We just made a two-week trip through South India, visiting sites in southern Tamil Nadu and Kerala. These included Thanjavur (also known as Tanjore), Velankanni, Trichy (whose official name is Tiruchirappalli) and Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, and Trivandrum (whose official name is Thiruvananthapuram), Varkala, Alleppey (officially named Alappuzha) and the Kerala backwaters, Cochin (also called Kochi), and Kodungaloor in Kerala. Finally we passed through Coimbatore and Velore in Tamil Nadu on our way back home to Tiruvannamalai.
This post will give an overview of the trip: how we traveled, where we stayed, and brief highlights. Following posts will give much more detail on various aspects of the trip. There were many highlights, much to show you.
Overall Trip Map
We took a circle route, traveling by taxi from Tiruvannamalai, through important cities in central Tamil Nadu that we had not previously visited (Thanjavur, Trichy), then by overnight train to Kanyakumari. We again took taxis to a few cities and towns along the coast in Kerala (Trivandrum, Varkala, Alleppey, and Cochin) then finally by bus and train and taxi over two days back home to Tiruvannamalai.
First Leg: Tiruvannamalai to Thanjavur
We started out on the road from Tiruvannamalai to Tirukkoyilur. We were in Valen’s new taxi, and had asked his new wife, Sathya, to join us for the first few days. They were married some months ago, and live in Valen’s family home. They had never yet spent any time alone with one another. We thought that we could give them a few days together as a part of this trip.
Here is Arunachala as we departed from the holy mountain.
As we left Tiruvannamalai, the road to Tirukkoyilur was all torn up. I feared that perhaps this was a bad omen for the travel. It turned out that it was not.
On the way to Tirukkoyilur there are many colorful roadside shrines.
The first stop was for breakfast in a small roadside eatery just before Tirukkoyilur. Good food. Next time we take a morning trip in this area we will stop here again to eat.
All along the road there were piles of legumes–pulses–set out to dry for the final harvest.
After a bit we moved onto one of the new divided highways that are being built throughout India. Now the progress was much faster than we had planned for. We got to Thanjavur in about 3.5 hours. We had thought that it would take six or seven hours for the trip. The new roads sure made the drive faster!
We had made and confirmed reservations at the Hotel Valli in Thanjavur. They mishandled the reservations and so there were no rooms available. Based on this I would recommend that no traveler ever depend on the Hotel Valli for a room. We also found out that they have no western toilets and no elevators.
A highlight of the visit to Thanjavur was a World Heritage Site, the Brihadaswara Temple, with carvings dating from the 800 A.D. era. This is a special place. Look at this post for more, Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur (Tanjore).
We ended up staying the first night in the New Yorker Hotel. It was acceptable. And at least they had a room.
The next day we visited the Thanjavur Royal Palace. It features one of the largest collections of Chola-period statuary, from the period 1000 – 1200 A.D., that you will ever find. There is also a set of narrow stairs that climb up into the tower. Going up these stairs was fun. Look at this post for more: The Tanjore Palace.
We then moved to the Hotel Oriental Towers. It was the most expensive place we stayed in, but we really liked it. Nice rooms, hot water, AC, fresh towels, toilet paper, and more power plug outlets than we saw in any other place we stayed at during the trip. With a computer, phone charger, and two camera battery chargers, all the power outlets were a real blessing. Overall we stayed in Thanjavur for three nights.
Walking around Thanjavur (which is not much of a ‘walking city’), we saw this pretty canal running through the city.
Near the canal bridge a man approached us and prevented us from walking straight ahead. When we looked at the ground, we saw the mounded dirt of a grave, probably for some very poor person whose family and friends could not afford to buy the wood needed for a cremation. So the body was just buried next to the street.
Second Leg: Thanjavur to Trichy (with a side trip to Velankanni)
We wanted to visit the Velankanni church, the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health. It is known as ‘The Lourdes of the East’ due to several healing miracles attributed to the Mother Mary. It is a beautiful building, and pure white in the morning light. It is visited by many, mainly Indians. Look at this post for more: Velankanni Church – The Lourdes of the East.
Near to the church is the Velankanni beach. Here are Carol and Sathya, Valen’s wife, playing in the surf.
Then we drove to Trichy to see the sights before we were to board a night train south.
We first visited the wonderful Rock Fort Temple in the center of Trichy. What is shown below is only the topmost shrine. Beneath it is an elaborate temple carved out of the rock itself. I am told that it took 300 men 11 years to carve the temple out from the rock. Look at this post for more: Trichy’s famous “Rock Fort” Temple.
There is also a major Vishnu temple in the city, Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple. We went to visit there. We would not have been able to go inside the main shrine were it not for the help of Valen and Satya. This area was prohibited from visits by non-Hindus, and though we have thought ourselves to be Hindu for many years, we are not seen as such, perhaps due to our white skin. Valen went into the main temple office and signed some papers, vouching for us as Hindus. We were then allowed inside. Look at this post for more: Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Trichy.
