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Ultimate Guide to Exploring Tamil Nadu for 9 Nights, 8 Days

With its pedigree rooted in the lifestyle of Cholas and Pallavas, Tamil Nadu brews with one of humanity’s oldest and most preserved civilisations. Multicoloured temples, garishly painted humans, mythological figures, gigantic gateways, the music, and food splashes the state with unmatchable characteristics. Here is a guide to Tamil Nadu if you visit the state for the first time.

About Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu always timed its choices consciously to follow its interests and not fall prey to foreign invasions and influences. The varied history, influx of traders, and separation of Tamil Nadu from its Northern counterpart by the Deccan Plateau have pushed the state for economic growth while conserving its culture. Its strategic location has served as a good point for trade and maintaining maritime relations with other countries. These reasons have advanced Tamil Nadu as “the Manufacturing Hub of India”. 

Chaotic streets woven with temples, thrifty culture, sacred shrines, and ancient pilgrim routes speak the same language but in different styles. Modernising with time, preserving its history, and growing its economy, Tamil Nadu has witnessed numerous eras of change with Chera, Pandyas, Sangam, Kalabhras, Cholas, Pallavas, and others. However, it has always stood the change of time.

Tamil Nadu is the Mecca for travellers. Madurai – “the Cultural Capital of India”, Coimbatore – “the Manchester of India”, Chennai – “the cultural, economic and education centre of South India”, temple towns of Thiruvannamalai, Tiruchirapalli, Kanchipuram, Rameshwaram, etc., give myriad options to tourists for an authentic Indian experience. Many temples ruled over by Cholas, Pandyans and Pallavas have emerged as UNESCO World Heritage sites. 

The state is superabundant with hill stations like Udagamandalam, Kodaikanal, Yelagiri, and Meghamalai provide respite from sun rays and heatwaves.

Brief 8 Day Itinerary for Tamil Nadu

Day 1

  • Arrival in Mahabalipuram.
  • Visit Shore Temple, Arjuna’s Penance, India’s Sea Shell Museum, Cavern Temples and other UNESCO preserved Group of Monuments.

Day 2

  • Mahabalipuram – Pondicherry.
  • Visit the French Quarters, Aurobindo Ashram
  • Rock Beach, Paradise Beach
  • Taste French Cuisine

Day 3

  • Meditate at Auroville. Book your tickets one day before for meditation.
  • Music lovers must head to SVARAM.
  • Come back to Pondicherry; stay for the night.

Day 4

  • Pondicherry to Thanjavur via Chidambaram. 
  • Visit Pichavaram Mangrove Forests
  • Go to Thillai Nataraja Temple and other temples in Chidambaram.
  • Reach Thanjavur at night.

Day 5

  • Shop Thanjor Paintings, textile and saris
  • Visit Gangai Cholapuram, Brihadeeswarar Temple,Kumbakonam Temples
  • Visit Kandiyur

Day 6

  • Go to Thanjavur to Chettinad. 
  • Chettinad Palace, Chettinad Museum
  • Temples including Vairavan Kovil, Iraniyur
  • Heritage walk and sightseeing
  • Try Chettinad Cuisine.

Day 7

  • Thanjavur to Madurai
  • Kutladampatti Falls
  • Meenakshi Temple
  • Admire Thirumalai Nayak Palace and visit Saint Mary’s Cathedral

Day 8

  • Departure

Best Time To Visit Tamil Nadu

October to February.

Places to Visit In Tamil Nadu

1. Historical Architecture

By Pallavas 

The Pallava dynasty was a Tamil dynasty that existed from 275 CE to 897 CE. They gained a reputation after the downfall of the Satavahana dynasty. The Pallavas are best noted for their patronage of architecture. The Dravidian style of temple architecture began with the Pallava rule.

Rock Cut temples

A rock-cut temple is carved from a large rock and cut to imitate a wooden or masonry temple with wall decorations and works of art.

Places to Visit

  1. Mandagappattu
  2. Mahendravadi
  3. Mamandur
  4. Tiruchirappalli
  5. Vallam
  6. Siyamangalam
  7. Tirukalukkunram

Monolithic Rathas and Mandapas

Monolithic Rathas (temples in the form of chariots) and Mandapas (cave sanctuaries) belong to the Mamalla group from 630 to 668 AD. Free-standing monolithic shrines called rathas (chariots) were constructed alongside pillared halls during this period.

