When one thinks of South India, it is easy to picture someone relaxing on a long stretch of white sand while enjoying a great view of the sea. Being bordered by the Indian Ocean in the south, the Arabian Sea in the west, and the Bay of Bengal in the east, it’s no wonder why South India has been easily linked to its picturesque beaches. However, there are other tourist places in South India that have yet to be unveiled.
Covering an area of about 245,480 square miles, South India boasts of a rich geographic diversity. Its northern borders are composed of the Vindhya and Satpura ranges, with the Narmada River flowing between them. Further, the Deccan Plateau, which is located at the heart of South India, forms an elevation, creating stunning hilltop views as well as breathtaking waterfalls. And it is also because of such geographic diversity that the south is known for a wide range of activities ranging from swimming and scuba diving, to trekking and rappelling. Each of South India’s states and islands boasts of an array of sights and activities to make any trip worthwhile.
Of course, any article about tourist places in South India would never be complete without listing down its beaches. In fact, India’s only international beach, the Kovalam Beach, is located in the state of Kerala. Kovalam is a 17-kilometer stretch composed of three beaches: the charming Lighthouse Beach, the romantic Hawah Beach, and the serene Samudra Beach. Kovalam boasts of an array of resorts which attracts visitors from all over the globe.
On the other hand, Marina Beach — the largest and longest urban beach in India — is located in the state of Tamil Nadu. In fact, its promenade and gardens alone are a tourist must-see. Due to its vast area, it often hosts a wide range of activities, making it one of the busiest beaches in South India. Other notable beaches include Elliott Beach, Mahabalipuram, Poompuhar Beach, and Kanniyakumari.
Coastal Karnataka alone is a 300-kilometer stretch of sandy beaches. It is home to peaceful beaches which are also popular pilgrimage sites. But perhaps the most beautiful of these beaches is the St. Mary Island, a group of islands known for its natural geological monuments.
The state of Andhra Pradesh is the eight largest in the country and is situated on its southeast coast. Its location along the Bay of Bengal makes it an ideal choice for relaxing beachside holidays for foreign and local tourists alike. One of the most popular beaches is the Ramakrishna Mission Beach, home to the unique museum ship which was once the INS Kursura naval submarine. The Kursura was converted into the museum it is today after 31 years of service to the Indian Navy, and is the first of its kind in South Asia. Of known historical and cultural relevance is the Bheemunipatnam Beach, which is also home to the relics of Dutch rulers, as well as old forts and monuments. Kalingapatnam Beach, also known as the Open Road Sea, houses a Buddhist stupa and boasts a stunning beachscape with its lighthouse.
The union islands of Andaman and Nicobar Islands are currently being developed into becoming a major tourist attraction. It is home to exotic beaches, and is a favorite snorkeling spot. Similarly, the archipelago of Lakshadweep is also known for its almost untouched beaches. Literally meaning “one hundred thousand islands,” this union territory offers a wide range of water activities to choose from, such as scuba diving, wind surfing, canoeing, water skiing, kayaking, and sportfishing, to name a few.
Other notable beaches in South India include Perupalem Beach, Uppada Beach, Krishnapatnam Beach, Mypadu Beach, and the Motupalle Beach in the state of Andrha Pradesh.
Tourist places in South India mostly cover hill stations and valleys. Nature lovers will surely find peace while enjoying a view over the beautiful coffee plantations of Araku Valley, as well as the tea plantations in Kerala. The rolling hills of Horsleykonda is also a top favorite because of its cool climate and lush vegetation.
Among the many natural landscapes offered in South India, one feature which will always be noted for its beauty are the waterfalls. Being located within the Western Ghats, the state of Kerala is one of the most visited areas to get a glimpse of its picturesque waterfalls. With an elevation of about 300 meters, the three-tiered Meenmutty Falls is one of the most popular in the area. However, the most photogenic of these waterfalls is the Athirapilly Falls. Considered as the Niagara of India, the Athirapilly is the state’s largest waterfall whose beauty has been featured in several motion pictures like Before the Rains and Pirate’s Blood.
Another popular waterfall in South India is the Hogenakkal Falls in Tamil Nadu. Aside from being one of the country’s most photographable waterfalls, it attracts a large number of tourists because of its medicinal baths and boat rides. Additionally, the carbonatite rocks found in the area are one of the oldest kinds in the world. Fishing is also very popular in the area due to the abundance of marine life.
