Great Living Chola Temples – Solo Travel Guide

I have always been in awe of the Chola Empire. I credit this admiration to my high school history teacher who weaved stories around art and architecture of years gone by and she ensured all of us fell in love with History to some extent. Recently, I visited Trichy for a weekend and drew up an ambitious plan to visit the Great Living Chola Temples in a day which are included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Great Living Chola Temples are actually 3 Temples constructed by the Chola Empire in the 11th and 12th century AD.

The 3 temples dedicated to Lord Shiva; Brihadeshwara in Thanjavur; Airavateshwara in Darasuram and Chola Temple in Gangaikonda Cholapuram are spread out over 100 kms from Trichy. These temples have nearly followed the same prayer and worship practices over the centuries since they were first built which leads them to be called Great Living Chola Temples

Airavateshwara – Darasuram

  • Start from Trichy as early as possible; not later than 7am.
  • Take Local Bus from Trichy Main Bus Stand to Kumbokonam. These are green striped SETC Buses. The boards are in Tamil so you have to keep your ears open to hear Kumbokonam or simply keep asking each bus for Kumbakonam.
  • Bus fare Rs 60/- for a 100 km journey that takes 2.5 to 3 hours
  • Get off at Darasuram which is 5 kms before Kumbokonam on the link road. The temple is 5-7 minutes walk away. You will need to travel to Kumbokonam bus stand from the same stop for onward travel.
  • Temple is open between 6am and noon and again at 4pm
  • It will take about 1-2 hours to see the temple based on InterestCholaTemple-Airavateshwar-Darasuram

This temple was added to the UNESCO List in 2004. The smallest of the 3 Chola Temples yet the most exquisitely carved temple, specially the chariot. The pillars in the main hall have minute detailing of socio economic conditions in those days. Lord Shiva is known as Airavateswar after Indra’s white elephant worshiped him here to get rid of a curse.

 Chola Temple – Gangaikondacholapuram

  • Take Local Bus from Kumbakonam Bus Stand for Jayamkondan. These are green striped SETC Buses. The boards are in Tamil so you have to keep your ears open to hear Jayamkondam or simply keep asking each bus.
  • Bus fare Rs 20/- for a 35km journey that takes 1 to 1.5 hours. Tell the conductor to remind when Gangaikondacholapuram stop approaches.
  • The bus stops right in front of the temple
  • Temple is open between 6am and noon and again after 4pm. Unless you are particular about offering Puja you can walk in any time
  • It will take about 1-2 hours to see the temple based on Interest

Great Living Chola Temple-Gangaikondacholapuram

The temple in Gangaikonda Cholapuram was built by Rajendra Chola the son of the great Chola King Raja Raja Chola. This temple is nearly identical to the Brihadeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur with similar structure and sculpture. He built this temple and his capital city around Gangaikonda Cholapuram to commemorate his victorious campaign up to the river Ganga.

Brihadeeshwara Temple at Thanjavur

  • Traveling from Gangaikonda to Cholapuram to Thanjavur is a bit tricky since there is no direct bus
  • Take a bus to Kumbakonam from the stop in front of the Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple. It will take about an hour . Fare Rs 20/-
  • Take a bus from Kumbakonam to Thanjavur New Bus Stand . Bus fare Rs 30/- for a 40km journey that takes 1 to 1.5 hours
  • If you take the bus to New Bus Stand in Thanjavur, you have to take an auto or walk 15 minutes to Brihadeeshwara Temple
  • Temple is open between 6am and noon and again after 4pm until 9pm. Unless you are particular about offering Puja you can walk in any time. The evening closing ceremony is a treat to watch.
  • It will take about 2-3 hours to see the temple based on interest

Great Living Chola Temple- Brihadeshwara

Brihadeshwar Temple turned 1000 years in 2010. Built by Raja Raja Chole, it is a crown jewel in India’s art and architectural history . Set within a large complex this temple made of granite exudes grandeur. You have to really crane your neck to see the large Shiva idol. For me this is one of India’s greatest wonders. The exterior of the temple is exquisitely carved. There are several smaller temples around the main one within the same complex. I got carried away by the drum beats during the evening arti and closure ceremony. I had a bus to Bangalore from Trichy and I barely made it since I just hung around in Thanjavur 🙂 mesmerised by Brihadeeshwara Temple.

Total Cost:

The 14 hour journey through the day hopping local buses was very much worth it. The total cost of the Trip including food, entry fee, locker charges was well within Rs 600/-. The trip can be done better in a self driven car or hiring a vehicle for the day from Trichy the cost of which would be around Rs 3500/- odd which is definitely worth it if there are 3-5 people traveling.

While language was an issue and I felt completely illiterate unable to read the boards on the bus;people came to my rescue. A kind man offered a seat in a crowded bus, an old lady argued with the bus conductor when he was not returning my change, the conductor’s attempt to talk in English and broken Hindi realizing I was a tourist and much more. When you are solo on the road, help arrives from unexpected quarters.

 

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