Tamil Nadu(South India States)

Vanakkam a common Tamil way of greeting people. It means welcome, respect, adoration, worship, reverence. So you know what to expect when you come to Tamil Nadu.

TEMPLES: Tamil Nadu is blessed. You sometimes wonder, is there a temple for each of its citizens. It is as if every big city, small town and village is known by the divine company it keeps. So in Chidambaram it is Natraja, the cosmic dancer who rules. Madurai is home to Meenakshi. In the you-will-miss-it-if-somebody-doesn't-mention-it small town called Srivilliputhur, stands one of Tamil Nadu's tallest temples with its "gopuram" (temple tower) rising to 192 feet. Incidentally, this gopuram is the official symbol of the Government of Tamil Nadu. As for Kanchipuram, they have simply lost count of the number of places of worship and have taken to calling it a temple town instead. The grand conceptions, majestic gopurams, art, sculpture and carvings on the gopurams and inside the temples are all amazing and uniquely Tamil; they are living, throbbing places of spirituality with an unbroken tradition of worship that goes back to centuries. Pray that you come here sooner.

BEACHES: The good news is Tamil Nadu has a 1000 kms long coastline. The better news is most of it is unexplored, pristine. You can thank the locals suitably for leaving it alone when you land up here. In Kanniyakumari, you will find land's end. People say three is a crowd. Here sea is a crowd. In a unique confluence, you will find the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea meeting at Kanniyakumari. You can also visit the beautiful Tiruchendur beach temple dedicated to Lord Mururga. In a way it is a come down for him, because he usually prefers the hills. There is Vattakotai beach, near Kanniyakumari. We have not advertised it much, because we hope you will end up doing it. Then there is Tharangambadi or Tanquebar with its Danish Fort.Tranquebar is known for its ozone-rich beach. And as you head north, towards Chennai, there is Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram). With its great beach and Shore Temple, it is a sight. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Finally, there is Chennai, the state capital, itself washed by the world's second longest beach- the Marina. So see you soon.

CULTURE: Tamil Nadu has always been a haven of peace. If at all there is war, it is a war of words over which dance form is superior, which painting is better, which temple has better sculpture or which "raga" is apt for a given time in a day. On any given evening, you can enjoy Bharatnatyam- the classical, extraordinarily graceful dance form that speaks through eyes and "mudras' (hand gestures) to bring mythologies, stories and the emotions in them alive. An evening at a Carnatic music concert can be a sublime experience. The folk arts are full of energy, rustic humour, playfulness and many times prayers to a deity. Karagaattan is a rhythmic dance in praise of Mari Amman, the goddess who showers blessings in the form of rain. Balancing a pot on their heads, the dancers give you a show that will, like the pots, remain firmly in your memory. Kummi is joyful dance with the clapping of hands. Oyil Kummi is where anklet sounds come into play. Silambattam is Tamil Nadu's very own, original martial art form. There is of course, more to this list, we suggest you to discover it.

WATERFALLS: The River meanders on and once in a while it takes a spectacular break. Like the ones at Courtallam and Hogenakkal in Tamil Nadu. Dubbed the Spa of South, Courtallam is refreshing shower bath that combines curative powers and great natural beauty. It is said the waters run through a forest of herbs which gives them medicinal properties. Is this what they mean by water therapy? Courtallam, in fact, has nine separate waterfalls so we would advise you to avoid the bathroom showers here. Hogenakkal, elsewhere in Tamil Nadu, is another great place for a good body spray. In local language it means "smoking rocks". The fantastic white spray as the water crashes over the rocks is what gives this awe-inspiring effect of smoke and mist. Hogenakkal also enjoys the reputation of a great ayurvedic massage spot where masseurs give you an oil massage right amongst the rocks and water. You can say oil and water mixes quite well here. The peace of the surrounding thick forests, coracle boat rides which take you right to the point where the water hits the deck are all experiences that will make your eyes turn misty once you are back home.

