Day 1: CHENNAI – MAHABALIPURAM - PONDICHERRY
Stop At: Monuments at Mahabalipuram, Mahabalipuram India
In the morning, you will be picked up from your residence in Chennai or Chennai airport and transferred to Pondicherry.
Visit Mamallapuram en route (Approx 1.5 hrs)
Mahabalipuram (also called Mamallapuram) was a 7th century port city of the South Indian dynasty of the Pallavas around 60 km south from the city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. It is believed to have been named after the Pallava king Mamalla. It has various historic monuments built largely between the 7th and the 9th century, and has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city has been a centre for stone carving for hundreds of years, a legacy displayed in superb temples, bas reliefs and mandapas (narratives carved into the face of shallow rock overhangs). The most famous example in Mahabalipuram is the Shore Temple, but the intriguing unfinished temples provide an insight into the sculptor’s art.
With the rhythmic sounds of stone carvers chipping away at granite, interesting streets lined with shops and cafes (serving delicious seafood) and an informal backpacker atmosphere, Mahabalipuram makes for an enjoyable weekend getaway from Chennai.
Duration: 5 hours
Stop At: Pondicherry Lighthouse, Dubrayapet, Pondicherry 605004 India
After lunch, drive to Pondicherry (Approx 2 hrs)
Established by the French East India Company in the 18th century, the town has retained a lot of the French culture, while imbibing a lot of the Tamil way of life. This has led to a burst of contemporary cultural creativity which rides comfortably with its enduring French architecture, wide boulevards (with French names) and its beautiful seafront promenade.
The French relinquished their control of the Union Territory of ‘Pondy’ (as the city is still universally known) some 50 years ago, but reminders of the colonial days remain; the tricoleur flutters over the grand French consulate, there’s a ecog de ville (town hall), and local police wear red kepis (caps) and belts. Don’t expect a sub-continental Paris though – this is still India, with all the auto rickshaws, choked streets, bazaars and Hindu temples of any city.
This is a town that invites you to slow down, explore its little tucked away lanes, eat and shop at its quaint cafes and boutiques, and tip your imaginary hat at a former retired French Foreign Legion soldier as you pass him by.
Check-in at Villa Shanti, your accommodation for the night.
Quirkily-yet-stylishly restored 100-year old French villa with 15 rooms and suites located in the French Quarter of Pondicherry. Minimal in design with Parisian influences and locally sourced interiors. Best restaurant and bar in town!
Later in evening at 1600 hrs set off on a private guided heritage walk of Pondicherry accompanied by a representative from the Pondicherry Chapter of INTACH (Indian National Trust for Architectural and Cultural Heritage), the award-winning non-profit ecognized n singularly responsible for the revival and renaissance of the city’s heritage skyline and urban landscapes. The walk takes approximately 2 hours and you can choose between a walk through the French Quarter or the Tamil Quarter.
The old Quarters of Pondicherry have a unique captivating charm. To experience this spirit of Pondicherry it is essential to walk through the old town and closely observe the nature of its architectural traditions. With a view of offering a sensitive revelation of the city INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) offers heritage walks of the French Quarter and the Tamil Quarter. There are very few monumental buildings in Pondicherry. Its architectural character is a result of hundreds of French and Tamil houses that create the ‘milieu’ or ‘ensemble’. This quality of the streetscapes is today threatened by the widespread destruction of traditional houses, especially in the Tamil part. If this heritage is to be protected, then it is important to preserve all these houses.
Pondicherry has two distinct parts, the French and the Tamil. The French quarter has structures in the European classical style, whereas the buildings in the Tamil quarter are in the vernacular style of Tamil Nadu. The two styles have influenced each other with the result that many buildings in both parts of the town are a harmonious blend of European and Tamil architectural patterns. It is this cross-influence of building patterns that gives the old town its distinct architectural vocabulary, which can be termed “Pondicherry-ness”.
Overnight in Pondicherry.
Duration: 5 minutes
No meals included on this day.
Accommodation included: Villa Shanti or Similar
Day 2: PONDICHERRY TO KUMBAKONAM
Stop At: Veppathur At Kumbakonam, Arpar, Tamil Nadu 613705, India
After breakfast, you will be transferred to Kumbakonam.
