Wonders of Southern India
Chennai ● Mahabalipuram ● Thanjavur
Madurai ● Munnar ● Kumarakom ● Chochin
There’s always something fascinating to see in South India! Incredible temples with centuries-old rituals, colorful festivals, lively bazaars, World Heritage monuments, parks with exotic indigenous wildlife, emerald-green paddies, tea plantations, and fragrant spice farms. It is a kaleidoscope of images that never stops spinning. On this journey, you will not only discover the wealth of South India’s artistic heritage, but also the colonial history of the spice trade on the Malabar Coast, cruise in a comfortable houseboat on the picturesque backwaters of Kerala, and see rich wildlife in one of India’s noted biosphere reserves.
The Bustling Chalai Bazaar
Day 1- ARRIVE CHENNAI
In the morning, our representative will meet you in the arrival area of the airport after you clear all immigration and custom formalities. Depart for your hotel and check in for your stay.
The East India Company established its presence in southern India on the Bay of Bengal in 1639 with the establishment of Fort St. George. The city of Chennia, formerly known as Madras, grew up around the fort area. It now serves as the capital of Tamil Nadu and is the fourth largest city in India with over 6 million inhabitants. It sprawls over a large area yet, in spite of recent industrial growth, seems less congested than other large Indian cities. Its role as a trade center is furthered by rail, road and air connections in addition to its seaport. It represents both modern and traditional charm with its many British influences juxtaposed with Tamil-Hindu traditions. (D)
Day 2- CHENNAI- MAHABALIPURAM
This morning, you’re free to rest and relax after your long international flight.
After a welcome briefing, start on a guided exploration of the city. Visit Madras museum that is rich with archaeology and art collections, and also houses the Victoria Art Gallery. Continue to the 9th century Kapaleeshwar temple- a fine example of the Dravidian temple architecture.
Later visit Santhome Cathedral, where St. Thomas the Apostle of Jesus Christ lived and preached Christianity. Drive along the Marina Beach believed to be the second longest beach in the world. Also visit the Presidency College- a fine example of mid-19th century Indo-Saracenic architecture. The Road leads to Fort St. George (today, it is the seat of the state government). The Fort houses the St. Mary’s Church, the first Anglican Church in Asia, and later visit Bronze Gallery, which has some of the rarest collections.
Continue to drive to Mahabalipuram. Upon arrival, check-in for your stay.
Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram as it was once called, was once the major port city for the 7th century Pallava dynasty. In this picturesque setting, amidst sand beaches and the sea, can be seen some of the most important temple forms that influenced temple architecture in Tamil Nadu for centuries to follow. There are seventy monuments, rock-cut monoliths displaying fine sculpture. The most important group is the Five Rathas, named after the five heroes of the epic Mahabharata.
In the evening, come together for a welcome dinner at the hotel.
Overnight in Mahabalipuram. (B, L, D)
Day 3- MAHABALIPURAM
This morning, start your exploration of Mahabalipuram with a visit to the Shore Temple, which symbolizes the heights of Pallava architecture and the maritime ambitions of the Pallava kings. Its small size belies its excellent proportion and the supreme quality of the carvings, many of which have eroded into vaguely Impressionist embellishments. Originally constructed in the 7th century, it was later rebuilt by Narasimhavarman II, and houses two central shrines to Shiva.
Arunja’s Penance is a relief carving on the face of a huge rock which depicts animals, deities and other semi divine creatures as well as fables from the Hindu Panchatantra books. The panel (30m x 12m) is divided by a huge perpendicular fissure that is skillfully encompassed into the sculpture.
Afternoon, we visit the Five Rathas. Carved from single pieces of rock, the Five Rathas are low-laying monoliths that huddle in more ancient subtlety than grandeur. Each temple is dedicated to a Hindu god and named for one of the Pandavas, the five hero-brothers of the epic Mahabharata, plus their common wife, Draupadi.
Towards the evening, we will visit Dakshina Chitra, an exciting cross cultural living museum of art, architecture, lifestyles, crafts, and performing arts of South India. There is also an Art Gallery which was established by the Madras Craft Foundation with the purpose to bridge the past with the future and to promote and encourage contemporary art and design.
Overnight stay in Mahabalipuram. (B, L, D)
Day 4- MAHABALIPURAM- THANJAVUR
After breakfast, we drive to Thanjavur, making several en route stops to admire the magnificent Hindu temples of Chidambaram. Gangaikondacholapuram, Darasuram- two out of the three temples are UNESCO World Heritage Sites built by the Kings of the Chola dynasty who ruled from 300 BC – 1279 AD.
On arrival, check in for your stay.
