A magical tour through the spiritual riches and cultural melting pots of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Marvel at the magnificence of ancient Shiva temples built by Chola kings a thousand years ago. Admire the fusion of European and Asian architectural styles in Pondicherry and Kochi. Savour the scenery up in the misty hills and tea plantations around Munnar. Along the way, delight in the unique flavours of South Indian cuisine.
What is included in the tour
- Fully Escorted Tour with local English Speaking Guides throughout
- Scheduled Flights from the UK.
- All internal travel including air-conditioned/heated transportation.
- Accommodation, meals as specified and entry fees to all sights.
- All airport taxes and security charges.
What is NOT included in the tour
- Flight upgrades and airport transfers in the UK
- Items of a personal nature such as drinks, laundry, tips and gratuities, video camera fees at monuments
- The required Indian visa
- Anything not detailed on the itinerary.
An Indian visa is required for all British passport holders and MUST be obtained before your arrival in India. You can now apply for an e-Visa at a cost of $100 USD per person at https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html. The application must be completed between 4–120 days prior to your arrival in India. Your e-visa will be valid for 60 days from the date of your arrival. You should ensure that your passport is valid for 6 months beyond your departure date from India and have at least two blank pages.
- Explore three of the 'elemental' Pancha Bhuta Temples representing Water, Fire, and Space
- Discover colonial and ancient history behind the modern facade of Chennai, formerly Madras
- Visit the majestic Arunachaleswara Temple at Thiruvannamalai, the spiritual hub of South India
- Ponder the mythical red Mountain of Arunachala, where Sri Ramana Maharshi meditated for 23 years
- Take a tour around the boulevards of Pondicherry's French Quarter, then visit the famous spiritual communes of Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville
- Marvel at the magnificent Brihadeeswarar Temple at Tanjore, Chola King Rajaraja's extravagant creation a thousand years ago
- Witness the evening ceremony at Meenakshi Temple, the crowning glory of Madurai
- Enjoy a trip to a tea plantation up in the lush hill country around Munnar
Day 1: UK to Chennai Depart London on your scheduled overnight flight to Chennai via Mumbai.
Day 2: Chennai On arrival, you will be met by a local guide and transferred to your hotel. (Dinner)
Day 3: Chennai British presence in India was established in Chennai, formerly Madras, by the East India Company in 1639. Today India's fourth largest city is a technology boomtown but there is some interesting history behind the modern facade. This morning's tour starts with a visit to Fort St. George, completed in 1653 as a bastion of British power. Its museum gives a fascinating insight into early colonial life, and nearby St Mary's is the oldest Anglican church in India. The drive along the elegant promenade by the world famous Marina Beach takes you to Mylapore, the old heart of Chennai. Look inside the San Thome Basilica, resting place of "Doubting Thomas", the Apostle who ended his days preaching on the nearby beach. (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
Day 4: Chennai to Thiruvannamalai, via Mahabalipuram Today's transfer takes in a visit to the monolithic shrines and rock-cut temples of Mahabalipuram, once a thriving port city under the Pallava dynasty between the 4th and 9th centuries AD. Highlights of this UNESCO World Heritage Site includes the Shore Temple, built to honour Lord Shiva c700 AD; the cluster of temples known as the Five Rathas; and the incredible 'Arjuna's Presence' bas-relief carving. From here continue to Thiruvannamalai and a relaxing dinner at your hotel. (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
Day 5: Thiruvannamalai to Pondicherry Thiruvannamalai is the spiritual hub of South India, and top of this morning's agenda is a trip to the majestic Arunachaleswara Temple. This is a sacred place for Hindus where Lord Shiva is worshipped as Agni Linga ('the form of fire'). The temple complex, which covers 10 hectares, lies at the foot of the mystical red mountain of Arunachala, today's next port of call, which for many is as sacred as the temple itself. A short walk away from the main temple, on the way to Arunachala, we'll pass the sanctum sanctorum which houses the ancient Agni Linga itself - a place where the linga has remained unmoved for millennia. Whilst exploring the Arunachala mountain, see the Virupaksha cave on this extinct volcano - reputed to be one of the world's oldest mountains - where Sri Ramana Maharshi meditated for 23 years from 1899 to 1922. Continue on to Pondicherry, your base for the next three nights. (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
Day 6: Pondicherry After breakfast, take a rickshaw ride around the serene boulevards of Pondicherry's French Quarter and savour the Gallic colonial style of architecture, especially the 200-year old Raj Niwas, the former Governor's residence. This laid-back seaside town was under French rule until 1954 and the legacy is brilliantly illustrated in the Pondicherry Museum, even down to Governor Dupleix's bed! Don't miss Pondy's most attractive church, the Notre Dame des Anges, where you'll see a rare painting of Our Lady of the Assumption - a gift from Napoleon III. Then discover your inner yogi with a visit to Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the famous spiritual commune whose followers practice a form of yoga that involves practical community work more than meditative retreat. See how the New-Age philosophy was extended in the 1960s at nearby Auroville (the 'City of Dawn'). It's as futuristic in appearance as it is idealistic in principle, with around 1,500 residents from 35 countries involved in an enlightened experiment in alternative living. (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
