The Pull of the Coromandel Coast

The story of The Great East Coast Road Drive, which I’d been yapping about to anyone who’d listen, finally made it to print early this year. In March 2014, India Abroad Magazine carried the story as a centre-spread in a travel special. This is the travelogue that resulted from a breathless 11-day journey from Chennai to Rameswaram, between coast and hinterland, more than one thousand kilometres.

Pigeons scatter the dawn at Chennai's Marina Beach

Pigeons scatter the dawn at Chennai’s Marina Beach

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Born in Kerala, I ought to have an umbilical connection with the Malabar Coast but it is to the eastern seaboard that I feel a stronger pull. The Coromandel Coast, pocked by cannonballs, scarred by battles, and watered by deltas of discontent, has drawn me since, at age eight, I peered over a parapet into Elliot’s Beach in what was then Madras.

On this coast, colonial powers had jousted in cloak-­and­-dagger bouts of war and commerce that echoed political pantomime in Europe. Dravidian dynasties had sung poetry into stone, beat their chests to ballads of doomed love, and sailed fleets across the storm­-lashed bay to Java and Indochina.

A chance to experience the richness of the coast took a long time coming. The Great East Coast Drive, an idea I had incubated for months, materialized this August when my colleague, photographer Azhar Ali, and I set off with iPhones and laptops (and plenty of clean underwear) on an 11­-day mission to live­-blog our breathless, rushed road ­trip from Chennai to Rameshwaram, with a few side ­trips to the hinterland.

Beginning at Thiruvanmiyur, south of Chennai, the East Coast Road snakes southward along the Coromandel Coast, in places hugging the seashore while in others straying as many as 10 miles from the surf. State Highway 48 (its official name) runs 429 miles north to south, terminating at Thoothukudi, some 80 miles northeast of India’s southern tip at Kanyakumari. Busiest on the immaculately macadamed, two­-laned, 100­-mile stretch from Chennai to Pondicherry, it degrades on its southerly course into a dusty, single­-lane country road lined with palmyra palms and cutting through paddy fields and salt pans. This little­explored stretch excited me the most.

Here’s the tearsheet (original fonts have been mucked up, sorry):


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