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South India photoblog: Dindigul, Madurai and Munnar

Follow us as we continue our journey through South India; this time from the fresh and fertile countryside of Dindigul, to the cultural hub of Madurai and into 'God's own country', Kerala, to the emerald green mountains of Munnar, carpeted with tea fields.

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It is always exciting when you find a new secret gem, and discoveries don’t come more delightful than this one in Dindigul… Opened in October 2012, Rajakkad Estate is an intimate garden hotel with 7 unique bedrooms within an 18th century wooden structure, which was built in the Keralan style with thousands of interlocking beams, panels and screens
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The Rajakkad mansion has been re-assembled here at an elevation of 1000 metres above sea level deep within the Palani Hills in Tamil Nadu
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Rajakkad's rooms are set around a pattern of courtyards and pools
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Rajakkad's building style is traditional and refined, with pretty interior decorations using splashes of colour. Each of the bedrooms leads directly out into the garden, so you can always see this outdoor paradise, a few small steps from your bed
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Twinkly lights in the bathroom at Rajakkad
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The main living room at Rajakkad is decorated with original antiques as well as contemporary furnishings
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Rajakkad's 45 acre estate is bursting with agricultural life; cows wander through the forest, which is made up of coffee, cotton and pepper plantations, papaya trees, jackfruit trees and colourful flowers
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Thirumalai Nayak Mahal Palace in Madurai was built in 1636 by King Thirumalai Nayak with the help of an Italian Architect. It is a breathtaking blend of Dravidian and Islamic styles with a sense of Italian flair and extravagance
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The palace is a magnificent example of Indo-saracenic style, with incredibly impressive stucco work on its soaring domes and arches
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The ceilings of the palace are decorated with beautiful paintings... apparently many Indian carpet makers have come here for inspiration
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The palace has 248 pillars which are 58 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter
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The Dance Hall at Thirumalai Nayak Mahal
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Floor decorations being drawn outside the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. Photography is currently forbidden inside the temple but take our word for it: it is one of the most beautiful in India!
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Night falls over Meenakshi Temple but she remains Madurai's centrepiece, towering high with little lights
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The start of the Chithirai Festival outside the Meenakshi Temple. Madurai is known as the city of festivals, and this one occurs every April to re-enact the wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi, Lord Vishnu's sister. Click on the image above to watch the video or click here to watch the festival in full swing!
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An ancient legend unfolds at the Chithirai Festival as Lord Vishnu rides to his sister's wedding on gleaming real-gold horse chariot
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Windemere Estate in Munnar is a charming 15 bedroom property perched on a hilltop surrounded by a working cardamom estate - the perfect antidote after the excitement of the Chithirai Festival! It is cool up at this elevation, hence the cosy fireplaces to warm up next to in winter... a blissful welcome to the state of Kerala after saying goodbye to Tamil Nadu
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Munnar's hills are carpeted with tea plantations
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Another great new find: Talayar Valley Bungalow in Munnar. Open since October 2012, it is an original bungalow with four suites built for a British plantation manager. Anyone who has experienced Sri Lanka's Ceylon Tea Trails will no doubt love this. Talayar plan to offer tea excursions where you can learn to pluck tea from the field and operate the machinery in the tea factory. We're sure you'll get a cup of tea at the end of it, too!

Next stops on our tour of South India: Kanam, Kumarakom and Alleppey (The Backwaters), and the colonial port city of Cochin...