South of India is the country’s haven of natural beauty abundant with mystical hills, intricately carved temples and quaint backwaters. Some of my favourite places which capture South India’s real essence.
1. Backwaters of God’s Own Country – Alleppey, Kerala
Typical Kerala-style boats for cruise and stay
Kerala, also fondly called ‘God’s Own Country’, is home to serene backwaters, which over the years has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The backwaters, made up of intertwined, connected lakes, waterways and a number of small rivers, are definitely one of the most captivating natural attractions in Kerala. Alappuzha, also known as ‘Venice of the East’, is famous for its houseboat cruises.
A house boat meandering through the backwaters of Kerala
Taking a tour on the quaint meandering backwaters in a traditional Kerala-style houseboat or a modern luxury houseboat is a must do and an exotic way to soak in the breath-taking beauty of nature. Watching the sun go down across the backwaters from the boat while it cruises across dense paddy fields, well-kept small villages lined with palm trees is truly once in a lifetime experience. While in Kerala, do not forget to witness the famous snake boat races that have been in existence for 400 years.
Vibrant Kathakali Dancer
You also do not want to miss out on the ancient martial art sword fight shows, Kalaripayattu — considered to be one of the oldest surviving fighting systems still existing in the world — as well as the vibrant Kathakali dance performance.
2. The Forgotten Empire – Hampi, Karnataka
Ruins of Hampi
A UNESCO world heritage site, Hampi was also known as ‘The Forgotten Empire’. It was also one of the richest and largest cities in the world during its prime. You will need a good couple of days to explore the city thoroughly. Hampi is lined with heaps of boulders lying all around the city of various sizes. Beautifully carved temples, ruins of palaces and ancient market streets makes this place a mysterious destination. The place is sure to transport your mind to a pre-ancient age. Owing to its old world charm, Hampi has over time turned out to be a backpacker’s paradise and pilgrim’s delight.
The enormous boulders in Hampi
One can easily climb up one of the big boulders to catch a stunning glimpse of the entire city. Nestled on the banks of Tungabhadra River and dedicated to the patron deity of the empire, Virupaksha Temple is one the most beautifully carved temples. Old aqueducts, canals and military barracks and stables can also be found here.
3. Stunning Temples of South India – Meenakshi temple, Tamil Nadu and Lepakshi temple, Andra Pradesh
The Vibrant Meenakshi Temple
South India is famous for magically beautiful temples, Meenakshi Temple being one of them and also the largest temple in South India. As per history, the temple dates back to as early as the 6th century, and it is believed to be built by the survivors of Kumari Kandam, a mythical lost continent. The architecture of the temple is Dravidian with over 30,000 intricate, brightly coloured sculptures and 14 gateways. The most magical place in the temple is the Hall of Thousand pillars, which has two long rows of pillars with mythological creatures carved on them in great details.
The other most interesting Temple not only in India but across the world is the Temple with a floating Pillar – 16th-century Veerabhadra temple, also known as Lepakshi temple, the country’s most mysterious temple. Out of the 70 massive pillars built in Vijayanagar style, one pillar, unlike the other pillars, does not touch the ground and actually hangs from the ceiling leaving a noticeable space between the floor and the pillar, enough to pass a piece of clothing through the gap. This temple is truly a surviving example of the engineering genius of ancient Indian temples.
The intriguing Floating Pillar
4. The French colony of India – Pondicherry
Matri Mandir – The soul of Auroville
It is a dream to wish for a utopian world where no religion, caste or creed exists. This dream is a reality in this tiny Indian territory, Pondicherry. Formerly a French colony, with a small part of it still prevalent with colonial French style buildings in vibrant pastel shades of yellow and green. Pondicherry is a lazy coastal town with abundant lazy beaches, perfect to enjoy a relaxing time off. Of course, the French influence has left behind a culture of amazing French and European cuisine. The heritage part of Pondicherry is definitely a contrast to the surrounding South Indian cities with way of lifestyle, food, and clothing seeming like an alternate world of French to the Indians.
Dreamy pastel colored French buildings in Heritage town, Pondicherry
The most attractive part though is ‘Auroville’, a utopian setup by Shri Aurobindo. It is Auroville that attracts people from all over the globe. Auroville is home to people of all ages, infants to 80’s, coming from 49 nations, from various social classes, backgrounds, and cultures. Religion and money as we know it does not exist in Auroville, there is no circulation of money. One can even volunteer to serve and stay in Auroville. Indeed, it is a fulfilling and enlightening experience!
5. Mystical Munnar, Kerala
The mystical green tea gardens of Munnar
The southern part of India is famous for its tea and coffee plantations, one such haven of peace, tranquility and breath taking natural beauty mixed with vast expanses of tea plantations is Munnar in God’s own country. Munnar is a one of the biggest tea-plantations and one of the best hill stations in the South.
The heavenly misty view of Munnar
Apart from absorbing the beauty of Munnar wrapped in green carpets of tea gardens, also visit Eravikulam National Park and Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary to spend some time in the wild.
6. Serene beaches of Gokarna, Karnataka
Sparkling clean waters of Gokarna
Beaches in India are usually cramped up and crowded, but not all. To escape the crowded beaches and enjoy serene sunsets with golden sands, Gokarna is the ideal destination. Blissful coasts and breathtaking landscapes define Gokarna apart from also being a prominent Hindu pilgrimage town.
Tranquil beach in Gokarna
Beaches lined with palm trees dotted with carefree tourists is a usual scene here. It is the laid back and unique nature of the beaches that draw more foreign tourists than Indians holiday goers. For a slow paced, peaceful beach holiday with blue sea and clean beaches, Gokarna is South India’s perfect choice.
7. Nature lover’s paradise – Coorg, Karnataka
Visiting South India and not obsessing over South Indian style filter coffee is a sin, so is not spending some time in the misty coffee plantations of the South. Located in the mountains of Karnataka, Coorg is a nature lovers delight and a very popular hill station. Exotic scenic beauty, lush greenery, hills covered with a canopy of green forests, spice and coffee plantations is what makes Coorg such an ideal place to rejuvenate your senses. It is also a hit among couples and honeymoon goers owing to its misty romantic ambiance.
I am sure these photos are enough to ignite that wanderlust in anyone! They portray the diverse landscape and culture of South India. These places in South India are the perfect places to spend time in the lap of ‘Mother Nature’!