Getting There & Away -- There are flights connecting Madurai to Chennai, Tiruchirapalli, Bangalore, and Mumbai. The airport is 12km (7 1/2 miles) south of the city center. Jet Airways, Air Deccan, and Kingfisher offer flights; check www.yutra.com for best deals. Taxis charge around Rs 300. Trains from all over southern India pull in at Madurai Junction Railway Station (W. Veli St.; tel. 0452/274-3131), which has a good Tourism Department information center that is open daily. The train journey from Chennai is 8 hours (via Trichy); from Bangalore, 11 hours. From Pondicherry you'll need to catch a cab to Villipuram (30-min. drive) then travel for 6 hours by train. There are two bus stands: The Central Bus Stand (7km/4 1/3 miles from center) is the arrival point from Chennai and other north, south, and eastern districts. If you are arriving from the west, including Kerala, you will disembark at Arapalayam Bus Stand (2km/1 1/4 miles from railway station). If you're traveling by car, a 10-hour direct journey from Chennai, it's best to overnight along the way, preferably in the Chettinad area. The drive between Madurai and Kochi in Kerala takes 8 hours; best to overnight in Munnar or the Periyar area, or you could head over the Ghats via Elephant Hills in the Kodaikanal area.
Visitor Information -- Staff at the Government of Tamil Nadu Tourist Office (W. Veli St., next to the Tamil Nadu Hotel; tel. 0452/233-4757; Mon-Fri 10am-5:45pm; Sat 10am-1pm) provides maps, advice on government-sponsored hotels and shops, and recommendations on guides. As elsewhere, beware of fake "official guides" you meet on the streets.
Getting Around -- Auto-rickshaw drivers tend to have a field day with foreign visitors; establish a flat rate before heading off.
Festivals -- Try to time your visit to coincide with the Chittrai Festival, held at the end of April/early May, when Shree Meenakshi's marriage to Lord Sundareswara is celebrated by dragging the divine couple from temple to temple on magnificent chariots, accompanied by elephants and drummers, with revelers reaching fever-pitch radiance. The couple is again heralded during the Teppam Festival (aka "Float" Festival), held sometime in January and February (traditionally then the most auspicious time of the year to get married in Madurai), when they are set afloat on a beautifully adorned raft in the tank near the Thirupparankundram Temple. It's supposed to be a romantic interlude for the couple, who consummate their passion later that night in the temple. Another good time is during the Avanimoola Festival, held in late August through early September, when temple cars are heaved through the streets by hundreds of devotees.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.