Must see attractions in South India

  • Top ChoiceSights in Thanjavur (Tanjore)

    Brihadishwara Temple

    Come here twice: in the morning, when the honey-hued granite begins to assert its dominance over the white dawn sunshine, and in the evening, when the rocks capture a hot palette of reds, oranges, yellows and pinks on the crowning glory of Chola temple architecture. The World Heritage–listed Brihadishwara Temple was built between 1003 and 1010 by Raja Raja I (‘king of kings’). The outer fortifications were put up by Thanjavur's later Nayak and British regimes. You enter through a Maratha-era gate, followed by two original gopurams with elaborate stucco sculptures. You might find the temple elephant under one of the gopurams. Several shrines are dotted around the extensive grassy areas of the walled temple compound, including one of India’s largest statues of Nandi (Shiva’s sacred bull), facing the main temple building. Cut from a single rock and framed by slim pillars, this 16th-century Nayak creation is 6m long. Don't miss the sublime sculptures at the shrine dedicated to Lakshmi, to the right of Nandi when entering the complex. A long, columned assembly hall leads to the central shrine with its 4m-high Shiva lingam, beneath the superb 61m-high vimana (tower). The assembly hall's southern steps are flanked by two huge dwarpals (temple guardians). Many graceful deity images stand in niches around the vimana's lower outer levels, including Shiva emerging from the lingam (beside the southern steps); Shiva as the beggar Bhikshatana (first image, south side); Shiva as Nataraja, the cosmic dancer (west end of south wall); Harihara (half Shiva, half Vishnu) on the west wall; and Ardhanarishvara (Shiva as half-man, half-woman), leaning on Nandi, on the north side. Between the deity images are panels showing classical dance poses. On the vimana ' s upper east side is a later Maratha-period Shiva within three arches. The compound also contains an interpretation centre along the south wall and, in the colonnade along the west and north walls, hundreds more linga. Both west and north walls are lined with exquisite lime-plaster Chola frescoes, for years buried under later Nayak-era murals. North of the temple compound, but still within the outer fortifications, are the 18th-century neoclassical Schwartz's Church and a park containing the Sivaganga tank. Official guides can be hired at the tourist information booth just outside the temple for 90-minute tours (₹500).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Maharashtra

    Kailasa Temple

    One of India’s greatest monuments, this astonishing temple, carved from solid rock, was built by King Krishna I in AD 760 to represent Mt Kailasa (Kailash), Shiva’s Himalayan abode. To say that the assignment was daring would be an understatement. Three huge trenches were bored into the sheer cliff face, a process that entailed removing 200,000 tonnes of rock by hammer and chisel, before the temple could begin to take shape and its remarkable sculptural decoration could be added. Covering twice the area of the Parthenon in Athens and being half as high again, Kailasa is an engineering marvel that was executed straight from the head with zero margin for error. Modern draughtspeople might have a lesson or two to learn here. The temple houses several intricately carved panels, depicting scenes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the adventures of Krishna. Also worth admiring are the immense monolithic pillars that stand in the courtyard, flanking the entrance on both sides, and the southeastern gallery that has 10 giant and fabulous panels depicting the different avatars (incarnations of a deity) of Lord Vishnu. After you’re done with the main enclosure, bypass the hordes of snack-munching day trippers to explore the temple’s many dank, bat urine–soaked corners with their numerous forgotten carvings. Afterwards, hike the sturdier path up to the south of the complex (past the scaffolding) that takes you to the top perimeter of the ‘cave’, from where you can get a bird’s-eye view of the entire temple complex.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Maharashtra

