Back Roads: South India
Trip Code: AITBRS
Price: from AU$7,400 per person twin share
Prices are valid until 30 September 2024, except for the Christmas / New Year period, February and certain festival dates.
Please contact us for a detailed itinerary and current prices.
- Accommodation in a double or twin room with breakfast
- All meals at Coorg, Kannur and Vellinezhi
- Air-conditioned Toyota Innova vehicle with English speaking driver for all transfers, touring and sightseeing as per the itinerary
- All expenses related to the vehicle and driver such as fuel, tolls, parking charges, inter-state tax, driver accommodation and meals, etc
- English speaking local guides in Tanjore, Pondicherry and Mahabalipuram
- Assistance on arrival and departure at airports
- 24 hour support through our local representative offices
- Complimentary mineral water in the vehicles
- Entrance or camera fees at sightseeing places
- Activities other than those specifically mentioned as included
- Meals other than those mentioned as included
- Tips, porterage and personal expenses
- Visa Fees
- Bangalore: Hotel Royal Orchid
- Coorg: The School Estate
- Wayanad: Pranavam Retreat
- Kannur: Costa Malabari
- Vellinezhi: Olappamanna Mana
- Dindigul: Cardamom House
- Chettinad: Saratha Vilas
- Tanjore: Tanjore Hi
- Tranquebar: Bungalow on the Beach
- Pondicherry: La Villa Shanti
This is a gently paced trip with lots of time for exploring south India’s less famous temples, hills, beaches and small towns and featuring several lovely homestays with wonderful food.
The ‘back roads’ of south India are a delight for the curious traveller. Using an unconventional route, this itinerary links a number of the South’s great homestays and B&Bs – where unique local cuisine is a highlight – while taking in a wide range of natural environments, including the mountains, plantations and beaches of north Kerala and the arid Chettinad region of central Tamil Nadu.
Enjoy the company of good hosts, with delicious food in beautiful settings – all the ingredients for a memorable offbeat journey through south India.
Day 1 Bangalore
You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel. The capital of Karnataka, Bangalore is the centre of India’s computer industry – a calm, clean and cosmopolitan city.
Remainder of the day free to explore the city – a visit to the Krishnarajendra (City) Market with its wonderful displays of colourful flowers and vegetables – makes for a great introduction to India. Alternatively, relax and take it easy before your departure tomorrow for the region of Coorg.
Day 2 Madikeri
Depart Bangalore this morning for the 6-hour drive to the Coorg region of the Western Ghats mountain range, one of South India’s most beautiful areas comprising rugged mountains interspersed with jungle, cardamom and coffee plantations and lush rice paddy fields. The British who occupied this area for over one hundred years called it the ‘Scotland of India’. The capital of Coorg, Madikeri, is a small market town sited at an elevation of 1525 metres; it is one of the most picturesque hill stations of the South.
Day 3 Madikeri
An elevated region with undulating hills, Coorg is a superb trekking area. Today is free for a wander through the town, walks or a variety of activities that may interest you, such as fishing, golfing, bird watching, trekking, canoeing and cookery classes.
If you would like to do some sightseeing, places of interest here include: Madikeri Fort, built by Raja Lingarajendra in 1812, an imposing structure, it contains an old Anglican church now converted into a Museum of British memorabilia; the Rajas’ Tombs, with their Islamic styled gilded domes and minarets providing a commanding view of the town; Omkareshwara Temple, built by Raja Lingarajendra in 1820, has a mix of Islamic, Gothic, Catholic and Keralite styles of architecture, built around a central pool.
Abbey falls makes for a pleasant hike (7 kilometres from Madikeri). Located within a coffee plantation, the stepped falls are most impressive during and straight after the monsoon season from July to October.
Alternatively, you may like to explore the nearby Tibetan settlements – the largest in Southern India – with several monasteries dotting the landscape. A visit to ‘Rajas’ Seat’ provides a picturesque end to your day – a belvedere, said to be a favourite place of recreation for the Rajas and their consorts, its commanding views of the cliffs and valleys to the west offer breathtaking sunset views.
