When most people think of India, they immediately think of the Taj Mahal, Delhi, Goa maybe Kerala, but there’s a lot more on offer in the serene Southern States of this country. Stunning landscapes—from tropical palm-fringed beaches to breezy high-altitude tea plantations—South India offers visitors a truly mind-bending repertoire of things to see and do. This part of the country shows diversity like no other, with its eclectic mix of religions from Hindu and Jain temples to churches, mosques, and even the occasional synagogue. Its distinct cuisine too is something to be talked about with its fresh seafood, use of whole spices, love of rice and spicy curries.
Here’s a guide to both celebrated attractions as well as some of the lesser known, allowing you to pick and choose what seems most interesting for your own personal itinerary to South India-
Affectionately dubbed Pondy by the locals, Pondicherry (know changed to Puducherry)
oozes a convivial mélange of India and France—where you can tuck into crepes or parathas for breakfast, bouillabaisse or masala dosa for lunch, and fish curry or coq au vin for dinner. ‘India’s Little France’ and ‘The French Riviera of the East’ as Pondicherry is sometimes referred to was under the French rule for nearly 281 years colony until 1954. The French influence can be felt in its architecture, cuisine and event he language. The golden sea shores, the exclusive sunset cruises, the enchanting moonlit dinners and the blissful lagoons have given the this destination a reputation of being the most appropriate place for those in quest of a relaxed and leisurely holiday. This charming seafront town is now a centre for antiques. Pondicherry has long been rated by travelers as a glowing highlight of their Southern Indian endeavors.
Sites not to miss in Pondicherry
The old colonial quarter, The Pondicherry Museum, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, The Old Light House, Immaculate Conception of Mother Mary Cathedral, Botanical Garden and of course Auroville.
Sometimes known as the Queen of the Hill Stations, Ooty or Udhagamandalam is situated in the Nilgiri mountain range meaning “Blue Mountains”. Ooty stands at 7,347 feet above sea level in the state of Tamil Nadu. The landscape is marked by rolling hills covered with dense vegetation, smaller hills and plateaus covered with tea gardens, and eucalyptus trees that lend out a minty fresh smell to the air around. Offering cool respite from the sun-baked plains below, Ooty today is one of India’s most popular summer holiday destinations and although it lacks the serenity of its earlier days, there’s still plenty of charm to be found in this scenic hilltop town.
Sites not to miss in Ooty
The Nilgiri Library, St. Stephen’s Church, Botanical Gardens, the Centenary Rose Park
Some 75 villages make up the region of Tamil Nadu state known as Chettinad. This is the homeland of the Nattukottai Chettiars. They were a prosperous banking community who traveled widely to do business in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Nowadays, the region is largely rural and off the beaten track enough that the Indian government has developed programs to lure visitors to the region. Oddly incongruous with the rural nature of the area are the opulent former mansions and palaces, some of which now house museums or welcome overnight guests.
Sites not to miss in Chettinad
The Chettinad Museum, Athangudi (former raja’s mansion), Devakottai (village with numerous old mansions), Kanadukathan (home to the Raja of Chettinad’s palace, museum, and opulent railway waiting room)
Backwaters of Kerala
Blessed with postcard-perfect beaches, verdant paddy fields, shady coconut groves and friendly folk, Kerala is the ideal place to slow the travel pace. You can paddle in the warm waters of the Arabian Sea, indulge in an Ayurvedic treatment, and savor scrumptious seafood while slowly gliding through the breathtakingly beautiful backwaters. A Journey through the curving and winding backwaters of Kerala is an experience of returning to nature. Houseboat holidays have become popular in the backwaters of Kerala and provide an extremely soothing experience.
Kerala Backwater Houseboat Destinations
Alleppey, Kuttanad, Kottayam, Kumarakom, Kollam, Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum )…(see more)
A conglomeration of several overgrown villages, Chennai has no single centre, but can be divided into a numerous urban districts, connected by four main roads. The bustling port of Chennai on the east coast was originally a weavers’ colony that became an important commercial centre for the textile industry. Chennai (formerly Madras) is today the fourth-largest city in India and the international gateway for tours of south India. Few travelers spend more than a day or two here because of the chaos and crowds, but it’s worth setting aside at least a few days if you want to get to know this gracious city beyond its cantankerous facade.
Sites not to miss in Chennai
George Town, Government Museum, National Art Gallery, Marina Beach, Santhome Cathedral and Snake Park.
One of South India’s most historic pilgrimage cities, bustling Madurai is renowned for the magnificent Meenakshi Temple, which can attract up to 15,000 visitors on one day alone. The temple complex has sections dating back as far as 2,000 years and is one of the country’s most dramatic displays of Dravidian architecture.
Sites not to miss in Madurai
Meenakshi Temple complex and Gandhi Memorial Museum
Flanked by lofty mountains, green ridges and plunging valleys, Munnar is famed not only for its natural beauty, but also for having some of the planet’s highest tea plantations. This scenic hilltop town—which during colonial times was a favored summer retreat for the British—is a glorious spot to simply fill your lungs with crisp mountain air while taking a leisurely stroll through the misty countryside. National Parks, wildlife sanctuary’s, lakes and waterfalls are all part of the reasons why it makes for a great vacation destination, especially to beat the heat.
Sites not to miss in Munnar
Tata Tea Museum, Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, Pampadum Shola National Park and Power House Waterfalls.
Prior to India’s independence from British rule, the princely state of Mysore was one of the subcontinent’s largest and most prosperous kingdoms. Legacies of its royal past can still be seen today, most notably the colossal City Palace complex, which is the city’s major tourist draw. Mysore is also famous for its production of sandalwood, incense, and silk.
Sites not to miss in Mysore
Ambavilas Palace (also known as Mysore Palace), Lalitha Mahal Palace, Jayalakshmi Vilas, Chamundeshwari Temple (Chamundi Hills), Mysore Zoo, Regional Museum of Natural History, Brindavan Gardens, Railway Museum, Nagarhole National Park.
Kanniyakumari (formerly called Cape Comorin) lies at the point where the Bay of Bengal converges with the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea—this is the town’s primary tourist attraction. This southernmost Indian town, dedicated to an incarnation of the goddess Parvati, is also an important pilgrimage site for devout Hindus.
Sites not to miss in Kanniyakumari
Kumariamman Temple, Vivekananda Memorial, Government Museum, Udayagiri Fort, Sunset over the ocean