My home state of Tamil Nadu has found a place in the NY Times’ list of must-do destinations for 2016 – rightly described as a gateway to India’s cultural core. From the temples of Rameshwaram to the hills of Ooty, the music concerts of Chennai to the jallikattu of Madurai, the spicy kaara kuzhambu of Chettinadu to the fragrant filter kapi of Kumbakonam, the silks of Kanjeevaram to the bobble-head dolls of Thanjavur, there is something for everyone in the state.
See which of these reasons will compel you to pack your bags and head down south right away (and remember, this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg)…
If there is one immediate association with the state, then it is the magnificent temples that have withstood the test of time for several centuries – there are the blockbuster deities like Brihadeeswara at Thanjavur, Meenakshi at Madurai, Nataraja at Chidambaram and then the dozens and dozens of smaller temples, each with an interesting story and history. Then there are the palaces and mansions, like the magnificent ones at Chettinadu, with Burma teak, Italian marble and Belgian chandeliers; the shore temples and rock-cut caves of Mahabalipuram; the Danish fort at Tranquebar and the 16th century Gingee fort; the art gallery at Thanjavur palace with its hundreds of Chola age bronze statues…
Night falls on the Brihadeeswara temple at Thanjavur
The magic of sunlight inside the Madurai Meenakshi temple
Outside the magnificent Kanadukathan Palace
Tamil Nadu is the cradle of classical dance and music in the country; think Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music. Drop by at the wonderful Kalakshetra Foundation for a whiff of the state’s most popular dance form or base yourself in Chennai during the famous “kutcheri” (concert) season every December – January, where hundreds of free music and dance performances take place at venues across the city, attracting both locals and NRI aficionados. Folk art forms also live on across the state, with forms like poi-kaal kudirai, kolattam and karagam still performed on festivals and occasions.
If music be the food of love…
Arts and crafts
The Thanjavur painting style has flourished for over three centuries now, still finding admirers as far away as Australia and the USA – walk into any artist’s home in the town to see this art form come to life. Or very simply, walk through the streets of any town early in the morning to watch women draw intricate kolam patterns freehand, the designs elegant and sophisticated enough to beat any complex painting style. Head to Kanjeevaram (also known as Kanchipuram) to see weaving at its best, where rich colours play with striking patterns to create mini masterpieces in silk.
Keep nodding, thalai aati bommai
Thanjavur paintings usually carry images of gods and goddesses
A tumbler of degree kapi anyone? Or, what about a tall glass of jil jil jigarthanda? It is now time for you to think beyond – way beyond dosa and idli – when it comes to Tamil Nadu food. Every region has its own specialties, from the well known piquant meats of Chettinadu to the lesser known and more subtle flavours of Thanjavur vegetarian cooking. You will also have several pleasant discoveries like the melt-in-the-mouth macaroons of Tuticorin and the gooey Thirunelveli halwa. Go ahead, chart out a culinary exploration course for yourself – and believe me, you will not be disappointed.
A traditional Tamil vegetarian meal
Living in Bangalore, I find myself heading for the gorgeous hills of Ooty ever so often, or the verdant tea plantations of Coonoor – and for those looking for quieter options, there is Kodaikanal (esp offseason), Yercaud, Pollachi. Walk on the world’s second longest beach at Marina and see the confluence of three seas at Kanyakumari. Get drenched under the Kutralam waterfalls to beat the heat or take a coracle ride in Hogenakkal. Go wildlife spotting in the forests of Mudumalai or bird-watching in the marshes of Vedanthangal. And above all don’t miss the fascinating mangroves at Pichavaram, a complex network of canals and inlets, counted among the largest in the world.
The hills of Ooty seen through the train window
Hogenakkal, or smoking rocks
The green-blue mangroves of Pichavaram
So, have you travelled in Tamil Nadu at all? Do drop a comment on your experience…