‘Chennai’s strategic location opens up unique experiences to nearby towns and cities’
Often called the soul of South India, Chennai , earlier known as Madras , is a kaleidoscope of history, arts and culture. A mix of the old and the contemporary, the capital city of Tamil Nadu located on the Coromandel Coast is a major cultural and economic hub of South India. A city replete with historic buildings, temples, museums, churches and beaches, Chennai is often referred to as the “Gateway to the South”. Rightly so, Chennai is strategically located to several towns and smaller cities that offer unique experiences not only in sightseeing but colonial history, architecture, religion and gastronomy. Here is a look at some of these destinations that form for ideal weekend getaways from this southern city.
Fondly known as “Pondy” and earlier known as Pondicherry, this union territory was a French colony until 1954. Hence, the entire town is a delightful contrast between the White town, which is the French Quarter and the new town that is authentically South Indian. Streetscapes with bohemian vibes, chic cafes, signs in French and colonial styled buildings dominate the French town while the new part is a picture of hustle-bustle and complete with traditional markets and temples galore. The Aurobindo Ashram, museum and the renowned Sri Manakula Vinayagar temple are some of the sights not be missed while here. Taking a stroll along the promenade by the beach side is a perfect way to spend a serene evening. Visit the unique township of Auroville and its’ soul the Matrimandir for an experience quite like none other. A perfect place to sample French cuisine, buy ceramics or just soak in diverse cultures, Puducherry about 150 km from Chennai must be on your to do list when in South India.
An ancient city about 90 kms from Chennai, Kanchipuram dates back to the 2nd century BC. Ruled by several dynasties including the Cholas, Pallavas and the Marathas, Kanchi is also known as a key pilgrimage centre and is home to hundreds of temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and Vishnu. The Varadaraja Perumal temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu and spread over a whopping area of 25 acres is one of the most famous temples here. It is known for its brilliant architecture and the Kanchipuram idli that is steamed in baskets woven from Manthrai leaves and served as ‘prasad’. The town is also known for its world-famous silk weaves and silk sarees, which have been accorded with a GI (Geographical Indication) tag.
Nataraja temple is known for its spectacular architecture
in the form of ornate towers, stepped wells and pillared halls
Situated about 60 kms from Chennai, Mamallapuram aka Mahabalipuram is a coastal town known for its famous stone monuments that date back to the 7th and 8th century AD. The group of about 40 monuments have been designated as a UNESCO world heritage site and includes important structures like Arjuna’s Penance, Pancha Rathas, Varaha Cave temple and the Shore temple. An erstwhile bustling port town, the monuments are grouped into chariot temples, cave temples, rock relief structures and structural temples. The structure ‘Descent of the Ganges’ also called Arjuna’s penance, has the distinction of being one of the largest in the world. The light house, the maritime heritage museum and the seashell museum are some of the other places of interest in the town.
Mountains of death
Kolli Hills is little mountain range on parts of Eastern Ghats in Namakkal locale. They were additionally alluded as “Kolli Malai” that is the “Mountains of Death.” The reason is that early writing records the presence of a picture alluded to as Kollippavai that is over the 70 breathtaking curves.
A temple town about 230 km from the capital city, Chidambaram is synonymous with the Thillai Nataraja temple. A testimony to the glorious temples built by the Cholas in South India, the Nataraja temple is known for its spectacular architecture in the form of ornate towers (aka gopurams), intricate pillars, stepped wells and pillared halls. A town that is the epitome of South Indian art and culture, Chidambaram is also famous for its mangroves located about 15 kms away in a place called Pichavaram. The latter is in fact the second biggest mangrove reserve after Sundarbans in the country. Do not forget to shop for exquisite silk sarees and imitation jewellery when in Chidambaram.
Words: Rashmi Gopal Rao