Tiruchirappalli (commonly known as Trichy) is a substantial industrial city in South India's Tamil Nadu state. It has an ancient and diverse history that can be traced as far back as the Early Chola Dynasty in the 3rd century BC. This makes it one of the oldest inhabited cities in the state. Over the course of time, the city has had about 10 different rulers who have left their mark on it, including the British.
It wasn't until the 16th century that Tiruchirappalli really began to flourish, as part of the Madurai Nayak kingdom. The Nayaks reigned for two centuries and over that time period established the city as a trading hub. After the end of Nayak rule, there was a lengthy period of instability with numerous battles for control of the city. During this time, the Carnatic Wars between the British and French for supremacy in India broke out (Rock Fort was instrumental during these battles). Ultimately the British won and took control in 1763 ending the period of instability. The city, renamed Trichinopoly by the British, was further developed under them in the 19th century and became renowned for its special handmade cigars. They were made famous by Winston Churchill, who was a huge fan of them!
These things to do in Tiruchirappalli cover the city's popular attractions.
The Rock Fort Temple Complex presides over Tiruchirappalli, perched on an immense rock that's said to be 3.8 billion years old (this makes it older than the Himalayas!). It's the city's most prominent landmark. The complex consists of three Hindu temples, as well as a fort. The oldest of these temples was cut into the side of the rock by Pallava king Mahendravarman I in the 6th century AD. The fort was built much later, in the 16th century, by the Nayaks who recognized the rock's strategic location. They also finished constructing the temples inside the fort.
These days, the temple complex provides an ideal sunrise or sunset spot with a captivating view over the city. It's best visited at dusk or dawn, when it's not too hot. There are about 400 steps to the top, and you'll need to take your shoes off and climb barefoot because of the holy temples. The entrance is through the Main Guard Gate market area, off Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Road on the south side of the rock, where there's a lane leading to the temple complex. Alternatively, a road (apparently once used by processional elephants) leads halfway up. In addition to the temples, highlights include a 100 pillared hall where Carnatic music concerts were held in the 19th and 20th centuries, a British-era Indo-Saracenic bell tower topped with a colorful Dravidian vimana, and art and sculptures depicting Hindu mythology. Entry is free but there's a 20 rupee camera charge.
Explore Around the Teppakulam
The Nayaks also built the Teppakulam (translated to english as temple pond) at the base of the Rock Fort Temple Complex. This large artificial temple tank is bordered by bazaars and steeped in history. The area is ideal for street photography! Notably, military commander Robert Clive lived in a residence there in 1752, while leading the British troops in the Siege of Trichinopoly. Clive's building was later turned into a hostel for students attending nearby Saint Joseph's College. The hostel fronts the tank on Nandhi Koil Street and is accompanied by a shopping arcade.
Feeling hungry? Stop by Vasanta Bhavan on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Road, just around the corner from Clive's hostel. Order a lunchtime vegetarian South Indian thali (platter) and you'll be able to dine with a view.
Just up the road, Saratha's claims to be the largest textile showroom in India. Go there for a seemingly endless and irresistible range of saris, dress materials, and other traditional apparel.
Browse the Local Markets
Head south along Big Bazaar Street from the Rock Fort Temple Complex and you'll pass through the busy local shopping area, ending up at Gandhi Market. This wholesale fruit and vegetable market was made to service the fort in 1868. It was expanded in 1927 and named after Mahatma Gandhi. A recent attempt to de-congest the area and relocate the market to the new central vegetable market complex at Kallikudi, on the outskirts of the city, has so far been unsuccessful. But try your best to visit it while you still can. It's an energetic and fragrant market, where men carry sacks of vegetables on their backs and vendors sit surrounded by mounds of fresh produce.
Learn About the Past at the Government Museum
Rani Mangammal Mahal is another historic attraction in the old part of the city at the base of the Rock Fort Temple. It was built in the 17th century by Maduari Nayak King Chokkanatha Nayak after he shifted his capital to Trichy, and was originally known as Chokkanatha Nayak Palace. However, it was been renamed after the king's wife, Mangammal, who adeptly led the kingdom through a tough 12 years following the death of the king and his son. (Unfortunately, her grandson apparently locked her in the palace prison, where she starved to death, so he could take over the throne). The building's most prominent remnant is the grand Durbar Hall, with its magnificent Indo-Saracenic architecture and dome, where the rulers held meetings with their audiences. It now houses the Government Museum, as well as government offices and police station. Unfortunately, it has been surrounded by more recent British additions.
