Tag Archives: Kumbakonam

Temple Run: Kumbakonam Heritage Trail

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY uncover a heritage trail around the temple town of Kumbakonam visiting Chola shrines, weaving villages and bronze casters

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In a corner of the 30,187 sq ft compound of the town’s largest Shiva shrine, Mangalamba, the 40-year-old temple elephant was being scrubbed and bathed by four men. Outside, the canopied market bristled with the sale of religious trinkets at dawn while the aroma of coffee wafted from roadside cafes. Rajagopuram, the majestic 128 ft high eastern gateway soared skyward like a multi-hued pyramid. In the sanctum of Adi Kumbeswara in the temple town of Kumbakonam, the Lord was ready for the day’s stream of devotees…

Set in the rice bowl of Central Tamil Nadu, Kumbakonam has been revered since ancient times. According to mythology as the end of an epoch drew near, Lord Brahma approached Lord Shiva for divine counsel. He was instructed to worship the celestial kumbha (pot) containing amrit (nectar) and the seeds of creation and place it atop Mount Meru (Himalayas). During the Great Deluge, the floodwaters displaced the pot and carried it southwards. Guised as a kirata (hunter), Shiva shot an arrow at the pot and released the nectar, which formed the sacred Mahamaham Tank. Mixing broken pieces of the pot with nectar, he fashioned a lingam and merged into it. Ever since he is worshipped as Kirata murti, Amrudeswara or Adi Kumbeswara and the place was known as Kumbakonam or Town of the Celestial Pot. The seeds of creation thus dispersed sprouted new life again, symbolically represented as a hundred Shiva shrines in and around town.

As per Kumbakonam’s creation myth, when Lord Shiva broke the pot after the flood subsided, its contents were scattered across the countryside. The spot where the bilva leaf came to rest became a Bilva-vanam at Nageswara temple, where the yagnopaveetham (sacred thread) fell became Yagnopaveeteswara or Gautameswara, the coconut took root at Abimugeswara, the string securing the pot formed the linga at Someswara while the place where Shiva’s baanam (arrow) landed became the Bana Pureeswara temple.

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Kumbakonam temple tour

In the Adi Kumbeswara complex, colours of the temple’s gopurams (gateways) leapt out like vibrant parakeets as we absorbed the fascinating detail of sculptures. Pilgrims wound their way past the flagstaff and silver chariots towards the sanctum. ‘No abhishekams (libations) are offered to the lingam’ the priest hushed. ‘It will get destroyed since it is made of earth’, he added conspiratorially. ‘So it is coated with punagu, the dark scented secretion of a civet cat!’ The principal deity Sri Kiratamurti held a bow and arrow.

The temple also had a resting chamber for the Lord and his consort Mangal Ambigai besides sub-shrines for Adi Vinayaka and Lord Subrahmanya, who wielded different weapons in six hands, instead of twelve. The Navarathri Mandapam was a monolithic wonder displaying 27 stars and 12 rasis (moon signs).

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Nageshwara Swami Temple nearby, the town’s oldest shrine, was a fine example of early Chola art with painted ceilings and exquisite bronze sculptures of dancing deities and rich patrons. There were stunning shrines to Lord Vishnu as well – Ramaswamy Temple depicted scenes from the Ramayana and Sri Chakrapani Temple helped remove the malefic effects of planets.

The 150 ft tall rajagopuram of Sarangapani Swami Temple was suffused with erotic sculptures, erected by Lakshmi Narayana Swami, a staunch Vishnu devotee. He died on the holy day of Deepavali but being a bachelor he had no heirs, so the lord himself is believed to have performed his funeral rites. Even today, priests perform shraadh for him on behalf of the Lord on Diwali!

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Mystical excursions

Swamimalai, a short drive west of Kumbakonam was the site of Lord Murugan’s sacred shrine atop a malai or rocky hillock. It recounted the tale of how Murugan or Swaminathan took on the unconventional role of a ‘swami’ or teacher to expound the meaning of Om, the pranava mantra to his own father, Lord Shiva. Lending credence to the myth, Murugan’s shrine enjoyed an exalted position while the lower temple was consecrated to Lord Sundareswara and Goddess Meenakshi. After a luxurious veg thali meal at the heritage resort Indeco Swamimalai, we witnessed local craftsmen at work.

