10 Things to Do in Southern India
Featured destinations: India, Mumbai, Goa
Published 07 September 2016
There’s so much to see in India that when faced with the task of narrowing this list down to just 10 items, I struggled. I mean, I really struggled. And so I had to be brutal. Temples were removed purely because they weren’t quite as intricate as others, beaches scratched off in favour of their more famous neighbours, and national parks chosen over their equally diverse counterpart. And so I am left with this, my list of things to do. It’s by no means exhaustive, but it should give you taste of southern India’s treasures.
Laze on Goa’s beaches
Synonymous with idyllic beaches and fine white sand, Goa is the place to come for long lazy days relaxing on the seashore, dipping your toes in the softly lapping waves and kicking back under a coconut palm. When not chilling by the sea, wander around town and check out the architecture, a throwback to Goa’s time as a Portuguese colony. And it’s not just the buildings that this town inherited from the Portuguese – locals also enjoy the daily siesta, so why not join them?
Cruise Kerala’s backwaters
Forget 50 Shades of Grey, it’s more 50 shades of green in Kerala, where the emerald palm leaves, grasses, rice paddies and coconut trees merge together to create a lush landscape, made all the lovelier by the watery network of gentle rivers and tributaries running through it. The best way to explore is by houseboat; you’ll sail leisurely along the waterways while tucking into fried river fish and freshly squeezed coconut juice. Better yet, stay overnight and fall asleep to the sound of lapping waves.
Look for elephants in Periyar National Park
Deep in the heart of Kerala’s Periyar National Park, the Periyar River teems with wildlife, making it a great spot for a relaxing safari. Your best bet is to take a boat trip along its winding waterways, keeping a look out for deer, bison and birdlife among the pretty mountain landscapes. Although the park is home to one of India’s largest tiger populations, you’re not all that likely to see one. Instead, set your heart on spotting an Indian elephant; they like to play on the water’s edge, squirting water at themselves and each other to keep cool.
Tour the temples of Mahabalipuram
In Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram, stands a collection of 7th-century temples. Most of these impressive monuments are carved straight into the rock, but the oldest structure is the free-standing Shore Temple, built in 700-728AD, which has been eroded over the years by the wind and sea – and even a cyclone at one point – giving it a crumbling, mysterious atmosphere that wouldn’t be too out of place in an Indiana Jones movie. Another worthwhile stop is the Five Rathas, a cluster of five stone chariots watched over by an enormous elephant.
Eat crêpes in Puducherry
Think of Indian food and crêpes are unlikely to be the first thing that comes to mind, but here in Puducherry, French flavours abound. Fans of Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi may know Puducherry better as Pondicherry, the town where young Pi lived before making his fateful voyage. It’s a colourful place, with Mediterranean-style painted houses and plenty of French bakeries and restaurants too. And about those crêpes – try the Nutella version at the Café des Arts, washed down with a cup of spiced masala tea. Yum.
Eat Keralan food in Kochi
Talking of food, Kochi, an island city, is renowned for its delicious Keralan cuisine. Being a former spice trading port, there’s a wide mix of cultures here, a fact which comes through loud and clear on local menus. Coconut, fish and rice are the staples, as well as the aforementioned spices, often served up with warm parotta, the local bread. Try the various fish curries – fish molly (with coconut milk) or fish peera (with tamarind and coconut) are seriously tasty, and look out for curry with banana too.
Sail to Mumbai’s Elephanta Island
Most visitors to southern India will pass through Mumbai at some point, but did you know that it’s actually an island, connected to the mainland by a series of bridges? Even further out to sea, and accessed by boat from the city, is Elephanta Island, a complex of rock-hewn temples built in the 6th century. You’ll need a bit of stamina to reach the main temple, 100 steps up the hillside, but it’s worth the slog for the huge reliefs surrounding the chapel at the top.
Shop for saris in Chettinad
For an authentic souvenir of your time in India, head to Chettinad, famous for its beautiful handmade saris, known locally as a kandangis. Woven on a loom using a variety of eye-catching colours, with a bias towards fuchsia pinks and vivid greens, the saris come in a range of intricate patterns, often involving checks and stripes. If you plan on wearing your sari, it’s a good idea to ask for a demonstration of how to tie it, which is an art form in itself.
Drink tea in Munnar
Among the tea plantations in south India’s largest tea-growing region, Munnar is the ideal spot for a cuppa. With hills varying in altitude from 1,500 to 2,695m, it’s no wonder the British developed it as a hill station, attracted to its cool breezes and verdant greenery. It’s a peaceful place, with mountain streams, winding walking trails and a pretty church, but the main attraction is sampling a cup or two of freshly-brewed loose leaf tea and learning more about the tea-making process.
Admire Madurai’s gopurams
At over 2,000 years old, Madurai is one of the world’s oldest cities, giving it a rich history and fascinating treasure trove of architecture. Its most famous sight is the glorious Sree Meenakshi Temple, whose 12 towering gopurams (ornate, monumental towers) protrude high above the treetops and are recognisable for miles around, each one intricately carved with figures from Hindu mythology painted in vivid colours. The temple is so vast it’s almost a town in its own right, and it’s filled with sculptures and shrines dotted among the markets.
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