The South India: The Rough Guide

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Introduction
Though its borders are uncertain, there's no doubt that South India, the tapering tropical half of this mighty peninsula, differs radically from the landlocked north. Stepping off a winter flight from foggy Delhi into the glasshouse humidity of Chennai (Madras) or Thiruvanathapuram (Trivandrum), you enter a world far removed from the muted hues of Punjab and the great Indian river plains. In the south, the coconut groves seem a deeper green and the rice paddy ...
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Overview

Introduction
Though its borders are uncertain, there's no doubt that South India, the tapering tropical half of this mighty peninsula, differs radically from the landlocked north. Stepping off a winter flight from foggy Delhi into the glasshouse humidity of Chennai (Madras) or Thiruvanathapuram (Trivandrum), you enter a world far removed from the muted hues of Punjab and the great Indian river plains. In the south, the coconut groves seem a deeper green and the rice paddy positively luminescent, the faces darker brown and the vermilion caste marks smeared over them arrestingly red. The region's heavy rainfall means that lush wheatfields and palm plantations patchwork the sun-bleached volcanic soils during all but the hottest months. But under a sun whose rays feel concentrated by a giant magnifying glass, the ubiquitous colours of South India - of silk saris, shimmering classical dance costumes, roadside film posters and frangipani flowers - radiate with a life of their own. It is easy to see why Alexander Frater, faced with the shirt-drenching pre-monsoonal heat of southern Kerala, thought that at any moment "...with a whoosh and a muffled whump, the whole place must spontaneously ignite."
South India's three mightiest rivers - the Godavari, the Krishna and the Kaveri - and their countless tributaries, flow east across a low, fertile alluvial basin that has been inhabited as long as anywhere in the subcontinent. Separated from the prehistoric Indus valley civilizations of the northwest by tracts of barren hills, the earliest South Indian societies are thought to have evolved independently of their northern cousins. Periodic invasions - from the marauding Muslims whose descendants would later erect the Taj Mahal, to the evangelizing, pepper-hungry Portuguese and ineffectual French - left their marks on the territory referred to in some of India's oldest inscriptions as Dravidadesa, "Land of the Tamils". None, however, not even the ruthlessly efficient British, ever fully subjugated the south. As a result, traditions, languages and ways of life have endured intact here for more than two thousand years - a fact that lends to any journey into the region a unique resonance.
The persistence of a distinctly Dravidian culture in part accounts for the regionalism that has increasingly dominated the political and cultural life of the South since Independence in 1947. With the exception of Goa, a former Portuguese colony, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the borders of the states covered in this book - Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh - were drawn along linguistic lines. Each boasts its own distinctive styles of music, dance, architecture and cuisine, not to mention religious cults, dress and mutually incomprehensible languages. Moreover, attempts by New Delhi to homogenize the country by imposing Hindi, the most widely spoken language in the North, as the medium of education and government, have consistently met with resistance, stimulating support for the regional parties whose larger-than-life leaders beam munificently from giant hoardings in every major town and city.
More pervasive even than the power of politics in South India is the influence of religion, which, despite the country's resolutely secular constitution, still permeates every aspect of life. Of the four major faiths, Hinduism is by far the most prevalent, practised by around eighty percent of the population. If the sacred peaks of the Himalaya are Hinduism's head, and the Ganges its main artery, then the temple complexes of the South are its spiritual heart and soul. Soaring high above every skyline, their colossal towers are emblematic of the awe with which the deities enshrined inside them have been held for centuries. Some, like the Shore temple at Tiruchendur in Tamil Nadu, are thought to be as old as human speech itself; others, such as the Sabarimala forest shrine in Kerala are less ancient, but attract greater numbers of pilgrims than even Mecca. For foreign visitors, however, the most extraordinary of all have to be the colossal Chola shrines of Tamil Nadu. Joining the crowds that stream through Madurai's Meenakshi-Sundareshwar temple or Shri Ramalingeshwara in Rameshwaram, will take you to the very taproot of the world's last surviving classical culture, some of whose hymns, prayers and rites predate the Egyptian pyramids.
By comparison, Islam, South India's second religion, is a fledgling faith, first introduced by Arab traders along the coast. Later, offshoots of the Muslim dynasties that ruled the North carved out feudal kingdoms beyond the Godavari, establishing a band of Islamic culture across the middle of the Deccan plateau. Other elements in the great South Indian melting pot include a dozen or more denominations of Christianity, ranging from the ancient Syrian Orthodoxy believed to have been introduced by the apostle St Thomas, to the Roman Catholicism of Old Goa's Portuguese Jesuits. The region also harbours sites sacred to Jains, followers of the prophet Mahavira, a contemporary of Buddha, while in Kochi, Kerala, a vestigial population of elderly Jews is all that remains of a once thriving mercantile community.