At Nachiyar Koil, around 10 km from Kumbakonam, we discovered that the main shrine was dedicated to Vanjulavalli or Nachiyar, Vishnu’s consort whom he married as a commoner. To give her due prominence, devotees first visit her shrine before praying to the Lord and her idol leads the procession on a swan during festivals. To ensure that Vishnu trails behind on his Garuda, a mysterious phenomenon slows down the lord’s swift mount. When the deity is taken out, only four people are needed to carry it out of the sanctum, but as the procession continues, the Garuda progressively doubles its weight till 8, 16, 32, 64 and 128 persons are required to bear it. Strangely, the reverse takes place on the return trip!

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The great living Chola Temples

Besides Thanjavur, two UNESCO world heritage sites near Kumbakonam showcase the zenith of 11th -12th Century Chola architecture. At Darasuram the intricate carvings of Airavateshvara temple complex could be seen in the trellis screens of the Alankara Mandapam, the wheeled stone chariot drawn by horses and elephants and the 108 pillars depicting the marriage of Shiva and Parvati at Rajagambhiran Mandapam.

As per legend, once Sage Durvasa, notorious for his fiery temper, gifted a celestial garland to Lord Indra passing by on his royal mount the white elephant Airavata. Indra placed the wreath on the elephant’s head. Irritated by the bees attracted by the garland’s heady aroma, Airavata trampled it and incurred the sage’s wrath. Cursed that he would lose his pristine colour, Airavata performed a penance to appease Lord Shiva at Darasuram to regain his former glory. The lingam worshipped by Airavata was thus known as Airavateswara. 

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The magnificent replica of the Brihadisvara temple at Gangaikondacholapuram, the victory capital of the Cholas, marked their successful northward expedition up to the Ganges. King Rajendra Chola returned with holy water from the river and had it poured into the temple well. As a symbolic gesture, the leonine sculpture of Simha Kinaru, a representation of the imperial crest of the Cholas, stands guard.

Yet, Kumbakonam’s fame went beyond its shrines as we discovered its other secrets – the house of Math genius Srinivasa Ramanujan turned into a museum, shops selling fresh-roasted coffee and artisans handcrafting brass and bronzeware! Just beyond the Periya Nayaki Amman shrine at Darasuram, skeins of dyed silk hung like garlands in the bylanes of the weaving village. Interestingly, the weavers traced their ancestry to distant Saurashtra and almost every household wove traditional saris that could be bought off the shelf!

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Mahamaham Tank

The famed Mahamaham Tank spanning 6.2 acres and circled by 16 pavilions is the venue for the Mahamaham festival occurring once in 12 years. The tank’s sanctity is proved by the belief that nine river goddesses come during the festival to cleanse themselves of the sins they washed off their devotees. Lakhs of people will converge at the next festival (Feb-March 2016), dubbed as the Kumbh Mela of South India.

Sitting on the steps of the mighty Mahamaham tank we watched people washing clothes and bathing themselves in its green waters. The city skyline was a broken circle of temple towers and buildings jostling for space. History, myth and modernity melded together to create a strange alloy of architecture reflected in the waters. In the lanes, cows ambled among shoppers as men and women sat down to gossip as they mechanically strung flowers in radiant colours for gods and mortals. When the temple priests sang lullabies to put their deities to sleep, Kumbakonam slept as if anointed from head to toe, by the Kaveri River to the north and the Arasalar River to the south.

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FACT FILE

At a Glance
Hailed as a seat of culture and education from the Sangam period, Kumbakonam came under the sway of formidable dynasties like the Cholas, Pallavas, Pandyas, Vijayanagar kings, Nayaks and the British. By 7th century Kumbakonam was the capital of the Chola Empire, which at its peak (9-12 century) extended from coast to coast. The town, built around the Adi Kumbeswara Temple, bustles with weavers, potters and metalsmiths still practicing their centuries-old crafts and temple towns like Darasuram, Swamimalai and Gangaikondacholapuram nearby.     

Things to Do

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Try Kumbakonam’s degree coffee
The town’s signature brew was the brainchild of Panchapikesa Iyer of Laxmi Vilas, who transformed a cup of coffee into an art form. Though today’s variants are either too milky or diluted, saccharine or bitter and too dark or light, only Murali’s Café promises a cup that is closer to the original – a dabara-tumbler with decoction made from freshly ground roast beans, the perfect bittersweet blend of chicory, a whisk of frothy fresh milk and just a dash of sugar. Narasu, Santhi and Padma are leading brands of Kumbakonam coffee available locally.

