How do you do a South India itinerary with only 3 places within 3 days?
We challenged ourselves when we created and planned this trip. We went to South India in 2015 and we decided to visit 3 places, in 3 days.
And, I decided to write about it now. After all, this was our first trip to South India. Previously, we had always visited North India and we were familiar with the northern regions of India.
But, South India?
South India is a different ballgame altogether. It is huge, no doubt. It consists of 5 major states which are Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Telangana.
This means that there is more to visit, in due time.
Our first culture shock was that while we could easily dress in jeans and blouses in North India, we were advised to dress conservatively in South India. This made sense as we were on a pilgrimage.
For ladies, it is best to bring along a salwar kameez or Punjabi suit. A veshti, kurta, or shirts and pants are suitable attire for men. While western clothes are popular in urban areas, traditional clothing is preferred in rural areas.
For this trip, the three states that we focused on were in Tamil Nadu, specifically, Trichy, Thanjavur, and Rameshwaram.
If you are looking for the best itinerary for South India, follow us as we explore these 3 states in our South India itinerary.
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In Banglore, join the Basavanagudi walking tour with a visit to the bull temple. Or, join the day trip to Belur, Halebeedu, and Shravanbelagola from Banglore which takes you to some of the oldest temples that were constructed during the Hoysala Dynasty.
Where is South India?
South India is in the southern peninsular of India and consists of five states which are Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Kerala. The peninsular is bounded by the Bay of Bengal on its east and the Arabian Sea on the west and the Indian Ocean on its south.
Similar to North India, South India’s geography is diverse with both the Eastern and Western Ghat mountain ranges bordering the Deccan Plateau. South India has a tropical climate and it experiences the Southwest Monsoon from June to September.
South India is known for its many temples and stunning landscapes, its culinary cuisine, and modern cities. Since this trip was a pilgrimage for us, we set our sights on three cities.
Our first city was Tiruchirapalli or Trichy followed by Thanjavur and Rameshwaram. We ended our round trip at Trichy but we had a stopover at the Chettinad Heritage Town in Pudukkottai.
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South India has a vast history that spreads over several millennia with South India being known as Dakshinapatha. With a 4,000-year history that began with the Iron Age, South India saw the rise and fall of many dynasties.
The Sangam, Chera, Chola, Pandyan, and Vijayanagara are some of the dynasties that have left their architectural marvels throughout South India. By the late Middle Ages, Muslim dynasties rose to power in South India.
When Vijayanagara fell, the Deccan Sultanates together with the Maratha Empires. The Nayaks Kingdoms declared independence and went on to create a significant impact in South India in the centuries to come.
By the 15th century, the Portuguese came to India with the arrival of Vasco da Gama and by the 18th century, the French and British were engaged in a military struggle over South India.
During British rule, South India was divided into several presidencies and princely states. South India sent 22 delegates to the Indian Independence movement with these participants participating in the Indian National Congress.
Post-independence saw the creation of 4 states which were soon expanded throughout the years. Today, South India is an economic powerhouse with Banglore, Hyderabad, and Chennai being IT cities.
All visitors entering India are required to have a valid international travel document together with a valid visa obtained from an Indian Mission or via e-Visa.
E-visa by the Bureau of Immigration is an online application process available for citizens of the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Brunei, Denmark, and Malaysia.
Alternatively, you can apply for an Indian Visa via i-Visa which would process your application safely and securely. With customer support available 24/7, your questions and queries would be answered promptly.
How can I get around in South India?
As South India is large, there are several options available when getting around between cities and within cities.
There are plenty of domestic flights to get around the major cities in South India. Local airlines such as IndiGo, SpiceJet, and Air India operate regularly which makes flying between cities a quick and convenient option.
Another option for inter-city travel trains. With the Indian Railways being the largest train operator in Asia, routes to the major cities in South India are covered. You can book tickets online on their website.
There are also state-run and private-run buses that connect to the major cities in South India. While private buses are air-conditioned and more comfortable than state-run buses, scams are where someone sells you a private bus ticket for it to be either a fake or for a state-run bus.
Always purchases your tickets from the official ticket counter and avoid friendly touts who may be trying to make a buck off you.
The usual suspects for traveling within the city include taxis, auto rickshaws, and three-wheeler pedal rickshaws. Always research your options and decide which is the most convenient.
For trains, always purchase your tickets in advance and be aware of traveling during peak hours as transportation and general travel within the city becomes crowded.
