17 days from £3495pp plus international flights.
This trip is the perfect introduction to the rich culture and history of southern India. The trip starts in Tamil Nadu, in the coastal town of Chennai. Travelling through the region you will discover the intricate temples of Mahabalipuram and the French colonial influenced town of Pondicherry. We’ve included some of the best temples of the region, without overdoing it! The one at Tanjore has some amazing carvings and Madurai is perhaps the most famous with its massive brightly decorated towers.
The Chettinad region is a great place to take in some rural culture with cottage industries, village markets, bicycle rides and fascinating terracotta horses at the small temples. Up in the hills of Munnar you stay at a tea plantation in the heart of the countryside, life runs at a different pace here. You have a couple of nights in a hotel on the backwaters of Kerala where you can enjoy a cruise on the peaceful waterways. Your journey ends at Cochin, staying just a stone’s throw from the Chinese fishing nets. You will have an opportunity to explore this diverse city and learn of its interesting colonial past.
On arrival very early in the morning at Chennai your driver will meet and take you to the hotel where you can check-in to your room. You can have breakfast and freshen up, or just snooze for the morning if you prefer. The hotel has a lap pool and onsite spa.
Then at around midday you will be collected from the hotel for an afternoon taking in some of the iconic sights of Chennai. This might include the San Thome Cathedral, rebuilt in 1896 in a neo-gothic style; the Shiva Kapaleeshwarar Temple, a shining example of Dravidian architecture, classic and colourful; and perhaps also a visit to the Government Museum. The Bronze Gallery has a wonderful collection of South Indian bronze artworks dating back to the 7th century. Then you will be taken to your coastal hotel with views of the Bay of Bengal, the rest of the day is at your leisure. Breakfast
Today there will be an opportunity to explore Mahabalipuram, an area known for stone carvings which date back hundreds of years. You will spend time being guided around the superb temples, some unfinished, perhaps practice sites for budding artists. The Shore temple and the wonderful 27 metre long bas-relief sculpture of the Descent of the Ganges, are superb examples of such carvings. After a day at Mahabalipuram you return to your hotel probably with time for a dip in the pool before choosing your spot for dinner. Breakfast
This morning your driver will take you on a journey south, following the coast for 2 hours to Pondicherry. Over the next two days you can explore this charming corner of southern India. A local guide will take you on a tour showcasing points of interest. A rickshaw ride has been arranged too. Areas of interest will be the seafront Promenade and the grand architecture of the unique French Quarter. One of the city’s best known churches is Our Lady of the Angels with its twin towers, large cupola and distinctive pale pink exterior. The Tamil Quarter is within walking distance and you can visit the fish market and Goubert Market, a rabbit warren of shops, cubby holes and handcarts. An explosion of colour, sounds, and fragrance. Breakfast
The trip continues to Thanjavur, an important city for art, religion and architecture. The drive is about 4.5 hours, and you’ll stop en route at Chidmabaram. Here there’s a rather fine example of the brightly coloured temples with massive towers, that south India is so famous for. It’s a good introduction to this type of temple architecture.
You will have two nights in Thanjavur and the opportunity to take a guided tour. The number one sight of interest is the beautifully preserved Brihadishwara Temple. It’s completely different from the one at Chidmabaram and definitely worth a visit. Hundreds of people come to worship here each day. Also in Thanjavur is the royal palace, a labyrinth design, which has halls filled with ancient relics from the Chola kingdom. Within the royal complex is the Seforji Sarasvati Mahal Library, home to numerous old artefacts and manuscripts. Breakfast
Today’s drive to Chettinad will take a couple of hours. Established in the 19th century the area is now a heritage site on account of the many palatial mansions built by wealthy merchants from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. Now it is a quiet rural area and a great place to visit village markets and fascinating cottage industries. The small local temples are adorned with rows of terracotta horses which is unique to this area.
You can do a bullock cart ride around the village or take a pushbike if you’d prefer!
