The India Chronicles: 1 Month in Southern India
This is more than just a 1 month guide to Southern India
I tried something new for this trip. I shot one video per day, and posted them day-by-day for my entire 28-days in India.
The results give you a pretty good look into what it’s like to travel for 30 days in India. Both the good and the bad.
Because I was shooting and editing every day, I didn’t have time to record the details (mainly costs) that I do with other guides (see my incredibly thorough $20/day Guide to Vietnam), but I do offer an authentic India itinerary that will have you in cool coastal towns, amazing mountain tea areas, mind-blowing temples, and real gritty India cities.
If you just want to watch the videos, it’s probably easier to go to the playlist on my YouTube channel, but the videos are all posted below in order, along with a more detailed description of the day/town/transportation method.
I hope you enjoy our adventure and find this 1 month guide to Southern India useful.
My Daily India Vlog
The most popular attraction in Kochi is probably the Chinese fishing nets that line the north-west shore of Fort Kochi. They are shore operated lift nets -- 10-meter poles that hold giant nets which are raised and lowered by counter-weights. We get a first hand look at how they are used, and see the results of one net’s worth of fishing.
There’s a lot to see in Kochi. We walked pretty much all day, stopping at churches, synagogues, and museums. The path along the coast is very pleasant, but don’t be afraid to cut across the island to Jew Town, along the way there are some very authentic Indian streets.
Coffee tip: In India, tea is the drink of choice, but if you’re a coffee addict (like myself) you’ll struggle to find a decent cup. In Kochi, check out Kashi Art Cafe on Burgar Street.
Most tourists will travel to Alleyppey and stay overnight on a house boat, or do a tour from the town. To save time, we decided to take a day trip from Kochi to Alleyppey’s backwaters. It included a pickup from our hotel, an hour and a half drive, and a 3-4 hour boat ride, lunch, and a ride back to our hotel. The cost was about $10 each.
Kerala’s backwaters are a combination of canals, lakes, and rivers that that combine to make around 900 kilometers of waterways. A tour on them offers a look into life along the rivers. You’ll see people cleaning clothes, dishes, and themselves; some vegetable, livestock, and fish farming; as well as birds and maybe an iguana or two. The tour takes place on a traditional punt boat, operated by two men who use very long poles to push it along the water. It’s very slow-going but relaxing.
There are many private tours that you can find around Kochi, but the KTDC (Kerala Tourism Development Corporation) also organizes daily tours that can be seen on their website.
Kochi to Munnar by bus
We get our first taste of local transportation when we ride a state-owned bus up into the tea fields of Munnar. The Kerala State Road Transport System (KSRTC) is dirt cheap to ride (about 90 INR/$1.35 each), but the buses are old rickety machines that barely resemble vehicles. Comfort levels vary depending on how much legroom you need and what seat you get. I suggest being one of the first people on the bus and picking out a seat that works for you. The front seat usually offers more legroom, but it’s also closer to the windshield and the scariness that is India’s public roads. The ride up to Munnar was quite beautiful.
You can catch the bus at the Ernakulam KSRTC Bus Station. They leave about every 30 minutes, and the journey takes about 4 hours.
There is nothing quite like tea agriculture. The rolling hills, with perfectly aligned rows. The beautiful green and the fresh smell. We take a walk along the small mountainside road into the tea fields of Munnar, a hill station located 1600 meters above sea-level. We sample tea at a roadside stand, have lunch, and head to an Indian bakery for more tea and some delicious baked goods. This was one of my favorite days in India.
HOTEL IN MUNNAR
When staying in Munnar, you can either book a hotel in the town, which is closer to restaurants and shops, or go for the views and get a place outside of town. We stayed 4 kilometers from town at the Shamrock Resort, which was quiet, beautiful, but was very limited in terms of eating options. Luckily, the town was only a 100 INR rickshaw ride away, or a breath-taking hour-and-a-half walk.
