Incredible India is more than a country – it’s a multicultural subcontinent with dozens of languages and religions. And nowhere is this diversity more evident than in the exotic south. Cross from Chennai on the Bay of Bengal to Kochi on the Arabian Sea, exploring elegant colonial cities, passing through tropical landscapes and discovering classical Tamil cities dominated by towering gopuram. Visit historic churches, ancient temples and romantic palaces. Stroll through scented spice plantations, cruise on the tranquil backwaters of Kerala and witness a dramatic Kathakali dance show and much more over 13 spellbinding days enjoying the splendour of the south.
Thanjavur: Put a rupee in the trunk of the Brihadeeswara Temple elephant and it’ll dispense good luck with its trunk
Madurai: Rise early and head to the colourful and fragrant flower market where the locals get their garlands
Kochi: Hire a bike and go for a cycle in Fort Kochi just before sunset – the place is abuzz and the colours are incredible
A wide range of optional excursions and pre and post-programme extensions are available on request. Please ask tour designer Anuj Negi for rates and conditions
Chennai: Visit Fort St George, enjoy a sightseeing tour along the promenade and visit Catholic Santhome Basilica and the Hindu Kapaleeshwar Temple
Puducherry: Savour the Gallic charms of this former French colony with a city tour and visit the famous Aurobindo ashram
Thanjavur: Admire the Brihadishwara temple and see the remnants of the royal palace
Tiruchirappalli: Enjoy stunning views over the River Karevi from the ancient temple atop a massive rock and explore the vast holy island of Srirangam
Madurai: Experience another world at the magnificent Meenakshi temple and the Tirumala Nayak Palace
Periyar: Come face to face with the wildlife in Periyar National Park and explore a spice garden in India’s pepper capital
Backwaters cruise: Sail from Kumakaron to Alleppey on a traditional houseboat and see an India few visitors ever experience
Kochi: Sightseeing tour with visits to the Mattancherry Dutch Palace, synagogue, St Francis’s Church, the Chinese fishing nets and more
Arrival at Chennai International Airport for meet and greet by a Le Passage to India representative followed by transfer to your hotel with the rest of the day at leisure.
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before exploring Chennai with a city tour taking in the top sights and attractions of the city formerly known as Madras. The story of Chennai (formerly known as Madras) is indelibly linked to the outside world, from the proselytising of St Thomas the Apostle in the first century to its more recent role as the car manufacturing ‘Detroit of India’. In between, there have been Portuguese, Dutch and especially British colonial influences. The first stop is at Fort St George, which was the toehold from which the British began in the 17th century their colonisation of the area. The walled fort is surrounded by verdant woodlands and thus retains a secluded and otherworldly air, detached from the hustle and bustle of the city. Today, its historic buildings house the secretariat of the regional government of Tamil Nadu and the local assembly as well as the fascinating Fort Museum. Drop into St Mary’s Church, which is the oldest Anglican shrine in India, and travel back in time to the halcyon days of the Raj at Fort Museum, which houses an intriguing collection of weapons, colonial uniforms and East India Company memorabilia. Continue the tour by the coast, driving southwards along Marina beach and by the elegant promenade en route to Mylapore, which was the historically ‘Indian section’ of the city and where Santhome Basilica is located. The basilica was built by the Portuguese on the site where the St Thomas was said to be buried and is the holiest shrine of the city’s more than 300,000 Catholics. The final visit of the tour is to the nearby Kapaleeshwarar Temple whose elaborate and colourful 37-metre-high gopura stands in stark contrast to the austerity of the whitewashed Christian churches. Return to the hotel with the rest of the day free at leisure.
Take to the road after breakfast at the hotel, driving southwards to Puducherry, which for three centuries was the capital of French India and retains an enduring Gallic ambience. Check-in on arrival with time at leisure until meeting up in the afternoon for a sightseeing tour of Puducherry, which is still popularly known by its French colonial name of Pondicherry. The historic French quarter – the Ville Blanche – is full of neat tree-lined streets of elegant pastel-coloured colonial buildings. See the former governor’s palace – now called Raj Niwas – the European-style Bharathi Park and the famous Romain Rolland Library. The French also left behind a number of beautiful churches such as Notre Dame des Anges, which has an oil painting of Our Lady of the Assumption donated by Napoleon III, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, which is in the rare Spanish Herrerian style, and the neo-Gothic Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Visit the Sri Aurobindo ashram, which attracts followers from all over the world who come in search of yoga, meditation and peace of mind. Take to the road after breakfast at the hotel, driving southwards to Puducherry, which for three centuries was the capital of French India and retains an enduring Gallic ambience. Check-in on arrival with time at leisure until meeting up in the afternoon for a sightseeing tour of Puducherry, which is still popularly known by its French colonial name of Pondicherry. The historic French quarter – the Ville Blanche – is full of neat tree-lined streets of elegant pastel-coloured colonial buildings. See the former governor’s palace – now called Raj Niwas –the European-style Bharathi Park and the famous Romain Rolland Library. The French also left behind a number of beautiful churches such as Notre Dame des Anges, which has an oil painting of Our Lady of the Assumption donated by Napoleon III, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, which is in the rare Spanish Herrerian style, and the neo-Gothic Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Visit the Sri Aurobindo ashram, which attracts followers from all over the world who come in search of yoga, meditation and peace of mind.