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Visit a weaving village
Villages around Kumbakonam like Darasuram and Tirubhuvanam reverberate with the rattle of looms where the family tradition of weaving has continued for generations. Weavers are happy to display the entire process of spinning and weaving vibrant traditional  and scarves, often selling their products directly, at a discount. 

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Brass and bronze manufacture
While Kumbakonam’s Pottramarai South Street is crammed with retailers like Sri Meenatchi Vilas Pathura Maligai, Cholan Vilas Pathiram Maligai and Gomathi Vilas selling a wide range of metal artifacts, idols and vessels, the process of watching metalsmiths at work is more rewarding. Ramakrishna Metal Works near Kammala Street at Nachiyar Kovil is popular for brass ornamental lamps, Rajan Bronze Arts in Swamimalai is renowned for its bronze idols while some resorts like Indeco Swamimalai and Paradise have in-house craft centres.

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Driving Tour of Navagraha temples
The Navagraha Temple Circuit is a popular tour covering a 60km radius around Kumbakonam. The devout believe that the worship of shrines dedicated to the nine celestial planets will remove doshas (malefic effects) and impart benefits. One can cover the temples leisurely over a few days or opt for a guided 1-day tour (5am-10pm, Rs.2,500/head, inclusive of meals and transport).

FYI

When to Go
Avoid April-June as summers can be very hot and dry. October to March is an ideal time to visit Kumbakonam, when the weather is pleasant and the town comes alive with various festivals – Deepavali (Oct), Makara Pongal (Jan) and the Maha Sivaratri and Magam festivals (Feb–Mar).

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Getting there
By Air: Trichy International Airport (Ph 0431 2340551) is the nearest airport, around 90 km from Kumbakonam via SH-22.

By Rail: Catch the daily Trichy Express (daily 8:15am) from Chennai’s Egmore station, which takes about 6 hrs to reach Kumbakonam at 2:10pm.

By Road: Kumbakonam is 40 km northeast of Thanjavur and 285 km south of Chennai.

Getting Around

Though pre-arranged cabs are convenient, auto-rickshaws are more economical and practical for negotiating the busy streets. Bicycles are also available on hire. The state highway enters Kumbakonam from the east via Tirubhuvanam and merges into NH-45C that exits from the west towards Darasuram and Swamimalai. Buses to Darasuram, Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram ply regularly from Kumbakonam bus station north of Mahamaham tank.

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Eat

Kumbakonam is packed with small restaurants and the ubiquitous South Indian mess. Hotel Venkatramana at Gandhi Park North (Ph 0435 2400736, 9486433736) has been serving traditional meals prepared without garlic for six decades. Local favourites include rava dosa with gosthu (spiced lentil-eggplant gravy), thirumal vadai, kadappa (potato moong dal kurma) and kothumai (cracked wheat halwa). Meenakshi Bhavan at Nageswaran North Street (Ph 0435 2430749) offers dosas, uthappams and appams, besides unusual items like paal paniyaram, veetu (oats) dosa, idiappams (string hoppers) and milk periyada (mildly sweet ball of black gram bean flour). Mami’s Mess off Periya Theru (Big Street) is a hole-in-wall shack dishing out home-made snacks besides full meals for lunch on banana leaf. If you’ve overdosed on south-Indian veg fare, head to Aathurar Restaurant (Ph 0435 2427666) or Hotel Chela (Ph 0435 2430336, 99443 04657) on Ayekulam Road which has a North Indian restaurant serving tandoori items, naans and kebabs.

Stay

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Mantra Veppathur
No.1 Bagavathapuram Main Road Extn, 536/537A Sri Sailapathipuram Village, Veppathur 612 103, Kumbakonam
Ph 0435 2462261, 2460141
www.mantraveppathur.com Tariff Rs.7,000-12,000 (30 rooms)
This eco-friendly resort wears its Tamil tradition proudly with a welcome fanfare for its guests, a drink of panakam (jaggery and ginger) or nannari sherbet and a soothing foot massage. Stay in Agraharam-style cottages embellished with Kanjeevaram silks, Athangudi tiles and Tanjore dolls and enjoy tasty veg cuisine. Rejuvenate at Punarjenma Ayurvedic spa or play traditional games like daayam (dice), palaanguri (cowrie) and parama-padam (snakes and ladders). The rustic charms of Mantra Chai Kadai and bullock cart rides to old Chola temples of Kalabhairava and Karkadeshwar add to the magic.