    Ajanta Caves

    Ajanta’s caves line a steep face of a horseshoe-shaped gorge bordering the Waghore River. Five of the caves are chaityas (assembly or prayer halls) while others are viharas (monasteries with attached residential cells). Caves 8, 9, 10, 12, 13 and part of 15 are early Buddhist caves, while the others date from around the 5th century AD (Mahayana period). In the austere early Buddhist school, the Buddha was never represented directly but always alluded to by a symbol such as the footprint or wheel of law. During busy periods, viewers are allotted 15 minutes within the caves, which have to be entered without shoes (flip-flops will make your life a lot easier). Caves 3, 8, 22, 28, 29 and 30 remain either closed or inaccessible. Keep in mind, there is a fairly steep uphill walk from the ticket counter to the beginning of the caves – porters (₹400) and chair dolis (₹1500; porters who carry people on chairs) are available.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mumbai (Bombay)

    Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai

    Mumbai’s most famous landmark, this stunning hotel is a fairy-tale blend of Islamic and Renaissance styles, and India’s second-most-photographed monument. It was built in 1903 by the Parsi industrialist JN Tata, supposedly after he was refused entry to nearby European hotels on account of being ‘a native’. Dozens were killed inside the hotel when it was targeted during the 2008 terrorist attacks, and images of its burning facade were beamed worldwide. The fully restored hotel reopened on Independence Day 2010. Much more than an iconic building, the Taj’s history is intrinsically linked with the nation: it was the first hotel in India to employ women, the first to have electricity (and fans), and it also housed freedom fighters (for no charge) during the struggle for independence. Today the Taj fronts the harbour and Gateway of India, but it was originally designed to face the city (the entrance has been changed).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mumbai (Bombay)

    Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus

    Imposing, exuberant and overflowing with people, this monumental train station is the city’s most extravagant Gothic building and an aphorism of colonial-era India. It’s a meringue of Victorian, Hindu and Islamic styles whipped into an imposing Dalí-esque structure of buttresses, domes, turrets, spires and stained glass. It's also known as CSMT. Some of the architectural detail is incredible, with dog-faced gargoyles adorning the magnificent central tower and peacock-filled windows above the central courtyard. Designed by Frederick Stevens, it was completed in 1887, 34 years after the first train in India left this site. Despite being renamed again in 2017, after being changed to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) in 1998, it’s still better known locally as VT.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mysuru (Mysore)

    Mysuru Palace

    The second-most-visited sight in India (after the Taj Mahal), this palace is among the very grandest of India’s royal buildings and was the seat of the Wodeyar maharajas. The original palace was gutted by fire in 1897; today's structure was completed in 1912. The lavish Indo-Saracenic interior – a kaleidoscope of stained glass, mirrors and gaudy colours – is undoubtedly over the top. It's further embellished by carved wooden doors, mosaic floors and a series of paintings depicting life here during the Raj. English architect Henry Irwin designed the palace and construction cost ₹4.5 million. On the way in you'll pass a fine collection of sculptures and artefacts. Don’t forget to check out the armoury, with an intriguing collection of 700-plus weapons. From 7pm to 8pm every Sunday and national holiday, the palace is illuminated by nearly 100,000 light bulbs that accentuate its majestic profile against the night. Entrance to the grounds is at the South Gate ticket office. While you're allowed to snap the palace’s exterior, photography within is strictly prohibited. Note that many visitors have been unable to download the palace-information app (promoted at the ticket office).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Maharashtra

    Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve

    One of the best places to see tigers in India, the seldom-visited Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, 150km south of Nagpur, is now much more accessible thanks to the upgrading of state highways. Despite not drawing the crowds of many other bigger name forest reserves in India, it is one of the best spots to get up close and personal with tigers and other wildlife. Mammals in the 1700-sq-km include gaurs, chitals, nilgais, sloth bears and leopards, as well as very healthy tiger numbers (estimated at around 88 adults and 45 cubs in the park plus 35 additional tigers in the surrounding areas); the park is also a fantastic spot for birders. The park also remains open throughout the year, unlike many in India. The prices here, however, can really add up: three-hour safaris in Gypsy 4WDs cost ₹2700 per vehicle plus ₹350 for a mandatory guide and ₹200 for an SLR camera (or ₹250 for any lens greater than 250mm) in addition to park admission fees, so you are looking at between ₹7050 to ₹11,050 per safari before even thinking about snapping a photo.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hampi

