Like a giant wedge plunging into the Indian Ocean, South India is the subcontinent’s steamy heartland – a lush contrast to the peaks and plains of the North.
A Fabulous Heritage
Wherever you go in the south you’ll be bumping into the magnificent relics of the splendid civilisations that have inhabited this land over two millennia – the amazing rock-cut shrines carved out by Buddhists, Hindus and Jains at Ajanta and Ellora; the palaces, tombs, forts and mosques of Muslim dynasties on the Deccan; Tamil Nadu’s inspired Pallava sculptures and towering Chola temples; the magical ruins of the Vijayanagar capital at Hampi…and a whole lot more. It’s a diverse cultural treasure trove with few parallels.
Spirituality weaves its way throughout the vast and complex tapestry that is contemporary India. The multitude of sacred sites, spectacular festivals and time-honoured rituals are testament to a long, colourful, sometimes tumultuous religious history. Soak it all up at massed Hindu pilgrimage temples or tranquil hilltop shrines, and feel the centuries of tradition at ancient Buddhist caves or big city mosques. And if you like, become part of it all with some meditation or yoga in the land of yoga’s birth.
South India’s thousands of kilometres of coastline frame fertile plains and rolling hills – a landscape that changes constantly as you travel and is kept glisteningly green by the double-barrelled monsoon. The palm-strung strands and inland waterways of the west give way to spice gardens, tea plantations, tropical forests and cool hill-station retreats in the Western Ghats. The drier Deccan ‘plateau’ is far from flat, being crossed by numerous hilly ranges and spattered with dramatic outcrops often topped by picturesque old forts. And across the region, wild forests are preserved as parks and sanctuaries, where you can seek out wildlife from elephants and tigers to monkeys and sloth bears.
South India’s vibrant cities are the pulse of a country that is fast-forwarding through the 21st century while also at times seemingly stuck in the Middle Ages. From in-yer-face Mumbai (Bombay) or increasingly sophisticated Chennai (Madras), to historic Hyderabad, IT capital Bengaluru (Bangalore) and the colonial-era quaintness of Kochi (Cochin) and Puducherry (Pondicherry), southern cities are great for browsing teeming markets and colourful boutiques and soaking up culture. And, of course, for indulging in a smorgasbord of their cuisines, whether you fancy simple southern favourites such as idlis (spongy rice cakes) and dosas (savoury crêpes), spicy west-coast seafood curries, Mughal-influenced biryanis or inventive fusion creations in chic city dining haunts.
Why I Love South India & Kerala
By John Noble, Writer
When I wake of a morning in South India, there’s only one certainty about the day ahead: it will never, ever be dull. Extremes of poverty and wealth may confront and the crush of humanity and traffic exasperate, but in between times I’ll be experiencing people, scenery, colour, buildings, life – the like of which I won’t encounter in any other country in the world. The biggest risk of travelling here, whether in Tamil Nadu’s heaving temple towns, Kerala’s lazy backwaters or Mumbai’s frenzied bazaars, is that the rest of the world can seem so sadly routine afterwards.
Expect The Unexpected
India loves to toss up the unexpected. This can be challenging, particularly for the first-time visitor: the poverty is confronting, Indian bureaucracy can be exasperating and the crush of humanity may turn the simplest task into a frazzling epic. Even veteran travellers find their nerves frayed at some point; yet this is all part of the India experience. With an ability to inspire, frustrate, thrill and confound all at once, adopting a ‘go with the flow’ attitude is wise if you wish to retain your sanity. Love it or loathe it – and most travellers see-saw between the two – to embrace India’s unpredictability is to embrace her soul.
With its glorious culinary variety and melange of dining-out options, South India is deliciously rewarding. From traditional southern favourites such as idlis (fermented rice cakes) and large papery dosas (savoury crepes) to a mix of inventive fusion creations, there’s certainly no dearth of choice for the hungry traveller. Food has also long played a prominent role in many of the region’s festivals, with temptingly colourful mithai (sweets) more often than not taking centre stage.
Read More: Lonely Planet