Munnar to Madurai by bus
Taking the local bus down the mountain brought-up some of the same fears that the one going up the mountain did, but it also scared me in other ways. For example: it was raining, the windshield wipers broke, the bus driver got into a fight with another driver. Fortunately, the views helped calm my nerves.
You can catch the bus in Munnar in the town at a bus stand that is a bit difficult to describe the location of, but any local should be able to help you out. There are 2 bus stands though, so be sure you get the right one. It’s possible to get a direct bus to Madurai, but it leaves at an ungodly hour and you might need to reserve it ahead of time. Luckily, there are buses every 30 minutes to Theni, which is on the way to Madurai. From Theni, you can easily transfer to a Madurai bus, which run quite frequently. The reason for the transfer is because you are now entering Tamil Nadu, a different state. The Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (TNSTC) will take you the rest of your journey.
It’s time for me to see my first Indian Hindu temple, and I picked a good one. Meenakshi Amman was originally constructed in the 6th century. It was the fertilizer that helped grow Madurai into a massive city. Speaking of plant metaphors, the streets that surround the temple, which is in the middle of the city, are said to resemble a lotus flower with the temple being the pistil. Appropriately, Meenakshi is the Hindu goddess of fertility, love, and devotion.
The temple was mind-blowing. It’s like a maze that has something cool and interesting at every turn. The colors, the human behavior, the elephant? These were all new experiences for me.
When visiting the temple, make sure you wear long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and you can’t bring any bags, cameras (with the exception of your phone’s camera), or shoes in, but you can check them for a small fee.
Honestly, India is starting to wear on me. I had a bit of a run-in with a rickshaw driver and the hotel front desk guy is totally useless. But I’m certain I can find my inner peace at Samanar Hills.
Located 15 kilometers from Madurai, we opted to rent a taxi for a half day. Since there was 3 of us, it only cost about $5 each. There is no admission fee for the rock, because it’s a rock. In fact, there wasn’t even anyone around. We had the place to ourselves, and it was amazing. The giant hunk of bedrock has stairs built into it that take you about halfway up. The rest of the way you can walk without an aid. From the top, the views are fantastic. You might see some monkeys around. There are views of small villages, and Madurai.
The hills are important to the Jain people, a religious group that has some very strict dietary restrictions. They believe in non-violence to all living things. They take it as far as not eating potatoes, onions, and garlic, because they’re root vegetables and small organisms will die if they are picked. It’s a very interesting religion. I suggest reading the Wikipedia page if you want to learn more.
The Samanar hills and their hidden caves were once the home to many Jain monks. Side note: Some Jain monks go naked except for a cloth over their mouth, which is worn to stop them from accidentally swallowing small organisms.
It’s Sara’s birthday!! We weren’t planning on spending an extra day in Madurai, but there was no way we were going to celebrate Sara’s birthday on a bus, so we booked a nice hotel.
HOTEL IN MADURAI
Berry’s Boutique has a decent staff, a perfect location, and comfy rooms.
We spent the day shopping and eating. There are plenty of interesting places to shop in Madurai, even if you don’t particularly want to buy anything. I was wowed by the typical Indian department stores. Chennai Silk, for example, is a colorful clothing and fabric store that sells traditional India dress for men and women. It’s huge and packed with shoppers. You can pick out an outfit, have it hemmed in 15 minutes, and walk out with a great souvenir.
Coffee tip: After a grueling search we found espresso at British Bakery (on the corner of West Velli and Town Hall Rd). The owner is friendly and he’ll even make a cappuccino for you if he’s there.
Madurai is a pretty cool city to hangout in, but I couldn’t picture myself living there. The food was great, but it’s almost impossible to get a beer in such a religious city. Our favorite place was the rooftop patio of the Supreme Hotel. Cold Kingfisher beers with a great view of the temple.
