This post has been made possible by a partnership with Kamalan.
The tropical regions of South India beckon to travelers with the natural beauty of lush mountains, dense forests, and sweeping sandy shores. All along the peninsula, scenes of the rich local culture are just as captivating; whether you’re shooting bustling, spice-scented streets or lavish tea plantations. From Goa’s golden beaches to the cool and misty hill stations of Kerala, South India is a culturally rich treasure trove just begging to be photographed. Follow along with our Instagrammer’s guide and add some gusto to your grid.
Beaches of Goa
With coastlines that stretch along the Arabian Sea, South India’s “sunshine state” of Goa is home to many sandy beaches. Whether you’re looking for a laid-back, seaside escape or a vibrant beach-party atmosphere, Goa caters to a mix of experiences. For a sense of peace and tranquility, Cola Beach is at the top of the list as one of the region’s finest undeveloped beaches. Featuring its very own lagoon, at Cola Beach’s Maharaja Nights visitors can camp safari-style on the shoreline, allowing for photography of magnificent starry skies and beautiful sunrises. Farther south, you’ll find the pristine and untouched Galgibag beach. A protected Olive Ridley turtle breeding site, the beach is free of any permanent developments and offers sweeping stretches of golden sand. For more lively adventures, head to Palolem beach to capture its palm-fringed shoreline and ramshackle beach huts. One can find buzzing atmospheres and ample beach bars at both Candolim and Calangute beaches.
Murudeshwara Temple, Karnataka
The namesake temple in beachside Murudeshwara features the world’s second-tallest statue of Lord Shiva and the towering Raja Gopuram, a gatehouse tower 20 stories high and guarded by two life-sized elephants. It’s the perfect place to capture an awe-inspiring photo of the grandiose statue, which sits cross-legged on the hilltop temple of Kethappa Narayana against the backdrop of the shimmering sea. A popular pilgrimage site, Murudeshwara Temple welcomes nearly one million visitors each year who flock from all over the country and around the globe. The hilltop overlooking the Arabian Sea also makes for a great place to catch the sunset or early morning sunrise with ideal light creating golden hues on the statue of Lord Shiva as it glints in the sunlight.
Golconda Fort, Andhra Pradesh
The fortified citadel of Golconda is situated in Andhra Pradesh’s capital city of Hyderabad. If your travels pass this way, a visit to this impressive structure is worth your time (and a spot on your feed!). Perched upon a rocky outcrop and thought to be built sometime during the 12th century, the fort belonged to a number of different dynasties throughout its history. Made of local legends and a one-time diamond market, the fort stands today with a rich and multifaceted past. Its eight mighty gates and 87 semicircular bastions cover an area of around one and a half square miles. Along with its aesthetic beauty, the fort is renowned for its astonishing acoustics: built to enhance communication, the clever engineering of the structure is said to allow for the sound of a single clap from the fort’s front gate to be heard at the Bala Hissar, which stands just under a mile away at the complex’s highest point.
Top Station, Kerala
Home to some of the highest tea plantations in India, the sleepy town of Munnar sits perched on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border above the Kundala Valley. About an hour’s drive away, you’ll find Top Station. Here, visitors can walk among the wispy clouds to enjoy expansive views over the Western Ghats mountain range and take in the sight of manicured tea plantations that cover rolling, emerald hills. Boasting a natural beauty unlike any other, the region’s surrounding valleys, tea plantations, and misty mountains are picturesque all year-round. However, there is a particular time where the region boasts a special beauty–though you’ll have to plan far in advance! The famous lavender-blue Neelakurinji flowers burst into bloom once every 12 years, making the species of flowering shrub some of the rarest in the world. The flowers also give the name to the Nilgiri Hills themselves, which translates literally to “blue mountains.” The last time the flowers bloomed was 2018, leaving visitors in eager anticipation of their next arrival in 2030. When visiting Top Station, opt for an early morning excursion for softer lighting in order to enhance the dewy fog that blankets these high landscapes.
