Marvel at the Meenakshi Temple:
This magnificent edifice, abode of the Goddess Meenakshi, is the beating heart of Madurai. While much of the temple in its present form was rebuilt during the 14th century and again in the 16th century by the rulers of the Vijayanagar empire, ancient records trace its origins to the 4th century. Visit the temple at dawn or in the evenings, when it is cool and looks its best. The pillar-lined corridors, the temple tank, the intricate sculptures and the air of devotion are all worth taking in.
Walk through the old city:
Like most old cities across India, Madurai’s ancient quarters are packed with quaint streets full of character. These are arranged in concentric squares with the Meenakshi Temple at the centre. These streets are lined with shops selling an array of goods – from silks to brassware, stationery, grains, oils and snacks.
Visit the Thirumalai Nayak Palace:
This royal abode was built in the 17th century by Thiruamalai Nayak and is an example of the graceful architecture of the time. Several film songs have been shot here and you will recognize the backdrops. There’s a sound-and-light show every evening which narrates the history of Madurai in a captivating way.
Get away to Azhagar Kovil:
About 20 km from Madurai town, set amidst the Azhagar hills and surrounded by greenery is this ancient Vishnu temple with impressive architecture. This is a good place for you to have a quiet picnic. From here, you can climb uphill to Pazhamudhir Solai, an abode of Lord Muruga and enjoy the scenic beauty of the place.
Madurai has a well-deserved reputation as a foodie destination. The original Murugan Idli Shop is here, quite close to the Meenakshi Temple, and you should stop here for the white-as-jasmine idlis and chutney podi. Amma Mess is another Madurai institution known for its non-vegetarian fare, which includes specials like kola urundai and mutton sukka.
Make the trip to Tiruparankundram:
This ancient temple dedicated to Lord Subramanya lies on the outskirts of Madurai city. Sacred to thousands it’s always packed with devotees. Go here to pray and see the faith of so many people. Walking around the temple, a girivalam, is something many worshippers do here.
Stop at the St Mary’s Cathedral:
Right in the midst of the city is this oasis of calm. This cathedral is known for its graceful architecture and captivating stained glass windows. You can spend some quiet moments here on your Madurai visit.
Take a late-night food tour:
Madurai is known as Thoonga Nagaram, the city that never sleeps. At night, scores of food stalls and carts come to life, in the streets of the old city. Try out the road-side idlis served with spicy chutney, the offerings from the parota stalls. And you must try a glass of warm Paruthi Paal, cottonseed milk, a Madurai speciality.
Madurai has a long tradition of weaving and saree-making and there are shopping choices aplenty. Look for Sungidi sarees and Chettinad cottons; the shops in the vicinity of the Meenakshi temple and in Goripalayam are good for saree shopping.
Escape to the hills:
A four-hour drive from hot Madurai will take you to the cool climes of Kodaikanal, the popular hill resort. Wrapped around a star-shaped lake, Kodai is known for its fruit orchards, rose gardens and parks. Here you can trek, cycle around the lake and go splashing in hidden waterfalls.
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