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TAMIL NADU

UdagamandalamLocated in the southernmost part of India, Tamil Nadu is a tourist paradise. Tamil Nadu is a large state offering ancient sites, huge ornate temples, a strong and vibrant culture, wildlife sanctuaries and blue beaches along its Coromandel coast. You can revel on the Marina beach or go cruising in the theme parks or let your mind rest in peace in the midst of magnificent temples. Tamil Nadu is bound by Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in the north and Kerala in the west. The eastern and western most tips of the state are defined by the Point Calimere and Mudumalai wildlife sanctuaries while the northern extreme is Pulicat lake and the southernmost tip is Kanyakumari, the land's end. The tip of the peninsula touches the confluence of three water bodies; the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. The Tamils have an ancient history. Under the Pallava, Chola and Pandya kings art, architecture and literature flourished and reached great heights. Tamil language has a history, which can be traced back to the age of the Tolkapiyam, the Tamil Grammar text generally ascribed to 500 B.C. Sangam literature of the Tamils dates back to 500 B.C. The Tamils have always been a hospitable race, known for their generous nature. The influence of the various dynasties and occupying forces that ruled the state can be seen in its various forms. The Pallavas, the Cholas, the Portuguese, the British, the Dutch and the French have left their impressions in different parts of the state. Tamil Nadu is a Dravidian name that was given to the state after Independence. Dravidian culture is reflected in the dances, music, and in handicrafts. The influx of the Aryans from the north drove the Dravidians to the southern part of the country. During the Muslim invasion, the Hindu kings of the south formed the famous Vijayanagar Empire. It became the stronghold of Dravidian culture. The present state of Tamil Nadu was a part of that great empire. The rich culture of the Dravidians not only survives but also thrives in the various customs still very prevalent. Festivals here are always combined with some significant, sacred activity. The Tamil culture is one of the oldest continuous cultures in the world. Today, Tamil Nadu is the most industrialized state in Southern India. It is also one of the most sought after tourist destination in the country


CHENNAI

Chennai, also known as Madras, the fourth largest city in India and the capital of Tamil Nadu. It has good links to the rest of the subcontinent. The international airport is a major hub for the south of India. The place has a fine manifestation of tradition and modernity. The city sprawls over more than 70 sq. km. The population of this city is 6 million. Many of the Indian languages are spoken in Chennai, though the main language is Tamil. For travelers with an interest in the colonial history of India, Chennai is worth exploring. For more than 2000 years the area has been popular with seafarers, spice traders and cloth merchants. The 16th century saw the arrival of the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch. In 1693, the British East India Company established a settlement in the fishing village of Madraspatnam, the old name for Chennai. Fort St. George was constructed over a period of 15 years and finally completed in 1653. George town grew in the area of the fort and was granted its first municipal charter in 1688 by King James II, making it the oldest municipality in India. During the 18th and 19th centuries, French and British traders competed for supremacy in India. In the 19th century, the city became the seat of the Madras presidency, one of the four divisions of British imperial India. After independence, it continued to grow into what is now a significant southern gateway. Amongst the must visits in Chennai is the second longest beach in the world - Marina Beach.

COONOOR

Coonoor, surrounded by the tea plantations and at an altitude of 1850 m, is the first of the three Nilgiri hill stations - Udhagamandalam (Ooty), Kotagiri and Coonoor that you come to when leaving behind the southern plains. Like Ooty, it's on the toy train line from Mettupalayam. While Kotagiri had the Kotas and Ooty the Todas, so Coonoor was home to the Coon hill tribe (the suffix, 'oor', means village).

THANJAVUR (TANJORE)

Thanjavur was the ancient capital of the Chola kings whose origins, go back to the beginning of the Christian era. Power struggles between these groups were a constant feature of their early history, with one or other gaining the ascendancy at various times. The Cholas' turn for empire building came between 850 and 1270 AD and at the height of their power. Probably the greatest of Chola emperors were Raja Raja and his son Rajendra-I whose navy competed with the Arabs for controls of the Indian Ocean trade routes and who was responsible for bringing Srivijaya under Chola control. Thanjavur is famous for its distinctive art style, which is usually a combination of raised and painted surfaces. Krishna is the most popular of the gods depicted and in the Thanjavur school his skin is white rather than the traditional blue-black. Thanjavur is the culture capital of the region. There are 74 temples of which the most famous is Brihadeeshwara. This is an architectural wonder and reflects the artistic skills of the erstwhile Chola rulers. The temple is capped by a monolithic cupola made of a single granite block weighing 80 tons which was taken to the top by being pulled on an inclined ramp 6 km. long, a technique used by pyramid builders of Egypt. The temple is considered to be artistically the most perfect of Dravida temples. It has excellent sculptures and traces of paintings. The other interesting places in Thanjavur include the Palace, built partly in the 16th century by Nayaks and partly by the Marathas, Raja Raja museum situated inside the Palace which has the best collection of bronze figures of the south for which Thanjavur is famous. Saraswathi Mahal library which has over 30,000 ancient palm leaves and paper manuscripts. Sangeet Mahal, built by Raja Serfoji in an acoustically perfect music hall and Schwartz Church, build by Raja Serfoji in 1779 as a token of affection for his teacher, the Danish missionary, Rev. Schwartz.