Thanjavur was the ancient capital of the Chola kings, whose origins date back to the beginning of the Christian era. The Cholas’ era of empire building was between AD 850 and 1270; at the height of their power, they controlled most of the Indian peninsula. The Chola kings, who were great patron of the arts, built most of the 93 temples, of which the Brihadisvara Temple is the showpiece. While they lavished their wealth on the temples, they also encouraged the belief in the divine right of kings, and the practice of donating a part of one’s wealth to the temple for spiritual gain.
Upon arrival, check in for your stay.
The rest of the day is at your leisure.
Overnight stay in Thanjavur. (B, L, D)
Day 5- THANJAVUR
After breakfast, visit the Brihadishwara temple, which is the crowning glory of Chola temple architecture. The temple was commissioned in 1010 by Rajaraja (whose name literally means ‘king of kings’), a well-regarded monarch so organised that he had the names and addresses of all his dancers, musicians, barbers, and poets inscribed into the temple wall. These temples were the prototypes for buildings as far away as Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Later in the day, we will explore the Royal Palace and Museum. Enter the main hall of the palace and continue to the elegantly faded Durbar Hall (Royal Court). An incredible profusion of murals erupts here, unrestored and elegantly faded, bursting with geometric designs, scenes of Hindu legends and a flock of vaguely-European-yet-almost-Indian cherubs. The rest of the afternoon is at your leisure.
Overnight stay in Thanjavur. (B, L, D)
Day 6- THANJAVUR- CHETTINAD- MADURAI
After breakfast, drive to Chettinad- the home of the Chettiars, a prosperous banking and business community, who made their fortune trading from salts to gems with Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia.
Later, take a small detour towards Namana Samudram, an Ayyanar koil (temple) with hundreds of terracotta horses and elephants, which provides a fascinating spectacle.
Lunch will be provided in a hotel at Chettinad.
Afternoon, wander the narrow streets of Karaikudi, enveloped in an ancient inheritance, stately villas, colonial style bungalows, and rambling ruins. Interact with the silversmiths, stone carvers and wood carvers as you stroll through the quaint markets. For collectors with a keen eye, the antique shops can provide delightful bargains.
Continue to drive to Madurai- a millennia old city unique with an amazingly rich heritage. On arrival, check in for your stay.
Madurai is the oldest city in Tamil Nadu, probably dating back 2500 years. Its origin and name emerges from the myths of a wonderful legend. In a forest near a lotus pond, Indra the King of the Gods worshiped Shiva. At this hallowed spot, the Pandiyan monarch built a great temple and raised a lotus-shaped city around the temple. On the day the city was to be named, Lord Shiva appeared. As he blessed the land and its people, divine nectar was showered on the city form his matted locks. The city was henceforth named Madhurpuri, which grew and prospered and became the capital of the Pandiyan Kingdom.
Overnight stay in Madurai. (B, L, D)
Day 7- MADURAI
After breakfast, we will begin our morning drive to Madurai, where we will explore Sri Meehakshi Temple, the abode of the triple-breasted, fish-eyed Goddess, Meenakshi Amman (‘fish-eyed’ is an adjective for perfect eyes in classical Tamil poetry), and is considered by many to be the height of South Indian temple architecture. It’s not so much a temple as a 6-hectare complex enclosed by 12 gopurams, the highest of which towers 52m over Madurai, and all of which are carved with a staggering array of gods, goddesses, demons, and heroes. Note: Foreigners (Non-Hindus) are not permitted inside the Inner Sanctum of the temple.
Next, we visit the impressive remains of the Thirumalai Palace. The main event is the entrance gate, main hall and Natakasala (Dance Hall), with their faded yellow plasterwork, lion and makara (crocodile-elephant creature) sculptures and a series of fabulous murals that hints at the opulence that the Nayak rulers once enjoyed.
Finish with a visit to the excellent Gandhi Memorial Museum. It contains an impressively moving and detailed account of India‘s struggle for independence from 1757-1947, and the English language signs pull no punches about British rule. Included in the exhibition is the blood-stained dhoti (long loincloth) that Gandhi was wearing at the time he was assassinated in Delhi in 1948.
The rest of the day is free for independent activities.
Evening re-visit to the Meenakshi Temple to witness the ceremony where the deities are put to sleep.
Stay overnight in Madurai. (B, D)
Day 8- MADURAI- MUNNAR
Post breakfast drive to Munnar.
Munnar is situated at the confluence of three mountain streams- Mudrapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala. 1600m above sea level, this hill station was once the summer resort of the erstwhile British Government in South India. Sprawling tea plantations, picture-book towns, winding lanes, and holiday facilities make this a popular resort town. Among the exotic flora found in the forests and grasslands here is the Neelakurinji. This flower that bathes in the hills in blue every twelve years. Munnar also has the highest peak in South India, Anamudi, which towers over 2695 m.
