South India Explorer - 14 days
Discover the highlights of Southern India, from Chennai to Kochi. Visit some of the most intricate and beautiful Hindu temples of Southern India and uncover the delights of tropical Kerala in India's deep south. Visit UNESCO world heritage temples and spend a night aboard a houseboat, gliding along the tranquil, palm fringed backwaters.
Chennai – Mahabalipuram. Welcome to Southern India. Upon arrival at Chennai airport you'll be met by our representative and transferred to Mahablipuram, about a 90 minute drive from Chennai. After arriving at our hotel the rest of the day is free for you to relax or explore on your own.
This morning we visit Kanchipuram, the capital of the Pallava dynasty from the 6th to 8th century and home to some southern India's most impressive temples. Split in to two sections we will visit the nothern Shiva temples as well as the southern Vishnu temples. Kanchipuram is also known as the 'silk city of India'. It has a thriving handloom industry with an enviable reputation as the producer of the best silk sarees in India.
This afternoon we return to Mahabalipuram, also know as Mamallapuram, for a tour of the highlights. Our first stop will be to the beautiful Shore Temple, built in the 7th century during the reign of Rajasimha, it's so name because it overlooks the Bay of Bengal. Next we continue to Arjuna's Penance, the worlds largest bas-relief carving. This impressive collections of sculptures is one of India's most fascinating ancient artworks. Our final stop this afternoon is the Five Rathas, each one incredibly carved from single large rocks. Built in the 7th century these Hindu temples were covered in sand until their discovery by the British around 200 years ago.
Overnight: Mahabalipuram | Breakfast
Mahabalipuram – Pondicherry. Departing Mahabalipuram this morning we head for the former French colonial city of Pondicherry (Puducherry). French rule of the city lasted until 1954 and the influence can still be seen today in the architecture of the old town and the many French-India restaurants. Our first stop today will be Pondicherry Beach, with it's beautiful golden sand and lapping waves. We then continue to Sacred Heart Church, built in 1895 this beautiful red and white church was upgraded to a Basillica in 2011. Another highlight and one that brings many travellers to Pondicherry is the the popular Sri Aurobindo Ashram, whose spiritual tenets combine yoga and modern science.
Overnight: Pondicherry | Breakfast
Temples of Tamil Nadu
Pondicherry – Tanjore. After breakfast we head away from the coastal Pondicherry to an important centre of South Indian religion, art and architecture, Tanjore (Thanjavur). En route we'll visit temples in the towns of Chidambaram, Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Darssuram.
In Chidambaram we'll visit the Natraja Temple, the present temple dates to the 10th century, making it one of the oldest temples in Southern India. We continue to Gangaikonda Cholapuram where we visit Brihadisvara Temple, completed in 1035 it is a great example of a Dravidian style temple. Next we visit Darasuram, home to the 12th century, UNESCO world heritage listed, Airavateswara temple. At this temple you'll witness some well preserved stone carvings including a number of Chariot inspired structures.
Our day ends this afternoon upon arrival in to Tanjore, where you'll have the evening free to relax or explore this colourful city.
Overnight: Tanjore | Breakfast
Evening Aarti Ceremony
Tanjore – Madurai. This morning we enjoy a tour of Tanjore, an ancient fortified town, with a glorious history dating back more than 1500 years. Thanjavur was the ancient capital of the Chola kings whose origins date back to the beginning of Christianity. Our city tour includes the enormous Brihadishwara Temple. Built by Raja Raja in 1010, the World Heritage protected temple has a dome weighing an estimated 80 tonnes which was hauled into place along an earth ramp in a manner similar to that used for the Egyptian pyramids.
This afternoon we drive to Madurai and check in to our hotel. Later we make our way to Meenakshi Temple to enjoy an Aarti Ceremony, which involves candles and music in praise of the gods and goddesses being worshipped.