The museum's diverse exhibits of about 2,000 objects encompass prehistoric tools, fossils, ancient coins, agricultural implements, musical instruments, Thanjavur paintings, old photographs, palm-leaf manuscripts, weapons, and stuffed birds and animals. Plus, its outdoor stone sculpture collection has 45 Hindu deities dating from the 13th to 18th centuries. Rani Mangammal Mahal adjoins Coronation Garden Park, hidden away among a warren of shops. The museum is open daily, except Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry tickets cost 5 rupees for Indians and 100 rupees for foreigners.
Visit Historic Churches
Christianity spread to Tiruchirappalli in the early 17th century, after the Madurai Nayaks made the city their capital and the Madurai Mission made the city its main center. Many military officers were converted by this Jesuit missionary movement, whose founder had come from Portuguese-colonized Goa in India. As a result, there are a number of churches in Tiruchirappalli that are more than a century or two old. A couple of them are situated in the Teppakulam area. Saint Joseph's College's Our Lady of Lourdes Church, completed in 1895 by Jesuit priests, is a replica of the Neo-Gothic church in Lourdes, France. It has a 200 foot-tall spire and stained glass panels that illustrate Bible stories. The less-elaborate Christ Church, on Nandhi Koil Street north of the Teppakulam, is one of the oldest churches in the city. It was founded in 1762 by Danish missionary Reverend Frederick Christian Schwartz but has since undergone a rather unsuitable renovation. Two more prominent old churches are about 15 minutes south of Teppakulam, in Melapudur and Palakarai. These are Saint Mary's Cathedral (built in 1841) and Holy Redeemer's Basilica (built in 1882). Saint John's Church, a bit further south past the Rail Museum, was built by British East India Company in 1816. It's remarkable for its colonial cemetery.
Step Back in Time at the Colonial Cemetery
The 200 year-old colonial cemetery at Saint John's Church is one of hundreds of British-era cemeteries that exist in India. The bodies of those who never made it back to Britain are buried there. They include officers who were killed at war, and people who died from cholera or malaria. Bishop Heber, a celebrated hymn writer and one of India's best known missionaries, is also buried at Saint John's Church. He died in Trichy in 1826.
The church and cemetery are situated on Trichy-Dindigul Road, Bharathiyar Salai, in the city's Sangillyandapuram neighborhood.
Never mind that Chellamal Samayal hasn't been around for decades, like some restaurants in Tiruchchirappalli. The unique concept more than makes up for it! This simple restaurant, which opened in 2012, serves mouthwatering vegetarian food that's specially cooked in clay pots over a fire. What's more, the spices are hand-pounded using resurrected traditional grindstone methods. There are about 30 different regional dishes from Tamil Nadu on the menu, made with local ingredients. You can watch them being prepared in the restaurant's open kitchen. What's also outstanding is that it's run solely run by women.
Chellamal Samayal is open daily for lunch, from noon until 3 p.m.
One of Tiruchirappalli's most impressive attractions sits on Srirangam Island, in the middle of the Kaveri (Cauvery) River north of the Rock Fort Temple Complex. The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple dates back 2,000 years to the early Chola-era in Tamil Nadu and is the world's largest functional temple (Ankur Wat in Cambodia is bigger but no longer functional). The gigantic Dravidian-style temple complex is spread across 156 acres (63 hectares), with seven enclosures and 21 towers. What's surprising is that it's largely unheard of, even though Madurai's famous Meenakshi Temple pales in comparison to its grandeur!
The temple is dedicated to Ranganatha, a form of Lord Vishnu reclining on a snake. Unfortunately, only Hindus are allowed into the innermost sanctum (beyond the sixth enclosure) to view it. There's still quite a bit to see in the other areas. This includes a rooftop with stunning vistas, superb stone sculptures (such as rearing horses in battle) and carved pillars, frescoes, a small art museum, a grand shrine belonging to Vishnu's man-eagle assistant Garuda. Most of the structures were made from the 14th to 17th centuries. The immense Rajagopuram tower, which was completed in 1987 after a gap of about 400 years, is an exception.
