Chennai, the alluring capital of South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is one of the most beautiful cities in India located on the shores of Bay of Bengal. The gorgeous capital has always been held synonymous with rich culture & traditions and an intriguing history that unfolds many interesting chapters from the ancient times of Pandya and Chola rule to the more recent French, Portuguese and British colonization. Needless to say, the city and its neighbouring areas today, abound in numerous cultural and historical attractions that lure tourists from all across the world. Besides, there are a score of natural retreats too in and around Chennai that provide for perfect ambience to spend few days in the lap of Mother Nature. Whether you are looking for a cultural odyssey in the past, a pilgrimage tour, a romantic getaway, an adventure holiday or a short family break, that too on weekends, there are countless destinations near Chennai that can be explored without much planning. If you are also amongst the ones looking for a weekend escapade near Chennai, here is a consolidated list of 15 top destinations, just for you.
Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram
Also popularly known as Mamallapuram, Mahabalipuram makes as one of the top weekend getaways from Chennai. Located at just a distance of around 60 km. from the capital city of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, it’s an ancient town boasting a magical aura of its magnificent past. The town is known to have served as the political seat of the ‘Pallava Dynasty’ during 7th century and this is the time when this primeval city rose to its glorious heights; many brilliant structures were built during this era that even today, exude a magnetizing charm, calling innumerable tourists, historians, artists and archaeological buffs from different parts of the world.
The most famous attraction of this historical town is the ‘Shore Temple’ that lies along the beautiful coastline of Bay of Bengal. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the temple is considered to be the only one surviving till date out of 7 similar temples built during the Pallava rule. The most amazing thing about this temple is that it is one of the early few examples of stone-built temples of South India and is embellished with some excellent figurines of Hindu pantheon on its walls. On entering the temple premises, one is lead to a series of two sanctums, the bigger one dedicated to Lord Shiva and the smaller one enshrining the sculpture of Lord Vishnu in a reclining position. If you are travelling to Mahabalipuram in December, make sure to attend the cultural dance festival that is held here every year with ‘Shore Temple’ serving as a scintillating backdrop to the main stage.
Yet another amazing highlight of Mahabalipuram is its ‘Pancha Ratha’, a collection of 5 monolithic rock-cut temples with each dedicated to one of the Pandava brothers. The sheer beauty and grandeur of these temples, carved with stunning sculptures of various Gods, Goddesses and human & animal figurines can bewitch anyone in just a matter of few seconds. Truly, a gem of architectural masterpieces in Mahabalipuram, a visit to the Panch Rathas is sure to leave you wondering about the tremendous sculptural and architectural skills of the then sculptors and architects.
You cannot return from Mahabalipuram without visiting its open air museum of rock-cut sculptures, chiselled beautifully inside a series of caves. Also famed as the ‘Cave Temples of Mahabalipuram’, these temples are sure to take you in complete awe with their magnificently carved facades and walls. Most noteworthy amongst these caves temples are the ‘Varaha Cave Temple’, ‘Krishna Cave Temple’ and ‘Mahishasurmardini Cave Temple’ that bring to life with their sculptural representations, some of the famous Hindu mythological stories related to Lord Vishnu’s Varaha avatar, Lord Krishna saving the people from Lord Indra’s agony, holding Govardhan Parvat on his little finger and Goddess Durga killing the demon Mahishasur.
There are yet other amazing structures like ‘Krishna’s Butterball’ and ‘Arjuna’s Penance’ to be explored on your trip to Mahabalipuram. And if you are a beach-a-holic, there is a beautiful sandy beach too, where you can enjoy a nice picnic with your family after spending a whole day exploring the rich history of the city.
Needless to say, if you are one of those who yearn for short educational trips that provide you with some excellent insight into myriad forms of temple art & architecture that prevailed in India during historic times, Mahabalipuram is a place to head to, the coming weekend. And the best part is, it is just a short drive away from Chennai.
Pulicat Lake, Photo: https://goo.gl/f9QzXP
54 km. north of Chennai, Pulicat is a quaint seaside settlement sitting on the beautiful island of Sriharikota. The place makes as a famous weekend escapade for people living in nearby areas who primarily throng here to have fun-filled day outings with their friends and families.
‘Pulicat Lake’ is the major attraction of this little town and enjoys the status of being the second largest salt-water lagoon in India after the ‘Chilika Lake’ in Odisha. Needless to say, this enchanting lake is a treasure trove of scenic beauty and offers deep tranquillity and peace to the distressed souls. The lake is also a favourite haunt for many newly-weds and love struck couples who flock here to spend some romantic time in each other’s company, revelling themselves in dazzling vistas of the setting sun.
Nestled on the shores of the lake is the ‘Pulicat Bird Sanctuary’, which is yet another great destination in the town that makes as a ‘must visit’ place during your trip here, especially if you are a bird lover, a nature photographer or an eco-tourist. Spread over an area of 720 square kilometres (80% of which comes under Andhra Pradesh), the sanctuary is home to a number of resident and migratory birds including herons, ducks, pelicans and painted storks. Between mid-December and starting of January, thousands of flamingos from distant areas of Australia, Siberia and China flock here for nesting, transforming the sanctuary grounds into a big canvas painted in hues of pink. This is also the time when the annual flamingo festival is organized by the State Tourism Board, which needless to say, is a huge draw for tourists from far and wide.