    Vittala Temple

    Hampi's most exquisite structure, the 16th-century Vittala Temple stands amid boulders 2.5km from Hampi Bazaar. Work possibly started on the temple during the reign of Krishnadevaraya (r 1509–29). The structure was never finished or consecrated, yet its incredible sculptural work remains the pinnacle of Vijayanagar art. The courtyard's ornate stone chariot (illustrated on the ₹50 note) is the temple’s showpiece and represents Vishnu’s vehicle with an image of Garuda within. Its wheels were once capable of turning. The outer ‘musical’ pillars, supposedly designed to replicate 81 different Indian instruments, reverberate when tapped. To protect them, authorities have placed them out of bounds. As well as the main temple, whose sanctum was illuminated using a design of reflective waters, you’ll find the marriage hall and the prayer hall, to the left and right, respectively, as you enter.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Maharashtra

    Ellora Cave Temples

    The saga of the hammer and chisel comes full circle at the Unesco World Heritage-listed Ellora cave temples, located 30km from Aurangabad. The pinnacle of ancient Indian rock-cut architecture, these caves were chipped out laboriously over five centuries by generations of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks. Monasteries, chapels, temples – the caves served every purpose, and the style quotient was duly met by embellishing them with a profusion of remarkably detailed sculptures. Unlike the caves at Ajanta, which are carved into a sheer rock face, the Ellora caves line a 2km-long escarpment, the gentle slope of which allowed architects to build elaborate courtyards in front of the shrines as well.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Middle & North Andaman

    Ross & Smith Islands

    Like lovely tropical counterweights, the twin islands of Smith and Ross are connected by a slender, dazzlingly white sandbar, and are up there with the best in the Andamans for both swimming and snorkelling. No permits are required for Smith, which is accessed by boat (₹5000 per boat, fits five people) from Aerial Bay, 4km southwest. Theoretically you need a permit for Ross (Indian/foreigner ₹75/1000) once you're on Smith, but as it’s walkable from Smith, permits sometimes aren’t checked.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep)

    Radhanagar Beach

    One of India’s (and indeed Asia's) most fabulous and famous stretches of sand: a beautiful bleach-blonde curve of powdery sugar fronted by perfectly spiralled aqua waves, all fringed by lush native forest. It’s on the northwest side of the island, 11km southwest of the jetty. Visit early morning to avoid the heat and crowds; sunsets are, predictably, hugely popular. The further you walk from the main entry and stalls, the more privacy you’ll get. There are just a few exclusive resorts here.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Old Goa

