The fascinating story of the capital-Chennai-spans 2000 years. In the era of the Tamil saint-poet Thiruvalluvar, Chennai was a cluster of coastal villages. Their transformation into a modern metropolis began in 1639 with the arrival of the British. They chose the quaint hamlet of Chennapatnam as their base. By the early 1700s, Chennapatnam was a large city. It was renamed Madras. Today, Madras is called Chennai. It is South Indian's city of high culture, and music and dance from an integral part of daily life.
Don't miss the following sights :-
Fort St George :- Chennai grew around this fort named after the patron saints of England. The fort houses St Mary's church, the oldest Anglican Church in India, built in 1680. The Fort Museum houses rare weapons, uniforms, coins and costumes from the colonial periods. Marina Beach: With a wide sandy foreshore, Marina is the world's second longest beach.
Kalakshetra :- In Triruvanmiyur, beyond Elliot's beach, is this 'Temple of Art', founded in 1936 to revive bharatnatyam, the classical dance from of Tamil Nadu.
Temples :- Two of Chennai's most prominent are the Sri Parthasarathy in Triplicane and Kapaliswarar in Mylapore, both 8th -century Pallava creations.
Mylapore :- As a city division, Mylapore is unique in being much older than Chennai. An area of temple and fine houses, till the 1940s it was very exclusive. It is now a commercial hub but its distinguished past can still be relived on a heritage walk.
An interesting exclusion from Chennai is Crocodile Bank, 44 Kilometre away and near Mamallapuram, where crocodiles are bred in captivity to augment wild populations. Then there is the Cholamandal Artists Village, started in 1968 as a counter-point to established art schools. There's an art gallery and poetry readings and dance recitals are held on certain evenings. Dakshina Chitra is an arts and craft village promoted by the Madras Crafts foundation and is the setting for much cultural activity.
Mamllapuram :- Sixth kilometers south of Chennai, this ancient port city was once a Pallava capital (7-8th century AD). Master sculptors have left behind some of the finest rock-cut caves in the world. Highlights include the Shore Temple, the five rathas (chariots, each carved from a monolith) and Arjuna's Penance (at 27 by 9 metres, the largest bas-relief in the world).
The City of the Thousand Temples, Kancheepuram is one of the seven most sacred cities in India. It shot into prominence as a Pallava capital from the 6th to 8th centuries, and has been a centre of Tamil learning, cultural practices and spiritual enquiry for centuries. The most magnificent of its temples is the Ekambareswarer, framed from its hall of 1000 pillars and a massive gopuram (57 metres high). Prominent temples includes the Kamakshi Amman, Varadaraja Perumal and Vaikunta Perumal. Shoppers be warned-Kancheepuram's framed silks are very tempting, and no visit here is complete without a trip to the homes of silk weavers to buy some.
Legend has it that Madurai, or the 'City of Nectar', was built 2500 years ago, making it Indian's oldest existing city. The Meenakshi Temples, a its most well-known attractions, and has no less than 12 temples towers and a 1000-pillers hall. The Thirumalai Nayak Place was built in 1636 by the king of the same name with the assistance of an Italian architect.
On the banks of the Cauvery, Tiruchirapalli is the heart of Tamil Nadu. Fondly called Trichy, its known for its Rock Fort Temples, a temple atop a fort (which in turn is on an 83-metre-high rock). The Ranganathswamy Temple complex-spread over a whopping 250 hectares-lies on an island mid-river, only five kilometers north of Trichy at Srirangam.
Fifth-five kilometers east of Trichy is Thanjavur, or Tanjore, the ancient capital of the Cholas. It is the home of Carnatic music, musical instruments, dance and traditional handicrafts apart from the famous Tanjore painting. Thanjavur's most famous resident is the 10th-century Brihadeshwarar Temples, with a 66.5-metre-high gopuram capped by a massive cupola. When built, it was the tallest manmade structure in the world.
The exquisite Shiva Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram (71 kilometers away) has recently become a world heritage site.
Chidambaram occupies the pride of place in Tamil literature. It was in this holy city that the Chola king Raja Rajan redeemed the finest poems of the Nayanars, the great Saivite savants. This is also a centre of classical dance and the most revered shrine here is the Nataraja Temple with the dancing from of Shiva-Nataraja-as the primary deity.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Heritage destinations also include Poompuhar (port city of antiquity), Rameswaram (sacred city), Tirunelveli (ancient town, great temples) and Kanniyakumari (pilgrim centre at the tip of the Indian peninsula).
Hidden Treasures :- For those who choose to take the path less travelled, there are many rewards in Tamil Nadu. Explore these treasure-natural and manmade-off the beaten track. Take in the Dutch heritage of Pulicat, the Danish memories of Tranquebar, the calm of the sea at Vattakottai, the regal homes of chettinad, Top Slip (a hill stations too beautiful for words), the wild environs of Kalakkad and Mundanthurai, tea estate in Valparai and the lush mangroves of Pichavaram.
