Chugging along from Mettupalaiyam in the plains to Ooty, deep inside
the Nilg­iri Hills, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a unique line. The track was laid in 1899, taking officials of the Raj away from the summer heat, and it was rec­ognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2005. The railway passes through  the charming towns of Coo­noor, Lovedale and Wellington and the journey is a breathtaking one, as the train traverses over 200 bridges, 10 tunnels, forests, ravines and tea planta­tions, covering the 48-km journey in about five hours. There are two trains from Maettupalaiyam every day, at 7.10am and 1.15pm.

In Chennai’s backyard stands a monumental  testa­ment to history, art and architecture. Mamallapuram, aka Mahabalipuram, is a coastal cluster of temples built be­tween the sixth and ninth centuries by the Pallava dynasty, and now a Unesco World Heritage listed site. The town it­self was a major historical seaport. Some of the temples are carved out of caves, some out of monolithic boulders of granite; the sculptures on many are considered to be among the best in the country. The astonishing bas-relief, ‘Ar­juna’s Penance’, and the ‘Govardha­nadhari’ panel are both intricate and subtle. Continuing excavation has brought to light more structures from the same period. A must-do when in Chennai. Mahabalipuram is a 1.5-hr-drive from Chennai along the East Coast Road.

How can you not want to visit the ‘Land of the Singing Waves’? Tharangambadi is a sleepy fishing  ham­let on Tamil Nadu’s Coromandel Coast, a tiny Danish outpost also known as Tranquebar, though  it also had spells of British and Dutch rule. Unlike other co­lonial enclaves, not much remains by way of built heritage. And the few struc­tures that stand, such as the Dansborg Fort, the Pandya-era Masilamaninathar Temple and the Town Gate, all suffered the ravages of the tsunami of 2004. A major development project is underway. Meanwhile, if staying in a heritage hotel, taking long coastal walks, enjoying the sun and sand, interacting with the peaceable locals and buying local crafts sounds appealing, Tranquebar awaits you. Tranquebar is a 290km drive from state capital Chennai.

Elsewhere in this maga­zine, a writer declares that if there’s one place to be visited in Tamil Nadu, it’s Thanjavur. We can’t disagree, but here’s the second place: Chettinad. This is a storied land, the home of the Nattukot­tai Chettiars, the Tamil community that made its wealth in the early 20th centu­ry through trade with Southeast Asia. With this wealth they built fabulous mansions, and with a new cosmopoli­tanism, outfitted them with pillars of Burma teak, chandeliers from Europe and art from around the world. Verita­ble palaces. World War II scattered the community, which left behind a ghost­land dotted with beautiful structures. Visit for splendid heritage, a world-famous cuisine and sophisticated crafts. Karaikudi is the main town in Chettinad, 2hrs from Madurai.