South India encompasses the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana as well as the union territories of Andaman and Nicobar, Lakshadweep and Puducherry. The region amounts to almost 20% of India’s total area. The geography of the South is diverse, with two mountain ranges, the Western and Eastern Ghats on the borders of the plateau heartland. The Indian Ocean is to the south of the region, with the Arabian Sea to the west and the Bay of Bengal in the east.
The South has a tropical climate and is dependent on the monsoons for rainfall, although the climate is subject to regional variations. Winter and early summer tend to be long and dry with temperatures usually above 18 °C. The excessive heat of the summer can produce temperatures above 50 °C, particularly in low lying areas, with the average monthly temperatures around 32 °C. The rainy season generally lasts from June to September, with the annual rainfall averaging between 750 and 1,500 millimetres. The southern coast can be affected by the North Indian tropical cyclones that occur in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea.
The varied geography and climate of the region allows for a wide variety of flora and fauna to flourish in southern India. Deciduous forests can be found along the Western Ghats, with tropical dry forests and scrub lands common on the interior Deccan plateau, rainforests are located at high altitudes in the South-Western Ghats and moist forests are situated on the Malabar Coast. The Western Ghats are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, forming one of the eight hottest biodiversity hotspots in the world.
There are several important ecological regions in South India, including: the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, located in the Nilgiri and the Anamalai Hills in the Western Ghats, at the conjunction of the borders of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu; numerous bird sanctuaries including those at Lakshadweep, Vedanthangal, Ranganathittu, and Kumarakom; mangrove forests of Pichavaram in Tamil Nadu; Vembanad, Ashtamudi, Paravur and Kayamkulam lakes in Kerala; and the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve that encompasses an area of 10,500 km² of ocean, islands and the adjoining coastline including coral reefs, salt marshes and mangroves, that is home to endangered aquatic species including dolphins, dugongs, whales and sea cucumbers.
The south of India is also where more than half the population of endangered Indian elephants and one-third of Bengal tigers can be found. Elephants are distributed among eight sites in: northern Karnataka; the Western Ghats; Bhadra–Malnad; Brahmagiri–Nilgiris–Eastern Ghats; Nilambur–Silent Valley–Coimbatore; Anamalai–Parambikulam; in Periyar–Srivilliputhur; and Agasthyamalai. There are 14 tiger reserves in the region as well as other protected areas that preserve other endangered species such as the sloth bear, grizzled giant squirrel and Indian leopard.
The south of India is diverse and each region has its unique attractions. Andhra Pradesh is also known as the ‘Rice bowl of India’ as over 75 per cent of the crops grown here is rice. The other main industries in this state include Information Technology, Biotechnology, Pharmaceuticals, Business Management and Construction. The state has many attractions that bring millions of visitors every year. Its beaches stretch along the Bay of Bengal from Srikakulam to the Nellore district, and there are interesting caves to explore such as the Borra Caves in the Ananthagiri Hills of the Eastern Ghats featuring million-year-old stalactite and stalagmite formations. Andhra Pradesh also offers areas of outstanding natural beauty in its valleys and hill stations, such as the Araku Valley hill station covered in dense forests, waterfalls and coffee plantations. The state is also a hub for ecotourism with its many National Parks and Sanctuaries, filled with rich forests and diverse flora and fauna, such as the Coringa, Krishna Wildlife Sanctuary, Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve, Kambalakonda Wildlife Sanctuary and many more. Recently the state government has been promoting adventure sports in areas like Coorg, for waterfall rappelling and Puligundu for rock climbing, as well as water sports along the coastline. Andhra Pradesh is also home to several pilgrim sites, with famous temples, Buddhist shrines, mosques and churches like the Tirumala Temple in the Chitoor District, the Shahi jamia masjid in Adoni, the Gunadala Church in Vijayawada, and the Buddhist centre at Amaravati.
The capital of Andhra Pradesh is currently Hyderabad which is also the capital of Telangana. Telangana is one of the main IT exporting states in India, with Hyderabad on its front lines. Other prominent industries in the state include: pharmaceuticals, horticulture, spices, poultry farming, automobiles, mines and minerals, and textiles. Tourists come to the state to visit the attractions of Hyderabad, including the Golkonda Fort, the Charminar, its National Parks and lakes. Warangal is the second largest city in Telangana and visitors flock there to see the monuments left over by the Kakatiya dynasty which include fortresses, temples and stone gateways, particularly the Kakatiya Kala Thoranam, also known as the Warangal Gate.
