India on the Road

From Madurai to Kovalam

19 SEPTEMBER 2016,
Hindu Temple in Madurai
Hindu Temple in Madurai

Route: Madurai – Sattur – Kayatharu – Nanguneri – Panagudi – Nagercoil - Kovalam.
Distance: 299 Kms.
Driving Time: 6 Hours.

Madurai

This bustling city packed with pilgrims, businessmen, bullock carts and legions of under employed rickshaw wallahs is one of southern India’s oldest city and has been a center of learning and pilgrimage for centuries.

The city’s main attraction is the magnificent Meenakshi temple in the heart of the Old Town, which is a riotously baroque example of Dravidian architecture whose Gopurams are covered from top to bottom with profusion of multi-colored images of gods, goddesses, animals and mythical figures.

The city of Madurai is one huge, non-stop bazaar crammed full of shops, streets, markets, pilgrim’s choultries, hotels, restaurants and small industries. It is easily one of southern India’s liveliest cities yet small enough not to be overwhelming and is very popular with the discerning traveler.

The Old town of Madurai is enclosed within the almost square enclosure marked out by the Veli streets on the south bank of Vaigai River. Within this area are found almost all the principal tourist sites.

What to See:
Meenakshi Temple, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Thirupparankundram Temple, Alagar Koil, Gandhi Museum, Mariamman Teppakulam.

Where to Stay:
Hotel Vijay (Tel: 0452-2336321), Hotel Alavai (2340551), Taj Garden Retreat (2371601), Royal Court (24356666), GRT Regency (2371155), Hotel Park Plaza (3011111), Madurai residency (4380000).

Where to Eat:
There are many typical south Indian vegetarian restaurants all around the Meenakshi Temple along Town Hall Road, Dindigul Road and West Masai Street, which serve traditional South Indian “Thalis”. If you want really good non-veg food then plan on a night out at the Pandyan Hotel.

Some of the popular restaurants of Madurai are - Vasan Tiffin Home (Tel:0452-2339224), The Bell Hotel (2350832), Tornado (4360123), Abees Punjabi Restaurant (4351727), Mahal Restaurant (2342700), Hotel Bharathi (4345985), Ahaaram (2371155), Pandian (2537090).

What to Buy:
Traditional bangles, spices and sarees.

Sattur

From Madurai go straight on NH – 7 and cross Thirunagar, Harveypatti and Thirumangalam. The quaint town of Sattur, which is located at a distance of 74 Kms. In the district of Virudhunagar in Tamil Nadu, appears on the scene. This place is renowned for match industry. The Vaippar River meanders its way through Sattur. Sattur is ideally suited for cotton cultivation and it isn’t surprising to know that the textile industry is flourishing in this beautiful town.

The temples of Shiva and Vishnu in Sattur is mentioned in ancient Indian texts. Apart from temples, Sattur also has an old Masjid and the Eid-Ka-Ground, which are the principal places of Muslim congregation.

What to See:
The Shiva Temple, The Bhadrakali Temple, Krishna Temple, the village of Sadayampatti.

Where to Stay:
Sattur being a small town of Tamil Nadu, there aren’t many hotels that can cater to the exacting demands of the discerning travelers. However, there are a few hotels that offer comfortable accommodation, hygienic food, clean linens and toilets. Some of the popular hotels of Sattur are – Hotel Tamil Nadu, Nataraja Lodge, Nadar Lodge, Sri Ram Lodge and Chitra Lodge.

Where to Eat:
Although there is no dearth of traditional South Indian eating joints along the town’s principal market place, it is advisable to have meals at some of the town’s renowned lodges like Nataraja Lodge, Nadar Lodge, Sri Ram Lodge and Chitra Lodge. They offer good wholesome food and are moderately priced.

What to Buy:
Cotton Sarees and match boxes.

Kayatharu

From Sattur continue to drive on NH – 7 and a brisk drive of 50 Kms. brings you to the quaint town of Kayatharu. The town of Kayatharu is located in the district of Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu. Historically, the last king of the Pandiya’s – Marthanda Varman had fought a bloody war with the Nayakar dynasty at Kayatharu.

During the British Raj, one of Southern India’s greatest freedom fighter – Veerapandiya Kattabomman was reportedly hanged to death in this town. The British East India Company had built an air strip here at Kayatharu, which remained unused for a long time. But of late, the Indian Air Force has shown their eagerness to setup an Air Base here. A peculiarity of this place is that it receives heavy wind throughout the year and so a lot of Windmills can be seen here.

What to See:
St.Loorthu Matha Church, the temples of Akilanda Nayaki, Kothanda Rameshwarar and Thirumalai Nayaki, Palli Vaasal Mosque, water-harvesting area of Kutti Kulam.

Where to Eat:
Traditional roadside eating joints in the town’s main thoroughfares.

What to Buy:
Mat products.

Nanguneri

From Kayatharu, your next port of call is Nanguneri, which is located at a distance of 60 Kms. Continue driving on NH – 7 via Sankarnagar. Nanguneri town is located in the district of Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. It is also a district headquarter and is famed for its Vaishnavite Totadri Mutt. It is a place, which is revered by the Tenkallai Vaishnavites.

