India is a massive, dense country filled with vibrant cities, rich culture and history, and awe-inspiring nature. The country’s south is no exception to this. With bustling cities such as Mumbai, idyllic getaways in Goa along with the spectacular sights from the Ghat Mountains, South India is an immense treasure trove of riches in all departments.
India’s smallest state is also one of its most widely popular travel destinations. Located on the country’s Southwestern coast, Goa has something to cater to all kinds of interests. Particularly popular for its impressive beaches and thriving nightlife, Goa is a major centre for international dance music. One of the country’s most biodiverse regions, the nature in the state is awe-inspiring, particularly around the Western Ghats mountain range. Old Goa meanwhile provides an insight into the city’s past, with its well-preserved buildings amongst the finest relics of Portuguese India, of which Goa was the capital.
The country’s biggest city, Mumbai has emerged in recent years as India’s main economic centre and a major international player. Known for its many festivals, good cuisine and bustling life, the city has a distinct cultural identity unlike anywhere else in India. There are a number of impressive historical sites dotted around the city, including the Kanheri Caves, the region’s Buddhist epicentre, and the Chhatrapati Shibaji Terminus, the country’s most famous and impressive railway station, a major relic of British rule in India. The city is also home to Bollywood, India’s Hindi film industry and the largest in the world.
A short ferry journey from Mumbai Harbour is Elephanta Island, a beautiful agricultural spot which feels like a far cry from the frenetic bustle of the city. Relatively unspoiled, the island is most famous for the eponymous Elephanta Caves, which contain a number of ancient Buddhist and Hindu statues. While there is little knowledge pertaining to the origin of the caves, the oldest statues date back to as early as the 5th Century. One of India’s most significant architectural sites, the caves provide an insight into the early associations between Hinduism and Buddhism.
One of the most beautiful regions in the country, Kerala is located on the Southwestern coast of India. A predominantly agricultural region, Kerala is a major producer of goods such as rubber, pepper and coffee as well as a significant fishery hotspot. The region has become increasingly popular amongst tourists for its natural beauty. Kerala is known for its lush tropical forests, beaches and backwaters. Due to the Western Ghats Mountains passing through the state, Kerala is also known for its immense biodiversity.
Meenakshi Amman Temple
One of the most important temples in the Hindu religion, Meenakshi Temple is located in the temple city of Madurai, a Tamil epicentre. The site has been of major importance for many centuries with the first temple being built in as early as the 7th Century. The current temple dates back to the 14th Century, with significant renovations occurring in the years thereafter. The temple has been a major pilgrimage destination, drawing over a million visitors during the major 10-day festival-the Meenakshi Tirukalaynam.
A hugely impressive site from the Sultanate period, the Bidar Fort was built in the 15th Century under the orders of Alla-Ud Din Bahman. The Bidar Fort is very well-preserved and is known for its many Muslim monuments as well as its unique water supply system-the Karez. One of India’s most impressive forts, Bidar shines a light on a lesser-known chapter of Indian history.
India’s most popular tourist attraction after the Taj Mahal, the Mysore Palace is one of the country’s most illustrious royal buildings. Built at the turn of the twentieth century, Mysuru Palace is known for its distinct hybridised Indo-Saracenic design. The building is known for its opulent interiors, including the Golden Throne. Additionally, the complex is home to twelve significant Hindu temples, which predate the Place itself. When lit up at night, it is a truly spectacular sight.
One of the most archaeological significant regions of India, Hampi was the epicentre of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire during the 14th Century and the wealthiest in India during its heyday. It is believed that only Beijing was a bigger city during the Medieval period. A major destination on the Silk Road, modern-day Hampi is home to a staggering wealth of medieval ruins. No place provides a better insight into this chapter of Indian history than Hamdi.
Undavalli Cave Temples
Purportedly dating back to the 7th Century, the caves are amongst India’s most important national monuments. A vast network of caves dedicated to different gods, the most notable ones are dedicated to Vishnu. Despite its importance to Hinduism, it is believed that the caves have ties to Buddhism and Jainism as well. The caves are amongst the best-preserved relics of the Gupta Empire.
A bit more off the beaten track, Araku Valley is one of the most beautiful places in South India (no small claim). Located in the Eastern Ghats, the valley is best known for its major coffee plantations. Following the introduction of coffee to the region by the British at the turn of the twentieth century, the region has seen a wealth of coffee plantations crop up. For coffee enthusiasts or those seeking an escape from the frantic pace of the city, this is a good place to visit.
main image: Kerala, image courtesy of Pepe Pont, Flickr Creative Commons