Tamil Nadu: Rich classical heritage

Tamil Nadu is located on the southeastern part of India. Chennai is the capital of Tamil Nadu and the largest city. Tamil Nadu is one of the most visited destinations in India by both domestic and foreign tourists. It is estimated that ~20%+ tourist (both domestic and foreign) visit Tamil Nadu every year. The official language in the state is Tamil. Tamil Nadu offers a mix of cultural heritage, natural beauty and urban and rural disposition.

Some of the earliest memories of travel in my life are linked with Tamil Nadu. At an early age, I had travelled here with my parents. We had traveled on the Grand Trunk Express from Nagpur to reach Chennai. Those days, Indian Railways used to have First Class and Air Conditioned coaches weren’t introduced.

Why visit Tamil Nadu?

1. Hill stations

  • Udhagamandalam: Popularly called Ooty by the tourists, it is located about 86 km from Coimbatore and 128 km from Mysore. It is located in the western ghats zone at an altitude of 2240 m. The area around Ooty is surrounded by tea and coffee plantations and trees like Conifers, Eucalyptus, Pine and Wattle.
  • Kodaikanal: A popular hill station in the Dindigul district located at an altitude of 2130 m.
  • Yerakud: This small hill station is located at an altitude of ~5000 feet. It is located in Eastern Ghats and Salem district of Tamil Nadu.
  • Some other hill stations are – Meghamalai (cardamom plantations and tea estates), Valparai (3500 ft altitude on the Anaimalai Hills of Western Ghats) and Coonoor (base for trekking into the Nilgiri mountains)
Government Botanical Garden, Ooty (Image credit: incredibleindia.org)

2. Beautiful coastline

Tamil Nadu has got a coastline of almost 1000 km. Some of the major beaches and places along the coastline in Tamil Nadu are

  • Marina Beach: Major tourist attraction in the Chennai city, this beach stretches over 13 Km. Daily gathering of locals and tourists. Located on the Bay of Bengal, this urban beach is one of the longest and largest.
  • Mahabalipuram: Located about 60 km from the city of Chennai, in the town of Mahabalipuram – this beach attracts tourists all year round. Clean and well maintained. The road to beach has several shops.
  • East Coast Road (ECR): We used this road to go to Pondicherry. A beautiful drive along the eastern coast of India and the Bay of Bengal. Now the road has been extended to Kanyakumari.
  • Kanyakumari: The southern most tip of India, where the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal meet. It has a coastline of 71 km. Kanyakumari is also known for Vivekananda Rock Memorial and the 133 ft. high statue of Thiruvalluvur.
  • Pamban Bridge: This ~2 km long, broad guage railway bridge connects, the town of Mandapam with Pamban Island and Rameswaram.
  • Dhaushkodi beach: This is the site of confluence of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. It is connected to the mainland India by the Pamban Bridge.

3. Religious sites

  • Kanchipuram: Considered as one of the holiest cities, it has several temples. Some of the main temples here are Kamakshi Amman Temple (Goddess Parvati), Ekambareshwar Temple (Lord Shiva) and Varadraja Perumal Temple.
  • Rameshwaram: Rameshwaram is one of the char (four) dhams (abode of Gods). The other three being – Dwarka, Puri and Badrinath. It is believed that Lord Rama embarked on his journey to Sri Lanka from this place. Of the many temples in Rameshwaram – the Ramnathaswamy temple is the most important one.
  • Madurai: One of world’s oldest inhabited cities – Madurai has several temples including the Meenakshi Amman Temple, believed to date back to 2000 years.
  • Tirumalai: This is an ancient Jain temple complex. It has Jain caves, temples and a sculpture of 22nd Jain Tirthankar Lord Neminatha.
  • Santhome Church: Also known as St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica, is built over the tomb of Saint Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus.
Ekambareshwar Temple, Kanchipuram
Santhome Church, Chennai

4. Cuisine

The culinary experiences in Tamil Nadu vary widely and are considered to be the best in the world. Chettinad cuisine represents the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu and comprises of mainly vegetarian dishes. Sun dried vegetables and meats are used which helps in preserving the nutritional value. Several spices such as bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, cummin seeds and fenugreek are widely used in recipes. Coconut is widely used in food preparation. Chennai has featured in National Geographic’s top 10 food cities list.

