MaduraiSituated on the banks of River Vaigai, Madurai isone of the oldest cities in South Asia. This is adestination like no other, with the huge SriMeenakshi Temple being virtually a town in itself.Built at the same time as the Taj Mahal, it is anoutstanding example of South Indian Hinduarchitecture, with nine towering gopuramssmothered in a riot of colourful stucco images.This is a perfect place to absorb the atmosphereof Hinduism, with the dark pillared halls filled withthousands of pilgrims, bare-chested priestsconducting ceremonies, a temple elephant givingblessings, and the scent of flowers, coconut andghee. Elsewhere in the city, the Gandhi Museumchronicles the life of the great Indian leader, thereare vast markets and faded palaces to exploreand a cultural centre which showcases Tamil arts.HERITAGEMADURAI, MADURAIThis property was designed in the 1970s byrenowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa as the Coat's Madurai Club. It is built from avariety of local materials, including honey-colouredstone cut from the nearby hills, slabs from anabandoned mill and pillars salvaged from derelicthouses. More recently it was converted into ahotel and it now oozes character and charmthroughout, with a variety of room choices to suit most budgets. The Banyan restaurant servescontemporary Indian and international cuisine in light and airy surroundings and there is arefreshing swimming pool.TanjoreTanjore (Thanjavur) is best known for its 1,000-year-old Brihadishwara or 'Big Temple' built by King Rajaraja I and dedicated to the godShiva. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, itstowers rise above as you approach through itsmanicured gardens. Nearby, the Nayak Palace isin a somewhat ruined state, but the atmosphereof the old durbar hall and the courtyards is veryevocative. Within the complex is the RajarajaMuseum and Art Gallery which contains somefine examples of bronzes from the Chola andother periods. There are also a number ofinteresting ancient manuscripts and drawings. www.audleytravel.com/southindia ?01993 838 355 ?Tamil Nadu & Karnataka57TrichyTrichy (Tiruchirapalli) is situated in the heart ofTamil Nadu and is famous for its Rock FortTemple. Perched on a large rocky outcrop, thetemple itself is a little disappointing but the climbis well worth the effort for the superb viewsacross the city and Cauvery Delta. Nearby on ariver island, the temple at Srirangam is enclosedby seven concentric walls, with each sectioninhabited by a different caste. The best views ofthe brightly-painted temple towers are from theroof, where you can clearly see the intricate andsometimes grotesque figures. It is also worth astroll along the river banks, where you maywitness fascinating ceremonies, such as childrenbeing blessed and offerings being made to Shivain the quest to find a wife.Heritage MaduraiYoung boys, TrichySri Meenakshi Temple, MaduraiTemple detail, TanjoreYoung girl with a bike, Chettinad
THEDUNE, NEARPONDICHERRYThe Dune is an eco-friendly beach resortcomprising individually decorated beachbungalows, spread out over a 12 hectare site.Some bungalows are partly built using reclaimedbuilding materials from colonial houses, Chettinadpalaces and Keralan planters' mansions. Theproperty has a yoga and ayurvedic massage centre,as well as an organic farm and vegetable garden to promote a healthy stay. There is a beautifulswimming pool overlooking the beach, with a small poolside bar that serves drinks and snacks.PondicherryArriving in Pondicherry feels like stepping intoFrance with typical blue road signs, police withgendarme caps and tax-free wine. The city hasmuch more to offer than just its colonial past, andthe restoration of the traditional Tamil merchants'houses is visible on a guided stroll around thecentre, ending with an evening promenade alongthe seafront past the huge statue of Gandhi.Outside Pondicherry is one of the most unusualsmall towns in India, the international communityof Auroville, whose members seek an alternativelifestyle. Visit and you will be able to see aninteresting exhibition and learn about the variousprojects that the community undertakes, includingenvironmental regeneration and healthcare.MAISONPERUMAL, PONDICHERRYMaison Perumal opened in 2008 and is tuckedaway in the quiet Tamil quarter of Pondicherry. It is a lovingly converted, traditional courtyardhome and maintains the character of the originalbuilding. The mix of Tamil and French influencesranges from the street veranda to the archedwindows, while even the food is Creole, with acombination of both Tamil and French styles.With only ten rooms set around the courtyards,Maison Perumal is an intimate and welcominghotel that continues the eco-friendly aim of theCGH Earth Group, who also own some of ourfavourite properties in Kerala.58Schoolgirls riding bicycles, PondicherryThe Dune, near PondicherryMaison Perumal, PondicherrySacred art andarchitectureSouth India abounds in sacred art andarchitecture. For thousands of years,successive rulers donated vast sums ofmoney to the construction, decorationand adornment of religious structures.Early rock-cut temples were succeededby stone ones with structures andiconography conforming to a set of rulesdefined by priests and based oncosmology. Central to each temple is asacred deity and the finest of thesesculptures are the 9th to 11th centuryChola Bronzes. Difficult to view in dimtemple light, the Chola Bronzes are bestseen in the museum collections inTanjore, Chennai or Delhi.