Another relaxing spot is located in the town of Courtallam. Also known as the Spa of South India, it is home to an assortment of waterfalls and health resorts. Other famous waterfalls in the area include the Peraruvi, the Chitraruvi, the Shenbagadevi, and the Aintharuvi.
Caves are also notable tourist places in South India. Due to its plateaus and hilly landscape, the area has formed caves which are home to legends reflecting the culture and spiritual beliefs of its villagers.
Within the state of Karnataka, the temple complex of Badami is perhaps the most popular for its architectural splendor. Dating from the 6th century, the Badami Cave Temples is composed of Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist temples carved from soft sandstone, making it popular for its Indian rock-cut architecture. Although its exterior is already as breathtaking as it is, the interior of each cave contains intricate carvings depicting the different deities. Among the caves, the most visually appealing is Cave 3, which is dedicated to Vishnu.
In Andhra Pradesh, the Belum Caves and the Borra Caves are most notable. Of historical importance is the underground Belum Caves, the largest and longest caves in the Indian Subcontinent. It is known for its stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations, as well as being a refuge for Buddhist monks. On the other hand, the Borra Caves is considered the deepest cave in India. It is home to the legendary Shiva Lingam and is worshipped by many believers.
Tamil Nadu is one of the most popular tourist places in South India, mostly due to its well-maintained national parks.
Known for being home to several endangered species, the Mudumalai National Park is one of the country’s most protected parks. Among its wildlife are Indian elephants, tigers, flying squirrels, and the Indian leopard.
Another known wildlife sanctuary is the Guindy National Park, home of the spotted deer and the Blackbuck. Guindy is also known for its bird-watching activities and snake park.
On the other hand, Bandipur National Park is located in the state of Karnataka. Originally a tiger reserve, the park is now home to a variety of flora and fauna. Tigers, sloth bears, Indian rock pythons, four-horned antelopes, and jackals are among its protected wildlife.
Another notable park is the 390-hectare Ousteri Wetland and National Park in Puducherry. Although mainly a bird sanctuary, the wetland also welcomes several species of aquatic species, as well as flora ranging from trees to small herbs.
What comprises a big chunk of tourist places in South India are religious and pilgrim sites. In fact, Tamil Nadu alone is home to around 34,000 Hindu temples, some of which have been in existence for centuries. The ancient city of Madurai, also known as the Temple City, houses a large temple complex whose concentric quadrangular enclosures resemble modern-day urban planning. The Meenakshi Amman Temple is the ancient city’s geographic and ritual center. Aside from Madurai, Tiruchirapalli is also a temple city in Tamil Nadu known for the Ucchi Pillayar Temple, which is located at the top of the Rock Fort ruins.
The Annamalaiyar Temple in the town of Thiruvannamalai is believed to be associated with the element of fire, one of the five Pancha Boota Stalas. Aside from its religious significance, it boasts a beautiful scenic view with the Annamalai Hills in the background.
Outside Tamil Nadu, of known historical value is the Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple, which is dedicated to Lord Venkateswara. Aside from its architectural significance, the temple is one of the most visited temples in India because it is part of the eight Sywayambu Kshetras of Vishnu. In fact, four out of these eight temples are located in South India, with the other three being the Srirangam Ranganathaswamy Temple, the Bhu Varaha Swamy Temple, and the Vanamamalai Perumal Temple. The other four are located in Nepal and North India.
Another noteworthy pilgrim site in South India are the Pancharama Kshetras or the Five Ancient Hindu Temples. These are the Amaralingeswara Swamy in Amararama, the Bhimeswara Swamy in Draksharama, the Somarama Temple in Bhimavaram, the Ksheerarama Temple in Palakollu, and the Kumararama Temple in Samarlakota. According to legend, each temple is home to the pieces of Shiva Lingham owned by King Tarakasura which was broken down by Lord Kumara Swamy during the war.
Karnataka plays a central part in Jainism. In fact, the town of Moodabidri alone is home to the famous 1000-pillar Saavira Kambada Basadi, as well as 18 other basadis. On the other hand, the city of Shravanabelagola is the location of the Chandragiri and Indragiri hills, home to the famed Chandragupta Basadi and Odegal Basadi respectively. Other notable Jain temples include the Chaturmukha, the Chandranatha, and the Adinatha Basadis. Also located in Karnataka is the Murdeshwar Temple with its 20-storey gopura and the giant 123-feet statue of Lord Shiva, the world’s second highest Shiva statue.
