A 5-Day Itinerary to Tamil Nadu

Photo of A 5-Day Itinerary to Tamil Nadu by Husein Haveliwala

Flanking the southernmost portion of the India’s east coast known as the Coromandel, Tamil Nadu is a major cultural hub of the country. With a major chunk of India’s Dravidian-style Hindu temples, the lush hills of the Eastern Ghats, and a sprawling coastline that features the southernmost tip on the subcontinent; this is one state in India you definitely cannot miss visiting. And with this itinerary, you’ll know how!

How to get there

Chennai, the state capital, will be your arrival point into Tamil Nadu. The Chennai International Airport services 400 flights a day of more than 30 domestic and international carriers, that connect the city and state to major cities all around the world. You can also arrive here by train through one of the city’s four main railway stations: Chennai Central, Chennai Egmore, Chennai Beach and Tambaram.

Day 1

Begin your odyssey of the south-east Indian state at one of the most famous spots in the capital. Marina Beach is a place for families, friends, and lovers to get away from the bustle of the city. And for you, it’s going to be a beautiful start to your trip, as you reach the beach just before sunrise. Sit on the promenade or the sand, and watch the golden ball of light rise up over the eastern horizon. A great place to hone your photography skills, you will find sights of fisherman, children at play, and the clear Bay of Bengal hitting the sand, apart from stunning the sunrise itself. Don’t miss the statues that line the road off the beach, dedicated to various important figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Thiruvalluvar, and the labourers of our country. You can also grab a local breakfast from the hawkers: some bhajjis and authentic Madras beachside coffee!

Depending on where you are on Marina Beach, the Sri Parthasarathy Temple is either a rickshaw-ride or a walk away. From the Mahatma Gandhi statue, it’s a 6-minute ride, and from the Labour Statue; a 10-minute walk. One of the oldest structures in Chennai, The Parthasarathy Temple is an 8th-century Hindu Vaishnavite temple dedicated to Lord Krishna. A gorgeous structure of the Dravidian style of architecture, you enter this temple and feel the power of the devotion in the air. You can get a darshan (view of the deity inside the temple), and then taste some of the prasad (offerings). The temple complex also houses a rectangular tank with a mandapam in the centre, that is the venue of the beautiful Theppam (Float) festival in February-March.

A 15-minute auto rickshaw ride (Rs. 60) should get you to Connemara Public Library. This library is one of the four National Depository Libraries in India, which means that it receives a copy of every book, newspaper and periodical that is published in the country. So much literature means that much space to house it, and this library is huge! With long cathedral-like halls with vaulted ceilings with fantastic wooden carvings, ornaments, and stained glass; this is possibly the most beautiful library in the country. The library is open from 9:00 am to 7:30 pm on Monday-Saturday, and 9:30 am to 6:00 pm on Sundays.

Take a rickshaw from the library, and in 20 minutes (and Rs. 65), you should be in the neighbourhood of Fort St. George. This was the first fortress in India built by the British, in 1644. The fort now houses various government buildings such as the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. A sight to see here is St. Mary’s Church, the oldest Anglican church, that has a strong resemblance to Westminster Abbey. You must also visit the museum, which will give you a great look at the British Raj in India, and how it started, along with various Colonial artefacts. The museum is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm every day but Friday, and the entry fee is Rs. 5 for Indians and Rs. 100 for foreigners.

From ‘Island Ground’ bus station, take the 11H bus heading to Iyyappanthangal and get off at Anand Theatre (11 stops, Rs. 7 per ticket), after which a 5-minute walk will get you to this South Indian restaurant located in the Sathyam Cinema building. ID serves up authentic South Indian fare in a contemporary, almost fast-food, setting. Get your share of idli, dosa, vada, appam, pongal, accompanied with traditional Chennai sambar and an assortment of tingling chutneys. You can finish your meal with some authentic filter coffee. The restaurant is open every day from 8:00 am to 11:00 pm, and a meal for two here costs about Rs. 800.

