Join Robin and Louella Hanbury-Tenison for an enchanting tour in Southern India through Kerala’s extensive network of waterways that lace its interior coastline.
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Suggested flights (not included in the cost of the tour) British Airways BA 35 departing London Heathrow at 14.05 hrs.
Arrive in Chennai at 05.31 hrs. Transfer to Taj Connemara Hotel, the city’s only heritage hotel, dating from 1854 and carefully restored with modern amenities, where two nights are spent. (Early check-in subject to availability.)
Lunch under own arrangements. Afternoon at leisure. Welcome dinner at the hotel.
Morning city tour of Chennai (formerly Madras) which is the capital of Tamil Nadu, a major port and an important commercial centre. It was here that the East India Company was established in 1639 and its colonial past has left a legacy of elegant buildings, gardens and a broad esplanade along the shore. Visit Kapaleeshwar Temple at Mylapore and the Cathedral of San Thome. Continue to the most renowned part of the city, The Fort, which originally dates from the 1640s.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Visit to the National Museum with its outstanding collection of bronze statues. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning departure to Mahabalipuram, once the second city and port of the Pallavas and now a village set against the backdrop of fabulous rock-cut temples, friezes and shore temples. Here see the Five Rathas – each a single block of stone carved in the shape of miniature temples, the 28-metre long frieze cut into a flat granite rock face, the mandapans (temple porches) cut into the rock across the hillside with their bold sculptures inside, and the sole surviving shore temple built by Rajasimha in the early 8th century, now jutting into the ocean. Also see a gigantic bas-relief depicting the myth of how the Ganges came to earth.
Lunch at a Shanthnam sea food restaurant. Drive south to Pondicherry perhaps best known as the capital of French India and the site of numerous battles between the French and the British before finally attaining independence in 1954. Today the city retains a strong French colonial influence, with its streets laid out in a grid system, wide seaside boulevard, elegant official buildings and pastel coloured villas with shady courtyards. Check into the beautifully restored colonial mansion, the Palais de Mahe Hotel, situated in the heart of the historic French Quarter, where two nights are spent. Remainer of the afternoon at leisure to enjoy the hotel’s facilities including a swimming pool and Ayurvedic spa. Dinner at the hotel.
Full day tour of Pondicherry starting with a visit Auroville (City of Dawn) Ashram, an experiment in human unity that was set up in 1968 as a tribute to Sri Aurobido. Sri Aurobido Ghosh was an early 20th century revolutionary and philosopher who struggled for freedom from British colonial power. The Ashram was set up to put into practice his ideals of a peaceful community
Lunch at Villa Shanti restaurant. Walking tour of the old French Quarter with its elegant leafy avenues and chic boutiques and cafes including the old colonial villas and the 300-year-old Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception. Rickshaw ride including the French Quarter as well as the Tamil Quarter with its colourful Grand Bazaar and Hindu temples. Dinner at the hotel.
Transfer to Chennai airport for a flight to Cochin. On arrival transfer to Brunton Boatyard Hotel where two nights are spent. Located on the historic stretch of Cochin’s famed harbour, the Brunton Boatyard is designed and built in the style of the early Dutch and Portuguese architecture. The hotel has two restaurants also features a swimming pool looking right out to sea and spa services.
Lunch at the hotel. Walking tour of Mattancherry, the bustling part of Old Fort Cochin and the epicentre of the spice trade for centuries. The tour reveals Cochin’s multi-layered past, a rich brew of Arab, Portuguese, British, and Dutch influences. See St. Francis Church, India’s first European church famed as the original burial site of Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama. Next visit the picturesque Chinese fishing nets, unique to Cochin, introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He in the 14th century. Dinner at the Rice Boat Restaurant.
Check out and drive to the nearby village of Nettoor to visit a Kalari – a training centre for Kalaripayattu, the martial art form of Kerala – and witness a performance. Drive to Pallippuram at the northern border of Cochin to embark on the river cruise boat RV Vaikundam.
Traditional lunch on board. Set sail to explore the Backwaters of Cochin, a magnificent network of waterways formed along the coastal belt by the rivers from the Western Ghats before draining into the Arabian Sea. Talk on Cochin, the Queen of the Arabian Sea, and its geographical, cultural and social significance. Stop at the ancient village of Vaikom in Kottayam, the land of natural rubber latex and spices. Walk to the cultural centre in Vaikom to watch a performance of the traditional dance Kathakali. Tuk tuk ride to the ancient Temple of Shiva, one of the largest in Kerala, where following Keralan tradition each element of the temple represents an element of the human body. Dinner on board.
