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Things To Do In Madurai
When you take a trip to Madurai, you will have a long list of temples and heritage monuments to visit. But that is not all that it takes, to make Madurai one of the best loved tourist cities of South India. There are lakes, dams and waterfalls and hill stations, too, since the Western Ghats lie close to Madurai and you might find a lot of lush foliage roundabout the city during monsoon.
Whether trekking to the hill stations, fishing in the lakes, going off on a bird watching stint, exploring the city or cycling through the suburbs, Madurai has them all. If there are so many places that are oft visited, hire a cycle rickshaw and go exploring. We’ll tell you more about what you can do in Madurai, about the city’s best food, the souvenirs you can buy when you’re out shopping and the vibrant festive life of this temple city.
Mavoor and Vaigai Dams
Drive off to Mavoor Dam, at the foothills of the Sirumalai Hills. You might find animals like deer or gaur if you choose to visit the dam during sunrise or sunset. The Vaigai Dam built on the Vaigai river at Andipatti in Theni district, near Madurai, is another beautiful picnic spot you can visit. Surrounded by hills, the place is a visual treat. There is a garden with exotic flowering plants, a children’s play area and a musical dancing fountain. Spend a monsoon evening here, when it’s not hot and the rain fed waters are so beautiful to look at.
As a weekend getaway, drive up the Sirumalai hills and check out the beautiful town of Dindugal and the rock fort spreading out over the countryside. There is a ghat section and a number of farms as you drive up, with about 11 villages. Most of the farms producing coffee, lemon, pepper, jackfruits and the popular hill plantains. You will cross 18 hairpin bends and notice a great change in the weather as you climb up. It’s such a refreshing way to spend the day. You could also explore the hillside on foot once you reach the top. Check out the Shiva Temple at Vellimalai, said to have been installed by Sage Agasthya. You might find a farmer trotting by on a mule. Mules are the means of transport for these people who bring their produce to the plains at the foothills.
Now, this is one of Madurai’s ever so popular things to do. Madurai is blessed with abundant pockets of water in the suburbs and has hundreds of species of birds visiting them. You can visit the Poondi Tank on the Azhagar Kovil road (7 km) from Madurai, Avaniyapuram Tank (5 km) Samanatham Tank (10 km) and Kizhankulam tank close by, that have amazing varieties of migratory birds like ducks, painted storks, Ruddy Shelduck, common coots, little grebes and pelicans and the local Baya Weaver birds nestling among the reeds on the banks. Grab your camera and get set to go. Madurai is in the migratory route of these birds and the water bodies beyond the city are ideal places for the birds to take a break. Choose a nice sun set time during winter or late summer to watch the birds.
Most of the roads around Madurai are beautiful, serene country roads far away from the traffic and you might probably stumble upon an ancient temple or two by the side. Madurai has a number of cycling clubs that go off on cycling tours to even as far as Dindugal, Virudhunagar, Othakadai-Melur and the hills of Thirupurankundram. You could join one of these groups for a cycling tour down the countryside and up the hills.
Watch the time fly as you sit by the water side waiting for the fish to bite. Alanganallur, Avaniyapuram and Karisalkulam tanks are ideal places for fishing. If you visit Madurai in March, check out the ancient Fishing Festival at Periyanagini kanmai or tank near the Muthan swamy temple at Kallandhiri, near Madurai. Locals and people from neighbouring towns and districts gather at the tank to catch fish with anything that comes in handy, fishing nets, towels, baskets or just pounce on a passing fish.
Waterfalls are so much fun any time of the year. Who wouldn’t love to spend hours near a waterfall or stand under the gushing cascade if permitted to? Most of Madurai’s waterfalls are active during monsoon. Visit the Kudlampatti Falls about 30 km from Madurai. Tourists are allowed to take a refreshing shower in the falls. The Kumbakarai Falls (86 km) is at the Kodaikanal hills and is a good one, albeit small. Or go for a long drive to Suruli Falls that originate from the Meghamalai mountains. It’s a two tiered waterfall and is quite an ancient one that is referred to in a Tamil epic called Silapathikaram. Close to the falls are about 18 caves with rock cut architecture of the 11th century and temples like the Suruli Velappar temple , Kailasanathar Temple about 800 m above the falls and a dargah to Abubacker Masthan, a 17th century Muslim saint who was buried here. The Suruli Falls are at Cumbum in Theni district and are about 123 km from Madurai.
Traditional games of bravery are a part of Madurai’s culture. The city still adheres to following its traditional sports like Jalli Kattu or bull fighting that is held at Alanganallur, Avaniyapuram and Palemedu during Pongal celebration in the month of January. You could join the thousands of spectators from world over who gather at Madurai in winter to watch the brave young men fight with the raging bulls.
Some of the shopping zones in the market places are rather crowded and it is best if you walk through these places. It’s easier that way to get around, do some window shopping or explore the markets for new things to buy. Madurai’s favourite things to be bought are handloom textiles, Madurai Chungudi or polka dotted cotton saris, handicrafts, fragrant sindoor, wooden toys, bronze ware, bangles, Madurai malli or the aromatic jasmine flowers. If you’re travelling to hilly places like Sirumalai or Kodaikanal, buy the hill grown fruits, spices, tea, honey and homemade chocolates.
Some of Madurai’s cuisine is influenced by the Madurai Saurashtrians who moved in to Madurai during the rule of the Nayakas, all the way from Gujarat, the Chettiars and the Mughals, apart from its own locals. You would never run short of dishes to eat and explore your way into, when you are in the city. There are umpteen number of street food eateries as well as five star restaurants, dishing up the most scrumplicious food. Try the delicious idlis, crispy dosas, Madurai’s most popular three tiered Kari Dosa, Meen Kozhambu, Bun Parotta and Kola Urundai. It’s almost a fault to overlook Madurai’s ever so popular, cold and creamy Jigardhanda and Paruthi Paal.
Since Madurai has a heavy flow of tourists year round, there is a wide choice of hotels to choose from. There are budget hotels and classic 3-5 stars all over the city, most placed at vantage points near the railway station and around Meenakshi temple. There are also service apartments and OYO rooms you could also try, along with luxury resorts with hi-fi amenities like swimming pools and roof top restaurants both within the city and the suburbs.
If Madurai is the city of Temples, then the city would never run short of festivities. Madurai celebrates Pongal or Harvest Festival in January with Jallikattu and Chithirai Festival in April-May, when the Goddess Meenakshi marries Sundareshwara and Azhagar crosses the Vaigai in a Palanquin to attend the wedding. Both these ceremonies are celebrated with great pomp and splendour with tourists from all over the world participating in a communal pongal. One of the grandest festivals is the Float Festival, a glittery colourful affair in the months of January-February. The idols of Meenakshi and Sundareshwara are taken on a procession to the Vandiyur Mariamman Theppakulam (tank) and carried across the lake to the Central Mandap on a float, where prayers are offered to the deities. Thousands of people gather at the lake to watch the festivities.