Fazed by the heat and air pollution of Chennai, most visitors escape as fast as they can, heading down the Coromandel coast to India’s stone-carving capital, Mamallapuram. En route, it’s worth stopping at Dakshina Chitra, a folk museum 30km south of Chennai, where traditional buildings from across south India have been beautifully reconstructed. Further inland, Kanchipuram is an important pilgrimage and silk-sari-weaving town from where you can loop southwest to the atmospheric temple town of Tiruvannamalai, situated at the base of the sacred mountain, Arunachala. Along the coast, you can breakfast on croissants and espresso coffee in the former French colony of Puducherry. A short way north, Auroville, the Utopian settlement founded by followers of the Sri Aurobindo Ghose’s spiritual successor, The Mother, provides a New Age haven for soul-searching Westerners and an economy for the local population.

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