Overnight: Madurai | Breakfast
After breakfast we proceed for half day city tour of Madurai, first up we visit Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal, a temple built in the Indo-Saracanic style by the Nayaks. The main attractions here are the musical pillars and the pathway. We continue to Thirupparankunram Murugan Temple, located around 8 km from the center of Madurai city. This temple is cut straight into the rock and is considered one of the six abodes of Lord Murugan. Next we revisit Meenakshi temple, for a second chance to view the magnificently carved temple. Considered by some as the holiest place of worship in South India, it draws thousands of devotees everyday. We end the day exploring the local bazaar.
Overnight: Madurai | Breakfast
Rock Fort Temple
Madurai – Trichy - Kochi. Today we make our way to Trichy (also known as Tiruchirappalli). Our first stop is Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, this colourful temple covers 156 acres and lies on an island formed by the Kaveri and Kollidam rivers. Dedicated to Ranganatha, a reclining form of Vishnu, it is believed that the sight on where the temple stands has existed since the 2nd century. Next we visit the Rock Fort Temple, originally built as a temple by the Pallavas, it's location a top a ancient rock meant that it was eventually used as a fort. The Rock Fort temple has witnessed fierce battles over the years and played an important role during the Carnatic wars, helping to lay the foundations of the British Empire in India. We also visit Sri Jambukeswarar Temple, built by Kochengon, a Tamil king during one of the Early Cholas, said to be around 1,800 years ago.
This evening we transfer to the railway station to board our overnight train journey to Kochi. It's recommended to brings snacks and supplies for the journey and the following morning.
Overnight: Overnight Train | Breakfast
Arriving into Kochi train station this morning you'll be met and transferred to your hotel. The rest of the day offers free time to explore Kochi. Long famed in the history books, Kochi (formerly known as Cochin) offered refuge to Jews more than 2,500 years ago. The Portuguese founded the first European colony in Kochi in the 16th century, then the Dutch quickly followed and eventually, the British. The cosmopolitan mix of cultures makes the city truly fascinating. This evening we watch a Kathakali performance. Kathakali is the fascinating traditional dance form of Kerala.
Kochi - Munnar. On the morning of day 9 we enjoy a guided tour of historic Fort Kochi. We see the elegant Chinese fishing nets and explore the winding streets of the old town, visiting St Francis’ Church, Parsi Synagogue (exterior only) and a Dutch palace. After our sightseeing in Kochi we drive east to Munnar - a picturesque hill station nestled on the verdant slopes of tea plantations.
On day 10 we'll take a stroll through one of the many tea plantations with our guide, who will give us a brief explanation about the different varieties of tea and how they are processed. Then we'll visit a local market before heading back to our hotel. The rest of the day is free for you to spend at your own leisure.
Overnight: Munnar | Breakfast x 2, Dinner x 2
Munnar - Alleppey - Keralan backwaters. Early this morning we set off on a scenic 4 - 5 hour drive to Alleppey. Upon arrival, we board a simply furnished private rice-boat for a journey through the lush backwaters. Our rice-boat takes us sedately along the enchanting palm-fringed backwaters, covering a distance of some 20 kms, during which time the boat glides past local villages and fascinating scenes of everyday rural life. Watch a beautiful sunset over the backwaters and enjoy tasty meals (starting with lunch) prepared by the on-board chef using fresh local produce.
Overnight: Deluxe rice boat | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Keralan Backwaters - Kumarakom. After breakfast on day 12 we disembark the houseboat at Kumarakom. Perched sleepily amongst a tangle of lush tropical waterways known as the Keralan backwaters, Kumarakom is technically a cluster of islands on Lake Vembanad - one of Asia’s largest freshwater lakes. This is an ideal place to relax for the next two days and enjoy the beautiful scenery. There is also a wonderful bird sanctuary spread across 14 acres, which is a favoured haunt of migratory birds and certainly worthy of a visit.
Overnight: Kumarakom | Breakfast x 2
Kumarakom - Kochi. Today marks the end of our memorable journey. After breakfast we travel back to Kochi and include a transfer to the airport. Please note: flights from Kochi should depart after 2pm.