Although South India is generally safe, always keep an eye on your belongings, avoid carrying large amounts with you, and be cautious of your surroundings.
In South India, delays are inevitable, so, be prepared for them or consider hiring a private driver throughout your trip.
How many days is enough for South India?
As South India is a large region, the number of days you need for South India depends on your travel preferences, your planned activities, and the number of places you want to visit.
On our trip, we planned to visit 3 places with a one-week limit. In this guide, I have excluded our arrival and departure days. This meant that we had 3 full days to explore our chosen destinations.
Day 1: Trichy and Thanjavur
Trichy or its actual name, Tiruchirappalli is the fourth-largest city in Tamil Nadu and is also the cleanest city in the state. What is unique about Trichy is that it sits at the geographic center of Tamil Nadu.
Arulmigu Uchi Pillaiyar Temple
We took an early flight to Trichy from Kuala Lumpur and after lunch, our first stop in our South India itinerary was to the Uchi Pillayar Temple or the Rockfort Temple.
In Hinduism, Lord Ganesha is one of the most revered deities as a remover of obstacles and to bless us with a good start to our pilgrimage. Lord Ganesha is recognized as the god with an elephant head.
After a 4-hour flight, we made our way up the 437 steps to the top of the rock. There are plenty of stalls as you begin your walk up. The walk-up can take about 45 minutes, depending on your fitness level.
It took us an hour and a half as we stopped at many places to enjoy the view. The walk-up can be challenging at certain points, but the gentle breeze makes the journey worthwhile.
After an hour at Uchi Pillayar Temple, we made our way to Brihadeeswara Temple which was next on our South India itinerary. Thanjavur is about an hour’s drive from Uchi Pillayar Temple.
The temple also known as Thanjai Periya Kovil which means the Big Temple of Thanjavur, was built in the 1st century. Brihadeeswara is one of three Great Living Chola Temples and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We arrived here with about 2 hours to spare before closing, which we appreciated. That gave us enough time to perform a simple prayer and admire the architectural beauty of this 1,000-year-old temple.
As the crowd was large inside the prayer hall, we could not stay long, and after taking our prasadam, we sat in the garden.
After that, we walked towards the largest Nandi statue we had seen. In any Shiva temple, you will always find a Nandi statue because Nandi is the vehicle of Lord Shiva.
From a spiritual perspective, a seated Nandi that faces the inner sanctum of Lord Shiva’s temples represents the soul and Nandi is the mind that is dedicated to Shiva.
Since we had time to spare, we walked along the temple, admiring the frescoes and inscriptions that detailed the lives of those who worked in the temple and their wages.
Caption: Brihadeeswara Temple at sunset
As sunset came, we bid farewell to this beautiful structure. We checked into our hotel and had dinner at the restaurant in our hotel and went to bed early. It was a tiring day, indeed!
Day 2: Rameshwaram
On our second day, we woke up bright and early as this was a busy day for us. The drive from Thanjavur to Devipattinam took almost 4 hours.
After a hearty breakfast, we began our 4-hour drive on day 2 of our South India itinerary to Devipattinam. The Navapashanam Temple is dedicated to the nine planetary deities in Hinduism.
According to local legend, this is the place where Lod Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, built these deities with mud and clay. He installed each of the deities at this site as this place is close to Dhanushkodi from Lanka where Lord Rama’s wife, Sita was being held captive by Ravana, the demon king.
This place is always busy and a stop-over is a must for those intending to complete the 22-well bath in Rameshwaram. People from all walks of life and creed come here to pay respects to their departed and to seek blessings and boons.
While it is customary to make nine rounds in any Navgraha temple, we only made one round as we made our way to our next temple, which was the highlight of this trip.
Arulmigu Ramanathaswamy Temple
We reached our next temple in our South India itinerary, the Arulmigu Ramanathaswamy Temple within an hour. As this is one of the holiest temples in Tamil Nadu, it is always crowded.
Add on with the fact that this temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlinga temples in India meant that it is always busy, at any time of the day. The legend associated with this temple makes it a must-visit pilgrimage center for Hindus all over the world.
According to local legend, after killing Ravana, Lord Rama wanted to absolve himself of that sin. Lord Rama began worshipping Lord Shiva and installed a Shivling with the hope to seek forgiveness. A little backstory on the 22-wells is that Lord Rama had 22 arrows in his quiver, hence 22-wells.
The Significance of the 22-wells
First, we took a dip in the sea, near the Agni Theertham. Legend has it that Lord Rama prayed to the sea goddess to ensure calm waters so that they could build a bridge to Lanka.
