Days 1 – 3 Chennai - Mahabalipuram
You are greeted at Chennai airport and escorted on the short ride to world heritage site Mahabalipuram. Boasting exquisite Pallava rock-cut architecture, Mahabalipuram was the second capital and sea port of the Pallava Kings of Kanchipuram. This first Tamil Dynasty ruled between the 6th and 9th century A.D. It’s also a lovely beach resort! We explore the wonders of the city, including the five Rathas named after the Pandavas – a group of monolithic monuments and figures of animals carved out of solid granite. We also visit the Shore Temples, lashed out by the waves of the sea. During our stay we take a day trip to Kancheepuram, one of the seven sacred cities of India, and perhaps India’s most spectacular temple city. Kailasanatha Temple – dedicated to Shiva, is believed to be 1200 years old and is the finest example of Pallava architecture in South India. But don’t worry, there is also time to just relax at the beach!
Day 4 Pondicherry
The French relinquished control of “Pondy” in 1954. Reminders of the colonial past remain although it is very much an Indian city.
Days 5 - 6 Thanjavur
The road south from Pondicherry puts us back on the temple trail, to Thanjavur but first we stop at Nagore, a popular Muslim pilgrimage centre. In Nagore we visit the 500 year old Dargah of the Muslim saint Hazrat Mian Sahib. It consists of five golden domed Mosques set in a warren of paths, open courtyards, and hallways filled with pilgrims. As well as being the ancient capital of the Chola kings, Thanjavur is also famous for its distinctive style of painting, known as Tanjore painting. In Thanjavur we visit the Brihadishwara Temple and Fort, built in 1010. This is considered to be the crowning glory of Chola temple architecture and is one more of the few World Heritage sites in India. We also visit Thanjavur Palace, built in 1550.
Days 7 - 8 Madurai
Bound for Madurai, we break at the spectacular Ranganatha Swami Temple at Srirangam. This is considered to be one of the most revered shrines to Vishnu in South India, and it is also one of the largest and liveliest! Madurai is one of the oldest cities in South India. It is an archetypal Hindu city, a swirl of life revolving around its mighty Meenakshi Temple. Its Hall of a Thousand Pillars is fabulous and is filled with worshippers at all hours of the day. For those who love shopping it’s worth noting that Madurai is crowded with textile and tailors shops, as well as jewellery shops. Madurai is also a great place to purchase south Indian crafts. While in Madurai we also visit Tirumal Nayak’s Palace, built in 1636 and considered one of the finest secular buildings in South India.
Days 9 - 10 Thekkady
The temples are left behind as we head for the Periyar Wildlife sanctuary in Thekkady – home to bison, antelope, sambar, wild boar, monkeys, a wide variety of birds, and some 750 elephants. The sanctuary is located on Periyar Lake in the hills of the Western Ghats. We view the game at Periyar Lake by private motor boat as they come to drink at the lake’s shore. We also take an excursion on elephant back into the park!
Days 11 - 12 Kumarakom
From Thekkady it’s a picturesque drive to Kumarakom, nestled in Kerala’s centuries old palm fringed backwaters which stretch over 1900 kms. The ‘backwaters’ refer to the large inland lakes and canals of Kerala. They snake over the land, bestowing paddy fields with good harvests and providing villages with water. Today these backwaters act as vital waterways for the transport of goods, people, and products. They are often the only link between remote, isolated villages. It’s an incredible experience to float along these soothing waters in a local boat. We spend our time here either relaxing along the water’s edge, or sailing through the narrow canals. Either way, we can enjoy the scenic natural beauty of coconut trees, rice paddies and village life.
Days 13 - 14 Kovalam
Today we make our way to the west coast, to the beautiful beaches of Kovalam. In Kovalam we have a full day at leisure on the beach. Optional aruyvedic treatments (massage, steam bath etc.) are easily booked.
Days 15 - 16 Chennai
We return to Chennai by air from the nearby airport at Trivendrum. In Chennai we visit Fort. St. George, the first British fort in India, and a continuing reminder of the Colonial period. Our tour ends the following morning with breakfast and transfer to airport for international departure.