Located in the far southern state of Tamil Nadu, Madurai is one of India’s oldest and most characterful cities, offering a heady taste of the subcontinent at its idiosyncratic and unspoiled best. The city is dominated by the enormous Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple, one of the most spectacular in the country.

Painted ceilings and carved pillars in Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple
Painted ceilings and carved pillars in Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple

Its massive towers, alive with a riot of colorful statuary, have a powerful presence, their thousands of many- headed gods and goddesses, splay-toothed demons, lions, bulls and guardian figures keeping permanent watch over the city streets.

The interior reveals a virtual city-within-a-city: a fascinating labyrinth of shrines, bathing tanks, courtyards, and columned halls, thronged day and night with pilgrims who come here to pay homage to Shiva and his wife, the triple-breasted goddess Minakshi.

Outside, the narrow, colorful streets of old Madurai offer an unforgettable taste of southern Indian life, dense with crowds, cows, and weaving rickshaws, all plowing their way through the city amidst a cacophony of traffic horns and temple bells.

Practical Information

Getting There and Around The main gateway is Chennai, in Madras, 275 miles (445 km) away. From here there are daily flights to Madurai as well as direct train services.

Where to Eat The excellent, inexpensive banana-leaf thalis at Anna Meenakshi (West Perumal Maistry Street) are not to be missed.

Where to Stay A good choice is the Gateway Hotel, offering slick five-star service in a beautifully converted colonial mansion.

When to Go Between January and March.

Budget per Day for Two US$175

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