Tamil Nadu, with its distinctive ancient Dravidian culture, is a fascinating part of south India. The state draws both tourists and pilgrims alike to its towering, intricately built temples. Beaches and hill stations are popular destinations as well.
Enjoy these top 5 Tamil Nadu tourist places.
1. Chennai and Mammalapuram Beach
Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, is known as the gateway to south India. It's a sprawling and busy, yet conservative, city with deep traditions and culture that are yet to give way to the growing foreign influence there. The city's main attractions are its beach, temples, museums and galleries, old Portuguese style churches, and amusement parks.
Around one hour south of Chennai, you'll find the best beach on the east coast -- Mahabalipuram (also known as Mamallapuram). The beach has a thriving backpacker scene, but is also popular with tourists who come to relax at the resorts there.
Ancient Madurai in Tamil Nadu is home to the most impressive and important temple in south India --the Meenakshi Temple. If you only see one south Indian temple, the Meenakshi Temple should be it. The city of Madurai is more than 4,000 years old, and has remained a major center for Tamil culture and learning. During the heyday of its history, when the Nayak dynasty ruled, many magnificant temples and buildings with superb architecture were constructed. These days, Madurai attracts pilgrims and tourists in equal numbers. The older part of the town, with its narrow winding lanes, is fascinating to walk though. The 12 day Chithirai Festival, featuring a re-enacted celestial wedding of God and Goddess, is held in Madurai during April each year.
Established in the early 19th century by the British as the summer headquarters of the Chennai government, Ooty is now a soothing place to escape the summer heat. If you travel there during the peak season in April and May, do be prepared for it to be crowded though!
Ooty's most popular attractions include the 22 hectare Government Botanical Gardens (a flower show is held there every May as part of the Summer Festival), boating on Ooty Lake, and climbing Dodabetta Peak for an excellent view of the Nilgiri hills. To get to Ooty, take the scenic toy train from Metupalaiyam.
Pondicherry, on the east cost of Tamil Nadu, is not really a place that you'd expect to find in India. It was a former 18th century French colony, and still retains a distinctly French flavor. Those who feel in need of a break from India will enjoy the taste of French culture there, and the relaxed atmosphere.
Pondicherry's Sri Aurobindo Ashram attracts plenty of spiritual seekers. There are plenty of glorious churches, temples, and gardens to see as well. Beach Road, bordered by the Bay of Bengal and a long stretch of hotels and restaurants, is the most happening part of the city.
Kanyakumari is located on the furthermost tip of India, where the Bay of Bengal merges with the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. The distinguishing feature of this spiritual town is the Swami Vivekananda Memorial and towering statue of Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar, located on a rocky island off the shore. The Swami meditated there in 1892, before setting out on his religious crusade. Kanyakumari is also home to a striking Gandhi Memorial, with architecture resembling that of an Orissan temple.
If you visit Kanyakumari on the full moon night in April, you'll be treated to the magical sight of the sun setting and moon rising simultaneously over the ocean. It's also the best place to see the southwest monsoon arrive in India, in late May each year.