MADURAI

Meenakshi TempleIt is one of southern India’s oldest cities, and has been a centre of learning and pilgrimage for centuries. Madurai’s main attraction is the famous Sri Meenakshi Temple in the heart of the old town, a riotously baroque example of Dravidian architecture with gopurams covered from top to bottom in a breathless profusion of multicoloured images of gods, goddesses, animals and mythical figures. The temple seethes with activity from dawn till dusk, its many shrines attracting pilgrims from every part of India and tourists from all over the world. It’s been estimated that there are 10,000 visitors here on any one day! Madurai resembles a huge, continuous bazaar crammed with shops, street markets, temples, pilgrims, hotels, restaurants and small industries. Although one of the liveliest cities in the south, it’s small enough not to be overwhelming and is very popular with travelers. In terms of the richness of the legends, the abundance of literature and the stunning architectural and sculptural splendour, Madurai is second to none in representing the rich cultural traditions of India.

THIRUCHIRAPPALLY (TRICHY)

Situated on the bank of river Cauvery, Tiruchirapalli, the fourth largest city in the State was a citadel of the early Chola dynasty. It is famous for the Ranganathaswamy temple complex at Srirangam, 10 km away. Built around the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, this temple has 21 towers and stone pillars with some of the finest carvings. The temple is dedicated to lord Vishnu, who is portrayed reclining on the serpent Adisesha, and is paid homage to by thousands of pilgrims every day. The most famous landmark of this bustling town is the Rock Fort temple, a spectacular monument perched on a massive rocky outcrop, which rises abruptly from the plain to tower over the old city. The Uchi Pillaiyer temple is dedicated to lord Vinayaka or Ganesha. A total of 344 steps cut into the rock lead to the temple. There is also the Tyaumanaswami temple of lord Shiva half way up the hillock. There are also two cave temples in the fort with sculptures dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries. The Sri Jambukeswara temple, at Tiruvankkaikaval, Srirangam is an island in the Kaveri river, north of Tiruchirapalli.

VELLORE

Situated 145 kms west of Chennai, Vellore is a dusty, semi rural bazaar town. For tourists, it is noteworthy only for the Vijaynagar fort and its temple which is in an excellent state of preservation and is worth visiting. The town has a modern church built next to an old British cemetery which contains the tomb of a Captain who died in 1799 “of excessive fatigue incurred during the glorious campaign which ended in the defeat of Tipoo Sultan”. Here, too is a memorial to the victims of the little known 'Vellore Mutiny' of 1806. The mutiny was instigated by the second son of Tipoo Sultan, who was incarcerated in the fort at that time and was put down by a task force sent from Arcot. Vellore is now best known for its multi-speciality hospital, one of the best in the country.

KANCHIPURAM

The city of Kanchipuram forms an integral part of the golden triangle of the Southern India along with Chennai and Mahabalipuram. The sacred city is a beautiful place with temples in the every nook and corner. The temple city of Kanchipuram is one of the most sacred Hindu pilgrimage sites in India and seat to the Shankaracharya. This Golden City of Temples was believed to be one of the most important centers of Hindu religion and also the most attractive one. The place is considered a part of India’s seven sacred cities and second holiest after Varanasi.

MAMALLAPURAM (MAHABALIPURAM)

MahabalipuramThe town of temples, sand and sea - Mamallapuram, formely known as Mahabalipuram is world renowned for its beautiful Shore Temple. It was once the main port and naval base of the great Pallava kingdom and was later made the capital of this Dynasty. ‘Mamall ', meaning the great wrestler was the name given to king Narasimha Varman I. Most of the temples here is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Vishnu, were completed between 630 A.D and 728 A.D during the reign of Narasimha Varman II. This quaint little town of Mamallapuram is enriched with ancient and splendid sculptures. Each of the beautiful work of arts has a story to tell.


