Chennai: Picture this: the towering gopuram of a temple sculpted out of mere rocks forming the perfect backdrop for a beautiful maiden decked out in precious jewels as she gracefully performs a Bharatanatyam piece. Across the temple pond sits a small kadai (shop) that boasts of beautiful Tanjore paintings and artifacts of sage Thiruvalluvar penning the ‘Thirukkural’ on a palm leaf with a stylus; the aroma of coffee wafts from a hotel where steaming, soft idlis and sambar topped with a drop of ghee beckon. Yes, this is the proud land of the Tamils, the southernmost State of India, Tamil Nadu… ‘Vango, Vanakkam’…

Once in Tamil Nadu, it is hard to ignore the legacy of a State steeped in its glorious past. Relics from yesteryears stand proud everywhere. Tamil Nadu offers something for everyone, from the history buff to the arts & culture aficionado or even the adventure enthusiast. Add to that, there’s the ubiquitous idli/dosa and the allure of filter kaapi

“The State Tourism Department will continue to introduce innovative activities and strategies to promote tourism in an effective manner. Different stake holders in the area of tourism are working actively with the Tourism Department for promoting Tamil Nadu. This will be strengthened further. All steps are being taken to make this State the most preferred national and international tourism destination,” said Vellamandi N Natarajan, Minister for Tourism, Tamil Nadu. With growth in terms of tourist arrivals, both domestic as well as foreign, the State has been successfully monetising its vast topographical and historical assets.

One of the oldest yet prominent civilisations in India’s history, Tamil Nadu is home to a variety of cultures that is remarkable on many counts. Tamil – the oldest of India’s modern languages and the official language of the State – has been cited as the only example of an ancient classical tongue which has survived over 2500 years with its basic structure intact.

Unlike other States in India, Tamil Nadu’s tourism landscape is blessed with attractions under all segments. It is home to some of the planet’s oldest civilizational cultures, historical monuments, outstanding temple architecture, mesmerising destinations, forests and five UNESCO® World Heritage Sites. Having stated that, the State’s infrastructure for quicker access to distant locations and larger disposable incomes of domestic tourists and their aspirations are believed to be the key reasons for Tamil Nadu to account for the largest share in terms of tourist arrivals in India.

Over the last four years, Tamil Nadu managed to increase domestic tourist arrivals by 1.75 crore and foreign tourist arrivals (FTA) by 2.01 lakh. According to the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC), foreign tourists are keen to visit the towering temples and heritage sites which the State is most famous for.

The countries which account for the major share of FTAs in Tamil Nadu are the US, UK, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Australia, Germany, Oman, Japan, Italy, France and Bangladesh. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, the State topped the list of best performing States in domestic and foreign tourist arrivals.

“The arrival of national and international tourists have increased in 2017 following our effective marketing strategies,” the Minister said. Chennai, Madurai, Kanchipuram, Mamallapuram, Tiruchirapalli, Chidambaram, Kanyakumari, Rameswaram, the Great Living Chola temples, Ooty and Kodaikanal have been some of the most preferred destinations by foreign tourists.

Tourism Policy

At present, the main goal of the State’s tourism department is to give maximum exposure to its rich and diversified cultural heritage and historical monuments that are world famous for their architectural splendour. “The immense potential for tourism in Tamil Nadu must be supplemented by creating more infrastructure and meticulous efforts to rejuvenate the existing tourism infrastructure. And that is how the State Government plans to increase tourist footfall in the immediate future,” said V Palanikumar IAS, Commissioner of Tourism and CMD, Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC). The State tourism policy also envisages identifying lesser known destinations like Krishnagiri, Valparai and Jain Heritage sites across Tamil Nadu for the promotion of tourism.

Breathtaking Colours, Festivals & Heritage

The rich cultural practices, rituals and festivals of the State have been head turners for tourists arriving in various parts of Tamil Nadu. Having realised how it could bring in new dynamics to tourism, especially to rural places, Palanikumar says, “Promotion of environmentally and culturally-sustainable and socially-inclusive tourism development is another main agenda for us.”

Take for instance Mamallapuram which nests iconic destinations like the Shore Temple, Tiger Caves and the magnificent and ancient bas-reliefs. What makes these sculptural splendours more exciting to visit is their proximity to the silver sand beaches of Mamallapuram. The annual, month-long Indian Dance Festival held in December and January, does not fail to attract tourists from within India and abroad. The dance festival which is known to transcend cultural borders attracted a whopping 45,000 domestic tourists and 17,500 international travellers when it concluded in January this year.

The festival is enticing enough for international tourists to stay back for prolonged periods. It goes without saying that seasonal dance and music festivals held in Chidambaram, Thiruvaiyaru and Tanjore attract them in large numbers.

