South India sizzles

Must see... A field of Niger flowers in Araku Valley, Visakhapatnam.

SOUTH INDIA - If you are planning a trip to south India, you will be spoilt for choice. With so many destinations to choose from and so many flights available, this part of India is one of the most accessible from Singapore for a short getaway.

SilkAir and Air India offer flights to several cities in south India.

To explore Tamil Nadu, you can use Chennai as your first point of arrival. The city was founded in 1639 by Francis Day and Andrew Cogan, agents for the English East India Company. They acquired a strip of land on lease from the Vijayanagar king and built Fort St George, which remains one of the city's important landmarks and serves as the state government's secretariat today.

Tamil Nadu is famous for its temples and it is said the state has over 33,000 ancient temples. The Brideshwara temple in Thanjavur and the Meenakshi temple in Madurai are two of the famous ones.

Tamil Nadu is also home to the Nattukottai Chettiars called the Nagarathars. They are a prosperous banking and business community who were one of the earliest bankers in Singapore. The Chettiars are from Chettinad. The area is well known for its houses that are embellished with marble and Burmese teak. The houses have wide inner courtyards and spacious rooms. One of the must-see attractions is the Chettinad Palace, built in 1912 and open to visitors. Burmese teak, granite pillars, stained glass and imported Italian tiles were used in its construction.

Neighbouring Kerala state, which is blessed with immense natural beauty, is focusing on promoting soft adventure sports in three places - Vagamon, Muzhappilangad (Kannur district) and Kattil (Kollam district). The state has several beaches like Kovalam, which are popular with tourists.

The state is also planning to promote the ancient spice route. Kerala's tourism director S. Harikishore told PTI recently the spice route was the most historic trade route ever navigated by mankind and Kerala is planning to connect 31 countries in Europe, Asia and the Far East to create a new experience.

In Karnataka, the state's tourism minister R.V. Deshpande has said the government aims to give a special thrust to developing Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors who fly in to Karnataka use Bangalore as the entry point before heading to important tourist destinations like Hampi and Mysore.

All roads in Mysore lead to the Mysore Palace. The palace is a marvel of ornate ceilings, jewelled corridors, stained glass windows, vivid paintings and memorabilia - including the jewelled throne.

The fourth south Indian state Andhra Pradesh has two entry points from Singapore - Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam. Some of the must-see places in Hyderabad are the Charminar and the Salarjung Museum. The museum started out as a private collection of Mir Yousuf Ali Khan, who was the prime minister for the Nizam. There are more than 43,000 paintings, 47,000 books and 9,000 holographs in the museum.

Air India offers special Natas fares starting from $70 to Chennai. SilkAir offers $429 all-in return fares to Chennai, $469 all-in fares to Bangalore, Kolkata, Kochi, Coimbatore, Thiruvananthapuram and Visakhapatnam. For more information on SilkAir's promotions, go to www.silkair.com.

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