Start in Kochi (Cochin) and end in Colombo! With the discovery tour Kerala Backwaters + Highlights of Sri Lanka, you have a 16 day tour package taking you through Kochi (Cochin), India and 9 other destinations in Asia. Kerala Backwaters + Highlights of Sri Lanka includes accommodation in a hotel as well as an expert guide, meals, transport and more.
Kochi (Cochin) has been a gathering place of merchants since antiquity and is still full of bustling traders. The Fort Kochi area is the oldest European settlement in India (dating from 1500) and has a mixture of English, Dutch and Portuguese influences, much of which survives in the remaining architecture. Built on several islands and criss-crossed with waterways, the city has a very cosmopolitan feel today and attracts artists and artisans from around the region. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 5.00 pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Kochi at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, youll need to arrive into Cochin International Airport (COK), which is 40km/1.5 hours from the airport. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
Kochi has been a gathering place of merchants since antiquity and is full of bustling traders. The Fort Kochi area is the oldest European settlement in India (1500) and has a mixture of English, Dutch and Portuguese influence including the Mattancherry Palace which was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Extensive renovations by the Dutch some hundred years later earned it the name the Dutch Palace. It houses some of the best murals in India, depicting scenes from the Ramayana and other great legends. On our tour around the city by boat and on foot, we also visit the Jew town synagogue where Kochis surviving Jewish community come to worship. Nearby are the famous cantilevered Chinese Fishing nets, and in the early evening we see a performance of Kathakali, which is thought by some to be the very essence of the culture of Kerala. Its origins may have come from traditional temple rituals and from an art form known as Koodiyattam. It is the face make up which makes this dancing so unique and the dancers can take up to three hours painting their faces - the features are heavily emphasised as it is the facial expressions and co-ordinated eye movements which are important in the dance. The dances usually portray events from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, great Indian epics.
In and around MunnarThis morning we have a drive to Munnar of around 5 hours through an area of spice and tea plantations. Kerala has been renowned for its spices for at least 2000 years, the coast had been known by the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs and Chinese for its sandalwood and spices. There was also a flourishing trade in black gold - pepper - which, along with the spices, was sent to Europe by the Jewish and Arab traders. In return, copper, brass and gold coins came to Kerala. It was this trading link which brought Christianity and Islam into Kerala - the first place in India to host these two faiths. Munnar is a pleasant place to spend time, with its green tropical forests, fresh mountain air and neat tea plantations. It is hardly surprising it has become a favourite for Indian honeymooners. The afternoon is free to explore this beautiful town.
In and around ThekkadyOur day starts with a fascinating visit to a tea museum where we can learn how it is processed. It is the women who usually pick the tea because of their nimble fingers, their brightly coloured clothes contrast sharply with the greenery of the plantations. Leaving the tea museum, we drive for around 4 hours to Thekkady where well take a nature walk through delightful countryside and visit a spice garden, learning about how the spices are grown and processed.
Our route this morning takes us past rubber plantations and varied spice gardens to Periyar wildlife sanctuary, close to the border with Tamil Nadu. One of 16 tiger reserves in India, Periyar is it is perhaps better known for its elephants. There are about 40 tigers living in the 777 sq km park but, as they are solitary creatures, the chances of seeing them are very slim. We go for a walk in search of other wildlife such as the wild boar, giant malabar, porcupine and the flying squirrel. The Park itself is made up of a variety of habitats, open grasslands, deciduous, semi-evergreen and tropical forests all of which have different animal species. The ecosystem of the tropical evergreen jungle is very interesting as the trees grow up to 40m, and the dense canopy only allows in limited sunlight. Therefore at ground level, there are abundant ferns, orchid and airplants- plants which need little light to survive. Leaving the park we head back towards the coast and our homestay for the next two nights. We stay with local families within a village, and your tour leader will brief you on local customs and traditions. It is a great opportunity to spend time learning about the real life of Keralans as well as an opportunity to sample some delicious home cooking - perhaps a spicy coconut curry. The rooms are in the same style as a traditional Keralan home with mattresses made locally using coir fibres, a material taken from coconut husks which allows air to flow naturally - ideal in this humid region. All rooms are twin share and the majority of them have their own attached bathrooms, although there are some rooms with a private bathroom located in a corridor next to the room. Bathrooms are basic with a toilet and a simple shower, and hot water can be limited at times. All bedding and towels are provided.
We spend today exploring the village and getting to know our host families. There will be a chance to take a cooking lesson, take gentle walks through the surrounding villages or just kick back and relax for the day.
This morning we board our houseboats and begin our journey into the network of the Kerala backwaters. The traditional houseboats are simple vessels, with en-suite twin rooms. The pace is relaxed - enabling us to see riverside village life in its entirety. The industrious villagers survive on narrow spits of land, keeping cows, chickens and cultivating vegetable gardens. Even the shells from the fresh water mussels are burnt to make building lime, and the fibre from the coconut palm has many uses including coir products made from coconut fibre. The gardens are generally well tended often with brightly coloured flowers, such as hibiscus, contrasting sharply with the tropical greenery.
After a relaxed breakfast we disembark from our houseboats and return to Kochi where the rest of the day is left free for personal exploration.
