A balmy paradise of tranquil backwaters and lagoons, Kerala is a refuge from the characteristic chaos of India’s major cities. Sprawled along the Arabian Sea coast in a complex maze of land and river, it is a region best explored by boat. Hire a kettu vallam to drift you along the lazy rivers, and spot the peaceful waterfront houses of the passing villages. Make sure to get a taste of the distinctive Keralan performing arts scene – a must see are the ‘story-play’ kathakali dancers with their vibrant face paints and extravagant costumes. A state renowned for its lively festivals celebrating culture and colour, check the event calendar before you travel.
Kerala’s relaxed capital, Trivandrum, is dense with museums and brilliant-white colonial-style edifices, largely missed by passing travellers. Take time to explore the ‘Evergreen City of India’, starting with the intricately carved gopuram of the Shri Padmanabhaswamy, the world’s richest Hindu temple.
Immerse yourself in a collision zone of cultures like no other in Cochin, with its fascinating blend of Portuguese, Chinese and Dutch architectural styles. The cultural contradictions continue with a jumble of mosques, synagogues and British Raj relics that offset the traditional Indian way of life here. Perched on the waterfront of the historic Fort Kochi, the lavish Fragrant Nature hotel offers stunning views of Xandari harbour, and a delectable range of world cuisines. Pop out to the sea coast after dinner to watch the iconic, sweeping Chinese fishing nets silhouetted against the setting sun.
A state once the subject of an enthralling, 2000-year tug of war for power, Karnataka’s multitude of ruling dynasties are showcased by its present-day diversity of culture. It is a state where turbulent metropolises like Bangalore – ever-rushing to keep pace with modernity – are set against timeless old-world cities like Mysore, preservations of quintessentially romantic India.
India’s ‘Silicon Valley’, Bangalore is alive with shiny malls, trendy restaurants and a buzzing nightlife scene second only to Mumbai’s. A hotbed of contemporary indulgence with an efficient transport system, the capital has come a long way from the serene ‘Garden City’ it once was. In the centre sits a landscaped oasis, The Taj West End, sprawled across 20 acres of verdant estate – the perfect setting in which to wind down after a taxing day of shops, drinks and food.
Contrastingly, the southern city of Mysore still glitters with historical reminders of its regal past. Entrancing palaces and halls scatter the land, and the city’s roads all flow to the scintillating Mysore Palace – a worthy destination.