South India has traditionally been labelled as all the land that lay south of the Vindhya mountain range. While geographically accurate, to most Indians, it generally refers to the four southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
South India is different in texture, in its taste, sounds, smells and colours. Everything is richer and yet more simple, if you can grasp that essential Indian paradox. It is traditional and seeped in a quiet Dravidian heritage and culture that has remained remarkably unaffected despite a very ancient trade through its splendid seaports, and contact with foreign people and cultures – the Phoenicians, Arabs, Romans and Chinese. You cannot but help appreciate the simple integrity yet extraordinary richness of the region, with its changing landscape of the high Deccan Plateau, the rugged but forested hills and coastal Ghats, the lush green fields of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the surreal beauty of the Kerala backwaters, the long stretches of beach stepping out of thick coconut palm and bamboo plantations. Serene, gentle and quite beautiful.
While you will find the distinctive temples in the Dravidian style of architecture in most of the southern states, Madurai and Chennai in Tamil Nadu and Tiruvanthapuram in Kerala are home to some of the classic examples of intricately carved and beautifully detailed landscapes. Tamil Nadu is pre-dominant in any temple tour itinerary in India, but Chennai today is also a bustling modern metropolitan, fast changing like the rest of India to embrace technology and malls. All of South India is famous for exquisite and colourful sarees, but it is Kancheepuram which is home to the traditional and exquisite Kanjeevaram silks that are almost synonymous with Indian women. Get ready to buy silk. The blue mountains – the Nilgiris – with the hill stations of Conoor and Ooty attract domestic and overseas travellers.
Kerala has become one of the most popular global travel destinations boasting of a unique and charming Malabar and Travancore heritage, ayurvedic spas and resorts world famous now as well being and healing retreats that offer unmatched luxury while retaining all aspects of the local culture. Kochi is the main city hub with layers of history and quaint markets, and from there travellers move south stopping at spa resorts and taking overnight trips down the calm and unique backwaters in Kettuvalams ( the original rice-boats) fitted for modern comfort; then down to the quaint small towns, to the Kovalam beach resort and to Tiruvanthapuram, the temple town. Further south is Indira Point, the southern-most tip of India, at Kanyakumari, almost a hop, skip and jump across Sri Lanka. The Periyar National Park in Kerala is also a popular inclusion in travel itineraries.
Karnataka has a cool mix of new economy Bangalore which has made impressive modern strides that sparked off the IT era in India, the historically romantic city of Mysore around which lies the cultural trail of Halebid, Belur and Hasan. Hampi, Bidar, Bijapur and Badami, ruins of an rich civilisation and dynasty from an age long gone by, are on less-trodden but equally interesting paths to the north of the state. Bandipur and Nagarhole are wildlife sanctuaries with eco-tourism resorts and you can go up to the coffee covered hills in Coorg for a magical getaway.
Andhra Pradesh with its royal capital of Hyderabad, the industrial seaport of Visakhapatnam along an unimaginably sparkling coast, its amazingly popular pilgrimage centres at Tirupathi and Puttaparthi, is one of India’s best kept secrets. While it may not have the pizzazz of famous Indian tourist destinations, the state yields many treasures for the exploring traveller. Hyderabad is soon becoming India’s technological capital with a new international airport and swank conference venues and facilities, in sharp contrast to the glorious old palaces, monuments, mausoleums, museums and forts. The lavish lifestyle and jewels of the Nizam are as legendary as the delicious Hyderabadi Biryani and the colourful Quawalis that are performed daily somewhere or the other in the city.
The cuisine varies from place to place and stuns the palate with its flavors. And that’s not all that is stunning in South India.
The region is generally pleasant throughout the year with the monsoons bringing some relief from the heat. The North-East monsoons last from June to September. The best times to visit would be between October and March.