To get to the temple complex, take Bus Route 1 from the city's Central Bus Station or Main Guard Gate near the Rock Fort. Taxis and auto rickshaws are available too. Try to get an early start to beat the heat and hordes of devotees.
Soak Up the Scene at Amma Mandapam
Devotees usually take a purifying dip at nearby Amma Mandapam bathing ghat, on the Kaveri River, before heading to Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple. It's a fascinating hive of activity, as people also perform rituals and pay homage to their ancestors there. Many local residents wash their clothes in the water as well. Do be aware that it does get crowded at times and is not very clean.
To the east of Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple on Srirangam Island, Jambukeswarar Akilandeswari Temple is architecturally finer although it seems tiny alongside it. The temple is one of the largest and oldest Shiva temples in Tamil Nadu. Lord Shiva is believed to have manifested himself in the form of water there and the inner sanctum has an underground stream that fills it. Akilandeswari, a form of Lord Shiva's wife Parvati, is worshiped at the temple too. Unfortunately, the inner sanctum at this temple is also off-limits to visitors who aren't Hindu. The temple's initial construction is attributed to king Kocengannan Chola, who is thought to have reigned during the early Chola-era sometime around the 2nd century. The highlights are the fine stone carvings and sculptures. Phased restoration of the temple, including the repainting of its towers, is currently going on.
Jambukeswarar Akilandeswari Temple can be reached by taking Bus Route 1 from Trichy and disembarking at Thiruvanaikoil. Do note that the temple is closed between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. daily.
Experience the Serenity of Rural Life
The countryside to west of Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is a wonderful place to spend a few hours (or even a night) amid the serenity of rural life. If you'd like to stay there, Tranquility is a cozy and welcoming boutique homestay that has four guestrooms with private balconies fronting nature. Visit the local village and have a chat, dine with the neighbors, swim, walk along the river bank, go bird watching, or meditate under a tree. In addition, there's a new butterfly park nearby. Trichy Rock Fort is about 30 minutes away by car.
Spot Exotic Butterflies
Billed as one of the biggest butterfly conservatories in Asia, the Tropical Butterfly Conservatory is spread over 25 acres of reserve forest at Melur on Srirangam Island. This relatively new attraction was inaugurated in late 2015, and aims to create a natural breeding ground for the butterflies. A total of 100 different species have been recorded, although this number varies depending on the time of year. There are usually about 50 resident species. Facilities include a walking trail, amphitheater to screen educational films about butterflies, in-house incubation laboratory, and boating and play area for kids.
The butterfly park is open daily, except Tuesdays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It's best to go early in the morning or later in the afternoon to spot the most butterflies, as they tend to rest in the shade during the day. Avoid summers due to the heat and humidity. The entrance fee is 10 rupees for adults and 5 rupees for kids. There's an additional fee of 200 rupees for cameras other than a DSLR or 500 rupees for a DSLR. Regular bus services run between Srirangam town and the butterfly park.
Interested in trains? Don't miss visiting the Railway Heritage Center and Museum. Trichy was previously the headquarters of the Southern Indian Railway Company during the British era, and the first train arrived there in March 1862. The museum opened in early 2015 to preserve and display old items from the initial days of the company, and narrate its developments. The indoor exhibition area has about 400 artifacts and 200 photos in its galleries. These include clocks, maps, manuals, hand signal lamps, staff badges, emblems, railway track pieces, a 1923 vintage typewriter, and tea cup set. There's also an outdoor exhibition area with a 1953 Swiss-made X-class steam locomotive that used to run on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, a vintage fire engine, a narrow gauge ZDM5-507 diesel locomotive, and a functional toy train for joy rides.
The Railway Heritage Center and Museum is located adjacent to the Rail Kalyana Mandapam community hall near Tiruchirappalli Junction Railway Station. It's open daily, except Mondays, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The entry fee is 10 rupees for adults and 5 rupees for children.
