The ancient city, Chennai is surrounded by forts and sites that are waiting to be explored in just an easy day’s ride
Chennai can boast of being in close proximity to quite a few landmark forts. Cycling to these heritage structures is a good way to have some fun and exercise while enriching your understanding of their glorious past. The weather is usually ideal for cycling between July and February — barring the heavy monsoons, of course — but light summer showers in this season may also give the day a cyclist-friendly turn, when you least expect it. Here are a few historically significant forts within a radius of 150 km from the city, perfect for pedalling to, exploring and returning merrily the same day.
Located next to Tirupathi, this fort in Andhra Pradesh was once the capital of the Vijayanagar Kingdom. The firman granting the site of Madras’ Fort St George to the British was signed here in August 1639, thus paving way for the founding of Madras. The 147 km-long route encompassing Utthukottai, Nagalapuram and Puttur is filled with treking sites.
The scenic route is spread with nature trails, but does not have many quality eateries en route. Tirupati being the only exception and an ideal location for pitstop to recharge, reload and replenish.
If you start early morning and maintain an average speed of 18-20 kmph, you can reach by 2.30 pm or 3.00 pm. You can also stay back to watch the sound and light show in the evening, and return to Chennai by train since cycling at night is not advisable on this route.
The lofty fortifications connected by precipitious hills forms an important study in the military history of India. The route covers 150 km, passing through NH 45 before taking the road to Thiruvannamalai near Tindivanam. The ride is mostly along highways, and never lacks access to essential supplies. Being on a rolling terrain, a stop-over at Madurantakam provides a good breathing space en route. You can reach this erstwhile Nayaka Capital in seven to eight hours, or earlier if the weather gods favour a tail wind. Climbing to the Rajagiri Hill is only allowed till 3 pm, but if you miss it, a visit around the Inner Fort complex can make up for it. The return trip to Chennai is at your discretion.
The fort was the theatre for action during the Vellore Mutiny, which is said to be the earliest revolt against the British that took place in India on 10th July 1806. Considered as specimen for military architecture the fort is located within the city of Vellore. The ride route on the highway to Bengaluru could be tricky to some newbies mainly due the number of flyovers one has to overcome, not to mention the weather conditions that could act favourably or as deterrent. The 140 km ride can be completed within 7-8 hours. Return to Chennai can be in vehicle, train or ride based upon personal fitness levels.
The route which is always a test to one's strength and stamina is also blessed with handful of historic towns. Never minding a short detour, the temple town of Kanchipuram is certainly an excellent location for a pitstop.
Sadras, Alamparai Forts
Close to Kalpakkam, and at a distance of 55 km from the city is the Fort built in Sadras (Sadurangapattinam) by the Dutch to protect their establishments. The fort includes the majestic Bell Tower, bastions, cemetery and other ruins. This ride can always be clubbed with another to the Mughal-era Alamparai Fort, just 40 kms away. The latter is now in ruins, but was once part of an ancient sea port. With a combined distance of 96 km, this ride takes just six to seven hours, and is one of the best ways for you to explore the scenic East Coast Road.
You’ll find all the facilities you need along ECR, and can even make a stop-over at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mamallapuram on the way. If you keep it short, though, you’ll have stron chances for a return ride the same day, but only if you’re equipped to ride in the dark.
Ramanujar Moulana is founder, Cycling Yogis, a city-based community of cycling enthusiasts.