India - Getting to know Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu offers a distinctive lively culture with deep roots stretching back to ancient history, and a huge variety of sights and terrains to satisfy the curious wanderer. A holiday here can blend beach time with hill walks in the Western Ghats, forest wildlife with traditional arts, nights in 19th century mansions with days exploring truly ancient temples. Tamil cuisine makes excellent use of local ingredients, and sharing food is a heartfelt aspect of the regional philosophy. It all adds up to a deeply satisfying travel experience!
This part of India has been inhabited continuously for at least 12,000 years, and the Tamil civilisation boasts one of the world’s only living ‘classical’ languages — its literature and documented history stretch back for millennia. Tamil Nadu’s culture is rich and highly localised, with unique architecture and beautifully crafted artwork. Many Tamils still practise the ancient religion of their ancestors, and Hinduism here dates back to the 5th century BCE. This might be why Tamil Nadu is home to eight of the world’s biggest Hindu temples, with towering structures that are covered in superb stone carvings. Being at the country’s southern tip, the region also boasts some great beaches, perfect for a few days of downtime between your cultural adventures.
Essential Tamil Nadu
- Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram): With its famous golden sands and UNESCO World Heritage temples, this coastal town combines the best of both worlds! The ancient site includes one of the largest open-air stone carvings in the world, cave temples, and the Shore Temple, which is one of India’s oldest temple buildings. The weather is always warm here, and its situation overlooking the Bay of Bengal makes for great views along with a sweeping golden coastline, all within easy reach of Chennai and its airport.
- Tanjore (Thanjavur): This former capital of the great Chola empire is home to the impressive UNESCO-listed Brihadishwara Temple, known locally as ‘big temple’! Along with its size, the ancient site boasts incredible stone frescoes and monuments. In addition to the temple, you can visit a thousand-year-old water tank, and the extraordinary royal palace, which houses one of the oldest libraries in Asia as well as a museum and beautiful gardens.
- Pondicherry (Puducherry): A ‘union territory’ rather than technically Tamil Nadu, the French colonial legacy of this interesting town is very much apparent. Wander between the calm refuge of its French Quarter (‘White Town’), where you can even get a steak, to the bohemian bustle of ‘Black Town’ - the Tamil Quarter - to explore the contrast.
- Madurai: Known as the cultural heart of Tamil Nadu, not to mention being one of the oldest cities in India, this truly ancient town is the place to see the region’s living history. Experience the crowded bazaars, delicious streetfood and sacred ceremonies, particularly at the Meenakshi Temple, where 1000's of extraordinary monuments include musical pillars and a sacred bathing pool with a gilded lotus.
Tamil Nadu away from the crowds
- Chettinad: The traditional homeland of the Chettiars, who traded salt and gems under the Chola dynasty, Chettinad is a region of over 70 villages, along with enormous temples, excellent cuisine and many palatial houses. Many of these spectacular mansions are still owned by Chettiar families, and some have been converted into boutique hotels, one of which can be your splendid home for the night!
- Palani Hills: Renowned for their strikingly beautiful natural landscape, the rolling Palani Hills and their forested valleys hide waterfalls and isolated pools, and historic estates amongst plantations of teak, spice, bananas and coffee. It's an ideal place for a breather, with the chance to enjoy riverside walks, wild swimming, and pure relaxation in the countryside. We particularly love the Rajakkad Estate for a rural retreat.
- Ooty (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 various traditional buildings, visit tea plantations, and saunter around the botanical garden with its quirky displays. Coonoor is a less-visited alternative, and offers panoramic views along with landscaped gardens, waterfalls, and scenic trekking.
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