Classic South India
Trip Code: AITBOS
AU$7,020 per person in a twin or double room
AU$9,085 for one person in a single room
Prices are valid until 30 September 2024, excluding the Christmas / New Year period.
- Accommodation at the hotels mentioned below, with breakfast
- All meals at Windflower Bandipur and Green Palms Community Homestay
- Transport in air conditioned vehicle throughout
- Train trips:
- Madgoan to Hospet and Hospet to Bangalore by 2AC coaches
- Nilgiri Train Mountain train from Ooty to Coonoor in First Class coach
- Specialist English speaking guides in Hampi, Mysore, Cochin, Madurai, Tanjore, Pondicherry and Mahabalipuram
- Entrance fees at monuments and sightseeing places
- At Bandipur: 2 vehicle safaris at Bandipur Sanctuary, with park fees
- At Cochin: Kathakali dance performance
- At Green Palms: 2-hour country boat trip; guided walk; 2-hour cycling; and cooking class
- At Thekkady: spice garden tour
- Assistance on arrival and departure at airports and train stations
- Complimentary mineral water in vehicles
- All land and vehicle taxes
- Visa fees
- Porter charges at hotels and railway stations if required
- Camera fees at monuments
- Meals other than specified
- Activities at the hotels other than those specifically mentioned as included
- Any expenses of a personal nature eg tips in restaurants or hotels, laundry, drinks, telephone calls, etc
- Any other expense which is not mentioned as included
Goa: Vivenda dos Palhacos
Hampi: Uramma Cottages
Mysore: The Green Hotel
Bandipur: The Windflower
Coonoor: Tea Nest
Cochin: The Tower House
Alleppey: Green Palms Homes
Madurai: JC Residency
Kumbakonam: Paradise Resort
Pondicherry: La Villa Shanti
This lively paced tour delves into the full range of sights and experiences unique to South India.
The diversity of South India is staggering. Every state speaks a distinct language and everywhere Hinduism manifests differently, in addition to vibrant Muslim and Christian communities. Physically, there are the extremes of the dry Deccan Plateau and the tropical Keralan backwaters.
On this tour you’ll visit a number of South India’s deservedly popular cities such as Mysore, Cochin and Pondicherry, while taking in some less commonly visited spots such as Hampi (one of India’s truly remarkable historical sites), Kumbakonam and Bandipur National Park.
The trip features a range of accommodation: charming B&Bs, a luxury wildlife resort and some special heritage hotels. Gentle walks, local activities and interaction make for an engaging and insightful experience.
Day 1 Goa
Goa eases you into India. It has a laid back atmosphere, quiet beaches and delicious Portuguese-influenced cuisine.
You will be met on arrival and transferred to your accommodation in south Goa, Vivenda dos Palhacos. A lovely one hundred year old restored villa, located in the village of Majorda, the hotel is run by an English duo who stay on the property. The front of the house is a modest Portuguese mansion, built in 1929; behind it the older Hindu house is made of thick-rammed earth walls. The evocatively named rooms (Konnager, Alipore, Ballygunge, Chummery, Chanpara, etc) are all different – and all have fans, air-conditioners and en-suite bathrooms. At the back of the house there is a swimming pool, set in a tropical garden with private sun bathing areas. ([Image: Martin Frey].
Day 2 Hampi
This morning board an air-conditioned train bound for Hospet. Sit back and enjoy a cup of chai as the countryside rolls by, including some beautiful views as the train climbs into the Western ghat mountain range.
You will be met on arrival and transferred to your accommodation, Uramma Cottages, located in the historical settlement of Anegundi. Dating back to the 8th century, Anegundi is situated on the north shore of the majestic Tungabadra River directly across from the heart of the Hampi UNESCO World Heritage Site. A unique eco friendly homestay experience, Uramma comprises seven charming cottages built in the traditional local style with thatched roofs; they are spread across a landscaped garden and farm, ensuring a quiet and restful stay within the bustling village life of Anegundi.
Day 3 Hampi
Spend today visiting the ruins in and around Hampi. Walk and auto rickshaw around the remarkable ruins of the ancient city of Vijayanagar which some claim is the world’s largest archaeological site. On its way to increased visitor numbers but still relatively unknown, this is one of the great ancient marvels of the world, in pristine condition, populated by no more than a few backpackers and banana farmers.
Day 4 Bangalore
Only on your second day in Hampi will you start to appreciate the magnitude of this once thriving city. Spend today exploring the most well-preserved and impressive remains.
Early this evening cross the river by coracle to have dinner in the Hampi Bazaar area, before driving to Hospet station to board an overnight train for Bangalore.
Day 5 Mysore
After arrival and breakfast in Bangalore drive 3 hours to Mysore.
The former capital of the region, Mysore was once led by a forward thinking Maharaja who gave the city electricity, universities and one of the most kitsch palaces you will ever see (half of which you can visit, the other half his descendants still live in). The city’s tree-lined avenues give it a laid back feel, while its bustling markets and central shopping area are great fun to explore.
If you are here on a Sunday, a visit to the palace in the evening is an absolute must: the 97,000 lights are switched on, which – along with the carnival atmosphere – make an awesomely illuminated scene.
Day 6 Mysore
Spend today sightseeing, beginning with a visit to the city’s most famous palace, the Maharajah’s Palace – an elaborate potpourri of Hindu, Islamic and Moorish styles.
Afterwards join throngs of Hindu pilgrims at Chamundi Hill – stopping at the Shiva Temple where devotees circumambulate the statue in a clockwise direction – and explore some of the smaller hilltop temples before returning to the city.
Of course, no trip to Mysore is complete without a wander through its lively Devaraja Market and a tour of its silk weaving and sandalwood oil centres.
