Known as the French Riviera of the East, the Indian Union Territory of Pondicherry, a former French colony, is unique for the sheer number of influences that have shaped its culture. The French were the undisputed masters of this region for centuries, but the Danes, the English, the Portuguese and the Dutch all stopped by, giving rise to a heady mix of European flavors allied with the local Tamil culture. There is strong evidence that the Romans came to Pondicherry for trade in the 1st century AD. The venerated sage Agasthya established his ashram here, leading to the town being named as Agastiswararm. After the 8 the century AD, Pondicherry passed hands into various dynasties of Southern India including the Cholas, the Pandyas as well as Muslim rulers of the North before finally ending up as part of the territory of the Sultan of Bijapur. In 1497, the first Europeans set foot on Pondy soil in the form of the Portuguese who set up a trading post in the 1600s. The Danes and the Dutch followed before the French period of Pondicherry began in 1673. After a scuffle with the Danes, the French regained control of the area and 1699 and proceeded to establish it as a well planned and rich town. When the rest of India gained independence in 1947, Pondy still lay in French hands. Merger with India would not come till 1954 when the French ceded control although a formal treaty enforcing the cession was signed only in 1963. That year, Pondicherry officially became a Union Territory of India. Today, this former bastion of the French empire in India is a site of spiritual pilgrimage, the focal point of which is the Aurobindo Ashram.
Located 130 kilometers from Bangalore, India's so called “Silicon Valley”, Mysore is the erstwhile capital of the Wodeyar dynasty of Maharajas who ruled the state of Mysore. The Maharajas have long stopped ruling and the state is now called Karnataka, but Mysore remains the cultural center of the state, due in part to its deep temple and palace culture. Although Mysore lacks the glamour and polish that’s associated with nearby Bangalore, the city has over the years been a favorite with visitors to Southern India who have been offered a fascinating insight into the local culture and royal lifestyles. There’s a grace to the people here, a sanguine calm that makes it a perfect spot for those who want the conveniences of a modern city without much of the chaos involved. The city is one of the few in Southern India which still boasts of a relatively cool climate all year round, making it a perfect vacation destination any time of the year.
The Andaman and Nicobar islands comprises of over 350 islands but out of these only a few are inhabited. In fact most of them are far removed from modern life and do not even have any modern facilities and amenities, making these places a perfect virgin tropical paradise. The 300,000 inhabitants of these islands are mostly dependent on tourism for their livelihoods.
Located on the banks of the Vagai River, Madurai is the oldest city in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The name Madurai, means “city of nectar.” According to legend, the Pandyan King Kurukshetra built a beautiful temple and constructed a city around it. During its christening ceremony, Lord Siva blessed the new city and its people. In the process, a few drops of “madhu”(Tamil word meaning “sweetness”) from his hair fell on to the city – thus the name. The center point of the city is undoubtedly, the venerated Meenakshi Amman Temple, a labyrinthine complex that celebrates the love of the Goddess Meenakshi for her consort, Lord Sundereshwar (“the Handsome God”) and easily the most celebrated temple in south India. The best time to visit is between April and May, when the Chittarai Festival, commemorating Meenakshis marriage to Sundareshwar, is celebrated-the excitement in this bustling temple town reaches fever pitch.
Easily the most cosmopolitan city in the tiny southern Indian state of Kerala, touted in tourist brochures as “Gods Own Country”, Cochin or Kochi as it is locally known, consists of several scattered islands. Strategically located on the coastline, Cochin is the biggest port in the city, its natural harbor forming a nucleus around which the city’s life revolves and lending to it the epithet “Queen of the Arabian Sea”. This is the commercial nerve center of Kerala, a bustling sea side city that is the preferred point of origin for travelers who want to explore Kerala’s much admired scenic beauty.
If it is the old Aurangabad, a sleeping giant amidst the stir and buzz of the modern world that you seek to find, brace yourself for the unexpected - a highly progressive and industrialized city with very sophisticated industries - pharmaceuticals, steel recycling, booming breweries, and automobile and automobile parts industry, an IT hub, malls, high rises, multiplexes and pizzerias.
When Vasco da Gama arrived at Kozhikode 500 years ago he put the sea port on the map of the world discovering the first sea route to the Indian subcontinent. Just as in the time of the ancient sea faring traders Kozhikode continues to be a prosperous centre for domestic and international trade of commodities produced locally as well as in the neighbouring districts of Wayanad, Malappuram and Kannu. Traders seeking its fragrant, exotic spices grown on layered hills plantations ushered in influences transmitted and incorporated into the culture and flavours of the region- Malabari food characterized by Arabic and Christian sensibilities, mappila pattu and oppana songs sung in Arabic and malayalam and history replete with interventions from overseas. Yet the land retains its culture unblemished- annual vedic debates, an ancient and magnificent tradition of martial arts kalaripayyattu, and the vadakkan pattukal or folk songs immortalising the exploits of a local hero. These influences and local traditions seem to flow together unhurried and time tested like the Backwaters beckoning a revisit- and it does seem like a revisit even if its your first time - the natural beauty seems dreamlike and familiar from some land before time you know first hand. Kozhikode is at peace with itself and has much to offer therein…