The presiding deity of the temple is Totadri Naadhan and His holy consort is Siree-varamangait-taayaar. In the sanctum sanctorum the Lord is seated on the throne with one of his legs folded and placed on the seat while the other touches the floor, beneath the shelter of the marvelously celestial thousand-hooded snake – “Aadhi Sesha”. Nanguneri is revered as one of the most significant “Divya Desams” or abode of gods and also the hallowed “Swayamvyakta Kshetram”, which literally means a place where God himself is said to have emerged on his own accord.

What to See:
Totadri Mutt and other miscellaneous temples.

Where to Stay:
There are a few small hotels, lodges and dharmashalas in Nanguneri.

Where to Eat:
Nanguneri is renowned for its “Nadar Cuisine”. Small restaurants abound in Nanguneri and one can relish the traditional cuisine.

What to Buy:
Traditional jewelry and handicraft items.

Panagudi

From Nanguneri to Panagudi involves a drive of just 20 Kms. on NH – 7. The town of Panagudi also lies in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. The impressive Western Ghat mountain ranges are to be seen on the western side. The region is very fertile and fruits like mango, and cashew nuts are grown in abundance.

Panagudi is a place of strategic importance as the ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) has its Rocket Engine Plant here. Panagudi is conspicuous by its breathtaking natural vistas and the flat topography towers over the plains. Legend has it that Panagudi was the place where Hanuman put his foot prior to that great jump or leap to Sri Lanka.

What to See:
Amreeta Kutiram and Mahendragiri Hills.

Where to Eat:
Pure vegetarian meals can be savored at the Amreeta Kutiram.

What to Buy:
Ethnic handicraft items.

Nagercoil

From Panagudi, change to NH – 47B and drive 30 Kms. to Nagercoil city. The beautiful city of Nagercoil is ideally located in the district of Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu. It has the unique distinction of being India’s southernmost city right at the tip of peninsular India. Before independence, the city was an integral part of the Travancore state and it was only in the year 1956 that Nagercoil was amalgamated with the state of Tamil Nadu.

The city surrounded by the impressive Western Ghat mountains that only adds to the immense natural beauty of the place. The city is actually sandwiched in between the azure blue Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats. There are numerous coffee plantation sites that were introduced by the ingenious British planters.

What to See:
Nagercoil Temple, Vattakottai Fort, Padmanabhapuram Palace, Mathoor Thottippalam, Our Lady of Ransom, Udaygiri Fort, beaches and waterfalls.

Where to Eat:
Bhaskar Lodge at Meenakshipuram, Sri Swaminath Lodge, Hotel Rajam at M.S.Road, Hotel Singar at Cape Road, Tower View Lodge, Ganga Lodge, Hotel Blue Star, Hotel Janakram, Hotel Arunagiri and Shree Shelvanas.

What to Buy:
Traditional jewelry and statues of gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon.

Kovalam

On the last leg of your journey From Nagercoil to Kovalam, continue driving on NH – 47 via Alur, Kumarapuram, Mandaikadu, Mulagumudu and Kilkulam. Kovalam is undoubtedly on of the best beaches in India. It consists of a number of small palm fringed bays separated by a rocky promontory, white sands, good surf and plenty of cheap places to stay and a choice of excellent sea food restaurants, many of which stand right at the edge of the beach.

The fact that Kovalam is popular, especially among the discerning foreign tourists, the simple lifestyle of the local people hasn’t been affected. The Fishermen here still row their dugouts out to the sea and pull the nets in by hand. Unlike some of the beaches of Goa, with their thousands of semi resident westerners and the facilities which cater to their needs, you never get the impression that it’s all somewhat artificial. Here it’s much gentler and less intrusive.

A word of warning here about the very strong rip and cross currents that one is likely to encounter at Kovalam. Unless you are a strong swimmer and have no doubts whatsoever about getting out of a sticky situation, then don’t go out of your depth. The sand on the bottom isn’t uniform and one needs to approach it with caution.

Where to Stay:
The Leela Kempinski Kovalm Beach, Hotel Travancore Heritage (Tel: 0471-2267828), Greenshore Apartments (2480106), Kadaltheeram beach resort (2482679), The Beach Hotel (2481937), Shirleysbeach Hotel (2317303), Hotel Sea Face (2481835), Isola Di Coco, Coconut Bay Beach Resort, Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort.

Where to Eat:
In Kovalam just about all the cafes cater for that international palate – Western breakfasts (Porridge, Omelettes, Toast and Jam, Pancakes etc.), Sea food, usually fish with Lobster and French fries and a variety of fruit salads and Custard based sweets. In terms of quality, there is little to choose between the cafes – they are all good.

The light House is where you will find rows of restaurants. On the beach, restaurants like Volga, Crab Club, Coral reef, Sangrilla, Sea Rock, Rock Home, Black Cat and My Dream are famous. Try out the Toddy and Feni spirits. They are available in shops around Kovalam.

What to Buy:
Exotic seashells and Batik printed lungis.