Places to Visit

  1. Panch Rathas – Mamallapuram
  2. Arjuna’s Penance – Mamallapuram

Structural Temples

The Rajasimha group encompassed the early structural temples of the Pallavas when a lot of experimentation was carried out.

Places to Visit

  1. Kailasanatha temple at Kanchi
  2. Shore temple at Mamallapuram

There are over 40 monuments in the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, including Five Rathas, the colossal rock carving of Arjuna’s Penance depicts scenes from the Mahabharata epic, Ganesh Rath, Krishna’s Butterball, Seven Pagodas, etc. What is astonishing is that six of the seven pagodas are submerged underwater. Only one, the shore temple, is accessible to the public. The archaeology department has placed huge rocks around the temple to save it from the perilous waves.

By Cholas

Cholas became prominent in the ninth century and established an empire comprising a significant portion of South India. They were patrons of art and architecture. The temples built by them were a hub of cultural, economic, and political activities in those times. Thousands of inscriptions found in the temples provide detailed information regarding the administration, society, economy and culture of the Chola period. 

Places to visit

  1. Great Living Chola Temple
    1. Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur
    2. Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram
    3. Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram.
  2. Vijayala-Cholesvaram
  3. Ayikudi Balasubramanya Swami Temple

2. Hill stations

Credit: Abhishek Prasad (Unsplash)
  • Kodaikanal or “The Gift of the Forests”
  • Meghamalai or “High Wavy Mountains”
  • Yercaud or “Land of seven forests”
  • Ooty/Udagamandalam or “Queen of Hills”

3. Madurai

Credit: Ben Chobot (Unsplash)

Madurai is an ancient Tamil town about 4,000 years old and is a vibrant centre for Tamil culture, spirituality and learning. It is also the city that never sleeps because of the ever-going work in granite, autoMobile, rubber and chemical factories. 

Places to Visit in Madurai

  • Meenakshi Temple
  • Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal

4. Chennai

brown concrete building under blue sky
Credit: Siby (Unsplash)

To a foreigner, Chennai is described as a hot, chaotic and noisy capital, but for a traveller, it is a city with a seafront fort, grand mansions and an art hub.

Places to Visit in Chennai

  • Marina Beach
  • Vivekananda House
  • Mylapore

5. Thanjavur

brown concrete building during daytime
Credit: Ramakrishnan Nataraj (Unsplash)

Thanjavur is the cultural capital of Tamil Nadu. Tanjore, a unique painting style, is said to be originated here. Thavil, a percussion instrument, is also said to be invented here.

Places to Visit in Thanjavur

  • Brihadeeshwara Temple
  • Swamimalai Temple

6. Trichy

Credit: Sonaal Bangera (Unsplash)

Trichy is at the geographical centre of the state. The city glorifies colourful history because it was transferred to multiple dynasties. 

Places to Visit in Trichy

  • Rock Fort Temple
  • The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple

7. Kanchipuram

Credit: Wikipedia

Kanchipuram/Kanchi/Kanjeevaram, or ”the City of Thousand Temples”, is known for its architecture, 1000-pillared halls, massive temple towers and silk sarees. The town was a significant intersection for followers of all religions, but what remains today are mainly Hindu temples. 

Travellers come here with two purposes: Kailashnath Temple and shopping for silk sarees. 

8. Rameshwaram 

The Top 8 Things to Do in Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu

Rameshwaram is separated from the mainland and is built on Pamban Island. It holds great religious value for Hindus. According to Hindu ancient texts, a bridge was built from here across the sea to Lanka to rescue Ram’s wife Sita from Ravana. The temple and the town are considered holy pilgrimage sites for Shaivas (followers of Shiva) and Vaishnavas (followers of Vishnu). It is also a part of the Char Dham pilgrimage, including Badrinath, Dwarka and Puri.

9. Thiruvannamalai

Credit: Tamil News

Thiruvannamalai is another holy Tamil city. Many mystical stories are associated with the place. It is also home to the renowned Annamalaiyar temple

Mt. Arunachala is something that cannot go unnoticed here. A few know it is a dormant volcano. It is believed to have spiritual energies as the mountain is considered the embodiment of Lord Shiva and can quieten the mind. Indians and foreigners circumambulate the Annamalai hill barefoot. The circumambulation covers a distance of 14 kilometres and is referred to as Girivalam. According to Hindu legend, the walk removes sins, fulfils desires and helps achieve freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth.

