An Idea of India
Trip Code: AITIOI
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This unique India Unbound itinerary showcases the astounding cultural, historical, religious and natural diversity of India.
A note on this itinerary from India Unbound founder Lincoln Harris: This tour is part celebration, part expression of love for India. In a sense it has been many years in the making, starting all the way back with my aimless wandering in India nearly 20 years ago. With the birth of India Unbound a decade ago, when my wandering became more organised and people joined in (otherwise known as group tours) and more recently when other people, with an even longer history of travel in India became involved with India Unbound, we started to build a body of expertise that, to do it justice, needed to be brought together into a grand tour – not of idle sightseeing and the Taj Mahal (as fantastic as it is), but a tour as a collection of places and experiences that we believe to be truly special; places that made us stop and realise that what we had just seen or experienced could not a) be seen or experienced in any vaguely similar way anywhere other than exactly here in this place; b) be knowable to us as outsiders; and c) be incorporated into our idea of India without requiring us to adjust the idea in some way.
What emerged as we assembled a (long) list of places and experiences that met these criteria was how culturally and environmentally diverse such places are, and of India’s diversity in general. (As simple and as obvious as it might seem, this observation – that India is a diverse place – is one of the few enduring observations I have made about India, though if you take this tour I would like to hear what yours are). On a subtle level, one of the challenges of India for the visitor is how one incorporates and processes such a diverse range of experiences into any sort of understanding, as in, to ‘know India’ (as problematic as the concept is). In the end, as a tour operator, all we can do is create a set of experiences that we think most comprehensively present India’s diversity, with each one enhanced by a knowledgeable local person imparting some information, and allow you to draw what conclusions you can – that is, to formulate “an idea of India”.
After settling on a shortlist of places that we felt must be included, it was then a practical matter of creating an itinerary around them. We arrived at a modular format, whereby a number of core places and experiences are included in the main itinerary, and one or two additional places are added according to the particular interests and timeframe of the prospective travellers.
The resultant tour will only work for curious and attentive travellers who want to attempt to know and understand things about India – which takes some effort and willingness to be exposed to the place and its conditions. At the same time we are aware that it would be very difficult to sustain 20 to 30 days of such rigorous inquiry (not to mention at times rigorous travel), and thus a number of wonderful hotels and locations that double as ‘rest stops’ are included along the way.
The core itinerary includes the following places (it’s very difficult to describe these places without falling back on superlative-laden descriptions, so please follow some of the links to investigate for yourself):
Leh/Ladakh – truly it is difficult to find adequate words to describe this Himalayan region. Its endemic Buddhist-infused culture and spectacular scenic and natural beauty must be seen to be believed.
Varanasi – the most important Hindu site in north India has a power that cannot be dismissed or ignored. This is a place that is completely unique to India.
Calcutta – one of the great Indian cities, rarely given enough time and often misconceived. In this tour we help you scratch deep beneath the surface to gain an insight into this much-maligned city.
Hampi – the ruins of the capital city of the Vijayanagar Empire is one of the world’s great archaeological sites, made all the more special because of the unique environment in which it is set, its remoteness and a relative lack of visitors.
The Chettinad area of Tamil Nadu – for its distinctive cuisine, crumbling yet glorious heritage buildings and proximity to some of India’s most astounding and insightful temples (eg the Meenakshi temple of Madurai and the Brihadeeswara temple of Tanjore).
In addition, the core itinerary includes the following rest stops (both of which are extraordinary in their own right):
Ramathra Fort – a wonderful fort-turned-hotel in a remote part of Rajasthan. Not only does a stop here give you a chance to re-charge for the coming adventures, it also presents an opportunity for you to see the uncommon beauty of the Rajasthan countryside, and in particular the Chambal River and the Dang plateau. Ideally your visit would be timed to coincide with the Kaila Devi Fair (what would a visit to India be without experiencing at least one festival!).
Ayesha Manzil – located on north Kerala’s ‘Malabar coast’, this unique homestay is perched next to the Arabian Sea and is a perfect base from which to witness the truly amazing Theyyam ritual. The gracious hosts and highly distinctive cuisine round out the experience.
