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Travel Guide To South India

Overview

Are you a dreamer, nomad and travel addict with an avid desire to explore and immerse yourself in local culture? Then South India is the perfect destination for you. South India is renowned for its striking coastlines, unspoilt waterways, serene backwaters as well as its wealthy past. You can take pleasure in the serenity of remote beaches fringed by coconut groves; enjoy the sight of lush green hillsides, welcoming villages and fragrant spice estates. For those seeking underwater adventures the exotic marine life will give you memories to reflect on for years to come. Bordered by the Indian Ocean on the west and the Bay of Bengal on the east, South India is the ideal mixture of sun, sand and sea. The fun is in the journey, not just the destination. India’s three most southern states are Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. If you are visiting India for the first time we highly recommend starting with Kerala, which is tucked away in the Southwest corner between the Arabian Sea and Western Ghats. There are a number of other states to visit in South India, such as Pondicherry, where the French had its largest colony in India, and the serene Lakshwadeep Islands. Southern India remains largely unchartered by tourists and your planned itinerary with local guides should include the major sights such as Chennai in Tamil Nadu and Kovalam Beach in Kerala. The temples of Swami Samath, who is a household name in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, should not be missed. There are numerous tours of stunning temples which are a must during your travels. Many of the temples are UNESCO International Heritage sites and the carved shrines are a sight to behold. Some of the largest temples are in Kanchipuram and Tamil Nadu, which is known as the ‘City of 1,000 Temples’. Podicherry is known as the ‘Indian French Riviera’ has been alluring tourists with its blend of East and West culture. More recently it has been propelled to fame due to the movie ‘Life of Pi’. Ooty is a popular beautiful hill station atop the UNESCO Heritage Nilgiri Hill. It is one of the 14 bio-hotspots in the world where you can explore sports and activities such as hand-gliding and golf. Located in the state of Karnataka is the old hunting ground of the Mysore Maharaja, Nagarahole National Park. With its magnificent leopards, tigers, Asian elephants, sambar (deer) and gaur (India Bison) making this a genuine Indian expedition.

Best time to visit

This really depends on where you want to go and what you want to do. Due to its large size (seventh largest country in the world) and position, India has a varied temperature range. Generally, the recommended time to visit is between September and March when the temperatures are at their coolest. However, during the winter months of December to January, areas in the north including Delhi can get quite cold, especially at night. The hottest and most humid period is from the end of May to October, the Monsoon Season. If you are not used to this type of weather the conditions in some areas can be uncomfortably hot, but this is also considered the best time to visit areas in the hills and Ladakh.

Festivals and Events in India

Holi Known for its explosions of colour, water balloons and colourful powder fly through every street. Locals and travellers of all ages crowd the street to enjoy fun, food and drink throughout India for this Hindu festival. Diwali The Hindu Festival of light, is the equivalent of Christmas. It’s a period of spiritual significance in the Hindu calendar, business will close for this period and families gather to celebrate, enjoy delicious traditional sweets and exchange gifts. Pushkar Camel Fair The annual camel fair in Puskar (Rajasthan) sees thousands of camels traded and raced. With an almost carnival type atmosphere, street acrobats and performers entertain crowds and locals take the opportunity to let their hair down.

Electricity

Socket sizes in hotels and homes sometimes vary. So, it is highly recommended that you take an adaptor that can be configured for different plugs. The most common plug socket take a 3-round pin plug with the top pin being large of the 3. Most places provided 220 Volts AC but you should check the voltage before using any appliances.

Dress

Many Indian’s are religious people and the religions teach followers to be modest and humble, which creates a very conservative, but still tolerant culture. Being aware and respectful of your surrounding and dressing appropriately is advised. If visiting temples of religious sites, men and women should have their shoulders and knees covered. You will also be required to remove your footwear as a sign of respect. Hindu’s regard the cow as a sacred animal and therefore in some Hindu and Jain Temples, leather is not allowed.

Money & Shopping

Indian Rupees is the currency in India and is written as Rs X/-. The Rupee is made up of Paisa (said ‘Pai-sa’), but not often used as the denomination is worth so little. In recent months compounded by the drop in the value of the pound, the number of Rupees to the pound has gone from 99 to around 88 and always has a little variance. It is difficult to get hold of Indian Rupees in the UK and the Indian Border Agency do not allow large amounts of Indian Rupees to enter or exit the country. On arrival in India, there are many Foreign Exchange opportunities at the airport and hotels. The US Dollar and British Pound is sought after in India so taking Sterling with you is better advised than relying on a debit or credit card. When it comes to shopping, bargaining is part of the experience. Even in what may appear to be ‘fixed price’ shops, it is customary to negotiate on the price. There is always flexibility in the price and it will serve you well to take part in the dance. However, take note of the value of the item and the economic difference between you and the seller.