Although we went far out at sea, the water always remained calm. After that, we walked the inner corridors of the temple to the first well which was the Mahalakshmi Theertham to gain blessings from Goddess Lakshmi.
The second, third, and fourth wells were Savithri, Gayathri, and Saraswati Theertham which are believed to cure a person of all illness and protect them from evil curses. The fifth well was the Sethu Madhava Theertham where you can gain blessings from Goddess Lakshmi.
The sixth was Gandhamadana where one purifies themselves while the seventh well was the Kavacha Theertham which protects devotees from going to hell. The eighth well, Gavaya ensures that you shelter under a wish-fulfilling tree.
The Nala and Neela Theertham are the ninth and tenth wells that help you in attaining enlightenment from Lord Surya, the Sun God while Neela Theertham gives you the benefits of Agni Yoga.
Sangu, Chakra, and Brahmahathi Vimochana are the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth wells that help you in repenting from being ungrateful to others while Chakra Theertham gives you good health. The Brahmahathi Vimochana well helps you in getting rid of sins in your past lives.
Surya and Chandra are the 14th and 15th wells which would bless you with knowledge of the past, present, and future. The Ganga, Yamuna, and Gaya Theertham are the 16th, 17th, and 18th wells that represent the three famous rivers in India.
Siva Theertham is the 19th well where you can repent for saying bad words against Lord Vishnu or Lord Shiva. The Satyamirtha Theertham is the 20th well which helps clear your sins.
The Sarva Theertham is the 21st well which gives you the benefits of bathing in all the combined theerthams. This well is suitable for those who wish to fast-track the process of bathing in the 22-wells.
The last well and most important is the Kodi Theertham where Lord Krishna was set free from his sin of killing his uncle by bathing in this well.
It was a refreshing experience as the cold water was poured above our heads, some sort of cleansing for us. The water in these wells was cold and after completing our ritual, our guide immediately took us out to a temporary room to freshen up.
It is customary to give away wet clothes to the needy. We were just in time for the afternoon prayers where we felt blessed and grateful to complete this ritual, one we had been planning for a long time.
Sri Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir & Floating Stone
After completing our 22-well pilgrimage, the Sri Panchmukhi Hanuman Mandir was next on our South India itinerary.
Panchmukhi in Hindi means “five faces” and what is unique is that this temple has a statue of Lord Hanuman with five faces, hence Panchmukhi. This temple is in Rameshwaram and is also another sacred place to visit.
According to local legend, the Panchmukhi Hanuman statue was installed by Sri Vibhishana, the younger brother of Ravana who was an ardent devotee of Lord Rama.
In Hindu mythology, the five-faced Hanuman appeared during the battle between Lord Rama and Ravana in the epic, Ramayana.
The Meaning of the Five-Face Hanuman
The first face of Hanuman is one we are familiar with, the Monkey face. Lord Hanuman’s monkey face represents bravery and fearlessness. The second face is Lord Narasimha or the Lion face which represents courage and valor.
Loyalty and honesty are represented by Lord Hanuman’s third face, the Garuda while the fourth face, Lord Varaha, or the Boar face represents strength and determination. The last face is the Horse face or Hayagriva which represents knowledge and wisdom.
After completing our devotional offering, we went to our next destination, Dhanushkodi.
After completing our prayers at the two most sacred temples in Rameshwaram, it was time for sightseeing. We continued to Dhanushkodi in our South India itinerary. Dhanushkodi was a small town located on the southeastern tip of Tamil Nadu.
The town was abandoned and is now a ghost town after the Rameshwaram Cyclone of 1964 struck the area. The cyclone destroyed a once-thriving town with a railway station, a post office, and many other buildings.
While the town remains uninhabited, the ruins are now a popular tourist destination, and admire the beautiful long beach and ocean views. A tip from us would be to avoid visiting in the mid-afternoon when the sun is above the horizon.
We went in mid-afternoon and although we enjoyed the views, the heat was unbearable. Plus, there were no stalls selling food and drinks, and we became very thirsty.
Because of the heat, we didn’t stay long and made our way back to our hotel in Rameshwaram.
Our final South India itinerary on our second day was admiring Pamban Bridge and the scenic blue waters of the Palk Strait. Pamban Bridge was India’s sea bridge and was the longest until the Bandra-Worli Sea Link was built.
Pamban Bridge connects Rameshwaram on Pamban Island to Mandapam in mainland India and is known for its unique double-leaf bascule section that can be raised to allow larger ships to pass through.
