As an American-born desi growing up in the States, our opportunities to see parts of India beyond where our parents grew up are rare. To make these visits a little more interesting for us, perhaps our families plan for us a tour of the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur trifecta, and we’re considered to have “seen India.” Otherwise we don’t get much of a chance to venture past the usual neighborhoods, shops, and restaurants that surround our family home until we finally plan to visit India one day on our own. Trips in our youth are primarily centered around catching up with relatives we haven’t seen in a long time, which makes sense, given the ocean between us.
Hands-down, I agree that Delhi-Agra-Jaipur are must-see cities with rich history, culture, architecture, and traditions, and of course, that wonder of the world. The image of the Taj Mahal, which I visited during my middle school years, is still etched in my brain.
At the same time, why must our sightseeing of India be limited to those key places in the north, and why must it take such an effort to explore India when we go back? Regardless of which city you’re going back to to visit family, I feel there’s something to discover in each of them, much of which can leave a lasting impression on those of us who only get a few weeks or days back in the motherland. India is diverse, and no one place is like another. Our time is limited, so if we don’t get an opportunity to do extensive traveling, that’s fine. Let’s cut the travel time and explore closer to the places where we are visiting family. Make the most of it, because those places, too, offer interesting adventures.
For me, that’s Tamil Nadu.
I’ve been to India perhaps 18 times in my life, and though the primary purpose of these visits was to see extended family, my parents and relatives also tried to build in some sightseeing or excursions every few visits so that my sister and I had a chance to experience something new, whether it’s within the vicinity or even a day’s drive away. This could include a weekend at the hill station of Ooty, a safari through the jungles of Bandipur Wildlife Sanctuary, or a day trip to the seaside temple ruins of Mahabalipuram.
This is certainly true of my visits to Coimbatore, the second largest city in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the state where both of my parents grew up, though they were raised in Chennai, a port city. Unlike Chennai, Coimbatore enjoys cooler, more tolerable temperatures since it’s skirted by the forests and foothills of the Western Ghats, a mountain range that runs parallel to India’s southwestern coastline. That itself makes Coimbatore a pleasant escape from sultry Chennai, though it’s all relative.
I’ve been to Coimbatore about three or four times, and each visit is unique because my uncle and aunt who live there always have something new to show us. Energetic and full of zest for life, these two keep us on our toes, so much so that I was starting to confuse some of the places I’d visited over the various times I’ve been back!
On one of these occasions when my whole family traveled to India together, we were shown the nearby areas of Pollachi and sites along the road to Valparai, which offered scenic views and elegant retreats along the way.
If you’re visiting near the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border, here are some places we visited that I think are worth checking out, and there’s definitely more to be added here:
What better way to cool off than with water? Monkey Falls, so named for the dozens of monkeys that have made their home there, is part of the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park. When we visited, the falls was more of a trickle, but still a refreshing sight.
Located roughly 40 miles from Coimbatore, it’s not too far off the highway so you can make this a quick stop, though I’ll bet you’re going to want to linger a bit longer. There are some trails here for people who enjoy trekking, according to the Tamil Nadu Forest Department. Afterwards, you can take a dip in the water and grab a refreshing beverage — fresh tender coconut water, directly from the fruit, sold by any one of the several roadside vendors who have them on display.
Just remember to keep your car windows shut, doors locked, and scooter boxes secured, or else you’ll find that one of the playful primates have absconded with your belongings!
Aliyar Dam Park
This is right next to Monkey Falls, so this is worth a visit as well. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon.
The Aliyar Dam is the number one in India as well as top ten embankment dams in the world in terms of water volume, according to the Tamil Nadu Tourism Board. The natural flow of the Aliyar river down various elevations has been leveraged to generate hydro-electrical power through dams constructed across the river at each level. This dam, along with seven others in this hill range, provide irrigation and hydro-electric power, according to Electrical India magazine.
So peaceful is this surrounding that there is even a Temple of Consciousness on its grounds. This non-religious, spiritual center promotes service and peace in its teachings. Shri Vethathiri Maharishi, founder of the main organization, the World Community Services Centre, was an advocate for community service and well-versed in the practices of intense meditation, yoga, research and spiritual realizations. This facility provides health workshops, yoga courses and a general forum to bring together intellectuals to discuss and come up with paths to address issues facing humanity today, according to the organization’s website.
Mettupalayam Elephant Camp
This is where temple elephants go for a little R&R.
Elaborately adorned pachyderms are a common sight at Hindu temples in India, used in processions and considered sacred. They play a part in Hindu festivals and celebrations. However, the use of elephants in temple functions has been criticized by animal activists who feel the animals are subjected to torture both during their taming phase and after, when they are made to haul heavy loads or stand for hours at a time for lengthy functions, or chained in place at temples.
Thus initiatives to create such “rejuvenation” camps to care for the jumbos were launched by late TN Chief Minister Jayalalitha.
Here, at the Mettupalayam elephant “spa” as it were, these giants are treated to a one-month relaxation program, and elephant caretakers are trained. The mission of the camp is to tend to the elephants’ mental and physical health. The animals are given a health checkup and fed balanced diets accordingly, per a report by the New Indian Express. We’re glad they’re taking such good care of them!
Black Thunder Resort
They claim to be Asia’s No. 1 theme park, but I have my doubts….
Still, this theme park touts water attractions, rides, a haunted house, arcade, aquarium, trekking, bungee jumping and more. Since we have amazing theme parks in the U.S., this is not where I care to spend my time, but the resort next door was quite impressive for the tranquil atmosphere it offers.
We stopped here just for a bio break, but I felt it would have been a nice place to spend a couple nights if you have a longer stay. It’s fully equipped with a restaurant, bar, conference center, a spa, gym, and playground for the kids. Both the theme park and resort abut a man-made lake, which was created solely for the purpose of recreation, according to the park’s website.
For families looking for a break from the monotony of Coimbatore city life, this park offers a range of activities, and the resort, a calm and serene setting to unwind away from it all.
And for those of us visiting our relatives in India’s southern states, even these short day trips are enough to make memories that last a lifetime.