Tamil Nadu is the homeland of one of humanity’s living classical civilizations, stretching back uninterrupted for two millennia and very much alive today in Tamils’ language, dance, poetry, and Hindu religion. Tamil Nadu, the land of the Tamils, is the heart of Dravidian culture with a distinctive style of their own. It is situated in the south-east of the Indian peninsula and is bounded by the states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in the north and Kerala and Karnataka in the west, with the Bay of Bengal in the east. At the southern tip is Kanyakumari, where the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea, and Indian Ocean meet.
There is a lot for tourists packed into this state, which remains proudly distinct from the rest of India, from the amazing rock-cut temples of Mahabalipuram, the great living temples of Thanjavur, the blackbucks of Point Calimere, the toy train ride in Ooty, the ghost town of Dhanushkodi, the Chettinad cuisine, the wilderness of Mudumalai and Mundunthurai, the night ceremony at Sree Meenakshi temple, or the very end of India where the three seas mingle, or the cool, forest-clad, wildlife-prowled Western Ghats.
Just an hour’s drive from Chennai, this UNESCO World Heritage site showcases the magnificent line of ancient stone carvings that both impress and intrigue. The Shore Temple stands out with its brilliant Pallava architecture and masterful carvings. With its historical monuments, architectural stories, mysterious caves, cycling tours and beaches, and delicious seafood, the place packs in the punch of a must-see destination.
A former French colony, this quaint little town has retained its old-world French charm. Pondicherry was designed based on the French (originally Dutch) grid pattern and features neat sectors and perpendicular streets. The town is divided into two sections: the French Quarter (Ville Blanche or “White town”) and the Indian Quarter (Ville Noire or “Black Town”).
Now called Puducherry, this “French Riviera of the East” is known for its large boulevards, brightly painted houses with high compound walls laden with bougainvillea, clean, well-laid streets with French name plates, colonial buildings, gothic churches, classic heritage monuments, pristine beaches, serene backwaters, expansive gardens, and of course delicious authentic French cuisine.
A dizzying historical legacy was forged from Thanjavur, capital of the great Chola Empire during its heyday. Today, this is a crowded, hectic, modern Indian town, but the past is still very much present. Every day thousands of people worship at the Cholas’ grand Brihadishwara Temple, and Thanjavur’s labyrinthine royal palace preserves memories of other powerful dynasties from the later centuries. The temple is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Great Living Chola Temples.”
Nowhere in Tamil Nadu you will find such huge mansions and houses; those that will help you understand the classy life of the wealthy Chettiar community. Chettinad cuisine is perhaps the most renowned fare in the Tamil Nadu repertoire. It uses a variety of spices, and the dishes are made with fresh ground masalas. Chettiars also use a variety of sun dried meats and salted vegetables, reflecting the dry environment of the region. Most of the dishes are eaten with rice and rice-based accompaniments.
Tiruvannamalai is undoubtedly an extraordinary place and may not suit every tourist. A spiritual town existing in a sort of parallel universe to India outside, presided over by a mountain. The draw of the Ramana Ashram and the mystique of Arunachala Mountain brings visitors from all over the world. The weekend and especially on full moons, you will see throngs of happy barefoot Indian men, women, and children, who walk the outer (perimeter road) version of the Pradkshina, visiting every temple and shrine, every lingam on route. Being caught up in the excitement of coachloads of pilgrims, who are expectant of great spiritual benefit by walking around Arunachala, is great fun.
Ooty or Udhagamandalam is known as the Queen of the Blue Mountains. Ooty is famous for its rolling hills, covered in pine and eucalyptus forests, and its coffee and the tea plantations. Developed as a hill station by the British, it had been inhabited by the Toda tribal people who lived in villages or munds consisting of a handful of huts. What attracts a tourist most is the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, which runs from Metupalaiyam to Udagamandalam (Ooty) via Coonoor, in the Nilgiri Hills. It was in 1854 that the first plans were drawn to build a mountain railway from Mettupalayam to the Nilgiri Hills. It took 45 years later in 1899 that the first steam engine train chugged up this track. The track is 46-km (28.5 miles) long and passes over 26 viaducts and through 16 tunnels and tall girder bridges. This railway is particularly picturesque because of the surrounding rocky terrain, tea plantations, and forested hills.
Madurai is Tamil-born and Tamil-rooted. It is one of the oldest cities in India, a metropolis that traded with ancient Rome and was a great capital long before Chennai was even dreamt of. Tourists, Indian and foreign, usually come here to see the Meenakshi Amman Temple, a labyrinthine structure ranking among the greatest temples of India. The temple forms the heart and lifeline of the 2,500-year-old city of Madurai and is a significant symbol for the Tamil people, mentioned since antiquity in Tamil literature. Though most of the present structure was built between 1623 and 1655 CE, It is said that the temple was originally built in the 6th century BC, dedicated to the deity Meenakshi – an avatar of Goddess Parvati – and her consort Sundareswarar – Lord Shiva.