Darasuram (34 km): Situated on the outskirts of Kumbakonam, Darasuram has many ancient temples of great architectural merit. The Airavateswara temple is the most important of them all. According to legend, Shiva is said to have appeared here in the form of a ‘Rudraksha’ tree. Yama, the god of death, did a long penance to please Shiva at this spot to be cured of an ailment. The temple was built by the Chola King Raja Raja II in the 12th century. The temple derives its name from the story of Airavatha, the white elephant of India, which had his white colour miraculously restored by bathing in the tank here after his colour was changed as a result of a curse by sage Durvasa. In front of the main shrine is the Alankara Mandapa with a fine colonnade of piers, each of which has square panels on the sides sculptured with scenes from the Shaivite traditions. On the south front of this Mandapa, each side of the base has large stone wheels and a horse. Thus the Mandapa has the appearance of a chariot, wherein the deity is decorated on festival occasions. It is said that originally there were seven enclosures (like Srirangam) to the temple, but today the temple stands in a single court. Other shrines in the enclosure are those of Parvati, Yama, Subramanya, Saraswati and sculptured representation of the Saptamatrikas and various Shaivaite devotees.
Gangaikondacholapuram (71 km): Gangaikondacholapuram was the capital of Rajendra Chola (1012-1044 AD), the son of the great Chola king Raja Raja. According to history, Rajendra Chola had conquered several northern kingdoms in order to bring the holy waters of river Ganga to his kingdom. As a mark of celebration, he created a "liquid pillar of victory" (Jalamaya Sthambha), a tank where the vassal kings contributed Ganga water as tribute to the conqueror. Hence he was called Gangaikondachola -- the Chola king who brought the Ganga - and the town was named after him. The Shiva temple here, dedicated to Lord Brihadeeshwara, is similar in many aspects to the temple in Tanjore. There are some striking sculptures of Mahisasuramardini, Nataraja, Ardhanariswara, Chandikeshwara, etc. The Vimana is 170 ft high. Recently, the state Archaeology Department unearthed the remains of a royal palace constructed by Rajendra Chola I, at a site in Maligaimedu, 2 km southwest of Gangaikondacholapuram.
Mannargudi (60 km): Lord Krishna is featured as Rajagopala in the Rajagopala Temple, Mannargudi. This temple was constructed in the 12th century and received patronage from the Nayak Kings.
Mayiladuthurai (85 km): Situated on the banks of river Kaveri, this place used to be called Mayuram. Mayuranatha Swami temple, Parimala Ranganatha Swamy temple, Kasi Vishwanatha Swamy temple, Punukeeswarar temple, Vadhanyeswarar temple and Ayyarappar temple are some of the famous temples in Mayiladuthurai.
Manora (65 km): Manora has an eight-storey victory tower, built by Raja Serfoji.
Nagore (85 km): This is a famous pilgrim centre for Muslims. There is a Dargah here for Hazarat Meeras Sultan Syed Shahabdul Hameed, a great Muslim saint. The Dargah has five spires, one of which is 124 feet high. The interior of the Dargah is made of marble and the doors are covered with embroidered silver sheets. Behind the Dargah is a large tank. The annual Kandoori festival here attracts people of all faiths. Apart from the Dargah, Nagore has two ancient Hindu temples: one dedicated to Shiva and the other to Vishnu. Nagore is well known for toys made out of coconut and rethaki leaves.
Point Calimere (Kodiakkarai) (80 km): This sanctuary is renowned for its incredible congregation of migratory waterfowl, Flamingos in particular. Five to ten thousand Flamingos can be seen here at one time during the season. The sky looks pink when such a fabulous flock of Flamingos takes to flight, their numbers almost extending to the horizon. With the exception of the great Rann of Kutch, nowhere in Asia can such large number of Flamingos be seen. With a total area of 17.29 sq km, almost half of the sanctuary consists of tidal swamps called the great swamp, which forms an ideal habitat for Flamingos and other water birds. During spring when the trees and shrubs are laden with wild berries, it attracts thousands of birds like the green pigeons, rosy pastors, koels, mynas and barbets. As the winter sets in a huge wave of insectivorous birds congregates here attracted by the abundance of insect and vegetation. The place starts seething with paradise fly catchers, indian pittas, shrikes, swallows, drongos, minivets, blue jays, and wood-bucks. Spotted deer and Wild Boar can also be seen in this sanctuary. Season: November to February for Flamingos and other migratory birds and through out the year for black buck and spotted deer.