We then were dropped off at the railway station, Tiruchchirappalli (the official name for Trichy), to depart on a 10 PM sleeper train south.
Third Leg: Trichy to Kanyakumari
We arrived in Kanyakumari a bit after dawn the next day. I was pretty tired, having gotten only a little sleep, even in a sleeper car. The stops at various stations along the way would wake me each time.
We stayed at the Manickam Tourist Home, near the ocean front. We had a nice ocean view from our room. This area is said to be one of the great spots for both sunrises and sunsets, but due to clouds, we saw neither in our two days here.
We did see and visit two island shrines nearby. The first is a Vivekananda Shrine.
The second is for the Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar. Ferries transport us to both island shrines.
One big thing to do here, and perhaps the reason this location is so visited by Indians, is that bathing in these waters is said to have the same spiritual benefit as bathing in the Ganges. One morning we saw many people going into the waters to take their holy bath. Look at this post for more: Kanyakumari – The Southernmost Tip of India.
I did this as well.
The next day was to be a three hour taxi ride to Trivandrum, with a stop at the fabulous Padmanabhapuram Palace about half of the distance along the way.
Below is shown the room for the king and his councilors. It is all made from wood, much of which is ornately carved. It is designed and constructed such that there is good cooling airflow, but the heat and light are excluded. Look at this post for more: Padmanabhapuram Palace, Magnificent Wooden Palace of Kerala.
We stayed in Trivandrum at the Wild Palms Home Stay, a beautiful old converted house.
While in the city we visited the zoological gardens complex, touring the Napier Museum and the great garden-like grounds. Look at this post for more: A Day in Trivandrum, Kerala.
We also tried to visit the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple, but once again were denied entrance because we were ‘not Hindu.’
Fifth Leg: Trivandrum to Varkala Beach
Next we are going to take a couple of days and go ‘beaching’ in Kerala. We take a taxi ride of about two hours. The roads are pretty good here, but they have not got the new divided highway built yet, so the roads do get crowded with traffic.
There are many grand, prosperous-looking houses near the road. It makes me think that there are Indians in Kerala with money. Talking to people, like the backwater boat captain, I learn that there are not many good jobs in Kerala, and that many men go to places like Saudi Arabia or Dubai to work, and then send most of the money back to their families. I wonder if these nice new houses were built with money earned by working overseas.
We arrive at the hotel where we’ll stay for the next two nights, The Kerala Bamboo Resort. The rooms are a bit rustic, western toilets but no hot water, and not well sealed, so mosquito nets were installed to go over the bed at night. Still this was a nice place to stay.
We learned during our visit that people stay in three areas: the North Cliff (the busiest area, where we stayed), the South Cliff (quieter and more peaceful) and an area to the north of the North Cliff, again quieter and more peaceful.
The beach was great. Many Westerners and Indians enjoy it. The water temperature is nice, not too hot, but still warm. Look at this post for more: Varkala Beach – Fun in the Sun in Kerala.
The cliffs are a great place to watch sunsets. There are many restaurants, especially along the North Cliff, and most are set up so that the customers can watch the sunset while they dine.
While we were there, we got the chance to watch the traditional theater of Kerala, Kathakali. We also got to see the performers getting prepare for the show, which is an elaborate process of dressing and applying makeup, that takes almost two hours.
The character below is the traditional Kathakali hero.
Below is a demoness, a villain. Note the red eyes, red from some native plant material placed in the eyes just before the performance to redden them.
We thoroughly enjoyed the show. It was just a vignette from the actual performance, which traditionally will last all night. This show was about one hour long. Look at this post for more: Kathakali – an Evening of Traditional Kerala Dance.
Sixth Leg: Varkala to Alleppey
Next we planned a trip into the Kerala backwaters. Alleppey is one of the jumping off points for these boat trips. We took a taxi there, about two hours.
More nice houses line the route. Many of them have metal roofs, like the one shown below. They are metal rather than thatch (usually made from palm leaves). They have no shortage of palm trees there, so there must be a reason that these metal roofs are used instead. Maybe it is the greater rainfall during the monsoons?
We stayed a couple of km out of Alleppey, at the Palmy Lake Resort. Nice place, pretty, green, peaceful, and the people who run it are very helpful to travelers. Even with mosquito nets and no hot water, we would recommend it to others.
That night we took a rickshaw to the other side of town to eat at the Chakara Restaurant, part of the upscale Raheem Residency Hotel. It was a good meal, and in a very pleasant environment. We would eat there again, given the chance.
The next day was spent on a backwater boat. There are many of these boats, of various designs. Some are designed for two passengers, like the one we were on. Some have many bedrooms, four, maybe more, and are designed for larger groups, such as the one in the photo below. The crew cooks and serves the meals on the boats, and these were about the best meals we had while in Kerala. It was a peaceful relaxed day and night, interspersed with great eating. Look at this post for more: Alleppey and the Kerala Backwaters.