Bangalore

Bangalore generates a large number of professionals who work abroad. This truly cosmopolitan city has experienced staggering growth in the past 22 years to evolve into a present-day technology hub. It is home to heritage temples located right in the centre of the city, which means you won’t need to travel miles to see them. Also, explore the summer palace of great ruler Tipu Sultan and other ancient monuments in the heart of the city. You can marvel the neo-Dravidian architecture of the Vidhana Soudha and enjoy the archaeological and geological artefacts including old coins and jewellery at the government Museum - without sacrificing too many creature comforts.

Mysore

Mysore is an enchanting expanse of tourist spots that snuggle amid the city. Tipu Sultan’s Mysore Palace, also called Mysore Maharaja Palace is among the largest palaces in India. Built in the year 1897 with a blend of Hindu, Islam, Gothic and Rajput architecture styles is mesmerizing to view when illuminated at night. Another wonderful place to explore is Mysore Zoo also known as Shri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens which is among the oldest zoos in India constructed in 1892 and spread over a sprawling 250 acres of land and houses a stunning range of species. St. Philomena’s Church, also known as St. Joseph’s Church, is built in Gothic Style and is currently one of the largest Cathedrals in the whole of South Asia. The Brindavan Gardens are often described as the best example of illuminated terrace gardens in the country and the overall design here exhibit patterns of Mughal era - with garden paths and a shimmering necklace of fountains. Finally, visit the Devaraja fruit and vegetable market where you get to see locals jostling around.

Kabini

Spread over 22 hectares, within the state of Karnataka, the Kabina Forest Reserve is a popular destination for wildlife and jungle lodge experiences. Situated at the banks of the Kabini river it was personal hunting chalet of the previous King of Mysore. The forest reserve was a well-liked hotspot for Indian royalty and British Viceroys and is now famed for its stunning flora and fauna. You could go on a trek and also bird watch. Things to do are - Jungle Safari, Bicycle tour, Guided nature Walk, Coracle ride. Boat and jeep safaris offer great opportunities to spot tigers and herds of elephants.

Thallassery

Thalassery is a commercial village known for its pepper trade and lively sea-catches in the state of erudite Kerala, but known more as a nurturing ground for Circus. Another charming feature of Thalassery is its lip-smacking cakes and bakeries – which were introduced by the British. It is also rich in culture and traditions of the North of Kerala. Things to do are - visit bustling fish markets of Tellicherry, the ancient fort built by the British and Muzhipillangad Beach which is Kerala’s only drive–in beach where you can drive along miles of white sands or laze on the beach and be mesmerized by the beauty of the place.

Calicut

The great Portuguese voyager Vasco Da Gama discovered Calicut in the 14th century in his search for spices, thus opening a trade route between Europe and South India. It is the largest urban town (also called as Kozhikode) in the traditional state of Kerala and an older centre for trading spices. Various parts of the city have architectural sculptures which are reminiscent of its glorious and unique culture. Places to visit are “Mananchira”, a man-made freshwater pond, “Beypore”, an important harbour and fishing wharf of old Kerala and centuries old tile unit founded by the Germans and later acquired by the British. You are able to see how the old fashioned and traditional equipment and systems are still in use to make tiles and bricks.

Cochin

Cochin (also known as Kochi) is a vibrant port town and sometimes referred to as Gateway to Kerala. The town evolved as a commercial and industrial capital of Kerala, and always attracts traders as well as travellers from the over the world who are offered some mesmerizing snippets of culture and history. Things to do are–Visit the oldest church in India - St Francis Church, remnants of the old Portuguese Houses, Mattancherry Palace (also known as the Dutch Palace), witness use of ancient Chinese fishing nets used since 13th century, 16th century Synagogue and the enclosing old quarter, known as ‘Jew Town’. Tours typically end with an evening with watching ‘kathakali, a traditional dance form of South India.

Kollam

Situated on the banks of the Ashtamudi Lake, Kollam (also called as Quilon) has a strong commercial reputation and a centre of cashew trading and processing industry, one of the oldest ports of Malabar coast. Things to do are –visit Mahatma Gandhi Beach, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Police Museum, Ashtamudi Lake, Thangasserry Light House & local town for shopping.

