Tamil Nadu is a culturally rich and diverse state consisting of 30 districts and the spoken language is Tamil followed by English. It is also geographically diverse with its different regions that are mountainous, arid, forest, fertile and coastal. Tamil Nadu receives a high level of foreign investment into its automobile, information technology, power and telecommunication industries and produces a large number of highly skilled and trained workforce.
Tamil Nadu like several other states in India has had several rulers – three dynasties, Pandyas, Cholas and Cheras and later the British and French (Pondicherry and Karaikal). The state’s economy is mostly agricultural based, while most of its population follows Hinduism, Christianity and Islam is also followed.
While you travel to the various tourist destinations in Tamil Nadu, you will experience the diversity in the rich heritage, culture and cuisine.
There are numerous touristic places that will delight you and astound you with the architecture, landscape and natural beauty. Some of these are the Kapaleeshwar Temple in Chennai, Stone Monuments at Mahabalipuram, Sri Meenakshi Temple in Madurai and Botanical Gardens in Ooty.
The cuisine consists of delicious vegetarian dishes that you should surely taste – Idli, Dosa (prepared with a rice and lentil batter) dipped into delicious Sambhar or Coconut Chutney, Uppuma (rice or semolina), Vadas, Rasam and Thair Sadam (curd rice). There are also mouthwatering non-vegetarian dishes prepared with chicken, mutton and fish. Each region has its own specialties. Make sure you satisfy your sweet tooth cravings with desserts like Payasam, Mysore Pak, Kozhukkattai, Maa Ladoo, Paniyaram and Rava Kesari, to name a few.
Pongal the Harvest Festival celebrated in January is not to be missed and lasts for 4 days. Tamil New Year’s Day (Puthandu) is another festival celebrated in April and you will find beautiful floral and coloured rice decorations in front of people’s house. Karthigai Deepam the “Festival of Lights” is celebrated over a period of 10 days.
Tamil Nadu is also home to dances like Bharatnatyam which is one of the most respected classical dances of India and is Tamil Nadu's gift to Indian culture and Carnatic Music. Karagaattam an ancient folk dance, Kali Attam (performed with sticks) and Poikal Kudurai Attam (a skillful dance performed on wooden legs and the dancer wears a dummy paper mash horse).
You can shop to your heart’s delight with the wide range of handicraft items some that are special to each region – like the Tanjore paintings, Kanjivaram silk sarees, stone carvings of Mahabalipuram and wood carvings of Chettinad.
Chennai (formerly known as Madras) and the capital of Tamil Nadu, is a city with a rich legacy of 400 years of glorious history. Historically it was ruled by all the well-known dynasties of South India - the Pallavas, the Cholas, the Pandyas and the Vijaynagar kingdom. Then it was followed by the Portuguese in 1522, the Dutch in 1612 and the British in 1639. What was once a fishing village called Madrasapattnam and Chennapattinam in 1600s is today a vibrant and inviting metropolitan city. Chennai formally known as Madras is the capital of Tamilnadu.
Located on the Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal, this city of multiple transformations - the 38th most visited city in the world is an enchanting land of spectacular beaches, awe-inspiring temples, exciting wildlife parks, heritage destinations and entertainment unlimited. A home to the longest urban beach in the world, the Marina in Chennai spans across 6 kms of uninterrupted shoreline caressed by the alluring waters and silver sands of the Bay of Bengal. It is truly a visual treat that soothes the heart and mind.
To stir your taste buds, Chennai offers an exhaustive spread of mouthwatering delicious cuisines that are absolutely traditional and authentic in taste. For the spirits, Chennai, the cultural capital of South India is where the varied traditional Classical dances hold you spell bound and the soul inspiring Carnatic music moves you. Of course, the arts and craft of this enterprising land of incredible talents are amazingly mesmerizing.
Chennai is one of the places in the world where you can see and feel the traditional values blend beautifully with contemporary lifestyle - towering skyscrapers, shopping malls, multiplex theatres, discotheques, cosmopolitan restaurants and wherever you go the courteous, warm and helpful traits of the people of this friendly city stand tall above all.
While in Chennai make sure you take a leisurely walk along Marina Beach (the longest beach in India which stretches over 13kms along the Bay of Bengal) and soak in the atmosphere of the beach on one side and take a look at the Heritage Colonial Buildings on the other side. Follow this with a visit to Fort St. George constructed by the British in a neo-classical style and then head to the Government Museum the second oldest in India and contains a repository of masterpieces in art, archaeology, anthropology and much more.