Kodikkarai is a railway station connected to Thiruthuraipundi, which in turn is connected to Karaikudi and Mayiladuthurai. Motorable roads connect the sanctuary from Thanjavur and Vedaranyam (11 km). Forest jeeps are available from the Poonarai Rest House for a fee to view wildlife in the sanctuary. Accommodation at Poonarai Rest House (10 suites) and Point Calimere Rest House. For reservations: Wildlife Warden, Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary, 110, Public Offices Road, Nagapattinam-611001. Tel: 04362 222349
Poompuhar (100 km): This was once a major port of the Chola Empire called Kaveripoompattinam. The original city was submerged by the sea and now only a small village remains. The greatness of this city has been brought out in some of the poems in the Sangam literature and also in the great Tamil epics of Silappathikaram and Manimekalai. Buses are available from Chidambaram and Thanjavur. Accommodation: Tourist Bungalow, Department of Tourism, Government of Tamil Nadu, Poompuhar. Tel: 04362 260439.
Swamimalai (35 km.): This is one of the six abodes of Lord Subramanya. The temple has been built at an elevation of 30 m (100 ft). Lord Subramanya is called Swaminatha, because it was here that he initiated his father Lord Shiva, into the mysterious significance of the divine "Pranava Mantra". The shrine to the boy-god Subramanya is situated on top of the hill and the Shrine of Shiva is situated below, indicating the fact that the son and father stood here as master and disciple.
Tirukandiyur (10 km): This place is famous for Srikandeswar (Brahma) and Harshavimochana Perumal temples. These temples have exquisite sculptures.
Thirunallar (101 km): The place is famous for its temple dedicated to Lord Saneeswara.
Thiruvaiyaru (13 km): There is a famous temple dedicated to Lord Shiva known as Panchanatheeswar. It is also the place where one of the trinity of Carnatic music, Saint Thyagaraja, lived and attained Samadhi. Every year in January, a music festival is held to commemorate the birthday of the saint. Buses are available from Thanjavur.
Tiruvarur: (55 km): Tiruvarur is one of the ancient capitals of the Cholas. There is an important Shiva temple dedicated to Lord Thyagaraja. The temple car is one of the largest in South India. There is an inscription and sculptural representation of the story of the just king Manu Needhi Chola who was said to have ordered his son crushed under wheels of a car because he had killed a calf by driving his carriage negligently over it. Lord Shiva is said to have intervened and saved the life of the boy and revived the calf. Tiruvarur is also the birthplace of Saint Thyagaraja, the composer-saint of Carnatic music. Executive officer, Thayagaraja Swamy Temple: 04366 222343
Tranquebar (Tarangambadi) (103 km): The brick wall, which encircled this town, is now in ruins. The river fortification of this town was founded by Ore Gedde on behalf of the Danish East India Company in 1620 AD. Built close to the sea in Gothic style, it became the property of the king of Denmark in 1624 AD. In 1825, it was ceded to the English East India Company.
Vaitheeswaran Kovil (80 km): An ancient temple dedicated to Shiva - as Vaitheeswaran literally meaning the divine provider of cures. Adorned with imposing towers, Mandapams and pillars, this well visited shrine has been sung of by the Saivite saint poets. This shrine is also referred to as an Angarakasthalam. The town is also famous for ‘Nadi’ astrology.
Thirubhuvanam Temple (45 km): The temple was built by KIng Kulothunga on the model of the Brihadeeswarar Temple. The stately stone gopuram of rare workmanship from the pedestal to the stripe is a standing moment of the architectural glory. A stone inscription in the temple discloses the existence of a university here for teaching advanced course in Miamsa and Tamil. Tel: 0435 2460760