I make no secret of the fact that I absolutely adore India. I love the colour, the bustle, the curries and the history. I love the temples and the weather. But in all my Indian travels so far, the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu remains my absolute favourite. Located on India’s eastern coast, along with the states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, it is less visited than the north of the country and has a charm all its own. Here are 5 great reasons why you need to visit Tamil Nadu for yourself!
The main city of Tamil Nadu is the metropolis of Chennai. Busy, bustling and typically Indian, Chennai was the first place I visited in India and was a great introduction to the country. Explore the colonial palaces and colourful temples of the city centre, or chill out in the sea breezes on Marina Beach. Chennai’s international airport has direct flights to many overseas locations, so it’s a great place to start and end your stay in Tamil Nadu. The city also has great rail links from all over India.
India’s south is arguably one of the most spiritual parts of this great country. The temples are spectacular, whether you are exploring the ancient ruins of Mahabalipuram, the Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur, or the star of the show, the incredible Sri Meenakshi temple of Madurai. Hinduism rules the day in the deep south, and the temples swirl with colour, incense and elephants. It’s impossible to visit Tamil Nadu and not be seduced by their beauty, whatever your religion.
The Bay of Bengal forms the entire eastern edge of Tamil Nadu, and the beaches are a wonderful place to watch local life. Currents can be strong and swimming is not always advised, but a stroll along the shoreline, catching the sea air and watching the fishermen ply their trade, is a wonderful contrast from the bustle of the cities. Get up at sunrise to watch the fishing boats head out to sea, or dine on fresh seafood straight from the ocean. I stayed at the Ideal Beach Resort near Mahabalipuram, and it was a wonderful few days enjoying the beach life.
If the eastern edge of Tamil Nadu is all about the ocean, the western edge is all mountain. The Western Ghats, the iconic mountain chain which runs down much of western India, forms the westerly border of the state, and is a joy to visit with its lush slopes and hill stations such as picturesque Kodaikanal. Visit tea plantations, where local women still gather the tea by hand, or check out a processing plant to see how the fresh leaves are dried to make a brew. Or maybe visit a spice garden, where cinnamon, black pepper and many other spices are grown and processed. Then relax in one of the hill stations; for the iconic destination, take the Nilgiri Mountain Railway from dusty Mettupalayam to the colonial outpost of Ooty, where the altitude cools the atmosphere and Indian tourists come out to play.
Tamil Nadu has a slightly gentler pace of life than the north. It is still bustling with life, but the people are just that little bit more laid back, that little bit keener to interact with you. They are often as interested in you as you are in them, and it’s not unusual to be asked for a photo by locals who rarely get a chance to speak to foreigners. The number of tourists, too, is lower here in the south, and the number of touts along with them; you are less likely to be hassled here than you are in the northern travel hotspots. Put simply, the local people are one of the joys of Tamil Nadu, and your Indian experience will be more authentic as a result.
Southern Indian cuisine is, frankly, to die for – and if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you couldn’t be in a better place. Many Hindus are vegetarian, so local menus have an incredible variety of veggie options, and it’s not unusual to see more than half the menu being meat-free. Fragrant curries and their spicier cousins abound, but local specialities include the thali, a platter of various curries and pickles, and the dhosa, a thin pancake filled with meat or vegetables which are definitely more filling that you think! If I could pick one location in the world for food alone, Tamil Nadu would be it.
Are you inspired by this list to visit Tamil Nadu? Do you have any favourites I haven’t mentioned? Let me know in the comments!
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I’m Jill, and I’m a British blogger who has been travelling for more than 15 years, visiting 65+ countries on 6 continents. I love to travel both solo and with groups, and to discover the cultures and peoples of the countries I visit. And I love to share a good story or two along the way!