Kovalam

Kovalam is a renowned beach-town alluring all beach lovers all year around, consisting of 3adjoining crescent shorelines separated by stony peninsulas, of which the Light house beach at the Southern end is the most famous. Things to do are - day excursion to Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala and a day sightseeing tour of the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Horse Palace, Napier Museum and Art Gallery.

Madurai

Also, known as the Athens of the East, Madurai is an ancient city in the state of Tamil Nadu and home to South India's greatest temples. Madurai is situated on the banks of river Vaigai and its rich cultural heritage has passed on from the 2500 years old great Tamil era. Things to do are - see the fourteen gateway towers at night of Meenakshi Amma Temple which has a 1000-pillared hall sheltering vivid carvings of Hindu deities; the Dravidian figurines make it a chief pilgrimage place, and visit 1636 Palace of King Thirumalai Nayak, built in 1636 in an indo-saracenic style.

Tanjore

Tanjore (anglicised from Thanjavur) was the royal capital city of the Cholas (temple builders who ruled south India between the 10th and 14th centuries). It is also called the “Rice bowl of Tamil Nadu” or the Granary of South India because of its location in the delta region of the tributary Cauvery and drawn out system of irrigation channels. Things to do are – visit Sri Brahadeeswarar Temple, an architecture marvel built more than 1000 yrs. ago, visit Art Gallery – flourishing centre for bronze sculptures and painting

Pondicherry

Pondicherry (or Puducherry), a union territory located in south-east Tamil Nadu has a charming French legacy with the right blend of heritage and modern culture. The world-renowned Ashram of Sree Aurobindo is situated here. Also, the 200 years old official residence of the then Lt. Governor, now called as Raj Nivas, is an exact specimen of the combination of Indian and French society. The wooden furnishings in the sitting rooms, the interiors and the enclosing galleries have a French foundation with Indian style carvings.

Mahabalipuram

An intriguing historical enigma, the exhilarating town of Mahabalipuram is a world heritage site famous for the monolith temples dating back to centuries during Pallava dynasty. This is a stunning region offering natural beauty and historic sites where you can enjoy uninterrupted serenity. Things to do are – Tiger caves, shore temple, Krishna Mandapam and Arjuna's Penance which is perhaps the world's largest bas-relief.

Chennai

This spectacular City known as a “gateway to the south” is on the Bay of Bengal and capital of Tamil Nadu. It is one of the four major metropolitan cities in India full of bustling vehicles, jostling populace and is a standing example of how British culture impacted on India. Even today, the city retains its traditional flavour with every aspect of its culture, be it the architecture, textiles, culture or customs. The San Thome Basilica is a 16th century Portuguese Cathedral and is a beautiful sight. At the Birla Planetarium, you can enjoy the spectacular cosmic shows on a specially created dome providing a virtual tour of the night sky. Elliot’s beach is one of the places to see in Chennai and less crowded than the popular Marina Beach. Vallurvarkottam is a popular monument dedicated to a classical Tamil poet and philosopher. The visit to the beautifully planned National Art and Government Museum is a must. Finally, a tour of the Anna Zoological Park, Kalakshetra (arts and cultural academy) and Theosophical Society will bring the vacation to an end with sweet memories.

Highlights

India evokes fantasies of riotous colours, affluent cultures, and fantastic landscapes. Get prepared for the culture shock as your trip to India will be full of colour and a mixture of spiritualism and wide-ranging landscapes. Be prepared for the weather changes when you move around. Generally, for most regions in South India, the best time to visit is during the winter months; especially from October to February as mild temperatures make travelling more pleasant. The southern section in India is distinct and recognized by the prevalence of maritime environment and coastal shores, with superb grandeur lacing its borders. It has occupied its own significance and it helps to reconstruct the history of South India with the help of inscriptions, coins, copper plates, engravings, etc. Wherever you go in the southern part of India, the fields are lined with lush green palm trees or coconuts surrounded by dense forests laced with amazing medicinal flora and fauna, making it the spot that has seen it evolve since ancient times. The history of South India throws a flash of light on various achievements and events recorded to study the situation and existing condition, the conquests, the treaties and their political stability to control and expand the regions from boundary to boundary. There was an era when all the southern states were part of a single glorious kingdom headquartered at Vijaynagara in present-day Karnataka. As you discover South India and experience its multifaceted culture and heritage in your own special journey, the colours of the valleys and villages shall intertwine in and out of vision. Lush, tropical southern India is charming, captivating and hospitable. Moving through the carpet of sleeping, eating, chattering crowds on the streets that covered most of the available floor space is a truly fantastic experience. You're never alone in India – wherever you look, at whatever time of day, in however rural a landscape, you will always notice people. Each Southern state has a culture with a unique atmosphere. You can experience tasty cuisine, a mass of scenery and welcoming locals. From the coastal cuisine of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to popular curries and rice delicacies of Karnataka and Andhra, every day can be a treat during the journey.

