On the ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ trail: Travellers explore Tamil Nadu in newer ways

Cycling Yogis members during a trip to Kumbakonam

Cycling Yogis members during a trip to Kumbakonam
| Photo Credit: Madhan Sundar

Ponniyin Selvan has raked in ₹500+ crores at the box office.

It has also changed the lives of Jack, Ammu, Kalyani, Kannan, Chinna Rani and Periya Rani.

They aren’t actors or part of the starcast. They are horses belonging to Mohan Naatamai, who plies them at Veeranam Lake, located in Cuddalore district and around 240 kilometres from Chennai.

“After the film’s release, a lot of people coming here want to be like Vandhiyathevan (played by actor Karthi). They want to be seated atop a horse and soak in the atmosphere near the Veeranam,” says Mohan.

Watch | Travelers explore places featured in Ponniyin Selvan

And so, Mohan, who has ten horses and also runs a riding school, is suddenly seeing a spurt in business from visitors, mostly from other parts of Tamil Nadu. “There are some who want to take a short ride. Some others wish to ride five kilometres along the lake, and I ride in my scooter alongside to ensure things are fine.”

The Mani Ratnam-directorial has not just raised curiosity on the Chola empire and other works by Kalki Krishnamurthy, but has also sparked off interest among audiences wanting a quick travel break: to explore places featured in the film/novel.

School children during a trip to Kadambur Maligai

School children during a trip to Kadambur Maligai
| Photo Credit:

Looking back

Among them is IT professional Archana Ramanakumar, who hopes to combine her twin interests in cycling and heritage during an upcoming trip. This January, she will be part of a 55-member group exploring places like Thanjavur, Kadambur and Pazhiyarai — on her Cannondale Quick 5 cycle — for a three-day ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ trail put together by Cycling Yogis and the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC). “I’ve heard many podcasts on the Tamil classic and of course, loved the film. I’m looking forward to experiencing all those places in person.” Archana would probably be cycling about 100 kilometres a day during this trail, but her interest in heritage, she hopes, will egg her on. Ramanujar Moulana of Cycling Yogis elaborates, “There’s a difference between covering these places in a car and a cycle. With the latter, you can truly savour the experience. With the Ponniyin Selvan trail, there’s also a story and emotion running in your head as you cycle past these places.” 

While Moulana advocates cycling as the best form to explore these places, it may not be entirely viable for senior citizens who have a nostalgic connection with  Ponniyin Selvan. Which is where Agal Travels, based in Kumbakonam, hopes to pitch in. Their three-day guided tour programme (at ₹6,000 per head) covers Gangaikondacholapuram, Veeranam Lake, and Kadambur on the first day, while visits to Pazhayarai and Thanjavur are also scheduled. “There’s a positive response among senior citizens,” says Vetrivelan Sekar, who has been running his travel agency for the last two years, “They want to be taken to all the places that they read about in the book, probably in their childhood.”

Jayam Ravi, Vikram and Karthi in a still from Tamil film ‘Ponniyin Selvan’

Jayam Ravi, Vikram and Karthi in a still from Tamil film ‘Ponniyin Selvan’

Several such tours are being planned in the upcoming months, one of them being Heritage Inspired’s ‘Cholas – The Spy’s Trail’, a three-day experiential heritage holiday.

This post- Ponniyin Selvan interest has also led to increased patronage for luxury hotels in the Thanjavur-Kumbakonam belt. Svatma, a Thanjavur-based luxury resort-hotel, has been telling the story of the Cholas since its inception in 2016, and is seeing increased bookings in recent times, from both international and domestic tourists. Krithika Subramaniam, who owns Svatma, says, “Thanjavur is steeped in history and has a great cultural heritage that needs to be told to the world.” Her property, Svatma, concentrates on educating visitors on this particular aspect; it tells them to “self-surrender to the abundant charms of ancient Tamil Nadu – its arts, architecture, culinary heritage and culture.”

Svatma’s guides have been taking its guests on the Great Living Chola Trail for more than five years now, thus giving them an insight into the monuments and temples built during that period. Post the release of Mani Ratnam’s film that spoke about the glory of the Chola rulers, this is finding more takers. Krithika adds, “There is a resurgence in interest from people to know more about Thanjavur’s past and history.”

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