How to plan a Pleasure and Spiritual trip to Tamil Nadu-1
There are many hidden treasures in Tamil Nadu and it has a fabulous record of attracting tourists. This article is the first in a series of articles, meant to enable the reader to get an accurate detail of the ways in which one can combine spiritual tours with a little bit of pleasure to the hot spots of beauty and tourist interest in the State of Tamil Nadu.
Introduction Tamil Nadu is ranked as the number one State on the Human Development Index scores and it is a matter of pride that the State is also one of the most favored in terms of tourism. There is a massive spiritual connection in every district. The aim of this series is to highlight the salient features of some of these spots that simply come alive with spirituality and also those that attract thousands in terms of natural beauty.
In this article, we will focus on a trip to Madurai, the third-largest cultural city in Tamil Nadu. We will also let readers know how to plan a six-day trip to Madurai and to Kodaikanal and another lovely hillock that houses Lord Muruga at Palani. Given here are the details as to what to see and the local transport facilities and other small details as well.
Let us focus on a) How to plan a trip to Madurai and Kodaikanal b) How to connect with Palani c) Places to see in Madurai d) Places to see at Kodaikanal and e) Tips for a comfortable visit.
How to plan a trip to Madurai and Kodaikanal Based on a personal experience, when I did not have much money on hand to go around, I remember having spent just around Rs.5000/-, with judicious planning and guidance from a good friend. The best option to visit both Kodaikanal and Palani is to stay at Dindigul, a district headquarters town, which is less than two hours by bus to Kodaikanal and just one hour to Palani. Please note that are hundreds of buses from Dindigul to Kodaikanal and hence that would work out very cheaply. The money that will be saved in this fashion can be spent on local sightseeing expenses. I had been there around a decade ago. However, it is possible to take local autos to most places in Kodaikanal. It is now said that tourist operators charge nothing less than Rs.14 per kilometer for a hired vehicle and a driver allowance of at least Rs.800 per day. Hence, if one stays in Dindigul and takes the early morning buses, one can comfortably see the places and come back to Dindigul.
Madurai, a lovely spiritual city can be approached from anywhere in Tamil Nadu. Madurai to Dindigul is just 64 kilometers and there are hundreds of buses that ply between this city and town. Hence, one can go up to Dindigul, complete Kodaikanal in three days, and on day 4, take off to Palani, very early in the morning. One can also find lodges at Rs.1000 for a decent non-AC room, per day, that gives you 24 hours of check out. Hence, it is fine to book in advance the lodges and then go around. Day 4 when you come back to Dindigul, take off to Madurai. At night, it is nice to stay at Madurai, in a decent lodge somewhere near the magnificent temple, at around Rs.1500 per day, The temple should be visited on the night of day 4. Day 4 and Day 6 should be spent in visiting the temples in and around Madurai.
There are many local buses that also connect to most temples in Madurai. Hence, you don't need to go around in a car or any other vehicle. Of course, there are some vehicles that take people in groups of ten. But the freedom to move around at one's pace will be lost. Alternatively, it is fine to first go to Madurai and then come back to Dindigul and go around.
How to connect with Palani Take a bus to Palani from Madurai. It is possible to find a bus every ten minutes or less. Travel time is just sixty minutes. There are some trains also. However, since the buses are so huge, there is no need to depend on the train. Once you reach the temple, please note that a huge number of beggars and touts will pounce on you. If you do not know Tamil, just walk ahead, saying " no thanks" and keep climbing up the temple. Do not speak in Hindi, as the tout will understand that you are a stranger and will keep on coming around you. Look for any educated person nearby and seek help, if needed. Hundreds will literally force you to buy the Pooja materials. However, it is fine to just ignore them and walk ahead. Climbing the temple and going around will take some one hour.
Places to see in Madurai Go around the various towers of the magnificent Meenakshi temple, which attracts thousands of foreign tourists, every day. Apart from this temple, there are six other temples that should be seen in two days' time, to complete your spiritual tour as well. The six temples are Sri Mavottru Velappar Temple, Tiruppuram Kundram Murugan Temple, Koodal Azagar Temple, Vanidyur Mari Amman temple, Nagasingam Yoga Narasimha Perumal Temple, and Kzhagar Kovil Temple. There are buses to most of these temples. The local people, particularly the hotel staff would be able to guide you to all the places. There is no need to spend money on costly autos or tourist cars.
