Start in Panjim and end in Mahabalipuram! With the in-depth cultural tour South Indian Odyssey, you have a 24 day tour package taking you through Panjim, India and 12 other destinations in India. South Indian Odyssey includes accommodation in a hotel as well as an expert guide, meals, transport and more.
In and around PanjimGoa is a small state with a strong Portuguese influence, thanks to the 400-odd years of occupation. Today, Goa is a tropical gem with stunning beaches, verdant rice paddies, rugged lush forested hills and spice plantations. There is a very strong Christian influence - played out most obviously in the historic sites of Old Goa, and in the sheer volume of churches dotted around the state. With its most infamous claim to fame being the incorruptible body of St Francis Xavier (on show once every 10 years), Goa is also famed for its hippy past and these Our tour begins at 12 midday for a short tour briefing before heading out to visit Old Goa, an atmospheric relic of a once great Indo-European city.? This evening we go out for dinner at one of the quaint Portuguese-Goan restaurants in Panjim.
This morning we will have a comprehensive Goan/Indian cooking class with lunch to introduce you to the finer points of Indian cusine in general and the wonderful vagaries of Goan specialities in particular. In the later afternoon, we have a walking tour to explore the winding streets of the old Portuguese quarters of Fontainhas and Althino. Fontainhas, said to take its name from the Fountain of Phoenix spring, which stands near the Maruti Temple, is the larger of the two districts, comprising pastel-shaded houses that head up Altinho hill. The land here was originally reclaimed in the late 18th century by a returning self-made Goan, known as ?the Mosmikar?, so-called for the riches he had amassed during a stay in Mozambique. ?The oldest, and by far the most atmospheric, Portuguese-flavoured districts of Panaji are squeezed between the hillside of Altinho and the banks of Ourem Creek, and make for attractive wandering with their narrow streets, overhanging balconies and quaint air of Mediterranean yesteryear. ?The huge Cathedral of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception is the centerpiece of Panjim town and we will pop in there for a visit as well. ??There are a multitude of excellent Goan restaurants and we will have dinner at one of them or at our hotels charming Verandah Restaurant.
An early train awaits us so we will take a packed breakfast from our hotel for the journey. We embark the train and leave Panjim, arriving into nearby Hospet from a journey up the western Ghats through beautiful jungle and past stunning gorges and waterfalls. Food is sold on the train so our lunch will be whatever takes your fancy from the lunch wallahs, We arrive mid afternoon and we have time to enjoy the relaxed ambience and marvelous sights of Hampi. Once buzzing with a population of nearly half a million, Vijayanagar was the capital of one of the largest Hindu empires in Indian history. After being sacked by Muslims in 1565, the city fast went into decline. Now a World Heritage site, there are 58 protected monuments around these fascinating ruins. The entire area encompassing 26 square kilometres is made all the more exotic with its boulder-strewn landscape softened by paddy fields and banana plantations, creating a quite magical atmosphere. Our hotel has a pool and a spa as well as a good bar and we relax before dinner which is at our hotel.
After breakfast at our hotel we head for the UNESCO World Heritage Vittala Temple Complex. The 16th-century Vittala Temple stands amid the boulders 2km from Hampi Bazaar. Work possibly started on the temple during the reign of Krishnadevaraya (r 1509?29). It was never finished or consecrated, yet the temple?s incredible sculptural work remains the pinnacle of Vijayanagar art. The ornate stone chariot that stands in the courtyard is the temple?s showpiece and represents Vishnu?s vehicle with an image of Garuda within. Its wheels were once capable of turning. We then take a walk along the river and go for a coracle boat ride towards Hampi town centre. We will have lunch at a restaurant in Hampi and afterwards we will explore the Royal Enclosure, where we visit ruins of various monuments including palaces, stepwells and bathing tanks. We return to our hotel at the end of the day where we can swim or have a massage before drinks and dinner.