Chennai is also famous for its churches like St. Mary’s Church, Santhome Cathedral (built over the tomb of St. Thomas), and Velankanni Church. You can also see the rich religious and historical culture in some of the most popular temples such as – Kapaleeshwar Temple, Ayyappan Temple and Parthasarathy Temple.
Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) and fondly called Mahabs by local visitors, used to be a seaport of the ancient Pallava kingdom. Its coastal beauty, scenic surroundings and ancient archaeological wonders makes it a popular tourist destination.
Of the nine monolithic temples found in Mahabalipuram, the most important are Five Rathas known after the famous five Pandava brother from the Mahabharata and have been carved out of a single rock. Be sure to also visit the Shore Temple – a two towered rock cut elegance that symbolizes the heights of Pallava architecture. The Penance of Bhagirath (also called the Penance of Arjuna) is the crowing masterpiece of Mahabalipuram’s stonework and has the most convincing and unpretentious rock carvings in India, this huge rock depicts animals, deities and other semi divine creatures. There are several other cave carvings and temples that you could visit too.
You can also take part in turtle walks, treks, boating, fishing, stone carving lessons or just relax and have a picnic on the beach.
Tiruchirapalli or Tiruchi as it is called by the locals is the fourth largest city in Tamil Nadu. This city has had many rulers – starting with the Cholas, Pallavas, Pandyas, Nayaks, Marathas, Nawabs of Carnatic, French and finally the British. Trichy is a fine blend of history, heritage, culture and modernity with magnificent Churches, Colleges and Missions which date back to the 17th century giving it the name “Rome of the East”.
The city is built around Rock Fort, Trichy’s most famous landmark which is an 83 meter high rock, one of the oldest in the world. At its summit, The Temples of Lord Siva called Thayumanavasa Swami temple, where the lingam is said to be projection of the rock itself and Lord Vinayaga [uchhi pillaiyar] There are inscriptions in these temple that dates back to 3rd century B.C. There are also a couple of Pallava Cave Temples nearby with beautiful sculptures. At the foothills of the rock fort is a big tank and a pavilion where the annual Float Festival that’s draws thousands of spectators. Near the tank is home of Robert Clive when he was in Tiruchi and the 18th Century Church, now housing the popular St.Josephs’s College are the two important landmarks near this Tank.
Woodcraft and weaving are traditional skills in Tiruchi and tourists interested in taking home souvenirs can choose from a variety of handicrafts, cigars, brassware carpets, mats and baskets made from bamboo and jewellery.
Thanjavur which has been anglicized by some to Tanjore is also known as the “Rice Bowl of Tamil Nadu” as it is a prominent centre for rice cultivation.
The rule under the Cholas especially Raja Raja Cholan with Thanjavur as the capital brought this city to prominence. Several of the temples in this city have been classified as World Heritage Monuments by the UNESCO.
Be sure to visit the various tourist attractions that prove to you why Thanjavur is a treasure house of religion, art and architecture. Start by visiting the main attraction – Brahadeeswarar Temple also known as “Thanjai Periyar Koil” (Big Temple), a testimony to the wealth and glory of the Cholas. It celebrated its 100th year of existence in 2010. The tower above the sanctum sanctorum is 216 feet tall, one of the tallest towers of its kind in the world with a cupola weighing 80 tons located above this tower. Further architectural magnificence can be seen in the 12 ½ feet tall, 8 feet long and 5 ft wide sacred bull or Nandi made out of a single rock weighing 25 tons, is installed outside, in front of the sanctum Sanctorum.
The Thanjavur Palace is located about a 1km from the Big Temple and is located in a Big Fort. It will capture your interest with is huge corridors, intricately decorated rooms and spacious halls. Some of its popular structures are the Arsenal Tower, Bell Tower and Darbar Hall. The other places that will inspire art lovers and historians are – The Thanjavur Art Gallery, Sarawathi Mahal Library (it houses a valuable collection of manuscripts, maps, literature, books and paintings), Vijaynagara Fort and the Schwartz Church.
