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India - South India

A land of tranquil palm groves dotted with brilliant green paddy fields, or cool hill stations and their surroundings tea plantations, southern India is unlike other areas of India.

Down here is the leisurely, enduring India, the ancient India that outlasted the ambitions of the Rajput and Moghul empires, the India that cast its spell over medieval Europe with the promise of pungent spices. Pepper, ginger, cardamom, turmeric and fragrant performs such as sandalwood and jasmine.

As it was, so it is today. This is a green and pleasant land, where the Western Ghats reach their highest point in the Nilgiri and Palani hills of Tamil Nadu, an idyllic region of spice and the plantations, of leafy walks and tranquil villages.

As   to   the  north  of  the  region however, that's another story. Here the granite carapace of the Deccan plateau persists deep in to Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, but its stony ground belies an extraordinary wealth of sights, including Hyderabad, seat of the legendry Nizams. Hyderabad's Charminar, intended to mark the center of the city and designed as a ceremonial gateway leading to the original palace complex, is at once its emblem and prime architectural feature. Around it swirl busy bazaars, where jewelers and pearl merchants view with glass-bangle vendors and craftsmen in silver for your attentions.

Chennai in Tamil Nadu was founded by the East India company (in 1639), although the history of the surrounding area - including the spectacular temple towns of Kanchipuram and Mahabalipuram - reaches back many centuries.

Two of Tamil Nadu's most impressive temple towns lie within easy reach of Chennai. An hour's drive away at Kanchipuram lie scattered about a thousand temples, spanning almost a thousand years of Dravidian temple architecture, characterized by towering temple gateways (gopurams), truncated pyramids of Byzantine complexity and exuberant color schemes. The early 8th century Kaliasnatha temple is considered the finest example of Pallava architecture, but in truth they are all monumental works of art, even the easily overlooked Sri Varadarajah temple with its massive chain sculpted with consummate skill from a single rock.

In Karnataka there is much more than old days charm; and it lies in the capital city of Bangalore; often referred to as the Silicon Valley of India. From Bangalore, a trip to Mysore take an extra day and the northern route through Sravanbelagola, Halebid and Belur. The first is famed for the colossal state of the Jain saint Gomateshwara, which for over a thousand years has guided pilgrims to his shrine. The second and third show 12th century Hindu temple building at its most impressive with sculptured friezes of breathtaking sensuality.

Mysore was once the province of Tipu Sultan who relentlessly harried the British from his headquarters at Srirangapattanam. He designed gardens; including the Lal Bagh in Bangalore and sought the beauty of his exquisite summer palace. Built entirely of wood, it still stands across the river Cauvery from Mysore; the city of palaces and famous for the exquisite all- pervading perfumes of sandalwood and jasmine.

Kerala's exotic Malabar coast, long before the fall of ancient Rome, Arabs, Greeks and the Romans traded extensively for spices, skills, ivory and fragrant woods. More recent arrivals have developed Cochin's cosmopolitan melting pot of races and cultures, charmingly emphasizing that variety is indeed the spice of life.

Back WaterThe alluring magic of Kerala lies in its backwaters. The voyage on a Houseboat or a local Kettuvallam takes one through some of the Kerala's most lush and pastoral landscapes in Quilon and Alleppey. Its an experience that takes you close to rural Kerala life.

Down close to Thiruvananthapuram is the beach resort of Kovalam, a great curve of golden sand to a headland and then a succession of small bays. The Padmanabhaswami temple of Thiruvananthapuram is the city's landmark. Alternatively you may be drawn to the cool elegance of the wooden palace at Padmanabhapuram, the old seat of the Rajas of Travancore. A gem of a building, it displays the superb craftsmanship, especially in woodworking, for which Kerala's art and architecture is so celebrated.

- Map of South India -

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