South India Tour

A Gentle Encounter

Verdant backwaters and hill stations bring private South India tours and the idea of a tranquil houseboat vacation in Kerala to life. The South has captivated travelers since the days of Saint Thomas (AD 52).

From sea to shining sea, the South seduces effortlessly!

To the East, Tamil Nadu’s shores are caressed by the Bay of Bengal.

Inland South India tours take you to Karnataka, which offers relics of ancient empires and distinct cultural, architectural, and natural attractions.

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 History of South India

Historians claim that Neolithic cultures of South India date back to 8,000 BCE and evidence of trade with the Romans, Greeks, Syrians, Chinese and Jews is aplenty.

In the 4th century BCE, the South was divided into the kingdoms of the Cholas, Cheras and the Pandyas, and the kingdoms maintained cordial relations with the Mauryan empire up north.

The entire area was referred to as Tamilakam, meaning Land of the Tamils. Over the next few centuries, several dynasties rose and fell in South India.

In the 14th century, the Islamic Delhi Sultanate conquered most of South India and established the Deccan Sultanates.

For a period of the time, the Vijayanagara Kingdom controlled all of South India. However, in the 16th century, the Vijayanagara king was captured during battle and the kingdom was reduced to ruins.

The British were allowed to set up Madras, (today known as Chennai) around this time. The kingdom broke up into several small feudal states controlled by Nayaks and the Kingdom of Mysore, controlled by legendary Tipu Sultan, prospered.

With the rise of French and British colonial powers, much chaos ensued in South India.

Eventually, after the Anglo-Mysore and Anglo-Maratha wars, the British prevailed, and twin centers of power in Madras and Hyderabad, were established.

A few years after the Indian independence, Andhra Pradesh, the first linguistic state was created for the Telugu people.

Southern states were reorganised into Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, based on the language spoken in each area.

Goa, the Portuguese settlement, was incorporated into India and the French settlement of Pondicherry, or Puducherry as it is now called, became a Union Territory under the direct rule of the central government.

Hampi, the seat of Vijayanagara power, was reduced to ruins when the kingdom collapsed and never rebuilt again. Event today, the beautiful and deserted ruins stand and are worth a visit.

Kerala is famous for its backwaters, which haven’t changed much over the centuries

 South Indian Culture

South India hasn’t always been called that; it was alternately been referred to as the Deccan or the Carnatic by the British.

The dominant culture of South India is visibly different from other regions of the country, evident in the dress, language, food habits, and the art and architecture.

South India tours are incomplete without a visit to Pondicherry. This was once the French seat of power in India, it still has a dominant French population especially in the experimental town of Auroville.

Designed as a place where men and women from all nationalities and ethnicities can live in harmony, Auroville was built by The Mother Mirra Alfassa, a spiritual teacher who was part of the philanthropic Sri Aurobindo Society.

In South India, women wear colorful saris made of silks with heavy embroidery, while men prefer to wear the traditional draped garment called the dhoti or vibrant lungis with batik patterns.

In certain parts of the region, the lungi is sometimes folded up till the knees, to help men walk more easily.

Traditionally, men do not cover their upper bodies and certain temples even ban an upper garment for men.

The vibrant temple culture of every dynasty in South India allowed for the construction of some of the country’s most beautiful and revered Hindu temples.

From Mahabalipuram to Tanjore, Halebidu to Madurai, each temple is replete with murals and paintings from South Indian mythology.

Stylized sculptures of dance forms adorn many temples and five of the 26 Indian UNESCO World Heritage sites of India lie in the South!

The first South Indian poem, Sangam, was written more than two thousand years ago! Since then, many epics, poems, and classics have followed, particularly works that celebrate bountiful nature.

 Music & Dance in South India

Music and dance are an important part of the culture and South Indians are well-known for their patronage of the arts.

Classical music in the region, called carnatic music, is very melodious and usually devotional, and differs from state to state.

In Hindu temples you will find the nadaswaram (double reed wind instrument) being played and this instrument is said to have existed from the time of the first temple in South India.

Temple music is usually called periya melam, and is played while rituals are being performed.

South India has given the country some of its most celebrated dance forms.

