The Tamil country has its own unique identity in the world. The land where many kingdoms and cultures waxed and waned, the state of Tamil Nadu has so much in store for a curious traveller. To add colours to your eyes and the memory cards, Tamil Nadu is dotted with thousands of temples and temple towns showcasing jaw-dropping architectural and sculptural splendour. Nature has bestowed upon this land a diversity that has been praised since the time of the Sangam poets. There is so much scope for discovery and exploration, from the coral reefs in Gulf of Mannar to the foggy hills of Western Ghats.
Here we present to you The Tamil Nadu Travel Bucket List, devoid of namma Chennai. If not all of South India, make sure you have been to all the below mentioned locations in Tamil Nadu, before you bid adieu from Chennai with your graduation caps!
- Dhanushkodi Beach, Rameshwaram
Dhanushkodi is the Indian version of beaches at Zakynthos. Turquoise coloured ocean waters, light blue sky and the sugar-crystal like sands offer a picturesque escape for a weekend. The sea here is spectacularly calm, lacking the slightest movement. You can also walk to the nearby islands through this shallow sea. The coast which also has a fishing village is lavishly filled with numerous fish shops. You can sit on the wooden benches of the thatched shops and relish on fried fish.
The Pampan Sea Bridge, one of the longest in the world, is another destination that Rameshwaram boasts of. The tiny extensions in the bridge allow you to stare into open waters while the cool sea breeze blows all over you.
Thanjavur was once the centre of Chola art an excellence. The Brihdeeshwarar Temple that becomes the focus of this temple town, is one of the largest temple complexes in India. The complex consists of multiple entry gates and intense fortifications besides the gopuram.
An hour of bus journey from Thanjavur will bring you to the Chola capital, Gangaikondacholapuram. Gangaikondacholapuram is an explorer’s destination than a traveller’s. This marvel of the great Rajaraja Chola is an almost abandoned temple complex situated in a shady gramam, forgotten both by natives and tourists. The lawns, the temple panels filled with detailed sculptures and the isolation from human kind is a perfect thing to plan your weekend for; picture yourself sitting on soft grass listing to the chirping of the hundreds of sparrows, parrots and pigeons from the temple gopuram…
Perhaps the closest destination to Chennai, Kanchipuram is that temple town you’ve been hearing about in your middle school history textbooks. Once the capital of the Pallava kingdom, today this city has thousands of kovils known for their magnificent size and architectural styles. It is also possible to study the evolution of temple architecture of South India in this city. From the seventh century Kailasanathar Temple to the relatively recent Ekambareshwar temple, Kanchipuram has everything to please an art appreciator or a humble devotee.
It would be an injustice not to mention the world famous Kanchipuram sarees, while talking about Kanchi. In Kanchipuram, you could randomly walk into any saree mill and explore the age old tradition of saree-making. And buy one, if your personal finances agree!
- White Town, Pondicherry
Pondicherry is your cheapest ticket to France. The White Town, the French part of city, has villas and shops much like Southern Europe. Adjacent to the White Town is the Rocky Beach which is a beach covered in stone boulders. Also in the same part of the town are Aurobindo Ashram and the French Church.
This place is perfectly crafted for food lovers; you can try cuisines from various parts of the world. Make sure you get into that SETC bus to Pondicherry the next time you wish for a rooftop lunch of European cuisine!
- Ooty Hill Station
The slightest mention of Summer Chennai can activate our sweat glands. The Nilgiri Hills and the Ooty Hill station is the nature’s own gift for sweating Chennaites. Ooty was the summer retreat of our colonial masters. This town has one of the earliest botanical gardens in India, a pine forest, a beautiful lake and the majestic Nilgiri Hills of Western Ghats. Ooty is the ideal getaway for travellers bored of the plain terrain. What could be more pleasing in summer than munching on the freshly unearthed carrots and staring into the Blue Hills, while also enjoying the evening mist characteristic of this region?
Located at the southern tip of the Indian mainland, Kanyakumari is that town where all the three seas unite: The Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the majestic Indian Ocean. Kanyakumari is apparently the only place in peninsular India where you can watch the sunrise and sunset from a single point.
Just off the coast is the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, the famed rock where Swami Vivekananda is believed to have attained enlightenment. The Padmanabhapuram Palace is yet another destination in this district. This centuries old palace was once the residence of the Travancore rulers. The ancient hallways, dance floors, huge pickle jars and the quaint atmosphere of the palace, reminiscent of a lost time, can confer upon a traveller many experiences worth treasuring.
Historically, a bustling sea port and much later a centre of flourishing Pallava architecture, today Mahabalipuram is a resort town drawing crowd from all over the world. Mahabalipuram is the home to the great sculptural spectacle Descent of the Ganga. The famed chariot temples (rathas), the only one of its kind can also be discovered in this town.
For all those adrenaline enthusiasts over here, you have ample amount of rocks to climb up. The nice people of antiquity have also left shelters for you to take an occasional break from your trekking. There is also a lighthouse built in 1912. This along with many other rock cut temples makes this city an ideal spot for a single day getaway.
Much like Ooty, the Kodai hills also present a scenic high- altitude destination. An aptly named hill station, Kodaikanal in Tamil means the gift of the forest. The yearlong cool temperature and pleasant weather attracts thousands of people from all over the world. The Kodaikanal lake, Bryant Park, Coaker’s Walk and the Berijam Lake are some of the many sightseeing destinations in these hills. So the next time you are weary of city life, just grab a ticket to Kodaikanal and enjoy the beauty of the tea plantations and pine forests of these hills.
In a few words, Gingee is grossly underrated. This is a fort complex spanning over many hills in a rain deficient part of the state. It was built over centuries by changing rulers of land, from the Nawabs to the British. Around the fort is an artificial lake, an elephant bath, medieval granaries and a royal wedding mandapam.
This is a perfect location if you have both the physical and mental strength to climb up 2000 steps to reach the remnants of a fort, abandoned by past and present alike. It is also incumbent upon me to warn about the presence of our ancestral siblings in evolution in Gingee; the tropical monkeys.
Travelling in a different culture and setting is not only about discovering new places, but it helps in discovering new ways of living. You have the chance to meet new people, and even make new friends if possible. Maybe a flower seller in front of the Kailasanathar Temple could be your far away best friend. Or maybe that crowded SETC bus in Uthiramerur can teach you more about yourself. Travelling proves the existence of a life beyond the four walls of your hostel room, or more broadly, the campus atmosphere. Being branded as a Chennaite, in some way or other, Tamil Nadu is our habitat. Exploring one’s habitat is imperative for a fruitful living. With an infinite variation in climate, landscape, terrain, culture and art, Tamil Nadu is an ideal destination for a traveller. What more do you need from the land that gave us the curd rice, the malli poov, the Hindu newspaper, the filter coffee and an IPL team!
Note: Two years is too less a time to explore the vast Tamil territory. And for the same reasons this list is inadequate to be a complete travel guide to Tamil Nadu.