Southern India comprises five major states in peninsular India and two island groups – Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea off the west coast of India and Andaman and Nicobar in the Bay of Bengal off the east coast.
Southern India has five states on the mainland:
|Andhra Pradesh |
Coastal state with fiery food
Spun off from Andhra Pradesh in 2014, centred on Hyderabad
"God's own country", famous for spices, Ayurveda and the Malabar coast
|Tamil Nadu |
India's southern tip, famous for its temples and capital of Chennai (Madras)
Kannada homeland, the capital Bangalore (Bengaluru) is also home to India's IT hub
There are also three union territories:
- Andaman and Nicobar Islands — off the eastern coast of India, a remote group of gorgeous tropical islands closer to Thailand than mainland India, almost equidistant from the cities of Chennai, Kolkata and Visakhapatnam (fondly called Vizag)
- Lakshadweep Islands — off the west coast of India, the rarely visited northern end of the Maldives chain
- Pondicherry — a group of enclaves, former French territories, within Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh
Here are nine of the most notable cities.
- 1 Bangalore (Bengaluru) — Garden City, Pub City and "Silicon Valley of India"
- 2 Chennai (Madras) — largest city in the region, city of temples and the base of Dravidian art and culture. "Detroit of India", a major auto hub of Asia
- 3 Coimbatore — "Manchester of South India", a major textile, industrial and educational hub
- 4 Hyderabad — pearl city of India and part of Silicon Plateau
- 5 Kochi (Cochin) — "Queen of the Arabian Sea", one of the largest port cities, with a strong air of colonial European cultures
- 6 Madurai — historical city famous for its Meenakshi Amman Temple, the seat of Pandyas
- 7 Mysore — royal city with its palaces and gardens
- 8 Pondicherry — former French enclave in India
- 9 Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) — southernmost city of India with large temples, palaces and beaches
- The magnificent ruins of Hampi
- Tirupati, the most-visited Hindu temple, famed for its riches as much for devotion
- The Brihadeeshwarar temple of Thanjavur
- Kodaikanal, and Ooty, hill-stations and the honeymoon destination of the 1970s
- The Backwaters of Kerala
- Havelock Island for the beaches and the snorkeling
Southern India is mostly located on the Deccan Plateau, bordered on each side by two mountain ranges, the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats, and coastal plains. The Western Ghats is one of the "hottest hotspots" of biological diversity in the world and has been listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As you enter South India, you'll immediately notice that there are significant differences between the South and the rest of the country, and it almost feels as if you're coming into a completely foreign country. The South is culturally Dravidian and is home to virtually all Dravidian ethnic groups. The origins of the Dravidians remain unclear and continue to be hotly debated. Some theorise that the Dravidians are native to the Indian subcontinent, while others suggest that they have their roots in Western Asia.
The South wasn't as deeply affected by the partition, and there's a great degree of tolerance towards other religions, cultures, and castes. South Indians are commonly stereotyped as "smart" and "intelligent". To an extent, this is in some ways true; South India has high literacy rates and it has a high level of human development.
South India has a glorious history of more than 3,000 years. With the advent of Aryan civilization in early centuries BCE, much of the Dravidian civilizations (said to be even a base for Indus Valley civilization) were confined to Southern India, which soon became a major Dravidian bastion. Though Hinduism remained as the invisible thread that connected North and South, much of the culture and outlook remained entirely different in the two parts of the country, with the Vindhya mountains preventing Northern cultural dominance into Southern India until the Medieval period.
The ancient history of South India owes a lot to large empires like the Hoysalas, Chalukyas, Gangas, Kadambas, Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras, all hailing from similar roots. The Cholas are famous for their cultural monuments and navy, which brought much of South-East Asia under its domination. The Cheras ruled much of Kongu Nadu (western Tamil Nadu) and Kerala, had extensive trading relations with the West, particularly the Greeks and the Roman Empire, as well as with Egyptians. The Pandiyas were renowned for their cultural achievements, concentrated in much of Southern Tamil Nadu. Several other Hindu dynasties including the Chalukyas and Pallavas also contributed to the cultural heritage of the region.
