Nine Lesser-Known Places to Visit in Southern India

Nine Lesser-Known Places to Visit in Southern India

Palm-leaf thalis, crumbling Portuguese harbours, monkey-filled temples and fragrant tea plantations: India’s southern states are just as vibrant as the Golden Triangle up north.

soon as you head south of Mumbai,
India’s landscape begins to change. Hindi railway signs give way to
the elaborate curls of Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam. Ghee is
replaced by coconut milk in curries, with lamb and mutton often
swapped out for fresh seafood. Street-food vendors of dosas, fresh
coconuts, and spicy chaat (savoury snacks) await, and life is
palpably different. Inland, two monsoon seasons ensure luscious
jungle areas and atmospheric backwaters. On the coast, though, the
beaches and fishing villages are often far from pristine, the
historic influences of the British, Portuguese and Chinese making
for a fascinating cultural crossover.

South India covers the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh,

, Kerala,
and Telangana – a vast land mass with five official languages and
home to around 20 per cent of India’s population. Apart from
certain hotspots like Hampi and
Fort Kochi, the region is far less visited than India’s northern
and central states, and really is a world of its own.

Lesser-trodden towns: nine under-the-radar destinations in
southern India

Ganpatipule, Maharashtra

Every September, elaborate festivals for the submersion of
Ganesha statues take place across Southern India. In this remote
coastal village on India’s west coast, Ganesh Chaturthi is taken
especially seriously, with a multi-day festival involving boat
trips along the Konkan coast. Part of the joy of Ganpatipule is the
rickety sleeper train from Mumbai to Ratnagiri, which traverses
valleys and canyons of lush tropical jungle. While you’re here,
visit the technicolour Sri Ganpatipule temple, home to a giant
stone Ganesha carving that has mythical origins and is just a
stone’s throw from the beach.

Mysore (Mysuru), Karnataka

Known as “The City of Palaces”, Mysore is one of South India’s
most underrated metropolises – a fascinating stopover in the state
of Karnataka. The star attraction is the vast and ornate Mysore
Palace, designed by British architect Henry Irwin after the
previous incarnation burnt down, and completed in 1912. The
palace’s grandeur puts even Versailles to shame, with marble domes
and mirrored ballrooms galore, and is still lived in by the
maharaja of the city. At night, the building is illuminated by
100,000 electric bulbs, making it visible from the Chamundi Hills,
13km east of the city. In Mysore’s bustling bazaar district, you’ll
find some of the best street food in India, including dosas famed
locally. At its heart, Devaraja Market is the place to browse
mountains of colourful pigments, enamel pans, fabrics and

Madurai, Tamil Nadu

For the past 4,000 years, Madurai’s skyline has been dominated
by the 14 colorful gopurams (gateway towers) of Meenakshi Temple.
The Dravidian building is covered in colourful carvings of Hindu
mythology, and draws pilgrims and tourists from around the world.
Madurai itself, now a hub of Tamil culture and education, is one of
the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the subcontinent. Its
people were trading with ancient Rome before Chennai (Madras) was
even conceived. Aside from stunning temples, highlights in Madurai
include the Gandhi Memorial Museum and ninth-century Saint Mary’s
Cathedral. Graze on soft, fluffy idli (steamed rice buns) and fiery
curries while exploring the city centre.

Auroville, Tamil Nadu

The fact that Auroville’s entire ecosystem is kept alive by an
international community does nothing to detract from the off-kilter
wonder of this experimental township in deepest Tamil Nadu. Created
in the 1960s, Auroville was designed as a modern and non-religious
spiritual utopia, based on the teachings of 19th-century guru Sri
Aurobindo. The commune and town centres around a giant golden dome,
incongruous against the surrounding craft chocolatiers, wood-fired
pizzerias and organic clothing brands. The township has its own
digital currency, and visitors come to enjoy nearby surf beaches or
a delicious acai bowl in Right Path café. Nearby Pondicherry is
also well worth a visit, with French colonial architecture and
crumbling seaside boulevards to soothe the soul.

Kodagu (Coorg), Karnataka

Ooty is the most popular hill station in the area for a reason –
the surrounding tea plantations and botanical gardens have been
pulling in tourists since the days of the British Empire. If you’re
looking for a true off-grid adventure, however, take a traditional
bus into the hills of Coorg, dubbed the “Scotland of India” thanks
to its cool weather and regular drizzle. Less well known than Ooty
and significantly less developed, the landscape here is filled with
spice and coffee plantations, scenic waterfalls, mountains, lakes
and trekking trails rich in wildlife.

Panaji (Panjim), Goa

Though Goa is not technically categorised as part of South
India, this Portuguese-dominated port city in the state’s southern
tip is worth tying in to a trip. Remnants dating back to Vasco da
Gama’s 15th-century colonial campaign are still visible in the
blue-and-white tiles, narrow cobbled streets and colourful villas.
The palm-fringed beaches make a welcome change from Goa’s hippy
hangouts, and the city is known for its excellent seafood. While
here, spend a fascinating day exploring nearby tropical spice
farms, such as Sahakari, where cashews, cinnamon, peppercorns and
myriad spices are used to flavour an organic lunch menu.

Amritapuri, Kerala

There’s only one reason to be in Amritapuri: the vast and
overwhelming holy ashram dedicated to the modern-day Hindu saint
known simply as Amma, the “hugging mother”. A living and breathing
guru, Amma’s hugs are said to work miracles – she’s estimated to
have hugged over 32 million people. The ashram has taken over a
rural fishing village, and is an intriguing place to explore for a
few days if you don’t mind the basic conditions and often
evangelical residents. Nearby, there’s a long stretch of beach and
various tropical backwaters to visit.

Nandi Hills, Karnataka

Home to India’s little-known but burgeoning wine industry, this
verdant region a couple of hours’ north of Bangalore is a
fascinating alternative to the backpacking trail. The vineyards are
still in their infancy, but promising producers such as Grover
Zampa are growing acclaimed Sauvignon varieties. The area was once
the summer retreat of the British Raj, appreciated for its cooler
and wetter climate brought on by the South Asian monsoon. Aside
from wine, there are a smattering of boutique hotels and temples to

Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Kerala

The state capital of Kerala, this bustling city is often
overlooked simply because it’s so far south. In fact,
British-colonial architecture rubs shoulders with modern
developments, and there’s a thriving modern art scene. Kovalam and
Varkala beaches – two of the most pristine in India – are within
easy reach, offering calm waters and Ayurvedic massage sanctuaries
galore. In the city centre, a cluster of Victorian museums, ornate
palaces and temples record the turbulent history of this seaside

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