From Anand Theatre bus stop, take one of these buses: 11ACT, 11AET, 11G or 11H; and get off at Pondy Bazaar (Rs. 5 per ticket). Pondy Bazaar is a marketplace located in T Nagar which is the biggest shopping district in the country, by revenue. This is your chance to shop till you drop, and buy items like saris, kurtas, scarves and jewellery. You can either indulge in some street shopping that requires your bargaining chops, or you can visit one of the many boutiques and departmental stores that line the streets. One of the biggest names in the sari shopping world here is Pothys. Metres on metres of silk saris of different colours, grades of fabric, and prices. This place is a must-visit, even for a quick look.

As evening hits, take a rickshaw (Rs. 100) or the 12B / 12BET bus from Panagal Park to Santhome Church (Rs. 6 per ticket). This stunning cathedral was built by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century, and stands tall in white. It is the resting place of one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus: St. Thomas, who is known as the Patron Saint of India. The insides of the church have an inviting tranquillity, and is a much-needed haven after your busy shopping spree.

A 20-minute auto rickshaw ride (Rs. 115) should take you to Broken Bridge. Request your rickshaw driver to wait for you, or return to pick you up at a predetermined time, as this place is slightly remote, and deserted after dark. The Broken Bridge is a bridge to nowhere, over the Adyar estuary that connects to the Bay of Bengal. Reach just before sunset, and get shutter happy, and you will be raking in the likes.

Not more than 20 minutes away by rickshaw (Rs. 60) is Anjappar, a branch of a famous Chettinad chain from Chennai that now has locations all across the country, and franchises in in South-east Asia and Oceania, the Middle East, and North America. Anjappar specialises in the fiery Chettinad cuisine, and non-vegetarian options in chicken and fish in particular. A meal for two here won’t cost you more than Rs. 1000, and the restaurant stays open from noon to 3:30 pm and 7:00 pm to 11:30 pm, every day.

Make sure to have a quick dinner, as you’ll take an hour to reach Koyambedu Bus Terminal to board your 8:30pm, 9:00pm (YBM Travels – Rs. 1300) or 9:30pm (Hebron Transports – Rs. 1100) bus to Ooty!

Day 2

You arrive into Ooty at about 7:00 am today, after which you can check-in to your hotel and then head out to Earl’s Secret for breakfast. Located in the quaint Kings Cliff hotel that has been converted from a colonial bungalow, the Earl’s Secret restaurant is the perfect spot to have a relaxed breakfast. From the centre of Ooty, a rickshaw will cost you approximately Rs. 100 to get up to here, and it helps to strike a deal with the rickshaw driver for a return journey. The restaurant is inside a greenhouse, and is surrounded by the green manicured gardens of the hotel. The breakfast buffet here costs Rs. 350 per person, and the restaurant is open from 8:00 am to 10:00 am, so make sure to get here early.

A 15-minute rickshaw ride away is Ooty’s famed Botanical Gardens. A delightful place to visit with flowers blooming everywhere you look, all surrounded by forested hills around you. The terraced sections of the gardens are filled with flora of all different types, and one mustn’t miss the 20-million-year-old fossilised tree trunk located near the entrance. The entry fees for adults is Rs. 30, for children is Rs 15, and the gardens are open to visitors between 8:00 am and 6:30 pm every day.

10 minutes away by road is the Dodabetta Tea Museum and Factory. This part of the Nilgiri Mountains is famous for its tea estates that sprawl across the rolling hills, and this is one place to get a glimpse of the same. With an entry fee of just Rs. 10, you will be walked through the entire process of how that leaf is turned into your morning cuppa. From picking the leaves in the gardens, to putting them through various processes in the factory; it is a very informative tour. The place is open every day from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm.

From the tea factory, take a 15-20-minute rickshaw ride to Udagamandalam (Ooty) railway station. Take the 12:15 pm toy train to Coonoor, the ticket fare of which will be Rs. 25. You can also book your 4:00 pm return train at this time. This hour-long journey from Ooty to Coonoor will give you a different glimpse of the Nilgiri Mountains, with the green rolling hills, forests and meadows around you, as you choo choo over bridges and through tunnels. Your railway journey ends as you pull into the adorable Coonoor station at 1:20 pm. You can walk around the market area of Coonoor, with its winding streets and quaint shopfronts.

