Tamil Nadu India – Your Quick Travel Guide
In a nutshell
Tamil Nadu, which extends to the Southern tip of India is home to several beautiful destinations from UNESCO world heritage sites to serene hill stations.
Where to go in Tamil Nadu
The state has something to offer every traveller.
Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu is a busy hub of activity that has points of interest for every type of traveller. Popular tourist spots are the towering Kapaleeshwarar Temple which sits prettily near the beach. Nearby is the Santhome Cathedral and the burial site of St Thomas. Other interesting destinations are the Marina Beach (particularly stunning at sunset), the colonial Fort St George and the Guindy and Snake Park.
A two hour drive from Chennai is Mahabalipuram, a coastal town brimming with century-old temples like the Thirukadalmallai temple and the Shore Temple. Pay a visit to the Madras Crocodile Bank to see crocodiles, snakes and meet the Irulas, an intriguing local tribe which captures snakes and makes snake venom antidotes.
Drive south to Auroville, a unique township which focuses on sustainable living, meeting the spiritual, social and cultural needs of each individual and advocates for a philosophy which promotes the unity of humanity. Be sure to visit the Matri-Mandir, a huge golden sphere at the centre of the township where residents and visitors alike are welcome to meditate.
A large city in Tamil Nadu that is on most tourists’ radar is Madurai, home of the famous Meenakshi Amman temple which is visible from most locations in the city, with its distinctive, intricate carvings and several inner structures. One can also visit the Gandhi Memorial Museum and shop for traditional cotton sarees, which are dyed with natural colours.
From Madurai, a three-hour drive up mountain roads leads to Kodaikanal, a stunning hill station over 2000 metres above sea level. Kodaikanal is a haven for those seeking a cool and quiet respite from the plains below. Visit the Kodaikanal Lake at the centre of the town to enjoy boating, horse riding and cycling and then head to Pillar Rocks and Coaker’s Walk for stunning views.
Another popular, slightly more crowded windy hill station is Ooty, filled with sparkling lakes, colonial bungalows and scenic viewpoints. When in Ooty, explore the Upper Bhavani Lake and the Emerald Lake and take a toy train ride on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. As you drive through the winding roads, look out for wild elephants and sambar deer.
When to go to Tamil Nadu
While the hill stations are generally cool all year round, the rest of Tamil Nadu is hot and humid during summers (March to June) with temperatures soaring up to 45°C. The best time to visit is between December and March in the winter when temperatures are moderate.
Where to stay in Tamil Nadu
Accommodation in Tamil Nadu is easy to find; every large town or tourist destination has several comfortable options. For three to five star hotels, rates range between Rs.4,000 - Rs 10,000. If you’re planning to be in Tamil Nadu during the peak tourist season (December or January) be sure to book your accommodation at least three months earlier for a lower rate. Hotels and lodges that are in Kodaikanal, Ooty and the national parks tend to be especially lovely, with a quiet ambience and beautiful views.
What to eat in Tamil Nadu
Wherever you stay, you can be assured you’ll enjoy great food on your trip through Tamil Nadu. Tamilian fare has non-vegetarian dishes featuring mutton, chicken and fish, but the specialities are vegetarian; crisp dosas, fluffy idlis (rice cakes), sambar (a spicy lentil based curry), avial (a coconut vegetable stew) and vadais, fritters made with lentils. Tamilian biryani is also much loved; the biryani from Dindigul, a small locality, is particularly famous. Traditional meals are served on a banana leaf. When it comes to drinks, Tamilians love their filter coffee made with roasted powdered coffee beans and topped with silky foam. Filter coffee is best had first thing in the morning at roadside stalls.
How to get around Tamil Nadu
The best way to get around Tamil Nadu is by hiring a car and driver. These are available at airports and hotels and cost between Rs.800 - Rs.2000 a day depending on the distance you’re travelling and the car you’re after - look out for adorable Ambassador cars for an authentic experience. Local drivers know the area well and can take you to hidden gems in the area if you establish a good rapport with them.
Alternatively, local buses are an option for the more adventurous travellers who want to travel from town to town. They cost between Rs.100-200, but understanding the bus schedule, especially for non-Tamil speakers, is hard.
How to get to and from Tamil Nadu
Travellers coming into Tamil Nadu from international destinations can fly into the Chennai International airport, which hosts airlines from around the world or the smaller Coimbatore International Airport which lands flights from nearby countries. Both Chennai and Coimbatore also have domestic airports, as does Madurai for flyers who are coming in from India.
Coimbatore, Chennai and Madurai are also connected to National railway services making trains an easy way to get into the state. The Tamil Nadu Express train, for instance, takes three days from New Delhi to Chennai, while the Chennai Express train reaches Chennai in two days from Mumbai. From West India popular trains to Tamil Nadu are the Kannyakumari Express and the Kaziranga Express, which embarks from Guwahati in Assam. They take between one to two days and go through multiple states making for an experience which will allow you to see just a little more of India. If you’re travelling to Tamil Nadu from Jaipur, hop aboard the Jaipur Express. However, it’s important to note that facilities on long distance trains aren’t the best; the toilets tend to get dirty in the second half of the journey and – depending on where the train embarks from – pantry options are often limited to vegetarian food. It’s best to book first class cabins which will ensure you a little more privacy and cleaner facilities.
One can also take trains when travelling from nearby states like Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. These trips are six to fifteen hours long and, thanks to the shorter duration, have better maintained facilities. From Kerala, one can take the Kerala Express to Coimbatore while the Tamil Nadu Express goes from Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh to Chennai. When travelling from nearby states, buses are also an option. The state and national government run luxury bus services like the State Express Transport Corporation and the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation, which are comfortable and convenient. Private tour operators offer the same; tickets will cost between Rs.500 - 1500. Travelling into Tamil Nadu by bus is a great way to soak up the scenery and understand the region better. Many buses will stop at local eateries and viewpoints during the trip.
Is Tamil Nadu a safe place to visit?
Whether one is traveling by bus or car, driving should be left to the locals as Tamil Nadu is home to several rash drivers. Most areas are safe for women although modest clothing is advised. In crowded places and on local transport, be wary of pickpockets; it’s best not to carry too much money on you.
Before stepping out in the day, use a good sunscreen as the sun can be unforgiving while in the night, be sure to cover yourself with insect repellent.