The state of Karnataka is an enticing blend of the old with the new, from its historical forts and palaces to the IT parks of Bangalore. The ruins of Hampi, a UNESCO World heritage site is a must see in northern Karnataka, and a great representation of the ancient kingdom. Nature lovers will enjoy a trip to Dendeli, with its wildlife sanctuary and a range of adventure activities available. Bangalore is the IT hub of India and the capital of the state. This cosmopolitan city is home to many museums and galleries, as well as historical monuments and gardens and lakes. The city is also known for its pub culture.
Kerala is a captivating destination famous for its miles of golden beaches, the tropical greenery and various wildlife parks, the backwaters popular for houseboat cruising, the fragrant spice and tea gardens and much more. One of the most popular coastal towns in Varkala, famous not only for its beaches, cliffs, lighthouses and lake but also a 2000 year old Hindu temple. Other towns definitely worth visiting in Kerala include: Alleppey, famous for its backwaters and known as the Venice of the East for its floating houseboats; Munnar, regarded as one of the most romantic hill stations in India; and Thrissur, regarded as the cultural capital of Kerala and known for its sacred sites and for hosting colourful festivals, most notably the Thrissur pooram.
Tamil Nadu is known as the ‘temple state of India’ due to its many religious sites. The state is also home to great natural resources, beautiful hill stations and beach resorts. The capital Chennai is a cosmopolitan city, a centre of business, education and culture that attracts more foreign tourists than almost any other Indian destination. The historic landmarks, parks and cultural centres, long sandy beaches and vibrant nightlife are just some of the attractions on offer in Chennai. Not far from Chennai is the ancient historic town of Mahabalipuram, which is a must see for its ancient temples and rock carvings. Other notable towns in the state include the hill stations of Ooty and Yercaud, both great examples of the natural beauty of Tamil Nadu. Yercaud features great peaks and seven forests and waterfalls, while Ooty is famed for the Nilgiri hills which are popular for trekking, as well as the Mudumalai National Park and tiger reserve, a sanctuary for the endangered Bengal tiger and other threatened species.
The Union Territories of the South are also popular tourist destinations. Puducherry, is not only famous for its French colonial buildings, churches, temples and beaches; it is also an educational hub with many engineering, law, medical and agricultural colleges based here. Lakshadweep, its name meaning "A hundred thousand islands", is located in the Arabian Sea, ten of its islands are inhabited, and one of the main attractions of the islands is the fishing and the variety of fish that are found here. The oceanic birds that fly over the islands are also a sight to behold. The Andaman and Nicobar islands are a popular destination for scuba diving and snorkelling, particularly for those on a budget. The beaches are immaculate and the waters crystal clear, with an amazing variety of marine life to behold.
Araku Valley is a popular hill station in Andhra Pradesh, inhabited by various tribes. Visitors are attracted by the natural beauty of the area which is surrounded by mountains, and is home to the Katiki Waterfalls, dense forests and coffee plantations. The mountains of this valley include Galikonda hill, that is one of the tallest in the state, at a height of 5,000 feet. The Borra caves, which are some of the largest in the country are located in the Ananthagiri hills range of the valley and are well worth a visit for the distinct variety of speleothems and the irregularly shaped stalactites and stalagmites. Coffee is also grown in the area by tribal farmers using organic practices, and visitors can tour a plantation. The valley is connected via road and rail to the nearest city of Visakhapatnam and March to May and September to October are the best times to visit the area.
Kakinada is a port city in Andhra Pradesh which has been earmarked for development as a smart city. The beach in Kakinada has one of the longest coastlines in India and its waters are mild. The city is the closest to the Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary, which is part of the Godavari estuary and contains the second largest stretch of mangrove forests in the country. There are 24 mangrove tree species here as well as over 120 bird species, including the critically endangered white-backed vulture and the long billed vulture. Unfortunately the wildlife sanctuary is threatened by poachers and locals harvesting wood from the forest as well as the increasing industrialisation of the Godavari Delta, therefore steps are being taken to increase conservation efforts.