Besides being one of the most famous eco-tourism destinations around Chennai, Pulicat also boasts of being an important historic town that was ruled by different colonial powers including Portuguese, Dutch and British over its due course of history. Many intriguing buildings such as the ‘Dutch Fort’, a ‘Dutch Cemetery’ and a church dating to the colonial era, make as interesting sites to explore during your visit here.
All in all, if you are looking for a short trip around Chennai where you can not only soak your souls in tremendous scenic beauty but, also where you get to have a slight rendezvous with the history of India, Pulicat is definitely a place to plan out for your next weekend excursion.
Once known as the ‘City of Thousand Temples’, Kanchipuram is today, a famous pilgrimage destination and is counted amongst the seven holiest cities in India. Located just 73 km. from Chennai, this temple city in ancient times, served as the religious capital of the rulers of the ‘Pallava Dynasty’, under whose reign numerous exquisite temples and shrines were built between 6th and 9th centuries AD. Needless to say, these primeval temples are today, a major draw for innumerable pilgrims, spiritually inclined and patrons of Dravidian art, luring them to Kanchipuram in massive numbers. On weekends, there is a huge rush of day trippers who travel here from neighbouring towns to immerse their souls in the spiritual aura of the place.
The most famous attraction of this religious capital of South India is its beautiful ‘Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple’ which is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Believed to have been built around late 7th century – early 8th century, the temple is entirely carved out of sandstone and exhibits typical Dravidian style of architecture. The main sanctum sanctorum with an intricately carved pyramidal shaped tower enshrines a 16 sided Shivlinga made of a black granite. The 58 small Shiva shrines with exquisite sculptural work enclosed inside the temple complex, again speak of the temple’s artistic grandeur. What further takes your breath away are the delicately carved sculptures of Lord Shiva and his consort, Goddess Parvati in different dancing postures adorning the inner temple walls. Undoubtedly, the most gorgeous temple in Kanchipuram, ‘Kanchi Kailasanathar’ is no less than an architectural masterpiece.
When in Kanchipuram, your eyes just cannot miss the views of the colossal 59 metres tall gopuram of the ‘Ekambareshwar Temple’, which is again a Shiva shrine. Looming over the azure skyline of the holy city, this temple is the largest in town and is known to have been originally built around 6th century AD although, the present day structure dates back to somewhere between 11th and 12 centuries AD. Besides its eye-catching gopuram, another prominent highlight of this ancient temple is its 1000 pillared hall that is embellished with 1008 carvings of Shivlinga on the inner walls, which needless to say, provide for a spectacular visual spectacle.
For the Vishnu devotees, the ‘Vaikunthperumal Temple’ in Kanchipuram makes for a ‘must-visit’. Dating back to mid-8th century AD, the temple is considered an abode of Lord Vishnu and is known for its triple shrine, each treasuring a sculpture of the god in a different posture. On entering the temple premises, one can also witness elaborate relief-sculptures depicting scenes from the history of Pallava dynasty on the interior walls.
While the list of temples in Kanchipuram is endless, if you are looking forward to indulge in some other interesting activities than just the temple exploration during your trip to Kanchipuram, head to ‘Kanchi Kudil’, a tiny heritage museum set up in an old rustic house. The museum gives you a deep insight into the cultural legacy of the city and its people. Housing the artefacts used by people of Tamil Nadu in olden times, a visit here makes for an educational and insightful experience not only for adults but, for kids too.
There is something for nature lovers too in Kanchipuram, the famous ‘Vednathangal Bird Sanctuary’. One of the oldest bird sanctuaries in the country, it is a bird lovers’ paradise offering them some beautiful sights of colourful winged creatures including parakeets, cuckoos, mynahs, egrets, spoonbills and pelicans.
In a nutshell, if you are looking for a place to visit near Chennai that offers a splendid cultural, religious, historical and a recreational experience, all combined in one, Kanchipuram absolutely makes for a perfect choice.
If hills, mountains, a pleasant weather and nature’s stupendous work of art is what that defines a perfect holiday destination for you, there can be no better choice than the picturesque hamlet of Yelagiri. Located nearly about 250 km. from Chennai, it undoubtedly, makes as one of the best hill towns to visit, preferably over a long weekend. Geographically speaking, the town sits under the shadow of four mountain peaks and is flanked by thick vegetation all around. To reach the hill station, one has to wind its way through 14 hairpin bends and traverse through a couple of twists and turns on the mountainous terrain. Passing through the hilly trails, a deep tranquillity and serenity filled in the air, takes you in complete awe, leaving you with a sense of great rejuvenation; splendid scenic vistas and a soft aroma of mango and jackfruit plantations further add to the rustic charm of the journey. Reaching the hill town, the first thing that takes your breaths away is the awe-inspiring spectacle of the ‘Punganoor Lake’ that sits right in the heart of the hill town. Cradling amidst towering hills with its shimmering blue waters, the lake makes as a great recreational spot for tourists on a holiday in Yelagiri; go for short boat rides when at the lake and soak your souls in enchanting vistas of the place.
For a much closer encounter with the Mother Nature, head to the ‘Jalagamparai Waterfalls’, located just a short distance from the main city centre. The fall provides a magnificent display during winter months when it gets fully loaded with water, looking all the more resplendent in its dazzling glory.
