21 October 2016
This private tour of Classical South India is like a magic carpet ride through the country. Starting in the throbbing metropolis of Chennai, formerly Madras, you will travel to Mahabalipuram, Tanjore, Madurai, Thekaddy, Aleppy and finish your tour in the port city of Cochin. Along the way you will visit temples and museums, get to understand Buddhist and Hindu cultures and see tigers in one of the world's best wildlife parks. This wonderful 13 day trip is designed so you experience all the highlights of this fascinating region.
After arriving at Chennai you will be met at the airport and driven to your hotel, where you will be greeted by ladies in traditional costume with garlands of flowers. They will perform the "aarti" ceremony of anointing your forehead with the traditional red "tikka". The East India Company established its presence in southern India on the Bay of Bengal in 1639 with the building of Fort St. George. The city of Chennai, formerly known as Madras, grew up around this area. It is now the fourth largest city in India, having both modern and traditional charm, with British influences and Tamil-Hindu traditions.
After buffet breakfast, you go on a sightseeing tour of Chennai, starting at Fort St. George. Within the compound is a museum holding many artefacts of the East India Company and the British period. From here visit Mylapore, the Kapaleeswarar Temple and drive past the Marina Beach, the second longest in the world. In the afternoon you will be driven to Mahablipuram visiting Kanchipuram, a busy pilgrimage centre, on the way, seeing the famous Kailasanatha temple and world-renowned hand woven silk and cotton factories.
Today you are taken on a sightseeing tour of the city covering Shore Temple, Arjuna’s Penance and the Cave Temple. Mahabalipuram is an ancient Pallava port and a UNESCO world heritage site which boasts some of India’s most sublime rock-cut art. The only shore temple which remains here is the spectacular two-spired shrine, which is unique in that it houses both Vishnu and Shiva in its sanctum. The open-air bas-reliefs, structured temples, man-made caves and the five monolithic “rathas” reflect this art at its best.
After breakfast you will be driven to Pondicherry, which has a rich French cultural heritage, having been the capital of the French colonies in India since the 17th century. The French legacy is seen in the well-planned town, neatly laid roads, wide and vibrant beaches, beautiful promenades, imposing churches, public buildings and statues. Split into two parts, Pondicherry is, on one hand, a bustling Indian market town, and on the other the streets are emptier, cleaner and decidedly European. Later you will be taken on a sightseeing tour.
Today you travel the five hours to Tanjore, stopping on the way at Chidambaram, the capital of the Cholas from AD 907 to 1310. It lies to the north of the Coleroon River, and is one of Tamil Nadu’s most important holy towns. Drive on to Tanjore, a little town set amid the lush green rice fields of the Cauvery delta. Here magnificent temples still bear witness to the splendour of Chola architecture. You will also visit the palace most of which is in ruins housing the Tamil University Museum, art gallery and Saraswati Mahal Library.
Tiruchirappalli, situated on the banks of the river Cauvery is the fourth largest city in Tamil Nadu. Today you will see its fine blend of tradition and modernity built around the Rock Fort. A climb of 434 steps leads to the ancient temple of Ganapati on top and a further climb to a Shiva Temple. You will visit Sri Rangan Temple and after the tour of Trichy, you will be driven to Madurai where you stay tonight.
Today enjoy a sightseeing tour of the temple town of Madurai. It is unique in that all its temples are living temples and it remains a major religious centre attracting pilgrims year round. Madurai's main attraction is the famous Meenakshi temples in the heart of the old town, with towers covered with multi-coloured images of gods, goddesses, animals and mythical figures. Another attraction is the Tirumalai Nayak Palace, where dance drama concerts are performed daily. In the evening see a ceremony at the Meenakshi Temple.
After buffet breakfast at the hotel you may have some time to explore more of the temple complex at Meenakshi before you are driven from Madurai to Thekkady, which is also known as Periyar. The journey will take around five hours and on arrival you will check in at your hotel before going out and exploring on your own. Overnight at Thekaddy.
Today you travel to Periyar National Park to view the wildlife by boat. Situated within the confines of the Western Ghats in the state of Kerala, Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve is one of the most captivating wildlife parks in the world. The park has a picturesque lake at the heart of the sanctuary. Herds of elephant and wild pigs wander down to the lakeside and can be seen from the launches that cruise the lake. Periyar also has leopard, wild dog, barking deer and mouse deer. Return to the hotel after your boat trip.
Drive from Thekkady to Allepy where you climb aboard the traditional Kettuvallams (rice boats) converted into houseboats with bedrooms and attached toilets. Originally these boats were used as ferries to carry rice. Cruise through the backwaters of Kerala. The cruise through the narrow canals that criss-cross a typical Kerala village, rich with green paddy fields and verdant coconut trees, is a thrilling experience. The cruise takes you to small tucked away islets. Lunch and dinner is served on board.
Today you will be driven from Allepy to Cochin, which is a city of many parts. The city's prime location on the west coast, with its fine bay and protected harbour, made it popular with seafarers and merchant ships who made frequent stops to stock up on spices, coffee and wood en route to the rich markets of Europe and West Asia. Down the ages Cochin prospered and today it houses a Naval Base and is one of India’s busiest ports.
Enjoy a sightseeing tour of Cochin. You will visit the oldest Jewish Synagogue in India, and the Dutch Palace. Continue your drive to see the Chinese fishing nets that line the entrance to the harbour mouth. Your next stop will be St. Francis Church and in the evening you will be taken to a Kathakali dance centre where you will see the most elaborate of the dance forms in southern India. Presented in the temple precincts after dusk falls, Kathakali is heralded by the beating of drums and gongs.
Today your wonderful tour of southern India comes to an end. Time for some last minute shopping or sightseeing in Cochin before you are picked up at your hotel and driven to the airport to board your onward flight or to begin your journey back home.
Deluxe fr £2056pp
Rates based on twinshare
International flights not included unless otherwise stated