History

Some of the earliest archaeological sites in the Narmada Valleys of central India have signs of major civilizations dating back to between 500,000 and 200,000 years ago. The first known urban civilisation, known as the Indus Valley Civilisation from around 3300 BCE is known as the Bronze Age. It formed along the Indus River (the areas now known as Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Punjab) and was one of only the 3 known civilisations of the ‘Old World; along with Medopotamia and Pharonic Egypt. Many cities were abandoned and the civilization declined around the 1700’s BCE. From 1750 to 500 BCE is known as the Vedic period during which time the foundations of the current Hindu beliefs were formed using Sanskrit scriptures known as the ‘Vedas’ and some of the oldest texts in existence. Around 500 – 530 BC a number of other religious groups also formed, of which Jainism led by Mahavira and Buddhism by Siddhārtha Gautama gathered huge followings. In the early 530 BC, the Persian Empire led by Cyprus the Great, invaded from over the Hindu-Kush Mountains and took control of the north-western regions, now known as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Followed by Alexander the Great in 326 BC. From 322-185 BC India was unified into one state by the Maury Empire and stretched from the Himalayas in the north to Assam in the eat, past Pakistan to the west and covering Afghanistan. Following the Maury Empires, there were a number of changes in Empires and Dynasties. But over this period India saw some of the greatest advances in the culture, history and technological advancement. Knows as the “Classical Age” (200 BC – 1100 BC) and includes the ”Golden Age”, it is estimated to have grown to the largest economy in the world, controlling approximately 1/3 of the worlds wealth. Being well placed geographically for trade, India was maritime power with trading routes to Sri Lanka, Bali, Sumatra, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand and many more countries. From 1200 – 1858, there was major disruption to the momentum by attacks from Muslim nomadic clans. The Rajput Dynasty was strong and had built many forts to defend the Indian heartland. The Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur is a famous fort built in 1459 and Chittorgarh Fort is the largest in India. The English word ‘minaret’ comes from Qutab Minar in Delhi, which is the world’s tallest brick minaret. This was started to be built by the Hindu King, but was the first Palace in India to be taken over by Muslim rule. The intricate art work on the monument and palace remains describe the transition and ownership. In 1530 the Mughal Empire (led by a descendent of Genghis Khan) swept across India and by 1600 had covered most of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. It was also the Mughal Empire that built many of India’s most well-known buildings such as the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort and Lahore Fort. In 1617, the Mughal Emperor had allowed access to trade with ports setup with the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British. One of the many trade deals, which helped create their power and wealth, was establishment and agreement for the British owned, East India Company to operate freely in India. The Mughal Empire is thought to be the richest known to man – but in-fighting and fractures in the Empire lead to its demise in the 1800’s. With the aid of the British, there was an uprising against the Empire and concluded their reign. The majority control of many of the assets and areas were then passed to the East India Company, which later was handed to the British Crown, and this was how India became a colony of the Great British Empire. During the Second World War, (1939-1945) the British sent many millions of Indians to fight against the Germans, Japanese as well as defending the other colonies. Many 10’s thousands died in the war. All this led to another up uprising, this time by leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, against the British rule. Some leaders like Gandhi led protests using non-violence, but with non-cooperation and economic resistance. But there were other groups who were attempting to take back control using military action. In 1947 the British Labour Government agreed to give India Independence. Independence Day is celebrated by millions in India on the 15th August each year and is a national holiday. In recent years India has seen a huge influx of foreign investment and many European and US based companies making significant investments. This has created a shift in the economic growth and therefore the modernisation and increased wealth of many large cities and their residents.

Culture

Although there are significant populations of Christians and Muslims, the majority of Indians belong to one of the four main religions that were born in Indian; Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Indian culture is steeped in Spiritualism and religious beliefs, so any visit to India will entail seeing the various religious rituals in place. During the various invasions, many Indians were taken out of India and immigrated to other parts of the world. This has had an amazing globalisation of Indian food (curry), medicine (ayurvedic), films (Bollywood), literature and culture. Indian architecture, dance and fashion are also admired and reproduced worldwide.