The hill town of Yelagiri also abounds in a number of temples, most famous of them being the ‘Jalagandeeswarar Temple’. One of the most alluring attractions in Yelagiri with an exquisite architecture and excellent stone work, the temple not only makes as a site for religious offerings but, also as a great spot to witness local customs and traditions too. The ‘Velavan Temple’ dedicated to Lord Murugan is yet another must visit temple in the town for all religious hearted.
Besides holiday seekers, nature lovers and spiritually inclined, Yelagiri is also a true paradise for many adventure freaks who often visit this hill town to satiate their cravings for mountain adventures. Needless to say, the hill area is home to a number of enthralling trekking trails, making it a heaven for trekkers. Most popular of these treks lead to the ‘Swamimalai Hill’, highest point of Yelagiri. Offering breath-taking views of the surrounding hills covered in layers of mist and cloud, a trekking expedition here is sure to leave you with a fulfilling experience. For those who are more adventurous at hearts, can try their hands at paragliding and rock climbing too.
For those who look forward to a tranquil vacation in the lap of nature, clubbed with all the fun and entertainment, must plan their visit to Yelagiri during its annual ‘Yelagiri Summer Festival’ that is held in June every year; teeming with fruit & flower shows, trekking & paragliding competitions, boat & cycle races, cultural & musical programmes and to top it all! Cooking shows and competitions for all the foodies; the summer festival is sure to make your weekend trip one of the most memorable trips of lifetime.
Perched atop the lovely Shevaroy Hills, amidst the serene ambience of the Eastern Ghats in Tamil Nadu, Yercaud is yet another picturesque hill station that finds its place amongst the top positions on the list of most beautiful places around Chennai. The name of the town which literally means the ‘Lake Forest’ comes from its enchanting lake that peacefully sits under the shadow of thick forests on all sides. The tiny hill town is also often referred to as the ‘Poor Man’s Ooty’, making it an idealistic choice for those seeking a weekend getaway on a budget.
The most sought after attraction in this sleepy hill town is undoubtedly, its quaint lake which truly is an epitome of natural beauty and provides for a soul-soothing experience to everyone. Needless to say, the postcard perfect setting of the lake, fringed with rolling green hills and lush vegetation, is sure to bring out that hidden photographer in you. This sleepy waterbody also makes as a great boating destination, luring all its visitors to enjoy a short cruise on its shimmering waters, taking in the vistas of magical scenery and a fresh breeze of air that leaves all their senses deeply rejuvenated. For food lovers, there is no dearth of eating options around the lake; with majority of eating joints serving authentic and delicious cuisine of Tamil Nadu, one can easily satiate his hunger cravings here that too, on a minimalistic cost.
Yercaud is a destination renowned for its rustic tea, coffee and spice plantations, aroma of which can deeply be sensed in its air. So, when you are at this captivating hill town, go exploring these beautiful plantations, majority of which lie along the ‘32-km Loop Road’. Winding your way uphill from the ‘Yercaud Lake’, loop road passes through enticing orchards of oranges, jackfruits and guavas, finally opening at an expansive stretch of plants and trees bearing coffee beans, tea leaves, cardamom pods and black pepper corns. Needless to say, as you walk along this 32 km track, keep an eye for occasional sightings of the region’s diverse wildlife.
A trip to Yercaud is incomplete without visiting its famous ‘Servaroyan Temple’. Dedicated to Goddess Kaveri, the temple sits on the highest point of the Shevaroy Hills and offers breath-taking panoramas of its pristine surroundings. Visiting the shrine, one can instantly feel those magical vibes of spirituality and mysticism that fill in the air, providing that much needed peace and solace to the fatigued and exhausted souls. Needless to say, the path leading to this sacred shrine abounds in a wealth of nature and offers an enthralling experience to trekkers and hikers.
You would be amazed to know that silk production and weaving has been one of the traditional arts of Tamil Nadu since ages and Yercaud is one of the primary centres where breeding of silk worm is carried out even today. So, if you are one of those offbeat and curious travellers who love to explore their holiday destinations to the fullest, a ‘Silk Farm’ visit should definitely be on your itineraries during your trip to this quaint little town.
So, summarising it all, whether you are looking forward to a great family outing, a honeymoon vacation, an exciting trekking expedition or just a short rendezvous with nature, Yercaud is a perfect destination that is surely going to leave you deeply refreshed and invigorated.
Another significant of the top places to visit near Chennai is the holy town of Thiruttani. Located 80 km. from the capital city of Tamil Nadu, the town is renowned for being home to one of the ‘Aarupadai Veedu’ shrines (the six holy abodes of Lord Murugan, where he is believed to have rested with his army) and is thronged by countless Murugan devotees every year. Needless to say, over weekends, the town sees an endless swarm of pilgrims who flock here from nearby towns of Bengaluru and Chennai.
The prime attraction of Thiruttani is by far the ‘Thiruthani Murugan Temple’, a 2000 years old shrine that is situated on top of the sacred Thiruthani hill. According to mythological legends, the temple sits at the very place where Lord Murugan, after slaying the demon Surapadman at Tiruchendur, took some rest and cooled down his anguish after a raging war; the lord is believed to have been residing here in his ever-smiling and peaceful avatar ever since. That is the reason, this holy shrine is also known as ‘Shantipuri’ – an abode of peace that blesses all its visitors with mental solace and happiness. The greatness of this temple is supported by the legend of Lord Rama, who after killing Ravana and worshipping Lord Shiva at Rameswaram, came to Thiruttani to find his complete peace of mind.
