In focus... the south of India
Distinctly different from the nation’s north, south India is a region packed full of treasures. Here, we take a look at just a few of its many highlights.
South India could almost be a different country to northern India. While the two possess much in common, it is easy to discern many differences. Indeed, everything from the weather to the culture displays significant differences - and whether you plan to visit both regions or solely the south, these are a real joy to explore.
Characterised by stunning, sweeping coastlines, exotic flora and fauna and the heady scent of spices, south India is where you will find colonial hill stations, beautiful backwaters and multicultural towns tinged by the colours of the past.
Here, we will introduce you to some of the highlights of south India.
This ancient city is one of the most important places to visit in south India. With a more than 600-year history, spectacular buildings and friendly culture, it is one of the region's most exciting and historically rich destinations.
Among the attractions not to miss is the Maharaja's Palace, which was completed in the early 20th century after the original was destroyed by fire in the late 1800s. Indo-Saracenic in architectural style, this palace is absolutely stunning and unbelievably opulent, with its mosaic floors, carved wooden doors, mirrors and life-size paintings.
Also well worth visiting is Chamundi Hill, which is topped with Sri Chamundeswari Temple - a popular pilgrimage site for Hindus. A highlight of visiting is seeing the vast Nandi Bull, which is around one-third of the way down the hill. It dates back to the 17th century and was carved out of solid rock.
Located in the state of Tamil Nadu, Ooty has a somewhat hectic town centre, but is fringed with greener areas that are quite charming. This is somewhere that combines the kind of hustle and bustle that's characteristic of India as a whole with the south's Hindu temples and leafy greenery, making it a fascinating place to visit.
This old hill station was used by the British in the 19th century, providing a reprieve from the summer heat. Riding the narrow-gauge train to Ooty offers spectacular scenery that should not be missed, while the destination's other highlights include the Botanical Gardens.
Spanning 55 acres, these gardens are home to incredibly rare species, including the cork tree. What's more, you can also see a fossilised tree trunk that's believed to be 20 million years old.
Also known as Cochin, Kochi is a fascinating place. For more than six centuries, traders from across the world have flocked here - and this history is not only evident in Kochi today, but is also one of the main reasons to visit.
Indeed, it is this multicultural flavour that lends Kochi its distinctive character. After all, where else in India can you come across Chinese fishing nets, synagogues, Portuguese houses and mosques all in one place?
While you're here, don't miss a visit to Jew Town in Fort Cochin. The hub of the local spice trade, it is filled with all kinds of marvellous scents, not to mention remarkable buildings such as the Paradesi Synagogue, which itself contains elements of so many different places that it could be said to be a microcosm of Kochi; its floor tiles are from China, its chandeliers from Belgium.
Also don't miss the chance to see kalaripayattu in action. This is one of the oldest martial arts in India, and you can visit a special studio to learn about its development.
Also known as Tanjore, Thanjavur was once the capital of the Chola Empire, and today incorporates this distinctive history into a modern - and very hectic - Indian town. Among the best places to discover this history is the Brihadeeswarar Temple, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site dating back to the 11th century.
This wonderful example of Dravidian temple architecture looks particularly beautiful early in the morning and in the evening, though it is impressive at any time of day. The central shrine, with its 4 metre-high Shiva lingam, is a real highlight.
Cox & Kings runs holidays to the south of India - see the website for more details, or call an India specialist on 020 7873 5000.
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