Posted: 11:54a.m. IST, January 1, 2009
Kazhugumalai (Tamil Nadu), Jan 1 (IANS) Dotted with Hindu and Jain temples and boasting of two millennia of history, this little-known town has got a big boost from the government's endeavour to attract international visitors.
Kazhugumalai, literally meaning eagle mountain, is situated some 500 km south of state capital Chennai.
It is well connected to the airports at Madurai and Tuticorin.
'We have a church, besides the Shiva and Jain temples. Tourists are bound to love the secular fabric of these rustic surroundings dotted by green paddy fields,' K. Bharati, project executive officer at the local tourism development board, told IANS.
The government of India has allocated a little over Rs.10 million for the town's development as a tourist destination. Half the amount has already been spent to create infrastructure like roads, guest houses and a park. And the results are already showing.
According to tourism officials, the picturesque town used to receive about 400 visitors per month but this year it received over 3,000 per month.
The neat rooms with attached bathrooms in the town's guesthouses and attendants who speak English, Hindi and of course Tamil, and guides approved by the union tourism ministry help make tourists comfortable during their stay.
'Some of our people here have been trained to be effective guides to serve the tourists. Each one of them can narrate the highlights of this town's over two-millennia-old history, which includes the time when Kazhugumalai was a prominent Jain centre of learning. It later on became a Hindu pilgrim centre since the Pandian kings embraced the religion,' Bharati said.
According to government records, the name Kazhugumalai is under 200 years old. Earlier known as Ilanelchuram or abode of paddy fields, the name of the town was changed since eagles began visiting its hillock, which was called Thirumalai or holy mountain.
'This town has a huge shrine carved out of a single rock that has both Jain and Hindu icons, explaining old legends in Vattezhuthu (ancient Tamil script) whose modern renderings will surely interest the itinerant indigenous or imported tourists,' said a book on Kazhugumalai by the late V. Vedachalam, a retired senior epigraphist from Tamil Nadu's archaeology department.
Describing Kazhugumalai's temple of Hindu god Shiva in an essay, Siva Ramamurthi, a former director of the National Museum in New Delhi, wrote: 'This is, by far, the most beautiful rock-cut temple of the Pandya period. Half-finished, (the) free-standing monolith reminds one of the famous shrines of Shiva at Ellora (in Maharashtra).'
It might take a long time for Kazhugumalai to become as famous as its counterpart in western India. However, slowly but surely tourists are beginning to discover this town rich in history.