Anyone visiting the temple, first needs to take a bath in the sacred pool located on the foot of hill. Believed to be infused with therapeutic properties, a dip here completely relaxes your minds and bodies. After the holy bath, it’s now time to head for the darshans of the lord by climbing a series of 365 steps, with each step indicating a day of the year. Reaching the temple, the tranquil surroundings, a spiritual aura and a mesmerizing scenic beauty is sure to take you in complete awe of fascination, leaving you all entranced for a couple of minutes. After gasping some air and relaxing for a while, head to the main sanctum of the temple that enshrines the idol of Lord Murugan holding a Vajra in his right hand and his left hand resting on the hip; idols of his consorts, Devayani and Valli can also be seen with the lord in the sanctum sanctorum. Offer your heartfelt prayers to the lord and in return, get his blessings for eternal happiness and contentment.
Located on the shores of Palar River, Vellore is one of the most significant historical and cultural towns of South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The city’s cultural heritage showcases an amalgamation of various flavours, as left by different dynasties that reigned here during different times in the past; ranging from Pandyas, Cholas and Vijaynagara Kings to Carnatic Nawabs and British, everyone presented this beautiful city with numerous exquisite monuments and buildings that even today, stand as a great draw for tourists travelling here.
‘Vellore Fort’ is the prime highlight of the city that takes you back in ancient times. Dating back to 16th century AD and built by the Vijayanagara rulers, the massive fort today, with its enormously thick walls constructed in green granite, sits in the heart of the modern day Vellore and is flanked by huge ramparts and a wide moat that even as of date, remains filled with water where one can go for a refreshing boat ride. Considered as one of the most impregnable forts of its time, the ‘Vellore Fort’ exchanged hands with many dynasties and stood as a mute spectator to several important events that took place in the history of India; it is at this fort where the first armed revolt against the British started in 1806. Also, the tragic massacre of the Vijayanagara royal family was conspired inside the four walls of this fort only.
For tourists visiting the Vellore Fort, besides getting an insight into its intriguing history, there are quite a number of attractions too to see and admire; most famous amongst them is undoubtedly, the ‘Jalakandeswarar Temple’, again built during the times of Vijayanagara rulers. Dedicated to Lord Shiva who is worshipped here in the form of Lord Jalakandeswarar (god who resides in water), the temple stands as a fine example of the Vijayanagara architecture; elaborate carvings on the temple walls, pillars and gopuram provide a brilliant spectacle to the onlookers. Scores of exquisite monolithic sculptures too, can be seen inside the temple, which further add to its magnificent charm.
Next to the temple, inside the fort, is the pretty ‘St. John’s Church’ that was built in 1846 by the British during their reign in the city. The church opens its services for the public every Sunday and if you are in town over the weekend, do visit this ancient shrine that speaks of its fascinating past through a collection of well-preserved inscriptions that still ornament its walls.
The Vellore Fort tour is not considered complete if you miss a visit to the famous ‘Archaeological Survey Museum’. A paradise for history buffs and curious travellers, the museum presents you with an elaborate spectacle of some of the beautiful stone sculptures dating back to Pallava, Chola and Nayaka periods. Few exhibits of the 1806 Vellore Mutiny are also on display that even today, are sure to bring out that hidden patriotic within you.
On your weekend escapade to Vellore, do make sure to include a trip to the nearby town of Sripuram that is famous for its colossal temple dedicated to Goddess Mahalakshmi. Built entirely in pure gold, the temple is aptly named as the ‘Golden Temple’ of South India and attracts millions of tourists every year. Standing tall in its pristine glory and exhibiting opulence and grandeur from all angles, the temple is truly a masterpiece, a visit to which is sure to leave you with a spiritual experience unprecedented.
Located at only a distance of about 180 km. from the Tamil Nadu state capital, Nellore makes as one of the best places to visit near Chennai. The city residing in Tamil Nadu’s bordering state, Andhra Pradesh, is renowned for its rich cultural past and lures thousands of travellers from across India and parts of the world. The town is a home to a number of forts, most prominent of them being ‘Udayagiri Fort’ and ‘Venkatagiri Fort’. Nestled amidst picturesque ambience and exuding the aura of magnificence, these forts provide for a great retreat to historians and casual travellers who come here on short excursions.
Nellore is also a place that abounds in a number of nature retreats too; most famous of them being the beautiful ‘Nellapattu Bird Sanctuary’. A paradise for birders, wildlife photographers and nature lovers alike, the sanctuary is home to a number of avifauna species, both resident and migratory. A trip here is sure to give you an awesome time in the company of these colourful creatures who constantly fill the air with their musical chirps and often play hide and seek with the visitors. For those, to whom a definition of a nature retreat primarily means spending a leisurely time somewhere under the shade of palms, soaking themselves in the pristine beauty of an endless sea, they must head to the scenic ‘Mypadu Beach’; with its long stretch of soft golden sand, fringed with tall palms and offering a beautiful spectacle of calm and serene waters of the Bay of Bengal, this beach is indeed an ideal place to relax and unwind yourselves.