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Paradise Resort
3/1216, Tanjore Main Road, Darasuram, Ammapet, Kumbakonam 612103
Ph 0435 2416469, 3291354, 9943311354
www.paradiseresortindia.com Tariff Rs.4,400-7,500 (43 rooms)
A heritage resort on the banks the river Arasalar, Paradise offers a delightful blend of South Indian hospitality and modern comforts. Relax after an Ayurveda spa in renovated town houses, pool view heritage rooms or river view heritage row houses with antique doors. Dine in thatched tree huts or try Chettinad food at the restaurant. Walk in the garden with guinea fowl for company, learn pottery and metal casting at the craft centre or take an ox-cart ride to quaint villages and Ayyanar shrines. 

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Indeco Swamimalai
6/30 B, Agraharam, Thimmakudy Village, Baburajapuram Post, Kumbakonam  612302
Ph 0435 2480044/385/406, 94444 10396
www.indecohotels.com Tariff Rs.3,000-6,700 (28 suites)
Set in a 5½ acres site of an old 1896 Brahmin village, Indeco Swamimalai (formerly Sterling Anandham) is a unique theme-based heritage resort. It bears the imprint of Chairman & MD Steve Borgia’s vision to showcase a fascinating collection of antiques. Besides heritage rooms, an Ayurveda centre, a temple tank-shaped pool and elaborate thalis served at the restaurant, the resort has its own farm, cowshed, deer park and units for bronze casting and pottery. Every evening the Noor Deepam Mantapam is lit up with a hundred lamps and the village centre thrums with cultural programs.

 

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the September-October 2013 issue of Time Out Explorer magazine. 

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The Indian Sari: Unravelling the Whole Nine Yards

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY visit temple towns and weaving villages to uncover the magic of the nine yard sari

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In her 100-year-old stone home with polished red oxide floors, paati, our friend’s nonagenarian grandma used to wash all her saris on a granite slab. No army of servants or washing machine for her. A strict practitioner of her Iyengar traditions, she insisted on adhering to the old way – alternating beating her saris with a stick, turning each deftly and rinsing them with enviable strength. Then using a 10ft bamboo stick, she’d singlehandedly balance each of the 9-yards of cloth and cleverly spread it out on high rod near the ceiling to dry!

If anyone touched her sari, she’d scowl, chastise them tersely and repeat the washing process all over again! Sadly, both paati and her heritage home no longer exist but the image of her walking around draped in a madisar, the nine-yard wonder was refreshed when we visited old weaving towns in Tamil Nadu and witnessed traditional weddings.

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Varying in length, weave, style, fabric and drape, different cultures have interpreted this ‘unstitched length of cloth’ for over 5000 years. As a symbol of elegance and grace, the simple sari has been adopted as traditional attire for women not only across the Indian subcontinent, but several neighbouring Asian countries as well.

Historical records in Northern India dating as far back as 200 BC, relics from the Indus Valley excavations (2800-1800 BC), epics like the Mahabharata, the Tamil classic Silappadhikaram or Banabhatta’s Sanskrit work Kadambari, ancient cave paintings and sculptures serve as ample proof of how textiles and the sari in particular, evolved into a statement of identity across India.

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The sari is still considered to be the most sacred apparel at the time of worship, marriage, religious ceremonies and festivals since it is woven and not tailored. In the early days, needles made of bone were used in stitching, hence men wore dhotis and women wore saris that covered the whole body.

In the Natya Shastra, a treatise on ancient dance and costumes, the navel of the Supreme Being is considered to be the source of life and creativity, hence the midriff was exposed by the sari. Later, this was considered indecent and the drape was accordingly altered. Some believe that the blouse or bustier covering the torso was a 10th Century innovation to meet the demands of a more modest or orthodox society.

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Wrapped in a multitude of ways, saris have clung and flattered the voluptuous curves of Indian beauty, stirring passions and rousing poets and artists to write, sculpt and paint. Masterpieces like Raja Ravi Verma’s art, Gandharva sculptures and tomes of literature are testimony to this. Researchers believe that the sari is a combination of ancient everyday attire – a dhoti or sarong and a veil or wrap for the upper body.

The two-piece mundum nerayath or Kerala’s kasavu sari is said to be a remnant of this tradition. Today the Indian sari worn with pleats in the front, the pallu wrapped under the right armpit and thrown elegantly over the left shoulder, typifies formal chic and is the rage on fashion ramps and red carpet events. Embellished with rich embroidery, zardosi or gold zari and well-cut blouses, the sari has defined movie stars and fashionistas, inspired international and Indian designers like Zandra Rhodes and Shaina NC to create revolutionary styles and drapes.