Places to see at Kodaikanal As already mentioned, one should stay in Dindigul and take the early morning bus to Kodaikanal. One should ensure that after roaming around, one boards the evening bus at around 6 p.m., during which time it is fine to divide the time into three-time slots. Further directions can be obtained on the spot, as I do not remember much. We anyway had a car to go around. The tourist spots to be visited are the Dolphin's nose, Pillar rocks, Bear Shola Falls, Kodai Lake, Bryant Part, Siver cascade, which is one the way from Madurai to Kodaikanal (check for local buses to go there), Kurinji Andavar temple, Shenbagam Museum, Coaker's Wall, Pambar Falls, Nerijam Lake, Moir Point, and Guna Caves. One should go there on day 1 and just check for further details from a local tourist office. The Tamil Nadu Government has set up offices of the Tourism Development Corporation. So one can also check with the officials at Madurai to find out the best means of visiting and enjoying all the places.
Tips for a comfortable visit During Pongal festival time, it is lovely to visit Madurai, as the surrounding villages will be having a lot of festivities and temple poojas. Hence, the best time to visit Kodaikanal is between Jan 10 and Jan 12, and then take off to Palani on the 13th of Jan. Immediately, one should be in Madurai from Dindigul and stay in Madurai on Jan 14 and Jan 15. If these dates are not okay, then the best time to visit is early September but not October to December, when it rains quite heavily at Kodaikanal. Madurai will also have rain during this period.
And as far as food is concerned, it is fine to taste the Bun Parotta and Virudunagar Veechu Parotta, two special dishes in Madurai. Never miss having Jigarthanda, which is a lovely drink. It is made out of algae. In Madurai, it is fine to visit the "Aachi kadai" kind of shops that come alive after 6 PM, and taste the red hot idli, served with four chutneys. Non-vegetarian food is also available in these shops. However, one is told that the food is very spicy. During a tourist trip, such food is not advised. Ask for one or two hotels near the Meenakshi temple that serve what is called the "thavala vadai". This is a lovely vada, made out of some combination of different dal powders.
It is advisable not to travel alone in any place, and it is not advisable to roam around after 8 p.m. with your wife. There are unruly elements everywhere and Madurai is no exception. The local people, however, are highly hospitable, and there are instances when they invite tourists for lunch and so on. One will be pleasantly surprised to find a full street, where one can get some sambar and some cooked vegetables for a very reasonable cost. Just buy a good tiffin carrier from a local shop. Go to any vegetarian hotel and request them to just give you the cooked food (rice) for three people. There are many hotels that give you this. Then go to the street (get details from local people) and get the homemade preparations and enjoy your lunch.
Never go around in costly taxis. As already mentioned, online booking of accommodation through any online agency to stay in Dindigul and Madurai is suggested. However, if you want to skip some places, it can be a five-day tour as well. However, since the additional cost is not much, one should spend six days. Please do note, that a full day of food in a decent vegetarian hotel and or in the Aachi kadai for dinner, would not exceed Rs.500 per adult, per day. A family of four can easily manage everything with a budget of around Rs.25,000/-.
So, hop around and enjoy this spiritual and leisure trip! Further details about bus routes will be mentioned after getting some details from the local people.
Conclusion Tamil Nadu is such a lovely State to visit. The temperatures in the month of January will be tolerable in Madurai and very good in Kodaikanal. There will be no rain. However, September is also an ideal time to visit, as already suggested, is within the first ten days of September every year. Further details given, hopefully, will be very useful for any tourist. Read also Part-2
I had the visited the places mentioned in this article-viz, Madurai, Kodaikanal and Palani. Hence I read this article with interest and to check what I missed in my visits. While Palani is essentially a worship pilgrim centre, Kodaikanal is a hill station for entertainment and recharge, Madurai is a mix of general and historical place visit and temple worship.
As such all these places have more floating population and hence one cannot totally avoid exploitations by various groups like vendors, taximen, auto drivers and touts. It is better to do a homework before the first visit by asking experienced people and from the feedbacks and reviews on the travel and tour websites.
Compared to many places Madurai is relatively cheaper and affordable. Except for the main seasons, rooms are available at affordable rates. Though many may not have luxury facilities, they are sufficient and economical for short stay. Food is also cheaper and has variety for various tastes and habits.
In Palani it is mainly the temple visit. Pilgrims can reach the hill temple from the base by Cable car and Winch rail in addition to climbing steps. Climbing up and getting down - by whatever mode- itself is a unique experience. It is preferable to visit during mornings and evenings in summer seasons. There is facility for free darshan as well as with entrance tickets. One can buy various items of temple prasad ,manly the famous "Palani Panchamritam" from the authorised counters at the hill temple.
Kodaikanal has all the elements of a hill station-lake, gardens, view points, cool weather, fruits and vegetable grow in hills,, walk tracks and comfort stay resorts and hotels. There are regular/ seasonal package trips for the tourists,
While the article says about the three main places, people can customize including more nearby and/or on-the-way places and spots by proper planning and schedule.
The article is a good introduction to induce expectation and interest in reader to visit these places if not done earlier.