A recce means sampling the hotels, the food and the experiences we want to include on our tour program to make sure they measure up, but we’ve chosen carefully, and our itinerary has been carefully planned with our on-the-ground travel team.
Up for an adventure? Like to come along for a different kind of ride?
A tour of the region has been on our wish list for some time and in 2019 we will be doing a 17-day trip.
Starting in Chennai, formerly Madras, we’ll visit the incredible granite temples at Mahabalipuram, continue south to the former French colony at Pondicherry then turn inland to visit the incredible Temple complex at Madurai, the fascinating villages of the Chettinad region, packed with crumbling mansions built by wealthy Chettiar merchants and explore the UNESCO-inscribed Great Living Chola Temples.
We’ll spend a couple of nights in the cool forests of the Palani Hills, take a cruise on the filigreed backwaters of Kerala and finish in Kochi, formerly Cochin, the dessert trolley in the Indian feast, a sweet-natured chill zone with warm oil massages as one of its core promises.
DAY 1: ARRIVE CHENNAI
A tour representative will be waiting when you exit baggage collection, assist with baggage and transfer you to your hotel near the airport.
DAY 2: COLONIAL CHENNAI,
Explore Chennai As Madras, its former incarnation, Chennai was an important base for the colonial powers and its churches and forts bear witness to those times.
We will do an evening Myalapore Walk, through a fascinating and very traditional quarter of the city, followed by a group dinner.
DAY 3: MAHABALIPURAM AND PONDICHERRY
We will drive south along the coast, stopping at Mahabalipuram to see the hugely impressive Shore Temple, then end the day at Pondicherry.
Palais de Mahe – two nights
DAY 4: PONDICHERRY
Today we’ll explore this fascinating outpost of colonial France with its time-washed facades and tree-lined streets. We’ll also visit the internationally famous Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville, dedicated to the ideal of human unity, a magnet for spiritually-minded seekers.
In the evening we’ll take a stroll along the beachfront promenade, which is traffic-free in the evenings, and maybe enjoy an aperitif at one of the local bars.
DAY 5: DRIVE TO THANJAVUR
Today we’ll drive inland, visit Thilai Natrajar Temple, one of the oldest surviving active temple complexes in South India. built when the nearby city of Chidambaram was the capital of the Chola dynasty. We then continue to Thanjavur to visit Gangaikonda Cholapura, where archaeological remains commemorate the early Chola Empire, and finally to Darasuram Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Next two nights at Hotel Svatma, a luxury boutique hotel created by Indian architect and designer Krithika Subrahmanian.
Hotel Svatma – two nights
DAY 6: EXPLORE THANJAVUR
Visit Brighadeeswara Temple and Thirunallar Temple in the morning, afternoon free to relax at the hotel, explore more of Thanjavur, another capital of the once-great Chola Empire.
DAY 7: DRIVE TO CHETTINAD
Chettinad takes its name from the Chettiars, a community of traders prominent as mercantile families in the 19th century. Much of their wealth was lavished on the opulent mansions they built in the many towns and villages of their arid rural homeland. These ornate mansions combine various architectural styles – Indian, British Raj, Mughal, Chinese – sometimes in the same house. Today some of these mansions have been brought back to life as stylish hotels, including Visalam where we stay for two nights.
Visalam– two nights
DAY 8: EXPLORING CHETTINAD AND SURROUNDS
A day spent among the surrounding villages of the Chettinar people, and perhaps try Chicken Chettinad made from freshly roasted spices and coconut which is then ground to a fine paste and cooked on slow fire.
DAY 9: MADURAI
One of the oldest cities in India, Madurai once traded with ancient Rome. It’s been wealthy as well as famous and that wealth has allowed it to build one of the greatest of all Indian temple complexes, the outrageously ornamented Meenakshi Amman Temple, its soaring gopurams encrusted with a gods, goddesses, demons and heroes from the epic stories of Hinduism.
Heritage Madurai – one night
DAY 10: DRIVE TO DINDINGUL
Located in the hill country of Tamil Nadu, this is another world of lush forests, coffee estates and scenic grandeur. Nature is in the ascendant here, the hills are filled with the songs of birds and there are guided walks in the cool air of the Western Ghats. Rajakkad is a wonderful base for excursions to the hill station of Kodaikanal. Our hotel here is serene and relaxing, set in a lovely garden.
Rajakkad Estate – two nights
DAY 11: EXPLORING THE WESTERN GHATS
Options include walks, exploring local villages, a trip to Kodaikanal or simply relaxing.
DAY 12: DRIVE TO THEKKADY
In the heartland of the Western Ghats, this is a cool, green Garden of Eden where we’ll explore a spice plantation and smell and taste some of the incredible flavours that made India the spice garden of the world.
Spice Village – one night
DAY 13: PERIYAR WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Thekkady is India’s largest wildlife sanctuary and we’ll take a cruise on Periyar Lake, with the chance to see elephant and some of the other animals that live here. Periyar is also a tiger sanctuary, but sightings are rare. After the cruise we’ll drive to Alleppey on the coast and stay at the lovely Hotel Purity.
Hotel Purity – two nights
DAY 14: A CRUISE ON THE BACKWATERS
Spilling across an area of 700 square kilometres, this is a slow-moving tapestry of rice paddies and muddy villages threaded together by green rivers and canals that run between corridors of coconut palms. Drifting through this liquid landscape is the float-tank chapter in the Indian experience. We’ll have lunch on board and enjoy a day among egrets, water buffalo, fishermen, farmers and men in dugout canoes shepherding huge flocks of ducks
DAY 15: DRIVE TO COCHIN
Today we explore Fort Cochin and neighbouring Mattancherry by rickshaw. This is a fascinating place and one of my favourite cities in India, a languid, ramshackle melange of Arab, Portuguese, Dutch and British cultural cross-currents that dates back more than 1000 years. Fort Cochin is rising from its post-colonial stupor, and its spice warehouses and merchants’ houses are now being groomed by the international style brigade. Just back from the seafront along Princess and Burgar streets is a row of pretty shops and houses that have become homestays for yoga devotees and those in search of Ayurvedic treatments and massages – two Keralan specialties. Tucked away behind the arched doorways are restaurants with twirling fans and tiled courtyards with splashing fountains that might have come from 17th century Lisbon.
Malabar House – two nights
DAY 16: EXPLORING BEYOND KOCHI
A trip to see Pokkali organic rice farming. This is a unique, saline-tolerate strain of rice that grows in the brackish backwaters and a community has grown up dedicated to the preservation of this crop, which exists in a symbiotic relationship with prawns and requires no man-made fertiliser. We’ll end the day with a stroll around Fort Cochin, perhaps some shopping and a final farewell dinner.
DAY 17: FINAL FAREWELL
Transfer to the airport in Kochi and depart
AUD$6499 per person on a twin-share basis. Single supplement AUD$2300. Non-refundable deposit AUD$500 to secure booking.