I am always all too eager to hop into a car and drive off to beautiful destinations, rather than take a flight. And when this meeting came up in Puducherry, we thought for maybe 5 minutes, and decided to drive. And we didn’t regret for even one kilometer. Almost. That’s how began our Mumbai to Pondicherry road trip.
We planned the route from Mumbai via Hubballi, Bengaluru, Krishnagiri and then Puducherry. The road passes through some diversions till Kolhapur, but then becomes a beautiful highway, passing through miles and miles of farms. We got our first taste of authentic south Indian snacks at the border of Maharashtra and Karnataka, at Hotel Satyawati.
We picked Hubbali (before Bengaluru) for a stopover. Hotel Shoven, found on TripAdvisor, was a clean and affordable place for the night. We recommend. We do not recommend making a pre-booking at The Gateway Hotel, Hubballi, as you apparently cannot cancel 2 days before the booking. Weird. We lost some money there. Still fighting for it.
The next morning, after crossing Bengaluru and then Krishnagiri, we had the misfortune of driving on NH66 (new name NH77). Be warned. Never ever get on to the NH66 (New name NH77). Never ever. The road does not exist. I mean there is a road placeholder, if there is such a thing, but no road from Krishnagiri to Tiruvannamalai. We entered this horrid stretch at around 1pm, because we didn’t know better and all our mapping solutions suggested this route. But the road here is only gravel, dug out, making it miserable for you and your car. We were starving and couldn’t find a place to eat, until around 3:30 pm, we found a dhaba. The lady running it gestured she had run out of food (we were in Tamil Nadu now, and not knowing Tamil can make you pretty good at communicating through gestures). I gestured back our starving state. She offered two leftover Malabar Parathas and one small bowl of cold sambar. I saw some eggs and convinced her to make us an omelette as well. This was the most divine meal in the last 50 kms.
To avoid this terrible stretch, from Krishnagiri head towards Bargur, then Tirupattur, then Singarapettai and finally Tiruvannamalai. From here you can head to Puducherry via NH77 and Tindivanam.
We finally hit some good road, only to realise it was cordoned off for a monthly festival. The traffic was diverted through a remote village which threw our Maps in a dizzy. One local enterprising auto-rickshaw driver offered to drive us to sanity for Rs 200. We accepted, and literally went for a village safari, through narrow back lanes, flooded fields, mud mounds and what not, until we hit a state highway again. It was some 8pm. Never hit NH66 (New name NH77, the bad stretch is between Krishnagiri and Tiruvannamalai) ever. Ever.
Finally we reached Puducherry at night. The White Town part of the city is very charming, and there are plenty of cafes, restaurants, museums and sites to see. Hotels in Pondicherry are aplenty. We wanted rooms in Pondicherry near the beach and in White Town, and stayed at the Hotel De Pondicherry.
From Puducherry we went to Auroville. We couln’t see the Matri Mandir meditation hall from the inside because it has a one day prior permission process, which is apparently only given at Auroville. We didn’t have that kind of time or planning. The next day we drove Tranquibar, also known as Tharangambadi, a 17th century Danish settlement. The road to Tranquibar goes through small quaint temple towns and then beautiful paddy fields and repeat. Tranquibar itself is tiny, like a fort town, but gorgeous, and deserves its own post.
Crossing Tranquibar, we went further down south till Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s a remote sanctuary, some 17 square kms, next to the sea, and is supposed to house blackbucks, wolves and many birds. We could mostly spot domestic cattle and a tractor. And we saw only some 4 blackbucks, which is sad, because they generally live in close-knit herds.
Once out of the sancuary, we drove through gorgeous salt pans. We couldn’t resist getting off the car photographing and soaking in the scene. Wish we could have spent some more time, but we had to head back and it was getting dark.
One good thing about road journeys is, you can plot your own route. We spent almost an entire evening plotting a journey so we wouldn’t have to pass that dreaded NH66. After asking around, we realised NH66 has been in that state for maybe 10 years! And the maps still suggest that route? Anyway, we found this rather beautiful alternative, thanks to a friend:
Puducherry to Bangalore : First Tindivanam then Vandavasi then Cheyar then Arcot you bypass Vellore then Chennai Bangalore Highway to Kolar, to Bangalore. From Bangalore, via NH4 to Mumbai is easy.
We were lucky to hit a historical site at Arcot, called Delhi Gate. The gate was part of a fort built by Mughal governor, Daud Khan Panni, in the first half of the 18th century. It was the site of a memorable defense made by Robert Clive during the Siege of Arcot.
The road then passed through jungles and rocky hills. We stopped at Dharwad for the night and then drove straight back to Mumbai.
The Food: We had made an over 3200km roadtrip to South India, but found our best south indian meal on the way to Tranquibar in a small dhaba. Simple, home made, delicious like crazy and so not expensive. In Puducherry, try Adyar Anand Bhavan (popularly known as A2B) for snacky meals like dosas etc, which are very affordable and very delicious. Puducherry has plenty of places for continental dining as well. Try the Kamat’s Restaurants on the highway, especially in Karnataka. The food is generally nice here.
The Roads: The road from Pune to Kolhapur is undergoing plenty of construction so there are annoying diversions throughout. After Krishnagiri, avoid the NH66 by any means. In fact try the Bangalore Puducherry route mentioned above. The rest of the route is very beautiful and totally worth the trip.
[box type=”success” width=”100%” ]When to go for Mumbai to Pondicherry by Road: Winters and pre-post monsoons are the best times, though you can try this in summers as well. November to March and mid June to early September are recommended. Pondicherry gets very hot and humid in the summers.
Where to Stay : Hubbali is a good stop over. We had stayed at Hotel Shovon. There’s a Taj Getaway near Hubballi Lake as well. You could drive from Hubballi to Puducherry in about 12-13 hours. We had stopped by at Bangalore to visit friends.
The road quality is generally good.