Visit the magnificent UNESCO-cited Chola era temple in the tiny village of Gangaikonda Cholapuram. The tongue-twisting name means. “The town of the Chola who conquered the Ganges”. After the visit of the temple, transfer to your village resort deep in the delta.
Your accommodation for the next two nights is at Mantra Veppathur.
We often think of the plains of Tamil Nadu as being dry and brown. Driving down the road to Kumbakonam, all your assumptions go out the window as you enter the lush green Cauvery Delta. Here, sandwiched between two sacred rivers - the Cauvery and the Veeracholan, is a little tree-covered island with a stunning luxury retreat that is a very well-kept secret!
The Mantra Koodam at Veppathur is a 24-cottage, vegetarian retreat replete with a stunning swimming pool, an ayurvedic spa, and a beautifully designed restaurant. The cottages are huge with large bathrooms that are open to sky. A lovely touch are the traditional stone faucets – carved stone channels, through which water gushes onto you, the way nature intended!
Within the rooms, the styling is a mix of Chettinad, colonial and Tamil kitsch. The floors are Athangudi tiles (cool on the feet) and the textiles have all been locally sourced. Beds are super-king sized and there is plenty of space to add two kids in!
Rest of the day at leisure.
Overnight in Veppathur.
Duration: 12 hours
Accommodation included: Mantra Koodam Veppathur or Similar
Day 3: DARASURAM AND SWAMIMALAI
Stop At: Darasuram Temple, Darasuram, Gurunathan Pillai Colony, Darasuram, Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu 612702, India
Today, you can visit the UNESCO-cited Airavateshwara Temple, in the village of Darasuram which ranks alongside those at Tanjore and Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
Also, visit Swamimalai, a small hamlet that is home to Tamil Nadu's famous bronze sculpting tradition, where you experience the process of creating magnificent bronze idols of Hindu gods.
Overnight in Veppathur.
Duration: 6 hours
Accommodation included: Mantra Veppathur or similar
Day 4: KUMBAKONAM -TANJORE – KARAIKUDI
Stop At: Brihadeeshwara Temple, Trichy High road, Thanjavur 613001 India
After an early breakfast, drive to Thanjavur (Approx 1.5 hrs) to visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed Brihadeeswara Temple.
The Brihadeeswara Temple was built over 1000-years ago by the Chola King, Rajaraja I and is considered one of the world’s major architectural feats. The main temple has a 62-m high tower that is covered by a dome carved from a single piece of granite, weighing in at 80-tonnes. The dome was rolled up a 6km mud ramp to place it at the apex. The clean, landscaped surroundings, and excellent lighting, make it a lovely place to visit in the evenings.
After lunch, depart to Karaikudi. (Approx 2 hrs)
Rural Southern India is not necessarily what the postcards make it out to be – paddy fields, simple thatched huts, coconut trees, and herds of goats grazing in green patches. Sprouting out of the semi-arid Chettinad province of South Tamilnadu, close to Madurai, is a group of villages that look like Newport, Massachusetts ran out of space. This is the home to the Chettiars, a community of Tamil traders, who migrated to Burma and Malaysia, and made their fortunes there. With their wealth, they built massive palatial homes (some with over 100 rooms!) using teak, stone, ceramic and plenty of kitsch. Visiting the palatial homes and mansions around Karaikudi with a local guide gives you insights into legacy of this vibrant and prosperous community.
While here, explore one of the local weekly markets called a santhai and shop for hand spun cotton fabrics, Palmyra leaf baskets, and locally-grown food produce that comes from village farms. Visit the loom at Mahalakshmi or local shops for the famous Chettinad sari – a striking combination of checks and stripes in bold colours, and stop at the tile manufacturing units at Athangudi and custom order your own handmade terracotta tiles. Browse for antiques and collectibles in Karaikudi at the Muneeswaran Koil Street. There are a number of antique shops selling items purchased from local homes and mansions – glassware, lacquerware, basketware, and furniture.
Your accommodation for the next 02 nights is at The Bangala.