Madurai to Trichy
We say goodbye to Tracey and head to Trichy in a privately owned AC bus. The private buses are definitely better than the state owned ones, but they’re much more expensive. We paid $8 each, when a local state-owned bus would have cost about $1.50 each. Be sure to watch to the end of the video to see how dosa is made.
Tiruchirappalli, or Trichy, is a temple town. In fact, it’s home to the largest active Hindu temple in the world, Ranganathaswamy Temple. It takes up about 156 acres, but being non-Hindus we could only see parts of it. In the afternoon, we pay a visit to Rock Fort, the billion-year-old rock that jets up from the city and offers amazing views. I actually preferred Rock Fort to Ranganathaswamy. It’s a bit of a climb, but the journey up was actually fun and exciting.
If you are hoping to see multiple locations in one day (there’s another temple and the river is pretty interesting), it might be worth it to hire a rickshaw driver for a half day. We found that only having to barter for one ride ended up saving us some money -- but that might only work if you can find a reasonable driver.
Trichy to Puducherry
It’s our first train ride in India! I love trains. They’re probably my favorite mode of public transportation. In India, the trains are fairly decent. We rode in the second seater class, which is the cheapest ticket you can get. For a trip that took about 3 hours it was about $1. Some people fear this class, but we had no problems. It was a bit cramped, but the seats were fine, there was enough leg room, and there wasn’t hoards of people standing up (like I had been warned). There are plenty of vendors that go up and down the cars offering snacks, meals, tea, coffee, and even stationary.
Getting from Trichy to Puducherry involves taking a train for 2.5 hours to Viluppuram, and transferring for a short ride to Puducherry. It is possible to avoid the transfer and get one train, but they only leave at 5AM and you’ll only save a bit of time.
We made it to a French seaside town! Well, as close as we could get to one in India. Puducherry, or Pondicherry, is heavily influenced by the French. Personally, I’m looking forward to some food that isn’t curry. Also, the steep alcohol tax doesn’t exist in Puducherry. Beers by the beach! Or, maybe not…
HOTEL IN PUDUCHERRY
We stayed in L’escale Guest House, which was very cool. The owner and staff were friendly. The rooms felt very beach vacation… maybe a bit Greek island like? The location is great and the price isn’t bad (around $30/night).
If you are looking for a good meal in Pondicherry, you’ll have lots of options. There’s French, Italian, and even Mexican.
Coffee tip: For a great cup of espresso (which is tough to find in India) you can sit ocean-side at Le Cafe (just walk the path along the ocean -- you’ll find it).
Puducherry is a great place to hangout for a few days and forget you’re in India. The architecture is nice, it’s very green, there are lots of food and drink options, and they even shut down the beach side road to traffic at night. You’ll enjoy Puducherry, just don’t eat the salad.
Main Bus Station, Puducherry, India
Unlucky day 13 turns out to be Delhi Belly Day 1. Unfortunately, we have to move on, which means taking a local state-owned bus for 4 hours. The look on Sara’s face says it all… basically, “I hate this, I want to curl up in a ball and die, I hope I don’t diarrhea on the bus.”
We wanted to go straight to Bangalore from Puducherry, but we were told that there are no buses that make that trip during the day (only overnight ones). That wasn’t true. If you are interested in that trip (and skipping over Chennai) go to the bus station a day ahead of time and check the ticket windows. You should be able to find something. I think it left around 9 or 10 AM, but I might be wrong.
Our second plan was to try and get on something a bit more comfortable — a private bus to Chennai. We went to a bus company’s office at 9 AM but it was still closed. Instead of waiting for them to open and getting information about a bus that might not even exist (although we read it did on the internet), we decided to just take a public bus. There are a bunch that leave for Chennai seemingly every 10 mintues, but only one per hour that actually goes deep into the city. Apparently, it’s a quicker option, but we ended up waiting over an hour for it, so who the heck really know.