Nellore is also counted amongst one of the most popular weekend destinations for the religious hearted who often travel here to visit the magnificent ‘Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple’. Dedicated to Lord Ranganatha, a manifestation of Hindu God, Vishnu in his reclining position, this temple is the oldest in Nellore dating back to 12th century AD and is believed to have been built under the reign of ‘Pallava Dynasty’. The temple, besides being a significant religious site, primarily attracts visitors to see and admire its intricately carved 70 ft. tall ‘Gaaligopuram’ that further holds a 10 ft. of gold plated vessels called ‘Kalash’ on its top. Yet another main highlight of this temple is the carving of Lord Vishnu’s 1000 names on its walls and devotees while circumambulating the sanctum recite these 1000 names for the lord’s blessings.
For shopaholics visiting the city, there is no dearth of some great shopping options in Nellore. ‘Paturu’, a small village near the main city, is famous for its handicrafts and handloom industry. The hand-woven silk ‘Paturu Sarees’ are quite well-known and makes for an excellent buy during your trip here.
Sun-kissed beaches, a tranquil ambience and a beautiful French architecture, Pondicherry is one destination that is a ‘must explore’ for every ardent traveller in India. Aptly named as the ‘French Riviera of the East’, as soon as you step in Pondicherry, you will find yourselves to be transported back in gothic times when French had a strong control over this part of our nation; from architecture to sign-boards to restaurants, there is still that little influence of France at every twist and turn of the city.
While Pondicherry is a great holiday destination and you will find here, many travellers from different parts of India and abroad, the majority of the travellers come from neighbouring cities of Chennai and Bengaluru and what attracts them here is the city’s slow-paced life, a peaceful atmosphere and its super delicious food.
A great destination to unwind yourselves from a hectic schedule of work, there are many activities in Pondicherry to indulge into. Head to one of the four beaches and relax yourselves, taking in the fresh breeze of air and admiring the panorama of the endless sea that sits in front of you. Sunrise in Pondicherry has its own magical charm, reach at the beach early in the morning and treat yourselves to a magnificent spectacle of the rising sun, painting the morning sky in crimson-golden hues. If adventure sports is on your minds during your trip to Pondicherry, go for a blissful scuba-diving experience and discover the hidden treasures of colourful corals and gorgeous marine life under the sea.
If you are travelling to Pondicherry with the sole purpose of unwinding yourselves through yoga and meditation, directly head to the ‘Auroville’. Founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa, also known as the ‘Mother’, Auroville is an enchanting place that will soothe your souls and leave you blessed with an inner peace.
A trip to Pondicherry is incomplete without taking a tour of its beautiful churches that were built during the time of the French rule. Reflecting an exotic Gothic architecture and exuding a mesmerizing colonial charm, a tour of these churches is sure to leave you with a deep insight into Christianity. The most famous amongst these churches is by far the ‘Church of Sacred Heart of Jesus’ that definitely is a ‘must visit’ during your holidays in the town.
If you have kids in tow, take them for a captivating boat ride over the pristine waters of the ‘Ousteri Lake’. Area around the lake teems with many colourful birds including Herons, Openbills, Painted Storks and Ibis that migrate here during the nesting season. A sight of these beautiful species is sure to make your boat ride even more exciting and memorable.
Yet another star attraction of Pondicherry is the ‘Seaside Promenade’. Stretching to about 1.5 km. along the sea shore, the promenade reminds you of the glorious times during French colonization in Pondicherry and houses some of the city’s most iconic landmarks including ‘French War Memorial’, ‘Gandhi Statue’ and ‘Old Lighthouse’. For shutterbugs, needless to say, this place provides for some classy camera shots.
Pondicherry is also a paradise for foodies and gastronomes. With a strong influence of French flavours on its local cuisine, needless to say, the city is a perfect place for an extraordinary culinary experience. During your trip here, gorge on some delectable steaks and do try out for mouth-watering idlis and dosas, which are undoubtedly, a staple delicacy here.
So, if a great weekend family break is on your minds, pack your bags and head to the exotic destination of Pondicherry.
Tharangambadi Fort, Photo: https://goo.gl/jevY6B
A small village that remained under the Danish rule for almost two hundred years before being passed on to the British, Tharangambadi, formerly known as Tranquebar today, is a modern fishing town that sits quietly on the beautiful Coromandal Coast of Bay of Bengal in Tamil Nadu. A nearly forgotten Danish colony of historic times whose name translates to ‘Land of the Singing Waves’, Tranquebar, though a relatively lesser known holiday destination around Chennai, makes as an ideal weekend retreat if you are amongst those who love uncovering some abstruse facts about the Indian history. Needless to say, steeped in deep tranquillity and offering a relaxed atmosphere, the town is also an ideal escapade for those looking for a laid-back break.
The first thing which you notice on stepping in Tranquebar is its ancient ‘Town Gate’ that formally marks your entry into the city. This arched gate, still adorning the royal Danish emblem inscribed with the year 1792, is a part of the ancient fortification done around the town somewhere between 1660s and stands as a resilient testament to the Danish colonial era. Walk through this gateway onto the ‘King Street’ that can be aptly called as the downtown of Tranquebar. Home to a number of hundreds of years old colonial houses and buildings that beautifully present a great cocktail of Danish and Tamil architecture, a stroll through this street is sure to transport you in the bygone times. Do take a note of the exquisite ‘Rehling’s House’ while you walk past the King Street; the 18th century residential building of two Danish governors, Peter Hermanson and Johannes Rehling, the house is adorned with elegantly decorated white facades, thick stucco walls, carriage porches, pitched roofs and winding verandas – needless to say, this opulent mansion provides the visitors with a deep insight into the rich lifestyle of the then Danish upper-class.
