The rich temple heritage of Tamil Nadu is bringing in tourists by droves. For the first time, the state topped in domestic tourist arrivals, and came a close second after Maharashtra in foreign tourist arrivals.
A state government report said while 25 crore domestic tourists visited popular temple towns in Tamil Nadu in 2013, the number of foreign tourists from the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy touched 39.9 lakh.
The culturally rich temple cities and towns, including Chennai, Kancheepuram, Tiruvannamalai, Thanjavur, Trichy, Madurai and Ramanathapuram, drew foreigners in large numbers. The world heritage site of Brihadeeswarar Temple or Big Temple in Thanjavur, the towering Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple in Madurai, the Kamatchi Amman Temple in Kancheepuram and Rockfort/Uchi Pillaiyar Temple in Trichy were
some of the biggest draws.
Encouraged by the huge tourist arrivals, the state government has drawn up an ambitious plan to strengthen facilities in temple towns. “We have kept a target of getting 1.5 crore foreign tourists by 2023,“ tourism minister S P Shunmuganathan told the assembly on Tuesday .
Mohit Gupta, chief business officer -holidays, MakeMyTrip, said the state had become an ideal destination for those seeking a relaxing holiday . As the state is blessed with natural beauty , stunning botanical and horticultural gardens, beach resorts, impressive waterfalls and zoological parks, tourists seeking a relaxing holiday find Tamil Nadu an ideal destination. “Unlike the northern states, Tamil Nadu has good hotels because many international hospitality brands have turned set up shop here,“ he said.
Hill stations like Ooty , Kodaikanal and Yercaud, heritage attractions, beaches, wildlife sanctuaries and adventure tourism sites lure domestic tourists throughout the year. Cox and Kings team leader (south) M G Babu said the spurt in foreign tourist arrivals could be attributed to the desire to explore the land of temples and its striking features.
“Lot of Spanish and French tourists visit Tiruvannamalai for a spiritual experience,“ he said. A world heritage site, Mamallapuram, a Pallava splendor with rock-cut caves and monolithic free standing temples, has been a big attraction among foreigners.
Rural tourism is picking up pace, say tour operators. If Spanish arrive during mid-year, other Europeans hang about during monsoon, while Americans and Brit ish love the winter of Tamil Nadu. Padmanabapuram palace of the erstwhile Tra vancore kings in Nagercoil and Ramanathasamy Tem ple in Ramanthapuram are on the must see-list. For do mestic tourists, Chennai re mains their favourite in north and Kodaikanal in the south.
Public representatives point to lack of amenities that still keep away visitors.
CPM MLA R Annadurai urged the government to provide toilets, cloak room facilities, handbooks on the signifi cance of sites and maps and engage guides. Pulicat lake, a paradise for wetland birds, still does not have facilities for tourists. “Cable cars can be explored for hill stations like Ooty , Kodaikanal, Yer caud, Kollimalai and Yelagi ri. Ports can be roped in to promote tourism,“ he said.
The Sri Andal temple in Srivilliputhur, the tower of which depicted in TN's offi cial logo, lacked even basic amenities. “We have to make amenities better and identi fy new destinations to at tract more tourists,“ said CPI MLA K Ulaganathan