After Chennai comes the temple city of Madurai, where you’ll visit Shree Meenakshi, one of India’s most important temples and where Lord Shiva performed his 64 miracles. Then your pilgrimage takes you to the little known temples of Chettinado and the deserted mansions of the wealthy merchants of a previous era. Trichy, Tanjore and Pondicherry reveal their wonders before you reach Covelong – the perfect destination for sun-and-sea worshipping.
London – Chennai
Fly from London to Chennai, arriving early the following morning.
You’ll be escorted from Chennai Airport to your luxurious, modern hotel on the banks of the Adyar River and the Bay of Bengal. So, as well as fantastic views, you’ll be perfectly placed to discover Tamil Nadu’s capital. In fact a day’s sightseeing tour will include Fort Saint George, St Marys Church and the Government Museum. Formerly known as Madras, Chennai is a major port, a star of the Indian film industry and famed for its temples; but you’ll also see tanneries, textile mills, the university and the cathedral.
On your final day you’ll set off for Kanchipuram to browse around the ancient city’s huge collection of temples and monuments. The Vaikuntaperumal Temple, for example, has lion pillar cloisters, sculptures of gods and hippogryphs and dates back to the 7th century, whilst the temple complex of Ekambareshwara has 1000 individually carved pillars. In between temples you’ll have time to watch master silk, cotton and lungi weavers at work.
Stay: Three nights in a deluxe sea view room at Leela Palace Chennai.
Today you fly from Chennai to Madurai, the second largest city in Tamil Nadu, standing on the banks of the picturesque Vaigai River. This is a major religious centre where Lord Shiva is supposed to have performed 64 wonders, and you’ll discover a wonderful history dating back to the 3rd century BCE.
The town’s living temples are the destination for huge numbers of pilgrims, attracted by Shree Meenakshi, one of India’s largest and most important temples. This grand complex was built between the 14th and 18th centuries CE. Its six hectare grounds include nine towers rising to 50 metres in height and encircling the Tank of the Golden Lilies.
Stay: Two nights in an executive room at The Gateway.
After a two and a half hour drive south through interesting countryside you’ll arrive at Chettinadu and a grand hotel featuring Art Deco architecture and a pleasing blend of traditional and modern luxuries. The temples of Chettinadu are little known to the outside world, but they are spectacular and – since they are not major tourist destinations – you will be able to browse around them at your own pace. The local villages are also quiet, belying their past as an important trading centre with grand residences. Your tour of Karaikkudi and Kanadukatha, for example, will take you to a number of magnificent mansions exuding faded grandeur; some of which now only house bats, monkeys and other wildlife.
Stay: Two nights in a standard room at Visalam.
Trichy – Tanjore
Your final destination is Tanjore but on the way there you’ll stop off at Trichy, a delightful town gathered around a mighty Fort Rock Temple that’s visible for miles around. A tunnel with 437 steps takes you to the top where you’re rewarded with an astounding view of the Ragunathanswami temple at Srirangam – itself covering 250 acres and definitely worth a visit with its seven concentric walls, 21 gates, bazaars and Brahmins’ houses.
Then it’s time to journey on to Tanjore, the ancient capital of the Chola kings and today boasting some of the most amazing temples to be found anywhere in India – especially Brihadeshwara with its huge gopurams, fortified walls and a moat, dominating the town.
Stay: Two nights in a new wing deluxe room at Svatma.
A long but absorbing drive of over four hours takes you via the temples of Darasuram and the great Siva Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram, to Pondicherry. This town still bears a European influence – it was the capital of the French colonies in India – and your tour will reveal a diversity of interesting architecture, as well as taking you to Sri Aurobindo Ashram founded on Rue de la Marine by Sri Aurobindo, the poet philosopher, to help man reach the zenith of his evolution. You’ll also visit the City of Dawn, an experimental township in the Viluppuram district described as a “New Age metropolis conceived as an alternative exercise in ecological and spiritual living”. It stands in stark contrast to the traditional Indian villages and farms nearby.
Stay: Two nights in a standard room at Maison Perumal.
Today you’ll travel to the coast and a luxury international hotel with an immaculate beach. But before you reach Covelong, Tamil Nadu has a couple more marvels to show you. At the ancient port of Mamallapuram – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – you’ll discover some sublime rock art and the 7th century Shore Temple that is home to both Shiva and Vishnu shrines. Varaha Cave has two incarnations of Vishnu—Varaha and Vamana. The Mahishasuramardini Cave, Kotikal Mandapam, Ramanuja Mandapam, and the Dharmaraja Cave all await at Mamallapuram.
But it’s fine sand, warm water and a supremely luxurious hotel experience that awaits you at Covelong. Here, in the Radisson Blu, you’ll have an infinity pool, the Bodhi Spa, a choice of superb restaurants and 44 acres of manicured grounds awaiting your pleasure.
Stay: Three nights in a sea view chalet at Radisson Blu Temple Bay.
Chennai – London
An early transfer takes you to Chennai Airport for your flight to London, arriving at Heathrow just after midday.