The ochre-coloured ‘Fort Dansborg’ that sits on the eastern end of the street, is the next and by far the most famous attraction of Tranquebar. Facing the sea, the fort was built in early 17th century in a typical Scandinavian style of fort architecture with thick stone walls, massive ramparts and mounted cannons. Facing the azure sea, standing on the ramparts, one can take in breath-taking vistas of the scenery while simultaneously feeling in the cool breeze of air that constantly brushes against your face leaving you completely invigorated. Once a trading post for the Danes, the fort is now under the maintenance of the ‘State Archaeological Department of Tamil Nadu’ and houses a museum exhibiting artefacts from the olden times including ancient coins, official documents of signed treaties between Danish rulers and erstwhile Indian kings, Chinese pottery, stone sculptures and some fossils. After a short visit to the fort, spend a relaxed evening at the beach, just sitting under a palm, watching the waves bounce off the craggy rocks and fishermen heading to their homes with the day’s catch.
Opposite the Fort, along the beach, is yet another popular colonial building of the town, the ‘Bungalow on the Beach’. Once the summer retreat of the British Port Collector, the bungalow, today is a gorgeously restored boutique hotel, decorated with antics and housing vintage furniture. Overlooking the Bay of Bengal, the bungalow is also a great place to enjoy a beautiful evening with your loved ones, relishing the delicious Chettinad cuisine and watching the sun sprinkle its golden rays over the shimmering waters of the sea.
For those who are a bit spiritually inclined, the 14th century old ‘Masilamani Nathar Temple’ sitting on the southern end of the beach, just a short walk from the Beach Bungalow, makes for a ‘must-visit’. Built by the Pandya kings, the temple is renowned for its unique architecture that showcases a fine blend of Chinese and Tamil architectural styles. Needless to say, the design of the temple standing tall against the backdrop of the azure sky provides for some excellent photo opportunities.
So, to summarize it all, if you are amongst those who are looking for a laid-back holiday near Chennai but, at a destination which is little offbeat and less crowded, Tharangambadi is a place to definitely look forward to.
Nagalapuram Waterfalls, Photo: https://goo.gl/bmqP1L
A small village located in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, Nagalapuram is a place that primarily finds its name on the list of top trekking destinations around Chennai. The scenic ‘Nagalapuram Waterfalls’ are the major attraction of the town that magnetize numerus adventure buffs and trekkers from nearby areas to venture on one of the most popular treks in Southern India. Needless to say, the trek provides for one of the most fascinating and thrilling experiences, full of challenges that require you to cross dense jungles, ascend steep and slippery slopes and walk over loose stone-strewn paths. With all these challenges, there are captivating scenic vistas too to keep you engaged; the occasional sightings of small waterfalls with pools below filled with crystal clear waters, lush vegetation and colourful birds do treat your eyes with a gorgeous spectacle. An overnight camping option on top of the hill makes the trek all the more enthralling, providing you an opportunity to experience a stay amidst serene wilderness of nature.
While Nagalapuram is definitely a heaven for trekkers, the town also makes as one of the great travel places near Chennai for religious minded, especially the devotees of Lord Vishnu owing to the presence of ‘Sri Veda Narayana Perumal Temple’ here. Built during the reign of the Vijayanagara ruler, Raja Krishnadeva Raya, the temple stands as a beautiful specimen of the Vijayanagara style of architecture and enshrines the half-human, half-fish deity of Lord Vedanarayana Swamy, the first incarnation of Lord Vishnu in ‘Matsya (fish) Avataar’; his consorts, Sri Devi and Bhu Devi can also be seen in the sanctorum. As per puranic legends, once a demon called Somukasura stole the 4 Hindu Vedas and hid them under the sea. It was then, that Lord Vishnu took the Matsya Avataar and went deep inside the waters to get these Vedas back; a huge battle was fought between the two in which the demon was defeated. Since, the lord saved the Vedas, he came to be called as ‘Veda Narayana Perumal’. Hundreds of devotees throng to this temple every day to seek blessings of the lord. And, the number of devotees get multi-fold on the 3 auspicious days of ‘Surya Puja’ that is held somewhere around month of March (precisely on the 12th, 13th and 14th days of the Hindu month of Phalgun) every year. During these 3 days, sun rays during sunset directly fall on the presiding deity of Sri Vedanarayan Swamy, entering through the precincts of the gopuram that lies 600 ft. from the main sanctum sanctorum. Providing a phenomenal spectacle to all the onlookers, it is just a kind of miracle that never happens again all through the year.
Venkateshwara Swamy Temple
If you are amongst those whose heart is yearning for a religious holiday around Chennai from quite some time, the coming weekend, pack your bags and head to the holy city of Tirupati. Almost a 4 hours journey from Chennai, Tirupati lies in the state of Andhra Pradesh and is known for housing one of the holiest and wealthiest temples in the world. Needless to say, the city always remain flooded with countless tourists and pilgrims who flock here to pay their reverence to Lord Balaji in ‘Sri Venkateshwara Swamy Temple’. Located on the peak of Tirumala Hill in Tirupati, the temple dates back to 3rd century AD and is built in Dravidian style of architecture. The presiding deity is of Lord Venkateshwara, a manifestation of Lord Vishnu who is also known as Balaji. According to Hindu beliefs, in Kalyug, one can attain salvation only by worshipping Lord Venkateshwara, who is also described as the great bestower of boons in Vedic shastras. That is the reason, devotees swarm here in millions from different corners of the world every year. And needless to say, they bring in a wealth of offerings ranging from huge cash amounts, jewellery and gems to even their hairs. No wonder, the temple enjoys the status of being the richest temple in the world.
