Location and History
Kumbakonam is located in Thanjavur (Tanjore) district, approximately 270 km south of Chennai. The surrounding area was under the control of a series of kingdoms, including the Cholas, Pallavas, and Pandyas, and later was an important regional center under the British Raj. The town is sometimes referred to as the "City of Temples"due to the enormous number of temples within the municipal limits - 188 within the city limits itself, and several thousand within the surrounding area - many of which date back several centuries. The city had its heyday during the Chola empire, which once had its capital a few miles away from the present day city, and again during British rule, when it was called by some the "Cambridge of South India" due to its importance as a center of Hindu and European education. Today, it is a primarily agricultural town of approximately 140,000 residents, though in recent years, it has become something of a tourist attraction for both Hindu pilgrims and others interested in seeing the unique South Indian temple architecture.
The most painless way of getting to Kumbakonam is to take a train from Chennai, which takes approximately 6 hours. You can also get there by taking a bus from Chennai, Trichy (approx. 90 km to the west), or Madurai (approx. 220 km to the southwest), or hiring a car and driver from those cities. Driving time is also approximately 6 hours, but the road past Viluppuram is in poor condition - get ready for a lower lumbar adjustment for the last 3 hours or so. Train fare in second class A/C is 600-1,000 ($10-16) rupees per person each way. It's been years since I've taken the bus there from Chennai, but you are probably looking at 200-500 rupees each way depending on how fancy a bus you take. An A/C car with driver can generally be had for 1,000-2,000 rupees per day.
I'd been to Kumbakonam many times before (as mentioned earlier, my dad's family is from the area), but had never really taken the time to take pictures. After finishing our rituals earlier that morning, we set off to have lunch, see a little bit of the town, and then head back to Chennai later that afternoon. First, a view towards town from our hotel room.
A garland maker shows off his wares (garlands are commonly used as an offering to the gods during ceremonies).
My mom decides to play with a calf sitting on the sidewalk.
While you're here, make sure to try the town's specialty drink, "Kumbakonam degree filter coffee". It is a type of drip coffee produced using a two-level metal filter with pure cow's milk. You can find it in most restaurants in the city, and on the highway south of Chennai leading towards Kumbokonam. Just make sure that you specify that you want "filter coffee"; otherwise, you are likely to be given the instant Nescafe that has unfortunately become ubiquitous across South India over the last 20 years or so.