The Cauvery River Delta is an area of charming Tamil villages, lush green paddy fields, fruit orchards, and a history going back to the 2nd century C.E. Today, what remains are several magnificent pieces of temple architecture, most of them ascribed to the Chola Dynasty of the 7th to 10th centuries C.E. Many of these temples have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The largest town in the Delta is Tiruchirapalli that stands in the plains between the Palani and Shevaroy Hills, just under 100kms north of Madurai. Dominated by the dramatic Rock Fort, it’s a sprawling commercial centre with a modern feel; the town itself holds little attraction, but pilgrims and tourists flock through enroute to the spectacular Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam, 6kms north, the work of the Chola Kings who gained supremacy here in the 11th century.
Eastwards along the river, the important, but easy-going delta town of Tanjore is dominated by the superb World Heritage listed Brihadeeswara Temple and a sprawling Maratha Palace Complex. The town is famous for its distinctive art style, a combination of raised and painted surfaces using gold leaf and semi-precious stones as inlay work. Around Thanjavur, there are smaller villages with equally historic sites. Devised as the centerpiece of a city built by the Chola King, Rajendra I (1014-1042 AD) to celebrate his conquests, the magnificent temple of Gangaikondacholapuram, lies 35 kms north of Kumbakonam. The tongue-twisting name means. “The town of the Chola who took the Ganges”. Built by Raja Raja II (1146-1173 AD), the superb if little visited Airavateshwara Temple, in the village of Darasuram, ranks alongside those at Thanjavur and Gangaikondacholapuram.
South of the Delta lies the old Danish settlement of Tranquebar, an atmospheric Danish colonial relic in the middle of vibrant rural Tamil Nadu. The drive to Tranquebar is a whir of vibrant green fields, small villages and happy people who will wave at you for no reason. As you drive in through what was once surely a grand Danish gate, you reach a clean, village of just 900 families with a towering Danish church which would look more in place in, well, Denmark. Directly overlooking the beach is the towering Dansborg Fort and an ancient Shiva temple flanking it on one side.