The village of Kolanupaka in Telangana is home to the Kulpakji Temple, a 2,000 year old Jain Temple, which is one of the oldest in South India. The temple is famous for its architecture and sculptures. Particularly notable is the image of Lord Rishabhanatha, carved from a green stone, and the statue of Lord Mahaveer that is made of a single piece of jade and stands at 130 centimetres. The inside of the temple is made of red sand stone and white marble.
Hyderabad is the capital of Telangana and the de jure capital of Andhra Pradesh. It is the fourth most populated city in India. Historically the city was known as a diamond and pearl trading centre and it is still referred to as the City of Pearls. Many of the traditional bazaars are still trading, including the Sultan Bazaar, Laad Bazaar, and Begum Bazaar. The industrialisation of the 20th century brought major Indian manufacturing, research and financial institutions, and the 1990s saw the emergence of biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries leading the naming of the area as ‘Genome Valley’.
The city is home to many heritage buildings that were constructed during the Qutb Shahi and Nizam eras that showcase Indo-Islamic architecture influenced by Medieval, Mughal and European styles. The 16th and 17th century Qutb Shahi architecture, followed the classical Persian style that featured domes and colossal arches. The city’s oldest surviving Qutb Shahi structure are the ruins of Golkonda fort. Most of the bazaars of that time were built on the street north of Charminar towards the fort. The Charminar is an icon of Hyderabad, a square structure with sides that are 20 metres high with four grand arches, each facing a road, and a 56 metre tall minaret on each corner. Close to the Charminar is the Mecca Masjid, one of the oldest in the city and one of the largest mosques in India. The Masjid, commissioned by the fifth ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, is a listed heritage building and the central arch of the mosque was constructed from bricks made from soil brought from Mecca, thus giving the mosque its name.
One of the oldest surviving examples of Nizam era architecture is the Chowmahalla Palace, which was the seat of royal power, which is an example of a diversity of architectural styles from the Baroque Harem to its Neoclassical royal court. Other palaces built during the 19th century include the and Bella Vista Palace, Purani Haveli, King Kothi, and Falaknuma Palace. During the rule of the VIIth Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, European and Indo-Islamic styles became prominent, and his patronage of architecture led to him being dubbed the maker of modern Hyderabad.
Hyderabad also attracts nature lovers as there is also a forest region in and around the city which includes national parks, zoos and a wildlife sanctuary, as well as notable lakes. The Nehru Zoological Park, a large zoo, is the first in India to have a lion and tiger safari park. Hyderabad’s three national parks include the Mrugavani National Park, the Mahavir Harina Vanasthali National Park and the Kasu Brahmananda Reddy National Park. The Manjira Wildlife Sanctuary is about 50 km outside the city and is home to a vulnerable species, the mugger crocodile. The Hussain Sagar lake is heart shaped and was built by Ibrahim Quli Qutub Shah in 1563. It covers an area of 5.7 square kilometres and is fed by the River Musi. Visitors are particularly keen to see the large monolithic statue of the Gautama Buddha, which stands on Gibraltar Rock in the centre of the lake. This lake also separates Hyderabad from its twin city Secunderabad. The immense Osman Sagar lake and reservoir is also popular with tourists, with its adjacent parks and amusement park.
Vemulawada a town in Telangana, is home to a complex that is a pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Muslims. The Sri Raja Rajeshwara temple was built between AD 750 and 975 by Chalukya Kings for the deity Sri Raja Rajeswara Swamy, an incarnation of Lord Shiva. There are several other temples on the site dedicated to other deities. Within the complex also stands a 400-year old mosque which many take as evidence of the religious tolerance of the times.
Gokarna, is a holy town in the state of Karnataka, known for its unspoiled beaches. The town is ideal for a relaxing holiday, sunbathing on the beach, or just to take a short break from the hustle and bustle of visiting the sights. The town is one of the seven important centres of Hindu pilgrimage with the main temple dedicated to Lord Shiva containing what is believed to be an original image of the linga of Lord Shiva.
Dandeli is a popular weekend destination in Karnataka for a great variety of adventure activities amidst breathtaking natural scenery. The wildlife sanctuary is a great draw for those who love the dirt and wilderness, comprising thick deciduous forests, the Dendeli river, and numerous wild animals. Dendeli is a great place for camping, white water rafting, coracle boating and trekking in the lush rain-forest.
