When I first heard of the states I was going to be visiting during my fellowship, I was more than delighted. Having been wandering around for a while in my native land – Karnataka, I was extremely thrilled to discover the ways of our neighbouring states. Knowing very well the importance of planning, I quickly came up with an itinerary which even though didn’t work magic, helped me survive the trip with ease. Although I installed both Telugu and Tamil learning apps on my phone, I had hardly learnt 10 sentences in each. In over excitement, I tried to fit in 17 destinations but ended up successfully covering only 15 of them.
Luckily, the number of destinations covered matches the number of days travelled, so I can now shamelessly boast of exploring 15 destinations in 15 days and call it a tiny achievement.
As of the route, I planned on starting my journey from Tamil Nadu not just because it was the nearest but also because of two totally bizarre reasons. First, I wanted the thrill of tracing my way down India map, reaching the southern-most tip and travelling up to explore the coastal line of this beautiful country and second, I desperately wanted to start my adventure from one of the most enchanting hill stations of the country – Kodaikanal. Speaking of thrill, each destination posed a unique challenge of its own and required specific budgeting and planning.
Here’s a detailed itinerary explaining how a solo traveller with a strong team survived, explored and enjoyed in all the 15 great destinations.
Destinations in Tamil Nadu
Destination 1: Kodaikanal
I chose Kodaikanal to begin my journey with a serene state of mind. With wonderful people, muddy paths and carpeted greenery as far as human eye can see, Kodaikanal made it to the top of my list.
A few months ago, I had passed through this beautiful hill station on my way to Vattakanal but this time I stopped here for a day and a night to unveil the cultural and natural beauty of this place.
Travel: Kodai road railway station (KQN) is the nearest railway station. However, the hill station is at about 80 Km away from Kodai Road and can be reached in local busses or cabs. When it comes to sightseeing, the best option here is to call a tourist service- there are plenty of them in the area or roam around in your personal vehicle.
Accommodation: The reasonable Rs 400 dormitory in Greelands youth hostel is not the only reason why you should go there. Kind staff and stunning location makes this hostel a great choice too.
Food: Food in Kodaikanal is comparatively expensive from most other regions of Tamil Nadu. Many restaurants and road side food stalls can be found at the town centre.
Destination 2: Madurai
At Madurai, this atheist began her spiritual journey. The temple city is well known for Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple. Other than this ancient delight, Madurai also has many attractions with high religious importance and beautiful surroundings. Madurai is an apt option to explore the religious legacy of South India along with its delicious cuisine. I also burnt my feet attempting to rock climb barefoot on one of the hills here.
Travel: Madurai is at 115 Km from Kodaikanal. The temple city is well connected by both rail and road. I chose the local Tamil Nadu busses from Kodaikanal, had to change two but the hilarious Tamil Ghost movie I watched in one of them made it worth the effort. Tamil Nadu bus service operates at a low price which makes it a great option for backpackers.
Accommodation: As I spent only a day in Madurai, I did not book an accommodation. Even though there are no hostels in Madurai, many budget hotels can be easily found.
Food: When in Madurai, do try out some of the best local south Indian cuisine that can be easily found in many restaurants and road side food stalls.
Destination 3: Kanyakumari
At the southern-most point of India lays the peaceful coastal town of Kanyakumari. The place is named after Devi Kanya Kumari, a goddess whose sparkling nose ring is said to be bright enough to guide the sailors safely back home. Even though talked prominently of only as a popular sun rise and sun set point, the town is much more than that. The popular tourist spot has many unexplored gems scattered along its peninsula.
Travel: Kanyakumari is at 245 Km from Madurai. As I was travelling at night, I chose a sleeper bunk in a passenger train. Many local buses commute between the regions too but cost a few hundred more than train. Travelling inside Kanyakumari is simple, many share autos and buses travel to all the parts of the town. However, prior knowledge of their timings will be beneficial - this information can be gained by talking to locals.
Accommodation: A small number of hostels and a big number of budget hotels are available in the region. As I decided to get my rest on the train to Rameshwaram, I did not book an accommodation.
Food: Many restaurants offer wide range of options in both veg and non-veg. If the restaurants don’t interest you and have a way to cook your own meal, freshly caught big and small fishes are sold near the Kanyakumari beach early mornings, try a hand.
Destination 4: Rameshwaram
The land of two mythological heroes – Rama and Shiva, Rameshwaram is a place that you would want to visit more than once. The island’s capturing beauty begins as one enters the place through the dazzling Pamban Bridge. With diverse attractions and unique culture, this island stands out from the rest of the state. Deep rooted with stories from mythology and polished with anecdotes from recent history, Rameshwaram is a land of many wonders.
