The inimitable charm, villages straight out of a book, temple towns as small as dots on the map, and culture so diverse—the only way to truly see and experience South India is through a road trip. A drive from Chennai to Coimbatore, covering a distance of 527 km is like flipping through a travel fairytale. Needling through the heart of Tamil Nadu, this road trip offers as many cultural and religious places of interest as it does of undisturbed natural topography. Kick start your journey with some fuel, both for your car and yourself—either with a traditional South Indian fare at Hotel Saravana Bhavan or English breakfast at Chamiers Cafe. By Shubhanjana Das

1. Vellore

The first stop on your way is the princely city of Vellore, which has been the seat of many dynasties—Pallavas, Cholas, Vijayanagara Empire, Carnatic and the British—leaving its indelible mark on the city. Periyar Park and Vellore Fort are two no-brainers when it comes to the must-visit places in Vellore. However, if you want to leave the noise of the city behind, you can make your way to Palamathi Hills where a few hours by the Otteri Lake and the lush greenery of the Palamathi Reserve Forest will already start to untangle the knots in your head. For science lovers, this is an opportune moment to visit the Vainu Bappa Observatory, rightfully known as the telescope of the city as it houses India’s largest optical telescope.

 

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Total distance – 138.4 km

Duration of the road trip – 3 h approx.

Best time to visit – October to March

Things to keep in mind – Take the route from Chennai that goes via Chembarambakkam, Sriperumbudur and Thiruputkuzhi for a faster and scenic journey.

Where to stay – Hotel Benzz Park Vellore

Where to stop and eat – Gingee

2. Krishnagiri

An unassuming city located at the foot of Syed Basha Hills, Krishnagiri is hands down one of the most unexplored places on this route. Its rocky-hilly terrace has an aesthetic ruggedness to it, punctuated by the Krishnagiri Dam Park, Aiyur Eco-Tourism Park, and Thally Garden and Lake. The Krishnagiri Fort is a must-visit for those who like their share of nature and history merged at one place. Given its heavy reserve of sites of historical significance, it is no wonder that carbon dating and rock carvings discovered by archaeologists prove that Krishnagiri was in existence since the Paleolithic Age.

 

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You can also trek two hours up the Rayakottah Fort, a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India as it has witnessed multiple combats over the years, including the Mysore War. It goes without saying that the views from the top are absolutely astounding.

Total distance – 120 km from Vellore

Duration of the road trip – 2 h 13 m approx.

Best time to visit – October to March

Things to keep in mind – Krishnagiri is perfect as a pit stop for a meal or snacks on the way to your next stop.

Where to stay – Alps Residency

Where to stop and eat – Saravana Bhavan, Murugan Idli Shop

3. Salem

By now, you will have driven a substantial 348 km (approx.) and covered the larger leg of your journey. And hence, it is only fair that you be rewarded with nature’s bounty to work its wonders. The cascading waterfalls, the rolling hills and the serene religious sites of Salem will welcome you to what is one of the most underrated places in all of South India. While many simply drive through this small haven, it is worth the stop for more reasons than one. Boating at Mukaneri Lake, walking through the historically rich Sankeri Fort, or simply marvelling at the quiet beauty of Kiliyur Falls, Salem will make you want to stay back just a little longer.

 

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Total distance – 116 km from Krishnagiri

Duration of the road trip – 2 h 15 m approx.

Best time to visit – October to February

Things to keep in mind – The road from Krishnagiri to Salem might be a little unpleasant. Once at Salem, consider spending a day here to explore the place.

Where to stay – Hotel Windsor Castle

Where to stop and eat – Grand Estancia, Selvi Mess

4. Coimbatore

Also known as Kovai, Coimbatore city traces its existence back to the second century, evident in the fossils of time left in the form of brilliant Dravidian architecture in its temples. Equally abundant in natural gifts, Coimbatore’s Siruvani Waterfalls, Velliangiri Mountains, Singanallur Lake and the Anamalai Tiger Reserve are perfect for losing yourself in the calm that looms heavy in Kovai.

 

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Total distance – 168 km from Salem

Duration of the road trip – 3 h 20 m approx.

Best time to visit – September to March

Things to keep in mind – The road from Salem to Coimbatore is a sex-lane highway, so driving is buttery-smooth.

Where to stay – Vivanta Coimbatore

Where to stop and eat – Haribhavanam

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