    Basilica de Bom Jesus

    Famous throughout the Roman Catholic world, the imposing Basilica de Bom Jesus contains the tomb and mortal remains of St Francis Xavier, the so-called Apostle of the Indies. St Francis Xavier’s missionary voyages throughout the East became legendary. His ‘incorrupt’ body is in the mausoleum to the right, in a glass-sided coffin amid a shower of gilt stars. Freelance guides at the entrance will show you around for ₹100. Construction on the basilica began in 1594 and was completed in 1605, to create an elaborate late-Renaissance structure, fronted by a facade combining elements of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian design. Prominent in the design of the facade is the intricately carved central rectangular pediment, embellished with the Jesuit emblem ‘IHS', an abbreviation of the Latin ‘Iesus Hominum Salvator’ (Jesus, Saviour of Men). This is the only church in Old Goa not plastered on the outside, the lime plaster having been stripped off by a zealous Portuguese conservationist in 1950. Apparently his notion was that exposed to the elements, the laterite stone of which the basilica is built would become more durable and thus the building would be strengthened. Despite proof to the contrary, no one has got around to putting the plaster back yet; hence, some of the intricate carving is eroding with the dousing of each successive monsoon. Inside, the basilica’s layout is simple but grand, contained beneath a simple wooden ceiling. The huge and ornate gilded reredos (ornamental screen), stretching from floor to ceiling behind the altar, takes pride of place, its baroque ornament contrasting strongly with the classical, plain layout of the cathedral itself. It shows a rather portly St Ignatius Loyola, protecting a tiny figure of the infant Jesus. His eyes are raised to a huge gilded sun above his head, on which ‘IHS’ is again emblazoned, above which is a representation of the Trinity. To the right of the altar is the slightly grisly highlight for the vast majority of visitors: the body of St Francis Xavier himself. The body was moved into the church in 1622, and installed in its current mausoleum in 1698 courtesy of the last of the Medicis, Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, in exchange for the pillow on which St Francis’ head had been resting. Cosimo engaged the Florentine sculptor Giovanni Batista Foggini to work on the three-tiered structure, constructed of jasper and marble, flanked with stars, and adorned with bronze plaques that depict scenes from the saint’s life. Topping it all off, and holding the shrivelled saint himself, is the casket, designed by Italian Jesuit Marcelo Mastrili and constructed by local silversmiths in 1659, whose sides were originally encrusted with precious stones which, over the centuries, have been picked off. Crowds are busiest at the basilica during the Feast of St Francis Xavier, held annually on 3 December and preceded by a nine-day devotional novena, with lots of lighthearted festivity alongside the more solemn open-air Masses. Once every 10 years, the saint is given an exposition, and his body hauled around Old Goa before scores of pilgrims. The next one is in 2024. Passing from the chapel towards the sacristy there are a couple of items relating to St Francis’ remains and, slightly further on, the stairs to a gallery of modern art. Next to the basilica is the Professed House of the Jesuits, a two-storey laterite building covered with lime plaster. It actually predates the basilica, having been completed in 1585. It was from here that Jesuit missions to the east were organised. Part of the building burned down in 1633 and was partially rebuilt in 1783. Mass is held in the basilica in Konkani at 7am and 8am Monday to Saturday, at 8am and 9.15am on Sunday, and in English at 10.15am on Sunday. Confession is held daily in the sacristy from 5pm to 6pm.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Madurai

    Meenakshi Amman Temple

    The colourful abode of the triple-breasted warrior goddess Meenakshi (‘fish-eyed’ – an epithet for perfect eyes in classical Tamil poetry) is generally considered to be the peak of South Indian temple architecture, as vital to this region's aesthetic heritage as the Taj Mahal to North India. It’s not so much a 17th-century temple as a 6-hectare complex with 12 tall gopurams, encrusted with a staggering array of gods, goddesses, demons and heroes (1511 on the 55m-high south gopuram alone). According to legend, the beautiful Meenakshi (a version of Parvati) was born with three breasts and this prophecy: her superfluous breast would melt away when she met her husband. This happened when she met Shiva and took her place as his consort. The existing temple was mostly built during the 17th-century reign of Tirumalai Nayak, but its origins go back 2000 years to when Madurai was a Pandyan capital. The four streets surrounding the temple are pedestrian-only. Temple dress codes and security are airport-strict: no shoulders or legs (of either gender) may be exposed, and no bags or cameras are allowed inside. Despite this, the temple has a happier atmosphere than some of Tamil Nadu's more solemn shrines, and is adorned with especially vibrant ceiling and wall paintings. Every evening at 9pm, a frenetic, incense-clouded procession carries an icon of Sundareswarar (Shiva) to Meenakshi's shrine to spend the night; visitors can follow along. Before or after entering the temple, look around the Pudhu Mandapa. The main temple entrance is through the eastern (oldest) gopuram. First, on the right, you'll come to the Thousand Pillared Hall, now housing the fascinating Temple Art Museum. Moving on into the temple, you'll reach a Nandi shrine surrounded by more beautifully carved columns. Ahead is the main Shiva shrine, flanked on each side by massive dwarpals, and further ahead to the left in a separate enclosure is the main Meenakshi shrine, both off limits to non-Hindus. Anyone can, however, wander round the Golden Lotus Tank, where a small pavilion jutting out at the western end has ceiling murals depicting Sundareswarar and Meenakshi's marriage. Leave the temple via a hall of flower sellers and the arch-ceilinged Ashta Shakti Mandapa – lined with relief carvings of the goddess' eight attributes and displaying the loveliest of all the temple's elaborately painted ceilings; this is actually the temple entrance for most worshippers.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Trichy (Tiruchirappalli)

    Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple

    So large it feels like a self-enclosed city, Sri Ranganathaswamy is quite possibly India's biggest temple. It has 49 separate Vishnu shrines, and reaching the inner sanctum from the south, as most worshippers do, requires passing through seven gopurams. The first (southernmost), the Rajagopuram, was added in 1987, and is one of Asia's tallest temple towers at 73m high. Non-Hindus cannot pass the sixth gopuram so won't see the innermost sanctum, where Vishnu as Ranganatha reclines on a five-headed snake. You pass through streets with shops, restaurants, motorbikes and cars until you reach the temple proper at the fourth gopuram. Inside on the left is an information counter selling tickets for the roof viewpoint (₹20), which affords semipanoramic views. Take no notice of would-be guides who spin stories to get hired. Also here, in the southwest corner, is the beautiful 16th-century Venugopal Shrine, adorned with superbly detailed Nayak-era carvings of preening gopis (milkmaids) and the flute-playing Krishna (Vishnu's eighth incarnation). Turn right just before the fifth gopuram for the small Art Museum, displaying fine bronzes, tusks of bygone temple elephants, and a collection of exquisite 17th-century Nayak ivory figurines depicting gods, demons, and kings and queens (some in erotic poses). Continue left past the museum to the Sesha Mandapa, a 16th-century pillared hall with magnificently detailed monolithic Vijayanagar carvings of rearing battle horses and Vishnu's 10 incarnations sculpted on pillars. Immediately north is the 1000-pillared hall, whose recently unearthed lower base is carved into dance positions. Inside the fifth gopuram is the Garuda Mandapa, containing an enormous shrine to Vishnu's man-eagle assistant, posed in semiseated position to show that he's ever-ready to leap up and go to Vishnu the moment he is called to fly the god somewhere. Note, too, four remarkable sculptures of Nayak donors (with daggers on the hip). Take bus 1 to/from the Central Bus Station or the Rock Fort stops just south of the Rajagopuram.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hyderabad

    Golconda Fort

    Hyderabad's most impressive sight, this monumental fort lies on the western edge of town. In the 16th century the Qutb Shahs made Golconda a fortified citadel, built atop a 120m-high granite hill surrounded by mighty ramparts, all ringed by further necklaces of crenellated fortifications, 11km in perimeter. From the summit there are stunning vistas across dusty Deccan foothills and the crumbling outer ramparts, over the domed tombs of Qutb Shahs, past distant shanty towns to the horizon haze of the inner city. By the time of the Qutb Shahs, Golconda Fort had already existed for at least three centuries under the Kakatiyas and Bahmani sultanate, and was already famed for its diamonds, which were mostly mined in the Krishna River valley, but cut and traded here. The Qutb Shahs moved to their new city of Hyderabad in 1591, but maintained Golconda as a citadel until the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb took it in 1687 after a year-long siege, ending Qutb Shahi rule. Golconda's massive gates were studded with iron spikes to obstruct war elephants. Within the fort, a series of concealed glazed earthenware pipes ensured a reliable water supply, while the ingenious acoustics guaranteed that even the smallest sound from the entrance would echo across the fort complex. Allow at least a couple of hours to explore the site. Guides charge around ₹600 per 90-minute tour. Small ₹20 guide booklets are also available. Inside the citadel gate, an anticlockwise circuit leads through gardens and up past mostly minor buildings to the top of the hill, where you'll find the functioning Hindu Jagadamba Mahakali Temple and the three-storey durbar hall, with fine panoramas. You then descend to the old palace buildings in the southeastern part of the fort and return to the entrance, passing the elegant three-arched Taramati Mosque. Golconda is about 10km west from Abids or Charminar: an Uber cab or auto is around ₹270 one way. Buses 65G and 66G run from Charminar to Golconda via GPO Abids hourly; the journey takes about an hour.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mumbai (Bombay)

