Goa may be India’s smallest state, but it offers an abundance of seaside towns and golden beaches worth exploring, alongside an idiosyncratic history. An overseas territory of Portugal for some 450 years, Goa only came under Indian control in 1961, meaning its distinctly Portuguese culture remains readily apparent – not least in the cities of Margao and Old Goa, both replete with handsome colonial architecture. Visit the villages for a flavour of laid-back rural living, enjoy the bustle of the markets, sample perfectly spiced seafood, and – of course – unwind on idyllic sandy shores.
Situated in the southernmost part of the Indian Peninsula, the state of Tamil Nadu is famous for its temples, churches, attractive hill stations, and home-grown, Tamil-language film industry.
Tamil Nadu’s coastal capital is Chennai (formerly Madras), a worthy stop on a tour of South India. Here you can see excellent examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture, and admire St Mary’s Church – dubbed the ‘Westminster Abbey of the East’ and the oldest British building in India. Pre-colonial highlights include the Kapaleeshwarar Temple; the Brihadisvara Temple; and the Chola Bronzes displayed in the Government Museum, including the iconic dancing Shiva. Just 60 kilometres to Chennai’s south, you’ll find the 40 ancient temples and monuments of Mahabalipuram, including the ‘Descent of the Ganges’, one of the world’s largest open-air rock reliefs.
If in Madurai, be sure to visit Meenakshi Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Hindu place of pilgrimage. Its towering gopuras (‘gateways’) dazzle with tier upon tier of colourful statues and ornate sculptures.
Among the best things to do in Tamil Nadu is to ride the ‘toy train’ along the narrow-gauge Nilgiri Mountain Railway, all the way to Ooty – ‘queen of the hill stations’. As the train wends around the forested slopes, simply relax and admire the views sweeping past your window.
The south-western state of Karnataka is a treasure trove of ancient and medieval history. The sprawling ruins of Hampi offer insight into the 14th-century Vijayanagara Empire, while Mysore’s palaces and gardens reflect the splendour of the past – the Maharaja’s Palace here is one of the largest palaces in India. Known as ‘the jewel of Karnataka’, Mysore also makes for a great shopping destination, famed for its vibrant silks and sandalwood-infused produce, from soaps to incense.
To admire wildlife in Karnataka, head to Nagarhole National Park, one of India’s 53 tiger reserves. The verdant forests of this lesser-visited national park provide sanctuary to Bengal tigers, Indian elephants, golden jackals, grey langurs, sambar deer, Indian leopards, and much more.
Suggested tour of Southern India: Passage through Kerala
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