Travel: Rameshwaram is at around 311 Km from Kanyakumari. Wanting to desperately relish travelling on the Pambam Bridge, I chose Indian Railways. Travelling inside Rameshwaram could be a little more expensive than travelling in other parts of Tamil Nadu. Even though bus services are available, many regions can only be reached in autos or tourist vans.
Accommodation: Dharmashalas and budget hotels can be easily found in the area. Even though I took shelter in a decent hotel for the day, I decided to travel the night to Tirchy.
Food: If you’re in Rameshwaram, you better have lunch before 4. Hotels in Rameshwaram are comfortably set with their food timings but they’re also experts in making some delicious local food.
Destination 5: Tiruchirappalli
Tiruchirappalli is the destination where I visited the maximum number of temples. From the popular Sri Rangam Temple to the unexplored Uthamar temple, this region of Tamil Nadu is populated with rich religious history. With its beautiful people and extremely cheap bus fares, Trichy or Tiruchirappalli secured a place as one of my favourite cities in India.
Travel: Tiruchirappalli is at 229 Km from Rameshwaram. I again chose my favourite and the cheapest mode of transport – Train. Local buses with cheap fares make traveling inside Tiruchirapalli extremely convenient.
Accommodation: Since there were no hostels in the area, I took shelter in a budget hotel in Tiruchirapalli city.
Food: Whether it’s veg or non-veg, the native Tamil Nadu flavour is clearly visible anywhere you eat in Tirchy.
Destination 6: Tanjavur
No other place in Tamil Nadu burnt me as much as Tanjavur did and I’m not just talking about the Brihadeeshwara Temple - an architectural excellence whose shadow disappears at noon. A favourite memory of the trip is sitting in shade and watching people suddenly either run towards or away from me in the Brihadeeshwara Temple, all the way hopping to escape the sun’s heat. From ancient paintings to architectural marvels, Tanjavur is an absolute treat!
Travel: Tanjavur is at around 58 Km from Tiruchirapalli. I chose a local train that can be found in great numbers to facilitate my travel; many local buses operate between the two destinations too. Travelling inside Tanjavur is convinent with many share autos and buses.
Accommodation: As there were no hostels in the area, I choose a budget hotel to accommodate me.
Food: Good quality food can be found for low price in Tanjavur.
Destination 7: Chidambaram and Pichavaram
Chidambaram has one of the dirtiest bus stands I have ever seen. But it also has some of the great street food I have ever tasted. The Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram is a mythological beauty that’s threaded with many mysteries. The second largest mangrove forest at Pichavarm looks like a magical spell that has been gently and lovingly laid by Mother Nature.
Travel: Chidambaram is at 116 Km from Tanajavur. Many trains and buses operate in between the two regions. I obviously took a train. Pichavaram is at 14 Km from Chidambaram, three local busses go to and fro this route many times a day.
Accommodation: As I decided to move ahead to Pondicherry for the night, I did not book an accommodation in Chidambaram. However, a good number of budget hotels can be found here.
Food: Street food in Chidambaram had made my hungry stomach very happy. Do try it out if you’re there.
Destination 8: Pondicherry
Pondicherry and I have a very long love affair, the first time I visited it, I had fallen head over heels for the beautiful place but this time, I got a little irritated with its piercingly hot weather. Either ways, Pondicherry will always remain a favourite. When I think of Pondicherry, I think of colours, even though most colourful buildings are found mostly in White Town, it is a major part of what makes Pondicherry.
Travel: Pondicherry is at 63 Km from Chidambaram. Many buses and a few trains help one commute between the two. As I was unsure of what time I would be leaving Chidambaram, I settled on taking a bus to Pondicherry.
Accommodation: Sadly, there are no hostels in Pondicherry but cottages can be found on the beaches. Many budget hotels can also be found in the town.
Food: Being the French capital of India, Pondicherry offers a wide variety of options. From sweet stalls disguised under a French name to cafes serving almost authentic French cuisine, the influence is clearly visible in all parts of Pondicherry.
Destination 9: Mahabalipuram
Whenever I see extreme cultural diversity, I drop my heart and just merge into the place. My last stop in Tamil Nadu - Mahabalipuram is also my favourite stop. A town that was built by a Dynasty that had great regard for art and architecture is home to both creativity and serenity. Local sculptors making magic with their chisels and lonely fishing boats lined up on the beach are some of the many things that gave me a profound feeling of happiness in this place.
Travel: Mahabalipuram is at 99 Km from Pondicherry and many buses run between the two places.
Accommodation: No hostels, but many guest houses offer cheap accommodation. I choose the excellent Vinodhara Guest House for my stay.
Food: Sea food is evidently and undoubtedly the best option here.
This is an article from the Aao hostel travel fellowship series