Too far south in India for invaders to reach and make their mark the architecture, music, culture and spirituality of Tamil Nadu developed in its own way. Religion dominates nearly every aspect of life and you are never far away from elaborately decorated temples, some of them so big they are like villages in their own right. Sensuously carved dancers and deities charm their way on to walls and columns, vibrant medieval paintings cling to ceilings and hand cast bronze statues shelter in holy niches.
Heading south from Madras (Chennai) temple highlights include the eighth century sea ravaged Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram, the pilgrimage town of Kanchipuram ‘golden city of 1000 temples, Tanjore (just 100 here), dominated by the enormous Brihadishwara temple and Trichy with a temple topped rock looming above markets. If that all sounds a little too temple-tastic then we’ll only insist that you visit Madurai - its Sri Meenakshi temple draws hundreds of worshippers every day and is not to be missed.
Temples are Tamil Nadu’s big draw but in our opinion the tea plantations and forests of the Southern Ghats are also worthy of exploration and can be reached by the narrow-gauge Nilgiri Blue Mountain Railway to the hill station of Ooty. There’s a little piece of France to be enjoyed in the enclave of Pondicherry on the Coromandel coast, and Chettinad demands a leisurely few days of pottering around its abandoned mansions, cycling down quiet lanes and digging around the markets for antiques.