Lonely Planet Writer

Tamil Nadu is top destination in India for second year running

What would you be your pick for the most popular tourist spot in India? The Taj Mahal? Magnificent Mumbai? Fortified Jaipur? Nope, think again. The steamy southern state of Tamil Nadu has been revealed as the most popular tourist destination in India for the second year running, following the publication of the Indian government’s official tourism statistics for 2015.

Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu Image by Marmontel / CC BY 2.0

Tamil Nadu has its share of show-stopping tourist destinations – the towering temples of Madurai, historic Chennai, rock-carved Mamallapuram, Puducherry (Pondicherry) with its French colonial air – but none are anywhere near as well known as the attractions in the north of the country. Nevertheless, when the numbers were counted, 4.68 million foreign tourists visited the state in 2015, more than double the number for Delhi and three times the number for Rajasthan.

Tourism experts link the popularity of Tamil Nadu to the huge Tamil diaspora, who have spread out from Tamil Nadu to every corner of the globe. Tamil temples rise out of the sugar cane fields in Mauritius and nestle between the skyscrapers in Singapore, New York and Toronto. Every year, vast numbers of Tamils flock back to India to see family and friends, study and make pilgrimages to the temples and mosques of South India.

Sinhagad, Maharashtra.
Sinhagad, Maharashtra. Image by Dhinal Chheda / CC BY 2.0

While Tamil Nadu may top the rankings, the states of Maharashtra (including Mumbai) and Uttar Pradesh are close behind, reflecting the popularity of these gateway destinations with tourists from Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Our pick for the state to watch in 2016? Karnataka, in the sultry southwest; Bengaluru airport has overtaken Chennai as India’s third busiest air hub after Delhi and Mumbai.