Chennai (formerly Madras): Chennai is the capital of Tamil Nadu - where Dravidian culture reached its zenith - a port of the legendary Coromandel coast with a marvelous tradition of music and dance. The golden sandy beaches merge with the breakers of the Bay of Bengal. One of Indias four metropolises, this city of 4 million people has a pronounced colonial heritage dating back to the 17th century, when first the Portuguese and then the British arrived here.
We will visit Fort St. George, completed in 1653 and today filled with reminders of the past, including St. Marys, the first church consecrated on Indian soil; The National Art Gallery has many excellent bronzes including the famous Chola period bronze Nataraja, the God Shiva, in the cosmic dance pose; The Government Museum contains sculpture and architecture produced by the Dravidian dynasties. Driving along the Marina, an elegant promenade and proceed to the old Indian section of Mylapore. Visit San Thome Basilica - the culmination of the enduring legend of Thomas Didymus, the apostle who doubted and who is believed to have lived and preached on Mylapores shores. Visit Mylapore Temple and the Victoria Technical Institute.
Mahabalipuram. Mahabalipuram is a beautiful beach resort consisting of a tiny village by the sea dwarfed by a dream world of awesome Tamil art, an open air museum of sculpture in living rock. The piece de resistance is Arjunas Penance or the Descent of the Ganga, the worlds largest bas-relief, 764 ft. by 288 ft. (27m by 9m). It is a beautiful composition of hundreds of celestial beings, human and animals all hurrying to a natural rock cleft that divides the giant stone. The best known landmark of Mahabalipuram, is the Shore Temple which has stood by the sea for 12 centuries. Its twin spires are pure poetry in granite. The other wonders of Mahabalipuram are the mandapams, each a cave scooped from a hillside of solid rock and ornamented with pillars, sculptured with panels and with rathams (monolithic rock-cut shrines) that have inspired generations of South Indian temple-builders. The five rathams, named after the Pandava brothers, the heroes of the Mahabharata, and their wife Draupadi, are part of an amphitheater of art. Each temple though incomplete, remains a gem. Also in this area are a magnificent elephant and an exquisite Nandi, the sacred bull.
Kanchipuram. "The Golden City" has about 125 shrines, all of them centuries old, dating back to the early Cholas of 200 BC. It was successively capital of the Cholas, the Pallavas and the Rayas of Vijayanagara. The height of Kanchis glory was when it was capital of the far-flung empire of the Pallavas from the 6th to the 8th centuries when Mahabalipuram and Mylapore were its great ports. All that is left are its magnificent temples. Kanchipurams other claim to fame is its silk, renowned for more than four centuries. A unique system of weavers makes and sells Kanchi saris which are the richest saris in India and certainly the most sought after.