By Ravi Valluri

Chetan Bhagat in his novel ‘2 States: The Story of my Marriage’ has graphically described how love and passion bridged the chasm between the varied cultures of a Punjabi boy and a Tamil girl. Both were tutees at an estimable management school.

While figuring out nuances to capture markets, honing their skills in financial jugglery and human resource development, love blossomed between a brawny but sombre Punjabi boy and a feisty, prepossessing Tamil girl aroused by emotional and physical demands. The Gen X today is astonishingly honest in their opinions and feelings.

Privatisation, globalisation and enhanced educational opportunities have refashioned the mindset of women in the country, who are now willing to walk that extra mile to scale the summit and become achievers. The once coy, Tamil woman has today become a success story and a powerhouse.

Gone are the days where characters in Bollywood representing South Indians (everyone south of the Vindhyas was a Madrasi) were reduced to mere caricatures.

So welcome to the brave new world of Tamil Nadu which retains the old world charm yet springs hope for a modern future.

“One is struck by the beauty and charm of the temple architecture - harmonious conglomeration of both Kerala and Tamil styles of architecture,” writes Biju Mathew in his book ‘Pilgrimage to Heritage Temples’.

For a voyager, ornate architecture embellishes prominent temples of Tamil Nadu which dot the landscape - Chennai, Tiruchirappalli, Tiruchendur, Madurai, Kumbakonam, Thanjavur, Sriperumbudur, Kanyakumari and Rameswaram to name but some religious places worthy of a visit.

There are lofty peaks which house sublime hill stations like Udhagamandalam, Yercaud, Coonoor and Kodaikanal where thousands of tourists throng to beat summer blue.

The coastline of the Bay of Bengal is fabled for sublime beaches like Kanyakumari, Mahabalipuram, Marina, Poompuhar (near Chidambaram), Elliot (near Chennai), Tiruchendur (near Kanyakumari), Nagapattinam (near Thanjavur), VGP Golden Beach (on the outskirts of Chennai), Sadras Beach Resort (near Mahabalipuram) and Covelong Beach (near Mahabalipuram) which attract trippers in large numbers.

Recently the mammoth Chennai Central station was renamed as MGR Central station. MG Ramachandran the iconic trouper who held the pulse of the state was also a charismatic Chief Minister and founder of the political party All India Anna DMK, once he parted ways with the DMK.

Tamil Nadu is neatly nestled in the southernmost part of India and shares it borders with the Union Territory of Puducherry and the southern states of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The celebrated Eastern Ghats act as robust frontiers on the north, and the western geographical mass is bound by the fabled Nilgiri Mountains, while lush green Kerala surrounds the state on the west.

The eastern jurisdiction of the state is guarded by the water body of Gulf of Mannar, while the south eastern area of the state is protected by Palk Strait and the extreme south is flanked by the Indian Ocean. This strategically placed state shares a maritime border with Sri Lanka (which was a zone of internecine warfare, espousing the cause of a separate homeland for the Tamils of Sri Lanka).

The suzerains of this bounteous and plenteous region included prominent rulers such as the Cholas, the Pallavas, the Pandyas and the Chera dynasties. These kingdoms fashioned the region's heritage, burgeoning culture, variegated and myriad thought process, the culturally rich language and prolific writings, astounding architecture, mellifluous Carnatic music and mouth -watering cuisine.

It was during the period of the British Empire in modern times that saw the emergence of the capital Chennai, then known as Madras, as a world-class city.

SOME GETAWAY POINTS

The Indian Railway Tourism and Catering Corporation (IRCTC) has neatly packed a tour which provides the flavour of Tamil Nadu. The tripper arrives at Madurai airport and is whisked off to check into a comfortable hotel in the city-centre.

Thereafter the tourists proceed for a sightseeing tour of Madurai, visiting the prominent ‘Meenakshi Amman Temple’ dedicated to Goddess Parvati. Though it is celebrated by the name of Goddess Meenakshi, the temple is also dedicated to her consort Lord Shiva as Sundareswarar. After paying obeisance at the spiritually uplifting temple the excursionists visit the alluring Tirumalai Nayak Palace – a 17th century marvel embellished with winsome architecture.

In the evening tourists are escorted by the IRCTC officials to visit ‘Thiruparankundram’ a temple dedicated to the Lord Muruga and which is among the six abodes of Lord Subramanya.

MADURAI TO RAMESHWARAM

Next morning after feasting on piping hot temple coffee, idlis, vadas and dosas, the travellers check out of the hotel and drive to Rameswaram.

Rameswaram is also known as the ‘Kashi of the South’ and is a holy pilgrim destination in southern India and is among the four singular spots worthy of at least one pilgrimage.

Upon arrival, tourists check in to a glitzy hotel and subsequently undertake a temple tour covering Ramanathaswamy, Gandhamadhana Parvatham and Hanuman temples. Thereafter trippers are taken to Dhanushkodi. This is a derelict town at the south-eastern tip of Pamban Island. It is situated to the south-east of the Pamban River and is around 29 kms west of Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. This bijou town was wrecked during the 1964 Rameswaram cyclone and remains uninhabited since then.

RAMESHWARAM TO KANYAKUMARI

After an early breakfast, guests drive to what is known as land’s end – Kanyakumari (formerly known as Cape Comorin). On arrival at Kanyakumari the tippers check into a hotel and commence their voyage by visiting places of epochal interest such as the fabled ‘Kumari Amman Temple’ – shrine of Devi Kanya Kumari.

Vivekananda Rock Memorial is a lofty structure which stands erect on one of the two rocks located about 500 meters off the mainland. There is also the famous Gandhi Mandapam built on the spot where the urn containing the Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes was kept for public-viewing prior to immersion at the confluence of the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The Thiruvalluvar Statue, a lofty pillar erected after the Tamil famous poet who recited Thirukkural is the third highlight of this leg of the trip. The icing on the cake is to witness the breathtaking spectacles of sunset and sunrise too.

KANYAKUMARI TO MADURAI TIRUCHENDUR

After a sumptuous breakfast pilgrims traverse to Tiruchendur. The temple here is in the honour of Lord Muruga (Subramanya) and is popular for its gargantuan Gopuram. This temple also houses idols of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. After paying obeisance to the deities the tourists visit the aesthetic temple of Arulmigu Meenakshi Chokkanathaswamy located in Aruppukottai.

The circular trip ends at Madurai and the backpackers in a short span of five days cover exquisite places of worship in Tamil Nadu; they are left enthralled by the impressions woven into their minds and depart for their respective destinations with the delicate fragrance of memories lingering in their minds.

“If you are in a beautiful place where you can enjoy sunrise and sunset, then you are living like a lord,” writes the sky man Nathan Phillips, also an American political activist.

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