London / Chennai
Early afternoon British Airways flight (14.20 hrs) from London Heathrow to Chennai.
Chennai / Mahalbalipuram / Pondicherry
On arrival in the early morning (05.35 hrs), transfer to Mahalbalipuram, once the major seaport of the ancient Pallava Kingdom based at Kanchipuram and home to some magnificent UNESCO World Heritage temples and carvings. Breakfast at a wonderfully atmospheric local restaurant before a walking tour of all the impressive 7th century Pallava Dynasty temples and exquisitely hand carved cave and rock reliefs. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shore Temple, a complex of temples and shrines overlooking the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD and is one of the oldest stone temples of southern India. Continue to the French colonial city of Pondicherry and check into the beautifully restored colonial mansion, the Palais de Mahe CGH Earth Hotel, situated in the heart of the historic French Quarter, and where two nights are spent.
Lunch at the hotel. Rest of the afternoon at leisure to enjoy the hotel’s facilities including a swimming pool and Ayurvedic spa. Evening stroll along the sea front stopping for a drink at a typical colonial French bar. Return to the hotel for dinner.
Enjoy a morning cyclo (rickshaw) tour of Pondicherry 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. Stop at Maison Perumal CGH Earth Hotel, a former Tamil merchant’s mansion, for a cooking demonstration using fresh and locally sourced ingredients.
Lunch at Maison Perumal CGH Earth Hotel. Afternoon walking tour of the Pondicherry French Quarter including the old colonial villas; Café des Artes, filled with colonial art and furniture; Domus, a wonderful café and boutique shop selling beautiful furniture, lamps and fabrics; the enchanting Cluny Embroidery Centre, a women’s not-for-profit collective selling hand-sewn, exquisitely embroidered bed linen and table cloths; Artika Café Gallery, filled with paintings and wall murals; the 300 year old Catholic Church of Immaculate Conception; and finally a stop at Baker Street a French-style bakery offering tempting eclairs, oven-fresh croissants, tasty brioche, sumptuous quiches and fresh crepes. Dinner at a local art collector’s house.
Pondicherry / Chidambaram / Kumbakonam
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 on route to the 4-star eco-friendly Mantra Koodram CGH Earth Hotel in Kumbakonam where one night spent.
Lunch at the hotel. Rest of the afternoon at leisure to enjoy the hotel’s swimming pool and Ayurvedic spa or optional village walk with bullock cart ride. Dinner at the hotel.
Kumbakonam / Tanjore
Morning departure (with luggage) and visit a rural market and temple on the way to Tanjore. Check into the boutique Svatma Hotel a restored colonial home of a British trader, and where two nights are spent.
Light lunch at the hotel. Rest of the afternoon at leisure. Late afternoon 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. Enjoy the sunset at the temple. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning visit to 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. Also visit the Royal Museum which has a small collection of royal memorabilia. Continue to visit 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.
Lunch under own arrangements. Remainder of the afternoon at leisure to enjoy the hotel’s facilities including a swimming pool and spa. Early evening cooking demonstration at the hotel. Dinner at the hotel with musical performances.
Tanjore / Kanadukathan
Early morning option to experience Vedic chanting before breakfast. Depart (with luggage) and visit the Ayyana horse shrines at Ellangudipatti. Ayyanar is a village god associated with the bounty of the earth and thought to grant the village bountiful rains or a good harvest. The shrines are often found in sacred groves located a little way outside the village and whilst various types of figures can be found, the most common forms are horses, which represent the mounts of Ayyanar and his army. Shrines generally consist of rows of large, vibrantly decorated terra cotta figures ranging from 4 to 20 feet in height. Continue to the Vislam CGH Earth Hotel in Kanadukathan where two nights are spent.
Light lunch at a local restaurant. Afternoon visits to local mansions built by the globe-trotting Hindu merchant and banking clan called the Nattukottai Chettiars that thrived during colonialist expansion. Also visit the shopping streets with antique and enamel shops. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning tour of Kanadukathan, one of 9 villages of the prominent Chettiar, where majestic villas, imposing colonial style bungalows and other stately ruins of a bygone era still stand with their stature and grandeur. Visit the local tile makers.
Enjoy a Bagala cooking demonstration followed by lunch. Afternoon visit to the town market and mansions followed by free time for shopping. Return to the hotel. Cooking demonstration followed by dinner at the hotel.
Kanadukathan / Madurai / Thekady
Morning departure (with luggage) to Madurai and experience the 17 acre compound of the Meenakshi Temple, one of the holiest Hindu temples in Southern India. Visit one of the many textile and tailoring outlets around the temple, the souk as well as the vegetable and banana market where 16 varieties of bananas are sold.
Packed lunch. Continue to Thekady and check into Spice Village CGH Earth Hotel where two nights are spent. Remainder of the afternoon at leisure. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning spice tour of local plantation. Various kinds of spices are cultivated in Thekady including pepper, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric and curry leaves.
Lunch at the hotel of local Keralan dishes. Visit the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary covered in dense evergreen, moist deciduous forests and savannah grasslands. Not only an elephant and tiger reserve, it is also home to rare, endemic and endangered flora and fauna. The vast region is inhabited by bison, sambar, wild boar, langur, elephants and tigers. Dinner at the hotel.
Thekady / Cochin
Morning departure with luggage and enjoy a morning cruise 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 waters 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.
Traditional Keralan lunch on board. Transfer to Brunton Boatyard CGH Earth Hotel (or similar) where two nights are spent. Late afternoon walk along the shore to see the 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. Dinner under own arrangements.
Morning at leisure for shopping.
Lunch under own arrangements. Afternoon city tour of Cochin, which dates from ancient times and has been an important trading post for centuries. The legacy of this is a diverse culture and many fascinating buildings. Begin at the old docks and merchants’ houses in Mattancherry, before continuing to 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, which is set in walled gardens and has exquisite interiors with Hindu wall-paintings and teak carvings. Visit Fort Cochin, lying at the tip of the isthmus, now a heritage site, where the fine houses formerly inhabited by British merchants can be seen, together with the 16th century church of St. Francis and the neighbouring Basilica Santa Cruz with its vivid décor and the former Parade Ground with its surrounding buildings. Farewell dinner at the hotel.
Cochin / Mumbai
Morning visit to Jew Town 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. Explore the city’s spice markets before returning to the hotel to check out (a small number of day rooms to share amongst the group have been arranged to store luggage and also so the group can shower and/or change before they depart for the airport).
Lunch at the hotel. Remainder of the afternoon at leisure. Early evening transfer to Cochin airport for a domestic flight to Mumbai arriving in the late evening.
Mumbai / London
Depart early morning British Airways flight (02.15hrs) to London Heathrow arriving in the early morning (06.50hrs).
Sara could not have been more knowledgeable or helpful. She was very responsive and really listened to what we wanted.- MN, Ecuador & Galapagos, 2014