South India Discovery
14 Days from £1595
Fourteen days from £1595pp
This leisurely journey through Tamil Nadu and Kerala encompasses all the highlights of South India. The beach side retreat of Mamallapuram is your initial base and from here you explore the historic ‘French’ town of Pondicherry and the temple cities of Tanjore, Trichy and Madurai. Next is the lush tropical land of Kerala with a chance to spot wild elephants in Periyar National Park before unwinding in the wildlife and palm-fringed Backwaters of what the locals call God’s own country. Then on to the the harbour city of Cochin, with its diverse architectural and religious influences and home to the much photographed “Chinese fishing nets”.
Situated 40 miles south of Chennai on the Bay of Bengal is the coastal town of Mahabalipuram which most famous for its UNESCO world heritage listed ancient temples.
The temples, sanctuaries and ornate carvings were built during the Pallava dynasty between the 7th and 8th centuries when Mahabalipuram was a major sea port attracting traders and merchants from Asia and Europe. “The city of seven pagodas” also has another attraction, huge volcanic boulders, the most famous being “Krishna’s butter ball” which is 6 meters high, 5 meters wide and weighs in around 250 tonnes.
Day 1 – Mahabalipuram
You will be met at Chennai airport and transferred approximately 1.5 hours to your beach side hotel where the rest of the day is free to relax and unwind after your flight.
Day 2 – Mahabalipuram
Today there is time to relax on the beach and visit the world famous UNESCO World Heritage Mahabalipuram temples. These temples are divided into four categories: open-air bas-relief; man-made caves and rathas (temples carved from single boulders to resemble chariots used in temple processions).
Bas-relief monuments adorn massive rocks near the centre of the village and the most spectacular Shore Temple presides over the beachfront. The masterpiece at Mahabalipuram is the “Penance of Bhagiratha” the world’s largest bas-relief in stone, 27 meters by 9 meters. Later visit India’s largest self supporting artist’s village, Cholamandal, where a community of artists produce and sell beautiful and original pieces of work .
Founded by the French in the 17th Century and only incorporated back into the Indian union in the early 50s, Pondicherry is a tranquil seaside town that attracts artists and travellers to it’s shady cobbled streets. The strong French influence can be found in the colonial architecture which gives you the feeling you are in a Mediterranean town on the sub continent and the unique dishes from curries with served baguette instead of rice to classics like steak frites.
Day 3 – Mahabalipuram > Pondicherry
After breakfast you will be transferred to Pondicherry. Once checked into the hotel you will start your guided tour 0f Pondicherry which includes a visit to the Sacred Heart Church, a paper factory, Gingee Fort and the Pondicherry Museum.
You will visit the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, which the Bengali poet and philosopher Sri Aurobindo founded in 1912. He wanted to create an ashram that would be “a centre and a field of practice for the evolution of another kind and form of life which would in the final end be moved by a higher spiritual consciousness and embody a greater life of the spirit”. Today the Ashram attracts visitors and devotees from all over the world.
Day 4 – Pondichery > Tanjore
After breakfast check out from hotel and en route to Tanjore you will visit Chidambaram and Kumbakonam.
Chidambaram is an important destination for followers of the god Shiva and exponent of the fearsome, frenzied Tandav Nritya or the dance of destruction, at the centre of the town is the large Natraj Temple complex dedicated to Shiva as the divine dancer.
Kumbakonam, a picturesque temple town located between the Cauvery and Arasalar rivers, is known for its age old temples and was the capital of the historically important Chola dynasty which ruled the region during the medieval period.
After visiting Kumbakonam you then continue your drive to Tanjore. Though the history Thanjavur (as it is now called) dates back to the Sangam age, it was between the 10th and 14th centuries that it reached its zenith becoming the centre of Tamil learning and culture. Modern Thanjavur is a fertile plain which is often referred to as the “rice bowl” of Tamil Nadu.
The Tamil Nadu city of Madurai has been inhabited for over 2500 years, designed in the shape of a lotus with the incredible Meenakshi Amman temple at it’s centre. This very important temple complex is dedicated to the goddess Parvati, known as Meenakshi and her consort Lord Shiva and legend has it Madurai is where they married. There are 14 tower gateways from which welcome up to 25,00 worshippers and pilgrims daily with the tallest being almost 52 meters high and there are approximately 33,000 sculptures of brightly painted animals, gods and demons that adorn the temple’s vast complex.
Day 5 – Tanjore > Madurai
After breakfast, you will have a guided visit of the sites of Tanjore including the UNESCO world heritage site of Brihadeeswarar temple, the Tanjore Palace and Schwartz church.
There is some time to freshen up at your hotel before the drive to MaduraI. En route you will visit Srirangam Temple in Trichurapalli.