Bangalore is the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka, and the IT hub of India, popularly referred to as the Silicon Valley of India, which attracts a young demographic to the city. Bangalore is India’s second fastest-growing major metropolis and home to many research and educational institutions. The city is cosmopolitan and is home to many museums and galleries and is known for having one of the best pub cultures in the country. The weather also attracts visitors as the city’s high elevation usually creates a more moderate climate. Bangalore is also known for its gardens and lakes. The Lal Bagh botanical gardens is home to over 1,000 species of flora, and Cubbon Park encompasses 300 acres in the heart of the city, with the country’s second largest aquarium located at its entrance. Hebbel Lake is a popular spot with a variety of birds and at any one time you can spot around 60 species. Bangalore also has notable historical monuments, including the Bangalore Fort, built in 1537 AD and Bangalore Palace, designed as a smaller replica of Windsor Castle in England.
Coorg is a delightful hill station not far from Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka, commonly referred to as the ‘Scotland of the South’. Visitors flock here to see the elephants, try waterfall rappelling and ultralight flying, as well as to just enjoy the ambience created by the rapidly flowing falls and the majestic green hills.
A visit to the ruins of Hampi in northern Karnataka is considered a must on a trip to the south of India. Hampi is a UNESCO World heritage site and also a very important religious and historical centre that was once part of the ancient south Indian kingdom of Vijayanagar. The grandiose historical beauty transports the visitor back in time, giving a sense of the scale of the kingdom that used to exist here. The Virupaksha temple is important to Hindus and they visit from all over the country.
Alleppey, in the ‘backwaters’ of Kerala is an enchanting town known as the Venice of the East due to its floating houseboats. The vista is breathtaking, particularly at dawn. Travellers can stay in one of the houseboats, try surfing in the gentle waters, or even just relax in a hammock tied between two coconut trees. Alleppey is tranquil and a great place to relax after a long tour.
Varkala is a beautiful coastal town in Kerala, famous for its beaches, cliffs, springs, the lake, lighthouses, fisheries as well as an important Vishnu temple, the Janardhanaswamy Temple, believed to be over 2000 years old. The delectable seafood delicacies on offer in Varkala are a particular draw. An ashram, the Shivagiri Mutt, that was founded a well known Hindu reformer, Sree Narayana Guru, is also located nearby.
Munnar, in Kerala is considered to be the most romantic hill station in South India. It is particularly enjoyable to drive there, and once you catch the scent of tea in the air you will know you have arrived as there is tea growing everywhere. The area is a collection of small hillocks that are great for treks, with lakes, waterfalls and dense forests adding to the spectacular environment. The sandalwood forest is also worth a look if you are touring this area.
Gavi in Kerala is emerging as a popular eco-tourism destination due to its untouched natural environment. The dense forests rich with flora and fauna are ideal for trekking, and you may encounter an elephant or two along the way! Some rare species of animal are found in Gavi, including the lion tailed macaque, and the great pied hornbill. Gavi also offers the opportunity for boating, camping, safaris and much more. There are also spice gardens and factories that are worth visiting.
Thrissur in Kerala is famous for its sacred sites and for hosting colourful festivals and is known as the cultural capital of Kerala. Historically the city has been a centre for Hindu scholarship. Thrissur is home to the Vadakunnathan temple, one of the most important in Hindu Shaivism, and one of the holiest Hindu Vaishnava temples, the Guruvayur temple. Islam, Christianity and Judaism also came to India through this city, the country’s first mosque opened here in AD 629, and scholarly writings claim Thomas the Apostle set foot in Muziris near Thrissur 2,000 years ago in AD 51–52. Among the many festivals that take place here, one of the most vibrant and enjoyable to behold is the Thrissur pooram that takes places annually every April, and consists of a competition between the two most famous temples in the city. The head gear changing competition on the elephants is one of the most fun to watch. As well as being a cultural hub, Thrissur is also a major academic centre and home to many educational institutions, as well as serving as a financial and commercial hub.
Yercaud, in Tamil Nadu, is a hill station popular with visitors to the region. This picturesque town features magnificent peaks and seven forests as well as waterfalls that add to the scenic beauty of this area. There are colonial buildings still standing in the town, as well as caves and coffee estates to explore. The silk farm is also worth a visit.
