By Ravi Valluri

It was a icy-cold January in Delhi that year, the year 1983. The citadels of power of the Congress Party had crumbled in undivided Andhra Pradesh and in Karnataka. The talismanic trouper who essayed the roles of several mythological figures, N.T. Rama Rao had assumed office in Andhra Pradesh and the cerebral and suave Rama Krishna Hegde had demolished the grand old party in Karnataka. People of North India woke from slumber to relearn their geography; to realise that south was not merely the land of “Madrasis” or “Idli and Dosas”.

“To continue the freshness you feel at the Himalayas, you may come down; visit the lush green Heaven, The beauty of our culture, surroundings, people, and food can never leave you without words. You may refine your soul by embracing the richness of simplicity. Yes....right down to the South. Welcome to Kerala. The God’s own country,” writes Aarya Ganesh.

Southern India is indicative of pristine and unalloyed Indian culture. Panoramic scenery that stuns the beholder, neatly decorated temples, some incredible monuments and a treasure of yogic techniques and Ayurvedic treatments; delicacies to tickle the most finicky taste buds conjure Mandrake like magic and provides the tripper with a robust menu card.

A backpacker is left in a trance observing numerous historical ruins and swaying coconut trees. From the silvery backwaters of Alappuzha to the beaches of Kerala; the ancient city of Chennai dotted with several temples, the bustling tech savvy cities of Hyderabad and Bangalore or the sublime Auroville and the tranquil Samadhi of Shri Aurobindo, the breathtaking coastline of Visakhapatnam and last but not the least, Tirupati, the abode of Lord Venkateswara; South India is a gateway to paradise.

Temples

There are around 30,000 ancient temples in South India! Verily, it is called the land of temples. Alongside temples are churches, synagogues and mosques. A land that is extremely pluralistic in nature.

Studded with exemplar architecture, variety of sculptures and varied inscriptions, temples are the very soul of South India. For any a tipper, a visit to the Murugan temple, Meenakshi temple, Rameswaram, Tirupati, and Vivekananda Rock Temple among others is but natural.

Backwaters

The shimmering and sunny beaches, golden sands and palm fringed seashores and the backwaters attract globetrotters. Tourists, young and old throng Kovalam, Marina, Baga, Varkala and the backwaters of Alappuzha. Trippers luxuriate and carouse in the houseboats of Kerala.

Wildlife

Tourists make a beeline to see the majesty of the carnivorous species at the nineteen national parks and the four tiger reserves in South India which are populated with a rich and varied flora and fauna. The must visit parks for any wildlife enthusiast are Periyar, Bandipur, Idukki, and Eravikulam.

The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has niche packages such as the Southern Marvel, Dakshin Bharat Yatra and the Chennai-Kanyakumari-Rameshwaram-Madurai Tour to attract the potential visitor.

The Southern Marvel

This tour is spread over six nights and seven days and traverses destinations such as Mumbai, Madurai, Rameswaram and Kanyakumari. Pilgrims board train number 11043, and also travel the intermediate leg by train number 22621 from Rameswaram to Kanyakumari. In this enthralling package, the devout pay obeisance at the Meenakshi temple, the Gandhi Memorial, the Thiruparankundram Murugan Temple, the Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal, the Pazhamudircholai and the Alagar Kovil.

Dakshin Bharat Yatra

The trip spans 13 nights and 14 days. The itinerary also includes a visit to temples of singular importance such as the Ramanatha Swami Temple at Rameswaram , the Meenakshi temple at Madurai, Kovalam beach in Thiruvananthapuram , the Anantha Padmanabha Temple (also in Thiruvananthapuram) and the Ranganathaswamy Temple at Srirangapatna.

In a breathtaking swoop the pilgrim criss-crosses three states of South India and is exposed to the heterogeneous culture, cuisine, heritage, architecture and beliefs of this prodigious part of South India.

Chennai-Kanyakumari-Rameshwaram-Madurai Tour

This is an extraordinary tour spread over four nights and five days. The travellers visit Kumari Amman Temple, Triveni Sangam, the jaw dropping point to witness the confluence of the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean where each water body has a distinctive shade of colour ( a nonpareil spectacle of nature) , the grandiose Vivekananda Rock Memorial, the Thiruvalluvar Statue, and the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Mandapam, to name only a few important places.

All these tourist and pilgrim packages span the major pilgrimage spots of South India and the devout make a beeline to visit these places of worship.

The Lord of Seven Hills

The landscape of Rayalaseema, a prominent geographical entity of Andhra Pradesh is truly blessed as it is dotted with numerous temples and spiritual centres which provide succour to the souls, and quenches the spiritual thirst of Masters, seekers, savants and stock individual alike.

It is the darshan (a mere glimpse) of Lord Sri Venkateswara Swamy (or Lord Balaji as he is also known) that pilgrims pine for incessantly. The momentary satisfaction derived from the fleeting sighting of the Lord amidst humongous crowds intensifies the longing to see Him again and again. Man meets Divinity, where a thrill passes through the spine, throats get parched and eyes are moist after darshan.

The temple town of Tirupati is in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh and the shrine is located on the lofty Tirumala Hill, nestled among the Seven Hills in the Eastern Ghats. Pilgrims traverse the journey either by road or literally climbing step by step.

The history of Lord Venkateswara’s temple dates back over twelve centuries. The temple is indeed a jewel in the crown of ancient places of worship. It is authentically believed by devotees that the Lord bestows relief to the afflicted, provides an aperture of divine wisdom to the seeker, and bestows prosperity to the materialist.

A visit to Tirupati and the surrounding holy shrines which include Kanipakam and Srikalahasti, provide singular spiritual satisfaction to devotees.

“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before,” says His Holiness Dalai Lama.

These are quintessentially significant words to live by. There is always something exciting about exploring a new place every year. It can be a new country, a new city, or can even be an interesting spot near one’s hometown.

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