Mamallapuram was the major seaport of the ancient Pallava kingdom based at Kanchipuram, and a wander round the town’s great, World Heritage–listed temples and carvings inflames the imagination, especially at sunset. And then, in addition to ancient archaeological wonders, there’s the traveller ghetto of Othavadai and Othavadai Cross Sts.
There are temple towns, there are mountain towns, and there are temple-mountain towns where God appears as a phallus of fire. Welcome to Tiruvannamalai. Set below boulder-strewn Mt Arunachala, this is one of South India's five ‘elemental’ cities of Shiva; here the god is worshipped in his fire incarnation as Arunachaleshwar.
For a dusty bazaar town, Vellore feels kinda cosmopolitan, thanks to a couple of tertiary institutions and the Christian Medical College (CMC), one of India's finest hospitals, attracting medical students as well as patients from all over the country. On the main Chennai–Bengaluru road, Vellore is worth a stop mainly for its massive Vijayanagar fort.
Auroville is one of those ideas that anyone with idealistic leanings will love: an international community dedicated to peace, harmony, sustainable living and 'divine consciousness', where people from around the globe, ignoring creed, colour and nationality, work together to build a universal, cash-free, non-religious township and realise good old human unity.