Ooty in Tamil Nadu, is a charming hill station popular with honeymooners. Visitors are mesmerised by the natural beauty of the area. There are a host of activities available, from trekking in the Nilgiri hills or climbing Dodabetta peak, to boating and angling on the lake, and visiting the tea gardens and more. The north western side of the Nilgiri Hills is also home to the Mudumalai National Park and tiger reserve. Herds of endangered Indian elephants can often be spotted here. The sanctuary is not only a haven for Bengal tigers, but Indian leopards and other threatened species, as well as at least 266 species of birds.
Chennai is the capital of Tamil Nadu, located along the Bay of Bengal, and one of the largest economic, educational and cultural centres in South India. The city is one of the most visited in India by foreign tourists, attracted by the long sandy beaches, historic landmarks and buildings, parks and cultural and art centres. The 15km long Marina Beach features gardens, a lighthouse, memorials and walkways, while further south, Elliot’s Beach is favoured by a younger crowd who frequent the promenade with its coffee shops and restaurants. Another notable beach is Covelong, that features a cove and a fort.
Cultural attractions in Chennai include the Government Museum Complex that consists of six building and 46 galleries, covering an area of over 16 acres, that house the Government Museum, the Public library and the National Art Gallery. The Chennai Rail Museum is also very popular, with a toy train that offers rides around the grounds. As a cosmopolitan society, Chennai has historically had different religious groups living together harmoniously and there are historical and modern places of worship belonging to Hindus, Muslims and Christians to be found in the city. Some of the most famous Hindu temples in Chennai are the Kapaleeshwarar temple in Mylapore and the Parthasarathy Temple in Triplicane. An important pilgrimage site for Indian Christians,
St. Thomas Mount, is the site where St. Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ, was believed to have been martyred, and the Santhome Basilica, supposedly built atop his tomb, is a sacred church for Roman Catholics. St. Mary's Church, located at Fort St George, is the oldest British building in India, as well as the oldest Anglican church East of Suez. The church is popularly known as the 'Westminster Abbey of the East'. The Wallajah Masjid in Triplicane is one of the largest mosques in the country and is a sacred site for Muslims.
Chennai also hosts the smallest National Park in the country, the Guindy National Park. with an area of 2.76 km².the city. The park shelters a variety of endangered deer, foxes, and monkeys. There is also a Snake Park within that houses a large collection of snakes and is an important source of anti-venom serum. Chennai is also a great place for shopping, there are five shopping malls and Spencer Plaza is one of the oldest and largest shopping malls in the city. Chennai also offers some unique items and places to shop, with traditional items like leaf and palmyra-fiber handicrafts from Tirunelveli, or contemporary and traditional artwork like stone carvings from Mahabalipuram, and antiques or jewellery from the Pondy Bazaar in Thyagaraya Nagar. There are wholesale markets in George Town and Parrys Corner where almost anything is available, and Mint street nearby hosts communities from Rajasthan and Gujarat, where north Indian snacks can be sampled while you buy textiles, kitchenware and jewellery.
Chennai is also the home of the Tamil movie industry and there are over 100 cinemas in the city. If you need more entertainment then there are also four large amusement parks and a water sports centre. The nightlife in the city is also vibrant, with a growing range of bars, lounges and clubs, as well as a variety of restaurants offering Tamil, Indian and international cuisine.
Mahabalipuram, about 60 km south of Chennai in Tamil Nadu, is an ancient historic town. This was a bustling port city that is now famous for its ancient temples and rock carvings dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries. Most of the monuments are monolithic and rock-cut, constituting cave temples, chariots, sculpted reliefs and structural temples. Some of the most important of these are: the temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, Thirukadalmallai, that was built by the Pallava King to safeguard the sculptures from the ocean; the giant open-air rock relief depicting the descent of the Ganges; the Shore Temple, a structural temple built along the Bay of Bengal; and the Five Chariots or Pancha Rathas, consisting of five monolithic pyramidal structures named after the Pandavas - Arjuna, Bhima, Yudhishtra, Nakula and Sahadeva - and Draupadi.
Puducherry formerly known as Pondicherry, is a union territory and former French colony, reflected in the architecture and a relaxed atmosphere compared to the rest of the region. The town is popular with mainstream travellers and backpackers alike, attracted by the colonial era buildings, colourfully painted houses, temples and churches.
Andaman and Nicobar islands
The Andaman and Nicobar islands provide great opportunities for scuba diving and snorkelling in crystal clear waters. The varieties of marine life that you will encounter here are astounding. The pristine white beaches rival those of Goa and it is considered a better choice for those on a budget.