Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dumas Beach, Surat

Think of beaches and images of white sun-kissed sand, azure sky, refreshing blue water and lush green cover with palm trees come flooding to mind. They also offer an opportunity to play in the waves, take a swim (or at least wet your legs for the not so daring folks) or spend endless hours just sitting on the beach sand and staring at the horizon. But come to the Dumas Beach and you will find none of that. The beach sand is surprisingly pitch black in color the water rather muddy and black - matching the color of the sand. Thorny wild shrubs accounts for the green cover. And if you look into the horizon you set your eyes upon steel plants, oil rigs, heavy machinery plants and shipping ports. This is probably one of the few beaches where you don’t even get an opportunity to let the waves wet your legs. That’s right. In Dumas beach (at least the time when I visited it), the water is a good one kilometer away from the actual beach. What lies between the beach and the sea is patch of marshy slushy gooey land. If you try walking on this patch, you will find yourself knee-deep in wet slush.

Though Surat is supposedly one of the Top 3 cleanest cities in the country the same cannot be attributed to the Dumas Beach. This tiny beach in the heart of Surat city is more littered than probably the Marina Beach on a weekend –even with her 50,000 odd visitors. From the looks of it, the Gujrat Tourism promotion with Big B is a big sham, if you are to look at the sorry state of affairs of one of the major beaches in the state. The Prohibition in the state is not helping matters either. Notwithstanding all these factors, Dumas is still a favourite weekend destination for most Surtis. What makes the idea of hitting Dumas Beach interesting is the many shacks near it which serve piping hot bhajjis. There’s an assortment of bhajjis here, from potato to kela to mirchi and some that I’ve never even heard before. To go with the bhajjis you also get served a chutney which, in true Gujrati fashion, is sweet.

The Dumas beach is also infamous for being a haunted beach – probably the only beach of its kind. Apparently, you hear strange noises here in the late evenings after the sun sets…obviously. To corroborate the story apparently even the dogs behave strange in here, with all their ability to catch infrared sounds and stuff. The way I see it, it’s the ghosts that should be scared of the humans seeing all the litter and utter disregard for mother nature.

Despite all her inherent (man-made) flaws, Dumas Beach is a must-visit for those who appreciate a good sunset. And come to think of it, this was something I almost missed. Disappointed at looking at the filthy beach, I had decided to not wait for the sunset and head back to my hotel. But just as I had devoured about 200 gms of bhajjis (yes, they are sold by weight) and headed to wash my hands I chanced upon this big ball of crimson red setting in the horizon. Without wasting another second, I grabbed my camera and headed to a vantage point where I could get a good glimpse of the glorious sun about to be devoured by the sea. Though the formality was complete in a matter of minutes, it is an image that will take an eternity to be erased from my mind.

Getting-there: Athwa Gate->Magdalla->Surat Airport->Dumas Beach.

Must-Do: Catch a glimpse of the setting Sun.
Must-Don’t: Littering. Wasting time on the unkempt beach.

My Rating: 3/10

Friday, February 01, 2013

Elliot's Beach, Chennai

The Elliot's Beach (a.k.a Besant Nagar Beach) is comparatively smaller, less crowded and cleaner beach than Marina. This beach situated to the south of Marina and easily accessible by road. There are enough buses to this area and is a short walk from the Besant Nagar bus stand. To avoid the maddening crowd I went to this beach in the late after noon around 3. And sure enough it wasn't much crowded. Even the Sun beat down in full glory, the gushing breeze negated much of the blazing heat of the Sun. Much like the Marina Beach, the sea is very unpredictable.

It is better to observe caution and restrict yourself to just wetting your feet. Thankfully at that time of the day (weekday) it was totally devoid of any hawkers, beggars and stall owners. I spent a much-needed relaxing couple of hours with the calming (of the mind) sea before heading back to my hotel.

Getting-there: Plenty of buses to Besant Nagar. From there it's 1km walk/auto-ride.

