Four Gems of the South
Trip Code: AITFGS
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This trip offers an in depth exploration of four of south India’s most interesting cities: Hyderabad, Pondicherry, Madurai and Cochin.
With diverse cultures inspired by Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and Christian faiths, and influenced by colonial powers, Hyderabad, Pondicherry, Madurai and Cochin form a rich tapestry of experiences when woven together. Passionate and knowledgeable local guides help you to explore these exhilarating and colourful cities’ hidden secrets.
Each of these cities have an abundant wealth of sights and experiences to offer the traveller. The following descriptions of each day’s activities give a taste of this. However, they are simply examples – this trip lends itself to tailoring to your individual interests; we work collaboratively with clients to create unique programs specifically suited to them. [Image: Luis Rodero-Merino].
Day 1 Hyderabad
A great centre of Indian Muslim culture, Hyderabad, “City of Pearls”, is also one of the wealthiest of India’s former princely states, having built its fortune on the trade of pearls, gold and diamonds. Enjoy a taste of this with a stay at the newly renovated (a 14 year, $US35 million labour of love) Taj Falaknuma Palace – former residence of the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad who intended that this lavish and opulent palace be ‘Heaven on Earth’.
Day 2 Hyderabad
Spend the morning exploring Golconda Fort. One of the most magnificent fortress complexes in India, it comprises a citadel built on a 120m high granite hill surrounded by crenulated ramparts constructed of large masonry blocks.
Later visit the beautiful Mecca Masjid, one of the world’s largest mosques, and the stunning white-marble Hindu temple, Birla Mandir, which graces a rocky hill overlooking the city. [Image: Anoopratnaker].
Day 3 Hyderabad
Today take one or two city walks. Visit the Charminar area, a brilliant mosaic of culture and old world charm; trace the history of the city through the tombs of its emperors, noblemen and saints; explore the grandeur, sophistication and eccentricities of the Nizams who’s rule left an indelible mark on this city; or, peek into old buildings and gardens where William Dalrymple’s tragic love story “White Moghuls” unfolded over a hundred years ago. [Image: laszlo-photo].
Day 4 Pondicherry
Fly from Hyderabad to Chennai. On arrival you will be met and driven 3 hours south to Pondicherry, a city which has a fascinating history closely tied to the French and their imperial aspirations in India. The French connection has survived Pondicherry’s union with the Indian republic through language, food and the many visitors and residents of French origin. [Image: melanie-m].
Day 5 Pondicherry
Pondicherry has a wealth of heritage buildings of both French and Tamil architectural styles. Take a guided tour through these distinctive heritage quarters – on a bicycle, a popular mode of transport here – or on foot. Along the way, indulge in two of Pondicherry’s highlights – eating and shopping – with high-quality French-influenced restaurants and shops in abundance. This is a great way to soak up the local culture and the city’s leisurely approach to life. [Image: melanie-m].
Day 6 Pondicherry
Since its establishment by Shri Aurobindo, a great seer, poet and prophet, the Aurobindo Ashram has played a significant role in the socio-economic and spiritual fabric of Pondicherry. Call in there this morning to visit Aurobindo’s ‘mahasamadhi’ (resting place).
In the afternoon, take an excursion to Auroville, a ‘utopian society’ inspired by Aurobindo. Visit the huge golf ball-like hall as well as interesting shops selling locally made wares and a good café. [Image: Aurobindo Ashram].
Day 7 Madurai
This morning transfer to Villuparam railway station to board a trainfor the journey to Madurai. A quintessential southern Indian temple town, Madurai – “City of Nectar” – has been a centre of Hindu pilgrimage for centuries, attracting millions of devotees to its celebrated Meenakshi Temple. A walk along the main street leading to the temple gives a taste of the colour, liveliness and atmosphere of this fascinating city.
Day 8 Madurai
Wake to the sounds of priests chanting at the Meenakshi temple, the physical, spiritual and cultural heart of the city. Covering six hectares, with 50 metre high towers and a 1000 pillared hall covered in a profusion of multicoloured images of mythological figures, this is one of India’s most awe-inspiring temples. Spend the morning exploring this amazing complex.
Later, visit the insightful Gandhi Museum, and in the evening attend a light and sound show at Nayak Palace. [Image: ttarvind].
Day 9 Madurai
Madurai is an absorbing city to walk around; it’s small enough to wander from your hotel without fear of getting lost, as many of the roads lead to the temple. Spend today exploring endlessly fascinating, chaotic and colourful streets and bazaars. An early morning walk to the fruit, vegetable and flower markets is great for photos, whilst a visit to the bustling tailors’ market provides an opportunity to sharpen your bargaining skills.
Day 10 Periyar
Today marks a change of pace from south Indian city life. Take a 4 hour drive through the Tamil Nadu countryside, ascending the Western Ghat mountain range, to the Kerala border town of Thekkady, location of Periyar Tiger Reserve. Spend time with working elephants, washing, feeding them and having a ride; visit a spice farm to see how various spices are grown and processed; or take a walk in the Tiger Reserve with a naturalist guide.
Day 11 Alleppey
This morning drive to Alleppey to board a luxury houseboat – a former rice barge traditionally constructed without nails, using only coir (coconut) rope. Enjoy lunch on board and spend the afternoon cruising through the lagoons and small canals around Alleppey; observe life in this serene environment from the comfort of cane deck chairs. Overnight on board the air-conditioned houseboat.
Day 12 Cochin
After breakfast disembark the houseboat and drive to Cochin. Known as the ‘Queen of the Arabian Sea’, Kochi was an important spice trading centre from the 14th century. The Arabs, British, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese helped Fort Kochi emerge as a bustling centre of commercial activity, each leaving their indelible and distinctive mark on the area. With virtually no traffic, it’s the perfect place to relax and explore by foot.
Day 13 Cochin
Take a morning tour of Fort Kochi, including visits to the Dutch Palace, St Francis Church and the iconic Chinese fishing nets.
In the afternoon you may like to explore the Jewish culture and influence on Kerala, visiting the Jewish Synagogue and old Jewish settlement.
In the evening attend a traditional Kathakali performance, comprising impressive facial expressions, hand gestures and dance moves that depict the Hindu epics.
Day 14 Cochin
This morning is free for relaxing, walking and exploring, or for last minute obligatory gift shopping. You may like to take a cooking class and enjoy a Kerala style vegetarian meal served on banana leaves. In the evening transfer to the airport for your flight home.
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