Two hours away from the capital Chennai, the temple town of Kanchipuram oozes architectural and cultural excellence from all corners. Boasting of a Dravidian heritage and a glorious past, the ‘Silk City’ is amongst the seven most sacred cities of India. Having once served as the capital of notable dynasties like the Pallavas and the Cholas, this unassuming city basks in the glory of its former rulers.
Like everything else in this temple town, the Kanjeevaram silk also has legends woven around it. The vivid colours, opulence and sartorial elegance, its richness still holds fort as one of the top choices for the bridal ensemble. With a heavy dose of temples and sarees, Kanchipuram is nothing less than a visual delight.
If you’ve got 24 hours to spare in this modern town, we’ll tell you how to make the most of it. (Disclaimer - Gear up to shell out some moolah because shopping is non negotiable on the agenda)
The Good Ol’ Temple Run
There’s a reason why Kanchipuram is called the ‘City of Thousand Temples’. Dotted with magnificent shrines, intricate stone carvings and rich history, the extraordinary temples of Kanchipuram are absolute wonders. Start off your morning by paying a visit to the iconic Kamakshi Amman Temple. Built by the Pallava kings, the temple is dedicated to Goddess Kamakshi. According to certain legends, the site is also associated with Adi Shankaracharya. Do not miss the annual chariot festival or thiruvizha held during the month of Masi.
Head to the Ekambareswarar Temple, one of the five main shrines for Shivaites. First built by the Pallava dynasty, it was later redesigned by the Tanjore Nayaks. The temple also hosts an extravagant 10-day festival during March-April called ‘Panguni Brahmotsavam’.
Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the Varadharaja Perumal Temple, is one of the most sacred shrines for Vaisnhnavites. It is one of the 108 shrines visited by the alwars or azhwars.
The Silk Road
When in Kanchipuram, going on a shopping spree is inevitable. The lustrous Kanjeevaram silk is a must buy for all tourists. Its stiff regalility and timeless allure stand unrivalled. While these might be exorbitantly priced outside Kanchipuram, buying it directly from the weavers here will save you a bomb. Head to Gandhi Road to pick up some of the most exclusive silk sarees. AS Babu Sah is a haven for wedding shoppers. With massive hoardings propped up all over the city, one can spot this store even with eyes shut. Be rest assured to strike a decent bargain here. However, on the downside, you might find it to be a little too crowded.
One of the leading silk merchants, Prakash Silks offers great value for money. Kamatchi Co-optex and Srinivasan Silk House are also great options to explore. We’d suggest dropping by the Handloom Weavers Service Centre.
Gorge on some delectable Kanchipuram Idlis
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It won’t be an exaggeration to call Kanchipuram idli or kovil idli, a feast fit for the gods. Head to the Varadharaja Perumal Temple to taste the real deal. Prepared as an offering to the lord, it is traditionally cooked in a bamboo cylinder on wood fire. In fact, more often than not, devotees throng the Perumal Temple just for the kovil idlis. What sets these spiced rice cakes apart is the seasoning. A concoction of dried ginger, peppercorns, cumin and asafoetida add to the distinct flavour. Neatly wrapped in mantharai leaves (sal leaves) and placed in brass cookers, these idlis are steamed for more than three hours. In a few eateries that continue to serve these idlis, it is usually sold in slices and not as a whole. We’d suggest dropping by either Sri Krishna Vilas Hotel or Kanaga Vilas to sample the delicacy. But reach well before 5pm, as they usually sell out by evening.
The One With The Nature
Apart from being a spiritual hub, Kanchipuram is also replete with numerous natural wonders. Home to one of the oldest bird sanctuaries, it’s straight out of an avian enthusiast’s wildest fantasy. The Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary here, which literally translates to ‘hamlet of the hunter’, has lured many ornithologists over the years. Nearly 40,000 migratory birds flock to this region every year to nest, feed and breed. Right from the Open-billed Stork to Great Egrets, you can spot a wide variety of winged visitors if you make it during the nesting season.
Pro tip: keep the shutter ready.
One can also explore a number of pristine lakes in and around Kanchipuram. Enjoy the beautiful sunset by the Kovalai Lake or head to Madurantakam Lake that hosts a variety of migratory birds.
If you have a weekend in hand and a road trip in mind, we’ve got just the destination for you!