During the summer season (April to June) domestic tourists flock the serene hill stations for reprieve from the scorching sun and enjoy the salubrious climate at destinations like Ooty, Yercaud, Kodaikanal, Coonoor and Masinagudi. In a bid to encourage footfalls at the hill stations, Tamil Nadu tourism department has been organising Summer Festivals in places like Ooty, Yelagiri, Kodaikanal, Kalvarayan hills and Javvadhu hills. Classical and folk dance performances and literary gatherings are regular features of the summer festivals at hill stations.

Coastal Tourism

The State is uniquely blessed with a 1000-kilometre coastline, dotted with tranquil beaches, scenic lagoons and enthralling backwaters. From Mamallapuram to Mudaliarkuppam to Rameshwaram, Dhanushkodi, Kanyakumari and Colachel in the south, Tamil Nadu is garlanded by such picturesque destinations along the periphery.

Solo or Group, Tamil Nadu is Safe

In a bid to ensure the safety of tourists visiting Tamil Nadu, the State government has given shape to Tourist Security Organisation, functioning under the State’s tourism department. The activities of the organisation are co-ordinated by a Chief Tourism Warden who is stationed in Chennai. Station wardens have been deployed in key tourist destinations like Mamallapuram, Kanyakumari, Kodaikanal and Udhagamandalam (Ooty). At each centre, five tourist wardens work under their respective station wardens. “The main objective is to ensure hassle-free travel for tourists and assistance in the event of unforeseen incidents,” Palanikumar noted.

New Investments, New Inventories

The Ministry of Tourism (MoT), Government of India has sanctioned a sum of Rs. 16.47 crore for the development of Kancheepuram and Rs. 5.60 crore for Velankanni under the PRASAD (National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spirituality Augmentation Drive) scheme. With the project work under progress, the Union Government has released Rs. 3.29 crore and Rs. 1.12 crore for Kancheepuram and Velankanni project respectively. According to TTDC, the first phase of work under the scheme in Kancheepuram and Velankanni are to be completed by October.

Under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme of the MoT, Coastal Tourism destinations have been identified to develop theme-based tourist circuits and scale up the tourism value of all stakeholders. Identified locations under the scheme are Chennai-Marina Beach and Besant Nagar Beach; Mamallapuram Beach; Rameswaram; Manpadu and Kanyakumari. The MoT has allotted a sum of Rs. 99.91 crore of which Rs. 19.98 crore has been released to TTDC as first installment.

Tamil Nadu Travel Mart Society (TTMS)

The formation of TTMS and hosting of the tourism mart last year in Chennai marked the beginning of a new era in tourism for Tamil Nadu. The collective aims to address fast-growing challenges in the industry, especially for conventional stakeholders in the State. TTMS hopes to innovate the business models of trade and tour operators. “With more inventories like hotels, restaurants and other tourism-oriented amenities coming up, businesses also need to grow. For that we need increased networking between the industry players, like those in tourist feeder towns and tourist destinations,” says Sundar Singaram, Founding Member & Honorary Secretary, TTMS. “With the second edition of TTM in December 2019, we hope to engage more than 750 buyers through 350 stalls,” he added. In the maiden edition, held at Chennai Trade Centre, 400 buyers attended and 150 sellers participated. TTMS has been conducting roadshows across the State, targeting its operations in the areas designated under the four erstwhile kingdoms in Southern India – Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava. The rich cultural heritage of the State, according to Sundar, has remained untapped by the tourism sector. TTMS is expected to give a fresh impetus for the industry in the State, on par with Kerala Travel Mart (KTM) which was founded two decades ago.

Thanjavur

Thanjavur or Tanjore, is one of the 35 UNESCO® World Heritage Sites in India. For history buffs, Thanjavur is nothing short of a wonder as the town used to be the royal capital of the erstwhile Chola Kingdom and rose to prominence during the reign of Rajaraja Cholan I in the 10th century AD. The skyline of the temple town is dominated by the magnanimous Brihadeeswara Temple built by Rajaraja. The Art Gallery and the Saraswathi Mahal Library are also places of interest. Tanjore paintings originated here in the 16th century during the reign of the Marathas. Other places within a 40 km radius of the town include Thiruvaiyaru, Thirukandiyur, Kumbakonam, Thirubuvanam and Darasuram.

How to get there?

Thiruchirappalli Airport is 60 km away from Thanjavur. Also, the town is on the rail route – Chennai-Tiruchirappalli-Thanjavur. Thanjavur is well-connected by rail and road.

Kancheepuram

The erstwhile capital of Pallava dynasty is famous for its ancient temples like Ekambareswar Temple, Kailasanathar Temple, Varadharaja Swamy Temple  and Kamakshi Amman Temple. Kancheepuram is also renowned for its silk handlooms and sarees woven there.