Bharatanatyam, which is touted as the national dance of India, originated as a form of temple dancing in the South and was sanctified after India achieved independence.

Mohiniattam, Kathakali, Koodiyattam and Kuchipudi are some of the other dance forms that celebrate the beauty of the body.

Classical dance forms are precise and follow the tenets of Natya Shastra – the Indian treatise on performing arts, which claims that the body is your world.

 Religion in South India

South Indians are mainly Hindu, and Shaivite and Vaishnavite are the two major strains of Hinduism.

The Malabar Coast of South India, which witnessed a fair amount of trading with Oman and Arabs, is home to large Muslim and Jewish communities.

Christianity has also played a dominant role in the culture since the days of St Thomas the Apostle who arrived in Kerala during the first century BCE, and occasions like Christmas and Easter are celebrated with gusto!

 Languages spoken in South India

In 1953, the four states of South India were segregated according to the language spoken in each by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.

Telugu is spoken in Andhra Pradesh, Kannada in Karnataka, Malayalam in Kerala and Tamil is Tamil Nadu, although English is also commonly spoken and understood in the region.

English and Hindi are spoken and understood in all urban and tourist areas.

Top South India Travel Tip – Language:

South Indians are rather proud of their language and heritage and English is more popular than Hindi, which is the common language of northern India.

 South Indian Cuisine

Rice is a staple in South India and the spiciness of the food depends on the region.

A majority of the Hindu population in South India are vegetarians and you are likely to find many pure vegetarian restaurants all over the place, especially in rural areas or temple towns.

Places like Srirangam in Tamil Nadu or Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh don’t allow non-vegetarian food to be brought into the town at all.

Try local delicacies on your South India tour and you won’t be disappointed. In coastal Kerala, which has a large Muslim and Jewish population, meat and fish are eaten regularly.

Andhra cuisine is one of the spiciest in the country! Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh has its own style of cuisine and is a gastronomical delight! Home to the Nawabs of yore, the city is very popular for its spicy biryani and kebabs!

The food of Karnataka is probably the mildest in South India and most of the population in Karnataka are vegetarian. Coastal Karnataka, especially Mangalore, is known for the seafood and chutneys.

Coorg, located near Mysore, has a separate cuisine of its own. Pork, game and meat cooked in kokum is a hallmark of Coorgi cuisine, which is touted as one of the best in the region!

In Kerala, the land of spices, food is traditionally served on banana leaves. Coconut and seafood are usually included in every meal!

Tamil meals are elaborate – a variety of side dishes are served with steamed rice served on a banana leaf. Except for Brahmins, most Tamils eat non-vegetarian although not very frequently.

Chettinad, in southern Tamil Nadu, is famous for its spicy, non-vegetarian fare.

In Pondicherry, French influence on the cuisine is rather evident and the French quarter serves some excellent Mediterranean food.

Whet your appetite for these South Indian specialities:

  • Gosht biryani: meat biryani popular in Hyderabad
  • Dum ka murgh: chicken cooked in Hyderabadi style
  • Bisi Bele Baath: a slightly sour mixture of rice and lentils served hot in Karnataka
  • Rasam: lentil soup with a tamarind base, popular everywhere in South India
  • Pandi curry: pork meat curry cooked in Coorgi style
  • Shrimp coconut curry: a delicacy in Kerala
  • Fish moilee: famous Keralan seafood dish
  • Idiyappam: string hoppers made with rice flour pressed into noodles and steamed
  • Chettinad pepper chicken: chicken cooked in a pepper and curry leaves and served spicy hot in Chettinad
  • Masala dosa: rice pancake stuffed with potato, onion, mustard seed and turmeric and served with sambar (a vegetable gravy) and a fresh chutney (usually coconut). Served across South India and with multiple variations.

Top India Travel Tip – Cuisine: 

You can never over dosa! Idlis (steamed rice flour cakes), dosas (rice flour pancakes) and vadas (savoury rice flour donuts) served with sambar are the most popular types of breakfast in South India and you will find many small street side shops and pure vegetarian hotels (semi-open restaurants) catering to a large clientele on any given morning.

We look forward to welcoming you on your private South India tour. 

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