Start in Chennai (Madras) and end in Goa! With the discovery tour South India Explorer, you have a 17 day tour package taking you through Chennai (Madras), India and 9 other destinations in India. South India Explorer includes accommodation in a hotel as well as an expert guide, meals, transport and more.
Our trip begins at Chennai International Airport (MAA). There are two joining times, one at 9.30am and a second one at 3.00pm. The latest your flight can arrive is therefore is 08.45am or 2.15pm. Each group travels together by bus to Mamallapuram, set 2 hours along the coast from Chennai on the shores of the Bay of Bengal.Start point Chennai Airport, Arrivals Hall Domestic Terminal, GST Rd, Meenambakkam, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600027, India 19:00
In and around MamallapuramMamallapuram was the chief harbour of the Pallavas Kingdom some 1200 years ago and a number of superb examples of its masterful carvings still exist in the so-called pagodas (actually rathas). This morning theres the option to take a tour with your tour leader to view some of the areas most celebrated structures, including the 7th century Shore Temple - a UNESCO World Heritage site - and Ajunas Penance, the worlds largest bas-relief and one of the most impressive friezes in India. Although both have suffered at the hands of centuries of natural erosion, a remarkable amount of detail still remains amongst the carvings. We will also explore the fascinating reliefs of the Mandapa Cave temples and the Five Rathas, 7th century monolithic temples that were sculptured out of the very rock that surrounds them. The rest of the day is then free to enjoy some of the many attractions of the area, perhaps relaxing on the beach, or exploring by foot or bicycle.
Another day in Mamallapuram offers the opportunity for some more personal exploration, with the chance to visit the either the nearby sights of Pondicherry or perhaps the Hope Foundation School at Pudipattinam. Pondicherry offers a charming mix of French colonial and Tamil heritage, whilst the school at Pudipattinam has been supported by Explore since the 2004 tsunami and is an inspiration to all who visit. Following dinner this evening we transfer to the railway station to catch the overnight train to Madurai and the cultural heartland of the Tamil and Dravidian cultures.
Arriving very early this morning, the rest of the day is free for sightseeing. Some of the options available include the stunning Tirumalai Nayaka Palace and the 16th century Meenakshi Temple, whose imposing gopurams (monumental gates) and dominating towers rise above the chaotic exuberance of the seemingly endless throngs of pilgrims. Another possibility is a visit to the exquisite Hindu Temple of Brahadeswara, a World Heritage site that encompasses some 400 years of the Chola Empire and includes within its main shrine the largest Lingham (the sacred Shiva fertility symbol) in India today. You may of course just wish to wander Madurais vibrant streets, soaking up the colour and noise of its many bazaars and perhaps searching for a bargain or two amongst its myriad of craft and carpet shops.
Quilon lies in Indias beautiful southwest, amongst the lush landscapes and hidden channels of Kerala and this morning a private bus takes us across the Cardamom Hills, towards the glittering waters of the Arabian Sea. The journey will take us a good part of the day, covering some 260 kms and crossing the cool foothills of the Western Ghats, through an ever-changing landscape of plantations and verdant greenery. Quilon itself lies along the shores of Ashtamudi Lake and has long been a major trading centre in this region. Indeed, this was one of the earliest centres of Christian activity in the region and provides us with our gateway into the remarkable natural beauty of Indias Arabian coast.
This morning we will cruise through the Backwaters by public motor boat from Quilon to Allepey, a journey time of some 8 hours and the perfect way to observe the colourful comings and goings on the waterways. Boats are the villagers lifeline, acting as taxis, mail delivery, school buses and even cargo vessels. You may see great pyramids of coconuts or even the odd buffalo being carried along in this time honoured fashion! Along the narrow channels the industrious villagers survive on narrow spits of land, keeping cows, pigs, chickens and cultivating vegetable gardens. Even the shells from the fresh water mussels are burnt to make building lime, and coir is used for just about everything. This evening we stay in a traditional homestay, a fantastic opportunity to learn more about life in the Backwaters. In the late afternoon our hosts can organize a trip by traditional canoe.
Continuing north today, we head for the bustling port of Kochi (Cochin) by private bus. With a beautiful natural harbour that earned it the title of Queen of the Arabian Sea, Kochi, as you might expect, was founded on trade, originally with the arrival of Jewish and Arab spice traders in the first century AD. Its prosperity and importance increased even more with the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, to be closely followed by the Dutch and the English, an eclectic heritage that helped produce a fascinating mix of styles and influences. This afternoon we will enjoy a short orientation tour around Fort Kochi on foot. You can find the oldest church and the oldest synagogue in India amongst its winding streets. We will take in the architectural charm of the Church of St Francis, where Vasco do Gama was buried for a while, as well as the ports famous cantilevered Chinese fishing nets.