Since Independence, these diverse groups have coexisted more or less peacefully, rarely succumbing to the waves of communal blood-letting that have often blighted life in the northern cities. Over the past five or six years, supposedly as a reaction to the rise of Hindu extremist parties, bombs and riots have erupted around the Muslim ghettos of Mumbai (Bombay) and Coimbatore (in western Tamil Nadu), but these are widely held as isolated flare-ups rather than a growing trend. The last decade has seen a dramatic rise in caste violence, however. The age-old hierarchy introduced by the Aryans more than three thousand years ago still forms the backbone of South Indian society, crossing all religious and ethnic divides. But recent political reforms have enabled members of disadvantaged minorities to claim a fairer share of government jobs and university places, as well as political posts (the current president of India is of low-caste South Indian origin), and this has generated widespread resentment, strengthening the very divisions positive discrimination was intended to dissolve.
South India, though, remains one of the most relaxed and congenial parts of Asia to explore. It is also among the easiest. In all but the remotest districts, accommodation is plentiful, clean and inexpensive by Western standards. Freshly cooked, nutritious food is nearly always available. Getting around is usually straightforward, although the sheer size and problematic geography of the South means journeys can be long. The region's extensive rail network is a miraculous feat, moving vast numbers of people at all times of the day and night, and if a train isn't heading where you want to go, a bus probably will be. Furthermore, the widespread use of English makes communication easy. South Indians are the most garrulous and inquisitive of travellers, and train rides are always enlivened by conversations that invariably begin with the refrain of "Coming from?" or "Your native place?"
The extent to which you enjoy travelling in South India will probably depend less on your luck with hotels, restaurants and transport than your reaction to the country itself. Many people expect some kind of exotic time warp, and are indignant to find a consumer culture that's as unashamedly materialistic as anywhere. It is a credit to the South Indians' legendary capacity for assimilating new ideas, however, that both the modern and traditional thrive side by side. Walking through downtown Bangalore, you could brush shoulders with a software programmer one moment and a saffron-clad ascetic the next, while bullock carts and stray cattle mingle with Japanese hatchbacks. There are, of course, the usual travel hassles: interminable queues, packed buses and constant encroachments on your personal space. Yet, just when your nerves feel stretched to breaking point, South India always offers something that makes the effort worthwhile: a glimpse of a wild elephant from a train window; a sumptuous vegetarian meal delicately arranged on a fresh banana leaf; or a hint of fragrant cardamom in your tea after an all-night Kathakali recital.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781858284699
  • Publisher: Rough Guides, Limited
  • Publication date: 1/1/2000
  • Series: Rough Guides Travel Series
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 656
  • Product dimensions: 5.08 (w) x 7.75 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Where to go
South India's boundaries vary according to who you're talking to: while some regard the Krishna River, the upper limit of India's last Hindu empire, as the real North-South divide, others place the subcontinent's main cultural fault line at the Godavari River, or further north still, at the Vindhya Hills, the barrier of arid table-topped mountains bounding the Ganges Basin. In this guide we've started with Mumbai (Bombay), a hot, congested and seedy city that is the arrival point for most international flights. Mumbai gets a pretty bad press, and most people pass straight through. But those who stay find themselves witness to the reality of modern-day India, from the deprivations of the city's slum-dwellings to the glitz and glamour of Bollywood movies.
The other principal gateway is Chennai (Madras), capital of Tamil Nadu, in the deep south, which is a slightly less stressful point of entry. Although it's another major metropolis bursting at the seams, hidden under its congested surface are artful gems such as regular public performances of music and dance. With regular flights and ship departures to Port Blair, Chennai is also the principal springboard for the Andaman Islands, a remote archipelago ringed by coral reefs and crystal-clear seas, 1000km east of the mainland in the Bay of Bengal.
The majority of visitors' first stop after Chennai is Mamallapuram, an ancient port littered with weather-worn sculpture sites, including the famous Shore temple. To get right off the beaten track you only have to head inland to Kanchipuram, whose innumerable Hindu shrines span the golden age of the illustrious Chola kingdom, or to Tiruvannamalai, where one of the region's most massive temple complexes rises dramatically from the base of a sacred mountain, site of countless ashrams and meditation caves. Back on the coast, the former French colony of Pondicherry retains a distinctly Gallic feel, particularly in its restaurants, where you can order coq au vin and bottles of burgundy before a stroll along the promenade. The Kaveri (Cauvery) Delta, further south, harbours astonishing crops of monuments, some of the most impressive of which are around Thanjavur (Tanjore), the Cholas' former capital, dominated by the awesome Brihadishwara temple. You could profitably spend days exploring the town's watery hinterland, hunting out bronze-casting villages, crumbling ruins and other forgotten sacred sites among the web of rivers and irrigation canals. Most travellers press on south to Madurai, the region's most atmospherically charged city, where the mighty Meenakshi-Sundareshwar temple presides over a quintessentially Tamil swirl of life.