For those traditional music lovers visiting Thiruvaiyaru, about 54 km from the city is the birthplace of Sri Thyagaraja, the legendary musician-composer of Carnatic music. Every year during January, the greatest music festival in the country called Thyagaraja Aradhana takes place here with leading Carnatic musicians taking part, watched by thousands of ardent classical music fans. Make sure you visit the magnificent temple Dakshina Kailasam dedicated to Lord Shiva built on an area of about 60,000 square metres.
Tantalise your taste buds with Thanjavur cuisine some of it influenced by the Marathas. The city is a shopper’s paradise with a variety of beautiful handloom silk, cotton saris as well as paintings, bronze, brass idols and wide variety of jewelry to choose from.
Madurai is also known as the “City that never Sleeps” as it is always bustling with activity even at night time, it is a modern commercial and industrial city. Historically it has been called the “Athens of the East” with visits from the Greek envoy, Megasthenes who mentions Madurai in his account of India in around 300 BC. It was in the period of the Roman Empire, under the Pandya dynasty, that the city assumed its great importance, even sending embassies to Rome.
The main attraction in Madurai is the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple (also known as the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple). The Meenakshi Temple complex is literally a city - one of the largest of its kind in India and one of the oldest too. The temple grew with the contribution of each dynasty and victorious monarchs, into an enormous complex extending over an area of 65000 squares metres. The temple first came in to being 2000 years ago and was substantially expanded during the regime of the popular king - Thirumalai Nayak. Lord Siva in his incarnation as Sundareswarar and his fish-eyed spouse, Meenakshi, are enshrined in this twin temple.
A striking feature of the temple is the astonishing structure known as “Ayiramkaal Mandapam” or the Hall of Thousand Pillars and each pillar features high, ornate, bold sculptures that look life like. In the outermost corridors are situated matchless musical pillars carved out of stones, when tapped each pillar produces different musical note.
Chettinad is famous for its palatial mansions, temples and culinary delicacies. It is the homeland of the Natukottai Chettiar also known as Nagarathars. The Chettiars are considered to be pioneers in banking and this wealthy business-minded community of Chettiars promoted religion, education and finance activities in Chettinad.
While you are in Chettinad, make sure you visit the mansions known for their elaborate decorations and intricate design and will give you a picture of the classy life led by this wealthy Chettiar community. Kaanadukathan, is one of the best destinations to see the Chettinad Architecture. As you walk along the streets of this town you will be awe struck by the houses built on a palatial scale on plots as large as 1.5 to 10 acres with materials sourced from different parts of the world – marble from Italy, furnishings from East Asia and Europe, chandeliers and teak from Myanmar, crockery from Indonesia, crystal and mirrors from Europe.
Also make sure you visit Karaikudi, the largest district in Chettinad and home to Alagappa University one of the best places to study engineering. Karikudi is also a favourite shooting spot for a lot of South Indian film makers. You can visit the Kannudayahayagi Temple, the Koppudai Amman Temple and the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple.
Visits to the Chettinad palace built for the royal Alagappa Chettiar in 1912 and to Chettinad temples – Vairavan Koil, Karpaga Vinayakar Temple and Iraniyur Temples to mention a few will provide you with insight into the architectural history of this beautiful city.
One of the highlights of your visit to Chettinad is to taste the delicious and aromatic Chettinad cuisine where non-vegetarian dishes prepared with chicken, fish, prawn, lobster, crab and lamb reign supreme – Chettinad Chicken and Lamb, Nandu Varuval (crab fry) and Eral Thokku (prawn dish). A variety of tasty vegetarian dishes - Kuzhi Paniyaram, Adhirasam, Kozhukattai and Khandarapam will also tempt you to go back for seconds.
Chettinad arts and crafts consist of wood carving, silver embellishment, woven saris, palm-leaf baskets, gold jewelry, handmade tiles, architectural styles, egg plastering.
Pondicherry now known as Puducherry was once a tiny fishing village and has now become a grand port city. As you walk down the street you will get the distinct feeling of taking a trip down France as you will pass the statues of Francois Dupleix and Joan D’Arc. "Puducherry" is the French interpretation of the original name "Puducheri" meaning "new settlement". The French occupied Pondicherry for two and a half centuries after their arrival in 1673.
As you travel through Pondicherry you will witness the influence of historical visitors like the Portuguese, Dutch, Danes and British and was also ruled by the Cholas and Pandyas.
A wonderfully tranquil place for tourists and spiritual seekers alike is Sri Aurobindo Ashram which was built in 1926. The ideals and values of this ashram are based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo its founder and Mira Alfassa.
