South India in Depth
Trip Code: AITSID
Option 1 – B&Bs, homestays and heritage hotels: from AU$6,175 per person twin share
Option 2 – 4 and 5 star resorts and heritage hotels: from AU$11,190 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
- One night stay in an air-conditioned deluxe/premium houseboat with all meals
- All meals at Kalaketty Estate, Philipkutty’s Farm and Vythri Resort
- Air-conditioned Toyota Innova 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
- Train tickets in best available class for Cochin to Calicut
- English speaking local guides in Mahabalipuram, Pondicherry, Tanjore, Madurai, Cochin and Mysore
- Chennai: private walking tour
- Cochin: Kathakali dance performance
- Mysore: private walking tour
- Assistance on arrival and departure at airports and train stations
- 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
Option 1 Hotels:
- Chennai: Footprint Bed & Breakfast
- Pondicherry: La Villa Shanti
- Chettinad: Saratha Vilas
- Madurai: JC Residency
- Kanjirapally: Kalaketty Estate
- Alleppey: Lakes & Lagoons Houseboat
- Kumarakom: Philipkutty’s Farm
- Marari: Marari Villas
- Cochin: The Tower House
- Wayanad: Pranavam Retreat
- Mysore: The Green Hotel
Option 2 Hotels:
- Chennai: GRT Grand
- Pondicherry: Palais de Mahe
- Chettinad: Visalam
- Madurai: Heritage Madurai
- Kanjirapally: Kalaketty Estate
- Alleppey: Lakes & Lagoons Houseboat
- Kumarakom: Coconut Lagoon
- Marari: Marari Beach Resort
- Cochin: Old Harbour
- Wayanad: Vythiri Resort
- Mysore: Royal Orchid Metropole
Travelling at an easy pace, this itinerary allows you to appreciate the ancient and highly evolved cultures of South India, as well as its spectacular natural beauty.
Each state in South India has a distinct historical background, its own language and cultural identity – with each boasting its own styles of architecture, music, dance and cuisine. However, one thing that runs through the entire region is the genuine hospitality extended to visitors. This trip delves into the full range of sights and experiences unique to the south, from its bustling cities with their lively markets, to peaceful, palm-fringed beaches, colourful temples, and the canals and islands of Kerala’s famous backwaters. A wide range of accommodation is on offer: luxury resorts, wildlife lodges, boutique guesthouses, heritage hotels and high-quality homestays.
· With several opportunities for guided city walks, this itinerary can easily be customised to suit a particular interest that you might have, such as art and architecture, markets and shopping, history etc. Please see our Insight Activities pages for ideas
· When inquiring about this itinerary please mention what type or mix of accommodation you are interested in.
Day 1 Chennai
You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel. Chennai, the bustling, sprawling capital of Tamil Nadu, is one of the main gateways to South India. Located on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal, it is both an orthodox and a modern cosmopolitan city with its mix of Hindu temples, Portuguese churches, Raj-era monuments and modern high-rise buildings.
Day 2 Chennai
Take a guided walk this morning. There are a variety of walks to choose from; all are theme based, and provide different ways of appreciating the various elements of life in this city.
The ‘Bazaar Trail’ takes you through Georgetown, one of Chennai’s markets. Historic, colourful, chaotic, messy, vibrant and rich in character, a walk through here gives you a true glimpse of the living India. The ‘Jewellery Trail’ takes you behind the scenes to see the making of exquisite hand crafted jewellery; observe expert craftsmen using techniques that have remained unchanged for centuries, crafting designs that never go out of fashion. The ‘Mystic Trail’ explores such things as occult practices and beliefs in the supernatural, the science-like systems of palmistry and astrology, and the ancient sciences of yoga and Ayurveda. It takes you through some of the well-known practices and beliefs of the region, and reveals the fascinating stories lurking behind them.
Day 3 Pondicherry
Depart Chennai this morning for Pondicherry, with a stop en route at Mahabalipuram. Sometimes referred to as an ‘open air museum’, Mahabalipuram is famed for its UNESCO World Heritage listed 7th century bas reliefs, rock cut temples, man-made caves, and rathas (‘chariots’ carved from single boulders to resemble temples or chariots). After a short tour of Mahabalipuram, continue on to Pondicherry.
Unlike any other city in India, Pondicherry was part of France until Independence and still retains a certain Gallic flavour (Bastille Day is still celebrated here!) and many streets still bear their original French names. Laid out in a grid pattern of squares and rectangles, it is an easy city to navigate. A canal (now dry) divides it into two distinct areas – the French ‘Ville Blanche’ and the Tamil ‘Ville Noir’, making this a fascinating mix of East and West. [Image: Mark A Wilson].
Day 4 Pondicherry
Spend today exploring Pondicherry, with a walking tour of the heritage quarter and a visit to the paper and incense making units of the Aurobindo Ashram. Be sure to allow some time to indulge in two of the city’s highlights – shopping and eating. There are an abundance of high quality boutiques and French-influenced restaurants to enjoy.
