Signature Journeys: South India

An exclusive 10 day & 9 night itinerary through South India

Discover South India

A separate country in and of itself, India’s south is the land of sacred myths and towering temples; of gentle people and awe inspiring landscapes carpeted with green valleys and ancient civilizations.

 

A Lush Contrast

South India ‘s two main states, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, remain true to their tradition and recall a distant past of ancient customs and authentic lifestyle.

Natural Beauty & Rolling Landscapes

From serene rice paddies, to rolling hills of tea lands, to winding backwaters and and tropical valleys, South India’s landscape is a wonderland of natural beauty.

Spirituality & Sacred Spaces

As the heartland of Hinduism, South India’s cities are crowded with temples and sacred spaces that remain rooted at the center of people’s daily lives.

Day 1

Chennai: Welcome to the Indian Subcontinent

Arrival at Chennai airport. Your host for your journey will welcome you at the arrivals terminal after you clear customs. Private transfer to Leela Palace where you will be assisted with check-in. You will have the rest of your afternoon and evening at leisure to recuperate from your journey. Your guide will meet you at the lobby for some tea and introduce you to your program over the next few days. We recommend dinner at your hotel.

Day 2

Chennai: A City of Colonial and Traditional Soul

Meet your guide at the hotel lobby and together explore one of the oldest and most interesting areas of Chennai: the City of Mylapore.

The two hour walking tour starts at the temple, a center of social interaction as are most temples in Southern India. Marriages, engagements, gossip and showing o jewelry and clothes are all a part of the daily meetings here. Visiting a temple is a wonderful insight into a traditional society.

From the temple, the walk continues through the narrow lanes of Mylapore, stopping at a house of priest, a behind the scene glimpse at life of the ordinary people; you learn the significance of the kollams which decorate the doorstep of every home in the area.

The tour ends at the famous Saravana Bhavana, a “no frills” restaurant that simply focuses on good food: a dosa and a cup of strong South Indian co ee brings the morning to an end.

In the afternoon, start at the Madras Museum housed in the Pantheon Complex, a complex of cultural institutions which derives its name from The Pantheon. This is where the Public Assembly Rooms were housed in the 18th century, and it used to be the venue for public entertainment in the city. The Museum is a sprawling complex with labyrinthine corridors and many galleries. Your focus on this visit will be the Bronze Gallery with its superb collection of 9th to 13th century bronzes, especially the superb images of Nataraja.

Have dinner at a family home where you will enjoy South Indian delicacies while experiencing local family life.

 

 

Day 3

Thanjavur: Capital of the Great Chola Empire

From Chennai, the drive takes you to the heart of Tamil Nadu, past the fertile valley of the Kaveri River, an area rich in temple architecture of the Chola Empire, that took temple architecture to its zenith. Your stops along the way include Trichy, the temple of Gangai Konda Cholapuram and the smaller but exquisite Darasuram.

Enjoy a typical South Indian lunch served on Banana leaves before continuing towards Thanjavur. After lunch you visit a small village enroute, home to a small community of bronze workers. Tamil Nadu is famous for its bronze statues, the finest collection of these housed in the museum at Thanjavur. These bronze workers continue the tradition, using extraordinarily primitive tools and methods, and the result is exquisite bronze images. Arrive at Svatma Hotel in Thanjavur and enjoy the remainder of the late afternoon and evening at leisure.

 

Day 4

Thanjavur: A Dizzying Legacy of Temples and Artists

In the morning, visit the “Great Temple” the Brihadisvara Temple. A world heritage monument, this temple is the jewel of the Chola civilization. In the afternoon you will visit a village of weavers who spin the lustrous silk textile used to dress gods and goddesses during festivals, as well as brides. Visit the museum which has one of the finest collections of Chola bronzes in South India.

Later, visit the studio of an artist to watch the production of the rather gaudy but quite fabulous Tanjore paintings. Once again using no modern technology, the laborious process of transforming a blank piece of board made from jackfruit, to the bejeweled colorful finished product is an absorbing process to watch.

 

 

 

 

Day 5

Madurai: Home of South India’s Spirit

Drive to Madurai today with your expert guide and driver. Enjoy beautiful views of South India’s countryside along the way. Most cities in India have a legend surrounding their origins. Madurai is no exception, and the story tells how Shiva looked down and drops of nectar fell from his locks, resulting in the city being named Madurai or “The City of Nectar”. Ancient Madurai was a center of Tamil culture, famous for its writers and poets, and the history goes back to the 6th century BC when it traded with Greece and Rome. The Nayaka Kings laid out the old town in the pattern of a lotus with narrow streets surrounding the Minakshi Temple at the center.