Day 4 Wayanad
Drive 3 hours up into the majestic hills of the Western Ghats to the Wayanad district in the north-east of Kerala. With altitudes ranging from 700 to 2100 metres, it comprises mist clad mountains, dense forests, tangled jungles, deep valleys and fertile green plantations. (The name Wayanad translates to ‘Land of Paddy Fields’). Home to many indigenous tribes, it is one of the least populous districts in Kerala.
Settle into your small family-run guest house on arrival and remainder of the day free to relax and enjoy the cool air and surrounding lush, verdant forests.
Day 5 Wayanad
Spend the day visiting tea, pepper, cardamom, vanilla, coffee, banana, and coconut plantations or take a guided trek in the hills. You may like to take a jeep safari to a wildlife sanctuary further afield. Wayanad has an amazing range of flora and fauna; you are likely to sight wild elephants, Indian bison, langur monkeys, sambar and spotted deer. Alternatively, take a trip to Edakkal Caves to view their prehistoric carvings.
Day 6 Kannur
This morning begin the approximately 3-hour drive to Kannur. Your home for the next two nights will be either Costa Malabari or Ayesha Manzil.
Costa Malabari is a small guest house by a semi-private beach, overlooking the Arabian Sea; it is simple, with no air conditioning – but has excellent food and a special location.
Ayesha Manzil is a beautiful, old colonial style mansion built in 1862 by a trader of the East India Company; it provides warm hospitality and fantastic traditional cuisine with the emphasis on fresh seafood.
Day 7 Kannur
Day free to relax or explore the small fishing villages which dot the coast, with plenty of optional day trips into the nearby region. Your host here will advise you of other local activities and your vehicle/driver will be there for your use.
There may be an opportunity whilst here to attend a Thayyam (usually held from October to May). A uniquely Keralan ritual, this is an event of great religious intensity and significance incorporating vocal and instrumental music, dance, painting, sculpture and literature.
Day 8 Vellinezhi
Drive 4.5 hours to your ‘home’ for the next two nights, Olappamanna Mana, which is located at Vellinezhi, a small village known for its traditional music and dance. An eco-friendly heritage home-stay, it was once the home of wealthy feudal lords who were great patrons of the arts. It became an important seat of learning for Kathakali (classical Keralan dance) Carnatic Music, Melam and Thayampaka (classical percussions) and traditional Veda and Sanskrit.
Day 9 Vellinezhi
Highlights of a stay here are the outstanding Kerala style vegetarian cuisine and the cultural activities on offer. If you are interested, you can watch the puja at some point during your stay – dance, prayer and drumming around a giant sand painting of the goddess Kali, which is conducted in the main building. Day at leisure to enjoy this peaceful environment.
Day 10 Dindigul
After breakfast, begin the 5 hour drive to a small village near the city of Dindigul, where you will stay at a simple but lovely guest house called Cardamom House; set on the edge of a lake nestled at the bottom of the Western Ghats, it is owned by an affable English expat, long resident of the district. The guest house is set on an traditional ‘eco-farm’ which is run on similar principles to an organic farm, with water and waste recycling and solar power employed.
Day 11 Dindigul
Spend this morning taking a guided walk to the nearby village to get a sense of a typical Tamil Nadu town. You may also like to walk around the lake, do some bird and wildlife watching or visit the small local temple. There are, as well, interesting farm-related activities to observe, many based on the sustainable principles of the property.
In the late afternoon enjoy the sight of the sun sinking behind the Western Ghats, from the rooftop terrace – perhaps with gin and tonic in hand.
Day 12 Chettinad
Depart Dindigul for the 2-hour journey to Chettinad, a somewhat arid region dotted with small settlements comprising laid out streets lined by grand mansions. Some of the finest examples of domestic architecture in Tamil Nadu, they were built by the wealthy Chettiar community of merchants and financiers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Check in to your accommodation on arrival – one of these restored mansions – and remainder of the afternoon at leisure.