HILL STATIONS OF TAMIL NADU

Udagamandalam (Ooty): Nestled among the hills of Dodabetta, Snowdon, Elk Hill, and Club Hill in the Nilgiri range, Ooty (also Ootacamund or Udhagamandalam) is the queen of southern hill stations and a popular tourist destination of Tamil Nadu. The history of Ooty goes back to about 900 years when it was ruled by Vishnu Vardhana, the Hoysala king from AD 1104 to 1141. The city also finds mention in the writings of Jacome Ferico, the first European to visit this place in 1603. In 1799, this hilly region came under the control of the British East India Company. The British established Ooty to serve as the summer headquarters of the Madras government. A government house was built and keeping in tune with the English lifestyle, the British set up cottages and clubs, with facilities for tennis, golf, and horse riding. With the establishment of numerous tea estates in the subsequent years, Ooty made its presence felt in the tourist map of India. With the maximum temperature going up to 25°C, Ooty offers a pleasant climate throughout the year.

Kodaikanal: Located 120 kms away from Madurai, Kodaikkanal is a beautiful hill station and is at an altitude of 2133m on the southern tip of the upper Palani hills in the Western ghats. Kodaikkanal has a bracing climate where temperature do not vary much from summer to winter. Fruits like plums and plantains grow abundantly on the wooded slopes apart from a wide variety of flowers, among which is the famous Kurinji flower which blooms once in twelve years. Kodai's most enchanting sights include the star shaped lake, spread over an area of 24 hectares where fishing is allowed and boating facilities are available; one of the world's oldest Solar Observatories that was built in 1899; and the Orchidarium at the Sacred Heart College where about 300 species of orchids can be seen. There are also a number of picturesque walks like Coaker's Walk and Priest's Walk. Kodai's best view points are Pillar Rocks, and Green Valley View. Bear Shola Falls, Silver Cascade, Fairy Falls and Glen Falls are popular with picnickers while the Perumal Peak is a favourite with trekkers. The Kurinji Andavar temple 3 kms away is dedicated to Lord Subramanya.


BEACHES OF TAMIL NADU

Marina Beach: One of the longest in the world, the beach has a wide expanse of glistening golden sands. The area fronting the beach is beautifully landscaped. Worthy of special mention is a group of bronze figures by the renowned Indian sculptor, Debi Prosad Rai Chaudhari, eulogizing the 'Dignity of Labour'. These apart, the beach-front offers some splendid examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture such as the Madras University, the Chepauk Palace and the Presidency College.

Muttukkadu: A Backwater and estuary, Muttukkadu is ideal for rides on motorized boats or for wind surfing. Hire a pedal boat or a row-boat for cruising leisurely. Muttukkadu is ideally suited for angling and fishing.

Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin)Kanyakumari: The southernmost end of Tamil Nadu and of India or the point where the land's three seas meet. Enchanting Kanyakumari or Cape Comorin is one of the most popular tourist spots in the state and indeed, in the country. Part of the fascination is of course due to the fact that it is the very tip of the Indian peninsula and the confluence of the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The other part is that Nature is so spectacular at Kanyakumari, several other Indian beaches pale by comparison. Cape Comorin is at its best during Chitra Pournami (full moon day in April) when the sun and moon are face to face at the same horizon but other full moon days are also special when you can see the sun set and the moon rise almost simultaneously, as if by prior arrangement. This place has also been a great centre for art, culture, civilization and pilgrimage for years. It was also a famous centre for commerce and trade. Kanyakumari was also under the control of the Cholas, the Cheras, the Pandyas and the Nayaks who were the great rulers of South India. The architectural beauty of the temples are the beautiful work of these rulers.

Rameswaram: Rameswaram, a small island in the Gulf of Mannar, is a major pilgrim centre .It is connected to the mainland by road and rail bridges. Rameswaram is a major pilgrimage centre and is also known as the Varanasi of the south. It is a holy place because Sri Rama, on his return from Sri Lanka, offered his thanks to Lord Shiva and performed pooja to wash away his sins which he got by killing the demon king, Ravana. According to Hindu mythology, if one visits Rameswaram and prays to Lord Shiva, all his sins will be relieved from his body. Besides this, Rameswaram is one of the main fishing centres of Tamil Nadu. A variety of fishes including export quality fish like prawns, sea cucumber, lobster etc; are available here in big quantities. Rameswaram is also famous for its dry fish much of which is also exported.

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