In addition to the core itinerary, we strongly recommend adding one or more or the following places, according to your interests:
One of the national parks of Madhya Pradhesh, such as Kanha or Bandhavgarh. Both sanctuaries present excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, including the possibility of spotting the elusive tiger.
A charming countryside heritage hotel such as the 18th century Ahilya Fort, the erstwhile seat of Ahilya Bai Holkar, one of India’s celebrated women rulers; or a world-class boutique hotel such as Raas in Jodhpur or Mihirgarh near Jodhpur.
A grand heritage hotel such as the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, which needs no introduction, or Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad – the former residence of the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, this lavish palace was intended to be ‘Heaven on Earth’ and has recently opened as a hotel after a 14 year, US$35 million restoration.
A beach stay such as private villa accommodation in Goa at the beautifully restored colonial Indo-Portuguese house Quelleachy Gally; or an Ayurvedic resort in Kerala such as Erandia or Neeleshwar Hermitage, which is set in a secluded palm grove beside the Arabian Sea.
A multi-day bicycle tour in Rajasthan or Kerala – a special way to see these popular destinations from a different perspective.
Amritsar and the Golden Temple – one of India’s most mesmerising places of worship.
The Sundarbans National Park near Calcutta – part of the world’s largest mangrove ecosystem and a rare haven for flora and fauna in this part of the world.
A visit to the Rann of Kutch region in the far west of Gujarat, to examine the roots of civilization on the sub-continent at Dholavira and/or learn about the traditional crafts and textiles of the region’s semi-nomadic tribes people.
A food and cooking focused visit to Delhi, Lucknow or Chennai, as featured in our Cuisines of India tour.
Finally, there are a number of special events we can add to make your experience more personalised:
Varanasi – a Thumri performance on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi
Hampi – tour with a renowned historian
Ladakh – an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism given by a former monk
Delhi – meet and interact with a leading contemporary art collector, and hear their personal views on Indian art and stories behind their collections.
Day 1 Delhi
You will be met on arrival in Delhi and transferred to your hotel for an overnight stay.
Day 2 Leh
Transfer to the airport this morning for a flight to the small town Leh, the capital of Ladakh (“Land of High Passes”). You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel. Remainder of the day is free for relaxation and acclimatization to the high altitude. (The main Bazaar’s elevation is 3,505 metres).
Situated at the western edge of the Tibetan plateau, Ladakh is bound by the mighty Karokaram mountain range in the north and the Great Himalayas in the South. It is one of the most sparsely populated regions in Jammu and Kashmir and is renowned for its remote mountain beauty and culture. It is sometimes called “Little Tibet” as it has been strongly influenced by Tibetan culture.
Late this afternoon visit the Shanti Stupa a magnificent white-domed structure, which offers spectacular views of the surroundings. Built by a Japanese Buddhist organization known as ‘The Japanese for World Peace’, the aim behind the construction of the stupa was to commemorate 2,500 years of Buddhism and to promote World Peace. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama inaugurated the Shanti Stupa in 1985.
After visiting the stupa, continue on to explore Leh’s market place. A bustling tourist town, with large numbers of Kashmiri traders, it’s easy to get to most places by foot.
Day 3 Leh
This morning visit the monasteries of Hemis, Shey and Thiksey. Afterwards, take a stroll around the village of Stok and visit the Stok Palace.
The Tibetan Buddhist Hemis Monastery was built in 1630 during the reign of Sengge Namgyal and flourished under the Namgyal dynasty. It is the largest and wealthiest of the central Ladakh monasteries. Its greatest treasure is an enormous (3-storey high) thanka, a scroll painting embroidered and studded with pearls and semi-precious stones. The unfurling of this thanka takes place once every twelve years (next due in 2016).
Shey was the ancient capital of Ladakh and the palace, built in 1655, by the king Deldan Namgyal was used as a royal summer retreat. The Shey Monastery, also built in 1655, is located within the palace complex and is noted for its giant statue, in copper with gilded gold, of a seated Shakyamuni Buddha. A 12 metres high icon, covering three floors of the monastery, it is said to be the second largest such statue in Ladakh. It is surrounded by murals of deities painted in rich colours and gold.
A Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Yellow Hat (Gelugpa) sect, the 15th century Thiksey Monastery is noted for its resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. One of the largest gompas in central Ladakh, this 12-storey complex houses many items of Buddhist art such as stupas, statues, thangkas and wall paintings. It also contains a modern Maitreya Temple – with a 15 metres high statue of Maitreya – which was built to commemorate the visit of the 14th Dalai Lama to this monastery in 1970.
The residence of the Namgyals, the former rulers of Ladakh since its independence in 1843, Stok Palace contains a fine museum of the dynasty and its history. Its collections include thangkas painted with colours derived from crushed precious stones, Buddhist art and religious objects, weapons, jewellery and ceremonial robes and headdresses or ‘peraks’ decorated with turquoise, lapis lazuli, coral and gold.
This evening you will be given a lecture on Buddhism by a Senior Monk (Khempo).
Day 4 Leh
Early this morning, you have the option to visit Thiksey monastery to join morning prayers. Return to your hotel for breakfast. Later in the morning you will be driven along high, narrow mountain roads with spectacular scenery – sheer drops into steep gorges and backdrops of jagged snow capped peaks – to visit Alchi, Likir and Basgo monasteries.
The Alchi monastic complex, situated on the banks of the Indus River against a stark backdrop of barren mountains, is considered by many to be the jewel amongst Ladakh’s monasteries. Founded in the early 12th century, it was abandoned as a site of worship in the early 16th century; subsequently, its exquisite 12th and 13th century paintings – some of the oldest surviving paintings in Ladakh – have remained remarkably well preserved. Renowned as a great centre of Buddhist art, Alchi is now one of Ladakh’s major attractions.
Likir Monastery, belonging to the Yellow Hat Sect, was founded by Tsongkhapa in the latter half of the 11th century. The name Likir means “Naga – Encircled”, meaning that it stands surrounded by the bodies of the two great serpent spirits, the Naga-rajas, Nanda and Taksako. It houses a fine collection of thangkas and beautifully framed images.
Basgo was the capital of Lower Ladakh in the 14th and 15th centuries. An ancient citadel complex, it is dramatically situated on top of a hill towering over the ruins of the town. The fort is noted for its beautiful 16th century murals.
Lunch today will be a picnic at a stunning location.
Day 5 Nubra Valley
Depart Leh this morning for the drive to the Nubra Valley (known as the “Valley of Flowers”) via Khardungla, which at 5,602 metres is said to be the highest motorable mountain pass in the world. From here, cross over to the other side to the Nubra Valley (the total driving time is approximately 5 hours).
Check in to your accommodation on arrival and remainder of the day free. Later in the afternoon you will be taken to the fascinating sand dunes at Hundar where you have an opportunity to ride on a double humped Bactrian camel. [Image: Raghavendra].
Day 6 Nubra Valley
Today you will be taken to visit the monasteries of Diskit and Samstangling.
The Diskit monastery is dramatically positioned on a hill just above the flood plains of the Shyok River in the village of Diskit. The oldest and largest monastery in the Nubra Valley, it was founded in the 14th century and belongs to the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It contains a statue of Maitreya Buddha in the prayer hall, a huge drum and several images of fierce guardian deities
Samstangling Monastery, overlooking the green fields of Sumur village, was founded in 1841. It houses an impressive collection of Buddhist scrolls, elaborate murals and paintings and Buddhist statues. [Image: Redtigerxyz].
Day 7 Leh
Depart today for the 5-hour drive back to Leh via Khardungla.
Check in to your hotel on arrival and remainder of the day free to relax or explore the town. You may like to take a stroll through the broad-curbed Main Bazaar and explore some of its adjoining side streets and alleys, sample local fare from amongst the many eateries and perhaps shop for traditional Ladakhi handicrafts.
Day 8 Ramanthra
Early this morning transfer to the airport for a flight to Delhi. You will be met on arrival and transferred to the railway station to board an afternoon train to Gangapur, where you will be met and driven (1 hour) to Ramathra Fort.
