While there is nothing much to see beyond generally ugliness in Trichy, you will spend anywhere from a half- to a full day in the atmospheric temple town of Srirangam, most of it embraced by the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, which lies a tedious 40-minute drive through congested traffic north of the city. In the evening, time allowing, you may wish to climb the steps to the summit of Rock Fort to witness the sun setting over the city (entrance at China Bazaar; small admission fee and camera fees; daily 6am-8pm). This is also the time you're likely to encounter the greatest number of devotees coming to worship at the Shiva temple (off-limits to non-Hindus) and paying tribute to the elephant-headed god, Ganesh, at his summit shrine; again the sanctum us off-limits to non-Hindus but the views are sublime. Little of the old fortification has survived (though some inscriptions date from the 3rd c. B.C.), but you may be interested to know that at 3,800 million years old, the rock itself is said to be one of the oldest on earth, predating the Himalayan range by around a million years. Alongside Rock Fort is the huge Teppakulam Tank, and across from this, Our Lady of Lourdes Church, built in 1840. If you can face another temple visit, Sri Jambukeshwara Temple lies further north.

Chettinad Region -- Known as the Marwadis of the South, the Nattukottai Chettiars were a powerful trading community that rose to prominence during the 19th and 20th centuries, specializing in money lending and wholesale trading with the East. While not particularly ostentatious, the Nattukottai Chettiars gave expression to their immense wealth by building massive fortified mansions and temples in the rural villages that spawned them. Their fortunes waned somewhat after World War II, with the new generation of ambitious Chettiars seeking their own pots of gold in the cities of India and beyond, and the majority of these mansions are now padlocked and empty for much of the year, opened only for the occasional marriage ceremony or Bollywood film shoot. Some of the larger homes are opened for visitors keen to view the teak and stone-pillared courtyards, ornate doorways and ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and dusty portraits of the powerful patriarchs who once ruled these now-empty corridors. If you see only one, make it the Chettinad Palace, the family home of Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar, noted educator and business magnate, who built this most ornate of the mansions at the turn of the 20th century in Kanadukathan. The best way to arrange access is through the proprietors of the guesthouses who have opened their homes to paying guests. Equally pleasurable is to simply wander alone through the tiny village of Kanadukathan, watching children fetch water from the central stepwell and wizened old ladies gossiping on front porches that equal them in faded glory; keen shoppers should also set aside a few hours to plunder the antiques shops in nearby Karaikudi, unofficial "capital" of the Chettinad region.

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