Day 7: Pondicherry Enjoy the full day at your leisure. (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
Day 8: Ponicherry to Tanjore Set off for Tanjore, stopping en route at Chidambaram to visit the magnificent Nataraja Temple, one of Tamil Nadu's five Pancha Bhuta temples - this being aligned with the element of 'space'. Notice the heavy emphasis on dancing, with carvings of the 108 sacred positions of the classical Indian dance form Bharatanatyam. The temple is a dedication to Shiva as the Natajara - Lord of the Dance - and a representation of the exuberance of creation. The five-temple structure was built in the Chola times and boasts a golden roof and four massive gopuram towers, the whole complex covering around 35 acres. It is believed to have been consecrated by Patanjali, the 'Father of Modern Yoga', more than 2,000 years ago. The beauty and intricacy of the various carvings, murals, shrines, and images are awe-inspiring. Continue your journey to Tanjore to enjoy a relaxing evening with dinner at your hotel. (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
Day 9: Tanjore This morning takes in a visit to the incredible Brihadeeswarar Temple, a World Heritage Site built at vast expense by the Chola King Rajaraja a thousand years ago. As you look at the colossal 230 ft tower over the inner sanctum you can only wonder at the engineering skill and architectural vision, whilst the beautiful fresco murals on the inner walls rank alongside those in the Ajanta caves. Before lunch, there's still time to see the nearby Royal Palace, built as the home of the Nayak rulers and later the Marathas in the 16th century. Admire the huge corridors and spacious halls, and take in the fabulous view from the Arsenal Tower. Part of the palace has been turned into an impressive art gallery with much to admire, mostly from the Chola period. The afternoon is yours to spend at your leisure, with the option of a bullock cart ride to the nearby village and, in the evening, a mouth-watering cooking demonstration of vibrant South Indian cuisine. (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
Day 10: Tanjore to Madurai After breakfast, transfer to Madurai, one of the oldest cities in the world. After lunch make a fascinating excursion to the nearby "Potters Village" of Vilacheri, where everyone is engaged in the craft of turning wet clay and papier-mache into dolls, idols and other figures. Hear the locals talk about this strange tradition while you watch them mould, bake and paint their creations. Have a go and create a piece of your own if you fancy trying your hand at the art! In the evening pay a visit to the Meenakshi Temple, the crowning glory of Madurai and on' of India's finest temples. Watch the nightly closing ceremony where an icon of Lord Shiva is carried to the Goddess Parvati's chamber for the night to celebrate their celestial union. (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
Day 11: Madurai to Munnar After breakfast drive to the hilltop hotel near Munnar, South India's largest tea growing region, and enjoy the rest of the day at your leisure. (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
Day 12: Munnar Today you'll discover the lush beauty of this region, with tea-covered, mist-shrouded slopes, refreshingly cool climate and spectacular mountain scenery. Gaze upon the mirror-like waters of the lake created by the Mattupetty Dam. Listen to your own echo bouncing around the surrounding hills at Echo Point. Learn about the origins of your morning cuppa at one of the tea plantations owned by the mighty Tata corporation. And on your way back, take a photo of the amazing Honey Bee Tree, a huge tree that is home to 25 honey bee hives, and ask yourself, why did they choose this tree alone to build their nests? Return to the hotel for a well-earned rest and reviving dinner. (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
Day 13: Munnar to Kochi In the morning, drive to Kochi (formerly Cochin), then enjoy an afternoon walking tour through the old streets of Fort Kochi. In 1341 it became one of the finest harbours in the world by accident, thanks to a massive flood, making it the first port of call for Arabs, then Chinese and finally Europeans. In just a few hours the walk gives an insight into hundreds of years of history that have created a unique melting pot where fourteen languages are spoken and myriad cultures combine. Watch fishermen hoisting their catch from the cantilevered Chinese fishing nets that line the shore. Then stop by St. Francis Church, India's oldest European church. Other highlights among many include the Santa Cruz Basilica, Mattancherry (Dutch) Palace and the unmissable Paradesi (Jewish) Synagogue. Return to the hotel to freshen up before a farewell dinner capped by a mesmerising Kathakali dance performance. (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)
Day 14: Kochi to the UK After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight back to the UK or continue onto your chosen extension. (Breakfast)