Hire a rickshaw from the market to take you to Acres Wild and back, which costs about Rs. 120 per side. Acres Wild is a farm-stay located just 15 minutes away from the Coonoor market. It is owned and run by former film director and producer Mansoor Khan and his wife Tina. It consists of a homestay, farm, and a cheese factory located on three terraced levels; all completely sustainable. One can visit Acres Wild for an hour or so, for a tour by Khan himself. You will be taken around the property, and will have a chance to see the way the farm is eco-friendly. Further, you will also be shown the cheesemaking factory, and the entire process, at the end of which some cheese and crackers await you. Acres Wild charges a nominal Rs. 100 for this tour.

A 15-minute ride back in the same rickshaw will get you to this quaint place on Club Road in Coonoor. This is your lunch stop for the day! A short climb up a staircase, and you’ll find yourself in this cosy little pizzeria called ‘Open Kitchen’. With lots of great toppings to choose from, and their freshly baked dough; you’re going to enjoy this much-needed meal after a long day. Apart from pizzas, there are also burgers, sides, desserts, and freshly baked treats on offer. A sumptuous meal for two here shouldn’t set you back more than Rs. 1000, and Open Kitchen remains open from 12:00 pm to 9:15 pm every day.

About 2.5 km down a winding road will lead you to Coonoor railway station, where you must catch the 4:00 pm train. Be sure to finish your meal and be at the station well in time, as this is the last train to Ooty for the day. It will be about 5:15 pm when your toy train pulls into Ooty station. From the station, begin your walk on Commercial Road towards Adams Fountain at Charring Cross intersection. This is the commercial hub of the city, which is a busy but nice walk as evening sets on the hills, bringing in the cool breeze. This road is a thoroughfare with shops lining both sides from where you can purchase things like handicrafts, woollens, jewellery, spices, gourmet cheese, tea, and chocolate!

After your shopping jaunt, book a taxi from Ooty to take you to Masinagudi which will cost you about Rs. 1500 both ways (ask your driver to stay the night at Masinagudi, to take you back to Ooty the next afternoon. Leave Ooty well in time before sunset, as the roads to Masinagudi go through the wildlife sanctuary boundaries, and may be shut after sunset. Eat dinner at your hotel, and sleep early, as tomorrow is an early start!

Accommodation (Masinagudi): Bamboo Banks Farm Guest House, Safari Land, Whistling Wood Estate or The Nest Inn.

Day 3

Leave your hotel by about 6:00 am, so that you reach Theppakadu (the entry point to Mudumalai National Park) by 6:30 am. Here, you can book a van safari which is a 30-minute trip through the park, which costs Rs. 45 per person (maximum 25 people in a van). Alternatively, and more excitingly, you could book an elephant safari which is also a 30-minute trip through the green forests of the sanctuary, costing Rs. 100 per person (maximum 4 people per elephant). The safari time is from 7:00 am to 8:30 am, but is on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s better to reach 20-30 minutes prior. The park itself is a stunning biosphere that represents the flora and fauna of the South Western Ghats’ Nilgiri Hills. With forests and hills on all sides, you can spot some wild elephants, langurs, macaques, gaurs, sambar deer, chital deer, flying squirrel, crocodiles, cobras, monitor lizards; and if you’re really lucky (as with most safaris), you can also spot a tiger. Spend the rest of the day lazing around in your hotel, where you can walk around through the greenery of the region.

Post lunch, take your taxi back to Ooty bus stand, and catch the 5:00 pm bus (NSB Tours, Rs. 450) to Coimbatore. You reach Coimbatore at around 8:30 pm. From here, if it’s a Saturday, you can take the Dadar - Tirunelveli SF Express that stops at Coimbatore for 5 minutes at 10:45 pm, and reaches Madurai at 5:30 am (Rs. 595 for AC 3 Tier, and Rs. 830 for AC 2 Tier). If it’s not a Saturday, you can take a cab from Coimbatore to Madurai, which will cost you about Rs. 5000. There are also AC buses plying to Madurai, that cost about Rs. 450 per seat.

