Wonders of Southern India

December 15 – 28, 2022

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

Tuesday, December 15 – Arrive Chennai

In the morning, our representative will
meet you in the arrival area of the airport after you clear all
immigration and customs 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 Chennai, 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.
Overnight in Chennai. (D)

 

San Thome Basilica-Cathedral in Chennai

Wednesday, December 16 – Chennai – Mahabalipuram

This morning, you are 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 Marina Beach, which is 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 the 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 as 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)

 

Temple at Mahabalipuram

Thursday, December 17 – 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 that 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)

Friday, December 18 – Mahabalipuram – Thanjavur

After breakfast, we drive to Thanjavur,
making several en route stops to admire the magnificent Hindu temples
of Chidambaram, Gangaikondacholapuram, and 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 at your hotel, 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 a 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.

The rest of the day is at your leisure.

Overnight stay in Thanjavur. (B, L, D)

Saturday, December 19 – 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 organized 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)

 

Hindus bring offerings to Holy Nandi Bull at Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur

 

 

 

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.

 

Tuesday,

December

15-

ARRIVE

CHENNAI 

 

 

 

  

In the morning, our representative will
meet you in the arrival area of the airport after you clear all
immigration and customs 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 Chennai, 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.
Overnight in Chennai. (D)

                       San Thome Basilica-Cathedral in Chennai.

 

Wednesday,

December

16- 

CHENNAI-

MAHABALIPURAM 

 

 

 

 

 

  

This morning, you are 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 Marina Beach, which is 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 the 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 as 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)

 Temple at Mahabalipuram.

 

Thursday,

December

17-

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 that 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)

 

Friday,

December

18-

MAHABALIPURAM- 

THANJAVUR 

 

 

 

After breakfast, we drive to Thanjavur,
making several en route stops to admire the magnificent Hindu temples
of Chidambaram, Gangaikondacholapuram, and 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 at your hotel, 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 a 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.

The rest of the day is at your leisure.

Overnight stay in Thanjavur. (B, L, D)

 

Saturday,

December

19-

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 organized 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)

        Hindus bring offerings to Holy Nandi Bull at Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur.

 

Sunday,

December

20-

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 woodcarvers 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
emerge 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 from 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)

 

Madurai Meenakshi is one of the biggest and oldest Indian temples

Monday, December 2 – Madurai

After breakfast, we will begin our morning drive to Madurai, where we will explore Sri Meenakshi 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)

Tuesday, December 22 – 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. Overnight in Munnar. (B, L, D)

Wednesday, December 23 – 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 at about 17:30 hours. Enjoy the sunset and return
back to the estate.

Stay overnight in Munnar. (B, L)

 

One of the many tea plantations in Munnar

Thursday, December 24 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 at 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.

Overnight in Munnar. (B, L)

Friday, December 25 – Thekkady – Kumarakom

This morning, drive to the backwaters of Kumarakom with its drenched greens and coconut palms.

 

Lush, green paddy fields surrounded by coconut palm trees

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.

 

Country boats carrying supplies and people along the steady river in Kum

On arrival, check-in for your stay.

The 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)

Thursday, December 26 – 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)

Sunday, December 27 – 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 principal 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 Christians 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)

Monday, December 28 – 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)


Hotels

Chennai: The Raintree Hotel, Anna Salai 
http://www.raintreehotels.com/#gref

Mahabalipuram: Grande Bay Resort and Spa 
http://www.grandebayresort.in/

Thanjavur: Ideal River View Resort

http://www.idealresort.com/

Madurai: Heritage Madurai 
http://www.heritagemadurai.com/

Munnar: The Leaf
https://www.theleafmunnar.com/

Kumarakom: The Zuri Kumarakom
http://www.thezurihotels.com/lake-resorts-in-kumarakom/?utm_source=GMBlisting&utm_medium=organic

Cochin: Crowne Plaza Kochi
https://www.ihg.com/crowneplaza/hotels/gb/en/kochi/cokch/hoteldetail


Cost

Cost per person : $5,595

No singleSupplement!


Cost Includes

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

Cost Excludes

International air to Chennai.

India Visa

Gratuities to India guide and driver

Beverages & any costs of a personal nature.


Registration

Wonders of Southern India 2020 Registration