Build a mountain of memories on a family road trip down India’s southeastern coast.
“Krishna’s butter ball” at Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu. Photo: Alvaro Leiva/Dinodia
Tamil Nadu is surprisingly easy to navigate, even if you don’t speak Tamil. And contrary to popular belief, a heritage temple tour can be wonderful fun for all three generations of the family. Begin in Chennai, where you can visit Santhome Basilica, Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, and St. Mary’s Church. Punctuate the visits with food breaks at the many messes that serve excellent vadai and filter coffee. Sign up for a tour of Mylapore, which is an interesting blend of old and new, with Story Trails or Chennai Magic. Drive to Mahabalipuram, and stay overnight.
Start early next morning and visit the Shore Temple, the Five Rathas, Arjuna’s Penance, and Tiger Cave. Eat at Moonrakers, a popular backpacker café. Head to Pondicherry along a picturesque coast-hugging road and stay two nights in a boutique bungalow hotel. Visit the Aurobindo Ashram, stock up on sumptuous cheeses from Hotel Mango Hill and the Sun Farm, try soft adventure activities on the beach, or explore the charming French Quarter.
Drive on to Chidambaram and visit the Nataraja Temple, where Shiva is worshipped in his avatar as the cosmic dancer. Go on to Thanjavur and make it your base for two nights to explore the three Great Living Chola Temples: Airavateshwara Temple in Darasuram and the Brihadeshwara temples in Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram. Down cups of Kumbakonam degree coffee as you browse old-style brass and copper vessels, and purchase colourful terracotta bommai dolls or traditional Thanjavur paintings decorated with semi-precious stones and gold leaf.
Head to Madurai, stopping briefly en route to explore Trichy’s rock fort and Srirangam Temple. Attend the evening sound and light show at Nayak Palace. In Madurai, visit Meenakshi Amman Temple and play your favourite tune on its musical granite pillars. Don’t miss the bustling Pudhu Mandapam shopping centre next to it, which is a labyrinth of store-lined lanes.
After lunch, head to Rameshwaram, and visit its temple, known for its long corridors, lined with beautifully carved pillars. Leave early next morning for Kanyakumari, the meeting point of the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, and Arabian Sea. Enjoy the sunset at the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, visit Kanyakumari Amman Temple, and explore Vattakottai Fort that extends into the sea. Wake up early in the morning to visit Thovalai Flower Market, one of the largest floral markets in India and an experience that will wow grandparents and children alike with the colourful sights and fragrant smells.
Day 1 Reach Chennai and explore the city.
Day 2 Drive to Mahabalipuram, stay overnight.
Day 3-4 Drive to Pondicherry and stay for two nights.
Day 5 Drive south to Chidambaram, stay overnight.
Day 6-7 Travel southwest to Thanjavur for another two nights.
Day 8 Head to Madurai, via Trichy to visit the rock fort and Nayak Palace.
Day 9 Explore Madurai, leave for Rameshwaram.
Day 10-11 Leave early for Kanyakumari. Explore the sights in mainland India’s southernmost point over two days.
★ Plan the temple visits for early in the day as many have special ceremonies at specified times. Going early will also help avoid standing in long queues under the blazing sun.
★ Drive on to Trivandrum and spend two days there. Be awed by the seven-tier gopuram of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple, explore the 200-year-old palace of the Travancore maharajas, or visit Balaramapuram, a noisy town where the Kerala sari was born.
–Reshma Krishnan Barshikar
Appeared as “Soaking In History” in the March 2015 issue.
Next page: Road tripping through Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
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