Seventh Leg: Alleppey to Cochin
The next drive, to Cochin, was to the last major destination of this trip. Cochin is a city with very old western influence, with spice markets dating back, I think, even to Roman times, certainly to the 1500s for major trade with Europe. There are also ancient Christian traditions here, dating back to 52 AD, when St. Thomas founded seven churches in this region.
On the way, we passed by a Hindu Temple where there was a major celebration. Fancy decorations line then temple entrance. We went inside and got to see that many details are different in Kerala Hindu temples from what we have come to expect in Tamil Nadu.
We started to see a nice divided road again. In maybe two more years driving around India will be very different. These kinds of roads are being constructed all through India now, and parts of the new system are already being used. We drove on a few of these during this trip, and travel time was cut in half (or more) from the previous roads.
Fort Cochin (the old city) has many fully grown trees that line and shade the streets.
Below is the place we stayed, Chiramel Residency, another hotel made from a converted residence. Very nice rooms. Also a staff that gave good help to the traveler.
This is the inside of a spice shop in the spice market area. There were more big bags of spices here than I have ever seen in my life. There was an English lady in the shop at the same time we were in it. She was ecstatic. She showed me a small pile of some spice she had collected, and said it would cost four pounds in London. Here it is just a few pennies!
By the waterways are many of what are called “Chinese Fishing Nets,” that have weights and pulleys to dip them into the water and to draw them up and out.
Eighth Leg: Cochin to and from Kodungalur
Kodungalur is the site of the first church established in India by St. Thomas in 52 A.D. We took a taxi there and back so we could see this historic place. It was about 100 km round trip. The road was very crowded and there were many one-lane bridges over small waterways. The drive took almost two hours each way.
Here is the present-day church.
Ninth Leg: Cochin to Coimbatore
We had the taxi driver from the Kodungalur drive drop us off at the place to catch the bus to Coimbatore.
Here is the bus. We were told that this was a four-hour bus ride. It turned out to be a seven hour ride, so it was much longer than we were prepared for.
Cochin is really an island. To allow ocean traffic through, some of the roads have draw bridges, like the one shown here.
In the new part of town, Ernakulam, there are many high rise apartment buildings. Below are nice new ones by the waterfront. I saw a sign with prices: Rs 14 lakh to Rs 60 lakh for a flat.
Here is St. George’s Church on the mainland side of Cochin. It has an unusual shape.
Working on the new divided road.
As the bus headed east towards Coimbatore, there were low mountains visible. The bus route took a pass through these mountains. The reason for Coimbatore’s existence, I think, has to do with the trade route over this pass.
Rivers run through the area of the pass.
There are stumps of cut trees along the way. This is the start of the work for the new divided road. Part of the project includes cutting down hundreds of mature trees that line the road.
Countryside in the pass.
It was night when we came into Coimbatore. It is a bigger city that we had imagined, the second largest in Tamil Nadu, with about one million people.
Tenth Leg: Coimbatore to Velore, then home to Tiruvannamalai
The last leg was a five-hour train ride, followed by a two-hour taxi journey to our home.
We got on the train at Podanur Junction, near Coimbatore. I was a good thing that Carol had me check the tickets, otherwise I would have had the driver take us to the Coimbatore train station, and we would have missed the train.
Here is the train. Many passenger cars. We were on a sleeper car, which meant that the seats were not very comfortable for sitting. For five hours, this was a bit of a problem.
Much open or farmed countryside along the way.
A few small hills line the way.
We pass through a number of train stations. Vendors would be walking outside the train selling water, drinks and food through the open windows.
Looking out the windows. Windows on this train have metal bars.
As we drove back to Tiruvannamalai we saw many wedding halls that were illuminated by colored lights. This was one of the auspicious wedding days, so all the wedding halls were booked. Marriages are just on these auspicious days, so it can be difficult for the families to find a good place to have the wedding and reception the night before.
Finally, through the dark night, we see our house. Lights were turned on on the front porch, awaiting our return.
It was a good trip, lasting about two weeks, the first such trip that Carol and I have taken in India. There is so much to see here. But after we have seen what we were to see, we are glad to get home. And we continue to feel like Tiruvannamalai is such a good place in which to live. Thank you, Arunachala!
Related Posts, details of this trip:
Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur (Tanjore)
The Tanjore Palace
Velankanni Church – The Lourdes of the East
Trichy’s famous “Rock Fort” Temple
Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Trichy
Kanyakumari – The Southernmost Tip of India
Padmanabhapuram Palace, Magnificent Wooden Palace of Kerala
A Day in Trivandrum, Kerala
Varkala Beach – Fun in the Sun in Kerala
Kathakali – an Evening of Traditional Kerala Dance
Alleppey and the Kerala Backwaters