Travelling in a post COVID-19 era is going to be a huge task, with social distancing requirements and necessary safety protocols. Most people are choosing drivable destinations from their cities.
For anyone living in or near Chennai, I suggest you ditch the conventional touristy places like Mahablipuram and Puducherry. The entire stretch of the East Coast Road (ECR) is the place to be. All through my days in Chennai, a drive through the ECR, from Shollinganalloor to Puducherry, has been the perfect mood lifter.
Here's what I would recommend from my experiences on this beautiful stretch of road on the Coromandel Coast.
Prarthana Drive-In Theatre
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Imagine watching a blockbuster movie under the stars with the cool coastal breeze blowing gently while you are sitting in your car. Prarthana Drive-In movie theatre holds the ticket to such a unique experience. Two shows are screened daily, though mostly Tamil action films. English films are also screened once in a while. Be sure to reach the venue at least half an hour before the film timing to grab a perfect parking spot. Equipped with a large 4,500 sq ft projector screen, DTS sound system and individual raised ramps for every car, this is a remarkable experience.
Cholamandal Artist’s Village
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Located 9 km from Chennai on the ECR, the place was founded by one of the pioneers and exponents of the Madras Arts Movements, KCS Panicker. The place offers a walk down the history and growth of art and handicraft of the region. The village was establised by 38 artists who had come together and even today, it carries forward their legacy of promoting art. You have to pay a nominal fee for entry. A stroll down this artistic community village unravels contemporary Asian art as well as traditional handicrafts. The sculpture garden, Panicker painting galleries, handicraft displays set amidst serene greenery are a treat to the eyes.
Ever thought of a living museum that not only has larger-than-life installations but also houses? Dakshin Chithra is a one-of-its kind museum located just 25 km from Chennai on the ECR. The museum has living installations of houses that portray the life and customs of South India. From a typical weaver’s hut from Madurai, a priest’s house from Kerala, to a businessman’s house from Tamil Nadu, Dakhshin Chithra brings a slice of traditional lives from all states in the south. With an entry fee of INR 100 one can spend endless hours here. Other activities like dance performances, pottery, mask making, puppet shows etc can be experienced with additional charges. Sitting in the traditional puppetry hut and seeing the rural crafty performance unfurl is a delight. Though the museum closes by 5 pm, staying back for cultural performances in the amphitheater under the fading sunlight is an experience to cherish.
For those looking for an adrenaline rush, Kovalam beach has some weekend options. A leading name in this industry, Fly2Day has paragliding and paramotoring options to give you a bird’s eye view of the sea with azure waters below. They have a number of packages to suit your budget and interest. Head to their website for bookings.
If water is your life, ECR has the right kind of adventure sport for you, surfing. The Covelong beach is a great spot to master it with classes at the Bay of Life surf school. Head to their website for all details and packages and get ready for some splashing and surfing on turquoise waves. Covelong beach also hosts the annual Covelong Music Festival where many local and acclaimed people perfom.
Spending a day relaxing in one of the sea-facing villas has its own rejuvenating effect. Away from the cacophony of the city, the beach villas offer calmness and are a perfect weekend getaway. Airbnb, Oyo, and even private villas have wonderful staying options with family and friends. The entire stretch of the East Coast Road is dotted with numerous such villas to suit every budget.
Sangeetha is a popular eating option serving authentic vegetarian South Indian dishes. A must-try would be their Madras Thali. Other cafes and restaurants include Oh So Stoned, Dindigul Thalapakkati which is famous for its Fish Biryani and Roasted Chicken, and Kozhi Idli. If you ask around, the locals might also be able to suggest shacks along the beach which prepare fish fry from the day’s catch or even whip up a quick filter coffee in the evening.
If you have someone special along with you, try the Kipling Café, L’attitude 49, Tryst Café, of the Upper Deck at Vivanta by Taj. These provide the perfect romantic setting by the bay.