Day 6 – Madurai
After breakfast you will begin your guided tour of Madurai which includes the Meenakshi Amman temple and the Thirumalai Nayak Palace.
Located in the heart of the city, Hindus believe the Meenakshi Amman Temple was built on the spot where Lord Shiva married Parvati and it has been the sacred abode of Goddess Parvati ever since.
Constructed in the 17th century by the Nayak king Thirumalai the palace design is a fusion of Rajasthan and Southern Indian and is renowned for its splendidly ornate decorated halls and dance courtyard.
An unforgettable experience of your visit to Madurai is to attend the evening pooja ceremony at Meenakshi Aman temple. Every evening a statue of the god Shiva is carried, with music, chanting and incense, to his wife Parvati where he will spend the night before being carried back to his shrine the following day.
Sitting high in the cardamon hills of the Western Ghats mountain range Periyar National park is one of India’s 48 tiger reserves. Although sightings of big cats which also include leopard are rare in the dense undergrowth the national park is however rich in wildlife including the more commonly spotted wild elephants.
Day 7 – Madurai > Periyar National Park
After breakfast depart on a very scenic drive through rice paddies, grape plantations and spice gardens along the winding roads of the Cardamon Hills to the Periyar National Park. Upon arrival check into the hotel and then pay a fascinating visit to a spice garden to learn all about the different spices of India and how they are grown and processed.
Day 8 – Periyar National Park
Some free time today to maybe take a yoga lesson, try an Ayurveda treatment, take a guided nature walk into the national park, explore the near by town of Thekkady or just relax in the cooler climate of the Cardamon hills.
In the afternoon your guide will escort you to lake Periyar where you will board a boat for a cruise on the lake to spot some of the sanctuary’s wildlife that gathers at the shore edge in the late afternoon. If you are lucky you may even spot some of the 700 wild elephant or even an elusive tiger.
The 600 mile network of natural and man made canals, lagoons and lakes that make up the Kerala Backwaters are a natural phenomenon and one the the world’s best places to unwind and rejuvenate. The peaceful backwaters of Kerala were originally formed by the combined natural forces of waves and currents from the Arabian sea flowing west inland and the rivers formed by the heavy rains of the Western Ghats flowing east out to sea.
Day 9 – Periyar > Alleppy
After breakfast drive to Alleppey the starting point of your Kerela backwater cruise. You will spend a night on board a rice barge converted into a house boat with a crew that will ensure your cruise through the lush green fringed lakes and canals is as comfortable and relaxing as possible. There will be short stops along the way as you cruise through villages and visit local markets and watch craftsman building boats in the centuries old tradition.
Day 10 – Alleppy >Kumarakom
After breakfast aboard the houseboat you will be transferred to the enchanting Keralan backwater destination of Kumarakom. A small village built on a cluster of little islands on the Vembanad Lake in Kerela, Kumarkom strengthens Kerala’s reputation for being God’s own country with its unbelievably beautiful mangrove forests, coconut groves and emerald green paddy fields interspersed with enchanting waterways and canals adorned with white lilies.
Day 11 – Kumarakom
No activities are planned for today offering you the chance to enjoy the lake resort’s facilities and for rest and relaxation or you may want to arrange a visit to the nearby bird sanctuary.
Cochin boasts a rich cultural heritage created by traders and travellers that have been welcomed through this major sea port for over 600 years. In a small area you will find mosques, churches and synagogues as well as Dutch and Portugese mansions, British government buildings and of course the world famous Chinese fishing nets.
Day 12 – Kumarakom > Cochin
After a leisurely start to the day before you depart Kumarakom on another scenic drive to the historic port city of Cochin.
Day 13 – Cochin
After breakfast, you will be taken for a guided walking tour of Cochin including the harbour with the famous “Cinese fishing nets”. On the tour you will also visit the Mattancherry Palace, built by the Portuguese in 1557 and presented to the Maharaja of Cochin, as a gesture of goodwill. It was substantially renovated by the Dutch after 1663, hence it’s other name, the ‘Dutch Palace’.
The Paradesi Synagogue is another important Cochin site. The synagogue, built in 1568, is the oldest synagogue in the commonwealth and is magnificently decorated with Chinese tiles and Belgian chandeliers.
In the evening you will be picked up from your hotel and taken to a Kathakali dance performance at a local theatre. Kathakali is a traditional dance form, depicting Indian epics (Ramayana and Mahabharata). The elaborately costumed dancers paint their faces to depict various characters of these epics and the dance has a lot of facial expressions and brisk, yet articulate body movements.
Day 14 – Tour Ends
After breakfast you will be collected from your hotel and transferred to Kochi airport in time to catch your onward flight.
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