Most tours of South India tend to focus on the southern part the peninsula, starting at the old colonial spice port of Fort Cochin and nearby backwaters of Kerala, continuing via a well-trodden trail over the Western Ghat mountains to Tamil Nadu, whose great temples are the focus of intense ritual activity. Having visited Madurai and Thanjavur, you could then veer north up the coast to the former French colony of Pondicherry, then on to Mamallpuram to take in the ancient monuments of the Pallavas, winding up with a day or two on the beach before flying out of Chennai (Madras).
Karnataka, covering the southern portion of the Deccan Plateau, offers a compelling mix of magical archaeological sites, beautiful volcanic uplands and misty hills carpeted with coffee plantations, where tiger, elephant and leopard roam wild in forests retaining some of the greatest bio-diversity in Asia.
The state’s undisputed showpiece, however, are the ruins of medieval Vijayanagar at Hampi. Scattered over a tract of boulder hills and banana plantations on the banks of the Tungabhadra River, the site has a unique atmosphere, which travellers have been able to enjoy in great comfort since the appearance of a couple of world-class luxury hotels.
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Places to visit in South India
A thousand years before Vijayanagar reached its zenith, the Chalukya Dynasty carved a series of beautiful capitals from the rugged sandstone hills of northern Karnataka. Although far less well known than Hampi, the ruins of ancient Badami ...
Bengaluru (previously Bangalore) is the go-ahead, trend-setting capital of Karnataka state. As the home of India’s own Silicon Valley, the city has been at the forefront of the country’s IT revolution for the past two decades or more, and ...
Huge, 300-metre cliffs of sheer red sandstone protect the north walls of Bidar fort, where the Deccan’s pre-eminent dynasty, the Bahmanis, sited their capital in the 15th century. The ruins of beautiful palaces and mosques lie within, and ...
The grandest Islamic buildings in the Deccan region are to found in Bijapur, capital of the Adil Shahis. Fuelled by its monopoly over the trade in Arabian horses through Goa, the Sultanate became a major centre of commerce, education and c...
Char Minar (Hyderabad)
Hyderabad’s iconic Char Minar (literally ‘Four Towers’) mosque was erected in 1591 by Sultan Muhammed Quli Qutb Shahi, to commemorate the eradication of plague from his newly established capital. Flanked by a quartet of 54-metre-tall minar...
The capital of Tamil Nadu, Chennai is India’s fourth city – a fast-paced, traffic-filled metropolis of 4.7 million people. This strip of the Coromandel Coast first rose to prominence in 1640s, after the East India Company constructed Fort ...
Roughly midway between Trichy and Madurai, on a plain studded with granite boulder hills and groves of palmyra palms, lies the Chettinad region. This rural backwater is famous above all for its eccentric 19th and 20th-century mansions, whi...
The main stop on the train ride to Ooty is Coonoor, a major tea market town at an altitude of 1,858m (6,561ft). Lying at the head of the Dodabetta Ravine, its core is a messy bazaar of tin-roof shops and warehouses – the real interest resi...
The ruined city of Golconda, the largest and most impressive stronghold of the Deccan region, rises from scrubland 11km west of Hyderabad. Encircled by massive crenelated ramparts, the fort served as the capital of the Qtub Shahi kings fro...
Gulbarga town in the state of Karnataka, south-west India, is where you can explore the fort and tombs of the Bahmani kings. The town is also well connected by rail to the cities of Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Mumbai, making it a good tour d...
A landscape of surreal beauty provides the setting for the ruins of Vijayanagar, the once-glittering capital of southern India, which was laid to waste in 1565 by invading armies from the Sultanates of the northern Deccan. Only the city’s ...
Hassan city in Karnataka, South India, offers an authentic experience which immerses visitors into the Karnatakan culture. Tradition, countryside, temples, and narrow roads lined with small shops, rub shoulders with shiny modern buildings....
The south Indians’ love of elaboration, detail and intricacy is discernable in many and varied forms, but none are as graphic or impressive as the temples created by the Hoysala dynasty, who ruled over much of the southern Deccan between t...
As with any Indian megacity, the prosaic reality of modern Hyderabad can seem a far cry from the tales of its exotic past. But the legacy of the Nizams, and the highly refined, hybrid Indo-Muslim culture their rule gave rise to, endures in...
Hindu pilgrims descend in their largest numbers on the temple at Kaniyakumari during the full-moon phase of April, when it’s possible to see the setting sun and rising moon on the same horizon. Off-shore, a pair of rocks ringed by foaming ...
The hill country of Kodagu - know in British times as Coorg - is a far cry indeed from the frenzy of its nearest cities, Mysore and Bangalore. A tract of rugged mountains and cardamom forest interspersed by patches of rice paddy and orchar...
For sheer visual impact, no Hindu temple in South India can match the magnificence of the Meenakshi-Sundeshwarar in Madurai. The gigantic, multi-coloured gopura towers of the ‘Fish-Eyed Goddess’ soar 46m above the city’s streets, writhing ...
Thousands of years before the British first landed on the Coromandel Coast, merchants’ ships were setting sail from a city further south to ports as far afield as the Malacca Straits. Known as Mahabalipuram (or Mamallapuram), the town was ...
Mudigiri is a town in Karnataka, South India, which ventures away from the tourist hot-spots. However, there are various pilgrimage sites, thus giving the town an element of popularity and a religious significance. A haven for nature love...
Mysore, the former capital of the Wadiyar Rajas, is far and away Karnataka’s most popular visitor destination. Unlike Bengaluru, the city seems to have been largely bypassed by the dotcom revolution and retains plenty of traditional charm,...
Nagarhole National Park
The best places to spot wildlife in southern India is the Nagarhole National Park, in Western Ghat mountain range of western Karnataka. Created from the private hunting reserve of the Maharajas of Mysore, the sanctuary encompasses a tract ...
Even with the luxury of air-conditioning today, a spell in the mountains of south India can come as a welcome respite from the heat of the plains, just as it did in British times, when the entire administration of the Madras Presidency use...
Puducherry, also known as Pondicherry or Pondi, a half-day’s drive south of Mamallapuram, served as France’s principal stronghold on the Coromandel during the Carnatic Wars of the 17th century, and remained a colony until 1962. Typically F...
An 18-metre-tall colossus, carved from a single piece of granite, is the showpiece of this peaceful Jain pilgrimage site. Indragiri Hill at its heart is said to be where the legendary Prince Bahubali achieved Moksha – Liberation from the c...
The Kaveri (Cauvery) Delta of central Tamil Nadu was the heartland of the mighty Chola Dynasty, whose towering temples stand as south India’s defining monuments. One of the greatest of these giant shrines is Brihadeshwara in the town of Th...
South India Experiences
Oil massages and herbal steam baths are two of the many therapies that have been transposed with great success from traditional Ayurvedic medicine for use in modern spas. Whether in a traditional carved wood Keralan cottage or a modern des...
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