Tamil Nadu UNESCO Heritage Trail

Based on the unique contribution of these temples, some of them have been selected by UNESCO for the World Heritage List.
Famous Tamil Nadu landmark, UNESCO world heritage - Shore temple, world heritage site in Mahabalipuram,South India, Tamil Nadu, Mahabalipuram
Famous Tamil Nadu landmark, UNESCO world heritage - Shore temple, world heritage site in Mahabalipuram,South India, Tamil Nadu, Mahabalipuram

For a state whose history stretches over a few millennia, it is not surprising that Tamil Nadu is steeped in heritage, from architecture to literature, culture to cuisine, music to sports, and more. The key ruling dynasties such as Pallava, Chera, Chola, and Pandya were not only great conquerors and rulers but also patrons of art and architecture, most of which have survived the vagaries of time. Based on the unique contribution of these temples, some of them have been selected by UNESCO for the World Heritage List.

One of the earliest to be inscribed was the group of monuments in Mahabalipuram. Located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, this ancient temple town (also called Mamallapuram) is about 60 km by road from Chennai. A port city (7th to 8th centuries) under the Pallava rulers, today it is home to intricately carved rock-cut temples and architectural displays. A tour of Mamallapuram typically begins with the rock-cut Shore Temple which lies on the seashore. The Pancha Ratha complex contains monolithic chariot-shaped temples which display a variety of styles &ndash Draupadi&rsquos temple is shaped like Bengal&rsquos thatched roof hut and Arjuna&rsquos is well decorated with an elegant fa&ccedilade. Said to be one of the largest bas-relief works in the world, Arjuna&rsquos Penance is a 27m x 9m panel with more than a hundred sculptures. It also contains scenes from the Ramayana, the most notable being Bhagirath praying to Shiva to help Ganga descend to earth. Located on the outskirts is the Varaha Cave temple.

The Tiger Cave temple, likely an open-air theatre, is also a must-see. UNESCO inscribed the group of monuments in 1984 for showcasing classical Indian architecture, mentioning that &ldquoThese majestic edifices mark the high quality of craftsmanship in the region during the 6th century CE. The natural landscape was utilized in carving out these structures, thereby making the ability of the Pallava craftsmen universally known.&rdquo 

Place to Stay Beach Resort Complex, Mamallapuram 

In 2004, three more temples, dating back to the 11th to 12th centuries, in Tamil Nadu, were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. These were the Brihadeshwara Temple at Thanjavur, the Brihadeshwara Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram, and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram, grouped under &lsquoThe Great Living Chola Temples&rsquo--all dedicated to Shiva. According to the UNESCO citation, these temples showcase Chola architecture and art at their best. They are also active places of worship following rituals which were practised over a thousand years ago.

Located about 2 km from the Thanjavur Junction Railway Station, the Brihadeeshwara Temple was built by King Raja Raja Chola I in the 10th century. The main temple, which sits in the middle of a complex protected by intricately carved fortified walls and gopurams, is marked by a 216 feet high tower. The statue of Nandi (Shiva&rsquos bull), about 13 feet tall and 16 feet wide, is carved out of a single rock.

Place to Stay Hotel Tamil Nadu, Thanjavur 

Located about 45km away from the nearest transport hub, Ariyalur, and nearly 70km away from Thanjavur, the Brihadeeshwara Temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram was built by Chola king, Rajendra I in the 11th century. It is said that after his army conquered several kingdoms on their quest to bring water from the river Ganga, the subjects lovingly called him Gangaikonda Chola (the Chola who conquered the Ganga). When the king decided to set up his new capital, he named it Gangaikonda Cholapuram, which also lent its name to the grand Shiva temple built in the city. The Shiva linga inside the sanctum sanctorum is 13 feet high.

Place to Stay Hotel Tamil Nadu, Thanjavur 

The Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram is located near the town of Kumbakonam and is about 90km away by road from the nearest airport Tiruchirapalli. This 12th-century temple was built by King Rajaraja Chola II. The temple built like a chariot adheres to the Dravidian temple architecture and is covered with carvings and inscriptions. The seven steps to the altar are said to represent the seven musical notes.

Place to Stay Hotel Tamil Nadu - Thanjavur

Nilgiri Mountain Railway, sometimes known as the "Toy Train", has a metre gauge and is 1000 mm long. It is listed by UNESCO in their heritage list under &lsquoMountain Railways of India&rsquo. As the UN organisation says, the construction of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, a 46 kilometre long meter-gauge single-track railway was first proposed in 1854, but due to the difficulty of the mountainous location, the work only started in 1891 and was completed in 1908. This railway, scaling an elevation of 326 meters to 2,203 meters, represented the latest technology of the time and uses unique rack and pinion traction arrangements to negotiate steep gradients. As it slowly climbs the hills, the train passes through tunnels with jagged edges and forested tunnels, allowing you to take in the breathtaking view of the landscape. The Southern Railway of India runs this train which runs from Mettupalayam, travels 46 kilometres and arrives at its destination of Ooty after over 5 hours.

Place to Stay Hotel Tamil Nadu &ndash Coonoor / Ooty

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