We have breakfast at our hotel and then we drive the 45 minutes across the river to Anegundi, where we spend a half day exploring. Anegundi, ?(which means elephant pit in the local Kannada language), has been an important site ?from the time dating back to the epic Ramayana. The place is surrounded by hills on three sides and by river Tungabhadra on the remaining side. According to Indian mythology, Anegundi was once called Kishkindha, the kingdom of monkeys. Sugriva after defeating his evil brother Bali with the help of Lord Rama, established justice and order in the city and ruled there, from which time it was called The elephant pit, to recognise stability and control. We take a walk through the village, visit a workshop where local ladies are employed to create beautiful handicrafts from banana fibre, a bullock cart ride and will enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking verdant rice paddies before heading back to our hotel. ?This afternoon we can relax by the pool or grab a massage or pedicure. One or two rooms will be at the groups disposal until our departure to Hospet for an overnight train to Mysore. We will have dinner in Hospet town before we board the train.
In and around MysoreWe arrive mid-late morning into Mysore. ?Once the capital of the Wodeyar Dynasty, Mysore is known as the city of Palaces. ?We check in to our hotel and have brunch/ early lunch. ?This afternoon we take a walk through the streets of Mysore to the colourful Devaraja market and explore the wide boulevards and open streets with grand buildings in the centre of Mysore. Our walking tour around the city takes about 2 hours, depending on how much time we spend in the market ?In the afternoon we will visit Chaumundi Hill and the Chaumundeshwari Temple before walking part way down the hill to see the 3rd largest Nandi Bull statue in India. ?In the evening, as on every Sunday, the Grand Mysore Palace is lit up for half an hour with 97000 light bulbs. We are fortunate enough to witness these spectacular palace illuminations. ?The Grand Palace, fully illuminated is one of the most iconic sights in modern India! ?We will decide at the Palace whether to have dinner at our hotel or one of the many nearby restaurants.
After breakfast, we enjoy the splendour and majesty of the Mysore palace which we saw last night from the outside. It is the largest palace in India. ??Designed by the English Architect, Henry Irwin, the Mysore Palace dominates the skyline of Mysore. A three storied structure in the Indo-Saracenic style built between 1897-1912, the palace has beautifully designed square towers at cardinal points, covered with domes. The Durbar Hall with its ornate ceiling and sculpted pillars and the Kalyanamantapa (Marriage Pavilion) with its glazed tiled flooring and stained glass, domed ceiling are worth noting. Intricately carved doors, the golden howdah (elephant seat), paintings as well as the fabulous, jewel encrusted golden throne (displayed during Dasara) are amongst the palaces other treasures. The walled palace complex houses the Residential Museum (incorporating some of the Palaces living quarters), temples and shrines including the Shwetha Varahaswamy temple. ?This palace exudes a grandeur that is unmatched on the subcontinent. ?We will have lunch at our choice of restaurant near the Palace ??We then drive out to the small village of Somnathpur to see the remarkably well preserved 13th century Keshava Temple built by the Hoysala rulers.? Later we will partake in an ayurvedic cooking class to learn how different foodstuffs affect our body type.
In and around KannurAfter breakfast in our hotel we leave Mysore in our private air conditioned bus and head down through the Western Ghats to Kannur. ?Stopping off enroute in the Coorg region, India?s coffee-growing district, we take a plantation tour, and grab a bite of lunch before we head on to Kannur. We stay in a simple guesthouse close to the beach about 10km south of Kannur. Situated on the north Keralan Coast (the Malabar Coast), Kannur is home to some of the most beautiful, tranquil and near-deserted beaches in India.
Kannur is famous for Theyyam, a ritual of North Kerala which is a rare combination of dance and music and reflects important features of tribal culture. Most nights of the winter season, somewhere around Kannur there is a Theyyam program and hopefully we will get the opportunity to witness this fascinating show. Kannur (previously known as Cannanore) has a history that dates back over a millennium. The ruins of the Portuguese/British Fort of St Angelo makes a wonderful excursion, as does the vibrant fishing village nearby, and the stunning beaches at our doorstep are definitely worth an afternoon dip.
This morning we take a 7-hour train ride to Ernakulam, where a driver will be waiting to take us in to Fort Cochin in an air conditioned bus. On the way we will visit Jew town to check out the Synagogue - one of the oldest in Asia and the Dutch Palace as they are closed on Fridays and Saturdays. Our hotel is in the middle of the Fort very close to the famous St Francis Church. After checking in and freshening up, we will head out for a drink and dinner at one of the many excellent restaurants nearby.