  • Breakfast: The most popular dishes for breakfast are idli, medu vada, appam and many varieties of dosa and uthappam. These are generally served with coconut and tomato chutneys and sambhar. Masala dosa is served with a stuffing of potato.
  • Lunch and dinner: Vegetarian lunch and dinner options comprise of rise, sambhar and rasam. Curd / yoghurt is another key component. Many varieties of Sambhar and rasam are generally served. Non-vegetarian options comprise of chicken dishes such as “Chicken Chettinad”, chicken 65, mutton and chicken biryani. Seafood options include – fish curry, Chettinad fish curry and fish and prawn biryani.
  • Coffee is the most widely preferred drink and it is almost a ritual to drink coffee after the meals.
Medu Vada with Sambhar
Idli with chutney and sambhar

5. Wildlife

  • Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary: This sanctuary with an area of 321 sq. km. is a place to see animals like tiger, sloth bear, elephant, wild boars and leopards.
  • Madras Crocodile Bank Trust: This center is biggest crocodile sanctuaries in India. It is a reptile zoo and research center. It has one of the world’s largest collections of crocodiles and alligators.
  • Mukurthi National Park: This park is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. It located at a distance of 45 km from Ooty. The landscape of the park is very beautiful. Along with several animals seen here, the main attraction is Nilgiri Tahr, the state animal of Tamil Nadu.
  • Mannar Marine National Park: Lying within the Biosphere of Mannar, this marine park spreads 560 km. The Gulf of Mannar Biosphere comprises of 21 islands. It is one of the world’s richest regions from marine bio diversity perspective.
  • Viralimalai Sanctuary: Located 30 km from Tiruchirapalli, this is a bird sanctuary, particularly natural sanctuary of peacoks.

6. Architectural and Heritage Sites

  • Mahabalipuram: The group of monuments (the Ratha temples) are carved in the shape of chariots. These are a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the Shore Temple. These temples represent the Pallava architectural style.
  • Madurai: The Meenakshi Amman temple in Madurai is an example of Pandyan architecture.
  • Nilgiri Mountain Railway: A 46 km, 1000 mm – meter guage railway in Tamil Nadu, built by the British in 1908. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of Mountain Railways of India.
  • Vellore Fort: Built in 1566, under the reign of Sadasiva Raya of the Vijayanagara Empire, this fort is an example of Vijayanagara architecture. The Jalakanteshwara temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, located inside the fort is a fine example of Vijayanagara architecture style.
  • Chennai Central Railway Station: The century old building of the railway station is one of the most prominent landmarks in Chennai. It is built using the Gothic-Revival style of architecture. The original station was designed by George Harding.
The Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram
The Light House, Mahabalipuram

7. Festivals and events

  • Chitthirai Festival: Celebrated in the month of April and the town of Madurai, this festival showcases the enactment of celestial wedding of Goddess Meenakshi with Lord Sundareswar. An exhibition is also conducted by the Tamil Nadu government.
  • Mahabalipuram Dance Festival: Celebrated in the town of Mahabalipuram, near the Shore Temple this festival attracts performers of various dance forms such as Bharathanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, Mohini Attam, Oddissi and Kathak who delight the audience comprising of both domestic and international tourists. This festival brings out an extravaganza of dance forms and is a platform to see the cultural beauty.
  • Tamil New Year: The month of Chitthirai (mid April – mid May) marks the start of a new calendar year. The new year day generally falls on 14th April. A special food menu is prepared for the day.
  • Natyanjali Dance Festival: This dance festival is conducted in the ancient city of Chidambaram. Through their dance and skills the participating artists offer respects to Lord Nataraja (Lord Shiva). The festival is organized over 5 days in the months of February – March.
  • Summer Festival: Celebrated in the month of May, at Udhagamandalam or Ooty. This festival has a cultural programs, flower show, a special Rose show and boat race are held during the show.
Mahabalipuram Dance Festival

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