How to get there?

Kancheepuram is 71 km by road from Chennai which is also the nearest airport. There are round-the-clock bus services to Kancheepuram from Chennai.

Rameswaram

It is an island located about 4 km off mainland Tamil Nadu on the east coast. The rail bridge constructed over the Bay of Bengal sea (Paamban Bridge) and a road bridge connect Rameshwaram to the mainland. The Ramanathaswamy Siva Temple, known for its numerous sacred wells, is the prime attraction at Rameswaram. Agnitheertham, Gandhamadhana Parvatham and Kothandaramar Temple are other pilgrim tourism spots. Between the Rameswaram strip and Sri Lanka is Kurusadai Island in the Gulf of Mannar, an ecological centre. Tourists with permits to the island can see coral reefs, dugongs and other marine life in the biosphere.

How to get there?

Madurai is the nearest airport (173 km). Rail and road links are available.

Tamil Nadu International Balloon festival

Along with myriad other festivals, Tamil Nadu will witness one of the most spectacular festivals of all time coming January. Chennai and Pollachi near Coimbatore will host the fifth edition of Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival (TNIBF) 2019. The event which is the 5th edition of Global Hot Air Balloon Festivals, organised by Global Media Box and The Slaves, is supported by Department of Tourism, Government of Tamil Nadu. TNIBF 2018 held in Pollachi earlier this year saw the flight of hot air balloons from six countries – the US, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Poland and Germany.

Save the dates

  • January 4 to 6, 2019 at Mahindra World City, Chennai
  • January 13 to 15, 2019, at Shakthi Mills Ground, Pollachi

How to get there?

Pollachi is an eight hours drive from Chennai, seven hours from Bengaluru and two hours from Coimbatore. The nearest airport and railway stations are located in Coimbatore. For more information, visit, www.tnibf.com.

Madurai

Madurai was planned and laid out by Pandya King Kulasekhara in the pattern of a lotus with the world famous Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple in the centre. Legend has it that a drop of nectar (mathuram) from Lord Shiva’s lock fell here, hence the name Madurai – the city of nectar. Gigantic Pandya era pillars, the 1000 Pillar Hall and the centrally-located sacred tank are the major attractions at Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple. Other places of interest in Madurai include Thirumalai Nayakar Palace, Mariamman Tank and Koodal Azhagar Temple.

How to get there?

Madurai has an airport and is an important railway junction.

Mudaliarkuppam Boat House

Located on East Coast Road (ECR) in Kancheepuram district, Mudaliarkuppam Boat House, also known as Raindrop House is a water sports facility under TTDC. The boat house offers water scooters, speed boat rides, cruises, rowing and kayaking. In what is a bonus to tourists who venture till there, greater flamingos are a sight to behold throughout the year and migratory ducks, terns and waders can be spotted during the winter months.

How to get there?

Mudaliarkuppam is 92 km by road from Chennai.

Mamallapuram

A World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO®, the town with its easy access to the east coast used to serve as one of the important ports for the erstwhile Pallava rulers. Places to see in Mamallapuram include the Shore Temple, the Five Rathas, Arjuna’s Penance and the Tiger Caves. A crocodile farm is located about 14 km north of Mamallapuram and 17 km west is Thirukazhukkundram which has the Vedagiriswar Temple with Lord Shiva as the principal deity. Sea-shell Museum is the newest attraction in Mamallapuram.

How to get there?

Nearest airport is Chennai (50 km). Nearest railway station in Chengalpet at 34 km.

Tourism Arrivals in Tamil Nadu

Year: 2014 Domestic: 32.75 Cr Foreign: 46.58 L

Year: 2015 Domestic: 33.34  Cr Foreign: 46.85 L

Year: 2016 Domestic: 34.38 Cr Foreign: 47.20 L

Year: 2017 Domestic: 34.50 Cr Foreign: 48.60 L

The Land of Festivals

  • Pongal Tourist Festival, Thanjavur – January
  • Hot Air Balloon Festival, Pollachi/Chennai – January
  • Brahan Natyanjali, Thanjavur – February
  • Tea and Tourism Festival, Ooty – May
  • Chithirai Tourism Festival, Madurai – May
  • Kannaki Kovil Thiruvizha, Uthamapalayam – Theni – May
  • Mango Festival, Krishnagiri – May
  • Saaral Thiruvizha, Courtallam – July/August
  • Aadiperkku Vizha, Hogenakkal – July/August
  • Valvil Ori Vizha, Kolli Hills – July/August
  • Sadhaya Vizha, Thanjavur – September/October
  • Vaikunda Ekadasi Festival, Srirangam – December/January
  • Indian Dance Festival, Mamallapuram – December/January
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Categories: Destinations India