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Madurai to Chennai - Famous temples

Mystical Temples of the South

Route: Madurai - Trichy - Tanjore - Pondicherry - Mamallapuram

Tamil Nadu is the mystical epicentre of India. You can find more temples here than anywhere else, with towers decorated with such vivid images that they seem to be moving and you might do a double take just to check. These temples weren't built for the tourists, though with the garish, almost kitsch figures it's like wandering through a spiritual Disneyland. These temples are living holy places where Brahmas perform sacred rites, pilgrims kneel before altars, swirls of incense cloud the air and temple elephants stand guard at the entrance. Almost all of the temples are open to western visitors, but a respectful attitude is very much appreciated. 

Our India trip from Madurai to Chennai begins among the awe-inspiring temples of Madurai and Trichy before travelling on to the serene sandstone temple of Tanjore and to 'little France' in India. The traces of the rich colonial past of Pondicherry are still visible in the French bakeries and historic French-style hotels. You'll end this tour from Madurai to Chennai at the cave temples of the seaside town of Mamallapuram.

If you'd like to start building your own India trip, you can choose from our range of bite-sized India tours. Alternatively, you can take your pick from one of our suggested holidays to India. Need some more advice or inspiration? Have a chat with one of our India travel specialists on 01273 322044.
Duration 6 days / 5 nights
Departs daily from Chennai
Best time to travel: December - June


Comfortable hotels. Comfort level 2/3 (see accommodation).


£365 per person - Authentic hotels
£518 per person - Heritage hotels

Both based on 2 people sharing


Accommodation with breakfast, transport, excursions (including a rickshaw ride in Madurai).


Air-conditioned private car


Other meals and entry fees.

Day 1: Arrival in Madurai

This India tour from Madurai to Chennai easily follows our Backwaters and Wildlife tour in Kerala. In the morning you’ll travel from Periyar to Madurai, 3 hours to the east. In Madurai you’ll stay in a basic but comfortable hotel. The hotel has an excellent restaurant where you can fill up with a tasty lunch before heading out to explore the city. Mind what you order though, the curries of southern India are some of the hottest in the country! Luckily English is widely spoken so the cook can tone down the chillies for you if you ask nicely.

In the afternoon you’ll take a rickshaw tour with an experienced rickshaw guide to the Tirumalai Nayak Palace, the Ghandi Museum and the temple lake. Travelling by rickshaw will help you get your bearings for when you explore on your own. At dusk, head up to the hotel roof terrace for an amazing view across the city and the Meenakshi temple complex, which you can visit on day two of this trip from Madurai to Chennai.
Madurai to Chennai - Madurai temple
Madurai to Chennai - Meenakshi Temple

Day 2: Madurai - Free time

The history of Madurai dates back over 2500 years. The city is without a doubt the most spectacular temple city in Tamil Nadu, but it's still surprisingly undiscovered by tourists. The Meenakshi Temple, from the 12th century has four towers each intricately decorated with thousands of coloured figures. You could spend hours examining each tower. The northern tower is more bare, so as not to tempt the demons. There are eight more towers and a hall with a thousand decorated pillars. The complex is dedicated to Shiva. His wife Meenakshi was a princess from Madurai and the sculptures in the temple depict her life story.

The atmosphere inside the temple is very real. Most areas are open to visitors except for the central Hindu shrine. During this Madurai to Chennai tour, you’ll see many Brahmas and pilgrims repeating mantras and kneeling before the holy shrines. Don't miss the five famous musical pillars and if you knock on them, they each produce a different sound.

In the evening you'll be able to visit the serene evening ceremony in the Meenakshi Temple. You'll spend another night in your comfortable hotel before continuing your travels from Madurai to Chennai tomorrow.

Day 3: Madurai - Trichy - Tanjore

Today you’ll travel from Madurai to Tanjore, stopping off at Trichy, otherwise known as Tiruchirappalli. The temple is surrounded by little stalls and people selling small offerings. The main temple itself (Srirangam Temple) is a more like a city than a temple complex. Enclosed by seven walls, the complex contains several towers, one of which made of pure gold.

The sacred treasures in Tanjore are unlike any of the other major temple cities. Instead of the brightly coloured temples you’ll see elsewhere, Tanjore’s holy places are made of sober sandstone. You can visit the famous Brihadeshwar Temple during this India trip, a temple built by the Chola kings, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Slip into the crowd of pilgrims cramming to get to the altar in the centre of the temple and you’ll experience the sense of devotion and the serene rituals of worship that take place here. At the temple entrance you’ll pay your contribution and pay homage to the temple elephant as he deftly fishes the rupees from your hand with his holy trunk. After the temple, your tour from Madurai to Chennai continues. Ask your driver to take drop you off at the Palace Museum, to see bronze statues and glass paintings.
Madurai to Chennai - Tanjore elephant temple
Madurai to Chennai - Pondicherry

Day 4: Tanjore - Pondicherry

Pondicherry is a little slice of France with an Indian topping. The French street names, the croissants in the French bakeries and the colonial houses with their elegant balconies all point towards the traces of French colonial heritage in Pondicherry. From Tanjore, it’s roughly a 5 hour drive to this charming coastal town where you’ll step into a completely different world. The French ruled this area for several centuries, until several years after India gained independence, in 1954. The French District in Pondicherry has a distinctly French feel with its little shops, wide boulevards, European churches and green parks. The best beaches are to the north of the city.

Pondicherry is also the home of the spiritual community, Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The community is still a major institution for yoga, meditation and several charitable benefits, and was established by a French lady better known as The Mother. Today you could visit the Ashram or the village of Auroville during your Madurai to Chennai tour. Perhaps have an extra night in Pondicherry to slow the pace for you. Just ask your travel specialist.

Day 5: Pondicherry - Mamallapuram

From Pondicherry you’ll make your way north to Mamallapuram, a friendly coastal town where you can spend a couple of days taking it slow at the end of your southern India tour. Mamallapuram is a quiet place and throughout the village you can see several workshops where craftsmen create the most amazing sculptures. Tonight you'll stay in a simple beach resort with a lovely pool.

The countryside around the village is dotted with temples many of which are hidden in caves. The temples are visited mainly by the local cows and goats wandering around the temple buildings, but that’s actually quite fitting for a temple dedicated to Shiva and built by the Pallava kings. The temple directly on the beach (Shore Temple) is one of the oldest temples in India and decorated with many Nandi bulls - Shiva’s chosen mode of transport. You'll soak up the mystical atmosphere of these decorative temples during your India tour from Madurai to Chennai.
Madurai to Chennai - Mamallapuram Shore Temple
Madurai to Chennai - Swimming in the sea

Day 6: Departure from Chennai

Today your India trip comes to end. You can reflect on your Madurai to Chennai journey whilst taking a final refreshing dip in the hotel pool. Towards the end of the day you'll see the local women wading into the sea in their brightly coloured saris to cool off in the water. If you'd like to go swimming in the sea in this region of India, please be respectful and keep your clothes on as well. Swim wear is fine if you wish to remain at the pool side.

From Mamallapuram you'll drive on to Chennai, where you can catch your flight home or continue with your India holiday. If you'd prefer to start your India tour in Mamallapuram, we can also offer this trip in reverse order. In this case, you'll start in Mamallapuram and travel south to Madurai.  

Tamil Nadu tour package: authentic accommodation


Tamil Nadu tour package: heritage accommodation


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