    Elephanta Island

    Northeast of the Gateway of India in Mumbai Harbour, the rock-cut temples on Gharapuri, better known as Elephanta Island, are a Unesco World Heritage Site. Created between AD 450 and 750, the labyrinth of cave temples represent some of India’s most impressive temple carving. The main Shiva-dedicated temple is an intriguing latticework of courtyards, halls, pillars and shrines; its magnum opus is a 6m-tall statue of Sadhashiva, depicting a three-faced Shiva as the destroyer, creator and preserver of the universe, his eyes closed in eternal contemplation. It was the Portuguese who dubbed the island Elephanta because of a large stone elephant near the shore (this collapsed in 1814 and was moved by the British to Mumbai’s Jijamata Udyan). There’s a small museum on-site, with informative pictorial panels on the origin of the caves. Pushy, expensive guides are available – but you don’t really need one as Pramod Chandra’s A Guide to the Elephanta Caves, widely for sale, is more than sufficient. Launches head to Gharapuri from the Gateway of India every half hour from 9am to 3.30pm. Buy tickets from the MTDC booth at Apollo Bunder. The voyage takes about an hour. The ferries dock at the end of a concrete pier, from where you can walk or take the miniature train (₹10) to the stairway leading up to the caves (it’s lined with souvenir stalls and patrolled by pesky monkeys). A passenger tax (₹5) is also charged. Wear good shoes (those opting to walk are looking at 1.2km). Doli-carriers charge ₹1200 to carry up the aged or disabled.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Karnataka

    Cave Temples

    Badami’s highlights are its beautiful cave temples, three Hindu and one Jain, which display exquisite sculptures and intricate carvings. They're a magnificent example of Chalukya architecture and date to the 6th century. All have a columned verandah, an interior hall and a shrine at the rear. Cave one, just above the entrance to the complex, is dedicated to Shiva. It’s the oldest of the four caves, probably carved in the latter half of the 6th century. On the wall to the right of the porch is a captivating image of Nataraja striking 18 dance moves in the one pose, backed by a cobra head. On the right of the porch area is a huge figure of Ardhanarishvara. On the opposite wall is a large image of Harihara, half Shiva and half Vishnu. Dedicated to Vishnu, cave two is simpler in design. As with caves one and three, the front edge of the platform is decorated with images of pot-bellied dwarfs in various poses. Four pillars support the verandah, their tops carved with a bracket in the shape of a yali (mythical lion creature). On the left wall of the porch is the bull-headed figure of Varaha, the emblem of the Chalukya empire. To his left is Naga, a snake with a human face. On the right wall is a large sculpture of Trivikrama, another incarnation of Vishnu. Cave three, carved in 578, is the largest and most impressive. On the left wall is a carving of Vishnu, to whom the cave is dedicated, sitting on a snake. Nearby is an image of Varaha with four hands. The pillars have carved brackets in the shape of yalis. The ceiling panels contain images including Indra riding an elephant, Shiva on a bull and Brahma on a swan. Keep an eye out for the image of drunken revellers, in particular one woman being propped up by her husband. There’s also original colour on the ceiling; the divots on the floor at the cave’s entrance were used as paint palettes. There's a sublime view from cave three over the Agastyatirtha Tank far below, and you can often hear the echoes of women thrashing clothes on its steps reverberating around the hills. Dedicated to Jainism, cave four is the smallest of the set and dates to between the 7th and 8th centuries. The right wall has an image of Suparshvanatha, the seventh Jain tirthankar (teacher), surrounded by 24 Jain tirthankars. The inner sanctum contains an image of Adinath, the first Jain tirthankar.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Old Goa