Chettinad is also known for delicious cuisine so if you have the opportunity why not try some of the local dishes while you are here and you can even have a cooking lesson at the hotel. Breakfast
Leaving Chettinad behind, today’s destination is the ancient city of Madurai. It’s a short drive of about 2 hours and there will be a guided tour when you get there. The most important building here and a ‘must see’ is the Meenakshi temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. It’s simply magnificent with a total of 14 ornate towers, the tallest being 52 metres high. The colourful carvings are captivating and this temple, above all others, is the epitome of south Indian temple architecture. It is very much in use and watching the rituals and daily life inside its precincts is a really fascinating way to spend some time. Don’t rush around it – take your time! Breakfast
After breakfast, it’s time for a change of scenery as you drive 4 hours inland to the lush green hills of Munnar, home to tea plantations and beautiful mountain scenery. Everything is different here right down to the weather, temperatures are cool and pleasant throughout the year. You will have the opportunity to re-charge in these beautiful surroundings. Spend your time on a guided hike through the plantation grounds, taking in hills and valleys. There’s a spectacular view of the town of Munnar below. If you are feeling adventurous, borrow one of the plantation’s bicycles and explore using pedal power. The quiet, winding roads are perfect for cycling. A tea museum provides a fascinating insight to the production of tea. A range of teas can be purchased fresh from the factory. Sunday is the local market day, when the town is filled with tea-pickers enjoying their day off. Breakfast
From the rolling green landscape, you will head for the backwaters of Kerala at Kumarakom. Located on the banks of the Vembanad Lake, Coconut Lagoon is the ideal spot to relax or explore the surrounding area. At around midday you will embark on a houseboat cruise, sailing along the lake as you enjoy lunch. During your stay at Coconut Lagoon, you could walk to the local village, take a tour to the nearby bird sanctuary, wander through the butterfly garden, or simply relax by the pool. There are yoga and meditation sessions every day if you fancy joining them, and an Ayurveda wellness centre. There are also regular traditional dance and music performances. Breakfast
Cochin is one of South India's most attractive towns with a rich trading history that has drawn in many cultures from around the world. Temples, mosques, churches and synagogues can be found amongst the narrow streets of the historic Fort Cochin district, and you can see Arab, Portuguese, British and even South East Asian influence in the architecture of the town. Today, Cochin remains a busy port, with large ships slipping past the traditional Chinese fishing nets which line the coast. A guided tour will take you to see the highlights of this fascinating coastal city, with a stop off at a local restaurant for a tasty lunch. Breakfast
Your time exploring southern India has come to an end. It is time to pack your bags and you will be collected for the short drive to the airport in time to catch your flight home. Breakfast
Guide price from (pp sharing): £3495 (ex. international flights)
Accommodation on a twin share basis; breakfast is included; all transfers; services of an English-speaking guide for sightseeing in Chennai, Mahabalipuram, Pondicherry, Tanjore, Madurai and Cochin; entrance fees at sites; rickshaw ride and guided walk in Poindicherry; bullock cart ride in Chettinad; houseboat day cruise with lunch in Kumarakom; sightseeing in Cochin including lunch.
International flights; departure taxes; visas; travel insurance; meals not specified as included; camera fees where levied; items of a personal nature such as laundry; tips.
Getting there: This tour starts at Chennai airport and ends at Cochin airport. International return flights from the UK cost in the region of £500 to £750 per person, depending on season, availability and airline.
Departure dates: This is a private tailor-made holiday which we can arrange for you at any time of the year that you like.
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Find the best time to visit India
Time: GMT +5 hours
Flight time: Flight time from London to Delhi is 8 hours 30 minutes and to Mumbai is about 8 hours.
Language: The official language is Hindi, which about 30% of the population speaks. English is very widely spoken and is used for official and commercial purposes.
Visas: Required for British travellers. Other nationalities should obtain advice from their embassy.
Health: There are no compulsory vaccinations.