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Unique styles have emerged from various regions in terms of weaving style and variety of fabrics. North India is famous for Banarasi, Tanchoi, Chikan, Jamdani while Kanjeevaram and Mysore silks rule the South. In the east, Baluchari, Kantha and Dhaka are most popular and Bandhani, Lehariyas and Chanderi are synonymous with western India.

Be it the kosa weavers of Janjgir Champa in Chhattisgarh or the muga silk weavers of Sualkuchi in Assam, Tamil Nadu’s temple towns of Kumbakonam, Darasuram and Madurai, Ilkal in Karnataka, Dharmavaram in Andhra, Sambalpur in Orissa or Paithan in Maharashtra, India’s corners still resound with the clatter of looms.

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The normal 5.6 yard sari worn over a petticoat and a blouse (or choli) can be draped diversely based on which region, community or tribe one belongs to. In North India and Gujarat, women wear the nivi style sari with pleats in the front and a long pallu drawn over the right shoulder with one end pulled across the abdomen and tucked at the back.

The unique Coorg or Kodagu style tucks the pleats behind, wraps the pallu across the bodice and clasps it with a brooch or knot over the right shoulder. Legend has it that the pleats were pushed to the back by the force of the River Cauvery flowing through the land.

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The 9-yard sari drape is a tad more complicated that was typically worn by traditional Brahmin women especially in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa. Called madisar in Tamil Nadu or kaccha in Maharashtra and Karnataka, and kaccha nivi in Andhra, the dhoti-style of the 9-yard drape is astonishingly versatile considering it can be worn without a blouse or any underclothes.

It involves a series of pleats, tucks and wraps that ensures you are covered from neck to toe. With one of the folds passed between the legs and tucked into the back (over an optional belt or string) and reams of cloth wrapped around, the style simultaneously covered and protected one’s modesty. Besides, the convenient trouser or dhoti-like style of the kaccha or madisar made it comfortable to work, walk or ride.

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For centuries the 9-yard sari has been worn by commoners, fisher folk to queens. Historically brave women like Queen Laxmibai of Jhansi, Rani Chennamma of Kittur or Ahalyabai Holkar of Malwa did not let their gender or costume deter them from going to war. In fact, they flaunted their culture proudly while fighting their enemies. Often statues and pictures depict them as sword-wielding women warriors donned in nine-yard saris astride horses.

Madisars are available in a variety of materials like silk, cotton, cotton-silk blends and polyester-cotton blends. They are a very important part of the Tamil Iyer and Iyengar culture and are included in every bride’s trousseau. The drape varies in the pallu or display end of the sari. It is worn over the right shoulder among Iyers while Iyengars, choose to drape it over the left shoulder.

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Madisars are worn on all the major events of a woman’s life right from kalyanam (marriage) to seemantham (equivalent of a baby shower), pujas and death ceremonies. From the coasts of the Konkan to the streets of Kalpathy or the bylanes of old Mysore one can witness how the madisar drape has survived time.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 2 July 2012 in Conde Nast Traveller online.

Holiday on a Banana Leaf: Best Places to Stay in Tamil Nadu

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One of the most popular tourist circuits in the country, Tamil Nadu has witnessed the impact of several cultures across centuries. Besides the royal stamp of the Pallavas, Cholas and Pandyas whose bustling seaports lured colonial powers like the Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, British and French, Tamil Nadu also bears the imprint of Roman and Armenian trade. Dotting the entire state are grand monuments, imperial forts, pristine beaches with soft sands, traditional temple towns, mist-covered hill stations and lush green paddy fields. The diversity of accommodation options would woo any traveller to overstay – from heritage hotels to boutique five star luxury, palatial mansions in Chettinad to French villas in Pondicherry, eco-friendly resorts on the Coromandel Coast to British clubs and bungalows in the hills… Here’s a selection of some amazing places to stay.

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Around Chennai: Vivanta by Taj Fisherman’s Cove
Though Chennai has its share of 5-star hotels, perhaps the best place to stay is far from the mob, 36 km south at Covelong. Fisherman’s Cove is a luxurious beachfront hotel near the serene Muttukadu backwaters off the East Coast Road. Built on the ramparts of an old 18th century Dutch fort and spread over 22 acres, the resort’s plush rooms, beachfront cottages and Scandinavian villas offer splendid views of the sea. Wade in 10,000 sq ft of crystal clear waters in the hotel’s Infinity pool with its luxurious plunge bar Sun Burst. Dine on exotic Seafood, Med and Continental fare at the three restaurants – Bay View, Upper Deck, Seagull while the signature Jiva Spa adds to the other sensual pleasures of the cove. It’s also a great base to visit nearby attractions like DakshinaChitra and Madras Crocodile Bank.