Ramathra Fort is a small fort-palace hotel in rural Rajasthan with breathtaking views of the countryside and a lake teeming with birds. What distinguishes it from many other fort-palaces is its remoteness. The fort has a strong perimeter wall crowned with parapets and its ramparts offer spectacular views over the farmlands.
Day 9 Ramanthra
Today you may spend the entire day in leisure or choose to participate in any of the activities and excursions organized by the hotel.
The nearby Kalisil Lake is a rich feeding ground for ducks, storks and cormorants who visit every winter and there are plenty of local waterfowl to see year round. A two to three seater boat equipped with paddles and life-vests is available for rent with or without a guide to bird watch, search for crocodile dens and possible crocodile sightings.
Jeep safaris from the fort take you across the Daang plateau that stretches from the Chambal valley to Ranthambhore, through its badlands and wild animal sightings, to several spectacular places such as Utgir Fort, Cave Temples and the Chuaki gorge.
Day 10 Ramanthra
Full day at leisure or explore the area around.
You may like to go on a walking tour of the Ramathra village, a small hamlet of farmers and herders, devoid of any commercialisation. Among its numerous shrines, the Ganesh Mandir and Shiva Mandir give the best flavour of local religious life.
Day 11 Varanasi
Depart Ramathra this morning for the 1-hour drive to Gangapur station to board a train to Delhi. You will be met on arrival and transferred to the airport for a flight to Varanasi.
Rising from the ghats (steps) on the western banks of the Ganges, the ancient city of Varanasi is one of the oldest and most sacred cities in the world. Known as Kashi, or “City of Light”, because this is where the eternal light of Shiva intersects the earth; the ghats each honour Shiva in the form of a linga – the rounded phallic like shaft of stone found on every ghat. According to religious belief, the Ganges is amrita, elixir of life, “cleanser of sin” and “purifier of souls”; it has attracted multitudes of Hindu pilgrims from time immemorial.
Day 12 Varanasi
Begin your exploration of Varanasi this morning with a dawn boat ride on the sacred Ganges. A moving experience, it allows you to witness as devotees come to bathe, meditate and perform ancient rituals as the sun rises on a new day. Afterwards, take a short guided walking tour through the crowded labyrinth of small lanes of the old town filled with pilgrims, priests, tourists and vendors selling flowers, silks, brassware and other items essential for worship at the numerous shrines.
This afternoon visit Sarnath, the place where Buddha gave his first sermon some 2,500 years ago. A renowned centre of Buddhist learning for many centuries – at its peak it housed some 3,000 monks – it is still today a site of pilgrimage for many Buddhists. Mostly in ruins, due to successive Muslim invasions and later lootings, Sarnath’s central monument is the massive (31 metre high) 5th century AD Dhamekh Stupa. Nearby is the Dharmarajika Stupa, built by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC to preserve the Buddha’s relics. The complex also contains the ruins of several smaller monasteries and temples, as well as the Bodhi Tree (planted in 1931).
Return to Varanasi and as the sun sets you will be taken for another boat ride to witness ‘aarthi’ on the banks of the Ganges. Yet another unforgettable experience, witnessed by thousands each evening, it comprises complicated fire rituals conducted by saffron robed Hindu priests as pilgrims light candles to float along the sacred waters. Later the boat will be anchored at a quieter place on the river and you will enjoy a session of Indian classical music on board.
Day 13 Kolkata
Morning at leisure. This afternoon transfer to the airport to board a flight to Kolkata. You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel.
From its humble beginnings as a group of fishing villages in the Gangetic delta, Kolkata grew under the East India Company in the late 17th century and later under the British Raj, to become the capital of India until 1911 (when New Delhi became the capital). Today, with a population of over 14 million, it is the principal commercial, cultural, and educational centre of East India. Boasting a religiously and ethnically diverse culture, the city is famous for its literary, artistic, and revolutionary heritage. In addition, it is home to a number of cultural institutions of national importance, such as the Academy of Fine Arts, the Asiatic Society, the Indian Museum and the National Library of India. [Image: Ketanmehta4u].
Day 14 Kolkata
Begin your exploration of Kolkata this morning with guided visits to the Victoria Memorial, the Botanical Gardens and the Missionary of Charity.
