Places to visit outside Chennai with a rental car

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11 Places to visit outside Chennai with a rental car

If you have a couple of days in Chennai, we suggest you take some time to explore the tourist's sights outside the city. The city’s outskirts are dotted with places of interest which will surely interest you. We’ll play the guide and walk you through the best places to visit outside Chennai. 

Most places of tourist interests lie to the South of Chennai and you have two access roads to reach them. The first is the East Coast Road (ECR), and the other is the Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR), which now goes by the name Rajiv Gandhi Salai. 

The ECR is a more scenic drive, with the road running parallel to the coastline. OMR, on the other hand, is the IT Expressway and houses the city’s IT parks. We suggest you take the ECR because it crosses some of the theme parks in the region. Just in case you feel like enjoying some fun rides.

We suggest you rent a car in Chennai from IndusGo and make an early start. The entire stretch of ECR is lined with resorts and restaurants, so you will always find a place for some authentic South Indian breakfast, and steaming hot filter coffee.

1. Cholamandalam Artist’s Village

A nominal entry fee lets you into the artist’s village. It is home to a massive collection of fascinating exhibits by contemporary artists. They include handicrafts, sculptures, photographs and sand and clay artworks. Apart from these, there are dance and theatre performances and an open-air theatre.

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2. Dakshin Chitra

This place showcases the rich and traditional cultural heritage of Southern India, and you must have it on your ‘must visit’ list. Traditional art forms, some of which are dying, are being kept alive here – unique dance forms, martial arts, old-style games and traditional homes and other arts are on display. Live performances and demonstrations where artisans illustrate ancient art forms and rich heritage are insightful experiences, both educative and entertaining. Visitors can try their hands at pottery making or play ancient board games, which are not played anymore. 

It is a vast campus, sprawling over a few acres. Step into the inhouse store where you can shop for some genuine artefacts, jewellery, crafts and other stuff, to take back as gifts or souvenirs. 

3. Covelong Beach

The crescent-shaped beach is every surfing enthusiasts delight. It is clean, with shallow waters and golden sands. It is also a nesting place for sea turtles, and if your visit coincides with the nesting or hatching season (between January to April), you’ll witness these beautiful creatures invade the beach. Remember, though that the Olive Ridley’s are endangered species. 

It is also a fishing hamlet, and friendly fishermen will take you for a ride into the Bay of Bengal, on their catamarans, for a fee of course. Explore the local fish market, or savour some freshly cooked catch, cooked Indian style, in a shanty, on the beach.

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4. Nithya Kalyana Perumal Temple

Just 4kms from the Covelong beach is an ancient temple dedicated to Vishnu, built by the Pallava kings, in the 7th  The temple’s stunning architecture and sculptures are worth admiring. 

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5. Muttukadu lake

Drive further down on the ECR, and you will come upon the Muttukadu lake. It is part of the backwaters of the Bay of Bengal and a tourist attraction. It is a water sports facility managed by the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corp. The activities include rowing, speedboat rides and water skiing etc. 

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6. Crocodile Bank and Snake Park

The crocodile bank is en route to Mahabalipuram. Managed by a non-profit organisation, the crocodile bank houses different species of reptiles and amphibians. Crocodiles and alligators are the main attraction. But, you’ll also find tortoises and turtles and snakes. Be there on Sunday, at 16:30, to view the crocodile feeding. 

The snake section at the bank is unique and offers a once in a lifetime kind of experience. It is a huge pit, filled with hundreds of poisonous snakes kept in mud pots. Trained snake handlers, exhibit venomous snakes and demonstrate how venom is extracted. You’ll find the world’s deadliest snakes here. 

The water bodies, trees and shrubs, in the crocodile bank has turned it into an inadvertent bird sanctuary. Their website lists 61 species of birds – it is a bird haven.

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7. Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram is an ancient site and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The remarkable part about Mahabalipuram is that most structures have stood on the corrosive shores of the Bay of Bengal, and withstood nature's fury, for centuries. 

The main attractions at Mahabalipuram are:

  • The Shore Temple: A 7th Century Dravidian style temple, built by the Pallava dynasty. It stands magnificently, just a few metres from the shores of the Bay of Bengal
  • The Five Rathas: Located at a walking distance from the Shore temple, the five rathas or punches rathas are rock-carved temples, named after the five Pandavas, from the Hindu mythology, the Mahabharata. Each temple is exquisitely carved out of a rock. The architecture and sculpturing are admirable. They too date back to the 7th century
  • Arjuna’s penance: An amazing relief work, depicting various scenes, is carved on the face of a massive rock. The intricate and detailed sculpting is stunning, and illustrates stories from the Mahabharata 
  • Varaha Mandapa: Adjacent to Arjuna’s penance is a pillared cave, with intricate carvings on the inside. The finesse and the fine detailing in the carvings indicate the talent and abilities of people in ancient times
  • Rock carvings and sculptures: There are numerous smaller temples around the place, carved out of rock
  • Butterball: The butterball is a gigantic boulder perched on the steep slope of a rounded stone. It defies gravity, as it balances precociously
  • Lighthouse(s): The main lighthouse is over a century old, and was built by the British and inaugurated in 1904. Visitors can go up the structure for a panoramic view of the surrounding area. A 7th century, lighthouse, built by the Pallava rulers, stands a few metres away

8. The Forts

The first fort is the Sadras Dutch Fort; it is at a short distance from the Kalpakkam Atomic Power Station. Only part of the superstructure stands, but a few relics can still be seen here, such an old cannon and some tombstones, dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, with beautiful engravings of the court of arms. 

The other is the 17th-century Alamparai Fort. Only the ruins of this French Fort remain. However, it is a lovely spot, right on the shores of the Bay. It is secluded and serene, with an excellent view. The local fishermen will take you for a ride on their fishing boats, to the little sand islands that reveal themselves, during low-tide.

9. Pondicherry

Pondicherry is the last halt on the route. It is 165km from Chennai, and roughly 95 km from Mahabalipuram. Pondicherry is a quaint town, and life here moves at a slow pace. Don’t be surprised to find the young and the old peddling around on bicycles. It has old, French-styled houses and street names in French; it doesn’t look like any place in India. 

The beaches are scenic and the landscapes awesome. The Serenity Beach is a quiet spot, with clear waters, white sands and tall palms. The Auroville village has a beautiful beach too, with bamboo cottages that you can rent. Catch the sunrise from here, or comb the beach for seashells.

The Promenade, also known as the Gandhi Beach, has a long stretch of road, with kiosks, benches, a walking path and statues. The most prominent of which is that of the Mahatma. Keep time for Aurobindo Ashram and a visit to Auroville.  

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10. Kanchepuram

Alternatively, you can visit Kanchipuram, the temple town of India. The place is known for its temples, and you’ll find one every few metres. You will enjoy your trip to this extraordinary town, whether you visit as a devotee or as a tourist. The temples are ancient, dating back to the Pallavas, Cholas and Vijayanagara Empire. Exquisite architecture and sculptures draw people to these temples. 

It is also a hub for the famous Kanjivaram sarees. The streets here are lined with stores selling beautiful sarees, sourced directly from the weavers. 

11. Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary

Stretching across 74 acres, the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary is protected under the Wildlife Act. The huge lake at the sanctuary attracts migratory birds. During the migratory season, the entire area becomes flush with water birds. The birds' nest here and fly back with their chicks when the weather warms up.

These are a few places that you can visit outside Chennai. Take a self drive rental car from IndusGo and explore yourself.