Heritage Sites and Palaces
The entire nation of India is known for its colorful past, which is why it is no surprise that a big portion of tourist places in South India are historical compounds, with some declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Great Living Chola Temples is one of them. Constructed during the 11th and 12th century by King Raja Raja Chola and his son Rajendra, the temples of Thanjavur, Gangaikonda Cholapuram, and Darasuram are the best examples of Chola architecture. These temples showcase not only the architecture, but also the other art forms during the Chola rule such as paintings, sculptures, and bronze castings.
Located on the Coromandel Coast is a monument complex listed under the WHS as the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram. The earliest of these temples was built as early as 630 AD. These shrines are known for its Dravidian architecture, which also reflects a big part of the culture and art scene of Tamil Nadu. Prominent landmarks in the area include the stone-carved Ratha Temples, the cave sanctuaries of Mandapas, the carved rock relief entitled “Descent of the Ganges,” and the structural temples of the Shore Temple complex.
Within the ruins of the city of Vijayanagara lies the village of Hampi, home to a number of monuments of architectural and archaeological significance — the most sacred of which is the Virupaksha Temple. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Virupaksha has been standing since the 7th century. Despite being archaic, it is still beautifully intact and is still considered a main pilgrimage center in the area.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site is the village of Pattadakal. Being the capital of the Chalukya Dynasty, Pattadakal is home to 8th century monuments, particularly of Jain and Hindu influences. The largest and grandest among the monuments at Pattadakal is the Virupaksha Temple, which was built by Queen Lokamahadevi as a commemorative gesture for Vikramaditya II’s victory over the Pallavas. Other picturesque monuments in this temple complex are the Jain Temple, the Sangameshvara Temple, the Kashivishwanatha Temple, and the Papanatha Temple, to name a few.
Palaces are also popular tourist places in South India. The City of Mysore alone has been dubbed as the City of Palaces, being home to six palaces of the Wodeyar kings. The most popular among them is the Ambavilas Palace located in the Old Fort. Also known as the Mysore Palace, this prestigious structure was built in the 14th century and is architecturally acclaimed for its Indo-Saracenic stlye. This palace draws around 6 million tourists every year, making it the second most famous attraction in India — coming in just after the Taj Mahal. Other notable palaces include the Bangalore Palace, the Nalknad Palace, and the Jaganmohan Palace.
South India is also known for its high concentration of forts. In fact, the state of Karnataka alone has thousands of forts that has been in existence for millennia. The well-preserved Mirjan Fort was once known for its architectural grandeur. Made out of strong laterite stones, this double-walled fort boasts a sophisticated water system through its interlinked wells. Another well-known fort is the Bangalore Fort built in 1537. This fortress is historically recognized for its important role in the Siege of Bangalore in 1791.
On the other hand, the Malliabad Fort houses the ruins of a Vishnu temple, as well as two life-sized elephants carved into its white granite, which is now declared as a protected national monument by the State Department of Archaeology. Other noteworthy sites are the forts of Bidar, Chitradurga, Bankapura, and Badami.
Tourist places in South India are known for reflecting how rich they are in culture and tradition. More specifically, the state of Kerala is one of the most popular in all of India. It is home to traditional performing arts which has been preserved over the years, most of which are religion- and tribal-themed. Ritual performances like the Padayani are annually held at its temples. Kerala also welcomes religious diversity, being open to several faiths such as Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Judaism — hence the launch of the pilgrimage project of the tourism department.
Formerly of French India, the streets of the Union Territory of Puducherry tells of a colorful history. The French culture in its capital city is not only reflected in its architecture, but also in its signs and the entire street patterns. Nonetheless, the locals were able to construct their homes in a way where the French and the Indian cultures blended perfectly with each other.
Definitely, tourist places in South India can be enjoyed by a large variety of people, ranging from those who seek relaxation to those who long for adventure. Transportation is not a problem either, as these destinations can be easily accessible via air, land, and sea travel.
True enough, tourist places in South India offer more than just a feast for the eyes, but also something for the body and spirit. Additionally, a known advice for travelers is to embrace the culture and do what the locals do — as not only will it make the journey memorable, but it will also help you earn friends along the way.
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