Covelong Beach, Kanchipuram District 603112
t 044 67413333
www.vivantabytaj.com
Tariff Rs.8,400-11,900

Also check out: Hilton, Le Meridien, Sheraton, Marriott, Trident, Radisson, GRT Grand and The Park aresome of the biggest names in 5-star hospitality, though Taj Connemara, Chennai’s only heritage hotel, is the top pick.

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Mamallapuram: Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay
The maritime capital of the Pallavas, Mamallapuram was known in antiquity as The Town of Seven Pagodas after the seven Shore Temples that once dotted its coast. Today, only one remains and the best way to see it is not from land, but from sea, like the ancient mariners did. Boat rides to the Shore Temple are the signature activity at Temple Bay, besides a range of water sports. Set in a 46-acre oasis along a spotless waterfront, the resort has a wide choice of stay options. Exclusive pool villas come with private plunge pools while elegant chalets, villas and bungalows face the bay, the garden or the meandering swimming pool, one of the largest in south Asia. Sumptuous platters, grills and pastas await you at The Wharf, the seaside specialty restaurant (rated among Asia’s best) and Water’s Edge café a 24×7 multi-cuisine restaurant. A fitness centre, a 9-hole putting course and an uber cool spa make it the perfect setting for pleasure-seekers.

57 Covelong Road, Kanchipuram Dist, Mamallapuram 603104
Ph 044 27443636
www.radissonblu.com  
Tariff Rs.6,250-11,250

Also check out: Indeco Mahabalipuram near Shore Temple, a hotel housed in a museum on an 1820’s British camping site or the psychedelic guesthouses and lodges with rooftop cafes on Ottavadai Street, a favourite backpackers hangout.

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Pondicherry: Maison Perumal
With wide rues (streets) named after French governors lined by tall villas washed in yellow and white, Pondicherry has an archetypal colonial air about it. Yet, most travellers tend to miss Pondy’s other charms. Located in a quiet part of the Tamil Quarter is Maison Perumal, an extraordinary double-storeyed Chettiar bungalow. In keeping to its theme of homely hospitality, the renovated rooms are left unnumbered and the restaurant is sans a name. The friendly staff smile and clarify, “When you visit a friend’s place, does the guestroom or kitchen have a number or name?” Mellow lights, a smattering of antiques and furniture, sepia photographs and posters add to the old world charm. Large urali (metal cauldrons) with fronds and ferns pretty up the two sunlit courtyards while a band of geometric coloured stained glass bordering the balcony livens the interiors. After delicious seafood platters and eclectic Franco Tamil cuisine, the soft inviting bed beckons…need one ask for more?  

58, Perumal Koil Street, Pondicherry 605001
Ph 0413 2227519, 9442127519
www.cghearth.com  
Tariff Rs.6,790

Also check out: Other heritage stays and boutique addresses like Calve, Hotel de l’Orient, Le Dupleix, Villa Helena, Hotel de Pondicherry, Gratitude offer the characteristic trappings of French colonial comfort.

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ECR (East Coast Road): The Dune Eco-village Resort & Spa
Imagine a sprawling 35-acre area sprinkled with villas and rooms hidden from public view, gourmet restaurants dishing out fusion food, an exotic designer spa offering wat-su (water shiatsu treatment) and 700m of seafront just for you. Sounds as implausible as the desert planet of Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s Dune saga? Well, The Dune eco-hotel is as surreal as its literary inspiration. Bearing the creative stamp of architects Dimitri Klein and Neils Schonfelder, each room is radically different in design using recycled materials from local homes and palaces, besides a ship breaking yard! Dimitri confesses “It was a mistake that evolved into a hotel”! Organic linen, recycled wine bottles for water, CFL lamps, solar heating, cycles for guests and an in-house organic farm have ensured that the resort’s carbon footprint is 75% less than the industry standard. No surprise why it was voted as one of the 5 Best Ecological Hotels in the world (Geo), the Best Spa Destination (Harper Bazaar) and the Best Luxury Resort in 2011 (The Hindu-NDTV Lifestyle Award). Shop at Artyzan, a vocational academy cum design studio, for handmade local crafts.