The two other most compelling destinations in Tamil Nadu are the island of Rameshwaram, whose main temple features a vast enclosure of pillared corridors, and Kannyakumari, the auspicious southernmost tip of India, where the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea flow together. The dark shadows visible on the horizon from here mark the start of the Western Ghats, which stretch for more than 1000km in a virtually unbroken chain all the way to Mumbai, forming a sheer barrier between Tamil Nadu and neighbouring Kerala. Covered in immense forests and windswept grasslands, the mountains rise to the highest peaks in peninsular India, with sides sculpted by tea terraces, coffee plantations and cardamom groves. The hill stations of Udhagamandalam (or Ooty, as it's still better known) and Kodaikanal, established by India's former colonial rulers as retreats from the searing summer heat of the plains, attract hordes of Indian visitors in the run-up to the rains, but see plenty of foreign tourist traffic during the winter, too.
Neighbouring Kerala's appeal lies less in its religious monuments, many of which remain off-limits to non-Hindus, than its infectiously easy-going, tropical ambience. Covering a long thin coastal strip backed by a steep wall of hills, this is the wettest and most densely populated state in the south. It is also the most distinctive, with a culture that sets it squarely apart. Its surreal form of ritualized theatre (Kathakali), faintly Southeast Asian architecture and ubiquitous communist graffiti (Kerala was the first place in the world to gain a democratically elected communist government), are perhaps the most visual expressions of this difference. But spend a couple of days exploring the spicy backstreets of old Kochi (Cochin), the jungles of the Cardamom Hills around the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary or the hidden aquatic world of the coastal backwaters, and you'll see why many travellers end up staying here a lot longer than they originally intended. If you're not pushed for time and find yourself crossing northern Kerala during the winter, set aside a few days to search for Teyyam, a spectacular masked dance form unique to the villages around Kannur.
A short ride across the mountains takes you to Mysore, in Karnataka, whose opulent maharaja's palace, colourful markets and comfortable California-like climate have made it among South India's most popular tourist destinations. Bangalore, the hectic modern capital, is not one of the highlights of the state, which are for the main part scattered over a vast area of rolling, granite-boulder-strewn uplands. Most, such as the richly carved Hoysala temples of Belur and Halebid, or the extraordinary Jain colossus at Sravanabelgola, are religious monuments. Amongst other extraordinary sights are the mausolea, mosques and Persian-style palaces of Bijapur, Karnataka, often dubbed the "Agra of the South". Almost unsurpassable, however, is the awesome scale and faded splendour of the Vijayangar ruins at Hampi, on the Tungabhadra River. Until it was ransacked by a confederacy of Muslim Sultanates in 1565, this was the magnificent capital of South India's last Hindu empire, encompassing most of the peninsula.
Only one day's journey to the west, the palm-fringed, white-sand beaches of Goa offer a change of scenery from the rocky terrain of the Deccan. Succumbing to the hedonistic pleasures of warm sea water, constant sunshine and cheap drinks, many travellers find it hard to tear themselves away from the coast. Further east, a string of smaller former dynastic capitals punctuate the journey across the heart of the Deccan plateau to Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh, whose principal landmarks are the Charminar and Golconda fort. Andhra's other attractions, by contrast, lie much further off the beaten track. Comparatively few Western visitors ever reach them, but Puttaparthy, the ashram of India's most famous living saint, Sai Baba, and Tirupati, whose temple receives more pilgrims than anywhere else on earth, are essential stops for South Indians.
