Updated on February 7, 2016
Splendours of South India
My first time in India! Everybody starts at the North, everybody wants to see the Taj Mahal (and so do I!) but for travellers, the south is India as you’ve always imagined it – colourful, exotic, mystical and even a little magical. So I decided to start my India exploration by seeing the real India: the southern part of this beautiful and very interesting country.
Sticky, rich in history, studded with temples, dotted with beaches, alive with culture and blessed with a beautiful coastline, South India is another world.
We started in Chennai – the gateway to the south on the east coast of Tamil Nadu – formerly Madras, where the British East India Company started trading. The view was coloured by silk sarees in contrast with the muddy mustard background and low buildings.
It was rush hour when we arrived and there was a crowded flow of vehicles on the dusty roads – Tuc Tucs, many motorbikes (no helmets, women sitting side-saddle, over 3 people in 1 bike) and pushbikes. From the bikes and buses faces stared at me and I stared back.
We passed by Chennai’s fish market around midday but its then too hot to walk on the beach sand but the market is actually very lively in the afternoon when the fisherman are coming with their catch of the day.
The most important dishes in South India are usually served on banana leaf. We had South Indian Thali platter at Sangeetha Restaurant in Chennai.
We travelled across the region of Tamil Nadu, viewing its majestic temples, through hills and tea plantations.
The road then took us to Kanchipuram, “the city of 1,000 temples”. It is one of Hinduism’s most sacred cities, many Hindu worshippers come here to worship the ‘auspicious god’, mostly known as Shiva. We visited the majestic Ekambareswara Temple & the archaic Kailasanathar Temple.
The temples in South India are all unique as they all have different architecture style and fabulously detailed carvings on these well-preserved ancient sites dating from the late 7th century until 17th Century.
Shoes are not allowed inside the temple complex however in some of them you are allowed to wear socks.
Also, Knees and shoulders need to be covered but you can take a pashmina to cover up if you are wearing sleeveless top. Some of the temples you have to pay to take pictures and some of them you don’t. The price varies from temple to temple. Some of them do not allow cameras but do allow pictures with phones. Locals will want to take pictures with you and I am sure you will want to take pictures with them too.
I am mesmerized by the colours of the silk sarees so as I was in Kanchipuram we went to a Silk weaving unit where the raw silk is converted into the famous Kanchivaram Sarees.
Further along the Coromandel Coast south of Chennai lies Mahabalipuram – a Unesco world heritage site. Covering many of the temples for which the region is famous for; the Shore Temple peacefully sits upon the Bay of Bengal , is the only temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu.
We then visited Arjunas Penance – a 7th-century temple carved into rock, the Pancha Rathas (temples in the form of chariots) & Krishna Mandap (cave sanctuaries)
Our next stop was Pondicherry, a relaxing French Colonial Town with a nice promenade where you can have a nice walk along. We explored the city on the traditional india style, the tuc-tuc.
When in Pondicherry visit the Immaculate Conception Cathedral
& Ghandi memorial, located at the promenade.
The streets of India are full of nice surprises. As we moved inland away from the coast towards the city of Tanjore we passed by a very lively food market. Eager to blend in with the locals and their lifestyle we jumped out of the mini bus to explore.
Arriving in Tanjore our attentions were turned to Brihadeeswarar Temple; one of the largest temples in India.
En route from Tanjore to Trichy we visited the Temple complex of Srirangam
And we drove past the Rock fort. We didn’t have time to visit the fort but we had to stop for some photos
Upon arriving into Madurai we visited the Thirumalai Nayak Palace
The people in India are what amazed me most. Specially the girls, they are so beautiful and look like they came out straight from a Bollywood movie.
I was absolutely enchanted by all the colours and jewellery the ladies were wearing. In Brazil girls use anklets in one of the ankles but in India they wear in both! And they have jingles, so when you walk you make that lovely sound of music that makes you sound like if you were always dancing. I had to grab some!
The Meenakshi Temple, the temple dedicated to Parvati, is the one that really stand out for us. The colours are in every corner you look and it makes the temple a very vibrant and lively place. It makes you feel happy and lucky to be there and be able to admire it. Cameras are not allowed inside the temple but you are allowed to take pictures with your mobile phone by paying a small fee. I didn’t have my phone with me so I had to use one of my friend’s – so excuse me for the quality.
You will never be alone in India, wherever you look you will always see people, you will see a celebration. From the window of the mini bus we could see people picking crops, chatting outside their house doors, washing, waving, on foot, on bikes, with cows… The views were extremely full of colour and life, rich and vibrant.
After leaving Madurai we took the mountain roads leading across the state border into Kerala. Once we crossed from Tamil Nadu into Kerala with its inland waterways the scenery changed completely from majestic Temples to a lush and green area. Blessed by its natural beauty, I believe this is one of the most beautiful areas in India.
Kerala lush vegetation and scenic grounds was the reason for the area to be known as ‘God’s own country’. Almost anything grows there; I left with the impression that simply dropping a net in the sea or a seed in the land and it will bring automatic reward.
By the time we reached Periyar it felt like we had arrived in another country, mountain villages embracing nature and many plantations growing spices, rubber or tea. In Periyar we had the opportunity to witness the Kalaraipayattu performance, an ancient Keralan Martial Art.
A test for the faint hearted, these skilful practitioners leap towards each other with swords, daggers, and spears. If that’s not enough, they turn up the heat by pulling daring stunts like diving through rings of fire.
Coming back from the show we were then treated to a beautiful performance of Classical Indian dance. India is so full of culture that they do not stop surprising you.