Eco Beach Village, Pudhukuppam, Keelputhupet (via Pondy University) 605014
Ph 0413 2655751, 3244040, 9364455440
www.thedunehotel.com   
Tariff Rs.5,500-17,950

Also check out: Ocean Spray, Mango Hill and Ashok Resort off the ECR are great places to explore Auroville nearby

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Tranquebar: The Bungalow on the Beach
At dawn, in the erstwhile Danish outpost of Tranquebar, the old Dansborg Fort on the beach is cast into gold by the awakening sun; on the gilded sea, silhouettes of fishermen set sail for the days’ catch past the 12th Century Masilamani Nathar Temple. Such picture postcard images are what you wake up to at Neemrana’s heritage property, The Bungalow on the Beach, once the British Collector’s Office. Built on two levels with a runaround verandah offering views of the garden and the sea, the bungalow’s eight spacious rooms are named after Danish ships that docked at Tranquebar – Prince Christian, Crown Prince of Denmark, Queen Anna Sophia, Countess Moltke, Christianus Septimus. Parquet flooring, period furniture and collectibles, blue and white china and a trellised garden by the pool imbue the place with old world allure. An INTACH walk around the quaint town takes you to a Danish cemetery, Zion Church, New Jerusalem Church and The Governor’s bungalow, all built in the 1700s. 

24 King Street, Tharangambadi 609313, District Nagapattinam
t 04364 288065, 289034-36, 9750816034
www.neemranahotels.com
Tariff Rs.4,000-6,000

Also check out: Neemrana also runs a B&B facility in the Danish-Tamil style Gate House and the vernacular Nayak House, a Tamil sea-facing home with 4 rooms, which includes a Tower Room (the loftiest in town), ideal for honeymooners.

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Madurai: Heritage Madurai
The graceful peacock origami towel painstakingly embellished with tiny flower petals in the room defines Heritage Madurai’s idea of hospitality – god is in the details. Plush rooms, a sagely 200-year old banyan tree and a 17-acre shaded enclave diffuse the reality of being in a hectic temple town. Conceptualized by Geoffrey Bawa around the original British Clubhouse, the architecture illustrates his design philosophy of ‘tropical modernism’ and creating spaces that seamlessly blend the outside with the inside. The resort’s 72 rooms include 35 villas with sundecks and private plunge pools. Antique lamps and lanterns have been cleverly transformed into modern light fittings. Dine at Banyan Tree restaurant overlooking its namesake as chefs rustle up traditional Tamil, multi-cuisine and Sri Lankan fare. Indulge in the wellness spa offering traditional Ayurvedic therapies and western aroma massages. Swim in the Olympic-sized pool styled after Madurai’s famous temple tank Theppakulam. After the customary visit to Madurai Meenakshi Temple and Tirumala Nayaka Palace, drop by at the Gandhi Museum.

Heritage Madurai, 11 Melakkal Main Road, Kochadai, Madurai 625 016
Ph 0452 2385455, 3244185
www.heritagemadurai.com
Tariff Rs.6,400-10,000

Also check out: GRT Regency inthe heart of town and Taj Gateway a colonial retreatperched atop Pasumalai hill on the outskirts

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Kumbakonam: Mantra Veppathur
A welcome drink of panakam (jaggery and ginger), a relaxing foot massage and a gong sounded to mark your arrival, get ready for a traditional holiday at Mantra Veppathur. Situated in a coconut grove between the Cauvery and Veezhacholan rivers, the eco-resort has agraharam-style cottages called Mantra Ilam or Paniyar Ilam, decorated with Kanjeevaram silks and Thaliyatti bommai (Tanjore dolls). Wake up to the call of peacocks, dine on sattvik (veg) cuisine at Annaprasanna, take a plunge in the Infinity swimming pool and get an Ayurvedic massage at the Punarjenma spa. Traditional games like daayam (dice), palaanguri (cowrie), parama padam (snakes and ladders) add an authentic rural touch. In the evening, sip freshly brewed Kumbakonam coffee at the Mantra Chai Kadai, enjoy pastoral life on bullock cart rides, visit silk-weaving units or witness cultural performances at Mantra Kalairangam, the open-air theatre. And of course, don’t miss the grand Chola temples at Thanjavur, Kumbakonam, Darasuram and Gangaikondacholapuram.

