India // Tamil Nadu //

The northeast

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Fazed by the heat and air pollution of Chennai, most visitors escape as fast as they can, heading down the Coromandel coast to India’s stone-carving capital, Mamallapuram, whose ancient monuments include the famous Shore Temple and a batch of extraordinary rock sculptures. En route, it’s well worth jumping off the bus at Dakshina Chitra, a folk museum 30km south of Chennai, where traditional buildings from across south India have been beautifully reconstructed. Further inland, Kanchipuram is an important pilgrimage and silk-sari-weaving town from where you can loop southwest to Tiruvannamalai, a wonderfully atmospheric temple town clustered at the base of the sacred mountain, Arunachala. On the coast, you can breakfast on croissants and espresso coffee in the former French colony of Puducherry. A short way north, Auroville, the Utopian settlement founded by followers of the Sri Aurobindo Ghose’s spiritual successor, The Mother, provides a New Age haven for soul-searching Westerners and an economy for the local population.

Both Mamallapuram and Puducherry are well connected to Chennai by fast bus services, running along the smooth East Coast Road. You can also get to Puducherry by train, but this usually involves a change at the junction town of Villupuram, from where services are slow and relatively infrequent.

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