India’s deep south is a flourishing heartland of a culture where ancient traditions meet modernity in a traveller’s paradise. This journey takes you into the land of exquisitely carved temples and quaint colonial towns. A land of coastal beauty flanked by backwaters and beaches, the South can be dramatic and serene at the same time.
This journey starts at Chennai, the cultural hub of Tamil Nadu before moving on to the temple city of Mahabalipuram on the eastern coast and trails the sandy beaches of the erstwhile French settlement of Pondicherry, spreading across the mainland into Thanjavur and Madurai, draining the Periyar basin in the forests of Thekkady. From here it emerges in the rustic backwaters of Alleppey before finally ending at the western coast, at the new port town of Cochin.
The fourth largest metropolitan in the country, Chennai offers a glimpse into the intricate weaving of India's cultural past. The imposing stone temples, artefacts from a colonial-era intertwined with the recent burst of modernity, Chennai is a world of its own. Visitors are offered a range of activities to pursue, from history and culture to the mouthwatering cuisine of the South.
From a bustling city, you move to the serene shores of Mahabalipuram. Surrounded by two beautiful lakes, the small strip of Mahabalipuram is home to some of the oldest architectural marvels in India. The famous Shore Temple overlooking the Bay of Bengal, with its large granite stone architecture perfectly encapsulates its essence. A huge monolithic rock, famously called the Krishna’s Butterball, hangs miraculously on a slope just so and has survived earthquakes through the ages.
The journey continues southwards and into Pondicherry, a city caught in a time-warp, which tells the tale of French influence and Tamil sensibilities. Walking through the cobbled streets, the romance of the old French town comes alive with sprightly shades of yellow on its chic buildings and colonial churches. Merchants sell country-made glass bangles in front of chic designer boutiques and the pleasures of coconut-based cuisine can be had in cafes with sophisticated French names.
The city of Thanjavur, south of Pondicherry, gleams with one of the oldest temples in the county. Once the cultural seat of the Chola empire, its splendour is visible in the many majestic temples in and around town. The epitome of the Dravidian style of architecture, the Bhrihadeeswara temple is situated in the heart of the city with a wealth of art, painting, sculpting.
The journey moves towards the mainland, and into the city of Madurai. The prime centre of Tamil culture, literature, art, music, and dance, Madurai has flourished through the centuries and has preserved its tradition of celebrating culture through the confluence of poets and artists, even today. The Meenakshi temple with its towering gopurams, sculpted brightly from stories of the past, stands tall in the proud blue sky.
In the Periyar basin, the deep jungles of Thekkady are home to a variety of species of indigenous flora and fauna including the mighty Indian tiger, elephants, deer, and langur to name a few. The Periyar National Park has sounds of local birds and gurgles of streams which can be explored by walks, treks, and the cradling bamboo rafts on the river.
Trail through thick forests to the pristine backwaters of Kerala in the little town of Alleppey. The lush and graceful backwaters of Alappuzha, anglicised as ‘Alleppey’, provide a rare respite from the bustle of cities. Cruise through the backwaters in the unique houseboats, or visit the temple by the lake known for its beautiful architecture. Unwind on the untouched beaches of the town before continuing to the busy city of Cochin.
The journey concludes at the western coast of India at the port town of Cochin. Popular for Dutch and Jewish influences, Cochin is the land of spices and Chinese fishing nets. Home to Kerala’s fabled backwaters, the roots of history run even deeper in Cochin to support the skyscrapers of modernity, much like the tallest of coconut palms that tirelessly line the coastal city.
Alleppey,situated 13 Kms away from Kottayam is a sleepy little village on Vembanad Lake in Kerala. It offers wide variety of flora, exotic sightseeing, boating and fishing experience. The beautiful paradise stocked with mangrove forests, emerald green paddy fields and coconut trees comprises with water ways and canals adorned with white lilies enchants the tourist from world over.
Situated along the rippling coastline of the Bay of Bengal, Chennai rose to prominence under the colonial rule. From the classical Carnatic music traditions to the folk gana traditions of the fishing community, this city is where the many cultures within Tamil Nadu converge and coexist. Fondly called Madras, the port city, which is also the seat of Tamil Cinema, has acquired a flamboyant character of its own.
An important port since early medieval times, Cochin is a salubrious town on the Malabar Coast, where ancient trees watch over winding lanes rich in history. With the Western Ghats on the eastern front and the Arabian Sea lapping its shores on the west, the city has grown with its own unique identity and an unlikely blend of European and Middle Eastern influences.
Madurai, the second largest city in Tamil Nadu and one of the state's top destinations, is more than 3,500 years old and has remained a major center for Tamil culture and learning. The city is often referred to as the "Athens of the East" because of its similar architectural style, including many alleyways. During the heyday of its history, when the Nayak dynasty ruled, many magnificent temples and buildings were constructed. These days, Madurai attracts pilgrims and tourists in equal numbers.
Scattered around the base of a colossal mound of boulders 58km south of Chennai is the small seaside town and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mamallapuram (formerly Mahabalipuram). From dawn till dusk, the rhythms of chisels chipping granite resound down its sandy lanes – evidence of a stone-carving tradition that has endured since this was a major port of the Pallava dynasty, between the fifth and ninth centuries. The famous bas-reliefs, Arjuna’s Penance and the Krishna Mandapa, adorn massive rocks near the centre of the village, while the beautiful Shore Temple, one of India’s most photographed monuments, presides over the beach.
The Periyar forest of Thekkady is one of the finest wildlife reserves in India. Spreading across the entire district are the picturesque plantations and hill towns that nestle beautiful trails for treks and mountain walks. Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary is a protected area, home to a wealth of rare, endemic, and endangered flora and fauna.
Bounded by the state of Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, commonly called ‘Pondy’ sits along the South Eastern coast of India. Colonized by the French, who left a big impact here, by far. The streets still have French names and some restaurants are owned by French nationals. The culture is an undiluted confluence of the Tamil and the French. Pondicherry helps you slow down and experience things one at a time.
Thanjavur, formerly known as Tanjore, is located near the banks of Kaveri River, once the capital of the mighty Cholas. The pursuits of different rulers are reflected in the great monuments and arts in the district. This was a kingdom so fertile that it was called the ‘Rice Bowl of South India’. Rich harvests, a lush country, and a full river gave people the leisure and inclination for the finer things of life: culture, religion, architecture, and literature.
Learn Kalaripayattu, a Dravidian martial art from the Indian state of Kerala. One of the oldest fighting systems in existence.
Visit various ancient Hindu temples that are distinguished by the lofty white-marble spires. Wander along their gates to explore small markets, teashops and flower-sellers.
Ride an elephant around the spice plantation with great views. You also get the opportunity of learning how these beautiful beings are taken care of by their mahouts.
Walk into the eastern corner of the town to find a medley of cobbled streets lined with romantically dishevelled mustard buildings. Take a superb heritage walk starting from the seafront promenade which explores the best areas of this enchanting quarter.
Explore cultivation, harvesting and processing of Indigo by indigenous methods in the Community village of Auroville.
Take guided treks along trails traversing diverse habitats including deciduous forests, grasslands, and tribal community to watch species of birds, butterflies and mammals.