The Victoria Memorial, built between 1906 and 1921, was dedicated to the memory of Queen Victoria and is now a museum. Constructed of white marble (with echoes of the Taj Mahal), its design is in the Indo-Saracenic revivalist style, which uses a mixture of classical British and Mughal elements. Atop the Memorial’s central dome is the 4.9 metre figure of the Angel of Victory. Surrounding the dome are allegorical sculptures including Art, Architecture, Justice and Charity and above the North Porch are Motherhood, Prudence and Learning. The building contains a number of galleries, including the royal gallery, the national leaders gallery, the portrait gallery, the sculpture gallery and the arms and armoury gallery.
The extensive Botanical Gardens, situated on the west bank of the Hooghly River, were established in 1787 by Colonel Robert Kyd of the East India Company. Spread over 109 hectares, they exhibit a wide variety of flora, including ferns, orchids, cacti, bamboo, palms and many rare plants; its collection totals over 12,000 specimens. However, the prime attraction here is a magnificent 200-year-old Banyan tree, which with a circumference of over 300 metres, is thought to be largest in the world. The gardens offer a serene change from the bustle of the city (except on Sundays, when they can be very crowded).
Missionaries of Charity is a Roman Catholic religious congregation established in 1950 by Mother Teresa. It has 19 homes in Kolkata, which include homes for women, for orphaned children, and for the dying; an AIDS hospice, a school for street children, and a leper colony. The Mother House at Bose Road, is now the headquarters of this international religious congregation. It is here that Mother Teresa lived, prayed, worked, and guided her religious family of sisters. Places here that are open to the public are the main Chapel; Mother Teresa’s tomb which has become a place of pilgrimage and quiet meditation; and a room displaying a small exhibition entitled ‘Mother Teresa’s Life, Spirit and Message‘ which includes many of her letters, spiritual exhortations and her few personal belongings – sari, sandals and crucifix.
Kolkata has witnessed many cultures in its past. In fact, a feature of the city is its distinctively close-knit neighbourhoods (paras). This afternoon, enjoy a walking tour that traces the origins and remains of some of these varied migrant communities such as the dwindling Parsis or the Zoroastrians, the Armenians who gave the city its oldest surviving Christian church, the Chinese who thrive in China town, the Muslims, the Marwaris, the Biharis, the Anglo-Indians and many more that made this city a great melting pot of diverse cultures.
Day 15 Kolkata
Begin the morning with a traditional Chinese breakfast in China Town. The Chinese settled in Kolkata as early as the 1780s, and have played a significant role in defining the city’s cuisine. Observe as whole families participate in preparing and selling dishes and enjoy ‘tai pao’ and ‘yeo teow’ (thin potato or shrimp fried dough), chicken momos, pork momos, and much more!
Afterwards visit the potters’ community of Kumartulli – home to more than six hundred families of clay model-makers. Navigate the maze of alleys in this densely populated area and meet the artists who create the idols for the ten day long Durga Puja (Kolkata’s favourite annual festival). Get an insight into their lives and observe how the images are crafted.
If you have time, you may like to do a full-day excursion to Vishnupur (152 kilometres) and see the exquisite craftsmanship of the terracotta artisans in the temples of Vishnupur.
Later in the afternoon take a ‘footsteps of the Raj’ walking tour – exploring the area around Dalhousie Square which is ringed by colonial British buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries. Get under the skin of the city by exploring its bazaars – visit Sovabazaar, the ever-vital hub of traditional Bengali culture; also explore the Chowringhee, New Market and Park Street areas to get the real feel of the city. If you are interested in a great discussion on Kolkata related topics of your interest in a relaxed homely environment, we can organise a meeting over tea or a meal with a Bengali family.
Day 16 Kolkata
Begin this morning with a visit to Kalighat, the temple dedicated to Kolkata’s patron goddess, Kali. For most people, the divine is associated with beauty and love. Images of gods and goddesses are therefore expected to please the eye and the heart. KaIi, however, defies these expectations. Her form takes one by surprise – fierce-looking, four-armed, three-eyed with a blood red protruding tongue, and garlanded with skulls. According to Hindu mythology Kali is the destroyer of all evil and the female principle at the root of all creation. A major Hindu pilgrimage site, Kalighat draws some 20,000 visitors each day.