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Table of Contents

Introduction
PART ONE BASICS
Getting there: from Britain and Ireland
Visas and red tape
Travel Insurance
Health
Information and maps
Costs, money and banks
Getting around
Accommodation
Eating and drinking
Mail, telecommunications and media
Sports
Crime and personal safety
Cultural hints and etiquette
Shopping
Festivals and holidays
Yoga, meditation and ashrams
Women travellers
Gay travellers
Disabled travellers
Travelling with kids
Directory
PART TWO THE GUIDE
CHAPTER 1 MUMBAI
Arrival
Information and communications
City transport
The city
Accommodation
Eating and drinking
Nightlife and entertainment
Shopping
Listings
Onwards from Mumbai
Travel details
CHAPTER 2 GOA
Panjim
Old Goa (Velha Goa)
Ponda
Mapusa
Candolim and Fort Aguda
Calangute
Baga
Anjuna
Vagator
Chapora
Pernem
Arambol (Harmal)
Terekol
Vasco da Gama
Bogmalo
Margao (Madgaon)
Colva
Benaulim
Palolem
Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary
Moving on from Goa
Travel details
CHAPTER 3 KARNATAKA
Bangalore
Mysore
Srirangapatnam
Gomatagiri
Bandipur National Park
Nagarhole National Park
Somnathpur
Hassan
Halebid
Belur
Sravanabelgola
Kodagu (Coorg)
Madikeri (Mercara)
Mangalore
Mudabidri
Dharamastala
Sringeri
Udupi
Jog Falls
Gokarn
Sirsi
Banvasi
Karwar
Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary
Hubli
Hospet
Hampi (Vijayanagar)
Badami
Mahakuta
Aihole
Pattadakal
Bijapur
Gulbarga
Bidar
Travel details
CHAPTER 4 KERELA
Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum)
Kovalam
Vizhinjam (Vilinjam)
Agastya Hills
Ponmudi and Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary
Padmanabhapuram
Varkala
Kollam (Quilon)
Alappuzha
Kuttanad (the Backwaters)
Kottayam
Kumarakom
Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary
Kumily
Cardamom Hills
Munnar
Eravikulam National Park
Kochi (Cochin)
Mattancherry
Fort Cochin
Ernakulam
Lakshadweep Islands
Thrissur
Kodungallur
Guruvayur
Cheruthuruthy
Palakaad
Kozhikode
Wayanad
Kalpetta
Mananthavady
Kannur (Cannanore)
Kasargode
Bekal
Travel details
CHAPTER 5 CHENNAI
Arrival
Information and communications
City transport
The city
Accommodation
Eating
Listings
Onwards from Chennai
CHAPTER 6 TAMIL NADU
Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram)
Kanchipuram
Vellore
Vedanthangal
Tiruvannamalai
Gingee
Pondicherry
Auroville
Chidambaram
Gangaikondacholapuram
Kumbakonam
Darasuram
Swamimalai
Thanjavur
Thiruvarur
Nagapattinam
Kodikkarai (Point Calimere)
Tiruchirapalli (Trichy)
Madurai
Tirupparakunram
Rameshwaram
Ramanathapuram (Ramnad)
Tirunelveli
Kuttalam (Courtalam)
Tuticorin
Tiruchendur
Kanniyakumari
Suchindram
Coimbatore
Coonoor
Kotagiri
Udhagamandalam (Ootacamund)
Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary
Kodaikanaln
Palani
Indira Gandhi (Anamalai) Wildlife Sanctuary
Travel details
CHAPTER 7 ANDHRA PRADESH
Hyderabad
Secunderabad
Charminar
Golconda Fort
Warangal
Nagarjunakonda
Vijayawada
Guntur
Amaravati
Vishakapatnam
Tirupati
Puttaparthy
Travel details
CHAPTER 8 PORT BLAIR
Port Blair
Viper and Ross Islands
Corbyn's Cove
Chirya Tapu
Wandoor
Mahatma Gandhi National Marine Park
Neill Island
Havelock Island
Long Island
Middle Andaman
Rangat
Mayabunder
Interview Island
Kalighat
Diglipur
Arial Bay
Cinque Island
Barren Island
Little Andaman
Travel details
PART THREE CONTEXTS
A brief history of South India
The religions of India
Society and people
Sacred art and architecture
Wildlife
Music
Dance
Books
Glossary
Useful words and phrases
LIST OF MAPS
South India
Chapter divisions
Chapter 1 - Mumbai
Colaba
Churchgate and Fort
Chapter 2 - Goa
Panjim
Old Goa
Candolim and Fort Aguada
Calangute and Baga
Anjuna
Chapora and Vagator
Margao
Colva
Benaulim
Palolem
Chapter 3 - Karnataka
Bangalore
MG Road and around
Mysore
Hassan
Kodagu (Coorg)
Madikeri
Mangalore
Gokarn
Hubli
Hospet
Hampi (Vijayanagar)
Hampi Bazaar
Badami
Bijapur
Chapter 4 - Kerala
Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum)
Kovalam
Varkala
Kollam
Alappuzha (Alleppey)
Kottayam
Periyar
Munnar
Kochi and Ernakulam
Fort Cochin
Ernakulam
Thrissur
Kozhikode
Chapter 5 - Chennai
Egmore, Anna Salai and Triplicane
Chapter 6 - Tamil Nadu
Mamallapuram
Kanchipuram
Tiruvannamalai
Pondicherry
Kumbakonam
Thanjavur
Tiruchirapalli (Trichy)
Madurai
Madurai: Old City
Rameshwaram
Kanniyakumari
Coimbatore
Udhagamandalam (Ooty)
Kodaikanal
Chapter 7 - Andhra Pradesh
Hyderabad and Secunderabad
Hyderabad
Golconda Fort
Chapter 8 - Andaman Islands
Port Blair
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