The southern part of the Indian peninsula – with its lush forests and gurgling rivers, pristine beaches and hills, waterfalls and wildlife sanctuaries, architectural wonders and a cultural heritage spanning several centuries – is truly a traveler’s paradise. Broadly covering the States of Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka as well the Union Territories of Pondicherry, Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, South India can be a real treat as much for the nature lovers and backpackers as for families on vacation. Though the vast expanse of South India cannot be explored in a single visit, these five destinations should definitely be on your itinerary for a true South Indian rendezvous.
The top 5 Tourist Destinations in South India are:
White sands, tall coconut palms, sparkling waters, a marked Portuguese influence and a happening nightlife make Goa a heady combination of beauty, culture and recreation. You could take up beach huts on Calangute, Baga or Candolim beaches and rent out scooters/cars to explore North Goa (known for its markets and party circuit) on your own. A special attraction is the boat cruise that takes you down Mandovi River into the Arabian Sea in pursuit of Dolphins. Those looking for an experience beyond sands and the sea could make a day-long visit to the Sahakari Spice Farm or visit the various temples and churches around South Goa, which is known for its serenity, village-like character and authentic Goan cuisine.
Aptly christened ‘God’s own country’, Kerala is one of the most beautiful and rejuvenating travel destinations in India, stowed away from the maddening urban crowd, in the lap of mother nature. You could sit back and feast your eyes on the palm-fringed landscape while taking a boat ride on the backwaters, or spend a day spotting tigers and elephants at the Periyar National Park. For a cultural extravaganza, watch a Kathakali dance performance while sipping on cool coconut water. And while you’re still in Kerala, you can simply not afford to miss out on a traditional Ayurvedic massage!
If there’s one place in South India that is a break away from the great Indian spectacle, it has to be Pondicherry. Situated at a two-hour drive from Chennai in Tamil Nadu, it was under French occupation for centuries and still preserves a predominantly French way of life and architectural influences. The Aurobindo Ashram, setup here in 1920 by the saint Shri Aurobindo, is a haven for travelers that come looking for a spiritual experience and a peaceful habitat. Pondicherry also has beautiful beaches and a 1.5 km long Promenade, perfect for long strolls and some serious contemplation.
A trip to India is grossly incomplete without a visit to at least one of the innumerable majestic temples and holy shrines that dot the Indian landscape. If you have time enough to visit only one South Indian temple, the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu is where you should be headed. A structure of breathtaking proportions and splendid architectural genius, the temple requires an entire day to be seen and appreciated. There are several other temples in and around the city. And with delicious and inexpensive South Indian food easily available round the clock, Madurai is a food lover’s delight.
Mahabalipuram (or Mamallapuram)
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city of Mahabalipuram presents to travelers an awe-inspiring glimpse at ancient Indian temple art and architecture. The most striking of its marvels is the Shore Temple located right on the water’s edge. Other famous attractions include the Five Rathas (chariot shaped sculptured temples), and Arjuna’s Penance (a rock carving depicting scenes from the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata). The city is an hour’s drive to the south of Chennai, and is a favorite with backpackers for its cheap accommodation, amazing seafood and a plethora of activities.
Shanti Travel offers several adventurous, cultural and romantic programs for South India http://www.shantitravel.com/en/south-india-tours/