Tamil Nadu has a distinctive, lively culture with deep, ancient roots. Blend beach time with hill walks in the Western Ghats, and nights in 19th-century mansions with days exploring ancient temples. Hinduism here dates back to the 5th century, and Tamil Nadu is home to eight of the world’s biggest Hindu temples which are covered in superb stone carvings. Sharing food is a heartfelt aspect of the region’s philosophy, and Tamil cuisine makes excellent use of distinctive local ingredients. At the country’s southern tip, the region boasts several idyllic beaches which are perfect for a few days of coastal downtime.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
With its famous golden sands and UNESCO World Heritage temples, the coastal town of Mamallapuram (or Mahabalipuram) combines the best of both worlds. This ancient site includes one of the largest open-air stone carvings in the world, along with several cave temples and the Shore Temple, one of India’s oldest. Its location overlooking the Bay of Bengal makes for great views along a sweeping golden coastline. Inland, and further south, Tanjore (Thanjavur), the former capital of the great Chola empire, is home to the impressive UNESCO-listed Brihadishwara Temple, which boasts several more incredible stone frescoes and monuments. Save time to visit the extraordinary Royal Palace, which houses one of the oldest libraries in Asia as well as a museum and exquisite garden.
Pondicherry (Puducherry) is officially a ‘union territory’, and not technically part of Tamil Nadu, though geographically you’re right there. The Colonial legacy of this fascinating town is most apparent when you wander through its calm, well preserved, though rather formal, French Quarter. Head to the vibrant, bohemian bustle of the Tamil Quarter and explore the contrast. In a different style to its north-state cousin, southern Madurai is known as the cultural heart of Tamil Nadu, and is seen as the place to experience the region’s living history. Wander through crowded bazaars trying delicious street food, witness sacred ceremonies at the Meenakshi Temple, and see thousands of unusual monuments, including musical pillars and a sacred bathing pool with a gilded lotus.
Renowned for their beautiful natural landscape, the rolling Palani Hills and their forested valleys hide waterfalls and isolated pools alongside historic estates surrounded by plantations of teak, spice, bananas and coffee. It's an ideal place for a fresh-air breather, with the chance to enjoy riverside walks, wild swimming, and pure relaxation in the countryside. Alternatively, head north to Ooty, officially known as Udagamandalam. This famous hill station, once run by the East India Company, is a popular summer destination for visitors drawn by its tranquil landscape and highland climate. Ride the mountain railway, explore traditional buildings, visit tea plantations, and saunter around the botanical garden with its striking and unusual floral displays.
Take your best shot at spotting wildlife with an itinerary that includes not one but three different parks, all located in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. This allows you to explore some surprisingly diverse scenery, see myriad bird and animal species, and hugely increase your chances of spotting one of these elusive big cats.