Athirappilly Falls, Kerala
Situated deep in the Sholayar Reserve Forest of Kerala’s Thrissur district, the marvelous Athirappilly Falls are arguably one of the most scenic spots in South India and are a truly remarkable location to photograph. Surrounded by lush forests, the mighty waterfall cascades over a ledge 82 feet, making the falls the highest in Kerala. From the viewpoint at the top, visitors are offered jaw-dropping sights of the waterfall and surrounding forested hills. As you make your way down the steep incline to reach the bottom of the falls, be sure to wear your rain jacket so you don’t get splashed. Alternatively, just take the plunge and splash about in the shallow waters of rock pools. The water flow of Athirappilly Falls peaks during Kerala’s monsoon season from June to November, making this time of year one of the best to visit. Bear in mind that if you’re bringing your camera along with you to the falls (which we hope that you are!) there is an additional 20 rupees fee added to your entry cost.
Meenakshi Amman Temple, Tamil Nadu
One of the most iconic and noteworthy temples in South India, the Meenakshi Amman Temple dates back as far as 2,500 years. Dedicated to Lord Shiva and the Goddess Meenakshi, the 14-acre complex attracts tourists in multitudes with its 14 limestone towers and 1,000 pillared halls. The temple’s four main towers face either north, east, south, or west, with the tallest southern tower climbing a staggering 170 feet. Getting lost in the sheer size of the temple is an easy feat, with stalls, small shrines, and a holy golden lotus tank to keep you occupied for hours. Although non-Hindus cannot enter the shrines of the main sanctum, tourists can wander around the other areas of the temple freely. Take in the temple’s sights in the morning for sparer crowds and the evening time to witness the spectacular night ceremony. Be sure to wear clothing that covers both your shoulders and legs when visiting the temple. Cameras are not allowed inside, but photographs from afar are best to capture all the temple’s glory, anyway!
Periyar National Park, Kerala
Also known as Periyar Tiger Reserve, Periyar National Park covers almost 360 square miles of protected land in the Cardamom Hills and is an extremely popular wildlife sanctuary among nature-lovers. Extending around the perimeter of a man-made lake caused by the damming of the Periyar River in 1895, the dense, hilly forest is home to elephants, tigers, wild boars, and a number of other species of flora and fauna. Visitors keen to capture wildlife can join a jeep safari to explore sprawling grasslands, waterfalls, and plantations. There are also river rafting excursions and boat rides available on Periyar Lake, along with guided hikes and nature walks through forested areas and across the aromatic spice plantations. You might even want to book an overnight lodging within one of the park’s eco-friendly facilities, made entirely out of bamboo and grass. Don’t forget your zoom lens for this experience!
30 miles northwest of Trivandrum, Varkala beach sits nestled against a line of red limestone cliffs. This beloved back-packer hangout is a beachside town with a unique twist. High along the cliffs, catch breathtaking sunsets across the Arabian Sea while watching swimmers and surfers paddling below. Varkala’s towering cliffs not only make an epic vantage point, but steep steps will lead you right down onto the sand below. Here, you’ll find busy shores full of tourists and sunbathers, while further afield you’re more likely to stumble upon quiet, empty spaces along the beach. Although it is somewhat of a touristy town where travelers come to eat, drink, and shop at the cliff-top markets, Varkala makes for a great escape from the hectic nature of bigger cities. As well as a spot for restaurants, juice bars, and souvenir stalls, Varkala is also a known haven for yoga lovers with studios, classes, and retreats available throughout the area. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a class right on the cliff tops overlooking the azure ocean.
Alleppey backwaters, Kerala
The backwaters of Kerala are comprised of a palm-lined network of lagoons, rivers, and canals that weave their way from the coast to Kochi and onwards to Kollam. Alleppey is the main entry point to the backwaters, which guides locals and travelers down the tranquil waterways. Lush, green landscapes, diverse wildlife, and villages pass quietly by as you journey through the canals. The most common way of experiencing the backwaters is by a traditional Kerala-style houseboat called a kettuvallam. Cruise the waters on half-day, all-day, or overnight expeditions, all while being treated to delicious, freshly-cooked Indian cuisine and cold beverages. Visitors can also experience the waterside villages via canoe or kayak tours. For a budget-friendly way of experiencing these picturesque canals, the region also has an extensive network of local ferries that carry residents up and down the backwaters multiple times a day.
Itching to learn more? Read up on A Guide to the Regions of India or check out Jack Crosby’s epic photo essay during his recent trip to India.
Header photo by Dan Volland.