While the bridge was an engineering marvel, the bridge was damaged during a storm surge from the Rameshwaram cyclone. Repair work was carried out and the bridge was soon operational.
Since we had time to spare, we made a quick dash across the road and stopped to see these fishing villages at the edge of Rameshwaram Island. All we kept saying was “wow, this is beautiful!”.
With sunset fast approaching and we were nowhere near our hotel, we hopped onto our car and headed back to our hotel.
Day 3: Chettinad Heritage Town
On our last day in our South India itinerary, we headed back to Trichy. However, our guide had other plans.
On the way to Trichy, he took a detour to Chidambara Villas where we had our banana leaf lunch, a meal that we had been craving since the start of this journey.
Our Chettinad banana leaf rice meal consisted of rice, papadum, rasam, and several side dishes, each unique in flavor and taste. Since we were the only ones at the hotel, we explored the rooms which were recreated in authentic Chettiar style.
Chidambara Villas has a history that dates back to the early 19th century when its owners went overseas. The land was gifted by the Maharaja of Pudukottai and the house took 7 years to complete.
Its luxury is seen in its furnishings with the wood being imported from Myanmar (then Burma), the lights and mirrors from Belgium, the tiles from Italy, and the chandeliers from Daman and Diu.
Who are the Chettiars?
The Chettiars are a merchant community who have a long history in trade, commerce, banking, money-lending, and international trade. This Tamil-speaking community is traditionally wealthy which allowed them to build beautiful mansions and temples.
The architecture of their buildings combines traditional Tamil influences with European flair. Chettiars are also philanthropists and have established many charitable trusts, schools, and hospitals that have helped the people of Tamil Nadu and India.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on South India
South India is famous for its rich cultural heritage, abundant natural beauty, delicious cuisine, and historical landmarks that dot the region. The region beautifully blends ancient culture while adapting to modern trends and amenities.
Some items which you can buy from South India are Kanchipuram silk sarees, Mysore silk sarees, or Banarasi silk sarees. You can also buy a variety of spices such as cardamom, black pepper, turmeric, cumin, and coriander.
South India is also famous for its ayurvedic products such as herbal remedies, massage oils, and beauty and wellness products. Don’t forget to purchase some coffee and tea from South India. The local Bru coffee is the traditional filter coffee of South India and is flavorful.
Yes, South India is beautiful. With gorgeous valleys, beautiful beaches, and the lush green hills of Tamil, South India’s landscape is as diverse as its people and food. From the tea plantations in Munnar, Kerala to the ancient Vijayanagara ruins in Hampi, South India is beautiful in every way.
The best month to visit South India is during the dry season from February to March. During these months, the temperatures are cooler. This weather makes it an ideal time for sightseeing and outdoor activities.
The summer months from March to May are perfect if you plan to visit the hill stations in South India. Some popular hill stations are Kodaikanal, Ooty, Coorg, and Wayanad.
Avoid traveling to South India during the monsoon season from June to September as flash floods can occur. However, these months are suitable for ayurvedic therapy sessions that rejuvenate your body, mind, and soul.
The hottest months in South India are generally in the months of April to May. In Banglore, the hottest month is typically in April while in Chennai, the hottest month is typically in May. During these months, temperatures can reach a high of 40°C coupled with intense humidity in the tropical south.
Ideally, 2 days are sufficient in Rameshwaram. This gives you enough time to visit the Ramanathaswamy Temple, Dhanushkodi, and Pamban Bridge. Another place of interest is the residence of Dr. A.P.J Kalam, the former President of India.
No, it is not compulsory to take a bath in the 22-wells in Rameshwaram. Although this ritual is sacred, taking a bath is a personal choice. You can always visit the Ramanthaswamy Temple, and visit the House of Kalam, or visit Ramar Patham, the temple on the hill.
Yes, you can cover Rameshwaram in 1 day, as we did. However, this means that you would have to stick to a tight schedule. This means you may not have a full experience as you rush to the next place on your itinerary. We recommend at least 2 days in Rameshwaram. This gives you enough time to visit all the places without breaking into a sweat.
Yes, South India is worth visiting. Not only are the South Indians hospitable and warm towards tourists, and their cuisine is also varied and delicious.
The temples are an architectural marvel and are a story through time. And, lastly, the scenery in South India will leave you breathless. There is much more greenery, the beaches and lakes are beautiful, and the mountains are postcard perfect.