Prices & Dates
Departure dates noted with a 'G' are guaranteed to operate. All other departure dates can be guaranteed with a minimum of 2 persons. Prices shown are per person travelling. 'Twin/Double' prices per person apply when there are 2 people travelling, sharing a room. The 'Single supplement' applies for single travellers and needs to be added to the 'Twin/Double' price.Read More
The hotels listed below are ones which we frequently use on this tour. We reserve the right to substitute these hotels to ones of a similar standard when necessary.
MGM Eastwood , Mahabalipuram
Sprawled across 3 acres of lush landscaped gardens and swaying palm fronds, this resort features quaint pathways leading to its spacious guestrooms. Once inside, you’ll find the rooms are well-equipped with modern amenities, including free WiFi and 24-hour room service. Other dining options include the Virundhu Restaurant, which offers all-day dining on a selection of continental, Indian and Oriental fare. The azure blue swimming pool is also particularly inviting and the perfect place to spend a leisurely afternoon cooling off.
Hotel Atithi, Pondicherry
With its great selection of facilities, this modern hotel has marked itself one of the finest hotels in Pondicherry. Each room is fully equipped with all the essential amenities, with the added perks of 24-hour room service and free WiFi. Guests can enjoy the in-house gym, rejuvenating spa and an outdoor pool offering amazing views over the city. There are plenty of options when it comes to dining, with a lounge bar, two multi-cuisine restaurants and a fun-filled rooftop bar. If that wasn’t enough, Hotel Atithi is also well-located close to many of the top attractions in this heritage city.
Hotel Sangam, Thanjavur
Set among the historic temples of Thanjavur, Hotel Sangam offers you a peaceful and comfortable stay. Its guestrooms are spacious and feature modern interiors with large windows allowing for plenty of natural light. Enjoy local and international cuisine at the Thillana Restaurant, where you’ll find both guests and locals alike, or opt for a light snack and cool beer in the Layam Bar. An outdoor pool serves the perfect place to kick back and relax after a day of sightseeing. And you can always expect a warm greeting from staff, who are more than happy to share their knowledge of the area.
GRT Regency, Madurai
The GRT Regency is a modern, tastefully designed hotel with comfortable rooms that have been elegantly decorated with just a splash of colour. The hotel has extensive business and conferencing facilities as well as a modern gym and health centre to ensure that visitors want for nothing during their stay. Dining options are allow guests to choose from a range of different cuisines including traditional Indian and international. The hotel is only 2 km from the city centre and 3 km from the railway station.
Casino Hotel, Kochi
Casino Hotel is a modern hotel located on Willingdon island, set in tropical gardens it is a beautiful blend of art deco and colonial Indian architectural styles. With a large pool and and spacious comfortable rooms this hotel offers a fantastic experience when in Kochi. Casino Hotel boasts 2 restaurants, a 24-hour health club as well as free wifi in public areas.
Clouds Valley Leisure Hotel, Munnar
Set in the valley of the Kennan Devan Hills, the Clouds Valley Leisure Hotel is a contemporary accommodation. Guest rooms are bright and spacious with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. Rooms are also all en suite, have modern amenities and comfortable beds. The hotel benefits from an onsite restaurant that serves up a tasty selection of both Indian and South Indian food as well as Chinese and European dishes.
Deluxe Houseboat, Alleppey
There are few things as serene and tranquil as floating along the Keralan backwaters in the comfort of a luxurious houseboat. Deluxe houseboats are elegantly furnished, with up to four bedrooms, equipped with modern en suites, an open lounge, dining area and a deck to relax and admire the beautiful views of the lush green palms and rice paddies. Air conditioning operates in the bedrooms between 9pm to 6am only. The cruises are full board, with tasty meals freshly prepared by the onboard chef.
Eastend Lakesong, Kumarakom
Nestled among the serene backwaters of Kumarakom, Eastend Lakesong comprises of 8 acres of facility packed leisure land. Guests sleep in villas and cottages, which are all well furnished with colourful interiors and comfortable beds. The onsite restaurants offer an excellent selection of local and international cuisine. Why not treat yourself to a relaxing massage at the Ayurveda on site Spa? It is the perfect way to unwind after a long day of exploring in the fierce Indian heat.