A note about India: There isn’t much information about transportation online. The state-owned companies have websites that don’t always have your route listed. The locals, including hotel owners, are not helpful at all. In fact, many gave us false information. I suggest scoping out options when you arrive in the city, or going to the train/bus station the day before you want to leave.
“The only reason to go to Chennai is the airport”
“Chennai is awful”
Despite these raving reviews, we spent two nights in the city. It was either that, or chance an eight hour bus ride with Delhi belly. It turns out there are nice places in Chennai… at least one, which brings me to:
Coffee tip: The Brew Room — probably the best coffee I had in India. This cafe has it all. I wonder why there aren’t more like it in India. We sampled their baked goods and sat in their aircon for a couple hours using their reasonably fast wifi.
Because we weren’t feeling well, we didn’t do much in Chennai, but the city didn’t actually seem that bad.
Bengaluru, aka Bangalore, looks like a great place! Unfortunately, I am refusing to get out of bed today, so reporting
live from the hotel room… a special on everyone’s favorite topic: diarrhea! Known by its inaccurately cute name Delhi belly, traveler’s diarrhea is almost unavoidable when traveling India for long periods of time. Here’s what you need to know to avoid it, and how to cope with it when the inevitable happens.
Alright, we’re going to attempt to have a good time in Bengaluru. First step, don’t diarrhea myself. We didn’t get to see much of the city, but what we did see we really liked. Bangalore seems like a hip place, it has a decent night life, and a variety of good restaurants. It’s the tech capital of India, and the young population gives it a slightly different vibe.
Coffee tip: Cafe Coffee Day is India’s biggest coffee chain. They have good coffee, including espresso, in a comfortable environment. You can find one in most major Indian cities (and even some locations internationally). They grow their own Arabica beans, make their own coffee machines, and even make their own furniture. The first ever Cafe Coffee Day is on Brigade Road in Bangalore, but keep your eyes open while traveling India for any of their 1500 locations.
HOTEL IN BANGALORE
While in Bangalore, we stayed at the stylish Stylotel by Jagadish. I don’t know who Jagadish is, but we really loved this place. It was a great hotel to have diarrhea in (sorry maids).
Yesterday’s bravery set us back a day. We spent another day in our hotel’s soft bed. However, I managed to put together this informative video about food in Southern India. Even though eating it has made me ill, I don’t blame the food. Food… I still love you. Watch the video to see all the delicious things we’ve been eating.
Mysore, also known as Mysuru, is a nice city with lots of green space and some great things to see (and they aren’t temples!). We spent the first day touring the Mysore Palace, the former home to the royal family of Mysore. While the exterior of the palace is impressive, the interior is exquisite. It’s colorful and detailed from floors, to walls, to ceilings. Over 6 million people visit the palace in a year, making it the second most popular attraction in India.
If you happen to be in Mysore on a Sunday or holiday, be sure to visit the palace between 7:00 and 7:45 PM, when it’s lit up with a bazillion lights.
The palace costs 200 INR (about $3) for foreign tourists. Indians only pay 50 cents. No shoes allowed. No cameras allowed. Watch out for scams, including ones from security guards.
HOTEL IN MYSORE
We don’t usually stay in hostels anymore, but Zostel Mysore has nice private rooms with private bathrooms, it’s in a good location, and the building is very cool. The communal rooms offer some comfy areas to relax with elephant-pantsed hippies. Breakfast was decent, and the laundry rates were the cheapest we found in India.
The Mysore zoo is often said to be the best zoo in India. It’s official name is Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens. It was started in 1892, when it was just called the Palace Zoo because it was located on the grounds of Maharaja Sri Chamaraja Wodeyar’s summer palace, making it one of the oldest in the country. It’s since expanded to take up 157 acres.
