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Just 45 minutes out of the city, the East Coast Road first stops at the historic town of Mahabalipuram. The 7th century erstwhile port city is famous for its rock-cut shore temples. A lone lighthouse on a hill watches over a group of temples below. Mahabalipuram also has some great cafes that serve good sea food. A backpacker’s delight, one can find cheap accommodations and plenty of activities.
Blossoming bougainvilleas, crumbling cathedrals on leafy boulevards and 18th-century colonial buildings colour the former French colony of Pondy, which sits on the Bay of Bengal. But it's also unmistakably Indian, with colourful festivals throughout the year, several mosques and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Quiet beaches stretch north and south from town, good for swimming and sunrise strolls. Pondy is a popular weekend getaway destination from Chennai and is easy to navigate on foot or by bicycle.
Look for spicy dishes flavoured with tamarind and coconut in Kochi, and don’t be surprised if your dinner is served up on a banana leaf. The region is a major banana-growing area, and traditional Kochi cuisine employs the fruit in many dishes, both sweet and savoury. Coconut water provides a refreshing and sweet contrast to the piquant food.
A beach town on the Arabian Sea in southern India, Kovalam features three spectacular crescent beaches. The most popular and largest beach is Lighthouse Beach, aptly named for its 30-metre lighthouse, which features a stunning site - the Vizhinjam mosque. For a less crowded beach, visit Samudra Beach, with ample coconut trees and great views of the local fishermen at work.
Let the beautiful coastal town of Varkala melt your worries and tensions away. Varkala’s peaceful seaside cliffs adjoin the Arabian Sea, setting the scene for several water spouts and wellness spas. The waters lapping at Papanasam beach are considered to have holy, sin-cleansing properties, and the nearby Ayurveda treatment centre will cleanse what the ocean missed.
East meets West in this sun-soaked state, where Indian culture intertwines with Portuguese influences left over from a 500-year occupation. The beaches have long served as a magnet for serene hedonists. To the north, the tourist-centric scene is prevalent, with an international flair that is now skewing more hip than hippie. Travel south for stretches of unspoiled sand and an escape from large resorts. Temples, mosques and wildlife sanctuaries provide diversions from the beach.
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