weather beaten, its small size belies its grandeur in its heydays that could only be guessed by recalling another complex the king had built, surviving till date and in much better shape – Kailasanathar temple at Kanjeevaram, the capital city of Pallavas. As an aside, the latter temple also documents 200+ titles carried by Narsimhavarman II, overtaking all our politicians by miles!!

The courtyard of the complex is enclosed by a series of nandi’s (bulls), mythical yali’s and some varaha’s (boars) topping half-height walls. The main Shiva shrine is east-facing with an intriguingly front-free design towards the ocean! The purport of the design remains a matter of intense speculation among experts: Was it intended to provide devotees a mystic experience of communion with the elements? Or, for a theatrical effect? Was it for the benefit of local and foreign sea-farers sailing in and out of the trading port at Mahabalipuram? Whatever it be, even the Cholas following several centuries later, for a good reason, did not make any alterations/additions unlike at other places they inherited.

The smaller west-facing Shiva shrine has the traditional architectural accouterments like mandaps, perhaps used for rituals. According to the two inscriptions found in the slab of smaller Shiva temple, the names of the three temples mentioned are as Kshatriyasimha Pallaveshvara-griham, Rajasimha Pallaveshvara-griham and Pllikondaruliya-devar – are these among the 200+ titles of the king? The entire temple complex is called as Jalashayana (lying in water) connoting Vishnu. The inscription on the lintel of the Vishnu shrine also mentions this as Narapatisimha Pallava Vishnu Griha where Narapatisimha is again a title of Narsimhavarman II. The guy was smart – he made sure of the attribution.

The Somaskanda panel in one of the Shiva shrines is the best preserved. It is interesting to see  the reclining form of Vishnu resting on ground with four hands, no weapons, no adornments except the crown and without his consort or Bramha emerging on naabhi-kamalam, thus validating the fidelity of its later-day model at SP!. Time and salty wind are humbled at diminishing the beautiful serenity of the face.

The temple walls are replete with beautiful full-height statues of gods, guards and damsels. In their days obesity was certainly not one of their problems!  Smaller panels decorating the base are found all over like small change.

Even saw an animal sacrifice, of course, in stone!

No expert on history or stone art, I found it intriguing to see a confluence of Vaishnavism and Shaivism at one place. The king was an ardent worshiper of Shiva – most Pallava kings were, lured away from Buddhism/Jainism by Shaivaite saints – and carries the name of a Vishnu avatar. Why did he build a Vishnu shrine bracketed by two Shiva shrines? There is even a juxtaposition of a Bhuvaraha (another Vishnu avatar) and a small Shiva shrine in a small sunken water tank!  Maybe there’s some simple explanation.

Incidentally the Shiva shrine stands on a base of a stack of stone slabs, progressively smaller in size, cut into many-sided polygons, the edges of one slab by design out of alignment with those of the slab below -impressive geometry and aesthetically pleasing.

In hindsight maybe we should have hired a guide to tell us about it all. ASI has done a good job of preserving the site without vandalism or litter – could be more forthcoming with information on history and architecture, I thought. Was told by someone promoting tourism is not high on ASI’s agenda – it’s neither suave nor skilled for the job.

We left Mahabalipuram determined to revisit for a more leisurely guided pursuit of stories sculpted in muted stone here and around.

Not before the ladies bought a few bead-strands without bargain from the poor kurava women pushing their wares.

We had lunch on the way and headed for CM’s resort.

It was nearing 4-00 pm when we checked in – marked the beginning of our hassle-free stay – at the resort which is some 15 kms+ beyond the town of Pondicherry.

Had just the amount of energy for a short stroll on the beach – a short stretch of sand that the resort opens out to at the back, taking in lungs-full of free oxygen – rare for a mumbaite. Waters were said to be treacherous ruling out swimming. The sands were reasonably clean though not entirely litter-free.

Hit the bed after a light a la carte dinner.

(To be continued)