With a host of UNESCO World Heritage listed monuments, Tamil Nadu is the cradle of Dravidian culture the Tamil people are proud of this legacy and in many places you can witness worship in places where traditions have remained largely unchanged for centuries.
Day 1: On arrival in Chennai you'll be met and introduced to your driver. Depart immediately and drive 90 minutes south to the quiet seaside town of Mahabalipuram. Overnight in Mahabalipuram.
Day 2: Relax and acclimatize in the morning, before meeting a local guide in the afternoon and taking a sightseeing tour of the ancient temples and rock carvings of Mahabalipuram. Although many of these temples are no longer used for regular worship or pilgrimage, all sacred sites in India retain their importance to local people and you will often see small offerings at even the oldest and most obscure temples. Overnight in Mahabalipuram.
Day 3: A day excursion to the sacred temple city of Kanchipuram, home to several important places of pilgrimage including the intricate and beautiful Kailasanatha Temple, dedicated to Shiva and dating back to the 7th century CE and the massive Sri Ekambaranathar which boasts a 59-metre high gopuram (temple gateway) Tour the main temples with a local guide. Overnight in Mahabalipuram.
Day 4: Depart Mahabalipuram and drive 3 hours to Tiruvannamalai, a major pilgrimage centre and home to the ashram of Sri Ramana Maharshi. At most of the major Temples in Tamilnadu, it is not possible for non-Hindus to enter the innermost sanctum- this is not the case at Arunachaleswar Temple, allowing you a chance to see the entirety of a major temple (this is also possible at Tanjore's Brihadishwara temple). Spend time at the temple and in Ramana's ashram. Overnight in Tiruvannamalai.
Day 5: While the Arunachaleswar Temple is an important place of pilgrimage, so too is the sacred mountain of Arunachala itself- many hundreds of thousands of people come to Tiruvannamalai every month to complete the 14km circuit of the mountain. You may wish to rise early and complete your own Pradakshina (the term for a circuit of the mountain- traditionally undertaken barefoot, but this is far from compulsory) before departing for Pondicherry later in the morning. At Pondicherry you can visit Aurobindo Ashram and explore the heritage quarter with its French Colonial buildings, on foot. Overnight in Pondicherry.
Day 6: An early start to drive to Chidambaram and witness the special puja at the Nataraja Temple here. Continue on via the UNESCO World Heritage listed temples at Gangaikondacholapuram, and Darasuram, and reach Tanjore in time to visit the epic Brihadishwara Temple at sunset. Viewed by many as the crowning achievement of Dravidian temple building, the Tanjore 'Big Temple' as it is commonly known, is both a place of intense spiritual devotion, and a jaw-dropping accomplishment of engineering. Overnight in Tanjore.
Day 7: In the morning revisit the Big Temple and tour this extensive complex with a local guide. Later, drive up the Cauvery River to Trichy and in the evening explore the bazaars around the Rock Fort Temple. The climb up the 400 plus steps to the top of Rock Fort affords fabulous views across the city of Trichy and towards Srirangam temple on an island between two branches of the river. Overnight in Trichy.
Day 8: Explore Trichy and visit Srirangam Vishnu Temple- one of the largest temple complexes in Asia, covering over 60 hectares and encompassing a sizeable permanent population as well as being an important place of pilgrimage and devotion. After lunch, depart Trichy and drive to Madurai. Each evening the deities which are housed within Meenakshi temple are processed through the complex and the temple closed for the night- this is a spectacular event, complete with drumming, chanting and lots of colour and well worth seeing on one of your evenings in the city. Overnight in Madurai.
Day 9: Meenakshi temple is worth spending half a day at- there is so much to see and for your guide here to explain, while later in the day you may choose to visit some of the interesting markets in the city or the Nayak Palace- the last surviving remnant of the 17th century Nayak dynasty which held sway in central Tamil Nadu. Overnight in Madurai.
Day 10: Morning at leisure before you are transferred to the airport for your flight to Chennai and onward connection.
If you would like to extend this tour with a few Days to relax away from towns and people, we would recommend the nearby homestay Cardamom House at Dindigul or the restored Chettinad Mansion in Karaikudi.
Other possible extensions to this itinerary include:
One or more nights in Tiruvannamalai to experience this town. Walk the 14km circuit of the sacred mountain or spend some time in silence in the caves on the mountainside.
An excursion from Chennai to the temples and pilgrimage centres at Tirupathi and Kalahasti
A day trip from Madurai to the 'water temple' at Rameswaram with 22 tanks all having special curative powers