Bid adieu to ‘Pondy’ after breakfast as we head inland to rural Tamil Nadu in the direction of Thanjavur, stopping at Chidambaram to visit the vast Thillai Natarajah temple. The town radiates from the temple, which is right in the heart of Chidambaram. The temple is famed for a colourful chariot festival it hosts every year and for its ornate architecture, with one of the four seven-storey gopuram encompassing all 108 pose sequences of the classical southern Indian Bharathanatyam dance. Continue the journey, crossing the River Kollidam before arriving at Thanjavur (formerly known as Tanjore) for check-in. Rest of the day at leisure.
Breakfast at the hotel is followed by a visit to Thanjavur’s famous 1,000-year-old Brihadeeswara Temple, which is considered one of the greatest examples of classical Tamil architecture. Behind its tall towers is a large courtyard in which the main temple stands guarded by a sacred bull carved out of a single stone. The temple was built by the Chola dynasty not just to honour the Lord Shiva but as an expression of power and wealth. The corridors around the sanctum have a number of sculptures as well as recently discovered Chola frescoes. A palace and the remains of a fort that surrounded the temple can still be seen. Visit also the Maratha Palace, whose huge corridors, spacious halls are beautifully decorated with frescoes and intricate carvings. The palace also features an underground tunnel, a tower and a temple. Depart Thanjavur for Tiruchirappalli (formerly Trichy) about an hour’s drive to the west, with lunch in a local restaurant on arrival. In the afternoon, a city tour explores the main sights and attractions of this former Chola capital. Visit the Rockfort, which rises more than 80m metres above the city and dominates the landscape. At its summit is a rock-cut temple dedicated to the Lord Ganesha, with the steep climb of 434 steps a sign of devotion. The views from the top of the city, the River Kaveri and the gopuram of Srirangam island are spectacular. The island is the next stop, with a visit to the vast Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple whose 21 towers rise could be seen from the Rockfort rising above the vegetation. The main gopura is 13 storeys high and at more than 70 metres is the second-tallest temple tower in Asia. The temple is virtually a city within a city – it is larger than the Vatican City – and you can wander freely through most of it before continuing to the journey to the 2,500-year-old city of Madurai. Check-in on arrival with the rest of the day free.
Savour breakfast at the hotel before touring Madurai, which is known as the ‘Athens of the east’ because of its importance to Tamil culture. Visit the walled Meenakshi Amman Temple, which is dedicated to the consort of the Lord Shiva. The temple boasts 14 gopuram of between 40 and 50 metres, and two golden vimanam among its attractions, which are located in four distinct areas. The focal points for devoted Hindus are the golden shrine over the sanctum of Meenakshi and the golden lotus tank, while to stroll along the many halls flanked by sculpted pillars is a spellbinding experience. (Non-Hindus are not allowed in the sanctum of temple.) Continue to the Tirumala Nayak Palace, which is 2km away, and admire this breathtaking example of Dravidian-Islamic architecture. What remains of the palace is but a quarter of its original size from its 17th century heyday but the grace and order of its stuccoed domes and broad arches have stood the test of time. (An early morning visit to the flower market is available and a bus is ready to take you there at no extra cost.) Afternoon is free at leisure. In the evening, return to the Meenakshi Amman Temple for the daily closing ceremony in which the idol of Lord Shiva is moved to the temple of the deity Parvati.
Take to the road after breakfast at the hotel with a scenic drive through the Kumbum valley to Periyar. This beautiful hill station in the Western Ghats is 1,000 metres above sea level and is famed throughout India for the quality of its spices. Break for lunch (not included) on arrival with a visit in the afternoon to a spice garden to breathe in the fragrances of plants such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, pepper and vanilla as well as tea and coffee. Periyar is synonymous with pepper as 95% of India’s production comes from the district. Return to the hotel with the rest of the day free at leisure.
