Tamil Nadu, in south India, is a fascinating state full of ancient Dravidian architecture. Intricately crafted temples, rock carvings, and classical dance are some of the attractions. Starting at the beach side retreat of Mamallapuram, you relax in the historic `French' town of Pondicherry before exploring the main temple cities of Thanjavur and Madurai.
Day 1 - Mamallapuram
On arrival at Chennai airport, you will be met and transferred to your hotel near the beach of Mamallapuram. In the afternoon you will meet your guide and begin your tour of Mamallapuram. The famous shore temple of Mamallapuram stands on the seashore with its paved forecourts. Early rock-cut temples excavated from the hillside near the centre of the village have large carved panels depicting stories from Indian mythology. Several man-made caves are scattered through the area. Then there are the rathas, "chariots", carved in situ from single boulders, to resemble temples or the chariots used in temple processions.
Day 2 - Pondicherry
Today you drive from Mamallapuram along a beautiful coastal express way to the former French colony of Pondicherry, a small town of multi-coloured villas, quiet, tree shaded lanes and a long boulevard along the sea. Pondicherry has a unique ambience, unlike any place else in India. It is a blend of spiritual aura, French colonial heritage, Tamil culture, and the cosmopolitan flair of hosting many nationalities in a small but varied town. Pondicherry is best explored on foot. You can experience the colonial charm of the town, by walking through its old quarter which houses a varied collection of buildings, churches, homes and markets and thoroughfares with French names.
Day 3 - Thanjavur
From Pondicherry an inland road puts you back on the temple trail, leading to Chidambaram, Kumbakonam and Darasuram. The best bronzes and paintings can be found in Thanjavur, a city which boasts of almost a hundred temples including the monumental Brihadeshwari Temple, built entirely from granite. The temple dominates the skyline of the town, with a 13 storey tower and colonnaded walkways around a central courtyard. Graceful bronzes are housed in the 17th century Nayak Royal Palace and are an astonishing display of South Indian mediaeval metallurgical skills at their height. Nearby, the Bell Tower is worth the climb for the views right across Thanjavur and over the palace itself.
Day 4 - Madurai
Today, you first drive from Thanjavur to Karaikudi, a village in Chettinad, the home of a prosperous banking community who ventured overseas in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Their legacies are the fascinating houses of Chettinad they built. Karaikudi has numerous craftsmen working with wood and metal, silversmiths and goldsmiths, antique shops, attractive textiles and most important the exciting Chettinad Cuisine. You will be able to enjoy a genuine Chettinad lunch in a small hotel in Karaikudi. After lunch, you continue to Madurai. Here you find the magnificent Meenakshi Temple complex whose soaring temple towers are covered with stucco figures of deities, mythical animals and monsters, painted in vivid colours. The Meenakshi temple is one of the finest and the largest example of Dravidian architecture.
Day 5 - Madurai
This morning, after breakfast, meet your guide and begin your morning tour of Madurai. Full of colourful bazaars, street tailors, throngs of pilgrims and joyful religious processions, Madurai is a bustling city which attracts thousands of visitors from outside each day. Madurai's main attraction is the famous temple dedicated to the Goddess Meenakshi. Goddess Meenakshi rules the town with absolute power and panache, welcoming the town's residents into the temple complex that spreads over a staggering 6 hectares! The most fascinating feature of the temple is its musical pillars, each of which is carved out of a single block of granite and when tapped produces a unique musical note. The hall of a Thousand Pillars has been converted into a museum filled with sculptures and antique treasures. Your guide will collect you again in the evening to witness the closing ceremony accompanied by chanting priests, drummers and torchbearers in which an image of Shiva is carried in procession to Parvati's bedroom.
Day 6 - Madurai
Your tour ends today. We can arrange a transfer for you to Madurai airport to board the flight to Chennai. Alternatively you can continue to Thekkady to explore the Jungles & Backwaters of Kerala.