Arrive at Kochi International airport. After a traditional welcome ‘Swagat’ we transfer to the hotel for check-in. Kochi has a historical sea trade connection with the Middle East, Mediterranean and northern Europe and its cosmopolitan past is reflected in the buildings and structures which represent different parts of the world - a blend of the old Portuguese, Dutch and British influences.
Today we visit Fort Kochi, founded by the Portuguese in 1503 and it is considered to be one of the earliest site chosen by European colonial power. An odour of spice emerges from warehouses and food stalls offering different delicacy is common sight in each nook and corner of the town. In the afternoon we enjoy a sightseeing tour of Mattancherry Palace, built by the Portuguese as a gift for the Raja of Kochi, the Jewish synagogue dating from 1568 and St Francis church. We also explore the town of Kochi, its bazaars and old harbour area. In the evening there is the chance for an optional visit to see a display of Kathakali, a form of classical dance unique to Kerala.
Cochin (Kochi) - Ooty
Today we leave Kerala behind and enter Tamil Nadu as the road winds up through forested hillsides to Coimbatore. The road up to Coonoor is one of the most scenic in South India providing superb views of the plains below and magnificent groves of the tall and slender areca nut palm trees lining the road. Upon arrival in Ooty, as Ootacamund is fondly known, and checking into the hotel, it’s time to move about and enjoy the beauty of this Queen of Hill Stations that is situated in the heart of the Nilgiri hills.
In the morning, we enjoy a Toy-train journey. In the afternoon, we leave for the sightseeing tour of Ootacamund (Ooty). We visit the Ootacamund Botanical Garden, laid out at an elevation of 2400 meters in 1847 and spread over 22 hectares of land with some 650 species of plants and trees. We also visit the Doddabetta Peak which stands at an altitude of 2623 meters. Merely 10 kms from Ooty it is the highest point in the district, making it possibly the best vantage point around Ooty.
Ooty - Mysore (Mysuru)
After the breakfast, we drive to Mysore. The route winds down the eastern side of the Nilgiri Hills back to the plains – a very scenic journey. We drive through the Mudumalai National Park and Bandipur National Park as we cross the border from Tamil Nadu to Karnataka with the chance to spot deer and monkeys and elephants as we pass. After arriving in Mysore and checking into our hotel, we visit Chaumundi Hill where there is a temple dedicated to Durga. On the road up to the temple there is a giant stone Nandi bull carved from single piece of granite in 1659.
In the morning, we embark on a sightseeing tour of Mysore. We drive to Srirangapatna(the historic capital of Tipu Sultan who was known for his struggle against the British rule), where we visit Daria Daulat Bagh, the Summer Palace of Tipu Sultan. It is situated in scenic surroundings on an island formed by two branches of The River Cauvery. Several monuments relating to the sultan’s rule are scattered across the island. We then return to Mysore and visit the Palace of the Maharaja (Emperor), a harmonious synthesis of Hindu and Saracenic styles of architecture – with a plethora of magnificent archways, domes, turrets, colonnades and sculptures. We also visit the Chaumundi Hill with its temple dedicated to Durga. On the road up to the temple there is a giant monolithic Nandi bull, carved from a single piece of granite in 1659. Known for its sandalwood, Mysore is also famous for some of India’s finest crafts, such as printed silk, inlaid furniture and ivory carvings.
Mysore (Mysuru) - Hassan
Today, we will drive to Hassan. On arrival, transfer to the hotel.
Depart for an excursion to Belur and Halebid for their temples carved with scripts from Hindu mythology having mythological characters from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the two famous Epics. In Halebid, we visit the Hoysaleswara Temple where we see half-life size statues of Hindu deities with minute details in each all around the temple. At Belur, we see the Chennakesava Temple, famous for its architecture and sculptures. Later we drive back to the hotel in Hassan.
Hassan - Bangalore (Bengaluru)
After breakfast, we drive to Bangalore(Bengaluru); stopping en route at Shravanabelagola, a city sacred to the Jains and famous for its 18-meter Jain colossus. Standing on Vindhyagiri Hill, the statue of Gomateshwara is said to be the tallest and most graceful monolithic statue in the world. The site is visited by hundreds of pilgrims daily. We later arrive in Bangalore.
Bengaluru - Chennai
Transfer to the Railway station to board our train to Chennai. Upon arrival in the late evening, we transfer to the hotel.
Chennai - Mahabalipuram
Next, we drive down to Kanchipuram, one of the seven holy cities in the country and famous all over India for its hand-woven silk sarees. We visit the Kailasanathar Temple famous for exquisite carvings with 58 small shrines situated around the main shrine. Next in our programme is Kamakshi Amman Temple housing the statue of Kamakshi who is said to be the Super-goddess, Parasakti, having Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati as her eyes. She blesses all who dedicate themselves to her. We later drive to Mahabalipuram and check into the hotel.