In the afternoon there is the option to visit Auroville, a UN sponsored ‘utopian society’. Evening free to take in the festival atmosphere of the promenade at sunset. [Image: Melanie-m].
Day 5 Chettinad
Depart this morning for Chettinad, with a stop en route at the incredible Brihadeeswara temple in Tanjore; this UNESCO World Heritage listed structure is considered the highest achievement of Chola temple architecture. After a short tour of the temple, continue on to Chettinad.
The Chettinad district, once made wealthy by teak traders and financiers, is famous for its ornate 18th century mansions embellished with marble and teak. Some of these have been restored into hotels, including the property where you will stay.
Day 6 Chettinad
Spend today visiting some of the small towns in this area, viewing their more significant buildings. Pay a visit to ‘Antique Street’, which has several shops selling bits and pieces that have come from some of the local buildings. You may like to have a wander at dusk through the small town of Kanadukathan – some of its fading mansions look quite beautiful and sad in the late afternoon light.
Day 7 Madurai
Drive to Madurai, with its cityscape dominated by the towering, brightly painted gopurams or entrance gates to the Meenakshi temple, the city’s focal point.
Spend the afternoon exploring this fascinating city on foot – perhaps with a stop for a cup of coffee at a local stall (in a break from the Indian love of tea, Madurai has a preponderance of coffee stalls – brewed strong, milky and sweet in the Indian style). As many of the roads here lead to the famous ‘fish-eyed goddess’ Meenakshi temple, you can wander freely from your hotel without fear of getting lost!
Day 8 Madurai
Explore Madurai today. Begin with a visit to the spectacular Meenakshi temple – one of India’s largest (both in area and in the number of structures within it) and busiest (with an estimated 15,000 visitors a day). A maze of shrines, sculptures and colonnades, the temple complex is a sacred place of pilgrimage for Hindus. It is the heart of the city – a glorious melange of puja ceremonies, processions, devotees prostrating themselves, boys being instructed in the Vedas, weddings, market stalls, and loud music. Also visit the impressive 17th century Nayak Palace, the Gandhi Museum, and the busy tailors’ market, where you can practise your bargaining skills. [Image: Os Rupias].
Day 9 Kanjirapally
Depart Madurai today for the 6-hour drive to Kanjirapally. Your accommodation here is at Kalaketty Estate, a secluded, peaceful and palatial homestay set amongst a rubber plantation (there are only two rooms available for guests, both are separate to the main family home so you have privacy). Afternoon free to enjoy the tropical setting, with rice, coconut and rubber trees in abundance.
Day 10 Kanjirapally
Full day to enjoy your surroundings at the property or explore further afield by bicycle. You may like to take a walk with your host through the rubber plantation, which also has cocoa, tapioca, pepper, vanilla, rice, coconut, banana and pineapple crops.
There might also be the opportunity to see elephants at work (this is not guaranteed as the elephants and mahouts go where the work is); it is quite fascinating to see how they deftly manoeuvre logs up and down steep slopes and on to trucks.
At the end of the day, sit out on the balcony and take in the lovely view over the rice paddy, before enjoying a delicious home cooked meal.
Day 11 Alleppey
This morning drive to Alleppey jetty, where you will board an air-conditioned houseboat on which you will spend the night. Traditionally constructed without nails, using only coir (coconut) rope, this converted rice barge with its cane deck chairs is perfect for sitting back and observing backwater life.
During the cruise there may be opportunities to get off the boat to visit points of interest, such as churches (there are many in this heavily Syrian Catholic area), temples, villages and small local industries, such as a coir factory. Enjoy the traditional Kerala style meals prepared on board by your crew.
Day 12 Kumarakom
Disembark the houseboat this morning. Your driver will be waiting at Alleppey Jetty to transfer you to Kumarakom – a 1-hour drive. In the backwaters you have a wide choice of accommodation – from homestays, to boutique B&Bs, to luxurious resorts.
One option to consider is Philipkutty’s Farm, a reclaimed property typical of the Kuttanad or backwater region (the farm is approximately 2 metres below the lake level). It is made up of ridges and canals, with all the planting done on the ridges. The canals are used for natural fish culture and the major crops grown are coconut, nutmeg, cocoa, banana, pepper, vanilla, toddy tapping and many other fruits, vegetables and spices. Food is one of the highlights of a stay at Philipkutty’s Farm. The cuisine is predominantly Syrian Christian with a strong backwater influence – ie, plenty of meat and fish preparations as well as vegetarian dishes, which feature little family touches, passed down over the generations.