Another place to visit is Auroville which means “City of Dawn”. Founded in 1968 by Sri Aurobindo and Mira Alfassa and designed by the French architect Roger Anger, this universal town is home to a little over 2000 people from 44 different countries. The main idea being that its inhabitants would live in harmony and peace irrespective of caste, religion, colour and nationalities. During the inauguration soil from around 124 countries was placed in a lotus shaped urn to symbolize the idea behind the establishment of the township. The middle of the town is crowned by a temple which symbolizes the universal mother and is called ‘Matrimandir’.
The other places of historical, architectural and touristic interest are - Immaculate Conception Cathedral built in 1791, Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Sri Varadaraja Perumal Temple that dates back to 600 AD and the Pondicherry Museum. Take a leisurely walk along Promenade Beach or go crazy with your camera at Ousteri Wetland and National Park which attracts different species of migratory birds or use the houseboat services available here.
Pondicherry offers visitors a selection of handicrafts, textiles, leather items, handmade paper and pottery items for purchase.
Udhagamandalam or Ootacamund (as the British called it) is known fondly by locals as Ooty. It is one of India’s finest Hill Stations located at an altitude of 2240 meters and you will be treated to breathtaking views of a landscape dotted with coffee and tea plantations and trees like the Eucalyptus, Conifers, Pine and Wattle.
Start your exhilarating journey around Ooty with a visit to the beautiful Botanical Gardens spread over 22 hectares and is home to some exotic and rare species of flora. A Flower Show is held once a year in May at this location and includes an exhibition of rare plant species. A visit to the Rose Garden is a must especially for all rose lovers as this garden that spreads over 4 hectares has about 20,000 rose plants with 2241 varieties.
Doddabetta Peak the highest mountain in South India stands at a height of 2634 meters and the Telescope House set up by the Tamil Nadu Government enables visitors to have a beautiful panoramic view of the entire district.
Make sure you take a picturesque ride on the Mountain Train at the Nilgiri Mountain Railway which was built by the British in 1908. This train covers a distance of 26 kms, travels through 208 serpentine curves, 16 tunnels, 250 bridges, waterfall hoods, cliff edges and Tea estates. The uphill journey takes almost 4 hours.
Other places to visit are the Ooty Lake, Mudumalai National Park, Deer Park and Pykara Lake and Waterfalls.
Before you leave Ooty, take home a souvenir, you can choose from handmade chocolates, aromatic oils, fresh whole spices and tea.
Chidambaram located in the Cuddalore district and is a temple town and home to the famous Chidambaram Natarajar Temple also known as the Thillai Natarajar Temple. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and built in ancient Dravidian architectural style that will leave you in awe. There are several other temples - Thillai Kali Temple, Sirgazhi Temple, Kahasti Nathar Temple (associated with wind), Thiryvannamalai Arunachaleswara Temple (associated with fire), Kanchi Ekambareswara Temple (associated with Earth), and Thiruvanaikaval Jambukeswara Temple (associated with water).
Chidambaram is also home to the popular Annamalai University which not only provides courses in Medicine and Engineering but also Tamil Literature and Traditional Carnatic Music Courses.
This town is also known for ornament making, the art of fashioning gold and silver ornaments has been passed down by generations.
Kumbakonam is one of the oldest towns in Tamil Nadu and is known for the celebration of the Mahamaham Festival which is celebrated once every 12 years where thousands of devotees take a dip in the Mahamaham tank located in the heart of this town. This town is also known for its brass vessels and cultivation of betel leaves.
The ancient temple town of Kumbakonam was also a prominent centre for European Education and Hindu Culture and was also known as the “Cambridge of South India”. Some of India's world renowned scholars and intellectuals hail from Kumbakonam including the genius mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujam. The Town High School and the Kumbakonam Arts College are the grand old centres of education.
Some of the most important temples that will stun you with their architectural style and history are – Adi Kumbeswarar Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, Sarangapani Temple developed by the Cholas, Vijayanagar and Madurai Nayaks during their reign, Nageswaran Temple built by Aditya Chola during the 9th century and Ramaswamy Temple.
Brass articles and utensils used for poojas (worship and offering) including the Kuthuvillaku (oil lamp) are manufactured in Kumbakonam. Kumbakonam is also popular for its silk sarees.