Offbeat Alert: 10 Hidden Gems In Tamil Nadu

From pristine beaches to lush forests and hills, there is real beauty in these less trodden parts of Tamil Nadu.
Offbeat Alert: 10 Hidden Gems In Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu is known for its big cities and sprawling skylines, but it's the nondescript, secret little pockets of the state that hold the most beauty. These are also the places where filmmaker Mani Ratnam has shot some of the most stunning, cinematic footage. In the 130,060 square kilometers of its intimidating expanse, Tamil Nadu hides a treasure trove of offbeat destinations waiting to satiate even the most discerning traveler's desire for exploring the unknown. Saunter past the crowd thronging the usual favorite places and embark on a unique journey, unearthing some truly lesser-known gems in this state. Waltz into the mystical world of Meghamalai, immerse yourself in the sea salt-stricken calm of the coastal town of Tranquebar or traverse the breathtaking panoramas of Kolli Hills. Regardless of what your favourite terrain or scenery is, Tamil Nadu is always your kryptonite.


Known for hosting the world's second-largest mangrove forest, Pichavaram is a small village located in the Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu. The town is known for its vast swathes of mangrove forests nestled between the Vellar estuary and Coleroon estuary. Your Pichavaram journey should start with a boat ride in the mangrove swamps. Choose from various options like motorboats and row boats, to sail through the mangrove maze; rooted permanently underwater. This wetland is a haven for critically endangered birds like the white-bellied heron and the spoon-billed sandpiper. If you visit in winter, chances are that you may get to see several migratory birds like storks, snipes, and pelicans as well. And if a four-leaf clover falls along your path and gets you extra luck, you could also spot olive ridley turtles.

Getting there: The nearest airport is Chennai International Airport, about 200 km away. The nearest railway station is Chidambaram, approximately 13 km away. By road, you can take a bus from Cuddalore to reach Pichavaram.


Aerial View of Arichal Munai, Dhanushkodi
Aerial View of Arichal Munai, DhanushkodiShutterstock

With its endless azure blue waters and visible coral reefs along clean sand beaches, Dhanushkodi is a place that can take hold of your aesthetic senses very easily. Located at the southernmost edge of the Pamban island, Dhanushkodi is a 15 km long sandy beach town set along the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. These waters converge at Arichal Munai. Dhanushkodi, which translates to "tip of the bow," is named after legends from Ramayana. It was at Dhanushkodi that Lord Rama pointed his arrow in the direction of Sri Lanka and ordered his army to build the famous Ram Setu (later known as Adam's Bridge), bridging the two countries. In the 1900s, the British also attempted to connect the two countries via Dhanushkodi. The renowned Pamban sea bridge, roughly 40 minutes away from Dhanushkodi, was a part of this plan. During your visit to the beach, try the local fried fish if time permits. Large seashell shacks are also a sight to see. If you're lucky, you may even spot flamingos in this area. The town is famous for its church ruins covered in coral.

Getting there: The nearest airport to Dhanushkodi is Madurai, roughly 198 km away. The nearest railway station is Rameshwaram, 18 km away. By road, you can take a direct bus from Madurai or Rameshwaram to reach Dhanushkodi.


Yelagiri, also written as Elagiri, is a nemophilist’s dream. Located about 150 km away from Bengaluru and 250 km from Chennai, this place offers a convenient respite from the hustle culture of city life. Swamimalai Hills is the highest point here and offers great views of the surrounding landscapes. The two lakes—Nilavoor and Punganoor—provide the perfect backdrop for a leisurely afternoon spent rowing or pedaling amidst the tranquil waters. At the same time, the Forest Hill is ideal for witnessing sunsets as the day comes to a close. For those seeking spiritual intervention, the Jalagandeswarar Temple and Moksha Vimochana Temple are must-visits. The Vainu Bappu Observatory, once home to Asia's largest telescope, offers visitors an opportunity to observe the wonders of the night sky, polka-dotted with celestial bodies. The Government Silk Farm is another attraction that involves a long walk along the mulberry plantations and a climb over a few fences. The guided sericulture tour is an enjoyable experience. If greater adventure plagues the soul, try trekking up the Swamimalai; the highest peak in Yelagiri at 4,338 ft. Paragliding is a great way to enjoy the location and admire the 14 hamlets that enhance the stunning beauty of the place.

