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Things to do in South India

20 March 2015

Though India is one country, it's different regions boast varied languages, cultures, tastes, sounds and scents. Discover what Southern India has to offer.

A houseboat sailing along a river in Kerala, South India
A houseboat sailing along a river in Kerala, South India

The southern half of India is considered to be Telangana, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala and consists of beautiful jungles, wetlands, backwaters and the legacy of the Pallava dynasty. 

Many visitors planning trips to India head north to the jewel of Uttar Pradesh – the Taj Mahal – or to the dry deserts of Rajasthan to see the remnants of the majestic Mughal Empire, while venturing south will take you deep into the heart of India while avoiding the throngs of tourists you might find elsewhere.  

We’ve picked just a few activities from the exhaustive list of things to see and do in one of the most beautiful parts of this fascinating and contradictory country. 

Cruise the backwaters

A cruise along the backwaters has become one of the must-experience tours in the rich and naturally lush state of Kerala.  

Languorously sailing down these waterways in a houseboat, passing banks fringed with palm trees, charming villages and local wildlife is one of the most tranquil and relaxing things you can do in a country famed for its bustling and busy nature.

Related: Explore India's colonial heritage and traditional way of life in Kerala. 

Marvel at Mahabalipuram

South of Chennai – Tamil Nadu’s capital city – lie the magical ruins of Mahabalipuram. Set right on the coast, this city of temples is cut directly from the large stones scattered around the area in complex and beautiful designs. 

The site is also populated with tiny wise women who will tell your fortune (for a price). Mahabalipuram gets its share of visitors, but the site is so large that you can really immerse yourself in the ancient surrounds as you discover one of India’s most important landmarks, if you travel here.

Relax in Pondicherry

Pondicherry is a separate union territory, north of Chennai and distinct from anything around it. 

It was a French colony in the 18th century and has kept its French influences; you’ll find colonial townhouses and cobbled streets in the old town, though the place as a whole has adopted quite a Bohemian reputation. 

See this fish-out-of-water town and experience a little French flavour while looking out onto the Bay of Bengal.

Discover the flavours

The cuisine in South India is extremely varied, mostly vegetarian and universally delicious. There are plenty of restaurants that serve fish and chicken, though to find beef you’ll need to go to the excellent Muslim eateries that specialise in the more familiar curries you’ll find at home.

However, the vegetarian fare here is so extensive that you won’t notice the missing meat portion. South Indians use every vegetable at their disposal and are experts in creating foods to dip in other foods.

From rice, idli and breads to noodles, dosai, and more chutneys than you could ever dream of, you will find yourself craving the flavours of the south long after you have departed its shores.

Related: A guide to traditional Indian Cuisine.

There is so much to see in the south of India, cutting down the list and choosing which hotel to stay in can seem daunting.

But, if you are keen to experience a world outside of your routine at home, and you want to do it unimpeded by tourists bustling around every monument looking for a photo opportunity, then have a look at Saga’s Indian holidays and you can pick and choose the parts of India you would most like to see.

Discover India with a Saga Holiday

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.