Today we take a tour of Mahabalipuram, once the main port and naval base of the great Pallava Kingdom. The Rock carvings at Mahabalipuram are notable for the delightful freshness and simplicity of their folk art origins. We see the skillfully carved rock of Arjuna’s Penance - the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world. The Five Rathas, five monolithic temples, each created in different exquisite styles, and also the Shore Temple built on the seashore of Bay of Bengal with blocks of granite are also a feast to the eye. Built in Dravidian style the temple dates back to the 8th century CE. The monuments are mostly rock-cut and monolithic representative of the early stages of Dravidian architecture with Buddhist elements clearly visible.
Mahabalipuram - Pondicherry (Puducherry)
Today we proceed to Pondicherry, which retains a strong sense of the former French presence in India: grid pattern streets, distinctive police uniforms and the occasional colonial building around everywhere.
After we check into the hotel and enjoy lunch we embark on a sightseeing tour of the town to explore its Gallic heritage. Places of tourist interest include the Shree Aurobindo Ashram, Auroville, the French Institute and Colony, Museum and Church.
Pondicherry (Puducherry) - Thanjavur
After breakfast, we drive to Thanjavur through the wonderfully fertile Kaveri Delta - an area of lush emerald paddy fields. En-route we visit the famous Darasuram Temple in Kumbakonam, a superb example of 12th century Chola architecture. We later arrive in Thanjavur and check into the hotel. Thanjavur is well known for its exquisite handicrafts such as bronze work and classical South Indian musical instruments.
Thanjavur - Madurai
In the morning, we visit Brihadeeswarar Temple which dates from the 10th century CE. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a brilliant example of Dravidian Temple architecture.
After the visit, we continue our drive to the colourful city of Madurai famous for its intricate temples. One of the oldest and most fascinating cities in Tamil Nadu, Madurai is also a thriving cultural center with a rich past. After arrival, we check into our hotel and relax for the rest of the day.
The most famous sight in Madurai is the Meenakshi Amman Temple - an outstanding example of Vijayanagar Temple architecture. Built during the Nayaka period between 16th and 18th centuries it is one of the largest temple-complexes in India. The gopurams that surround the temple are known for their colourful stucco images of Gods, Goddesses and animals. Later we visit the Thirumalai Nayak Mahal built in 1636 in Indo-Mughal style by the Nayaka Dynasty. The main temple is dedicated to Meenakshi, the ‘fish-eyed Goddess’ and consort of Shiva. Madurai is a perfect place to wander around and to experience Hindu culture with the temples and bazaars in the heart of the vibrant city. The evening is free to explore.
Madurai - Periyar (Thekkady)
In the morning, we drive to [Periyar(Thekkady)](periyar thekkady) and re-enter the state of Kerala. The drive is spectacular as the road climbs through the Western Ghats and commands fantastic views across Tamil Nadu. We arrive in the small bustling village of Thekkady and check into the hotel. This whole area is a center for spice cultivation. After lunch, we take a short walk around a spice garden where we see many different spices growing. There is plenty of time in the afternoon to explore the bazaar where a large number of shops selling cardamoms, vanilla, peppercorns, chilies, turmeric and other spices flank the road.
In the early morning, we take a Jungle walk in the park along with our forest guides to admire abundance of birdlife that includes kingfishers, storks and hornbills which are the most commonly spotted birds. Periyar National Park is one of the largest reserves in South India and is set around a large man-made lake. We return to the hotel for breakfast. In the afternoon, there is a possibility to do an Optional Boat Ride on Periyar Lake. This is an ideal opportunity to get close to the animals and a good opportunity to spot elephants, otters, wild pigs and buffaloes. On offer here is Ayurvedic massage (optional), which can be arranged in the nearby Ayurvedic massage center.
Periyar (Thekkady) - Alappuzha (Alleppey)
After breakfast we drive to Alleppey. Also known as Alappuzha, the town is a principal center for backwater cruises in Kerala. We board our houseboats and begin our cruise along the backwaters of Kerala; one of the highlights of the trip. These enchanting boats have been decorated and made into comfortable cruise vessels. We meander along the waterways flanked by lush tropical vegetation, catching glimpses of dazzling tropical birds and watching idyllic villages. Our overnight stay is on the boats in the middle of the famous Vembanad Lake..
Alappuzha (Alleppey) - Kovalam
After a relaxing breakfast on the houseboats we disembark and drive to Kovalam. Kovalam is an extremely popular beach resort due to shallow water and low tidal waves. It offers an excellent diversity to suit all desires and occasions. A massive rocky promontory on the beach has created a beautiful bay of calm water ideal for sea bathing. The beaches are backed by precipitously mounting headlands and covered by fertile coconut palms. The southernmost part of light house beach is more beautiful. Some of the leisure options at this beach are sunbathing, swimming, herbal body toning massages, special cultural programs, catamaran cruising, etc.
We have a free day to enjoy the idyllic soft sandy beaches and warm clear waters of Kovalam. There is also the opportunity to enjoy an optional day’s sightseeing tour by taxi from Kovalam to Kanyakumari, the extreme southern tip of India where the Indian Ocean meets the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The trip also takes in the old wooden palace of the rulers of Travancore at Padmapuhamban- a marvelous building with fantastic woodcarvings, and the Hindu temple at Suchindram with its amazing stone carvings (this trip can be booked and paid for locally).
Today we check out from the hotel and are transferred to the International airport of Trivandrum for our onward journey.