Southern Splendour Tour
When I started my long awaited South India Heritage Tour, I was all prepared to be surprised, right from a change in food habits, culture, customs, traditions, climate, the way of life and most importantly richness of the region. And when I landed on this ancient land, my previous conceptions about this peninsular region experienced a sudden jolt. Every moment breathed here was a reason to cherish. Right from eating south Indian cuisines without spoon on a banana leaf to moving freely under the scorching sun, everything I did during this South India Trip was unbelievably different.
Blessed with many rich elements inherited from the ancient past, Southern India is a progressive region where ethnic traditions and modernity go hand in hand. The simplicity in combination with conservative traditions form a rich tapestry of life on the Southern peninsula. My itinerary covered two southern states, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
My tour began on a subtle note in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, famously known as a comfortable Gateway to the South. A cross between cultures and cosmopolitan lifestyle, the city’s magic rests in its heritage. The Southern Heritage opened its doors for me through the Mahabalipuram Group of Monuments. Located on the sea shore near Chennai, the monuments consist of monolithic rock-cut structures carved in the form of sculptures, chariots and other bas relief structures. The complex’s main attraction belonged to The Shore Temple, a five-storeyed structural Hindu temple overlooking the gushing waves of the Bay of Bengal.
Chennai also made its special place in my heart due to its Marina Beach. The 12 km long beach coastline serving as a footstep to the wide azure ocean was a treat to the eyes and soul.
My next halt was in Pondicherry, the union territory and an erstwhile French colony. Proudly known as the Riviera of the East, being in Pondicherry made me feel as if I am transferred to France. The use of French language, cuisines and culture established the French connection instantly. Even a rickshaw-puller knew the knack of language, here. During my short stint, I also visited Auroville, the spiritual abode established by Sri Aurobindo. Sitting by the peaceful rocky beaches and experiencing calm amidst the roaring tides was my most remarkable experience in this little France of southern subcontinent.
Looking at the colorful gate pyramids - Gopurams and viewing the mythological sequences carved on them was the most striking and influential experience of temples in the South Indian Heritage Tour. Through the Mandapam, a verandah linking the sanctum of the temple complex, I explored different aspects of a temple. The devotees having holy bath, taking blessings from the elephants and the sacred water tanks form another great picture of South Indian Temples.
From Madurai, I moved through the windmill steeped highways towards the cultural district of Kanyakumari. Known to the world as the southernmost endpoint of the Indian subcontinent, the town is mythologically revered as an abode of Virgin Goddess, Kaniyakummari Amman. Here I witnessed the spectacular sunrise on this unique beach boasting the confluence of three seas. The first set of rays falling on the majestic statue of Poet Thiruvalluvar and Rock Memorial of Vivekananda intrigued me to cross the waves and look into the other side of the sea.
After boarding the ferry, I finally made my way to the rocky islets featuring the famous Rock Memorial, where Vivekananda meditated continuously for three days. Through ferry only, I was transported to the other rock islet where 133 ft tall statue of the celebrated saint - poet, Thiruvalluvar, rules the skyline.
From there, my next dream destination was Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala. Often pitched as the God’s own country, the small state is known for dense forests, spice farms, waterfalls, beaches and backwaters. Lined by the Arabian Sea, the state is rightfully the best destination to experience the comforting Indian hospitality.
My first destination in Kerala was Kovalam, the enchanting beach paradise where I experienced rejuvenation with the transforming touch of 5,000 year old Ayurveda treatments. Personalized as per my body constitution, these therapies in the company of exotic atmosphere allowed me to experience utmost relaxation for mind, body and soul.
From there, my next destination was Alleppey, a tourist town famous for its waterways and backwaters. Here I opted for an eight-hour backwater journey from Alleppey to Kumarakom, the longest stretch of lagoons and canals, on a traditionally furnished Kettuvalam, the houseboat. In these hard modern times, the time I spent while cruising on the backwaters was my best experience in this South Splendor Tour. This journey took me back in time, where I got the time of my life to soak pleasurable views of paddy fields, forests, and scenes of rural life, at my own contemplative speed.
My last halt in Kerala belonged to Kochi, the Queen of the Sea. Famous for Port Harbour and Chinese Fishing Nets, the city is an outlet for many national and international direct flights. During my half day stay, I visited Mattancherry Dutch Palace and Jewish Synagogue, one of the prominent Jewish structures in Asia.
The list of stories and experiences garnered during my South India Heritage Tour are endless. This unique tour widened my mindset which was limited with my own frame of mind. The heartwarming hospitality and helpful nature of Southerners overwhelmed me. If I had to coin one word for this journey, it would be ‘surprising’ only, a soothing surprise where every destination brought me a mellow, rich experience and I received much more than what I expected. Truly, South India Heritage Tour is a peek into the richness of the past, which can be lived once during this tour only.