Highlights of Southern India | Go beyond the Golden Triangle with this 10-day escape from Goa to Kochi

2020-01-17 13:41 - Iga Motylska
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Highlights for Southern India

Beyond the Golden Triangle, Iga Motylska travelled to southern India – the home of yoga, paper-thin filled dosas, coffee plantations, retreats along the Arabian Sea and traces of Portuguese colonialism. 

In this suggested 10-day itinerary, she shares hacks and highlights she picked up along the way. 

Day 1: Travel from Mumbai to Goa

Travel: Depending on your time, budget, patience and how much of a seasoned traveller you are, Goa can be reached from Mumbai by boat, car, train and plane – in terms of difficulty.

The 600-odd kilometre road trip between the two cities along the NH4 Pune-Kolhpur route will take up to 12 hours depending on the traffic congestion, weather conditions and the number of stops you make.

The new 22119 Mumbai CST is the fastest train along this route and more comfortable than the bus. The Karmali Tejas Express departs in the morning (05:50) and is a somewhat luxury semi-high-speed train that will get you to northern Goa in around eight hours, just after 14:00.

If you’re not prone to motion sickness and want to watch the sunrise and sunset from the Arabian Sea, India’s first domestic luxury cruise liner, the seven-deck Angriya, makes the journey with around 400 passengers in 14 hours.

With its swimming pool, bars and restaurants, reading room, spa and disco, there’s much to do to pass the time when you’re not in your dorm or double room.

We flew with a domestic airline and covered the 435km aerial distance in just over an hour. Dabolim International Airport is 4km from the nearest Goan city of Vasco da Gama.

Accommodation: Red Fox Hotel, Morjim

Day 2: Explore historic Goa

Morning: The south-western coastal state of Goa is a sweet mix of palm trees, lassis, lobsters, Hindu temples and Portuguese Catholic churches. We hired a taxi with AC (it’s worth paying a little bit extra) but you can also take a tuk-tuk or the public bus to reach old historic Goa. This former state capital was previously called the ‘Rome of the East’ due to its Christian influence and Portuguese heritage. It was abandoned at the turn of the 17th century due to continuous outbreaks of Cholera and Malaria.

We visited various historic landmarks from Basilica Bom Jesus, which contains the relics of St Francis Xavier, to the blue and white Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, and the collapsing ruins of the Church of St Augustine.

Afternoon: Next we explored the Latin Quarter of Panji, the state’s current capital, which is characterised by its whitewashed churches and Smarties-coloured colonial houses.

Evening: A seafood buffet at a beachfront restaurants, where you can sink your feet into the sand to the chorus of the waves, is a must.

Highlights for Southern India

The Aguada Fort Area, just outside of Goa proper, is popular for Humpback dolphin-viewing boat excursions. Photo: Iga Motylska 

Day 3: Go dolphin spotting and embrace soporific Susegad

Morning: A lazy start culminated in uncontained excitement, as we made our way to the Aguada Fort Area for a 45-minute sightseeing boat trip to see the wild Indo pacific Humpback dolphins that frequent these waters.

Afternoon: I embraced susegad, which translates to ‘quiet’ from the Portuguese word sossegado. This way of being is associated not only with the soporific afternoon heat that demands a siesta, but with the region’s laid-back attitude that the locals say has permeated Goan culture for centuries.

Evening: Goa’s fiery Portuguese-influenced cuisine serves a taste of the past.

Day 4: Travel overland from Goa to Hampi

Travel: The Howrah Express departs from Vasco De Gama Station at 07:20 and terminates at Hospet at 14:00, from where we travelled by road for an hour past stacked granite boulders to Hampi.

Sunset: I left my shoes at the foot of Hanuman Temple, which honours the Hindu monkey god. I climbed 575 steps, alongside pilgrims, to the top where white spray paint claimed this to be the world’s top sunset spot. That’s hard to deny as it overlooks rice paddies, banana plantations and swathes of palm trees to the sound of prayers and tolling bells.

Accommodation: Clarks Inn Hampi

Day 5: Discover Hampi– a UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Morning: Hampi narrates the story of a lost kingdom while showing off its architectural marvels. This UNESCO World Heritage centre is an extensive complex of ruins of the Vijayanagara Empire. This 7th century settlement on the banks of the Tungabhadra River was a trading hub for gold, gems, spices and silk. Its wealth welcomed Persian and Portuguese traders. By the 16th century it was the world’s second largest medieval city after Beijing.

Afternoon: The ruins are so extensive that I took a coracle made from woven bamboo, plastic and tar down the river between the various ruins complex – much more exciting than a tuk-tuk.

Evening: The overnight Hampi Express chugged us to Mysore by morning.

Highlights for Southern India

Hampi is an extensive UNESCO World Heritage centre that showcases the ruins of  the 7th century Vijayanagara Empire. Photo: Iga Motylska 

Day 6: The Maharajas of Mysore

Morning: The Maharajas, the former royal family which ruled from the 14th until the 20th century lived in Mysore Palace. Along the corridors and various rooms, I learned about the rich history of Indian royalty and soaked in the splendor of a bygone era.

Afternoon: Afternoon ushered us to Chamundeshwari Temple, devoted to the Hindu goddess Chamundi, atop Chamundi Hill.

Evening: We returned to Mysore Palace to see it illuminated by around 100 000 light bulbs.

Accommodation: Akshaya Mahal

Highlights for Southern India

Around 100 000 light bulbs illuminate Mysore Palace by night, which makes it a popular location for date night. 

(photo: Iga Motylska) 

Day 7: Travel from Mysore to Madikeri

Morning: A four-hour car ride dropped us off at the former hill station of Madikeri.

Afternoon: I walked the city to familiarise myself with our new destination, past women selling fruits and vegetables on saris laid out on the ground and men weaving garlands outside Hindu temples.

Evening: Raja’s Seat, the city’s most coveted sunset spot, was once the sole domain of royalty, today it is crowded with families and cooing couples.

Accommodation: Hotel Al Wesal International

Day 8: The coffee plantations of Madikeri hill station

Morning-Afternoon: Madikeri, a hill station within India’s highlands, is located between 800 and 1 200 metres. Its cool climate makes it ideal for growing Arabica and Robusta coffee. A guided four-hour walk through Madikeri’s coffee plantations saw us trek through rice paddies and coffee plantations, up forested inclines, and past the doors of farmer’s houses. Our guide pointed out edible plants from the palm trees used to make palm wine that is sold on the streets to turmeric and pink bananas. I braved chewing on wild tobacco and sucked the sweet nectar from hibiscus flowers.

Evening: A visit to the 17th century Mercara Fort and the adjoining St Mark’s church ended our day.

Highlights for Southern India

The cool climate of the Madikeri highlands makes for ideal growing conditions for coffee, in between rice paddies.  (Photo: Iga Motylska)

Day 9: Travel from Madikeri to Kochi

Morning-evening: We drove along the coastline through the town of Kannur to catch the Ernakulam Express to Kochi.

Accommodation: Hotel Fort Manor

Day 10: Kochi

Morning: I started my day with a sunrise yoga session before a breakfast of paper-thin filled dosas. It reinvigorated me ahead of a full day of exploring the cobbled streets of Fort Kochi, the Jewish area with its famed blue synagogue, the Dutch Palace and spice market. Sunset saw me sit alongside the water, watching the rhythmic dipping and rising of the Chinese fishing nets, which are synonymous with Kochi.

Highlights for Southern India

If you're looking for a seafood feast with a burst of Indian flavour make your way to the seaside city of Kochi, where you can also marvel at the Chinese fishing nets. Photo: Iga Motylska 

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