The ‘Temple of India’, Tamil Nadu is largely unsullied by the modern chaos of northern India. Shielded throughout history by the Deccan military and its remote location, Tamil Nadu proudly remains one of the most Hindu states – a fact reflected in the myriad garishly-painted gopuras that tower above the palm forest landscape. In the ancient city of Madurai lies the illustrious Meenakshi Temple, with thousands of vivid carvings precariously stacked to form its iconic pyramids. Spend an evening exploring its thousand pillared halls, and stay to witness the rhythmic frenzy of the 9pm holy procession. If this whets your spiritual appetite, you’ll find a treasure of sacred temples and shrines in northern Tamil Nadu, atop the verdant holy lands regularly journeyed by pilgrims.
The state capital, Chennai, is a noisy collision zone of spicy street food, teeming bazaars and traffic. With an urban vibe uncharacteristic of the rest of Tamil Nadu, respite from the chaotic inner cities is easy to find. Lose yourself in the deep-green, velvet hills of the Western Ghats, or head north to the serene seaside town of Mamallapuram – a beige and green UNESCO-listed site of coastal beauty. On your way up, stop off at Pondicherry to sample the unusual fusion of French and Indian culture that radiates from the cuisine and very architecture of the city.
The Andaman Islands
Adrift deep within the Bay of Bengal, getaway destinations don’t get further removed than the Andaman Islands. Sat 1,760km away from mainland India’s east coast, this ethereal archipelago is host to pure-white beaches and clear waters rich with marine life. The main island of Havelock is a diver’s paradise: snorkel through teal waters, vivified with the ambers and yellows of indigenous fishes, and scuba-dive amongst eagle rays and reef sharks at Jackson’s Bar. Cycle through the sleepy, picturesque villages on Neil, or swim along the ashy sea bed around the volcanic Barren Island.