Getting there: The nearest airport to Yelagiri is the Bengaluru International Airport, about 160 km away. The nearest railhead is the Jolarpettai Junction. Regular bus services are available from cities like Bengaluru and Chennai.

Kolli Hills

With a year-round temperate climate, the beauty of the paradise that Kolli Hills is, remains unaffected by time and seasons. Situated at around 1,000-1,300 m above sea level, these hills offer a delightful experience for hikers, tourists, and those who might be interested in experiencing the village life of the tribal outposts situated here. For a dose of adventure, try the Agasagangai Waterfalls, also known as Kollimalai Falls, and the picturesque Puliancholai Falls at the foothills, and the steps descending from the hills to experience their beauty. The artificial lake Vasalurpatty is another spot that attracts visitors, be it strolling by the lakeside or taking a leisurely boat ride. The Siddhar Caves are also a sight to behold. For the bonafide trekker, reaching these caves involves a steep two-to-three-hour trek through the forest. The Selur Viewpoint offers spectacular panoramic vistas that will get embossed in your memory on first glance. Exploring the charming small towns around Kolli Hills is an absolute must. With its unique landscape, cultural treasures, and welcoming locals, Kolli Hills is a destination that cannot be missed.

Getting there: The nearest airport is in Trichy, about 90 km away. Prepaid taxis can be taken from the airport to reach the destination. The Salem Railway Station is the nearest railhead for those traveling by rail, with direct buses for the Kolli Hills outside the station.


Poompuhar Art Gallery
Poompuhar Art Gallery

Rarely does one encounter a coastal haven that boasts both an illustrious past and a pristine natural beauty. Once a bustling port city that witnessed numerous historical events, Poompuhar now attracts tourists from far and wide. The city flourished as far back as in the 4th century BC and was known as Kaveri Poompattinam or Puhar, serving as the capital of the fabled Chola dynasty. Today, Poompuhar's beach remains the principal draw for revelers and romantics alike. Stretching northwards from the Kaveri River for approximately 3 km until Neithavasal, the beach is guarded against erosion by a sturdy granite boulder. In Poompuhar, the festival of Chitra Pournami, held during April and May, is one of the most significant occasions where scores of people gather at the beach to take a dip. Not far from the beach, stands the magnificent Silapathikaram Art Gallery; a seven-storey tower that showcases the Sangam and post-Sangam era, a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Poompuhar.

Getting there: The nearest airport, Tiruchirapalli International Airport, is nearly 147 km away. Mayiladuthurai Railway Junction, 36 km away, is the nearest station. Poompuhar can also be reached easily via road from major cities such as Chennai and Coimbatore.


Meghamalai, also known as Pacha Kumachi, is aptly named for its lush green hills. Getting there is half the adventure. The 18 needle bends make this a dynamic journey of mitigating the G-forces, along with a fog that seems to never dissipate. Gliding over the mountains, you will be treated to luxuriously laid out tea plantations and verdant ranges. Ever-pleasant weather, a tranquil atmosphere, and breathtaking views make Meghamalai just the place to escape to, no matter what part of the country you come from. Natural wonders are littered throughout Meghamalai. The wildlife sanctuary, Meghamalai Falls, Suruli Falls, Maharaja Metu Viewpoint, Vellimalai, cardamom and tea gardens are just a few notable landmarks that will leave you charmed by their lush, scenic landscapes. Marvel at the panoramic views of the picturesque hamlets from the Manalar Dam, and take a stroll through the misty landscapes, tea and coffee plantations, and spice gardens. The grandeur of Meghamalai Falls never fails to pull you in. A spiral waterfall originating from the hill cascading into two separate falls, it creates quite the cinematic atmosphere. Spot wild animals like elephants, bison, and the spotted deer while exploring the area. Any direction you venture forth here, you won’t be running short on views to obsess over.

Getting there: The nearest airport is at Madurai, some 120 km away. The nearest railway station is at Madurai. By road, the journey is from Madurai-Usilampatti-Andipati to Theni.