Later in the afternoon visit Belur Math, the international headquarters of the Ramakrishna Movement or Vedanta Movement. Founded in 1899 by Swami Vivekananda – a disciple of the 19th century Hindu saint Ramakrishna – it is located in a peaceful environment 16 kilometres north of the city. Ramakrishna preached the unity of all religions, social equality, and peace for all humanity, without any distinctions of creed, caste, race or nationality – and this is reflected in the architecture of the complex, which combines Hindu, Christian and Islamic elements.
End the day with a sunset river cruise – taking in the glory of the setting sun on the river Hooghly, a tributary of the Ganges.
Day 17 Hospet
Transfer to the airport to board a flight to Hubli (via Mumbai). On arrival at Hubli, you will be met and driven to your hotel in Hospet – your base from which to explore Hampi. A two-day stay here enables you to do justice to Hampi’s superb sites.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Hampi is famous for the ruins of Vijayanagara (“City of Victory”), which formed one of the core areas of the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire from 1343 to 1565. Superbly located on the bank of the torrential Tungabhadra River, with natural defences of rocky ridges and granite boulders, it has a strange and magical quality to it. The Archaeological Survey of India continues to conduct excavations in the area.
Day 18 Hospet
Spend today exploring the ruins of the imperial capital of Hampi with an expert local guide. Spread out over an area of around 20 sq kms, the city was originally encompassed by seven lines of fortifications featuring a large number of bastions and gateways. The seventh and innermost fortification enclosed the main city and is the best preserved.
The ‘Sacred Centre’ monuments of interest include: the grand Vittala temple which is noted for its famous sculpted stone chariot dedicated to Garuda and its hollow carved pillars, which when struck emit musical notes; the temple of Virupaksha, dominated by a 50 metre high gopura, the inside of which contains a series of courtyards dotted with small shrines and pillared halls; Achyuta Raya temple with its perfect plan of two concentric enclosures; the Krishna Temple; and the enormous Narasimha Stone Monolith representing Vishnu’s man-lion incarnation.
The ‘Royal Centre’ monuments include: the superb Hazara Rama temple, its outer walls covered with friezes, and reliefs depicting passages from the Ramayana; Lotus Mahal, a lovely blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture; the open-air Queen’s Bath; and the imposing Elephant Stables.
Day 19 Hospet
This morning is free for you to continue your explorations – there are bicycles for rent in the town, which is a great way to casually take in the area, or you can hire an auto-rickshaw to get you around. In fact, these forms of transport are one of the pleasures of exploring Hampi as the surrounding area – an arid landscape within which lies a little oasis of lush palm, banana, and mango trees nestled near the river – is quite lovely to ride around.
It’s worth noting that Hampi hosts Hampi Utsav every year during the first week of November. A cultural extravaganza of dance and music, it is also a visual delight as all the monuments/ruins are lit up at night.
This evening transfer to the station to board an overnight train to Bangalore. [Image: Dharani Prakash].
Day 20 Madurai
You will be met on arrival at Bangalore station early this morning and be transferred to Bangalore airport for a flight to Madurai, one of South India’s great temple towns. Throbbing with vim and vitality, this is perhaps the most vibrant town of southern India. It is a burgeoning industrial centre, even though the vast stretches of lush paddy fields, dusty roads and crowded bazaars make it seems almost like an overgrown village. You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel. Afternoon at leisure.
In the evening you will be taken to the city’s famous Sri Meenakshi Temple. This is one of the most stunning living temples in India; an enormous complex covering six hectares, with 50 metre high towers and a 1000-pillared hall, this is the heart of Madurai, where weddings, worship and commerce take place side by side. Whilst here you will have an opportunity to witness the mesmerizing evening devotion ceremony.