Cruise to Chenganda Village and see the locals making coir, demonstrating how to collect mussels and prawns and their indigenous methods of fishing and coconut farming. Return to the boat and cruise through the Thanneermukkom Barrage which divides the lake into two: one half with perennial saltwater and the other with freshwater enriched by the rivers.
Lunch at a farmhouse located on an island which was made by the men of the house, by reclaiming land from the Backwaters. Take a walk on the farm and enjoy a demonstration of traditional Syrian Christian cuisine by the mother and her daughter-in-law. Return to the boat and continue cruising. Dinner on board.
Early this morning set out by local boat to watch the migratory as well as endemic birds of Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, which is made up of a cluster of lagoons of Lake Vembanad with a backdrop of mangroves, paddy fields and coconut groves. Waterfowl, cuckoo, owl, egret, heron and the water duck are some of the endemic species seen here. Parrots, teal, larks, flycatchers, wood beetle, and other birds are seen here during their respective migratory seasons. Return to the boat for breakfast. Cruise the lake, passing expanses of the oldest paddy cultivating regions reclaimed from the lake and below sea level.
Lunch on board. Arrive in Kavalam where the River Pampa reverses its course and drains into Lake Vembanad. Take the local ferry to explore the region, walk along the dykes surrounding the expanses of paddy fields and interact with the farmers and a women’s collective. Cruise on until sunset and, along the way, meet toddy tappers and learn about the process of making toddy, a local alcoholic beverage made from the sap of the flower of coconut palm and usually consumed accompanied by tapioca. Dinner on board.
Cruise to Kainakari, another vibrant village in the interior, and take a local boat through the narrow canals. Stop at Chavara Bhavan, the ancestral home of Saint Kuriakose Chavara, the first canonised Catholic male saint of Indian origin. The ancestral home of the Saint has now been preserved as a museum.
Lunch on board. Continue cruising and arrive in Mankompu village and see a cultural performance. Dinner on board.
Drive to Aranmula Village which is home to a family of craftsmen who are skilled at making mirror from a special combination of certain metals. Visit the workshop of the mirror makers whose secret formula has been passed down through generations. See the nearby ancient temple of Krishna ‘Aranmula Sree Parthasarthy’.
Lunch at a local house with beautiful architecture, located on the banks of the Pampa, the holy river of natives. Visit the institute of Traditional Architecture and Mural Painting. Return to the boat and cruise to Champakkulam Village, settled more than 1000 years ago by Syrian Christian traders, who later converted to Roman Catholicism under the Portuguese. Their cultural heritage can be seen in the monumental St. Mary’s Church on the riverside, built in 1550. Visit the church and meet the local tailors and artisans who make biblical figurines. Cruise on to the remote village of Changankari. Dinner on board.
Early morning walk in Changankari Village. Continue sailing towards the coastal village of Thottappalli, passing by the spillway in the southern area of Kuttanad, which prevents the saline water at river mouth from flooding the low-lying paddy fields. Learn about indigenous practices of paddy cultivation on reclaimed land below sea level.
Lunch on board. Stop to plant a coconut sapling to mark the cruise. The coconut tree is considered the ‘Kalpavriksha’ or the Divine Tree of Kerala because all parts of coconut tree are used in one way or the other. Drop anchor at Thottappalli and take a walk along the beach to see local coastal life. Dinner on board.
Drive to visit a temple where serpents are worshipped, the only temple with female priests, and see the rituals. Continue by road to Mannar Village, famous for ornate locks, lamps and vessels used in temples.
Return to the boat for lunch. Arrive in Karumadi Village. Here an 11th-century statue of Buddha is preserved in a small shrine. After taking a walk through this quiet and rustic village, cruise to Kanjippadom Village to visit a boat yard where traditional wooden boats are built and repaired. You might be able to see the art of traditional Kettuvallum or coir rope lashed wooden plank boat building. Return to the boat for a farewell dinner.
Cruise to Punnamada Lake, where the annual Snake Boat Race is held using traditional boats, once maritime war boats, decorated in Keralan style. Cruise to Alleppey, the ancient port town, criss-crossed by rivers, lakes, canals, lagoons and paddy fields, known as the Venice of the East. Disembark and take walk through the marketplace. Transfer to Cochin airport for a flight to Chennai.
Lunch under own arrangements. Transfer to the Trident Chennai airport hotel where one night is spent. Dinner under own arrangements.
Transfer to Chennai Airport for suggested flights (not included) British Airway BA 36 departing at 07.50 hrs arriving London Heathrow at 13.10 hrs.