The city has no nightlife to speak of. You wouldn’t bump into IT guys speaking into Bluetooth headsets at every corner. Fancy restaurants are too few and far between, and don’t picture yourself lounging on the banks of River Vaigai with a glass of Sangria. The quaint little town of Madurai has none of that to offer. Yet, for those seeking a holiday destination that is more than just fancy dinners and spa treatments, the Temple City has plenty of action in store.
The Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple —the single most important tourist spot in the city— is where you head to first. The colossal monument is a fine example of ancient Dravidian architecture, with four gopurams (towers) crowning the entrance in the four directions. Thousands of mythological characters and scenes are depicted in the brilliantly painted sculptures that adorn the towers. Make sure you take a good tour guide along, for every pillar and shrine in the temple has a story to tell. On your way out, an array of little shops that sell everything from plastic airplanes to brass idols catch your attention. Stock up on some Thazhampoo Kumkum, whose intoxicating scent will linger in your senses even after you get home. And while at it, how about a few mozhams of Madurai Malli (jasmine) for the missus?
What the city lacks in fine dining, it more than just makes up for with its tantalising street food. Treat yourself to some fluffy, steaming hot idlis with coconut chutney and sambar on the side, or grab a plate of idiyappam (rice noodles) served with sweetened coconut milk. When the chicken and mushroom dishes served at the roadside stalls make your eyes water, reach for a glass of Jigarthanda - a signature dessert of the city made of chilled milk, China grass, vanilla ice cream and dry fruits. However, if you insist on wanting your fix of fried chicken or cappuccino, there are the newly opened cafes like KFC, Café Coffee Day and Barista Lavazza outlets you could head to.
Catching up with the metro cities, Madurai has recently seen the launch of two new shopping malls Milan’em and Vishal de Maal. Filled with youngsters on weekends, the malls house a number of international brand outlets. But if you would rather prefer a long walk in fresh air, call a cab to the Vandiyur Mariamman Kovil. Sip on a glass of parutthipal as you stroll around the perimeter of the huge theppakulam or Temple Lake, catching occasional glimpses of adolescent boys playing cricket on the barren lake bed.
Legend has it that the lake (which is 300 metres long and 300 metres wide) was dug up to procure enough sand for the construction of the Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal, which is another important tourist attraction in the city. Numerous movies and song sequences have been shot at the ancient palace over the years. Enormous pillars with a circumference that can be wrapped around by three adults support the magnificent construction. Light and sound shows about the history of the palace are held in the evenings.
The city guarantees an unforgettable vacation and plenty of peace and quiet for those from bigger cities. And fret not if you’re planning to reach the city late in the night, for Madurai never sleeps. You would still find a restaurant serving ‘Brotta-Kurma’ and hot masala tea in the dead of the night.