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1,200km (744 miles) S of Mumbai

Thiruvananthapuram ("City of the Sacred Serpent") is the mouthful of a name given to Kerala's seaside state capital, but thankfully almost everyone calls it Trivandrum (if you want to impress locals, though, try saying it slowly: Tiru-vanan-tha-poo-ram). Although the city has some interesting museums and a temple that's of great significance to Hindus (and off-limits to non-Hindus), the main reason you'll find yourself here is to utilize the city's excellent transportation connections and head for the beautiful beaches that surround it. North lies Varkala, which has been a popular seaside vacation spot since the early 20th century -- no doubt because of its proximity to Trivandrum (a mere 10- to 20-min. drive south) -- and as a result has become overcommercialized and saturated with tourist-hungry businesses. If you're looking for Kerala's most stunning, upmarket seaside options, many with more-or-less private beaches, you'll have to travel farther south of Kovalam.