Hyderabad / Tamil Nadu
Our journey started in Glasgow and we flew with Emirates to Hyderabad via Dubai. I had first been to Hyderabad in 1958 as a girl, and been fascinated by this interesting city set amidst lakes and boulders; flying in to Begumpet Airport in the dawn light showed a still beautiful city, but one that has grown and developed enormously in the intervening years. Now Hyderabad is well known not only for historic architecture and antiquities but because it is also 'Cyberabad' with huge world famous multinationals based there for the information technology advantage that has brought India to the fore. Thankfully Hyderabad is clean and this is a huge advantage for those of us living in the West; we are not happy faced with litter strewn streets and acres of plastic detritus. Hyderabad has met this challenge very successfully and thus retains its charm. We stayed at the ITC Kakatiya. It is a lovely welcoming hotel with every comfort and the beauty is that having arrived at 06.50 hours we were in our hotel suite by 07.30 having a shower. Now that is what I call a good arrival in India! Now ITC have the wonderful new Kohenur which is the last word in luxury but with responsible conservation in mind.
There is so much to see but I recommend a drive around first to get one's bearings. The Nizams of Hyderabad were world famous and their enormous wealth made them the stuff of legends. It is a city that is comfortable with its Urdu, Hindi and Telegu languages and values people of all beliefs which is also important. Telangana has so much to offer the tourist whether it be spiritual destinations or historic sites; bird sanctuaries, wildlife; crafts and pearls! The other name for Hyderabad is the Pearl City and one can truly lose oneself in shopping for these beautiful objects.
Golkonda Fort is a short distance away and a must for the first time visitor to Hyderabad. Andhra Pradesh has been split into two states in 2013 and now Hyderabad is in the new State of Telangana and the two very fine rivers Godavari and the Krishna flow through both states, and life has continued on the banks of these ancient waterways since time began. The iconic image of Hyderabad is the Charminar in the centre of the old town, which had been laid out in 1591 by a far-sighted Nizam. Now of course the city has spread in all directions but the Hussain Sagar Lake with its elegant statue of Buddha built in 1992 makes a good focal point with a nice strand on which to walk and take the air and watch life passing by. Hussain Sagar is a necklace shaped lake built by Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah, and named after Hussain Shah Wali. It is spread across an area of 5.7 square kilometres and is fed by River Musi; the statue stands on Gibraltar Rock in the middle of the lake. It also separates Hyderabad from its twin city Secunderabad. Having spent a couple of days in Hyderabad ,and more if you can extend your visit with so much to see and do, this is a very ‘happening city’ of India with a newish international airport, an IT city adjacent to the original city and many heritage sites reasonably close by; then fly to Chennai.
The Tamil Nadu Temple Trail is so worthwhile and enjoyable. Chennai has wonderful hotels like the ITC Grand Chola which is a most sumptuous hotel with stunning restaurants and swimming pool in the city centre - largely constructed out of Italian marble in the interior. https://goo.gl/photos/z3GPTV4qx5d4azuX8
Chennai has some interesting heritage sites for the western visitor and most especially I recommend the Museum with the beautiful Chola Bronzes; we spent Christmas 2017 in The Grand by GRT Hotel which was lovely. https://photos.app.goo.gl/X1hM3Eq3GGE47dk63
In Tamil Nadu our first stop was Mahabalipuram to visit the wealth of historic antiquities. The Shore Temple is world famous and so beautiful; it was hit by the tsunami in late 2004 but mercifully not damaged and as it was early in the morning there were not many people about. There is so much to see in this small village with a pleasant atmosphere. I found the monolithic rock temples - the Panch Rathas quite extraordinary and seeing it all on a beautiful sunlit afternoon under a blue sky was enchanting. In the late evening in darkness we took a bullock cart ride round the village which I found quite moving - the silence of a place settling down for the night and the silhouette of the bullocks and the cart depicted on the bas reliefs of Arjuna's Penance was moving; here in the twenty first century we had chosen to go in an ageless form of transport which threw its shadows on something carved in the seventh century in the reign of the Pallava dynasty - time seemed to have stood still. Above the bas relief on the rocks little goats and kids slept free from danger of predators, completely unworried by us and our night visit. I recommend the Radisson GRT as a very good hotel.
Tamil Nadu has so many wonderful ancient temples and we managed to visit six but the individual will have their own priorities. I loved Gangaikondacholapuram, Kumbakonam, Darasuram and Thanjavur. We returned in 2018 and stayed at various lovely CGH Earth properties in Pondicherry, and locations close to the temples. We visited the Chettinad district and stayed at Visalam which is a delight. There is great attention to detail with wonderful cuisine. The arid region encompassing the towns of Karaikudi, Davakottai and their neighbouring villages, collectively known as Chettinad is distinguished by large ornate mansions which are the ancestral homes of Chettiars, Tamil Nadu's rich merchant community. These mansions were built at the beginning of the 20th century and are a fascinating reflection of that community - I believe that were the area to be thoroughly cleaned up and mansions renovated this could become a short break destination with lots of attractions. Madurai is the great temple city that we have visited on three occasions. The vast temple complex – the Minakshi Temple - has to be experienced.