Towards the Medieval period, the Vijayanagar Empire became one of the largest empires, covering two thirds of South India, particularly Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, with its capital at Hampi. The frequent attacks of Sultans of Delhi and other Northern Muslim states slowly weakened the great Vijayanagara Empire, with the final invasion in 1565 disintegrating it, giving rise to several Muslim states in the South that were modeled on the Mughal Empire of the North. Portuguese, Dutch and other European colonial powers fought over South India, with the British ultimately emerging victorious. The Mysore kingdom from the early 1400s, with its capital at Mysore, ruled for the most part by the Wodeyar dynasty, greatly expanded after the fall of the Vijayanagara Kingdom in 1565 and ruled over much of what is now Karnataka. The British started their expansion into India setting up their base in Madras and slowly growing into a major power all over India. Aside from some kingdoms which paid tribute to the British in order to maintain local rule, including Travancore, Kochi, Mysore, Hyderabad and Coorg, most of South India came under British dominance by the end of the 19th century.
After Indian independence in 1947, South India remained one of the major economic powerhouses for the new nation. South Indian cities are known for industrial growth and overall development. The growth of IT in cities like Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad, textiles in Coimbatore, auto manufacturing in Chennai, and tourism in Kerala made South Indian states race ahead of North India in terms of economic prosperity, urbanization, human resources, education and overall social development.
- See also: Kannada phrasebook
- See also: Malayalam phrasebook
- See also: Tamil phrasebook
- See also: Telugu phrasebook
One of the major differences between the South and the rest of India are the languages spoken. The four major languages, Kannada (in Karnataka), Malayalam (in Kerala), Tamil (in Tamil Nadu) and Telugu (in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh) are all Dravidian languages entirely unrelated to the Indo-Aryan languages, such as Hindi, spoken in the rest of the country, though all of them have been heavily influenced by Sanskrit. Even the scripts of all four languages have their own separate histories.
As a rule, throughout the South, English is better understood than Hindi. Many South Indians don't speak a word of Hindi, and for those that do, many only know enough to have a basic conversation.
Learning a few words of the local lingo, on the other hand, will go down well with the locals and help your interaction. Outside Tamil Nadu, southern and coastal Andhra, Hindi is still usable mainly in the urban areas. Rural areas across South India tend to favor the regional language.
South India has more international airports than the rest of India, with regular connections to almost every corner of the world. Chennai is the main gateway into southern India, handling more than 50% of all flights across South Asia along with Mumbai and Delhi. Other international airports are at Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kochi, Coimbatore, Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode and Tiruchirappalli, which have regular connections from Middle East and South East Asia as well as popular tourist oriented charters. Visakhapatnam, Madurai and Vijayawada have customs airports (airports with restricted access). Other domestic options are Mangalore and Tirupati.
South India is well connected by the national and state highways connecting the state capitals as well as other important cities. The newer national highways and state highways are tolled.
The state-owned bus operators in all the southern states provide excellent interstate and intrastate connections, and some service providers connect with Maharashtra and Goa as well. The government-owned bus operators feature dedicated websites and smartphone apps to provide services online. Private operators also provide interstate and intrastate service across Southern India via websites and smartphone apps.
Private bus operator schedules differ from government operators based on routes taken, passenger stops along the way and adherence to the posted departure and arrival timings. Private bus operators have a tendency to transport freight, delay departure if some seats are not occupied, and pick up additional passengers along the route to maximize their revenue per trip. This is not the case with government bus operators.
The various divisions of the state-owned Indian Railways - Southern Railway headquartered in Chennai, South Central Railway headquartered in Secunderabad, South Western Railway headquartered in Hubli, Konkan Railway headquartered in Ratnagiri and Mumbai connect the various states in Southern India with the rest of India.
Rajdhani trains are fully air-conditioned long distance trains that connect state capitals with India's capital (Rajdhani) at New Delhi.
Shatabdi trains are fully air-conditioned intercity day trains connecting the state capitals as well as important cities en-route and return to the originating station the same day.
The Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains are among the fastest trains in India.
The two major forms of transportation within Southern India are buses and railway systems. South India is largely well served by organised private bus operators. They run luxury buses like Volvo, Mercedes, Kinglong Cerita buses including multi axle buses. These are air-conditioned, semi sleeper or sleeper services with online ticket booking facilities.
Houses of worship
South India's long history and religious tolerance is manifested in numerous examples of architectural wonders pertaining to its communities of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains, Buddhists and Jews.
South India's Dravidian architecture is quite different from the rest of India. The most obvious, and often striking, feature is the gopuram perched on every temple entrance, a stepped, steeply rising pyramid carved with layer upon layer upon layer of fantastically detailed and brightly painted statues.
Important historical temples include Hindu temples at Mamallapuram, Tiruvannamalai, Thanjavur and Hampi, while the busiest active pilgrimage sites today are Tirupati, by some measures the entire world's busiest, Sabarimala, Palani and Madurai, which has been operating continually for over 2,500 years.