Day 13 Kumarakom
You have the day to enjoy the property and surroundings – there are a number of activities on offer. For bird watchers the backwaters and the farm offer ample opportunities for sighting kingfishers, woodpeckers, egrets, cormorants, herons, crow pheasants, snakebirds, teals, etc. You may like to do a farm walk and learn about farming below lake level as well as the different crops cultivated and check out toddy tapping. Or, take a walk around the island along the outer dyke. This may take a little under 3 hours and covers a distance of approximately 8 kilometres. You could also explore the village and the market, across on the mainland.
If you would like to do a wider sightseeing trip of the countryside on a bicycle, a sketch of the region can be provided – this is a great way to see the coconut groves, paddy fields, canals and villages that blend into each other. Most of the roads on the mainland are flat. Alternatively, you could spend time kayaking in the backwaters, a wonderful way in which to experience the unique lifestyle here. Another option is a cooking class that will give you an opportunity to learn the nuances of the local cuisine.
Day 14 Marari
Depart Kumarakom this morning for the 1-hour drive to the lovely Marari beach area that lies on a relatively undiscovered shore between the renowned backwaters of Alleppey and the cultural hub of Cochin.
There are a number of accommodation options here, from small boutique properties with very personalised, friendly service and quiet beaches to sprawling resorts of cottages expansively sited across hectares of land. All feature superb food with an emphasis on fresh seafood; most of the fruits and vegetables come from local gardens.
Day 15 Marari
You can spend your time here relaxing and exploring in a number of ways: take a yoga class; have a relaxing oil or herbal ayurvedic massage or treatment; take long walks or bicycle rides to explore the beaches and fishing villages along the quiet beach road; wander through the local village; play a game of beach volleyball or tennis; take a cookery class; or simply laze on the beach or relax on a sunbed by the swimming pool.
Day 16 Cochin
After a leisurely breakfast, depart Marari for the one hour drive to Cochin, the commercial capital of Kerala. A city of peninsulas and islands, with a mainland centre, it has a magnificent natural harbour. Your accommodation here is in the historic Fort Kochi area of the city. Some of South India’s most interesting buildings are to be found here – old Portuguese, Dutch and British architecture – as well as the iconic Chinese fishing nets.
Spend some time exploring this area by foot – perhaps taking afternoon tea in one of the restored colonial buildings by the waterfront.
Day 17 Cochin
Day at leisure to relax or explore the city on your own, or if you have particular interests or would like to see the city from a different perspective – a bicycle tour or a walking tour for example – then you might consider our Insight Activities.
If you opt for the 17-day itinerary you will transfer to the airport this evening for your flight home.
Day 18 Wayanad
Transfer to the railway station this morning to board the train which journeys along the Arabian Sea to the Malabar region. You will be met on arrival and then travel by car into the Western Ghats. Wayanad is know for its plantations of coffee, cardamom, pepper and rubber and for the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, which protects a large area of Kerala’s densely forested hills.
Day 19 Wayanad
You have the option to take a trek today. A morning drive will take you to a small plantation town in the foothills of the Chembra ranges. Drive beyond the town on the smooth road winding through teagardens to the trailhead.
The hike begins in a tea garden that clings to the gentle slopes of the foothills with a massive summit high above. After a steady climb, interrupted by crossing over a rushing mountain stream and passing plantation settlements, you will reach the shade of the forest canopy – the cardamom forests retain the massive old trees and the canopy is intact. Stop by a wide bank by a stream for lunch. After lunch and crisscrossing the stream, or diving into it to relax, climb hard out of the tree line into grasslands to a vista point. From here you will be returned to your accommodation by sundown for a well-earned rest.
Day 20 Mysore
Depart today for the 3-hour drive to Mysore. Located at the base of the Chamundi Hills, Mysore is a lovely city of palatial buildings and tree-lined boulevards and parks, making it a very pleasant place to stroll around. It is known for its palaces, flower markets, silk textiles and sandalwood.
Its most famous palace is the lavish Maharaja’s Palace; built in 1912, it is a blend of Hindu, Islamic and European styles. Every Sunday evening it is illuminated (by about 100,000 light bulbs) – a magical, fairy tale sight not to be missed if you are here on a Sunday.
Day 21 Mysore
This morning explore Mysore in more depth with a 2 or 3-hour private walking tour. The walks offered are theme based and give you an opportunity to appreciate various aspects of life in this city.
Choose from the ‘Best of Mysore’, which covers the city’s history, art and culture; ‘Royal Walk’, that focuses on the colonial connections of Mysore and the stories of its erstwhile Maharajas; ‘Market Walk’ which takes you through the colourful and vibrant 125 year old market with more than 700 stalls to discover Mysore’s specialities from sweets to natural incense for which the city has always been known. ‘Artisans Walk’ takes you into the community to meet and observe artisans at their work and see the arts that they have mastered – from sandalwood produce to intricate inlay work – an art form passed down over generations.
Day 22 Bangalore
Depart Mysore for the 3.5 hour drive to Bangalore airport for departure.
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