travel memoir

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Three friends- Sonali Maniar, Rajini Padmanaban and Bhooma Krishnan from Bangalore set out on a girls' trip out. In three days, they visited three cities- Tanjavur (a center for South Indian religion, art and architecture), Chidambaram and Chettinad in Tamil Nadu. Here they narrate their account of their adventure and share the breathtaking pictures from the three cities in South India.

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A Road trip in South Tamil Nadu: Tanjavur-Chidambaram-Chettinad

“When are we going on a South Tamil Nadu trip?” This has been Sonali’s staple question to Bhooma and Rajini for the last several months.  The passion for travel, excitement to embrace new cultures, soak in the diversity India offers, that we share were the main triggers for this “Tanjavur – Chidambaram – Chettinad” trip that we 3 girls went for in March 2016. Living in Bangalore, logistically the trip couldn’t have been simpler – all it took was blocking the dates, choosing a hotel, hopping in the car and we were off to experience it all.


The drive itself was super smooth – thanks to the amazing network and quality of roadways in Tamil Nadu. We left early to beat the traffic getting out of city and reached Tanjavur right around lunch after a 6-hour drive. We had a warm welcome at Hotel Sangam with good rooms and a sumptuous South Indian thali lunch.

Two things to note… The lush and fertile lands were our beautiful backdrop through most of this trip – due to the tributaries of River Cauvery that flows through most of the places we visited. Secondly, we must acknowledge and appreciate the splendid and in-depth insights about everything on this trip – from temple history to best places to eat, provided by Mr. Anantha Padmanaban, Rajini’s dad, who has lived in the area for over 10 years.



Wasting no time, we set off to see the Vaduvoor Rama temple. This is an ancient temple harking back to the 18th century. The serenity and tranquility of this temple was the highlight of the experience. We entered the temple to the melodious singing of an extempore yet professional sounding lady with her Rama bhajans. We were the only ones in the sanctum sanctorum where we had the unique experience of rocking a baby Krishna in his silver cradle. What a divine connect it was. We literally had to pull Bhooma out the spiritual ambience she had transitioned into. As we unwillingly walked out, we had our share of humor too. Listening to a novice on his Nadhaswaram (a popular instrumental especially in temples) and kids graffiti on walls with their exam numbers and relationships. Just adjoining the temple is the beautiful Vaduvoor Bird Sanctuary, which attracts numerous migratory birds. As we headed back we saw that the field workers wrap up the day’s work. Of specific mention is the fact that Tanjavur area is known as the “Rice bowl” of Tamil Nadu! 

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Now, is the HIGHLIGHT OF OUR DAY – where do we head for dinner? Subbaiah Mess (right) was literally a hole in the wall joint but turned out to be a gem – with the most scrumptious Pongal, Rava Dosa and all other tiffin delicacies.  

We headed back in time for the evening darshan at the Big temple in Tanjavur – the world famous Brihadeeshwarar Shiva temple (left) – this is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its Dravidian architecture from the Chola period and was completed in 1010 AD. The standout features of this temple include the Kumbh and the Nandi Bull that are carved out of a single large stone. We wrapped our sightseeing with the breathtaking views of the amazingly well maintained temple. 


To make the most of our day, we got an early start at 6:30 am and headed towards the town of Chidambaram. We were keen to finish all the temples on our list and reach the Chidambaram Temple for its arati at 11 am. (Travellers should note one constraint - all temples close for morning darshan by noon.) 

Our first stop along the way to Chidambaram was at Vaitheeswaren Kovil, the ancient temple of Lord Shiva as a healer is at least a thousand years old. People come from far and wide to cure various diseases; the belief is that ailments melt away as one dissolves salt and pepper in the Temple pond. The Danvantri space in the temple is a must see. This town is also known for its “Nadi Josiyam” (a traditionally practiced astrology technique) with one’s life supposedly fully documented in palm leaves. However, we decided to pass on this doubting the authenticity of the outcome.


Chidambaram Vaitheeswaren Kovil

Vaitheeswaren Kovil at Chidambaram

Our next stop was Thillai Kali temple in Chidambaram. Legend says that Goddess Kali moved here after loosing to Lord Shiva in the cosmic dance contest. The Goddess looked dramatic - clad in a pristine white saree with a vivid vermilion face.

 Typically all the South Indian towns are a network of alleyways and narrow roads, which lead to a temple. So we reached the main Chidambaram Shiva temple just in time to be part of the auspicious Arati. It was a visual treat to see the dancing Shiva as Lord Nataraja bedecked in ornaments of gold and diamonds. One of the priests took us into the sanctum sanctorum for a special darshan and walked us through the corridors of the temple showing unique idols such as Baby Ganesha, Sarabeeshwarar, known to cure skin ailments, Dakshinamurthy amongst others. The noteworthy feature of this temple is the Chidambara Ragasiyam (the secret), which is the formless manifestation of Lord Siva. Also this temple represents the element of space in the Pancha Bhoothas. 