Day 4

You will arrive in the temple city of Madurai, early in the morning. From the railway station (15-minute walk through bustling little lanes) or bus stop, make your way to the Meenakshi Amman Temple, one of the most famous places of worship in the state of Tamil Nadu. This large temple complex is walled by tall, sculpted gateway towers. The temple is dedicated to Meenakshi (a form of Parvati), and also to Sundareshwar (a form of Shiva). You will find thousands of pilgrims here at any given time of the day (except 12:30 pm to 4:00 pm, when it remains closed). During April-May, the 10-day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival attracts more than a million pilgrims every year. There are two queues to enter the temples in the complex for darshan (to get a sight of the deities); the standard line (free of charge) and the special line (Rs. 50 per person). It is advisable to first see which line is shorter, and then purchase the tickets accordingly. After your spiritual tryst, make your way to the prasadam stall in the complex from where you can purchase some blessed food items. For Rs. 10 per piece, you can purchase various treats like boondi laddu, malpua, tamarind rice, murukku, and appam, to name a few. These are delicious and filling treats will be your breakfast for today, which you can eat sitting beside the sacred water tank.

Make your way to the Arapalayam Guru Theater bus stop (about Rs. 7 by rickshaw), and board the 11:45 am Madurai Radha Travels bus to Rameswaram. A ticket for this A/C bus will cost you Rs. 350, and can be booked online in advance.

At around 3:00 pm, you know you will be approaching Rameswaram as your bus drives over the Pamban Road Bridge, which connects the mainland of India to Pamban Island, on which the town of Rameswaram is situated. This is the closest part of Indian soil to Sri Lanka, which is not more than 40 kilometres away, and is historically known to have once been the land that connected India and Sri Lanka. Pick up a quick lunch at any of the restaurants near the bus stand, if you haven’t already on your trip.

From the bus stand, take a bus (Rs. 7 per ticket) or a rickshaw (Rs. 70) to the Agni Tirtham. From here, there is a local bus (bus no. 3) every hour to Dhanushkodi for about Rs. 15 per person. Or, you can take an auto rickshaw (Rs. 600-700 return journey, after bargaining and making sure the driver will wait). Both the bus and rickshaw stop at the police check-post, after which you need to take a 15-seater shared van trip (Rs. 150 per head) to the actual town and beach of Dhanushkodi. This place is the easternmost stretch of the island, and was ravaged by a cyclone in 1964. You will be able to see a ruined church that will definitely give you an eerie, pensive feeling. Also, you will stop at the beach with inviting, crystal-clear waters, where you can take a dip. It is quite fascinating to realise how close you are standing to the island nation of Sri Lanka, and to imagine the Ram Setu that once connected the two countries. After this expedition, you can take your bus/rickshaw back to Agni Tirtham.

One of the four holiest sites in Hinduism as part of the Char Dham, this temple is a once-in-a-lifetime visit for most Hindus all over the world. Place your belongings in a locker for Rs. 60, and make your way back to the Agni Tirtham. A tirtha is a holy body of water, and Rameswaram 64 tirthas out of which 22 are inside the Ramanathaswamy Temple. The Agni Tirtham, located on the east side of the temple, is where devotees must bathe in the Bay of Bengal, and a holy bath here must be taken to complete the other 22 tirthas as well. After this truly out-of-this-world experience, you then proceed to the east gate of the Temple, where you pay an entry of Rs. 25 per person, and proceed to take a dip in all 22 of the tirthas or temple tanks. After you are cleansed of all your sins, change into dry clothes from your locker, and make your way to the temple for darshan. Do expect long lines, as most people come to Rameswaram for the sole purpose of a pilgrimage to this temple. After this, your holy journey is complete. Note, non-Hindus are generally not permitted to perform this yatra, and the temple is closed to visitors after 8:30 pm.

After your long, tiring day on this enchanting island; head to the restaurant in Daiwik Hotels near the bus stand. A vegetarian buffet dinner here will cost you about Rs. 800 for two people, and includes a decent spread of south and north Indian dishes. Along with a great ambience, this is just what you need to bring this day to a close.