Day 13 Chettinad
Spend today exploring some of the nearby small towns. Much of the Chettiars wealth was earned abroad and this is reflected in the unique architecture, construction materials and decorative items and furnishings of their mansions. The woodwork and stonework was inspired by houses in France and other European countries; marble was imported from Italy, crystal from Europe, wall-to-wall mirrors from Belgium, teak and chandeliers from Burma and crockery from Indonesia. To wander through these now decaying mansions is to marvel at the riches and craftsmanship that went into them.
Day 14 Tanjore
Depart the Chettinad region this morning for the drive to Tanjore, which is dominated by the amazing UNESCO World Heritage listed Brihadeeswara temple. Check in to your hotel; lunch on arrival and then visit the temple complex. This 1000-year old structure is significant for the system of ramps and wheels used to place an 80 tonne piece of granite atop the 60 metre high central vimana or tower. A visit with a local guide gives you the chance to fully appreciate this amazing temple complex.
If you opt for the 14 day itinerary you will transfer to Madurai from Tanjore and fly to Chennai for your departure.
Day 15 Tranquebar
Depart Tanjore today for the 2.5 hour drive to the picturesque coastal town of Tranquebar. Called Thrangambadi, ‘land of the waves’ in Tamil, it was named Tranquebar from 1620 when it became a Danish settlement ruled by Governors, until the British took over its administration.
Your accommodation here, The Bungalow on the Beach, is a beautifully restored governor’s mansion. An early 14th century Pandya temple is located to its left and a 17th century Danish fort to its right, making this one of Tamil Nadu’s most unique heritage hotels.
Day 16 Tranquebar
Day free to explore the town and enjoy your heritage accommodation. The restored bungalows of Tranquebar stand as a reminder of a Danish Governor and an Admiral sent to India by the king of Denmark. Well received by the Nayak ruler of Tanjore they were given this territory and built Dansborg Fort to export pepper to Denmark. The fort now houses a small but interesting museum on the Danish history of the region. The deserted Tranquebar Mission premises contain a church and cemetery. This was the first Protestant mission to establish a foothold in India. The oldest Lutheran church in India was built here in 1706.
Day 17 Pondicherry
Depart Tranquebar today for the 4-hour drive up the coast to Pondicherry. Previously a laid back place, Pondicherry has become more popular is recent years, and now boasts a lively cafe, restaurant and shopping scene, though the French quarter is still a pleasant area to wander on foot. The grid patterned layout of the town divides it into two distinct settlements; the French section, on the east of the canal that bisects the town, and the Tamil section on the western side.
Afternoon free to explore the contrasts of this duel personality city! End the day with an early evening seaside promenade (together with half the town) along Goubert Salai (Beach Road) to enjoy the sunset and cooling breeze blowing off the sea.
Day 18 Pondicherry
Begin this morning with a leisurely stroll around the tranquil, broad tree-lined boulevards and avenues of the French Quarter where colonial heritage villas line the streets. Call into the Sri Aurobindo Ashram – founded in 1926 by Sri Aurobindo, this serene spiritual community located in the heart of the town, attracts thousands of devotees and visitors from around the world.
Leaving behind the bougainvillea filled villas with their quiet, cool courtyards, step over the ‘Grand Canal’ (now dry) and plunge into the colourful Tamil Quarter – a typically lively south Indian town – bustling and chaotic, with tiny shops and dwellings, crowded streets, and beeping traffic. [Image: SM14].
Day 19 Chennai
You may like to take time this morning to do some last minute shopping. It’s clichéd – but Pondicherry truly is a shoppers’ paradise; no pressure and fixed prices – and with boutiques down almost every street, catering to a wide variety of tastes, offering textiles, leather, pottery, handicrafts, aromatics, fashion, antiques, etc. For a totally different sort of shopping experience and an exuberant slice of local life head down to M.G. Road on a Sunday to explore the colourful market; packed with people and stalls, this is pure Tamil Pondicherry – and an intriguing contrast with the city’s sophisticated boutiques.
Depart this afternoon for the 3-hour drive to Chennai airport for your onward connection or flight home.
You have the option of a stop en route at Mahabalipuram to visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed sculpted monuments and Shore Temple – an extraordinary showcase for Tamil art.
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