Explore Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary after breakfast at the hotel, with a walk guided by a naturalist. The reserve’s range of flora and fauna is breathtaking, and includes more than 100 orchid species and trees such as mangoes and banyans as well as wildlife like elephants and Bengal tigers. The River Periyar, which is known as ‘Lifeline of Kerala’, originates in the park’s dense forests. Stroll around Lake Periyar, where, with a bit of luck, you can observe herds of wild elephants and bison drinking. The lake also attracts many species of local and migratory birds. In the afternoon, take to the road for Kumarakom, with check-in on arrival at the resort. Kumarakom is located on the eastern shore of Lake Vembanad, from where a network of canals, rivers and streams spreads out as part of the famous backwaters of Kerala.
Relax over breakfast in the resort and then enjoy a full day at leisure. Options include a stroll along the shoreline of Lake Vembanad, cycling and walking tours, ayurvedic massages and treatments, visits to local markets or simply floating in the infinity pool overlooking the lake. Another attraction in Kumarakom is the proliferation of picture-postcard pastel-coloured churches belonging to denominations of St Thomas Christians, which have thrived in Kerala since the times of St Thomas the Apostle. Nowadays, Christians make up about half of the district’s population and their places of worship offer a fascinating insight into these communities, which for centuries were isolated from their coreligionists and thus developed their own enduring culture and beliefs.
After breakfast at the hotel, head to the shore to board your own personal houseboat for a scenic and leisurely backwaters cruise. The houseboats are adaptations of kettuvallam boats, which were used for generations to transport rice and spices. Only natural materials are used and not a single nail should have to hold the boat together. The air-conditioned boats have been fitted with solar panels for electricity and bio-toilets to ensure that the delicate eco-system of the backwaters is left undisturbed. Sail through the intricate labyrinth of streams and canals crisscrossing paddy fields, marshlands and lagoons, and passing remote churches, temples and villages. The serene natural beauty and simple charm of the backwaters surprises at every turn. This is the Kerala countryside at its best. Allow yourself to drift away as the beautifully decorated houseboat glides through mangroves and under coconut groves while you feast on traditional Keralan dishes. The houseboat sails until 17:00 and anchors in the evening, allowing you to alight and enjoy a leisurely walk through paddy fields, remote villages and local markets to experience rural life. The air conditioning runs at night only when the boat is at anchor. Overnight on board the houseboat on a full board basis.
Dock in Alappuzha (also known by its colonial era name of Alleppey) in the morning and transfer to Kochi after breakfast. Check-in on arrival at the hotel with the afternoon at leisure. Kochi, which was formerly known as Cochin, is one of the most culturally diverse cities in India, with ancient Christian and Jewish communities as well as more traditional Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist ones. Its colonial past has also bequeathed a heritage that features Portuguese, Dutch and British cultures and architecture. In the evening, attend a Kathakali dance performance to enjoy a spectacular drama based on stories from ancient Sanskrit epics. The dancers’ elaborate make up and flamboyant masks are as fascinating as the choreography and plots.
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before departing for a guided tour of the city. Visit the Mattancherry Palace, which is popularly known as the Dutch Palace. Mattancherry is home to a priceless collection of Hindu murals painted using the ancient tempera technique and a portrait collection of rajas. Continue to the adjacent Paradesi Synagogue, which has served as the heartbeat of the city’s Jewish community since the 16th century. It is located at the end of a rustic laneway in the historic Jew Town district. The interior boasts a wealth of glass chandeliers imported from Belgium in the 19th century and blue willow-patterned floor tiles brought from China a century earlier. Next, visit two of the city’s most important Christian shrines. Christians account for one-third of the population. St Francis’s Church dates from the Portuguese period and the famous explorer Vasco da Gama was buried here. When they Dutch took over, they gave it the distinct Dutch gable it now has. Continue to Santa Cruz Basilica, whose cream-coloured neo-Gothic exterior contrasts with the frescoed arches and multicoloured floor tiles of the interior. While driving along the coast, at the harbour’s mouth, you can observe the rare and still-functioning Chinese fishing nets, which were introduced by the traders from China in the 14th century. The tour ends in the well-preserved Fort Kochi, where you can wander through the historic streets and alleys flanked with Dutch and Portuguese buildings such as David Hall, Thakur House and Bastion Bungalow. The afternoon is free at leisure.
Depart the hotel after breakfast and transfer to Kochi Airport. Breakfast included.