Trekking in Tamil Nadu

If you still want the state to show you more, land yourself on the trekking trails gifted with tea gardens, waterfalls, ridges, canyons and whatnot! Some famous trekking trails are as follows:

Kotagiri trek

Altitude: 1795 m
Distance: 10-12 km (to and fro)

Kotagiri Trek - Plan The Unplanned 14
Kotagiri Trek

Nilgiri Valley Trek

Altitude: 2,240 m
Distance: 8-10 km (to & fro)

Nilgiris Valley Camping - Plan The Unplanned 6
Nilgiri Valley Trek

Swamimalai Hills, Yelagiri

Altitude: 1,322 m
Distance: 6 km

A Green Trek to Swamimalai Hills and Jalagamparai waterfalls
Credit: Sarthy the Traveller

Perumal Peak, Kodaikanal

Altitude: 2,440 m
Distance: 14 km (to and fro)

Perumal Peak, Kodaikanal Credit: The Papyrus

Koli Hills, Chennai

Altitude: 1,300 m
Distance: 9 km

Kolli Hills In Tamil Nadu
Credit: Thomas Cook

Kodaikanal Palani Hills Trek

Altitude: 2,132 m
Distance: 15 km

Kodaikanal Palani Hills Trek

Doddabetta Peak, Ooty

Altitude: 2,637 m
Distance: 10 km (to and fro)

Doddabetta Peak Credit: MouthShut 

Gingee Fort, Thiruvannamalai

Altitude: 150 m
Distance: 800 steps (to and fro)

Gingee Fort

Vaideki Waterfalls, Coimbatore

Altitude: 50 m
Distance: 10 km (to and fro)

Vaideki Waterfalls, Coimbatore

Thalaiyar Falls, Kodaikanal

Altitude: 297 m
Distance: 10 km (to and fro)

Thalaiyar Falls, Kodaikanal

Canopy Hills

Distance: 16 km (to and fro)

Canopy Hills

Budget for Tamil Nadu (per day per person basis)

INR 1500 approx per day.

Food – INR 500.
Travel – INR 200 on local transportation.
Stay – INR 500.

This includes the entry to tourist attractions, stay and food. To commute in Tamil Nadu, you can use the bus, auto-rickshaws, cycles, motorbikes and taxis which can cost anywhere in the range of INR 100-INR 1500.

What To Eat in Tamil Nadu

In the heartland of the south, Tamil Nadu’s cuisine is not just limited to Idli, Vada and Dosa (as most think); it is a melting pot of good food. You must not miss tasting the following delicacies while being here:

  1. Tamil Meals – Rasam, Rice, Sambhar, Papad, Kottu, Pickles, Poriyal, Kosumari salad, Curd and Pongal/Akkaravadisal all served in Banana leaf.
  2. MeduVada
  3. Chettinad cuisine
  4. Chicken 65
  5. Puliyodarai
  6. Filter Kappi
  7. Murukku
  8. Banana Bonda
  9. Uttapam
  10. Kuzhi Paniyaram

How Long Should A Trip Be for Tamil Nadu

If you plan to see Tamil Nadu in and out, you need to spare at least two weeks. Otherwise, you can break your travel plan and keep visiting the state with smaller itineraries. 

Additional Information about Tamil Nadu

  1. Google map from major cities: Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad.
  2. Tamil Nadu Weather and temperature Information: The climate of Tamil Nadu is Tropical. In May and June, the hottest months, maximum daily temperatures in Chennai average about 38 °C, while minimum temperatures average in the low 20s °C.
  3. Festival that happens in Tamil Nadu: Tamil Nadu hosts a slew of traditional festivities throughout the year. These festivities involve a large number of areas and villages. The entire state comes together to celebrate these historic events, and the entire area is illuminated. There are large processions and massive displays on the street, with throngs thronging to soak in the pomp and magnificence. Some of the prominent festivals of Tamil Nadu are Pongal (September/October), Yercaud Summer Festival (May), Ooty Summer Festival (May), and Mahamanam festival (February/March).

Good Read: South Indian Festivals are harbinger of good days, check this list!

About the author

I am Supriya, a writer by passion and I have been following up with it from the past 12 years. Stamped initially as a Software Engineer, I switched to ‘All Things Travel’. I travel to find coherence in life and love stories. Admittingly craving local food, meandering through the alleys, and treasuring talks with elderlies, I prefer backpacking to connect with the roots of a place. Bylines include Tripoto, Plan the Unplanned, Women’s Web and Rough Guides. Know her better: supriyasahu.com
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