Flying to Sri Lanka, we head for the coastal town of Negombo, famous for its fishing industry and golden sands. Our hotel is just a 15 minute drive north of the airport. From its beach location, we are likely to see fishing boats bring in the days catch. We may also be treated to a stunning sunset over the ocean.
In and around MuthurajawelaThis morning well visit the nearby Muthurajawela Wetlands and explore by boat. Inhabitants include over 70 species of birds, crocodiles, monkeys and even some very rarely seen otters. In the afternoon well meet up with the rest of the group for the Sri Lankan section of our adventure.
Leaving Negombo we travel north following the coastal road via the small towns of Chilaw and Putalam before reaching the entrance to Wilpattu National Park. Here we will leave our bus and change to jeeps for an afternoon safari through the park hoping to spot Sri Lankas most elusive resident, the leopard. Despite Wilpattu National Parks location in Sri Lankas dry zone, it boasts nearly 60 lakes and is renowned for leopard, elephant and sambar deer spottings. We choose to visit this park, rather than Yala National Park further south because we believe it offers our customers a better experience. The same animals can be seen here as in Yala and despite being busy in places it is overall less crowded, making our visit more enjoyable and responsible. It is also worth noting that wildlife is unpredictable and therefore sightings cannot be guaranteed. Leaving the park, we drive to nearby Anuradhapura, where we will spend the night.
We start this morning with a visit to the mountain peak of Mihintale. It is believed that this was the site of a momentous meeting between the monk Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa, introducing Buddhism to the country. Exploring Mihintale involves climbing a flight of 1,840 shallow stone steps leading to the summit of the Missaka Mountain. There are excellent views from the top looking back to Anuradhapura. After the exertions we swap our bus for a bullock cart and make our way slowly through a small village on the outskirts of Habarana. Reaching the lake we change seats again and use dugout canoe style boats - adapted with seats for a more comfortable ride! - to cross the short distance across the lake to Hiriwaduna Village where we are met by the villagers and treated to a traditional Sri Lankan lunch. Here we will enjoy various different curries and fluffy rice and after our meal and spending time in the village we make our way to Sigiriya, stopping on the way to visit Dambulla, where a great series of caves have been turned into temples dating from the 1st century BC. This World Heritage Site still attracts scores of worshippers. We will visit five separate caves, which contain a large number of Buddha images and sculptures of Hindu Gods.
In and around KandyAn early start this morning as we plan to climb Sigiriya Rock ahead of the crowds and whilst it is cool. The ruins of this 5th century Sky Fortress are one of Sri Lankas major attractions, a stupendous sight to behold and a feat of consummate engineering skill. Built in just seven years as a fortified palace to protect the reign of merciless King Kassapa, who had assassinated his father and deposed his brother, it is seen as one of the worlds best preserved examples of ancient urban planning. Unfortunately for the king, despite its impregnable reputation, he was defeated here by his brother after a reign of just 18 years. A switchback series of steps and steel stairways ascend to the top. Halfway up, tucked beneath a sheltering overhang of rock, are the famous frescoes - the Sigiriya Damsels, their colours still glowing. Before our final ascent to the summit, we pass between a set of enormous lion paws carved out of the rock - all that remain of an ancient gateway that gave Sigiriya, the Lion Rock, its name. Once at the 200 meter summit, magnificent views can be enjoyed of the surrounding jungle and countryside. This afternoon, a two-hour drive takes us to Kandy. On arrival the time is free to explore this historic town. Perhaps visit the Temple of the Tooth, situated on the shore of the lake or take a short tuk tuk ride out to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens which alongside beautiful displays of Sri Lankas finest flowers is home to thousands of flying foxes.
In and around UnawatunaLeaving Kandy behind we stop at a tea factory to learn about the processes involved in Sri Lankas largest export. Originally a tea bush was brought from China in 1842 to be planted at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, it was 25 years later that James Taylor established Sri Lankas first tea plantation, the Loolecondera Estate in Kandy. These days more than one million people in Sri Lanka are employed by the tea industry. The tea factory we visit is a small and intimate one and therefore does not include seeing the process of picking the tea leaves but we do see the process of drying and grinding the leaves and we sample some of the blends before leaving tea country. Making our way back to the coast our destination is Unawatuna on the south west coast. The shallow waters and long, pristine beaches make it perfect for a spot of relaxing.
In and around GalleToday is left free to do as little or as much as you wish. A short tuk tuk ride can take you to visit the neighbouring pretty coastal town of Galle. An important trading centre since ancient times, the fortifications that can be seen today were built by the Portuguese and then the Dutch from the 16th to the 17th centuries. The fort ramparts of this World Heritage Site protect the harbour and a myriad of fascinating old houses, churches and warehouses. Today, the town has a strong arts vibe, with foreign and local artists, writers, photographers, designers and poets drawing inspiration from their surrounds. Boutique shops and cafes around the town showcase their work. There is plenty to explore in the town and enjoyment can be gained simply by wandering around its streets, soaking up its unique atmosphere. For those seeking pure relaxation, local Ayurvedic massages with natural, aromatic herbal oils are highly recommended. Alternatively, between the months of December and April, you might prefer to go on a whale watching trip in the hope of spotting humpback and blue whales.
In and around ColomboDeparting Unawatuna this morning we drive to Colombo Airport (CMB), where we will arrive at about 10am and this is where our trip ends. The earliest your flight can depart is 12.45pm.