SAREES: Tamil Nadu has its own silk route. It begins in Kanchipuram. Some four centuries ago, there came to this small temple town a clan of weavers, who, with magical skill, wove splendid silks. Before long, their fame spread. The silk sarees of Kanchipuram (Kanchi Pattu in Tamil) are now fabled for their beauty and for their quality, which truly has no equal. The silk yarn (of the finest Karnataka mulberry silk) used in Kanchipuram is actually three silk threads twisted into one. This is interleaved with "Zari" which is silk thread intertwined with silver thread and then gilded with genuine gold. Intricate traditional motifs grace the sarees making them part of the rich art heritage of Tamil Nadu. Not surprisingly, Kanchi sarees can sometimes cost several thousand dollars. Each! Kanchi has a challenger in a neighbouring town called Arni, where lighter, simpler silk saris are made. Chettinad, where you will find Chettinad palaces and great food, also has a different kind of sari, Kandangi, made of cotton. So too in Salem, Rasipuram and Coimbatore. Madurai's Sungadi, fine gold bordered muslin, appear to complement its magnificent temples and the fragrant jasmines. Finally, a word of appreciation for becoming grace with which the women of Tamil Nadu wear the saris.

ADVENTURE: Yes, Tamil Nadu has great mountains that you have to climb 'because they are there'. As well as thick, unchartered forests that you can explore and get lost in. In fact, Tamil Nadu has two of the nine biospheres in India, at Udhagamandalam (Ooty) and Gulf of Mannar. Tamil Nadu has lovely hill stations. In Kodaikkanal, you can try the" molaga bajjis" (vicious chillies hidden in delicious butter and fried). In the carefully preserved national parks, you can enjoy nature at its rawest, wildest best. The Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, for instance if you are feeling particularly intrepid, you can say boo to the placid elephants or shoot the tigers with your camera from the safety of a jeep. Off the vast coast of Chennai, take a ride on a "kattu maram", the Tamil word for a simple but unsinkable wooden canoe that puts out to sea, with the waves submerging it completely at times. By the way, this is the word that became the modern "catamaran". Having worked up an appetite, try some "fish kari" (the word that later became the famous "curry") with rice. Work it all off with some paragliding or hang gliding or para jumping. Let the water toss you around at Manimutharu (Tirunelveli) and Hogenakkal (Dharmapuri), where you can do white water rafting. Cycle up and down the beautiful, steep mountain paths in the Ooty Bicycle safari. The real adventure though, is out on the streets, where an incredible variety of experiences ambushes your senses. But we will not go into detail about all that. It would spoil the surprise.

FOOD: If surprise has a taste, it is this. The flavor of freshly filtered Kumbakonam Degree coffee. Try to drink it the way Tamilians do, letting it cascade from a steel tumbler at shoulder height into a steel saucer at waist level, steam wraiths rising. Invigorated, let us move on to Kanchipuram, for some hot "idlis". The next stop is Chidambaram, for some "pongal" that will let you taste heaven. Please hurry and finish, your mid- morning snack is scheduled in Mayavaram. "Paruppu Thenga". Pulses with shredded coconut. Later, en route to Karaikudi, allow us to remind you that Tamil Nadu has one of the oldest vegetarian traditions in the world. This distinction does not mean that it can not also have a glorious non-vegetarian cuisine. Have a long and leisurely Chettinad lunch, a cornucopia of meat and sweet (Chettinad chicken and "kozhi paniyaram" are signature dishes). Hurry to Tanjhavur, for "tiffen"- a quintessentially Tamil snack-meal that can include pakoda, upma, dosa, laddu, pongal, uthappam, adai avail and of course, fresh filter coffee. And yes, some "murukku' (meaning twist) in Manapparai. Quickly hop over to Salem for juicy mangoes, the favourite fruit of royalty. If sweet tooth still not satisfied, try Tirunelveli "halwa". Time for dinner and for that matter any meal, it must be Madurai. You can feast on hot dosas, idlis and coffee at all hours of day and night. Full? Not until you have sampled the rich variety of Tamil desserts. There is much that we have left out, for want of space. Hope, your stomach is more capacious.



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