Welcome to Chennai, India. On arrival at the airport, you will be transferred to your hotel. Your Indian adventure begins with an important group meeting at 6 pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. We’ll be collecting insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so ensure you bring these details to provide to your leader. If you’re going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. If you arrive in Chennai with free time to spare, perhaps visit the local marketplaces and temples. In the evening, maybe head out for dinner with your fellow travellers.
Mamallapuram – Auroville – Pondicherry
From Chennai, drive along the scenic East Coast Road to the fishing village of Mamallapuram. Take a guided tour around the town’s laidback beaches and temples, keeping an eye out for the sculptures and carvings dotted around the place. Visit the incredible 8th-century Shore Temple and its mandapams (carved pillars) to pay your respects to the deity Shiva. Drive on to the living project of Auroville. This intriguing experimental township, founded in 1968, has more than 80 rural settlements some 1,500 residents, around half of whom are foreign nationals. Auroville is also home to the world’s largest solid crystal, which you can examine. Continue onto Puducherry (Pondicherry) in the late afternoon where your evening is then free. Today’s drive should take around three hours in total.
Explore Pondicherry, which was under French rule until 1954, and the European style of the town extends from beautiful colonial architecture right down to the uniforms of the police. Enjoy a walking tour to see local temples, the French Quarter and the spiritual community of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The rest of the day and evening is free.
Head to Tanjavar (approximately 5 hours). Visit the World Heritage-listed Brihadeeswarar Temple, an awesome, thousand-year-old Hindu marvel.
Dedicated to Shiva, its one of the largest temples in India and was completed in 1010. Keep an eye out for the sacred bull, carved from a single peice of granite measuring around 5 x 4 metres.
Drive to Karaikudi today (approximately 2.5 hours). Take a walk around the village after checking in and get a taste of village life. Visit some havelis (mansions), whose grandiose architecture will no doubt impress. Be sure to sample some spicy Chettinad cuisine while you’re here.
Continue on to Madurai (approximately 2 hours). Here you will wander through the colourful markets and bazaars, then visit the Sri Meenakshi Temple in the city’s centre. Still in use today, this ancient temple is a maze of lamp-lit corridors leading to shrines where traditional rituals take place. You might also like to explore the National Gandhi Museum (optional), dedicated to the life and achievements of the ‘Father of the Nation’ and the leader of India’s fight for independence. Your evening is then free to spend as you please.
Enjoy a day of free time in Madurai. Perhaps visit the Art Museum to see a superb collection of carvings, check out the Tirumalai Nayak Palace or simply relax over endless cups of chai.
Drive through rubber and pineapple plantations to Thekkady and explore the Periyar National Park, perched lakeside in the ranges of the Western Ghats. The sanctuary surrounds a picturesque lake, which was formed as result of a dam that was built in 1895. It ambles through the contours of the wooded hills, and is a permanent source of water for local wildlife. This afternoon, take a tour of a local spice plantation. If you have time, perhaps attend a demonstration of Indian martial arts (kalaripayattu) at the Kadathanadan Kalari Centre.
In the morning, take a guided nature walk in the acclaimed Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary (approximately 3 hours). Encounters with animals in the wild are never guaranteed, and this is more of a jungle walk than an animal spotting tour, but look out for tiger tracks, spotted deer, or gaur – the world’s largest species of buffalo. In the afternoon, unwind with an optional ayurvedic massage or just relax in this scenic setting.
In the morning, drive to Kochi, aka Cochin (approximately 7-8 hours). This place is a veritable melting pot of Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and British influences. Use your free time to get out on the water by local ferry, or wander down the beach at sunset.
Visit the Dutch Palace (Mattancherry Palace), which was built in the 16th century by the Portuguese before the Dutch renovated it. Then check out the oldest functioning Jewish synagogue in India, the Paradesi Synagogue. In the evening witness a classic Kathakali performance, a dramatic dance that combines storytelling with physical technique.
Kerala Backwaters – Kumarakom
Discover sleepy Kumarakom in the backwaters of Kerala. Drive from Kochi to Kumarkon to our resort along the riverside. Take a short backwaters cruise before heading out on a village walk. This is a great chance to meet and talk with the people who live in the backwaters, stroll under palm trees and weave in between the rice fields in this tranquil landscape.
In the morning, drive to Kovalam (approximately 4 hours) via Kerala’s capital, Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram). Kovalam was once a quiet coastal village known for its export of fresh fish and coconuts, but is now one of India’s more popular beach resorts. Visit the ancient temple of Attukal Bhagavathy in the afternoon. If you have free time, explore the old signalling station of Anchuthengu Fort or the 16th-century Koyikkal Palace. Your evening is then free to do as you wish.
Enjoy free time today. You might like feast on some delicious seafood, check out Anchuthengu Fort, wander around the village or relax on the beach. Perhaps head out with the group for a farewell meal together tonight.
Your trip comes to an end after breakfast and you’re free to leave the accommodation at any time.