The Tamil Indians make up the largest proportion amongst the Indian community in Singapore. In fact, Tamil is one of our official languages, making Singapore one of only two countries to do so. The first pre-colonial wave of Tamils who settled down in Singapore worked as money changers, shopkeepers and labourers. Today, Tamil Indians from Tamil Nadu still choose to find employment in Singapore.
The Tamil community in Singapore has preserved a lot of their customs and traditions. Singaporeans who travel to Tamil Nadu might just be able to find some familiar cultural traits. Beyond the deep ties that Tamil Nadu and Singapore share, the homeland of the Tamils is rich with history and untouched beauty in the highlands.
Cultural Treasures to Look Out For
Tamil culture stands out because of its antiquity, dating back more than 2,000 years, and how well it has been preserved.
Indian tradition of putting guests before oneself
Their welcoming spirit and hospitality towards guests stem from a longstanding Indian tradition of placing guests before oneself.
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Ankushsamant
A painting style that originated from the town of Tanjore in Tamil Nadu, you can spot these works of art by its rich, flat and vivid colours. Gold foils are also often used in Tanjore paintings.
Bharatanatyam is a genre of Indian classical dance unique to Tamil Nadu. The dance form places a huge emphasis on sign language based on the gestures of their hands, eyes and facial muscles. This might be a familiar sight for most Singaporeans.
Interesting Places to visit
One week is not enough to explore every nook and cranny of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. If you are looking for a short balik kampung trip, here are 10 cities and attractions with different balik kampung vibes — from a comfortable trip back ‘home’ to the ultimate local experience.
1. Chennai – City
Kampung in Transition: The new wave of glitz and glamour may have slowly crept into Chennai, but the city is still brimming with museums, temples and forts from the old era.
The capital city of Tamil Nadu, Chennai is one of the most urbanised cities in India. The city also has a few unique architectural masterpieces like the Fort St. George, St Mary’s Church, Government Museum, Connemera Library and Victoria Public Hall that are not to be missed. Another distinct trait about Chennai is the locals’ fervour and deep appreciation for movies. Do as the locals and enjoy a Bollywood extravaganza while you’re in Chennai.
2. Connemara Public Library, Chennai
Another ancient treasure, this library houses centuries-old publications from all across India. The Connemara Public Library also serves as a depository library for the United Nations. The building of the library is an example of great Indo-Saracenic architecture in Chennai.
Address: Pantheon Road, Egmore, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600008
Opening hours: Daily, 8 am – 8 pm
How to get there: Take a bus and alight at Egmore Womens Hospital
3. Dakshin Chitra, Chennai
CC BY-SA 3.0 by Destination8infinity
The name “Dakshin Chitra” means “Picture of the South”. The main building serves as a heritage museum illustrating the story of South India. The complex that the building sits on is a heritage village of sorts, allowing visitors the chance to experience the various aspects of South Indian culture through art, dance, craft and music.
Admission fee: 250 INR for foreigners, up to 50INR for still camera fee.
Address: East Coast Road, Muttukadu, Tamil Nadu, India
Opening hours: Wednesday – Monday, 10 am – 6 pm | Closed on Tuesdays
How to get there: Take a bus and alight at Mary World (Muttukadu) or Panjabur Bus Stops, and walk for 10 minutes to the library.
4. Parry’s Corner
For a taste of authentic local living, head to Parry’s Corner in George Town, Chennai, near the Chennai Port. The small section within the busy city is the centre for commercial banking and trade and an interchange hub for public transport. It’s a bustling area teeming with narrow streets and noisy markets. Enjoy some authentic yet familiar Indian street food like samosas and chaat.
5. Queen of Hill Stations, Ooty
British Kampung: The Queen of Hill Stations might make you think you’re in Europe, thanks for its cooling weather and Raj-era bungalows.