If you are visiting the Venkateshwara Swamy Temple, before entering the premises, do make sure to cleanse and purify yourselves by taking a dip in the holy waters of ‘Swami Pushkarni Lake’ that sits adjacent to the temple. A place of utmost reverence, the waters of this lake are believed to have been sanctified by the lord himself and anyone taking bath in its holy waters is believed to be relieved from the vicious cycle of death and rebirth. Making donations at Swami Pushkarini Lake is also a common practice and it is believed that anyone donating any item at its banks obtains higher abode after death.
Yet another of the highly revered sites in Tirupati is the ‘Akash Ganga Waterfalls’, also known as ‘Akash Ganga Teertham’ which is believed to have originated from the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu. Located 3 km. from the main temple, amidst deep serenity of hills and lush surroundings, the waterfalls provide an enchanting spectacle and a dip in its waters leave your minds and souls deeply rejuvenated.
Tirupati is a city steeped in profound spirituality and sightseeing here is all about visiting religious spots. Another great attraction that is worth visiting in the town is ‘Sri Venakteshwara Dhyana Vignan Mandiram’. Founded in 1980, it is a beautiful museum that exhibits a collection of traditional articles that were once used in performing pujas and rituals at the main Tirupati temple. The museum also provides for a great spiritual ambience where one can spend few hours meditating and connecting himself with the divine power.
When in Tirupati, you just cannot miss visiting the famous ‘Govindaraja Swamy Temple’ that dates back to 12th century AD and is one of the oldest temples in the city. Dedicated to Sri Govindaraja, who is believed to be the elder brother of Sri Venkateshwara, the temple is much famed for its presiding deity of the god in the reclining posture with his head resting on the right hand and left hand placed straight on the body. According to legends, Govindaraja Swamy got the marriage of Sri Venkateshwara and his consort, Padmavathi conducted in an ever-magnificent style, utilizing the wealth gifted by king Kuber in the most efficient manner. This is the reason, it is believed that worshipping Govindaraja Swamy at this temple helps you manage your finances better and also blesses you with more wealth.
While Tirupati is all about spiritualism, there are many attractions in and around the city that give you a little break from religious sightseeing; some of these attractions include ‘Deer Park’, ‘TTD Gardens’, ‘Sri Venkateshwara National Park’ and ‘Talakona Waterfalls’. Out of two days of your weekend trip to Tirupati, you can easily spend one day visiting the holy shrines and the remaining day to explore non-religious sites near the city.
Chandragiri Fort, Photo: https://goo.gl/wzOjhQ
Located near Tirupati, Chandragiri is rather an offbeat weekend destination near Chennai that does not find its name on the conventional tourist map and can be planned along with your trip to Tirupati. Though an unconventional tourist spot, this beautiful place still provides for an enchanting time to all the visitors seeking a quiet time away from the madness of Chennai. The ‘Chandragiri Fort’, built in 11th century AD, is the major attraction of this quaint town and a quick exploration of which gives you a sneak peek into the history of Vijayanagara dynasty; prime highlight of this fort is the ‘Raja Mahal Palace’ that has now been converted into an archaeological museum and houses a great collection of sculptures, idols of Hindu pantheons, weaponry, utensils and coins made of bronze, panch dhatu, stone and wood. As you take a walking tour of the fort, also do notice the remnants of few temples and ‘Rani Mahal’; one of the temples is still functional and where daily prayers are conducted regularly. Talking about the architecture of the fort, though it’s not something that greatly impresses you, it’s the scenic beauty of the sunset over the fort which provides for a captivating spectacle. So, stay here till evening and capture the beauty of the setting sun in your cameras forever.
To make your Chandragiri trip even more memorable, head to a small lake just near the fort and enjoy a nice family picnic on its shores. There are boating options too on the lake; if you wish go for a boat ride and revel yourselves in enchanting vistas of the fort from a distance, sitting in the comforts of the boat.
One of the most well-planned and cleanest cities in India, Mysore, an integral part of South Indian state of Karnataka, definitely makes as one of the top weekend breaks from Chennai and Bengaluru for both, couples and families. Ruled by the Wodeyar Dynasty for seven centuries, the beautiful city boasts of its rich past with number of opulent palaces, exquisite temples and serene gardens speaking the tales of city’s glorious era. The ‘Mysore Palace’ built in late 9th century AD by the Wodeyar rulers, is by far Mysore’s most iconic attraction that lures millions of tourists every year; and you would be amazed to know that it’s the second most visited tourist attraction all over India after Taj Mahal. Built in an Indo-Saracenic style of architecture with lavish interiors adorning stained-glass ceilings & chandeliers, exquisite floral motifs, mosaic floorings, elaborately carved rosewood and sandalwood doorways and beautifully painted columns, needless to say, the palace stands as a testament to the royal taste and class. Standing tall in its charismatic splendour, it looks even more splendid during night when 100,000 bulbs accentuate its majestic silhouette against the moonlit sky.
