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Tamil Nadu - the land of Tamils is a state in Southern India known for its temples and architecture, food, movies and classical Indian dance and Carnatic music. The languages spoken here are predominantly Tamil (also written as Thamizh) and English in the larger cities and metro capital Chennai. It is the historical home of the famous Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava kingdoms which thrived in ancient and medieval India.
Tamil language is one of the few still living classical languages, with two millennia of written tradition. Unlike northern Indian languages, it belongs to the Dravidian language family that includes the other major South Indian languages - Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. Tamil Nadu was the site of violent anti-Hindi riots in 1965 when the union government tried to impose Hindi as the sole official language of India. English works in almost all the cities.
If you don't speak Tamil, most of the people speak English fluently or know some basic English, so you shouldn't have a problem getting by in the major cities.
Tamil Nadu has 4 international airports and 3 domestic airports. Chennai International Airport is a major international airport that is connected with 19 countries with more than 169 direct flights every week. This is the third largest airport in India after Mumbai and Delhi and has a passenger growth of 18%. Other international airports present in the state are Coimbatore International Airport, Madurai International Airport and Tiruchirapalli International Airport. Salem and Tuticorin Airports are domestic airports with convenient connections to the rest of the state and the country. Increased industrial activity has given rise to an increase in passenger traffic as well as freight movement which has been growing at over 18 per cent per year.
One can easily get around the state from any one city to another using swift transportation available locally. However, it is advised that cabs should be pre-booked to avoid any kind of inconvenience.
Chennai is one point on the Golden Quadrilateral project, the construction of limited access divided highways that link circumnavigate the heart of India.
Chennai has one of Asia's largest bus stations, CMBT. Seven different state owned corporations fly buses to and from various destinations within South India. There are hourly buses for places like Tirupati, Pondicherry, Coimbatore. You will get the option of A/C or Non-A/C coaches for cities like Bangalore, Trivandrum, Hyderabad.
Several private players also operate buses between most southern destinations. During the weekends most buses are fully occupied and it's better to reserve a ticket in advance. All buses terminate near Koyambedu but there are different stands for state owned(CMBT), and private buses (Omni bus terminus). Both these terminuses are near each other, and it is better to tell your exact destination to the taxi/autorickshaw driver. Buses usually drop passengers at various points in the city before reaching the terminus. So feel free to ask the driver or fellow passengers the closest drop-off point to your destination.
Metropolitan Transport Corporation buses ply throughout the city. These are government-run and extremely cheap. You can buy bus tickets online at redbus or Ticketgoose or Via.com . Extreme caution is advised in using these buses as they are often out of shape, will begin moving before passengers are fully boarded, and are, like second class suburban trains, notorious for passengers having to hang off the edge or outside of the bus while in motion. But now state corporation introduces New Type Deluxe, A/C Buses for Chennai Passengers. Also introduced new 2500 buses for Chennai.
Coimbatore - Manchester of south India known for its textile industries and an engineering Hub, plesant climate,Kongu tamil language well known for hospitality.
Recently, there has been a great rise in the number of complaints about harassment of innocent tourists in various destinations around the country. The Ministry of Tourism has adopted a strategy of introducing Audio Guide Devices at various places of interest around the country such as the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, etc. to provide reliable and factual information to tourists. It is wise to hire such devices as you can avoid being ripped off or ambushed by desperate touts itching to make a buck. The Ministry of Tourism has also announced its partnership with AudioCompass, a company specializing in creating Audio Tours of all places of interest in the country including Chennai, Pondicherry, Mahabalipuram, etc in the form of Audio Devices available at the monuments and Smartphone apps that can be download from the App Store.
The first day, Bogi Pongal, is about getting the old things out of your household to make way for the new harvest. On this day, discarded household items (brooms, mats, etc.) are burnt before sunrise and delicacies are offered to the Gods.
The second day, Uzhavar Thirunaal (Farmer's day), is about thanking the sun god for his sun shine. On this day Ven Pongal, a mixture of rice and lentils, is cooked in earthen pots and offered to the Gods along with sarkarai pongal the sweeter version of the former.
The third day, Maatu Pongal (Maatu - Cow), is for paying respect to cattle. Cows/bulls are washed, their horns are painted and decorated, and they are taken to a nearby temple. Challikattu, Indian version of the Bull run, competitions are also held.
On the fourth day, kaanum Pongal, family and friends are visited and new clothes are given to maids and servants. This day is for thanking fellow humans for their support.
Tamil Nadu provides the visitor with a wide variety of delicious food both for the vegetarians as well as the non-vegetarians, though most food in Tamil Nadu consists of grains, lentils, rice and vegetables. Spices are added to give a distinctive taste.
Breakfast or tiffin includes idli or steamed rice dumplings, dosai is a crisp pancake made from a batter of rice and lentils, vada is a deep fried doughnut made from a batter of lentils, pongal is a mixture of rice and lentils cooked together and seasoned with ghee, cashew nuts, pepper and cumin seed), uppuma is semolina cooked, seasoned in oil with mustard, pepper, cumin seed and dry lentils.
Lunch usually consists of rice with Sambar, rasam, and yogurt along with a number of spicy side dishes. This is called meals. A decent meals costs less than a dollar.
There are 2 types of meals Limited and Unlimited.
There are several variations of the dishes mentioned above which are eaten with coconut chutney, sambar which is a seasoned lentil dish and mulaga podi which is a powdered mix of several roasted lentils and red chili blended with oil.
The famous filter coffee special to Tamil Nadu is carefully made from chosen coffee beans, and roasted to preserve the original aroma of the beans.
These roasted beans are powdered and the flavour of rich ground coffee powder is used to make filter coffee, enjoyed by every one. The water that you add has to be at boiling point so for the coffee powder to release its flavor. It is not possible to make coffee with tepid water.
