By Anurag Gawande
India is a country that offers varied languages, traditions, and a diverse topography that changes with each mile you cover. India can be divided into zones – North, South and Central – all three abounding in spellbinding sights and nature’s magnificence. While in the North you can breathe in the crisp mountain air, the Central part is extremely picturesque, draped in rare and beautiful flora and fauna. South India, on the other hand, is a green paradise surrounded by the ocean. The lifestyle of the locals here is mainly inspired by the sea – right from the delicious cuisine to the festivals. Below are the coastal towns that you can backpack through for a pure and rustic experience of South India.
Kanyakumari is a scenic coastal town located at the southern tip of the state of Tamil Nadu. Surrounded by rocky white sand beaches, the town invites you to explore stunning architectural temples and sample delicious South Indian cuisine. With thousands of tourists visiting the town every day, affordable accommodations like hostels and dormitories, and efficient means of public transport are found in abundance. Kick-off your day early at the Kanyakumari beach to witness one of the most vibrant and marvelous sunrises. Hop on a Jetty and head towards the gigantic Vivekananda Rock Memorial, situated on a single rock in the ocean, dedicated to the Indian scholar. A carved statue of Thiruvalluvar, a Tamil scholar known for his ideologies and poems, stands meters apart on another rock adjacent to the memorial.
Both the structures stand right at the confluence of the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, with intermingling shades of blue as the waves clash together. Apart from the coastal landscape, Kanyakumari has many hidden gems such as Thirparappu falls, a manmade waterfall placed right between the hills covered in layers of varied flora. The lavish Padmanabhapuram Palace is one of the largest wooden structures in Asia, spread across 6 acres within the fort. Admire the craftsmanship of the detailed wooden ceilings and walls, which date back to 1600. Apart from the panoramic views of the ocean, Kanyakumari also offers an exciting food culture. Your taste buds will experience a mix of spicy and tangy flavors with each meal from breakfast to dinner. It is a seafood paradise, with the freshest sources the coast has to offer.
Alappuzha, also known as Alleppey, is home to one of the most beautiful and scenic backwaters in all of India. Most backpackers like to stop by this gorgeous coastal town for a respite during their journey. The local habitation relies heavily on resources from the surrounding bodies of water and spending a couple of days sheltered on a houseboat far away from land is an interesting lifestyle to experience. Teeming with tourists, there are some great all-inclusive packages offered by the locals for visitors. The houseboats that come equipped with all modern-day amenities continue to be the highlight of the region.
Apart from the coconut-tree lined banks, Alappuzha boasts of hidden gems right from temples semi-submerged in the lakes to tiny islands and museums. Vembanad Lake, the largest in India, is a must-see while in Alappuzha. The calm lake mirrors the skyline creating a mirage throughout the day and night. Punnamada Lake is famous for the longboat race, which is not only a popular sport but also a festive celebration in the region. The Alappuzha beach is home to a lighthouse, that opens up to a 360-degree view of the town.
Once a small temple town, Gokarna is now home to young western backpackers seeking peace and meditation. Located in the state of Karnataka, this coastal town has an interesting mix of spirituality and modern living interwoven through its culture. Mahabaleshwara is a 4th-century temple and also the main tourist attraction in the town. It is believed that the original structure of Shiva’s linga, the Indian god of divine energy and destroyer of evil resides here. The other end of the town offers a different experience, with shacks made out of coconut branches and calm beaches. The beaches are mostly occupied by tourists than the locals, sunbathing or camping between the rocky cliffs by the ocean. Backpackers can book tents or shacks at the same rate as that of a meal in a metropolitan city. Access to public transport and two-wheelers on rent is the easiest way to commute through this laid-back beach town.
Perhaps the most famous sight of Gokarna is Om Beach that gets the name from its shape, which resembles the sign of Om, a spiritual symbol of meditation. One can trek through the trail on the hill adjacent to Om Beach and reach the gorgeous Paradise Beach. Furthermore, you can trek to access the last and the most mesmerizing beach of them all, the Half Moon Beach. Tucked between two cliffs covered in luscious greenery, is this tiny beach with no human habitation within a radius of 2-kilometers is bliss. Most tourists can be seen meditating on the rocks by the beach, practicing yoga or engrossed in soulful music. The town is a perfect and balanced mixture of spirituality and modern-day lifestyle.
South India is indeed the perfect blend of greenery and never-ending coastlines. No matter what your travel style, the region definitely has something to please you and is ideal for backpackers with a plethora of terrains to explore. What are you waiting for? Grab those knapsacks and set out for an adventure through this wonderland today!