Tharangambadi Fort
Tharangambadi Fort

Tharangambadi (or Tranquebar) is an old Danish-era coastal town in the Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu. A treat for museum-goers, history resides in every nook and alley of this fortified town, which was a prime trading post in pre-Independence India, and is the oldest Danish settlement in the country. The remnants of time include colonial-style bungalows and an arched town gate along King's Street. The old Zion church is also considered a significant landmark. However, Fort Dansborg remains the most remarkable attraction in Tharangambadi. Grand in size and greater in stature, it is believed to be the largest Danish fort, second only to Kronberg in Elsinore. While you explore the old structure, be sure to visit the small museum at the east end. This museum exhibits artifacts ranging from historical documents to dated dolphin skeletons. If you want to see an old 18th-century printing press, head to the Ziegenbalg Museum. It is home to the remains of the Ziegenbalg Press, which published the first Tamil Bible in India. On a stroll along the seashore, the air may feel especially fresh, and that's because Tharangambadi is identified as one of the most ozone-rich zones in India. As you walk, make sure to visit the 14th-century Masilamani Nathar temple, one of the few shore-facing Shiva temples in India featuring Indo-Chinese architectural style.

Getting there: The nearest airport to Tharangambadi is Chennai, roughly 270 km away. The nearest railway station is Karaikal, approximately 13 km away. By road, you can take a direct bus from Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminal to reach Tharangambadi.


Curving pathways to the Yercaud Hills"
Curving pathways to the Yercaud Hills"

Yercaud stands out as a beautiful hill station spread over just 383 sq. km in the Servarayan Hills in the Eastern Ghats. The Big Lake is the main draw here and full of activity. Visitors can hire two or four-seater pedal boats and rowboats to explore this pristine lake. The well-manicured gardens of Anna Park situated nearby are also a visual treat. Lady's Seat is another spot worth visiting. It overlooks the winding ghat road and offers beautiful views of Salem. Near Lady's Seat, you'll find a silk farm and Pagoda Point, also known as Gent's Seat. The Shevaroy Temple, situated atop Servarayan Hill, is the highest point in Yercaud at 5,326 ft. Dedicated to the local deity Servaran and his consort Kaveriamma, the temple attracts many tourists. Foregoing a visit to the Botanical Gardens will be regrettable, as this place houses hundreds of plants, including rarities like the pitcher plant, and the famous Kurinji flower that blooms once in 12 years. The enchanting garden also boasts an orchidarium, considered India's third largest.

Getting there: The nearest airport to Yercaud is Salem Airport, 38 km away, while Tiruchirappalli Airport is around 165 km away. Salem junction is the nearest rail head to Yercaud, some 38 km away while by road it would take you a 45-minute drive from Salem to reach Yercaud.


Made up of the words "hoge" and "nakkal" which translates to "smoky rocks," Hogenakkal really lives up to its name. Located in Tamil Nadu's Dharmapuri district, it has river Cauvery as its source. Often called the "Niagara Falls of India," these glistening falls are frequented by visitors for their picturesque views and coral rides. Mani Ratnam featured this exotic location in the film "Raavan." Abhishek Bachchan as ‘"Beera" is introduced while diving into the Hogenakkal Falls. Trivia aside, there’s no need to jump, because you can make your way on traditional bamboo boats and absorb the vibrant panoramas. You can also take a dip in the waters, which are famed for their therapeutic properties. The boat rides are, however, closed during heavy rains due to rising water levels. The Melagiri Hills is another tourist hotspot. Located an hour from Hogenakkal, the hills serve as the converging point of the Eastern and Western Ghats. You can trek on the ridge between the two mountain ranges. About 100 metres from the waterfalls is the Crocodile Rehabilitation Centre, that has around 100 crocodiles. Krishnagiri Dam is another hotspot near Hogenakkal. For spiritual solace, visit the Theerthamalai Temple, where Lord Shiva is worshipped. According to local legend, after Lord Rama's victory over Ravana, he visited the temple to absolve himself of the burden of killing so many demons. It is also said those who take a dip in the nearby waterfall "Ram Theertham" are absolved of their sins.

Getting there: Bengaluru International Airport is the nearest to Hogenakkal, 159 km away. The nearest railway station is Dharmapuri, 47 km away. By road, you can take a bus from Dharmapuri to reach Hogenakkal.

(This is a sponsored post)

Outlook Traveller