The oldest European settlement in India, known as the Queen of the Arabian sea, Cochin?s charms are manifold. ??Cochin was a fishing village in the Kingdom of Cochin in the pre-colonial Kerala. ?The Chinese visited in the 14th Century and left the fishing nets at the port, which are still in use today. The name Co ?chin means like China ?The territory that would be later known as Fort Cochin was granted to the Portuguese in 1503 by the Rajah of Cochin after they helped him fight a war against a rival. The Rajah also gave them permission to build Fort Emmanuel near the waterfront to protect their commercial interests. The first part of the name Fort Cochin comes from this fort, which the Dutch later destroyed. The Portuguese built their settlement behind the fort, including a wooden church, which was rebuilt in 1516 as a permanent structure, today known as the St Francis Church. Fort Cochin remained in Portuguese possession for 160 years. In 1683 the Dutch captured the territory from the Portuguese, and held Fort Cochin in their possession for 112 years until 1795, when the British took control by defeating the Dutch. Foreign control of Fort Kochi ended in 1947 with the Indian independence. ?From the Chinese fishing nets and heritage buildings of Fort Cochin to the markets of Mattancherry and Jew Town and the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Ernakulam, buzzing with hotels, shops and restaurants, Cochin is a fascinating combination of laid back, charming, historic and bustlingly modern. ??After breakfast we wander the streets and lanes of Fort Cochin, get to see how the Chinese Fishing nets work, and visit St Francis church. We may take a short ride on a local ferry around over to Vypeen Island for a different view of the fishing nets. ?We will have lunch at our choice of restaurant. Or sometimes we buy fresh seafood at the market and have it prepared right there next to the beach by one of the guys. It is a fabulous way to enjoy the super fresh seafood.
We have a free morning before heading to a local friends home where we will have a Keralan cuisine cooking class, followed by lunch where we get to feast on the fruit of our labours. ? The rest of the day is at leisure before meeting up before dinner to catch a world famous Kathakali dance-drama program including the extraordinarily makeup application beforehand. ?Dinner will be at a favourite waterfront restaurant.
In and around AlleppeyAfter breakfast we check out and drive 2 hours south in our air conditioned mini-bus to Alleppey, the gateway to the backwaters. ?The Keralan backwaters are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast. The network includes five large lakes linked by canals, both manmade and natural, fed by 38 rivers, and extending virtually half the length of Kerala. There are over 900 km of interconnected waterways, rivers, lakes and inlets that make up the Keralan backwaters. ??After the ?short journey to Alleppey ?we board our houseboat. Made in the traditional ricebarge or Kettuvallam style, and luxuriously fitted out, each boat typically has a few bedrooms, a dining room, open lounge and deck. ?A captain and cook are on hand to look after our every need. ?We spend the day drifting along coconut lined canals, past small villages that laze on the myriad islands along the backwaters. We see green rice paddies spreading away into the distance and coconut groves with the occasional temple or church. We pass Chinese fishing nets, children waving from the banks, locals making coir, or toddy tapping. Life is carried on here at a pace that reminds us nothing much has changed here in centuries.
This morning after breakfast, our houseboat drops us in the heart of this picturesque region at the door of our next stop where our hosts welcome us to their simple yet stunningly located home. Situated on a car-free island, the only way to get around is by foot, cycle or boat. We have the opportunity to do all three during our stay here as we are shown around the island, meet some of the locals and find out how life is lived here in the backwaters. The homestay with Thomas and family is extremely relaxing and he will take us on walks and canoe rides through the backwaters. The homemade food here is divine.
We have a completely free day to relax and get to know our homestay hosts a little better. Theres plenty to do if youre keen to get out and about. Take a canoe for a paddle through the rivers and canals. Jump on a bicycle and ride around the island. Visit various churches and temples - either by private boat or you can try your hand at catching the local ferries. The Keralan backwaters are an idyllic place to incorporate a little R&R into our tour, so perhaps youll be happy to laze around in a hammock all day reading!
In and around ThekkadyDeparting after a leisurely breakfast, today we have a spectacular morning drive through the Cardomom hills - lined with tea, cocoa, tapioca, bamboo, coconut, banana and spice plantations. We will reach Thekkady, gateway to Periyar Tiger Reserve in time for lunch. ??Periyar was declared a Project Tiger park in 1978, and the Periyar river was dammed to form a lake in the park. The park covers 777 sq km. There are currently around 1000 elephants and some 40 tigers in the park. ??This afternoon, we?ll have a walk through town, filled with interesting galleries, curio and handicraft stores as well as some interesting cafes and restaurants. Later we?ll head to a nearby spice plantation for a tour to find out where all those spices actually come from.