Arrive in Madurai. This afternoon you will visit the Minakshi Temple. This is an outstanding structure dedicated to Minakshi the “fish eyed goddess” who is also the consort of Shiva. Shiva has a temple dedicated to him in the complex. Since Minakshi is the presiding goddess, the daily ceremonies are first performed at her shrine and then at the shrine of Shiva. This is a living temple and each shrine has priests performing rituals in front of them and you will also see the decorated temple elephant. Later, you will be driven to your hotel which boasts panoramic views of the city. Evening at leisure.

 

Day 6

Madurai: A Three-Dimensional Hindu Epic

The next morning, explore the markets surrounding the temple. You will pass streets selling an extraordinary variety of items, but there is order in the chaos. The area is a like a huge open air department store, each street dedicated to one particular item – stationery, flowers and fruits, vessels, items used in worship etc. There is even one lane dedicated to bananas – South India boasts over 50 varieties. Housed in the remains of a 16th century ruin nestled amongst the decorated pillars and carvings are a remarkable collection of stalls selling everything from silk scarves to pink plastic hairclips. The walk is a remarkable experience, one you share with local residents and visiting pilgrims.

In the afternoon, meet with a local family in their home. The daughter, a successful architect and dance guru, will introduce you to the traditional and ancient dance form of Bharatnatyam. Accompanied by live music of this sacred dance form that used to be performed in temples, you will experience a workshop and demonstration. Later, enjoy a homemade dinner with the family.

 

Day 7

Munnar: Tea Lands in a Tropical Symphony

Experience travel the local way by boarding the train at Madurai for a short and scenic ride to the tea lands of Kerala. You will be joined by your guide on this very Indian experience! Hop off at Rajapalayam Station where you luggage and vehicle will be waiting for you to continue on to Munnar, lying on the border of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. This quick drive takes you to the misty mountains, thick forests, hills covered in a quilt of tea plantations, deep valleys and sparkling streams and waterfalls. Munnar has a beauty and a charm that surpasses any southern hill station. In the early morning with the mist covering the higher ranges, it has a surreal beauty.

On the way you will stop at a village which houses about 200 weaving families, who weave cotton for the local market. Here other than the hand operated looms they use the spinning wheel. Reach the plantation and estate where you will trek and take a 4WD through the surrounding area with an expert guide. Munnar offers many hikes and walks along rough trails. You can also spend the afternoon at the property, enjoying the environs and stunning views from the plantation. The car is at your disposal if you will like to visit the Ervikulam Sanctuary, its windswept hills home to the Ibex, a mountain goat which is indigenous to this area. You can also visit the small but exceptional Tea Museum which traces the history of the area including many black and white photographs of the British and Scottish planters who were the backbone of this industry well into the late 1960s.

 

Day 8

Kochi: A Collision of Civilizations

Rise early for a sunrise yoga class with beautiful views of the area. After breakfast you will be driven to Kochi - approx. 3.5 hours. Kochi, better known as Cochin, is Kerala’s most cosmopolitan city. It was the main trading center for spices and seafood. This city is a collection of many narrow islands, one of which is called Cochin. Across from Kochi lies the more modern Ernakulam city which boasts western restaurants, newly built shopping malls and commercial complexes. The island and areas of Mattancherri and Fort Cochin are still traditional and retain much of their original architecture and old world charm. The area is a blend of Dutch, Portuguese and British heritage, narrow streets crowded with spice shops, galleries and cafes. Kochi is famous for its Jewish quarter that holds a synagogue and is the oldest in India. The architecture and cuisine of the area reflects the influences of the many traders who came, visited and ultimately settled in Kochi.

 

Day 9

Kerala: Endless Waterways of the South

From Kochi, private transfer to Allepey where you will board your houseboat to tour of the famed Kerala backwaters. There are an impressive series of canals that thread their way through the state to the sea. This experience allows you a glimpse of life in Kerala which is impossible to get from road transport. Along this cruise, pass rice fields, tiny villages, boats transporting children to school and farmers transporting their produce to the market, and women completing household tasks such as laundry and washing utensils.

The journey will take place on a houseboat known as “Kettuvalloms”. Originally, these were rice boats used for trading, but went out of service when road transport became a more economical way to move produce. Lunch and dinner will be served on the boat during the tour.

 

Day 10

Departure: Bid South India Farewell

Disembark the houseboat and private transfer back to Kochi. On your final day in South India, get introduced to the fascinating art of Kathakali. This is a classical dance form that has its origins in Theyyam. It is an old ritual tribal dance that came from northern Kerala, dating over 1,000 years. The dancers use dramatic costumes and exaggerated facial make up to perform accompanied by drums and cymbals. The dancers use stylized movements to relate episodes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Today you will learn how to apply this intricate make up and will have lessons in this dance! In the evening, your host and driver will be at your disposal to assist you with your departure flight from Kochi.

 

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