Chettinad :- In the southern part of Tamil Nadu lies Chettinad, the land of the Nattukottai Chettiars, famed for its fabulous houses. Karaikudi, the chief town, is 80 kilometres from Madurai. The grand and wonderfully embellished mansions were created mainly in the 19th century and reflect the prosperity of the community. The receptions areas are especially elaborate with solid teak or granite pillars. The ceiling usually displays woodwork or glossily painted stuccowork. These private homes are now open to visitors.
The Navagrahas :- For believers in astrology, Tamil Nadu is a great destination. Nine temples-called the Navagrahas -representing the nine celestial bodies central to astrological calculations (and belief) are located in a 60-kilometre radius around Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu's Thanjavur district. The celestial bodies represented are the sum, the moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and the two shadow planets Rahu and Katu.
The Suryanaar Temple was built by the later Cholas to provide a space for sun worship. Tingaloor, the temple associated with the moon, represents the site of a miracle cause by the Saivite Saint Appar. Vaideeswaran Koyil and Tiruvenkaadu bear shrines representing Angarakan (Mars) and Budan (Mercury), respectively.
Tiruvirumpoolai or Aalankudi is an ancient Shivasthalam (Shiva Shrine). The Dakshinamurthy shrine here represents Brihaspati (Jupiter), while the ancient shivasthalam at Kanjanoor is associated with Sukran (venus). Many intresting legends regarding Saneeswaram (Saturn) surrounding the Tirunallaar Temple which bears a shrine to Sturn. The Triunageswaram Temple has within its precincts a shrine to Rahu, which the Shiva Temple at Keezperumpallam has a shrine to Ketu
Tamil Nadu is the only state where these temples are set in such close proximity. Tamil Nadu Tourism conducts guided tour to these shrines.
Hill Stations :- Ensconced in the Nilgiris, Udhagamandalam or Ooty is the south India's premier hill station. Ooty and nearby Coonoor can be approached by one of India's very few steam train services. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is an engineering marvel and a lovely ride too. Lesser-known hill stations in Tamil Nadu are now finding favour as havens of quiet. Try Kodaikkanal, Yercaud, Kotagiri and Hogenakkal.
Nature :- The famous Mudumalai Sanctuary is only 60 Kilometre from Ooty. Its elephant training camp has drawn the attentions of wildlife experts.
Birdwatchers may head for Vedanthangal, 83 kilometersfrom Chennai. The Gulf of Mannar National Park is a rich marine biosphere.
Festivals :- Held in January, the harvest festival, Pongal, is Tamil Nadu's chief celebrations. It centers around the preparations of delicious Pongal-boiled new rice with milk and jiggery. Madurai is the venus for the Chithirai Festival held in April, a spectacular re-enactment of the marriage of the Pandiyan Princess Meenakshi to Lord Sundareswarar. You can witness an ancient legends unfold right before your eyes as Lord Vishnu rides to his sister's wedding on a gleaming real-gold chariots.
amil Nadu is noted for its many dance and music festivals. The remple tower of Chidambaram pays homage to Nataraja with the annual Natyanjali festival. A month-long dance festival is held at Mamallapuram in December each year. The Chennai Music Season, which kicked off to a roaring success in 1927, take place between mid-December and mid-January each year. Today there are no less than 70 sabhas (venues) in Chennai along, hosting at least 2000 performances during the 'December seasons'. For those with an interest in Carnatic music, this is a wonderful time to be in Chennai. For some excitements check out Jallikattu-bull-fighting Tamil Nadu style.
Cuisine :- Apart from the ubiquitous dosa-idli-vada-samber, Tamil Nadu offers fascinating non-vegetarian fare too, the most famous exponent being.
Chettinad Cuisine. Tamils like their coffee filtered, never instant. Try it by the metre for the authentic.
Experience-coffee is poured out from one tumbler into another for that 'espresso' effect. The distance it goes determines nomenclature-metre or half-metre coffee.
After recording a 12 per cent growth in foreign tourists' arrival recently, the mood at Tamil Nadu Tourism is upbeat. Culture, heritage and religious tourism remain key strengths of Tamila Nadu.
Tamil Nadu has caught on a medical tourist as well. Tamil Nadu is projecting the very modern medical facilities available in Chennai, especially in countries where such facilities come for a hefty price. Top-of-the-line treatments here cost nearly one-fourth or one-fifth the price in hospitals there. As a result, Tamil Nadu is expected to become well known. In the long run this will promote tourism. In Tamil Nadu, the surprises never end.
A place where history meets eye with technology. Great monuments, great weather, culture that has dotted centuries, forests and a coastline that has been a subject of poetry for many a poet.