Periyar National Park offers lots of activities for you to do while there.
We were offered the Green Walk inside the Periyar Tiger Reserve. I love animals and nature so I was looking forward to it! Until I get there and they offered us to wear this special “socks” on top of our socks and trousers to avoid LEECHES!!!!!
It was rainy season while I was there so the leech attack was quite intense; however they told us that the same does not happen while in dry season. In any way I would have 2 pieces of advice to give you: watch for the leeches and choose another activity.
We quickly left and went to explore the surroundings which brought us to an area of the reserve full of monkeys and a beautiful lake.
One of the underrated highlights of the Periyar region was the opportunity to visit the Spice Plantation. We went on a guided walk through the plantation where we learned about the many different spices that are grown there. This, of course, ends at the plantation shop but instead of being a tourist trap it’s actually a nice opportunity to purchase spices, in case you like it.
On the road to Kumarakom, we made our way to Mundakkayam where we visited a rubber plantation owner. This property itself had a small forest of rubber plant trees with pots set up to collect the leaking resin. We were taken around his Rubber plantation and were shown the process of creating large rolls of rubber from the raw substance.
Arriving in Kumarakom we found ourselves on the famous Keralan backwaters; a labyrinth of canals that feed through to numerous fishing villages. I wasn’t aware yet that I was reaching the highlight of my trip, I boarded a transfer boat and was instantly hypnotised by the sunset.
After a 10 min cruise we reach our destination: The Coconut Lagoon Hotel. I don’t tend to speak about hotels but this one is a destination in itself. This is a CGH Earth Hotel which is an environmentally friendly group of hotels that wants to create experiences that are not just enjoyable, but also environmentally aware and culturally rich. The Partially open air bathroom in my opinion is a must and makes the experience complete.
Being only accessible by boat you really get a sense of ‘getting away from it all” Built in a traditional Keralan style, the hotel is on a beautiful setting on the water’s edge, with the shimmering backwaters of the canals that criss-cross the property.
You will be totally surrounded by nature, into a world still unsullied by modern ways and will even have the chance of birdwatching from the hotel grounds.
When we arrived in Alleppey we were invited for a cooking demo on how to make Appam and Kerala Rice Puttu with an Indian family and to have lunch at “Neroth” Wayside Inn. The food was delicious but the desert really got me, I lost all my manners and asked for a repeat and the recipe. (let me know if you want to give it a go and I will email it to you)
Kerala’s scenic beauty is best appreciated from its backwaters, which reach deep into areas unapproachable by road. The Keralan backwaters are some of the most beautiful and picturesque settings that you will find yourself in. Seeing them from the traditional Keralan houseboat was really amazing.
The houseboats are a very simple but comfortable type of accommodation traditionally designed with up to 3 bedrooms on board. You won’t find the standard amenities you do at a hotel. They have hot water but you have to ask the crew to turn it on, the food is cooked fresh for you, it’s simple and mainly sea food and traditional Indian finger food, but delicious and it is plenty.
However it was the canoe ride down the backwaters that made it perfect.
The canoes weaved us down canals past local villages where children gathered asking for pens. It was a really telling experience that immersed us into the life within the backwaters.
After we disembarked we made our way to Chellanam to visit a local fishing village. The village was one of the hidden gems of this trip but we did not think much of it at first glance.
However, after a short walk we made our way to a small beach where we found ourselves face-to-face with hundreds of locals who all gathered in waiting as dozens of fishing boats come in from their morning ventures.
It truly is an amazing and yet humble place as we were educated in the fishing village life whilst listening to the chaotic sounds of the fishermen auctioning off their catch. A real authentic local experience that we were lucky to encounter as sights like these does not occur every day.
We then went to a local family’s house for breakfast. Our host was very welcoming and told us about his family and showed us lots of pictures. I won’t forget the delicious banana curry that they served.
Still amazed and talking about the fishing village, we then drove to Mararikulam for some beach relaxation
Our final local experience was the visit to Kumbalanghi Village – this experience began with us embarking across the waterways by canoe.
As we approached, we passed the elaborately set up fishing nets that are common sight within the south.
Once we disembarked we felt as if we transported back in time to witness the lives of Keralan villagers. We watched as they harvested coconuts, farmed fish, weaved fabrics, produced tobacco and made clay pots all from home grown sources. Unlike the fishing village visit, this was not authentic with villagers waiting for us to approach before showing us their trade. Despite this though, it was still an enjoyable experience.
We ended our trip at the charming city of Cochin.
Cochin is Kerala’s largest city and it offers enchanting architecture, heritage and colonial history. We started our sightseeing at the Jewish synagogue, which is also a good spot for shopping. We went around the market stalls and tried our hand at haggling for some souvenirs, the best item I grabbed out of a shelf was a beautiful pink (real) silk dress for the equivalent of £3!!!! (please don’t hate me!)
The highlight of the city is the Chinese fishing nets. They became a tourist attraction, as they are very different from the usual fishing nets used in India and can only be found in the cities of Cochin and Kollam.
In the evening we went to the Kathakali dance show which is a classical Indian dance–drama that originated in Kerala, noted for the attractive make-up of characters, elaborate costumes, detailed gestures and well-defined body movements that are presented in tune with music and percussion.
We arrived 1 hour before the show starts to see the artist’s make up preparation.
India was an amazing experience that left me with the feeling that I just scratched the surface. It was a privilege to have met so many fantastic people, to have experienced so much, and to have witnessed such beautiful sights; I am sure I will keep going back over and over again to explore much more of this amazing country. India is a country that promises an experience that you’ll never forget!