Today is left free to explore at your leisure. Fort Kochi is the oldest European settlement in India (1500), with a mix of English, Dutch and Portuguese architecture, making it a fascinating city to wander and discover either on foot or by auto-rickshaw . The Mattancherry Palace was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, but extensive renovations by the Dutch some hundred years later earned it the name The Dutch Palace and today it houses some of the best murals in India, depicting scenes from the Ramayana and other great legends. There is the option of taking a ferry across to nearby Ernakulam, or perhaps visiting the sumptuous grandeur of the Tripunithura Hill Palace, the impres-sive former residence of the Maharajas of Kochi. Kochi is also home to the famous Kathakali dance, thought by some to be the very essence of the culture of Kerala, por-traying as it does events from the great Indian epics of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. 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 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. This evening there may be an opportunity to view one of these remarkable performances for ourselves (optional).
In and around OotyA morning train to Coimbatore takes us back across the Western Ghats, towards the old hill stations of the British Raj. After the short train ride we switch to a bus and drive the remaining distance to Ooty.
Today we take a short circular journey on the Toy Train the only rack and pinion railway in Asia. Pulled by steam and crossing forested hills and girder bridges, the blue and cream carriages hark back to a golden age of engineering, when seemingly no hurdle could halt the ever-expanding British Empire. The railway itself can boast an interesting array of statistics, including a gradient of 1 in 12, no fewer than 208 curves and an impressive 13 tunnels. Given the terrain over which it has to negotiate it is also probably the slowest train in the country, averaging just 10.5km an hour. Whilst traditionally the Toy Train was pulled by steam engines these days they are mostly pulled by diesel engines. The rest of the afternoon is free to explore something of Ootys natural and colonial charms at your leisure.
In and around MysoreDeparting Ooty today we take a public bus north, to the city of Mysore, famed for its silk and sandalwood as well as its Dasara festivities. The so called City of Palaces, it was, until the middle years of the last century, the heart of the regal state of Mysore. Today it is renowned as the cultural capital of Karnataka. Depending upon our departure time from Ooty, there may be time later this afternoon for some exploration of the city before dinner.
In and around HospetToday theres a chance to visit some of the cities cultural highlights, including the sumptuous grandeur of the Maharajahs Palace. Originally built in the 14th century, the palace has undergone two subsequent re-buildings (the most recent being in 1912 when the palace was redesigned by the English architect Henry Irwin). Today it is an opulent mix of Hindu and British architecture, filled with stained glass, mirrored halls and a fascinating mix of the elegant and the gaudy. The Chamundi Hills that overlook the city are home to the towering Sri Chamundeswari Temple and the giant representation of Shivas sacred bull, Nandi, which was carved from a single piece of rock in the 17th century and is one of the largest in the country. Later today we depart the city and board the overnight train to Hospet, our gateway onto the fabulous World Heritage sites of Hampi.
Arriving in Hospet early this morning we continue on to Hampi by taxi. The flourishing capital of the Vijayanagar Kings between the 14th to 16th centuries, Hampi was once the powerbase of one of the largest Hindu empires in Indian history. The sudden destruction of the city, following the Battle of Taikota in 1565, saw it abandoned by its people, leaving behind a ruined city that, even today, still conjures up something of the spirit of its long departed occupants. This afternoon you can choose to explore something of the ruins, or just enjoy a stroll through the wonderful countryside that surrounds these ethereal structures.
At its peak, Hampi was reputedly the size of Rome, with nearly half a million people occupying its city streets. Today has been left free to explore its numerous temples and monuments, one of the most remarkable examples of South Indian Dravidian architecture anywhere in India. There are the stunning carvings that adorn the temples of Virupaksha and Vittala, the sculptured pillars of the Ramachandra Swami Shrine and the wonderful two-storied Lotus Pavilion, all providing rich testament to one of the most powerful Hindu dynasties that ever existed.
We catch another train this morning, crossing over the Western Ghats to Margaon in Goa, the one-time Portuguese colony on the Arabian Sea. Under Alfonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese landed here in the 16th century, capturing the original Arab trade settlement and building a city festooned with gardens and fountains, monasteries and churches, most of them sadly now gone. Goa became a rich source of trade, bringing east and west together to trade pearls and rubies, exotic spices and Chinese porcelain. This eclectic mix of cultural influences has had a marked effect on the region, with Catholicism still firmly entrenched and the Portuguese custom of afternoon siestas still widely practised in the heat of the afternoon. Food too plays a big part in Goas heritage, with pork vindaloo being a particularly popular dish and the locally brewed feni - a spine-tingling spirit made from coconut or cashews - providing a favoured tipple.
In and around PanjimA free day today, you may choose to tour a spice plantation or to explore Panaji, Goas easy going capital; a friendly,sleepy town of narrow winding streets and whitewashed shuttered houses. The Malabar beaches here are very long and very white against the turquoise waters of the Arabian Sea and close to the capital you can find the superb beaches of Gaspar Dias and Dona Paula. Please be aware though of the strong undercurrents that can make some of these offshore waters dangerous. It is also possible to explore the beautiful Goan countryside by bicycle.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Goa. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Goa at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, youll need to depart from Goas Dabolim Airport (GOI), which is around one and a half hours from the hotel.End point Welcome Heritage Panjim Inn, Hotel reception, E-212, Rua 31 de Janeiro, Fontainhas, Altinho, Panaji, Goa 403001, India 09:00