Madurai is an energetic, ancient city on the Vaigai River in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Its skyline is dominated by the 14 colorful gopurams (gateway towers) of Meenakshi Amman Temple. Covered in bright carvings of Hindu gods, the Dravidian-style temple is a major pilgrimage site. Millions attend the processions and ceremonies of April's Chithirai Festival celebrating Meenakshi and Lord Vishnu.
Rameswaram is a town on Pamban Island, in the southeast Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It’s known for Ramanathaswamy Temple, a Hindu pilgrimage site with ornate corridors, huge sculpted pillars and sacred water tanks. Devotees bathe in the waters of Agni Theertham, off the beach east of the temple. Gandamadana Parvatham is a hill with island views. A chakra is said to bear an imprint of Lord Rama’s feet.
Kodaikanal is a hill town in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It’s set in an area of granite cliffs, forested valleys, lakes, waterfalls and grassy hills. At 2,000 meters above sea level, the town centers around man-made, star-shaped Kodaikanal Lake, bordered by evergreen forest. Rowing boats can be hired, and hikers and cyclists follow the 5k Lake Road path around the shore.
Kanyakumari is a coastal town in the state of Tamil Nadu on India's southern tip. Jutting into the Laccadive Sea, the town was known as Cape Comorin during British rule and is popular for watching sunrise and sunset over the ocean. It's also a noted pilgrimage site thanks to its Bagavathi Amman Temple, dedicated to a consort of Shiva.
Kovalam is a small coastal town in the southern Indian state of Kerala, south of Thiruvananthapuram. At the southern end of Lighthouse Beach is a striped lighthouse with a viewing platform. Palm-backed beaches also include Hawa Beach and Samudra Beach. Heading south, Vizhinjam Juma Masjid mosque overlooks the busy fishing harbor.
Mysore (or Mysuru), a city in India's southwestern Karnataka state, was the capital of the Kingdom of Mysore from 1399 to 1947. In its center is opulent Mysore Palace, seat of the former ruling Wodeyar dynasty. The palace blends Hindu, Islamic, Gothic and Rajput styles. Mysore is also home to the centuries-old Devaraja Market, filled with spices, silk and sandalwood.
Ooty, also known as Udhagamandalam, is a hill station in the state of Tamil Nadu, in southern India. Surrounded by trees, central Ooty Lake is a huge artificial expanse of water with pleasure boats. On the slopes of nearby Elk Hill, the Rose Garden is home to over 2,000 varieties of roses. The Government Botanical Garden, created in the 19th century, features ferns, orchids and a prehistoric, fossilized tree.
Munnar is a town in the Western Ghats mountain range in India’s Kerala state. A hill station and former resort for the British Raj elite, it's surrounded by rolling hills dotted with tea plantations established in the late 19th century. Eravikulam National Park, a habitat for the endangered mountain goat Nilgiri tahr, is home to the Lakkam Waterfalls, hiking trails and 2,695m-tall Anamudi Peak.
Coonoor is a hill station in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It’s known for its tea estates in the surrounding Nilgiri hills. Sim’s Park is a sprawling public garden with plants like rhododendrons, roses and eucalyptus trees. The steam Nilgiri Mountain Railway travels between the towns of Mettupalayam and Ooty via Coonoor. Dolphin’s Nose is a vantage point with views of the cascading Catherine Falls.
Thekkady is the location of the Periyar National Park, which is an important tourist attraction in the Kerala state of India. Thekkady is located about 257 km (160 mi) from Trivandrum. The sanctuary is famous for its dense evergreen, semi-evergreen, moist deciduous forests and savanna grass lands. It is home to herds of elephants, sambar, tigers, gaur, lion-tailed macaques and Nilgiri langurs.
Alappuzha (or Alleppey) is a city on the Laccadive Sea in the southern Indian state of Kerala. It's best known for houseboat cruises along the rustic Kerala backwaters, a network of tranquil canals and lagoons. Alappuzha Beach is the site of the 19th-century Alappuzha Lighthouse. The city's Mullakkal Temple features a traditional design. Punnamada Lake's snake boat races are a well-known annual event.
Varkala is a town in the south Indian state of Kerala. It’s on the Arabian Sea and known for Varkala Beach, backed by palm-covered red cliffs. Just south, Papanasam Beach is believed to have holy waters. On a nearby hill, the ancient Janardanaswamy Temple is a Hindu pilgrimage site dedicated to Vishnu. Farther inland, the Sivagiri Mutt monument memorializes the social reformer Sree Narayana Guru, who is buried here.
Kochi (also known as Cochin) is a city in southwest India's coastal Kerala state. It has been a port since 1341, when a flood carved out its harbor and opened it to Arab, Chinese and European merchants. Sites reflecting those influences include Fort Kochi, a settlement with tiled colonial bungalows and diverse houses of worship. Cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, typical of Kochi, have been in use for centuries.
Pondicherry (or Puducherry), a French colonial settlement in India until 1954, is now a Union Territory town bounded by the southeastern Tamil Nadu state. Its French legacy is preserved in its French Quarter, with tree-lined streets, mustard-colored colonial villas and chic boutiques. A seaside promenade runs along the Bay of Bengal and passes several statues, including a 4m-high Gandhi Memorial.
Mamallapuram, or Mahabalipuram, is a town on a strip of land between the Bay of Bengal and the Great Salt Lake, in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It’s known for its temples and monuments built by the Pallava dynasty in the 7th and 8th centuries. The seafront Shore Temple comprises 3 ornate granite shrines. Krishna’s Butter Ball is a massive boulder balanced on a small hill near the Ganesha Ratha stone temple.
Goa is a state in western India with coastlines stretching along the Arabian Sea. Its long history as a Portuguese colony prior to 1961 is evident in its preserved 17th-century churches and the area’s tropical spice plantations. Goa is also known for its beaches, ranging from popular stretches at Baga and Palolem to those in laid-back fishing villages such as Agonda.
Kodagu, also known as Coorg, is a rural district in the southwest Indian state of Karnataka. In the area’s north, Madikeri Fort has 2 life-size elephant statues at its entrance, plus a Gothic-style church with a museum on its grounds. Nearby, the Hindu Omkareshwara Temple dates back to the 19th century. Farther north are the domed Raja’s Tomb, a burial place of Kodava kings.
Wayanad is a rural district in Kerala state, southwest India. In the east, the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary is a lush, forested region with areas of high altitude, home to animals including Asiatic elephants, tigers, leopards and egrets. In the Ambukuthi Hills to the south, Edakkal Caves contain ancient petroglyphs, some dating back to the Neolithic age.