After dinner, make your way to the Rameswaram railway station to catch the 8:45 pm Rameswaram - Kanyakumari SF Express. A ticket for the AC 3-tier berth on this train will cost you roughly Rs. 750. Please note, however, that this train only runs thrice a week (on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays). If you are travelling on other days, you will have to take a taxi to Kanyakumari that will set you back by approximately Rs. 6000-8000, so plan accordingly.

Day 5

If you take the train, you will arrive by about 4:30 am, which means you will have to book a hotel room for you to be able to check in that early (or the previous day).

Begin your day at the southernmost point of the Indian subcontinent. The very tip of Kanyakumari, also known as Cape Comorin, is the last point of India to the south. From here, you can take in a marvellous sight of the sunrise, with the Bay of Bengal on your east, the Arabian Sea on the west, and the Indian Ocean to your south. This sangam or confluence, is definitely something to tick off your travel bucket list. And there are few sights and places to be, that are as calming as this one.

Located just north of the sangam viewpoint, is the Bhagavathy Amman Temple that is dedicated to Devi Kanya Kumari, who is a goddess associated with “Shakthi” (Durga or Parvati). This beautiful temple is located on an elevated piece of land, right by the sea. To enter, one must pay Rs. 20 (for special darshan, without a queue). The temple remains open for darshan from 6:00 am to 11:00 am and 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm. All men wishing to enter the main temple must remove their upper-body clothing.

Exit the temple and walk straight up the street towards the north, until you find the famous Hotel Saravana on your left. This is your breakfast spot for the day, where a typical South-Indian breakfast is what you’ll get! Dosas, uthappams, idlis, vadas, sambar, pongal galore; this place serves up some lip-smacking delights that will fuel you up for the day ahead! A breakfast for 2 here won’t cost you more than Rs. 500.

A 5-minute walk from Hotel Saravana will get you to the Vivekananda Dock Road, from where you can board a ferry (roughly Rs. 50) to take you to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. This is a memorial built in honour of Swami Vivekananda, on a rock island that is said to be the place where he attained enlightenment. As you disembark the ferry at the memorial, you’ll be able to gauge its true size. A short film about Swami Vivekananda, and the memorial is also shown. The memorial itself has various meditation rooms and courtyards, and is a stunning place from where you can see the blue ocean all around you. You will also get to learn a lot about the Mission. There is a small entry fee of Rs. 20, and the ticket counter for the ferry open at 7:00 am, and shuts at 4:00 pm. After this, you will also be taken to the adjacent smaller island, on which sits the Thiruvalluvar Statue, in honour of the renowned Tamil scholar and poet of the same name. The ferry will then drop you back to the dock in Kanyakumari.

A stroll along the seaside for about 10 minutes will take you to this elegant Catholic church that has a pearl-white exterior. From here, you get stunning views of the hills and the glittering Bay of Bengal. As soon as you enter the church, a sense of tranquillity rushes through you. Architecture geeks will also appreciate the neo-Gothic style of architecture.

Another 10-minute walk back to the main market area of Kanyakumari, will get you to the Seashore Hotel. On the 7th floor of this hotel is The Ocean, a restaurant that offers brilliant views of the ocean alongside with a multicuisine menu. A meal for two here should cost you about Rs. 900.

Take a rickshaw to Sunset Point (approximately Rs. 60, per side) and request the driver to wait back for you, for a nominal extra sum of money. This is a beach roughly 15 minutes away by road, and is the one place you must be if you want to see a sunset in Kanyakumari. Make sure you reach well in time before sunset, and pick a good spot to sit. You will be rewarded with one of the most gorgeous sunsets you have ever witnessed. A peaceful place, where you can see the waves of three seas crashing along the rocky shore, this is the grand finale to your state-wide adventure.

Taking your rickshaw back towards the town, this is a well-recommended restaurant for dinner. You won’t spend more than Rs. 900 for two here.

And with that, your 5-day passage across this vibrant state comes to an end. From the hills of the Nilgiris to the southernmost point of the country, and from the temples to the tea-estates; this is one expedition that you will never forget!

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