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Suggested flights (not included in the cost of the tour) Emirates EK2 departing London Heathrow at 13.40 hrs.
Arrive in Dubai at 00.40 hrs and connect to EK544 departing Dubai at 02.50 hrs arriving Chennai at 08.15 hrs. Transfer to the historic Taj Connemara Hotel, the city’s only heritage hotel dating from 1854 and carefully restored with modern amenities, where two nights are spent.
Lunch under own arrangements. Remainder of the afternoon at leisure. Optional visit to the National Museum with its outstanding collection of bronze statues. 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. The most renowned part of the city is The Fort which originally dates from the 1640s. Visit the Cathedral of San Thome and Kapaleeshwar Temple at Mylapore.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Remainder of the afternoon at leisure. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning departure (with luggage) 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 including a rickshaw ride including the French Quarter with its elegant leafy avenues and chic boutiques and cafes as well as the Tamil Quarter with its colourful Grand Bazaar and Hindu temples. Walking tour of the old French Quarter including the old colonial villas and the 300-year-old Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception.
Lunch at Villa Shanti restaurant. Time permitting 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. Dinner on the terrace at Hotel Maison Perumal.
Morning departure (with luggage) to Chidambaram to visit Nataraja Shiva Temple. Built in the 10th century this Hindu temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the lord of dance. Visit Gangaikondacholapuram Rural Temple. Visit the imperial Chola Temple.
Thali lunch at Indeco Swamimalai restaurant. Continue to Kumbakonam. Visit Kumbeshwara Temple, in the heart of the city, which has soaring gopurams and houses a linga sacred to Hindus. Continue to Nageshwara Temple, possibly the oldest temple, which has a shrine to the sun god in which the rays of the sun fall directly on the linga on certain days of the year. Also visit Sarangapani Temple with its main chariot-shaped shrine, and handsomely detailed wheels, drawn by elephants and horses. Continue to Tanjore and check into the boutique Svatma Hotel a restored colonial home of a British trader, where two nights are spent. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning visit to Brihadishvara Temple, the grandest architectural achievement of the Chola era, which was erected in about 1010 by Rajaraja I, who personally donated the gilded pot finial at the summit of the tower. Visit the Royal Museum which has a small collection of royal memorabilia.
Lunch at Gnanam restaurant. Visit the Nayaka Palace which stands surrounded by walls in the middle of the Old City. The royal complex was founded by Shevappa Nayaka but was enlarged and altered many times. Admire the fine bronzes and depictions of Shiva which predominate in early Chola art. Continue to the local artist studios and the city walls as well as the lost wax bronze city workshop where we will see bronze statues still being made with the traditional ‘lost wax method’ used over a thousand years ago in the Chola Dynasty. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning departure (with luggage) to Trichy. Visit the Rock Fort a historic fort and temple complex built on an ancient 273-foot high rock with two Hindu temples inside. Visit Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple at Srirangam, a Hindu temple dedicated to Ranganath, a reclining form of Vishnu, and one of the most illustrious temples in Southern India.
Lunch at Sangam Hotel in Trichy. Continue to Karaikudi in Chettinad and check into The Bangala Hotel, a family-run Heritage Hotel renowned for its authentic Chettinad cuisine, where two nights are spent. Evening at leisure. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning visit to the villages of Chettinad, an area where the wealthy 17th-century Chettiar merchants built mansions distinguished for their refined simplicity, quality materials and richly carved doorways.
Lunch at the hotel. Afternoon at leisure. Enjoy a Bangala cooking demonstration followed by dinner at the hotel.
Morning departure (with luggage) to Madurai and check into the Courtyard by Marriot Madurai Hotel, a sophisticated modern hotel with a state of the art lobby and gracefully designed rooms, where two nights are spent.
Lunch at the hotel. Explore Madurai, dating from the 6th century BC, Madurai is one of the most important cities in South India, and was a thriving independent centre before being ruled by the Cholas and then the Nayaks, whose buildings form the main architectural and temple highlights of the city. Visit the vast Meenakshi temple, alive with pilgrims, flower sellers and even a temple elephant. Its highly decorated gopurams, or temple towers, rise above the surrounding cityscape and dominate the skyline, and its interior includes the impressive thousand-pillar hall. Also visit the Tirumal Nayak’s Palace, the palace was built in the 17th century in an Indo-Mughal style and its museum contains many fine examples of Tamil art in addition to providing an historical perspective of Madurai. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning visit the flower market followed by a visit to a dance school.
Lunch at Shalom House. Visit the shutterMurugan Temple, a Hindu temple and one of the Six Abodes of Murugan, located at Tirupparankunram. The temple is built into the side of a rock and is believed to have been built by the Pandyas during the 6th century. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning departure (with luggage) to the pristine cardamom hills of Kerala and check into Spice Village where one night is spent. Located just a stone’s throw from the game reserve and comprised of individual cottages set in a landscaped spice garden, the hotel’s facilities include an excellent restaurant, a swimming pool and Ayurvedic treatments on request.
Lunch at the hotel followed by a visit to a spice garden and cardamom plantation with an optional boat ride. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning departure (with luggage) to Alleppey for a day cruise on the backwaters on a traditional houseboat along the magical backwaters, a network of lakes, rivers and narrow palm-fringed canals. During the journey watch life go by on the water’s edge and see the many small boats ferrying goods and people. The local economy is reliant upon the coconut and its many derivative products, which can be seen amongst the goods being transported on the canals.
Lunch on boat. Disembark after lunch. Drive to Cochin and check into Taj Malabar Hotel where two nights are spent. Situated on Willingdon Island with a magnificent view of Cochin harbour, the hotel combines old-world elegance with modern day convenience with varied restaurants and a fantastic swimming pool. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning visit the 16th century ‘Dutch Palace’, which was actually built by the Portuguese but given to the Raja of Cochin and later restored by the Dutch, hence the name. It is set in walled gardens and has exquisite interiors with Hindu wall-paintings and teak carvings. Visit the Jewish Quarter with its striped warehouses, shuttered houses and fine synagogue, which originally dates from 1567 although later rebuilt. The interior has Chinese willow-pattern floor tiles, Belgian chandeliers and gold crowns gifted over the centuries. Visit the 16th century church of St. Francis and the ubiquitous Chinese fishing nets which were first erected between 1350 and 1450. Made of Teak and Bamboo poles they resemble sculptures but are in fact working nets.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Enjoy a sunset cruise. Farewell dinner at the hotel.
Breakfast at the hotel. Transfer to Cochin airport. Suggested flights (not included) Emirates EK531 departing Cochin at 09.20 hrs arriving Dubai at 11.50 hrs. Connect to Emirates flight EK3 departing Dubai at 14.30 arriving London Heathrow at 18.20 hrs.
It was an extraordinary, wonderful and memorable vacation. Thank you to everyone.- EE, Kenya & Zanzibar