Now that the intense Darshans were done, we were ready for some “paet pooja”. After hunting for good restaurants, we stumbled on the popular “Sadabishegam”, where we had a decent thali meal. 

Chidambaram-Thillai Kali Temple

We were lucky troopers with amazing cloudy skies and pleasant weather overall. If so, why not stop for some retail therapy at Kollidam, known for its bamboo from the Cauvery shores and associated products which were being woven right there.   




On the way back, we had a quick stop at Kumbakonam and we were fortunate to take a dip in the recently concluded Mahamagam tank, which happens once in 12 years. What next?

We were overwhelmed with the day already but wanted to check out the Ideal River View Resort. The place, again on the banks of Vennar - Cauvery tributary - was beautiful. We had a relaxing evening chai and pakora taking in the views of the sunset by the river. Given the isolated yet beautiful setting of this resort, we highly recommend this for a stay if you travel as a family or a group. 

We didn’t want to call it a day as yet. These temple towns have so many historic destinations right next to each other that you are rightly tempted to stop at each one of them. Our final stop for the day was the world famous Thiruvaiyaru Saint Thyagaraja Temple where the Carnatic Aradhana happens every January. It was a great feeling to stand in the temple that continues to be a citadel of classical music where almost all renowned Carnatic singers have performed. 

After a simple meal at Hotel Sangam we retired for the day.


We wanted to do a nice photo shoot in the Big Temple at Tanjavur so we reached the temple by 8am. We walked around in the cool morning and managed to get some beautiful shots of the sculptures and structures. We also had an unexpected special experience where we had the pleasure of buying flowers for the big Shiv lingam for the morning Arati.






After this, we had a 2-hour drive to Chettinad. Along the way we had some pleasant stops - to enjoy roasted cashews and a drink of tender coconut was welcome in this extreme dry heat of the Chettinad region.  


A brief history about the Chettinad region: It is again known for its architecture and splendid palatial homes, but in an extremely dry terrain – The Chettiars are a rich merchant community who once had their roots in the coastal town of Poompuhar. Having been severely impacted by the floods in the area, as a group they decided to settle in drier regions with very little rains. This is the Karaikudi region with a cluster of 96 villages of which only 74 remain today. Homes here are mansions from the 18th century all built at an elevation for fear of floods. Chettinad today is extremely popular as a tourist destination and is known for its cuisine.  

Our first stop was in Kanadukathan where with special permission we walked into the magnificent and well-restored palace of Raja Sir Muthiah. One can witness globally made exclusive interiors that the wealthy Chettiars had sourced from far and wide, brought together in a style that is unique of this region. Combined with Burmese teak and German glass were the locally made Athagudi tiles, which add beautiful color to the floors of these mansions. 









 Chettinad - Sari

After a well deserved siesta in the traditional arm chairs, we were ready for the next item on our agenda – antique shopping in Karaikudi – now even the hot rays of the blazing sun couldn’t daunt us from this experience that we have been longing for. With rolled up sleeves, scanning eyes, bargaining mouths, we collected a handful of super cute bronze diyas, flowerpots, canisters, tiffin carriers and the like. After a refreshing coffee and Chettinad idiyappam again in the Narayana coffee house, we headed back to Tanjavur totally exhausted but fully satisfied on our day’s course.  

Chettinad is also known for its cottons – bold checks in vibrant colors are a unique add-on to any saree lover’s closet. Visiting the weaving center was yet another unforgettable shoppers delight for us.  

 Chettinad Sari

For an authentic yet homely Chettinad feast we headed to Narayana Coffee House – the kuzhi paniyaram (both sweet and salt) and the Chettinad Chicken were the big hits amongst the flawless full course on a banana leaf.  

Chettinad-Narayana Coffee House


To end the trip on a high note we went back to Subbaiah for tiffin, which had Chettinad uthapam as its special for the day. Wrapping up was a quick stop at the local grocery store for millets, cold pressed oil and home made snacks that we enjoyed thoroughly. 

The next morning we, the joyous trio, were happy to head back home and share our wonderful experiences with envious friends and family. We truly hope we have inspired you to try this “Cheap and Cheerful” trip for yourselves too! As a parting tip, the best time to plan this trip would be between October and March. 


Sonali Maniar (Left)

Rajini Padmanaban (Center)

Bhooma Krishnan (Right)

Sonali Rajani Bhooma

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