As you arrive in Karaikudi, a city famous in Tamil Nadu and neighbouring Indian states for its antique shops, the first reaction seems to be: it's the middle of nowhere. And yet - life is full of surprises, and Bangala is yet another proof to that - a small, clean and very cosy boutique hotel. Although bangala, of course, means "bungalow" in Tamil, don't look for small thach-roofed cottages here. What you will find instead is a typical Indian house with colonial-style rooms and a small garden on the hotel grounds. Guests are immediately served a refreshing drink on arrival - a very tempting offer when it is over 30º C outside. The indulging never stops until the departure: you will be practically shadowed by the staff who will try to guess your every wish and make it come true with lightning speed. The hotel lobby is the ultimate place for a peaceful evening in, just pick something to read - it's mostly books on local history and culture, in English as well - and make yourself comfortable on one of the cosy lounges with all the pillows. There is a newly added swimming pool and a small massage centre. And yet the most charming moments at the Bangala are probably meal times: in keeping with the local tradition, food is served on banana leaves instead of plates, which makes the classic Chettinad cuisine even more tempting. The Bangala is a mere 10-minute walk from most of the city's antique shops.
Soak up the Chettiar lifestyle, cuisine, art and craft, and their beautiful mansions, tile-makers, weavers and antique shops.
Overnight in Karaikudi.
Duration: 5 days
Accommodation included: The Bangala or Similar
Day 5: IN KARAIKUDI
Stop At: Kanadukathan Bus Stand, Kanadukathan, Tamil Nadu 630103, India
After breakfast at your hotel, go on a private guided exploration of the famous mansions of Chettinad at Kothamangalam, Kanadukathan and Pallathur. Walk the narrrow streets of the Kanadukathan Heritage Zone and visit magnificent mansions and homes of the Chettiars. Many of these homes and mansions are uninhabited today, as their owners have migrated elsewhere. Visit the palatial homes and mansions around the main town of Karaikudi where you get insights into legacy of the vibrant and prosperous Chettinad community. If time permits, also visit the palace of the Raja of Chettinad and the special waiting room built for the Raja at the local railway station. With prior permission, visit the M.Rm.Rm. House in Kanadukathan itself – the owner has converted part of her house into a museum which documents and preserves the history, architecture, culture and traditions of the Chettiar community.
Rest of the day at leisure.
Overnight in Karaikudi.
Duration: 12 hours
Accommodation included: The Bangala or similar
Day 6: KARAIKUDI – MADURAI
Stop At: Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple, Venmani Rd, Sellur, Madurai 625002 India
After an early breakfast, you will be transferred to Madurai. (Approx 3 hrs)
One of the oldest cities in South Asia, Madurai has been chronicled as early as 300 BC. The city lies on the banks of the Vaigai River and has been an important centre of worship and commerce for as long as civilization existed in South India. The city is centered on the Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar Temple which was first consecrated in the 1st century AD, but was largely built to its current form in the 15th century AD. The massive gopuras (pagodas) of this vast temple complex, writhing with multi-coloured mythological figures and crowned by golden domes, remain the greatest man-made spectacle in South India.
The temple’s ritual life spills out onto its streets, and no traveller should pass up the chance to experience the sacred rituals within the temple, that have stayed unchanged since the ancient Egyptians traded here. Outside on the streets, visit the markets of Old Madurai around the main temple, which look like they have been around for centuries. Bring a camera, a sense of humour, and small change.
Your accommodation for the night is at Heritage Madurai.
The Heritage Madurai is the city’s first luxury resort and spa, located on a rare expansive patch of greenery in central Madurai. The hotel was conceived as a tribute to Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s beloved architect and the father of “tropical modernism”. And it could be no more fitting, as the hotel was built on the footprint of the Old Madurai Club which was renovated by the great architect himself in the 1960s.
Visit the Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar Temple, built to its current form in the 15th century AD. The massive gopuras (pagodas) of this vast temple complex, writhing with multi-coloured mythological figures and crowned by golden domes, remain the greatest man-made spectacle in South India.
Later in the evening join on a guided walk through the ancient city of Madurai, and chance upon her stories; of fickle kings and towering monuments; of whimsical Gods and extraordinary mortals; some set some millennia ago and some of a more recent vintage.
(Your driver will return to Chennai today. From tomorrow onwards a new driver and car will join you for the rest of the tour.)
Overnight in Madurai.