This morning we have an early wakeup call for a morning trek through the park on foot - a great way to get up close to the animals. Returning to the hotel in time for a late and well-earned breakfast, the rest of the day is free to relax, shop for spices or handicrafts in town or enjoy the pool in our resort. ?There are some excellent Ayurvedic massage spas in Thekkady, so don?t miss the opportunity to have an authentic Keralan Ayurvedic massage this afternoon. ?This evening we?ll enjoy dinner at our hotel in their romantic restaurant which overlooks part of the Periyar Reserve adjacent to the National Park.
We head east down the Western Ghats into Tamil Nadu. ?Our first stop is Madurai - famed for the awe-inspiring Sri Meenakshi Temple. Often referred to as the Athens of the east, and with a history dating back more than 2500 years, Madurai was an important cultural and commercial centre even as early as 550 AD. ??Today Madurai is a bustling, typically Tamil city where life revolves around the temple, but equally important are the sub industries of textiles, jasmine and Tamil culture. ?This afternoon we take the opportunity to visit the Gandhi Museum before time to relax by the pool at our resort. You may also wish to make a visit to the Sri Meenakshi Temple this evening after dinner to witness the remarkable ?Putting the Gods to bed? ceremony.
After breakfast, in the cool and quiet of the morning, we have a guided tour through the remarkable Sri Meenakshi temple in to explore the corridors, passageways, shrines and statues in this vast and ancient complex. ?After our tour we will have a guided walk through the the Thirumalai Nayakar Palace and local Madurai market where you have the opportunity to have tailoring done by some of Madurais famous tailors.
Once a colony of France, only becoming part of India in 1954, Pondicherry still bears much of the French influence, lending the town a charming colonial elegance. Pondicherry was also the home of Pi in the movie ?Life of Pi?. ?? We have a 7 hour long drive today via the temple town of Tiruchirappalli. On arrival we will check into our charming French-style guest house and head out for drinks and dinner at one of Pondis fabulous restaurants.
We spend the morning on a heritage walking tour wandering the Bougainvillea lined avenues and discovering grand villas and heritage mansions, churches and temples of Pondicherry.? Pondicherry is also home to Auroville, the experiment in international living, and home to around 2200 people from 43 different countries. ?We will visit Auroville and find out a little about this community and enjoy some of the restaurants/cafes/outlets opened and run by Aurovillians. Back in Pondicherry, if shopping is your thing, you certainly wont be disappointed by the boutiques and Auroville outlets in Pondicherry town.
This morning enroute to Mahabalipuram, we will make a return visit to Auroville to explore the Matrimandir - their main temple with its crystal ball centrepiece - the largest in the world.. On arrival in Mahabalipuram, we will check into our luxurious beachside resort and perhaps enjoy a sunset drink by the pool.
We have a leisurely breakfast at our resort.? Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram is a beautiful, open-air museum of 7th and 8th Century history. ?It is one of the wonders of India and it is mind-blowing what the Tamil artisans were able to create so many centuries ago. ?The group of monuments at Mahabalipuram is an UNESCO World Heritage collection of 7th- and 8th-century ?religious monuments. The site has 400 ancient monuments and Hindu temples, including one of the largest open-air rock reliefs in the world: Arjunas Penance. The group contains several categories of monuments: rock carved temples with monolithic processional chariots, ?cave temples with narratives from the Mahabharata and ?and stone-cut temples.? After visiting the two World Heritage sites of the ?Five Rathas? and the Shore Temple we wander around this small yet bustling beach-side village overrun with the most amazing rock carved temples and sculptures. We will have lunch in the little town which has a great selection of restaurants and then time to get in some last minute souvenir shopping or enjoy the beach or pool at our resort hotel. ??Tonight, we enjoy a seafood dinner to end the trip in true south Indian style.
Today is departure day and after breakfast we say our goodbyes. There are no organised activities today. ?You may leave at any time and you will be transferred in an air conditioned car to Chennai airport in time for your onward flight.