Yoga

Yoga is an intrinsic part of Hindu beliefs and teachings. It is thought to date back to pre-Vedic era (1000 BC) and has been adopted by many of religions born in later years such as Buddhism and Jainism. In many modern cultures, Yoga has been adopted as a form of physical exercise. But from the Sanskrit scriptures in Hinduism, Yoga is much more. It is the study of being able to control your mind, body and soul.

Tipping

Giving and receiving tips it part of Indian culture. Anyone proving a service will expect, and is dependent on, the tips provided. Sometimes, an individual may be little too enthusiastic about the amount they request if they think you will oblige, but you will know this is the case as it won’t be in line with what the typical request/value of the services. 10% is usually a good guide and should be provided to your driver, guides, porters, waiters, baggage carriers etc. As a guide, we would suggest:
  • RS.200 for half-day sightseeing & Rs.300 for a full day.
  • Rs.20-50 per bag.
  • Rs.20-50 per porter.
  • RS.200 FOR FULL DAY. RS 200-300 PER DAY FOR LONGER TRIPS OVER MULTIPLE DAYS. GIVE THE TIP AT THE END OF THE TRIP.
This is suggested a minimum tip for an expected service. If you think someone has gone out of their way to provide an exception service, then do show your appreciation, as this often makes a huge difference to their livelihood. But likewise, if you feel they have disappointed then you do not need to tip. Take note of the economic difference between you and the person providing the service.

Before you go

We strongly recommend that you check the Foreign Office Website https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/india. We Website is very useful and is packed with essential information.

Travel Insurance

Please ensure you have adequate insurance including comprehensive medical, and repatriation cover in place before your departure and will cover the whole of your trip for all your travellers. Please ensure you inform the insurance company accurately of your details including age, health, previous medical conditions and journey details Take your policy number and 24-hour emergency contact numbers with you. If you have any doubts about your cover, check with your insurer.

Passport & Visa

All travellers to India require a valid passport and visa for entry into the country. If you are travelling from the UK then an E-Tourist Visa (eTV) facility is available to you. This facility allows travellers to pre-register and pay for their visa prior to travel to India. The Visa is collected upon arrival at one of 16 designated airports in India. Further information together with the link to apply for the E-Tourist Visa can be found here: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html Take particular note of the restrictions and guidance provided in the link. Below is a summary:
  • The e-Tourist Visa (eTV) application cannot be submitted earlier than 34 days before the date of arrival into India and no later than 4 days before arrival. An application for a traditional Indian Tourist visa can however be made several month in advance.
  • The e-Tourist Visa (eTV) is valid for 30 days, from the date of arrival into India and not applicable if you are travelling into India overland. If you are going for longer than 30 days, you should visit the Indian Passport office. Be sure to check the date you require a visa from and the length of time you will need to cover, especially if you change countries during your trip.
  • The e-Tourist Visa (eTV) is only valid if entering India through one of the designated Airports (refer to the eTV website for full list of designated Airports)
  • The e-Tourist Visa (eTV) is not extendable. If you think you may extend you visa, a standard visa should be taken.

Medical & Health

It is advisable to consult your doctor/nurse at your local surgery of travel health clinic as far in advance as possible. The required inoculation will vary dependent on the regions you are travelling, the activities you plan to partake in and your history of inoculations. If you haven’t had all your inoculation previously you may need multiple vaccinations over a number of weeks prior to travelling. You should at least be protected against typhoid, tetanus and malaria. Please visit http://travelhealthpro.org.uk/locations/india/ for more information. Although India has a reputation for health problems, some simple precautions will greatly reduce the likelihood of issues.
  • Always drink bottled water (even in top hotels). There are 2 major brands of water (Coca-cola and Pepsi) and we advice on sticking with them, but always check the seal. Avoid drinking tap water and jugs of water provided at dinner.
  • It is also wise to avoid having Ice in your drinks unless the hotel specifically says that the ice has been made using bottled water. When we travel with the family we use bottled water to brush our teeth too.
  • Avoid Salads. Avoid ice cream and fruit salad. Sealed fruits are best e.g. Bananas if you are peeling them yourself.
  • If you do get an upset stomach, don’t panic. Just drink lots of bottled water and don’t eat anything for 24 hours. This will allow your system to clear down and you will be able to enjoy the rest of your holiday.
If you still feel unwell then the driver will be able to take you to recommended medical facilities and most Indian cities have very good facilities.