Visit the Shrine of Nathar Vali Dargah
The eclectic Tiruchirappalli has significant Islamic heritage as well. Nathar Vali Dargah is the 1,100-year-old burial place of Hazrat Dada Nathar Auliya, a revered Sufi saint who is said to have come from Istanbul and died in Trichy. Apparently, he renounced the throne to pursue a dream of bringing Muslim teachings to South India. The influential saint drew all kinds of devotees, from the reigning Nawabs of Arcot to humble farmers. According to legend, Nathar Vali performed many miracles and defeated a powerful three-headed Hindu demon called Tiriasuran. The shrine was built on top of the demon's dead body and is considered to be a potent source of blessings. A hand-written Quran from the 11th century is also kept there.
Nathar Vali Dargah is located on Madurai Road, to the south of Main Guard Gate and the Rock Fort area.
Visit the Erstwhile Capital of the Early Cholas
The Early Chola kings had their capital at Uraiyur, now an often overlooked suburb of Trichy about 10 minutes west of the Rock Fort Temple Complex, during the poetic Sangam period (estimated to be from around the 3rd century BC to 3rd century AD). At the time, it was a flourishing center of muslin cloth trade. Apart from this, sadly, there is little archeological evidence available to indicate what their capital might have been like. When excavations finally took place in the mid-20th century, much of the land had already been built upon. Nevertheless, if you're into history, it's worth visiting Uraiyur to retrace the Cholas' footsteps. The main attraction nowadays are the Dravidian-style temples. These include the Panchavarnaswamy Temple, Sri Azhagiya Manavala Perumal Temple, Vekkali Amman Temple, and Thanthoneeswarar Temple.
See One of India's Greatest Engineering Feats
About 2,000 years ago, king Karikala Chola built one of the world's oldest irrigation systems — and it still works! The Kallanai (Grand Anicut) dam is located a scenic 40 minute drive east of Trichy, along the Kaveri River. It was designed to divert the river into multiple streams, to prevent the area from flooding and to irrigate the nearby Thanjavur rice belt. The dam is made from stone, and is more than 300 meters long and 20 meters wide. The British remodeled it in the early 19th century and added other hydraulic structures nearby, making it difficult to understand more about the dam and its construction. More recently, a bridge was added to allow traffic to cross over the top of the dam to the other side of the river.
Take a Day Trip
Tiruchirappalli is a convenient base for visiting other parts of Tamil Nadu. The ancient cultural hub of Thanjavur, where the must-visit Big Temple is located, is only an hour and a half east of the city. Likewise the Chettinad region, south of the city, can be reached in an hour and a half. It's renowned for its old mansions and fiery food.
Another option is a full-day local circuit where you'd visit Viralimalai (a hilltop temple and natural peacock sanctuary), Sittanavasal (a 2nd century Jain cave site with carvings), and Narthamalai (more ancient rock-cut cave temples, in a forested setting).
Celebrate a Festival
For an added dose of local culture, visit Trichy during one of the city's regional festivals. Vaikunta Ekadashi is a 21-day festival dedicated to Lord Vishnu that takes place at Sri Ranganathaswamy temple in late December and early January each year. It features the temple deity being carried into the 1,000 pillar hall through the Paramapada Vasal (Gateway to Heaven), which is only opened once a year on this occasion. This popular festival attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.
In March or April, the annual Float Festival of the Rock Fort's Rockfort Thayamunaswamy Temple takes place at the Teppakulam. The temple deities are carried out in procession and placed on a raft in the tank.
The Urs (annual commemoration of the death) of Sufi Saint Hazrat Dada Nathar Auliya is held at Nathar Vali Dargah for a fortnight in August. The qawwalis (Islamic devotional songs) performed by singers from all over India are a highlight.
Allur Jallathiru Vizha is another traditional festival, whereby women worship clay figurines of cows and calves made specially by local potters for the occasion. The festival takes place over nine days, usually in October, culminating with the figurines being carried in procession to be immersed in the Karveri River on the 10th day.
Some interesting regional festivals also take place at Samayapuram Mariamman Temple in Trichy. These include Thai Poosam in late January, the Poochoriyal flower sprinkling festival during February-March, and Chithirai chariot car festival in April.