I've seen a few advertisements with titles like 'Incredible India', though I never really quite believed it.
Living in Bangalore over the last year has made me a believer, India truly is an incredible place. Having a young family we decided to focus on seeing the South.
The Top 10 highlights of Southern India
1. Cruising the Backwater, Kerala (a series of canals and an inland lake)
Spending the night on a house boat on the Kerala Backwater is something you will never forget. The peace and quiet of the waterways combined with luxury of the house boat is just exquisite. Kick back relax and let the crew bring the drinks and cook authentic Keralan food - it is true bliss.
2. Hampi, Karnataka
Voted number 4 in the 2007 Times of India poll for the 7 Wonders of India, the ruins of the Vijayanagara empire in Hampi (circa 14th century) were once the major trading centre of the south. Hampi opens your eyes to another India - one with scenes from the Karma Sutra carved into the buildings, one where the beautiful Lotus Mahal is made up of Hindu, Muslim & Jain architecture, and a place and time where great travellers like Nicolo Conti, Paes and Abdul Razaq visited and traded. Hampi is an ancient glimpse of a very different India.
3. Sravanabelagola, Karnataka
Voted number 1 in the 2007 Times of India poll for the 7 Wonders of India, Sravanabelagola is a great experience, faced with a trek up 641 steps up the side of a hill. Once up the top there are a number of temples but the highlight is undoubtedly Behubali - the 17.5 metre high, 1000 year old monolith. Well worth a visit, and if the steps put you off, for a small fee you can have 4 locals carry you up the hill on a chair mounted between 2 polls.
4. Coorg (Kodagu), Karnataka
Spend a night on a coffee plantation, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Get a guided tour of the plantation and see a range of crop from coffee (both Robusta & Arabica) to pepper, vanilla, cardamom, & oranges. Discover what it really takes to get that latte served to you at a cafe. You will never look at coffee the same way again. We stayed at www.honeypothomes.com, Shamveel - a fantastic host, this will not disappoint.
5. Wayanad, Kerala
Highlights include Pookot lake and the Soochipara waterfall in Kalpetta. The trip from Kalpetta to the waterfall is the most amazing scenery you could imagine, with beautifully manicured tea bushes in every direction, as far as you can see. And if that isn't enough the waterfall itself is magnificent. Be sure to visit all three viewing platforms - two show different levels of the waterfall and one overlooks the valley.
6. Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu
A quaint fishing village, Mahabalipuram is a great place for a weekend retreat. Watch the fishing boats come in, jump the waves, and eat out at the many local restaurants. If kicking back and relaxing doesn't appeal, there are also two spectacular world heritage sites to visit.
7. Ooty, Tamil Nadu
Ooty is tea country, accessed via a road with 36 hairpin bends (not great for a car sick traveller, but well worth the effort). From the smog and heat of Bangalore, Ooty offers a fresh cool climate, beautiful tea estates and a delightful scenic train journey. A highlight is the Highfield tea estate where a tour costs less than NZD$1 and you get guided through the factory where the tea leaves are laid out, dried, cut, graded and sold.
8. Madumalai & Bandipur national parks (Tamil Nadu & Karnataka respectively)
Highlights of the south would not be complete without mentioning these two excellent national parks. While travelling through these parks on the way to Ooty, we saw from the road, a panther, five elephants, a mongoose, many deer, boar, peacocks and two different species of monkey.
9. Mysore, Karnataka:
The second largest city in Karnataka is only two and a half hours drive from Bangalore on what is easily the best road in the region. Not to be missed are the Mysore Palace where you can take an elephant ride in the palace grounds, Chamundi Hill featuring the Chamundeswari temple and a large Bull statue, Srirangapatna (AKA Tipu's Fort) & the Ranganathittu bird sanctuary (be sure to take the boat ride to get up close to the birds - watch out for Crocodiles!).
10. Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu
Explore the French part of India - this once French colony still features French street names and architecture. What's the perfect way to spend the evening? Dinner on the promenade at Le Cafe, enjoy great food and watch the world go by.
India is a country of contrasts, extreme wealth but also extreme poverty; five star hotels but over the fence are shacks made of blue tarpaulin; a major source of IT development but daily power cuts; chaotic driving but surprising patient drivers; cricket heavy-weights but their national sport is hockey; one country but many different states each with their own food and their own language.
Southern India is an amazing place, the memories here will be treasured for a lifetime.
- © Fairfax NZ News