We really enjoyed the 2 or more hours we spent walking around. Not only are the animals entertaining, but the grounds are well groomed, shady, and quiet. They have lions, tigers, bears, giraffes, and the largest collection of elephants in India. We found the animal enclosures to be large and the animals generally well taken care of. There is a ban on plastic water bottles in the park. They carefully check your beg when you enter to make sure you aren’t bringing in any food that you might feed to the animals.
Admission is 50 INR (60 on weekends). It’s open fro 8:30-5:30, but closed on Tuesdays.
From Mysore, you can catch a bus to Ooty, a small town in the rolling hills of tea-country. Local buses leave frequently, but we decided to take a tourist bus because it drives through the Mudumalai National Park. You can book this ride with a private company at the Mysore bus station. We were picked up in the morning and brought to a small parking lot where we waited to board a 16-seater. Shortly into the ride, we found out that everyone else on the bus (all local Indian tourists) were there on a daily tour that brought them back to Mysore that night. This wasn’t a problem, but I imagine we could have negotiated the fare a bit. At any rate, we saw a few animals in the national park, including elephants, deer, and buffalo. Going into the mountains also offered incredible views as we drove the multiple switchback roads.
After a 5 hour ride, we were back in the mountains, where the tea is fresh and the air is chilly. Ooty’s official name is Udhagamandalam. The best part of Ooty: lots of freshly made chocolate.
It’s possible to see most of Ooty on foot, but rickshaw drivers will cost about 100 to get from one end of town to another. The Ooty Municipal Market is one of the best markets in India. The streets around it are also very cool. On the other end of town is a Tibetan market, which is pretty small but has some souvenirs and warm clothes. We explored the streets before heading to a couple tea factories to see how tea is processed. The tea factories are beside each other. If you look up into the hills, you might see a giant sign way in the distance that says, “THE TEA FACTORY”. It’s a 150 INR rickshaw ride. If you want the driver to take you back, negotiate a return fee. We went to both factories, but the 2nd one is much better. Overall, they were both kind of disappointing. We were just looking for a place to sample fresh tea — kind of a cafe setting where we could buy cups of various styles. There was some sampling here, but only a small free sample of a couple kinds, and they were prepared horribly. I feel like some of it was watered down. Other ones were way too sweet. The green tea had sugar and lemon added to it. If you want me to buy tea at your shop, you should give me some good tea as my free sample.
If you’re looking to try different types of Nilgiri tea -- “the champagne of tea” -- you’re better off in one of the tea shops around town. Although, they aren’t great either. We ended up just buying some tea and making it ourselves at our hotel. The tea is good, but in India I’m not a fan of their preparation methods. You should probably try some chocolate tea though -- an Ooty specialty… or special-tea?
The 55 acre Government Botanical Gardens isn’t just a flower garden. It’s a huge area with 655 plants, including flowers and trees from all over the world. The garden was started in 1848 and it took 10 years to fully complete the layout. You could easily spend a couple hours walking around. Be sure to head up the hill (or stairs) to the arboretum. It’s quieter and there are some incredible trees to see.
Coffee tip: In the video, I show you Cafe Coffee Day -- a good option in Ooty -- but there is also a place called Sidewalk Cafe that serves espresso, americanos, and cappuccinos. It’s located at 52A Charing Cross. They have a pizza oven and some decent western food.
HOTEL IN OOTY
While in Ooty, we stayed at the Garden Manor Hotel. Other than the unavoidable bad India wifi, we have no complaints about this hotel. And, get this, the owner was actually very helpful. He knew schedules, he was friendly, and he listened. Crazy times in India.