The vast tropical forests of South India are home to a variety of wild animals and flora. The largest populations of tigers and elephants in India are found in the jungles of South India. One can enjoy the natural beauty of these forests at places like Mudumalai, Bandipur, Periyar National Parks. Some parks arrange treks into the forest, and also provide camping inside the forest. Private facilities are also available and are close by and in some cases right outside the front gate or down the road from the park.
In Kerala travelling on the backwaters (brackish lagoons and lakes) that run parallel to the Arabian Sea is an excellent way to enjoy the Kerala scenery - the houseboats are available with generators, air conditioning for the bedrooms, authentic food is prepared by on board staff for the complete Kerala experience. The boats are at standstill at night for food or for the night. The boats are motorised but proceed at a leisurely pace for smooth travel. The houseboats are available as per budget.
Scuba diving at:
- Andaman and Nicobar
- 1 Netrani Island in the Arabian Sea just off the coast of Karnataka near Murudeshwara – easily accessible from Bangalore, Mangalore, Mumbai and Goa
South Indian food is quite different from that elsewhere in the country, being mostly rice-based. They also make greater use of pulses. The typical meal is sambar or koottu (a watery curry) with rice, or avial (mixed vegetables) with rice. There are regional variations too — the coastal regions make greater use of coconut and seafood. In Kerala, it is common to use grated coconut in everything and coconut oil for cooking, while someone from elsewhere would be surprised to learn that coconut oil, can in fact, be used for cooking. Anyway, all kinds of dishes from all parts of the world can be found in cities across South India. A variety of sea food fresh from the sea can be found in cities like Kochi, Chennai, Mangalore and Vizag.
Here is a very incomplete list of typical standalone Southern dishes, available at economical rates, which constitute local fast food. Most of these dishes are commonly eaten for breakfast:
- Idli, a spongy steamed cake made of lentils and rice; normally savoury, not sweet.
- Dosa, a thin, crispy pancake again made of lentils and rice. A highly popular variant, Masala Dosa, involves stuffing the dosa with potato mash and coating the inside of the dosa with red chutney powder (masala) and serving it rolled up twice. The variations in dosa preparation differ by regions across Southern India.
- Sevai, rice noodles, thin as vermicelli.
- Uttapam, fried pancake made from a lentil and rice batter, with onions and other vegetables mixed in.
- Vada, fried Indian donut, but savoury and spiced.
- Bhat, rice based dishes prepared in various combinations and served hot across Karnataka, accompanied by raitha.
All of these can be eaten with plain yogurt (curd); chutney, a popular condiment made from practically anything; or a raitha, a small bowl of chopped cucumber, onion, tomatoes and salt mixed with yogurt (curd) and served cold for bhat.
South Indian cuisine is predominantly vegetarian, though Chettinad, Andhra, Karavali and Kerala cuisines use meat and seafood and spicy as per regional taste buds. The varieties of preparation differ by state and region as well. Each area has its variation of preparation commonly known as "special" to distinguish from the rest.
Coffee (kaapi in Tamil) tends to replace tea in the south.
A South Indian specialty is the banana leaf meal. This consists of steamed rice served with about two to six vegetable dishes like sambhar, porial (a dry stir-fried dish), rasam (a thin, peppery soup), koottu along with curd and buttermilk, all spread out on a disposable and environmentally-friendly banana leaf. For a non-vegetarian meal, curries or dishes cooked with mutton, chicken or fish are included. Meals are often accompanied by crisp appalams (papad). Refills of curry and rice and vegetables are often free (don't hesitate to ask for more), with men carrying buckets walking around to serve you more. After a final round of rice and curds or buttermilk or both, a traditional meal is concluded with a small banana (helps digestion) and a few betel leaves and nuts. If the meal is served on a metal tray instead of a banana leaf, a set meal like this is known as a thali instead.
- Pal payasam, a rice pudding to which nuts are sometimes added, famous in Tamil Nadu.
- Pongal, a sweetened rice dish with the consistency of firm porridge.
Toddy (known as kallu in Kerala), obtained from coconut trees, is freely available in Kerala and consumed after fermenting.
Being quite a conservative region, most of Southern India shuts down as early as 9 p.m. (21:00), outside of big cities like Bangalore. So visitors are advised to plan their travel accordingly. One might find it difficult to find public transport or cabs after 21:00. Also, it is advisable not to carry valuables or cash while traveling late.
The five states have relatively good policing, and one can contact the police in case of any emergency by dialing 100. Free ambulance service can be reached by dialing 108.