Tamil Nadu has a wide range of accommodation to provide to its visitors, be it the class-conscious tourist or the budget-backpacker. Seeing the success of Homestay type accommodation promoted by the Kerala Ministry of Tourism, the Tamil Nadu counterpart introduced the "Bed and Breakfast" scheme.
Under this scheme accommodation is provided at nominal rates and at the same time with hygienic conditions. Anyways this "Bed and Breakfast" is a western concept neither developed by Kerala or Tamil Nadu. And as a bonus you can experience the local life style. "Bed and Breakfast" scheme was introduced by Tourism Department Tamil Nadu in 2001-2002. The scheme derives inspiration from a quote of Late Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, which goes like this "Receive a guest and send back a friend ". Under this scheme, a house owner can let out a few rooms to tourists. During the stay of the tourists in his house, the tourists will be provided with accommodation and food by the house owner. A detailed booklet containing the Names, addresses, Telephone Nos. etc. of the Bed and Breakfast scheme providers was published during 2001-2002 and this information was also put on the website of TTDC.
During the period 2001-02 to 2003-04 as many as 3,258 tourists had availed of this scheme. The Bed and Breakfast service providers are scattered throughout the length and breath of Tamil Nadu as stated below.
The house owners require the services of helpers to attend to the needs of the tourists. Hence, in 2004-2005 a project was established to train such helpers in the field of health and personal hygiene, cleanliness, basic service techniques, basic nutrition values etc.
Apart from this the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC) has 36 Hotels in Tamil Nadu that are hygienic and suits the budget to middle category travellers. TTDC Corporation was incorporated during the year 1971. It made a modest beginning with Five Tourist Bungalows and with two coaches. It has made rapid strides since then, and today has earned the proud distinction of owning the largest chain of Hotels in South India numbering 36. The bed strength has increased from 253 in 1971 to 2504 in 1998. 24 fleet of coaches are in use at present. Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation has established the following Tourist's amenities in the State:-
Decent budget categories abound from Rs 300 ($7) to Rs 700 ($20). The former will get you a Non-Ac room with clean bed, TV and most probably a shared bathroom in most parts of Tamil Nadu. The latter will fetch you a Ac single room with basic amenities like TV, Bed, Room service and attached bathroom. If travelling as a couple expect to pay around Rs 500($10) to Rs 1100 ($23). Though you might be lucky to find a decent English speaking concierge at this range, you will find lots of people well-versed in Tanglish (a concoction of Tamil and English) which can be understood quite clearly if you listen hard and pay attention. Please take due precautions with your luggage and other essential documents and money. It is advisable to not leave any money in the room and to always carry your passport in person. Bring a good lock both for your luggage and the hotel door. If you are carrying laptops or digi-cams, keep them under lock and key when not taking them on person.
Medium category hotels can be had from Rs 1500 ($27) to Rs 4000 ($80). These will be your 2 to 4 Star rated Hotels. You will most probably be given a well furnished (by Indian standards) Air conditioned room with good lighting, bed, TV, attached bathroom with a bathtub and warm water during most of the day and hot water from 6AM–10AM and 6PM–10PM and a good concierge (who will serve you well provided you tip him the moment you see him rather than the last moment). Follow this advice when it comes to tipping. If you have reserved or kept in mind a certain amount for tipping, tip 20% of the amount at the beginning itself and the rest of the amount should be watered down subsequently on each tip with the final 20% as the last tip. Do not pay a flat rate tip all the time.
Safety in this category of hotels is more, though it is always advisable to be a little paranoid if you are carrying very expensive items. The safety issue is not a constant and will vary according to the city you are visiting and the hotel you are staying.
Most of the hotels in this category will have an in house restaurant and a bar. If you are lucky or choose well you might even get one with a Pub and a Discotheque around which the nightlife of the city is centered, though these kind of hotels are limited to the major cities which will serve you as a stop-gap in between visiting places of tourist interest. Expect a buffet breakfast to be thrown in as a compliment.
Individual cottages at beach resorts can be had within this budget.
Unlike Rajasthan, you will not find any Heritage Hotels (ancient Palaces that have been converted in to hotels) in Tamil Nadu. You will have to splurge on 5 star and 5 star deluxe hotels. They will cost you anywhere from Rs 5000 ($75) to Rs 20000 ($300). They are usually run by an international chain and so does not need description as checking into them here is akin to checking into them in San Francisco or Amsterdam.
These hotels are mostly limited to in and around the city of Chennai and a few in Madurai & Coimbatore. Generally speaking Tamil Nadu is a haven for the back-packers and the medium-budget travellers. As a result, in the more tourist oriented cities, good hotels with good food and service come cheap. You will be hard pressed to find a hotel where you can splurge these amounts. But of course what you save on your stay can be channelled into some good Kancheepuram silk saris for the beautiful ladies or into stone carvings of beautiful women for the Gentlemen.
Generally, Tamil Nadu is one among the safest places in India, but like any other tourist destination there are a few problems. Beware of pickpockets and thieves in buses and trains. If you travel via train, think twice before eating anything offered by co-passengers (sedative-laced drink/food followed by robbery have been reported).
Dress appropriately in public places. Anything below knee should be OK (better to avoid sleeveless shirts if going to temples). Also, when traveling with someone from the opposite gender, it would be advisable to avoid too much of physical intimacy, as it may invite unwanted attention and comments.
The Sri Lankan Civil War is a sensitive topic for people residing in Tamil Nadu. Some will even backlash on you if you call the Tamil Tigers a terrorist group or show some support of the Sri Lankan government. It is best to avoid this topic at all costs when in Tamil Nadu.
Here is the link to temple route map for the travellers visiting Navagraha temples in Tamil Nadu.