Temples and traditions abound in the state of Tamil Nadu. Nearly 33,000 ancient temples, many at least 800 to 3500 years old, are found scattered across the region. Visit the revered sanctuaries in Madurai, Tanjore, and Trichy, including the towering Meenakshi Temple. Also visit the silk weavers in Kanchipuram and sacred shores of Mahabalipuram.
Welcome to India! Upon arrival, meet our representative and transfer to the hotel.
Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is the capital of Tamil Nadu, the exotic state famous for temple architecture. It is the fourth largest city in India and the base of South India's classical music and dance performances. Overnight.
After breakfast, drive to Mahabalipuram via Kanchipuram (3 hours). Kanchipuram is one of Hinduism’s seven most sacred cities. The city dates from the 2nd century BC, during the time of the early Chola reign. Successive dynasties built hundreds of temples, resulting in the name The Golden City of a 1000 Temples, with the earliest surviving temple dating from the 6th and 7th century.
Apart from being a center of pilgrimage, Kanchipuram is also famous for its silk weavers who settled in this area in the 16th century. Silk, being a pure fabric, is used to dress the images of the various deities during festivals. The silk weavers came from neighboring Karnataka and made saris woven in jewel colors and decorated with gold threads. Most of the weavers work from their own homes that you will visit during this trip.
Later, drive to Mahabalipuram and transfer to the hotel. Evening at leisure and overnight.
After breakfast, visit the temple complex at Mahabalipuram. The open-air museum of Tamil art in living rock is the work of students under the patronage of the Pallava rulers. Strewn along the coast are some outstanding examples of 7th century sculpture – cave temples, an enormous bas-relief depicting scenes from the Indian epic the Mahabharata, and an amphitheater of chariot shaped temples. The landmark of this marvelous collection is the Shore Temple, a world heritage monument.
Later, drive to Pondicherry (3 hours) and transfer to your hotel.
Pondicherry, a former French colony, presents a unique combination of European culture and Indian traditions. Its history can be traced back to Agastya, the revered sage of the south who built his hermitage here in 1500 BC. It became a part of India in 1954, but traces of its history as a French colony still remain in its churches, cuisine, grid-pattern streets, and deco buildings. At leisure and overnight.
Morning at leisure to explore Pondy. Later, drive to Kumbakonam (3 hours). Kumbakonam is noted for its many temples and colorful sculptures. There are 18 temples in the town center with the oldest being the Nagesvara Swami Temple, a Saivite temple begun in 886 AD. Kumbakonam is also a place of pilgrimage, and every 23 years pilgrims from all over South India visit the Mahamakam Tank. It is believed that on a particular day, nine of India’s holiest rivers manifest themselves in the tank.
Evening at leisure and overnight.
After breakfast, visit a school (Sankara mutt) where young children live and train to become priests. Apart from strict conformance to traditions, the children are taught the Vedas (ancient Hindu religious text) in classes from early morning until evening. It takes seven years to complete the education after which they become priests of the temples in the cities where they reside. If you inform the priest in advance, you can listen to a prayer recited by the students of the school. To hear close to thirty students reciting with earnest is a special experience.
Afternoon with your hosts to visit the community temples, explore local markets, and sample the famous sweets from this area. Evening at leisure and overnight.
After breakfast, drive to Tanjore (1 hour). The capital of the Great Chola Empire, Thanjavur (Tanjore) also served as the capital for the Nayaka Empire and Maratha rulers. The Chola kings who were great patrons of the arts built most of the 93 temples. While they lavished their wealth on the temples, they also encouraged the belief in the divine right of kings and the practice of donating a part of one’s wealth to the temple for spiritual gain.
Visit the famous Brihadisvara Temple, a world heritage monument built between 985 and 1012 AD by Rajaraja I. It is a magnificent structure with a 14 story high vimana, a towered sanctuary that houses the main deity. A dome carved from an 80-ton single block of granite tops the vimana. An enormous Nandi bull, the traditional vehicle for Shiva, guards the entrance to the main sanctuary. According to legend, the Nandi Bull grew every year until it was threatening to overwhelm the temple. Ultimately a nail was driven into its back to prevent its growth. There are also 81 carvings showing the various poses of the classical Bharatnatyam poses, which is the first record of any classical dance form.
Evening at leisure and overnight.
In the morning, drive to Chettinad via Trichy (2 hours). In Trichy, visit the Rock Fortress. A climb of 434 steps leads to the ancient temple of Ganapati with a further climb to the Shiva Temple.
Situated between Pudukottai in the north and Sivagangai in the south, the 74 villages of Chettinad stretch over mostly arid land with a splash of green at irregular intervals. From the days of trading diamonds, gems, and salt under the Cholas, these townsfolk have made great progress. As a visitor, when you ramble through the narrow streets, there is so much untouched by tourism. Today there is a curious mix of old stately mansions, English-styled bungalows, wedding halls, shops, temples, and schools.
Evening at leisure and overnight.
The Bangala was the first heritage hotel in Chettinad, built on a property that was family-owned for over 100 years. Renowned for its family kitchen, the Bangala is the ultimate destination for authentic Chettinad cuisine with recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation.
Morning at leisure. Then, drive to Madurai (2 hours) and transfer to your hotel. Most cities in India have a legend surrounding their origins. Madurai is no exception. The story tells how Shiva looked down on the city and drops of nectar fell from his locks. And so it was named Madurai, or City of Nectar. Ancient Madurai was a center of Tamil culture, famous for its writers and poets. The history goes back to the 6th century BC when it traded with Greece and Rome. The Nayakas laid out the old town in the pattern of a lotus with narrow streets surrounding the Meenakshi Temple.
In the evening, attend an Aarti at the temple. The ceremony takes place every night when the temple bronze of Lord Shiva is carried to the bed chamber of Parvati. The procession is accompanied by religious prayer and temple music.
Rise and shine! Start a little early today to visit the famous wholesale flower market in the city. Just north of the Sri Meenakshi Temple, the daily flower and vegetable market is a labyrinth of bustling laneways strewn with aromatic herbs and vegetables. In the thick of it, on the 1st floor of a nondescript cement building, is the gorgeous flower market. Vendors dexterously heap mountains of marigolds and jasmine onto scales for the temple flower sellers.
Also visit the Thirumalai Nayaka Palace, built in 1636 in the Indo Mughal style. Its Celestial Pavilion, an arcaded octagonal structure, is curiously constructed in brick and mortar without supporting rafters. The original complex had an armory, a theatre, royal quarters, and a shrine. Only a quarter remains since Thirumalai’s grandson removed sections to build another palace in Tiruchirapalli.
Afternoon at leisure to explore the handicraft markets and sweet shops that line the streets of Madurai. Overnight.
In the morning, transfer to the airport for your onward flight. Bon Voyage!