Ooty to Kochi/Ernakulam, India
Getting from Ooty to Kochi in a day isn’t exactly fun, but if you want to save some time you can easily do it with a bus and train combination. The total distance is about 300 km, but it took about 10 hours with a stopover in Coimbatore. Make sure you buy your train ticket in Ooty as early as possible — at least a day before. The train station in Ooty is right beside the bus station. The ticket window is open from 1:00-4:00. Buses leave for Coimbatore from the main station in Ooty every 30 minutes. We caught the 7:30AM one, which filled up pretty fast. The cost is only a few bucks, but the bus is a bit uncomfortable. It makes a quick stop, about an hour and a half into the journey, at a roadside stand that has some breakfast snacks. In around 4 hours you’ll be dropped off at the bus station where you need to take a rickshaw to the train station. It’s a 15 minute ride along a highly polluted road. We caught the Ernakulam Express train at 1:10, which gave us just enough time to get lunch and some tea and biscuits before jumping on the the train and taking the 4 hour journey to Kochi’s Eranakulam Junction.
Kochi to Varkala, India
Getting to Varkala is easy. There are multiple trains that leave from Ernakulam Junction from the wee hours of the morning until about 7:30 AM. After that, there’s a 9:45 train and a bunch after 1:00 PM. We got on the 9:45, buying the ticket on the day. It wasn’t possible for us to book the train ahead of time. We booked some dirt cheap (80 INR) 2nd class chair seats, which is the lowest class. When the train arrived, we watched a few cars drive-by that had the 2nd class markings on them. Instead of heading towards them (they looked packed) we went the opposite direction. We walked all the way to the end of the train and didn’t see anymore 2nd class cars, so we headed into a sleeper car. They were pretty empty, but of course they cost more. The ticket guy eventually came around and gave us hell. He said we had to pay the difference when we got to the station. The sleeper class cost 170 INR — worth the price difference. The ride takes about 3 and a half hours.
For the last few days of our trip, we decided to relax in what I’ve heard is India’s best beach town. Varkala is a very chilled out place. The hotels are good and the prices are reasonable. It’s less touristy than most beach towns. At the time of our trip, it was too rough to swim in the Arabian sea, but in November it calms down and is suppose to be a great place to get in the water.
HOTEL IN VARKALA
Knowing that we wouldn’t be able to swim in the ocean, we wanted a hotel with a pool. Deshadan Cliff & Beach Resort fulfilled this and more. The photos of their rooms don’t do them justice. They are large, clean, and fairly new. The pool is refreshing. The restaurant, including the free breakfast, was really good. They didn’t try and sell us anything extra. They let us drink beers by the pool. We were looking for a place to unwind for a few days and Deshadan came through in a big way.
The best part of Varkala is the path that runs along the cliff. On one side, you have the Arabian sea, with waves crashing and a salty ocean mist. On the other side, there are shops, restaurants, and cafes that give you a great view and offer-up some delicious food. You can get Italian, Mexican, Mediterranean, Tibetan, German, and of course Indian food. We covered about 2 kilometers of the path, going as far north as the seaside mosque.
It’s the last day before we have to leave India. What would be an appropriate way to spend it? Well, sick in bed of course. Unfortunately, Sara is not feeling well, so we take it easy and try to get as healthy as possible for our long journey home the following day. I do find some time to visit a Tibetan shop that has some really cool stuff in it.
I also get plenty of coffee at the best place in all of Varkala, Coffee Temple (located right by the Heli-pad). They have an Italian hand-pump espresso machine that I’d consider making-love to.
Varkala to Cochin Airport, India
This is it. The last day. I made it! Twenty-eight days and 28 videos. We take the train from Varkala (we booked it when we arrived from Kochi 4 days prior) to Angamaly. It’s a 4.5 hour train ride, but it puts us only 8 km from Cochin Airport. We tried out the AC 3rd tier sleeper, which was pleasant and cost about $8. Our flight was at 11 PM, so we took a later train, but there are trains that run throughout the day.
Cochin airport is impressive because it is run entirely on solar energy. Our flight included a stopover in Kuala Lumpur. We ended up getting back to Vietnam by 9AM — a total travel time of 17 hours.
So what are my thoughts on India? Is it a good place to travel? This video should answer those questions, but you can also check out my article: 28 Days Later: The Dirt on Traveling India