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Travel Guide: The highlights of South India

Secondary Categories: GuideIndia

India, the 7th largest country in the world, has so much to offer, from historical treasures such as the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort to a delectable food scene. There’s also a huge variety in landscapes including harsh mountains and rolling sand dune deserts. Unsurprisingly, the south of India offers a completely unique experience to the rest of the country. Here, you’ll find a tropical climate with mangrove forests, river canals, rice fields, and tea plantations.

The best time to visit South India

As South India is surrounded by the Arabian and Indian Seas, the climate here is tropical, warm and humid all year round. Its winter months, from October to March, tend to be drier and the temperatures can lower down to a pleasant 62 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re considering including the Golden Triangle on your trip, this is also an ideal time to visit.

From March to June, it is the sweat-inducing summer season, when temperatures reach up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity is at 90%. It gets so hot that you’ll want to stay indoors during the afternoons, drink lots of fluids and wear loose, light clothing. This is the time of year when you’ll find the best deals.

Monsoon season, when torrential rains pour down on the land, is from July to September. While the rains cool down the oppressive heat of the day and the landscapes burst with lush greenery, you might find that your activities will be delayed, or even canceled, because of the weather.

Kochi, the ‘Queen of the Arabian Sea’

Kathakali, a traditional Indian classical dance
Kathakali is a form of classical dance found only in South India.

Kochi, also referred to as Cochin, dates back 600 years and was one of the launching points for the spice trade that continues to flourish today. It is full of history and its cultural heritage is a fascinating blend of Arabic, Dutch, British, Chinese, and Portuguese influences.

Nicknamed the ‘Queen of the Arabian Sea,’ this cosmopolitan town is made up of several islands where you can explore beaches, palaces, synagogues, churches, Chinese fishing nets and spice markets.

A must-do while in Kochi is to watch Kathakali, a form of classical dance unique to South India that is characterized by elaborate costumes with head dresses, face masks and vivid makeup, which can take several hours for the all-male cast to prepare.

The makeup follows a specific code so that the audience can tell who is who. For example, yellow is used for monks while red represents villains and green is for heroes.

There are over 100 stories enacted as plays, but one of the most popular, which is also one of the longest (lasting over a period of 4 nights), is the Nalacharitham, which tells the story of the virtuous King Nalan as he courts the beautiful Damayanthi and wins her love over the gods, who plot to separate them.

The tea plantations of Munnar

Green tea plantation hills in Munnar, India
The lush green hills of Munnar’s tea plantations are stunning to look at.

Once a summer resort for the British gentry during the Colonial era, Munnar is a quaint little town located high in the hills of Kerala, surrounded by lush forests, rivers, and valleys and enveloped in misty clouds.

What Munnar is most famous for, though, are its tea estates, which sprawl over 1,500 acres of the region’s undulating hills. The scenery is quite extraordinary with lush tea leaves dotted by mauve-flowered Jacaranda trees and brilliantly scarlet Flame trees. No wonder it’s a popular place to take photos.

At the tea estates, you not only have the opportunity of visiting the plantations and learning about tea production, but you’ll be able to sniff, swirl and sip world famous brews. They have some of the best varieties including black, green, white and oolong.

With such staggering beauty, Munnar is also famous for its awesome hiking trails, whether it's through tea plantations or summiting mountain peaks. Stay on the lookout for the Nilgiri tahr, a native endangered mountain goat.

The enchanting backwaters of Kumarakom

A houseboat in Kumarakom
A houseboat sails along the backwaters of Kumarakom.

Kumarakom is a tranquil village located on Vembanad Lake, India’s longest lake, and surrounded by numerous little islands.

Its labyrinthine backwaters, comprising canals, rivers, and lakes, are best explored by houseboat, which is a modern version of the kettuvallam.

Once upon a time, these kettuvallam transported cargo, such as the spices and rice, to isolated villages along the backwaters. They were traditionally constructed by tying pieces of wood from a jackfruit tree together with a rope made of coconut fibers and its roofs fashioned from bamboo poles and palm leaves. Nowadays, there are some houseboats built in the traditional way, while others are more synonymous with a luxury hotel.

To journey in these houseboats can give you an enchanting glimpse into the daily lives of locals as you sail past homes, farms, paddy fields, fishermen, churches and temples. There’s also a ton of wildlife to spot, such as otters, turtles, fish, crabs and kingfishers.

Are you ready to travel to incredible India? Check out our India Highlights expedition. Or if you want to go to the Golden Triangle and India's Tiger Reserve, take a look at our Golden Triangle and Wildlife itinerary. If you’d like to add Nepal to your adventure, then you might be interested in the Best of India to Nepal.

About the author: Julia Guerra Slater is the SEO and Social Media Marketing Manager at SA Expeditions. She has traveled extensively throughout the world while working remotely from her laptop.

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