Aptly named the Queen of Hill Stations, it is one of the most beautiful hill stations in all of India. Covered in lush green scenery, the scenic landscape is often used as a backdrop in films. Visit the Botanical Garden, Rose Garden, Wildlife Sanctuary and Kalhatty Falls while you’re there. For the most unforgettable experience, take a boat ride in the Ooty Lake and feast your eyes on the untouched beauty of Ooty.
Chill Kampung: The quaint coastal town is laid-back with plenty of temples and carvings from ancient India. You can cycle around the town to soak in the kampung vibe.
Mamallapuram is a town known primarily for its temples and historical monuments built by the Pallava dynasty in the 7th century. A visit to Mamallapuram is an immersive experience that feels like travelling back in time. The well-preserved monuments tell about a story of the Pallavan worship and way of life. Beyond the ancient monuments, Mamallapuram is also home to an extensive beachfront on the ocean, offering visitors the complete travel experience.
Address: Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu 603104
Getting there: Get to Mamallapuram from Chennai by Metro train. Get down at Chengalputtu station and take a bus to Mamallapuram.
7. White Town, Pondicherry
A Melting Pot: Both the Indian and French vibes are strong with this one. You can switch between the atas French vibe and the chaotic South Indian atmosphere within a flick of your fingers!
White Town in Pondicherry is also known as the French Quarters, with French settlers residing here and building a small community. Their residences and commercial buildings, built in classic French architecture style, have been converted into shop houses and heritage hotels for guests and tourists. Stay a night at The Promenade to fully experience the lingering French influence on the town.
8. Matrimandir, Auroville, Pondicherry
CC2.5 by Santoshnc
The golf-ball like structure covered entirely in gold has drawn tourists’ attraction from all over the world. The Matrimandir is a spiritual site for deep meditation and therefore restricts visitors from entering the main site. Visitors will need to obtain a pass to enter the Matrimandir Viewing Point, a garden where visitors can have an unobstructed view of the Matrimandir. On what to expect and how to prepare for your visit to the Matrimandir, head here for more details.
Address: Matrimandir, Auroville, Bommayapalayam, Tamil Nadu 605101, India
Opening Hours (for Visitors’ Centre):
Monday – Saturday, 9 am – 4 pm
Sunday, 9 am – 1 pm
9. Arikamedu, Pondicherry
CC3.0 by Nshivaa
Just a half hour drive from White Town, Arikamedu is a relatively hidden treasure within Tamil Nadu. The area is the site of an ancient Roman trade centre, with ruins of Roman architecture scattered around. Take a spin around Arikamedu to see the last remaining columns of the original structure. The place is quiet and free from tourist traffic, offering rare visitors the chance to explore an ancient architectural site undisturbed.
10. Chunnambar Boat House, Pondicherry
CC2.0 by Manish Sharma
An unlikely attraction, the Chunnambar Boat House is actually an important terminal for visitors looking to travel to Paradise Beach. Travellers seeking for a good time can also join in the water sports and activities provided by the Boat House. Just 8 km away from Pondicherry, this place offers a quick getaway from the bustling city.
Address: Chunnambar Boat House
National Highway 45A, Near Water Sports Complex, Nonankuppam, Puducherry 605007, India
Operating hours: Daily, 9 am – 4 pm
How to get there: Hail a local taxi from Pondicherry city centre to the boathouse.
Tamil Cuisine: Must-Try Dishes
The most authentic South Indian food you can ever get is in Tamil Nadu. Think about lentils, rice, stews, dosai and sambar. If you are looking for something fancier during your trip, some restaurants in Pondicherry serve legit French food like croissant and ratatouille.
Credit: Chiang Wei Zhi
Credit: Muriel A via Burpple
Deep-fried Indian doughnuts served with lentil-based vegetable stew with a hint of tamarind.
Best in Surguru, Heritage Town, Pondicherry
Millet porridge. A common breakfast or lunch option in Tamil Nadu.
Best in Thirukkural Unavagam, Chennai
Best innCafé des Arts, Pondicherry, serves both sweet and savoury crepes