No.1 Bagavathapuram Main Road Extn, 536/537A Sri Sailapathipuram Village, Veppathur 612 103, Kumbakonam, Thanjavur District.
T 0435 2462261, 2460141
www.mantraveppathur.com
Tariff Rs.7,000-12,000

Also check out: The riverside heritage property Paradise Resort and Indeco Swamimalai, an ethnic 1896 Tanjore village resort, India’s only winner of the Global Eco Tourism Award

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Chettinad: Chidambara Vilas
Chettinad’s latest heritage hotel is easily the final word in opulence. Earlier the mansion of TS Krishnappa Chettiar, Chidambara Vilas was built over a century ago at the cost of Rs.7 lakh! As you enter through the gate bearing the owner’s insignia, an ornately carved doorway makes you stop in your tracks. The profusion of carving, the pillars made of teak, rosewood and granite and the string of courtyards leave you in a whirl. Meticulously restored by the Sangam group, the resort’s 24 heritage rooms overlook a beautiful pool. The terrace offers a magnificent view of the region’s typical architectural landscape with endless rows of tiled roofs. The Bomma kottai (Hall of Dolls), renovated into a restaurant, serves authentic Chettinad fare on banana leaf. The only problem is, with so much pampering, you might not even stir out to see the Tirumayam Fort nearby.

TSK House, Ramachandrapuram, Kadiapatti, Pudukkottai Dist.
Ph 0433 3267070, 9843348531
www.chidambaravilas.com
Tariff Rs.12,000-15,000

Also check out: The other beautiful mansion hotels, Visalam, The Bangala, Chettinadu Mansion and Saratha Vilas, are located further south around Karaikudi and the heritage town of Kanadukathan

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Nilgiris: The Kurumba Village Resort
Cut away from the clamour of Ooty and Coonoor, Kurumba Village is located in a quiet forest patch between the 4th and 5th hairpin bends on the Mettupalayam-Coonoor road. Named after one of the five ancient tribes of the Nilgiris, its tribal-styled cottages in earthy tones, thatch-work roofs and Kurumba artefacts are a tribute to the ingenious forest dwellers. French windows offer an unhindered view of the Nilgiri hills while the balcony overlooks a British spice plantation of nutmeg, cloves, pepper and lofty trees of jackfruit and rosewood. Treetops, afire with the Flame of the Forest, attract sunbirds and flowerpeckers and one can spend hours watching the dance of wings. The large thatched dining area, where delicious meals are served, is an ideal perch above a murmuring brook. Go on a walking tour of the spice plantation, luxuriate in the stunning pool or hop on to the mountain railway for a leisurely ride up the hills.

Ooty Mettupalayam Road, Hill Grove Post, Kurumbadi 643102, The Nilgiris
Ph 0423 2103002-4, 2237222, 9443998886
www.kurumbavillageresort.com
Tariff Rs.8,500-13,000

Also check out: Heritage bungalows like Fernhills Palace, an organic cheese-making farmstay Acres Wild or the plush Destiny Farm, which also runs unique concept hotels like King’s Cliff and Sherlock

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Yercaud: Indeco Lake Forest Hotel
Half-hidden by tall trees dressed in pepper vines in a wooded corner near Yercaud Lake, this delightful resort was once the Eastlyne Farm Coffee Estate. Rosar Villa, the charming bungalow built in the 1800s overlooking the lobby and restaurant, is named after its former Portuguese owner Henrietta Charlotte Rosario, who resided here during the British days. Like all Indeco Hotels, the resort bears the signature of its chairman Steve Borgia – a front lobby that doubles up as a museum, adorned with carefully documented rare memorabilia.  A friendly chef and attentive staff make dining at the restaurant or in the sun-dappled courtyard, a pleasure. The Eastlyne Garden and Wood House suites give panoramic vistas of the Shevaroy Hills. Besides nature walks, Lake Forest is a great base to explore Yercaud’s main sights – the lake, Shevaroyan Temple, Botanical Garden and lookouts like Pagoda viewpoint, Lady’s Seat and Gent’s Seat.

Near Anna Park, Ondikadai Post, Yercaud 636 602, Salem District
Ph 04281 223217/8, 9444001438
www.yercaud.indecohotels.com
Tariff Rs.4,000-10,000

Also check out: GRT Nature Trails SkyRocca Yercaud, an extravagant resort contoured against the mountains and The Grange Resort, the first camping place of the British with facilities for off-road adventure.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the November, 2011 issue of JetWings magazine.