Duration: 12 hours
Accommodation included: Heritage Madurai or similar
Day 7: MADURAI – THEKKADY
Stop At: Periyar Tiger Reserve, Idukki and Pathanamthitta Districts, Thekkady 685536 India
After breakfast, drive to Thekkady (Approx 4 hrs)
Located in the Idukki district of Kerala, Thekkady makes a wonderful stopover. No matter whether you are here for adventure, fun, wild life or nature, Thekkady will never leave you unimpressed! Thekkady tourism offers something exceptional for every visitor here. There is a bevy of interesting outdoor leisure activities like bird watching, wild life safari and boating in the Periyar lake, which will give you a wonderful chance to spot herds of elephants and other large animals like bisons and deer in their natural habitat.
Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, which is one of the last homes of the Indian tigers, holds the repute of one of the best maintained wild life sanctuaries in the country. Spread over an area of 777 sq km, dotted with thick evergreen forest, the sanctuary was declared a Tiger Reserve in 1978. Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is also a treasure trove of some of the rare species of flora and fauna that are native of Kerala. The flora of the park includes over 1965 flowering plants, 171 grasses.
Check-in at Aanavilasam Luxury Plantation House your accommodation for the night.
Rest of the day is to explore the surroundings.
Overnight in Thekkady.
Duration: 12 hours
Accommodation included: Aanavilasam Luxury Plantation House or Similar
Day 8: THEKKADY – ALLEPPEY
Stop At: Alleppey Backwaters, Alappuzha India
After breakfast transfer to Alleppey and board your houseboat by Lakes and Lagoons your accommodation for a 1 night cruise on the Alleppey backwaters.
(Check-in time is at 1 PM)
A boat journey on the backwaters of Kerala can be one of the most memorable experiences in India. The area, sandwiched between the coast and the hills, known as Kuttanad stretches for 75 km from Cochin in the north to Kollam in the south. This bewildering labyrinth of shimmering waterways, composed of lakes, canals, and rivers is lined with tropical greenery and preserves rural Kerala lifestyles that are completely hidden from the road. Views constantly change – from narrow canals and dense vegetation to open waters and dazzling green paddy fields; from homes, farms, and simple dwellings on the river edge to churches and temples hidden among the trees. Everyday activity occurs along the river – bathing, washing of clothes, and fishing. Children swim in the waters, traditional canoes ply in the narrow canals, fishermen operate Chinese fishing nets from the shore, and the occasional kettuvallam (long boat) plies with cargo of mud, bricks, or coconut.
Lunch & Dinner on board.
Overnight on board the Houseboat.
Duration: 12 hours
Accommodation included: Lakes and Lagoons or Similar
Day 9: ALLEPPEY – COCHIN
Stop At: Mattancherry Palace, Palace Road, Kochi (Cochin) India
Breakfast on board.
Your house boat will drop you at the Alleppey jetty. Drive to Cochin. (Approx 1.5 hrs)
Check-in at Poovath Heritage your accommodation for the night.
Cochin, the commercial capital of Kerala, dates to 1405 and comprises two contrasting scenes - Fort Kochi, the colonial district and Ernakulam, the commercial district. In Fort Kochi, Lusitanian churches, Dutch mansions and stately Raj-era bungalows rise from a waterfront lined with red-tiled warehouses. The old quarter has a lot of atmosphere and has preserved an extraordinary wealth of early-colonial architecture, spanning the Portuguese, Dutch and British eras. The major sights comprise the Chinese fishing nets, the Church of St Francis, the Santa Cruz Basilica, Jew Town & its synagogue and the Mattancherry Palace. Beyond this, there are plenty of funky cafes and courtyard restaurants that offer inspiration for some postcard writing.
Explore the town with an English-speaking guide.
In the evening at 5 PM witness a Cultural dance performance.
Overnight in Cochin.
Duration: 12 hours
Accommodation included: Poovath Heritage or Similar
Day 10: AIRPORT TRANSFER
Stop At: Cochin International Airport, Airport Rd, Kochi, Kerala 683111, India
Breakfast at your hotel.
Checkout at 12 noon. You will be transferred to Cochin airport on time to board your departure flight.
End of services.
Duration: 6 hours
No accommodation included on this day.