GETTING THERE – Fly with any domestic airline, such as IndiGo or Air India, to Chennai, from most Indian cities. Book a chauffeur-driven car through a boutique travel company like Silk Route Escapes, which can also help customise your trip.
SUGGESTED SIX-DAY ITINERARY
DAY 1: CHENNAI— MAMALLAPURAM (55KM) – Spend a night in Mamallapuram and explore its 7th century UNESCO World Heritage monuments, experiments in temple design and other carvings that draw from Hindu mythology. Don’t miss Krishna’s Butter Ball, a huge rock that appears to teeter on a slope.
STAY: InterContinental Chennai Mahabalipuram Resort – The look of this seaside resort is inspired by traditional South Indian temples. Sign up for activities like wreck diving and deep-sea fishing.
DAY 2: MAMALLAPURAM- PUDUCHERRY- THARANGAMBADI (215KM) – Drive down NH32 and the East Coast Road, via the temple town of Chidambaram. Stop for the night at the former Dutch colony of Tranquebar or Tharangambadi. Lunch at La Villa.
STAY: Bungalow on the Beach – The refurbished former home of the Dutch governor of Tranquebar is a chic option.
All the rooms at this seaside property are named after Dutch ships that sailed here.
DAY 3: THARANGAM BADI — KARAIKUDI (210KM) – This stretch of the route, via East Coast Road and NH32, draws you inland to the capital city of Chettinad. Stop along the way at the Sufi shrine in Nagoor, and the church of Velankanni. In Karaikudi, have your hotel arrange a visit to a Chettiar home, some of which are open to the public. Also stop by a local weaving unit such as Sri Mahalakshmi Handloom Cotton Weaving Centre to pick up an authentic Kandangi cotton sari.
STAY: The Bangala – What was once the home of a Chettiar family is now part of a heritage boutique hotel. The store sells Kandangi saris and other regional crafts like the colourful, woven kottan baskets. Owner Meenakshi Meyyappan can arrange for visits to nearby weavers.
DAY 4: KARAIKUDI— RAMESWARAM (200KM)
Drive back towards the coast, via SH536 and AH43, to Rameswaramon Pamban Island. The area attracts a lot of Hindu pilgrims who come to perform rituals and visit the famous Shiva temple. Drive up to Ram Sethu Point on the very edge of a strip of sand called Dhanushkodi, which extends out to sea and is just 30km from Sri Lanka. (In fact, once a ferry service from here linked the island nation to India.) If you’re the adventurous sort, you could sign up for activities like sea kayaking, kitesurfing and snorkelling with Quest Expeditions on Kathadi Beach. There are a few basic rooms available to stay in as well.
STAY: Daiwik Hotel – While this hotel primarily caters to the pilgrim crowd, it’s one of the better stay options around and comes with all of the standard mod cons.
DAY 5: RAMESWARAM- THOOTHUKUDI— TIRUCHENDUR (230KM) – Start on NH87 and then swing back onto East Coast Road. You’ll get great #lnstagram shots as you travel all the way down to the temple town of Tiruchendur. Along the way you will spot vast stretches of salt pans that make the landscape seem almost unreal in their blazing whiteness.
STAY: Hotel Udhayam International – The only star-rated hotel in town, it offers clean rooms and pleasant, efficient service. Hardcore carnivores, know that like most hotels in this area, it only serves vegetarian fare.
DAY 6: TIRUCHENDUR— KANYAKUMARI— THIRUVANANTHAPURAM (185KM) – The last stretch of your drive (SH176 to Kanyakumari and then SH66) is also the most scenic. Stop when you see the water and go in fora dip where you can. The water’s cool, the beaches are clean and on most occasions, you will have them to yourself. There are plenty of fishing villages along the way and for a small amount of money, you can find a local to cook you a delicious meal. At Kanyakumari, take a ferry across to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. Walk to the rear of the monument and see the ocean spread till the horizon, and find yourself truly at land’s end. Drive on to Thiruvananthapuram, the city with the closest airport. Spend the night there before catching your flight back.