Arrive in Munnar and check in at your hotel. (B, L, D)
Day 9- MUNNAR
After breakfast at the hotel, we take a morning visit to the Tea Museum and factory (closes by 15:30 hours), followed by an interesting trek to Tea Plantations owned and managed by the Estate people. It starts around 15:30 hours and ends about 17:30 hours. Enjoy the sunset and return back to the estate.
Stay overnight in Munnar. (B, L)
Day 10- MUNNAR- THEKKADY
Morning, drive to Thekaddy with its eternal rainforest, spice plantations and canopies. On arrival, check in for your stay.
Spend a relaxing afternoon in your hotel. If you are adventurous,you may want to go on a night walk in the buffer zone of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, shining your flashlights to spot animals in the dark. It lasts for about 3 hours.
Stay overnight in Munnar. (B, L)
Day 11- THEKKADY- KUMARAKOM
This morning, drive to the backwaters of Kumarakom with its drenched greens and coconut palms.
Kumarakom, or the ‘Venice of the East,’ is a veritable paradise in the lush backwaters of Kottayam. It is Kerala’s heartland of lagoons, palm fringed lakes and paddy fields, inter-linked with hundreds of winding canals with the typical low slung country boats that carry everything from people to fish, rice and coconuts, to the milkman and newspaper boy, local politicians, and priests to wedding parties.
On arrival, check in for your stay.
Rest of the day is at your leisure. You may want to spend the afternoon taking an Ayurveda massage or, should you be interested in birding, go on a bird-watching trip late in the evening on a direct payment basis.
Overnight stay in Kumarakom. (B, L, D)
Day 12- KUMARAKOM
Post-breakfast, board Kettuvallam, a traditional houseboat, and spend several hours drifting through the backwaters of Kerala enjoying lunch on-board.
The Kettuvallam, or, ‘boat with knots,’ was so called because the entire boat was held together with coir knots only- not even a single nail is used during the construction. The boat is made of planks of jack-wood joined together with coir. This is then coated with a caustic black resin made from boiled cashew kernels. With careful maintenance, a kettuvallam can last for generations. While most boats are poled by local oarsmen, some are powered by a 40 HP engine.
The backwaters are a network of canals, lakes, lagoons, and estuaries stretching over almost 1000 square miles. Here, palm-fringed narrow canals wind through a vast expanse of paddy fields. As we float along, enjoy the picturesque hamlets that line the banks, migratory birds in abundance, water lilies, and coconut groves.
Disembark the houseboat towards the evening and check in for your stay at your hotel.
Overnight in Kumarakom. (B, L)
Day 13- KUMARAKOM- COCHIN
Morning, drive to Cochin. On arrival, check in for your stay.
Cochin is spread across islands and promontories in a stunning location between the Arabian Sea and the Backwaters. The city was founded in 1341 when a flood created a natural safe port, which became the principle harbor for Malabar coasts’ spice trade. Cochin was on the main trade route between Europe and China. The rulers invited people of various religions to settle here, attracting the Jews and the Christian’s who built places of worship and their own communities.
Afternoon, visit the Chinese fishing nets and the Saint Francis Church, the burial place of Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer who discovered India and walk through the Palace of the Maharajah to learn how he saved the Jews from the Portuguese 500 years ago. Next, visit the exquisite 450-year-old Paradesi Synagogue, the oldest in India, (circa 1568), where the caretaker will open the Torah scrolls for Jewish visitors. End the day exploring the area’s antique shops and spice markets.
Evening, witness a Kathakali dance performance. Kathakali literally means ‘story dance’, and is the pantomimic dance drama, the dancing and acting being blended together into an inseparable form. It is a combination of facial expressions and body movements, which brings out the thought and emotion of the character.
Later, reconvene for a farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
Overnight stay in Cochin. (B, D)
Day 14- COCHIN- MUMBAI DEPARTURE
Morning is at your leisure. Hotel check-out time is 12 noon.
Depending on your onward flight, transfer to the airport and connect flight for onward destination. (B)
Chennai: The Raintree Hotel, Anna Salai
Mahabalipuram: Grande Bay Resort and Spa
Thanjavur: Ideal River View Resort
Madurai: Heritage Madurai
Munnar: The Leaf
Kumarakom: The Zuri Kumarakom
Cochin: Crowne Plaza Kochi
COST per person: $5,195
No Single Supplement!
- Full services of an English speaking Tour Leader with local guides and drivers.
- Meal plan as detailed in the itinerary (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner) with mineral water as required.
- All transport as outlined in the itinerary.
- All accommodation. NO SINGLE SUPPLEMENT!
- All entrance fees, as per itinerary
- Airport transfers
- International air to Chennai.
- India Visa
- Gratuities to India guide and driver
- Beverages & any costs of a personal nature.
To register for the 2018 tour, please click Here
To register for the 2019 tour, please click Here