    Sé Cathedral

    At over 76m long and 55m wide, the cavernous Sé Cathedral is the largest church in Asia. Building commenced in 1562, on the orders of King Dom Sebastiao of Portugal, and the finishing touches were finally made some 90 years later. The exterior is notable for its plain style, in the Tuscan tradition. Also of note is its rather lopsided look resulting from the loss of one of its bell towers, which collapsed in 1776 after being struck by lightning. The remaining tower houses the famous Sino de Ouro (Golden Bell), the largest in Asia and renowned for its rich tone, which once tolled to accompany the Inquisition’s notoriously cruel autos-da-fé (trials of faith), held out the front of the cathedral on what was then the market square. The huge interior of the cathedral is surprisingly plain. To the right as you enter is a small, locked area that contains a font made in 1532, said to have been used by St Francis Xavier. Two small statuettes, inset into the main pillars, depict St Francis Xavier and St Ignatius Loyola. There are four chapels on either side of the nave, two of which have screens across the entrance. Of these, the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament is outstanding, with every inch of wall and ceiling gorgeously gilded and decorated – a complete contrast to the austerity of the cathedral interior. Opposite, to the right of the nave, is the other screened chapel, the Chapel of the Cross of Miracles. The story goes that in 1619 a simple cross (known as the Cruz dos Milagres), made by local shepherds, was erected on a hillside near Old Goa. The cross grew bigger and several witnesses saw an apparition of Christ hanging on it. A church was planned on the spot where the vision had appeared and while this was being built the cross was stored nearby. When it came time to move the cross into the new church it was found that it had grown again and that the doors of the church had to be widened to accommodate it. The cross was moved to the cathedral in 1845, where it soon became, and remains, a popular place of petition for the sick. Towering above the main altar is the huge gilded reredos (ornamental screen), its six main panels carved with scenes from the life of St Catherine, to whom the cathedral is dedicated. She was beheaded in Alexandria, and among the images here are those showing her awaiting execution and being carried to Mt Sinai by angels.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Northern Kerala

    Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary

    Wayanad's ethereal 345-sq-km sanctuary is accessible only by two-hour jeep safari (₹680), on which you might spot langurs, chital deer, sambar, peacocks, wild boar or wild elephants; the odd tiger and leopard wanders through, though you'd be incredibly lucky to spot one. Jeeps are arranged at either of the sanctuary's two entrances, Tholpetty and Muthanga; during the November-to-March high season, arrive at least an hour before the morning or afternoon openings to register and secure a vehicle. Whether you go to Tholpetty or Muthanga essentially depends on whether you're staying in the north or south of Wayanad, as there's no difference in the chances of spotting wildlife or the visiting arrangements. Both Tholpetty and Muthanga close from mid-March to mid-April, but remain open during the monsoon. There are a limited number of guides and jeeps permitted in the park at one time, and trekking is not permitted.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Panaji

    Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception

    Panaji’s spiritual, as well as geographical, centre is this elevated, pearly white church, built in 1619 over an older, smaller 1540 chapel, and stacked like a fancy white wedding cake. When Panaji was little more than a sleepy fishing village, this church was the first port of call for sailors from Lisbon, who would give thanks for a safe crossing, before continuing to Ela (Old Goa) further east up the river. The church is beautifully illuminated at night. By the 1850s the land in front of the church was being reclaimed and the distinctive crisscrossing staircases were added in the late 19th century. Today the entrance to its gloriously technicolor interior is along the left-hand side wall. A tangle of ropes leads up to the enormous shiny church bell in the belfry, saved from the ruins of the Augustinian monastery at Old Goa and installed here in 1871. The church is the focus for celebrations during the Feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, on 8 December.