Must-Do: Visit during the non peak hours/day

Must-Don't: Littering

My Rating: 4/10

Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram), TN

Mamallapuram (or Mahabalipuram as it was previously called) offers the perfect day-trip option from the maddening crowds of Chennai. A visit to this erstwhile Pallava bastion can rejuvenate your spirits from an otherwise dampening stay in the crowded alleys of Chennai. The fact that the ruins stand right on the beach makes it all the more sweeter. M'puram is a short drive out of Chennai. It roughly takes about an hour and a half to reach this place from Thiruvanmiyur in a state bus. You could have reached sooner had the so-called "Toll Road" not been barricaded every 1 km till Kovalam. Once you cross Kovalam its a smooth ride till M'puram with the sea constantly keeping company. The traffic also clears up after Kovalam.

M'puram is a small tourism-centric town. The only other occupations practiced here are fishing, stone carving and of course begging (which is an off-shoot of tourism). Much like the ruins of Hampi, the monuments are spread out. But unlike the former, you don't really need a bicycle or a vehicle to wander about - if you don't mind exercising your body a bit. But of course the same might not apply on a hot-Tamil-Nadu-summer-afternoon. In such cases you can always opt for autorickshaws and even bicycles/scooters for hire.

There are plenty of sight-seeing options here - all that can be covered in a day and still have plenty of time to relax by the sea. The three major attractions here are Arjuna's penance, Five Rathas and the Shore Temple. Apart from this there are couple of cave temples near Arjuna's penance, Krishna's butterball, Tiger cave, a lighthouse and a few other rock carvings on the way. The rock carving on Arjuna's penance are nothing short of spectacular. The view from the Lighthouse is not to be missed. The Five Rathas are to be seen to be believed. And finally the Shore Temple is another masterpiece in stone.
There are plenty of shacks in the beach near the Shore Temple where you get food and accommodation. To enter the Shore Temple and the Five Rathas, you need take an entry ticket of Rs 10. This one ticket is valid for both these places. The lighthouse entry is Rs 10 for adult and Rs 20 for Camera. The remaining locations are on the roadside and hence free.

Getting there: Plenty of buses and taxis from CMBT (Koyembedu) and Thiruvanmiyur.

Must-Do: Make a list of all places you want to cover and go about it. Relax by the sea.
Must-Don't: Vandalism and Littering.

My Rating: 8/10

Marina Beach, Chennai

So where would a tourist head to, if he has an evening to spare in the bustling city of Chennai? The iconic Marina beach of course. In the afore said Sunday I was in the Triplicane area of Chennai looking to kill time. The signboard near my hotel indicated that the Marina Beach was 3 kms away. Since time was not a constraint and the fact that I don't mind walking (especially in a new place), I decided to walk my way to Marina. Half an hour later I was standing in front of a huge sculpture of a horse, which happens to be the entrance of the MGR memorial.

This premises, also known as Anna Sqare, contains the memorials of former CMs MGR and Annadurai. After a fly-by visit to the memorials I turned towards the sea. It will not be unfair to state that the main attraction of Marina Beach is NOT the beach itself, but rather the thousands of stalls on the beach sands. It is like a fair - a mela. And considering the numbers, a mini Kumbh Mela. On a weekend, the beach receives at least 50,000 visitors. And Marina beach embraces all these visitors with arms wide open. Measuring 13 kms, Marina Beach is the longest urban beach in the country and the second largest in the world - thats enough room for a quarter of Chennai's population to squeeze in.  

The beach is bustling with activity. The number of  fish stalls, chaat counters, tea stalls, corn-sellers, bhajji makers, peanut sellers and other eatables can feed half of Chennai's population any given Sunday. Apart from the food stalls, there's also a host of other items for your entertainment. For kids, there are small joy rides, for adults there are photo studios where you can get your picture clicked with your favourite (cut-out of) actors/actress, you can play games like shooting the balloon or throwing the ring on items or.....

As I said, it's a mela out there. All this while there's a turbulent sea doing it's dance. And it comes as no surprise that the beach is dirty and unkempt - littered with plastic and human waste. And thanks to the hundreds of fish stalls, there's a constant stench of dead fish! It's the kind of beach that as a tourist I would go only once.

Getting-there: On a weekend, all roads lead to Marina Beach, so just follow the crowd.

Must-Do: Take a walk round the stalls.
Must-Don't: Littering (Yes, even in garbage pile like this)

My Rating: 2/10