Yet another of the most famous attractions of Mysore is the ‘Chamundeshwari Temple’. Located on the top of 3000 ft. tall Chamundi Hill, a short distance from the Mysore city centre, the temple is dedicated to Goddess Durga and is considered among the 18 Maha Shakti Peethas. The temple is believed to have originally been built by the Hoyasala rulers in 12th century but, many renovations and repairs were done by the successive dynasties such as Vijayanagara Empire and Wodeyars. To reach the temple, one can either opt to climb a flight of 1000 steps or take a bus from the main city centre. Some beautiful and massive statues on the way to the temple are sure to grab your attentions; the 15 ft. tall monolithic statue of Nandi Bull on 800th step is by far the most famous and most impressive. Once you are at the hilltop, take a fresh breath of air and revel yourselves in some gorgeous city views that are sure to mesmerize you with their alluring charm.
A trip to Mysore is not complete without a visit to the enticing ‘Brindavan Gardens’. Established in 1932, these gardens resemble the Mughal Gardens of Kashmir in many ways. The symmetrical design of the gardens laid with a number of terraced lawns ornamented with flower beds, colourful fountains, cascading water channels and tall trees, make them an ideal place to enjoy a lovely evening with friends and families. The ethereal beauty of these gardens is further accentuated by a beautiful lake that provides for a perfect romantic ambience to love-struck couples who can go for a dreamy boat ride and enjoy each other’s company taking in scenic beauty of the place.
If you have kids in tow, do take them to the ‘Mysore Zoo’ where they can have a lovely time watching various species of animals including Zebras, Giraffes, Polar Bears, Kangaroos, White Elephants and African Black Rhinos. The zoo also provides for a great time to bird lovers as they can get to see here a huge number of feathered species including Swans, Long-tailed Macaws, Hornbills, Scarlet Ibis, Pink Pelicans and off-course Peacocks.
For those who have a penchant for seeing some rare collectibles and memorabilia from the past, Mysore has two very interesting museums too; the ‘Indira Gandhi Manav Sangrahalaya’ and ‘Rail Museum’. While Indira Gandhi Sangrahalaya provides an insight into art & culture of traditional India, exhibiting different handicraft works from regional tribes across the nation, the Rail Museum is an interesting site to get a sneak peek into growth of Railways in the country; one can see a huge collection of models and paintings depicting types of trains, engines, coaches and signals used in the bygone times and how they have grown into modern locomotives over the years that we see today.
Located at an altitude of 41000 ft. amidst the tranquil environs of the Eastern Ghats in Andhra Pradesh, Horsley Hills is a picturesque yet another of the little offbeat holiday destinations around Chennai that can easily be planned over a weekend. Named after the British collector, WD Horsley, the place is truly a paradise for nature lovers with rolling hills, lush greenery and a salubrious weather to hypnotize you with its alluring charm. One can drive here early in the morning to witness a marvellous spectacle of nature’s craftsmanship covering the hills in the veils of mist and fog, definitely leaving you in complete awe of the serene beauty all around. With numerous scenic vistas to entice you, needless to say, the best way to explore this little hill town is on foot; go for nature walks and short hikes over the hills, soaking your souls in the gorgeous views of blossoming flowers while simultaneously inhaling in the soft aroma of Sandalwood and Eucalyptus plantations. As you traverse your way through the winding pathways, do watch out for the region’s fascinating birdlife, which is sure to fill your hearts with peace and solace.
The prime attraction of this little hill town is the ‘Malamma Temple’. The temple is dedicated to a saintly girl, Malamma, who used to live in the area around 300 years back and healed the people from local tribes. The girl, one day, disappeared all of a sudden without leaving any signs of her existence. From that day, she was accepted to be a goddess and a temple was built in her loving memory.
Yet another of the famous attractions in Horsley Hills is the ‘Kaundinya Wildlife Sanctuary’, essentially an elephant reserve that works on protection and conservation of Asiatic elephants. Besides elephants, the sanctuary is home to a number of other wildlife species too that include but, are not limited to Wild Boar, Cheetal, Sloth Bear, Sambar Deer and Jackals. The sanctuary is a great place for a splendid bird-watching experience too; with birds like Grey & Rose Pelicans, Painted Storks, Peafowls and Yellow-throated Bulbuls to look out for, you are sure to have a nice time here with your cameras and binoculars.
While the quaint hill town is primarily known for its sleepy ambience, providing an energizing break from the pressures of urban life to all the distressed souls, there are few activities for adventure lovers too, which can make their Horsley Hills trip all the more exciting and memorable; try your hands at zorbing or rappelling and rest assured, you are definitely going to love the whole experience.
After a hectic week full of meetings and loads of work, nothing can re-energize you better than engaging yourselves in an activity that works as a stress-buster for you. And that activity can be anything ranging from a simple nature walk amidst the serenity of hills, a trekking expedition, a laid-back beach holiday, a bird-watching tour, a cultural & historical exploration or even a short pilgrimage trip. Whatever your interest is, you can find a number of destinations around Chennai (top 15 of which are listed above) where you can indulge in the activity of your choice, unwinding yourselves to face the challenges of upcoming week. Hope the above list proves to be of some help, making you plan your weekend holiday in the best possible way.