Among the holiest towns of Tamil Nadu, Tiruvannamalai is a popular pilgrim site, which is believed to one of the five spots in South India, where elements of nature (fire, air, water, earth, ether) are worshipped. In this mountain-temple town, situated at the foothills of Mt Arunachala, Lord Shiva is worshipped in his fire avatar (Arunachaleswara). The town is sprawled around the iconic Arunachaleswarar Temple, a spectacular structure boasting four huge gateways or gopurams. On full moon nights, the town sees a sea of devotees arriving to perform the 14-km walk of Girivalam, around the Annamalai hill. It is a mesmeric sight to see barefoot devotees gazing at the temple atop the hill and walking while chanting “Om Arunachala”.

Tiruvannamalai hosts a smattering of serene ashrams that are spiritual retreats for visitors. A popular picnic spot among locals and tourists is the Sathanur Dam over River Thenpennai, around 20 km from the city. Karthigai Deepam festival is celebrated on the full moon day in the Tamil month of Karthigai (November/ December) and draws huge footfalls. Tiruvannamalai has a rich architectural legacy as it was ruled by Pallavas, Cholas, Hoysalas, kings of the Vijayanagar empire, the Carnatic kingdom, Tipu Sultan and the British.