Day 21 Chettinad
This morning enjoy a city tour that includes a visit to the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, erected in 1636 by King Thirumalai Nayak, the most notable of the thirteen Madurai Nayak rulers. A great patron of art and architecture, he rebuilt and renovated a number of old temples of the Pandya period. His palace, a classic fusion of Dravidian and Islamic styles is a notable architectural masterpiece.The original complex was four times bigger than the present structure. In fact, in its heyday it was considered to be one of the grandest palaces in South India. What remains is the enclosed courtyard known as the Svarga Vilasam (‘Heavenly Pavilion’) and a few adjoining buildings. Measuring 3,900 sq metres, and surrounded by massive circular pillars, it evokes the grandeur of a vanished era.
Afterwards spend some time exploring the city’s busy markets before departing for the 2-hour drive to Chettinad. Check in to your hotel on arrival and remainder of the day is as at leisure. [Image: Suresh].
Day 22 Chettinad
Spend today exploring the Chettinad region, the homeland of the famous Tamil traders, the Chettiars, a prosperous banking and business community. The region is notable for their large, ornate ancestral homes embellished with marble and Burma teak, wide courtyards and spacious chandelier-lit rooms. However, many Chettiars migrated to various part of Southeast Asia in the 19th and early 20th centuries, leaving these lovely mansions largely unoccupied (they are now mostly used for family celebrations).
A wander through a deserted Chettinad village – the finest mansions are to be found in Karaikkkudi and Kanadukathan – is to marvel at the wealth that went into them and the achievement of the local artisans who built them.
Day 23 Chettinad
Today take a day excursion to Tanjore (about 2.5 hours one way). Though the history of Tanjore dates back to the ancient Sangam age, it was between the 10th and 14th centuries, during the reign of one of the greatest dynasties of South India, the Cholas, that it came to prominence. It served as the capital of their empire and became the centre of Tamil learning and culture. The Cholas were great temple builders and Tanjore bears witness to this, being dotted with no fewer than 74 temples — the most famous of which is the Brihadishwara Temple.
The crowning glory of Chola architecture, the monumental Brihadishwara Temple is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the “Great Living Chola Temples”. Constructed of granite, the temple stands amidst fortified walls. Its vimana (temple tower) at 66 metres highis amongst the tallest of its kind in the world and the octagonal cupola crowning it, beautifully carved out of a single massive block, weighs around 80 tons. One of the largest temples in India (it is popularly know as the ‘Big Temple’) it has been worshipped in continuously for more than a thousand years. [Image: Bernard Gagnon].
Day 24 Tellicherry
Depart this morning for the 2-hour drive to Madurai airport to board a flight to Calicut (via Chennai). You will be met on arrival and transferred to Tellicherry (a 2.5 hour drive) and your accommodation here,Ayisha Manzil.
A beautiful, old colonial style mansion set on the top of a hill overlooking the Arabian Sea, Ayisha Manzil was built in 1862 by an Englishman who came to Tellicherry as a trader of the East India Company. He also set up a 120 hectare cinnamon garden 10 kilometres from the house, which still exists. Formerly known as ‘Judges Bungalow’, the house was renamed ‘Ayisha Manzil’ in 1950 when it was bought by T.M. Moosa, a local trader. A stay here enables you to enjoy the warm hospitality of his grandson C.P. Moosa and his family, fantastic traditional cuisine and breathtaking sea views. The property comprises five large en-suite rooms boasting of period furniture and decorated with family heirlooms and antiques.
Day 25 Tellicherry
Spend the next two days relaxing and enjoying your accommodation. A highlight of a stay at Ayisha Manzil is the opportunity to discover the rich flavours of traditional North Kerala cuisine. Your hostess Ms Faiza Moosa, a well-known expert on the famous Malabar ‘mopillah’ cuisine, cooks and serves mouth-watering delicacies for each meal.
There are a number of activities and excursions available to be enjoyed here, including: a cooking class with your hostess; a wander through the colourful spice and fish markets; a visit to a handloom weaving unit or a Beedi rolling unit. A nice end to a day is a visit to the Parassinikadavu Temple to watch the closing evening rituals.
Day 26 Tellicherry
Full day at leisure.
Day 27 Mumbai
Transfer to Calicut airport to board a flight to Mumbai. On arrival in in Mumbai you will be transferred to the international terminal to fly back home.
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