Day 7 Bandipur
This morning drive approximately 3 hours through rolling fields punctuated with yellow sunflower patches, quaint village markets and forests, to Bandipur and your accommodation here, the secluded Windflower. An eco resort, located very close to the Bandipur Forest Reserve, it strives to maintain the sanctity of the jungle environment and thus does not provide televisions in rooms and cannot guarantee mobile phone or Internet connectivity.
Bandipur, spread over an area of 874 square kilometres, is home to a wide range of wildlife, including the Four horned Antelope, Gaur, Asiatic Elephant, Leopard, Sloth bear, black napped hare, black leopard and a host of bird species such as the Barbet, Babbler, Warbler and the Indian Peafowl. It also has a small number of tigers – but don’t get your hopes up, sightings are rare.
This afternoon enjoy a safari through the national park in an open 4×4 jeep or Canter vehicle, accompanied by an experienced and knowledgeable driver and guide.
Day 8 Bandipur
Rise early this morning and, after a pot of chai, take another unforgettable jeep safari through the mist-laden national park. Return to the resort for a buffet breakfast spread in the open-air restaurant.
The afternoon is free to relax and enjoy your accommodation. Take a dip in the infinity pool, sit by the water’s edge at the Mangala reservoir, or indulge in an Ayurvedic treatment at the spa.
If you’re feeling more energetic, you can trek to a tribal community near Mangala village, and get a taste of local village life.
Spotting deer gathering at the reservoir at sundown makes for a lovely end to the day.
Day 9 Coonoor
After breakfast depart Bandipur for the 2 hour drive to Ooty, where you board the Nilgiri Mountain Train for the 19-kilometre ride to Coonoor, a small quiet town surrounded by hills and slopes of tea plantations. A slow, scenic journey, it passes over viaducts, through tunnels and across tall girder bridges in picturesque surroundings of rocky terrain, tea plantations, and forested hills.
On arrival you will be met and transferred to your accommodation – Tea Nest, a lovely mansion built in the 1800s, surrounded by lush tea gardens. In this secluded and tranquil setting the house celebrates tea with its evocatively named rooms (Jasmine, Chamomile, Golden Tips, Lemon, etc); all are spacious and feature working fireplaces.
Day 10 Cochin
After breakfast begin the 6½-hour drive to Cochin and your accommodation in the historic Fort Kochi area of the city.
Fort Kochi has been in the hands of the Dutch, British, Portuguese and Chinese, with each having influenced the history and appearance of the Fort area in subtle yet unmistakable ways. With virtually no traffic, it’s the perfect place to explore by foot, or just relax and enjoy your heritage accommodation.
Day 11 Cochin
Spend this morning sightseeing with a local guide, including visits to the Dutch Palace, St Francis Church (India’s oldest church, built by Portuguese traders in 1503) and the iconic Chinese fishing nets.
This afternoon is free – the quiet streets around the Chinese fishing nets are filled with shops and restaurants, while a short auto-rickshaw ride away is Jewtown, which is full of antique shops and cafes.
This evening attend a Kathakali dance performance. Depicting the world of Hindu gods and demons these plays are based on the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Bhagavata Purana. Heavily made-up and elaborately costumed men play both male and female roles. Pay a visit to the dressing room before the performance to watch the colourful masks and makeup being applied (a process of several hours).
Day 12 Alleppey
Depart Cochin this morning for the 2-hour drive to Alleppey and your nearby accommodation, Green Palms. Idyllically situated on an island surrounded by rivers and rice fields, Green Palms is a homestay that affords a unique experience of the picturesque backwaters as you stay with a family and share their daily experiences on their property and in the wider community.
This afternoon enjoy a country boat trip through lovely palm-shaded canals and backwaters dotted with busy hamlets and lush green paddy fields. Stop off at the local pub where you can sample the local “toddy” drink with the villagers.
Day 13 Alleppey
Green Palms organises eco-tourism activities that involve the local community. Three activities are organised for you today. Enjoy a leisurely walk along the river, canal banks and through the rice fields and learn about traditional methods of farming and harvesting. Also, take a slow bicycle ride along the smaller canal bank route that enables you to observe and experience village life. And, explore the nuances of traditional Keralan cuisine with a cooking class.
All activities are optional and you might find that after reaching Green Palms and settling in, you would prefer to take it easy with a book or do your own thing for the day.
Day 14 Madurai
After breakfast begin the 4½-hour drive up the steep ‘ghat road’ to Thekkady, where you break for lunch. Afterwards you’ll have the opportunity to tour a spice plantation with a guide to see how well known spices such as cardamom, cloves, pepper and nutmeg grow, before resuming the journey to Madurai (a further 3½ hours drive).
Your first sight of the city of Madurai is likely to be the fourteen gateway towers called gopurams of the Meenakshi Temple which range in height from 45 to 50 metres, the tallest being the southern tower at 52 metres. This temple – the heart of Madurai – is a significant symbol for the Tamil people and attracts tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims (as well as foreign tourists!). [Image: Os Rupias].
Day 15 Madurai
This morning enjoy a 2-hour guided walk, ‘Vanakkam Madurai’. Created by local women to showcase the hidden charms of the city, it gives you an opportunity to hear about local life from a woman’s perspective and understand women’s roles in the family and community at large. Interact with local people, find out how their day dawns, what their livelihoods are and how they manage their families. Stroll through busy by-lanes, meet street vendors and observe how they do business; visit the flower and fruit markets, flanked by bananas, and gain an understanding of the challenges they face. Visit a pretty roadside salon and meet the local hairstylist.
The tour includes a wander down the age old ‘10 Pillar Street’; made of granite, these pillars are believed to be a part of the original grand entrance to the Rangavilasm, a now demolished portion of the Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal. Today they stand tall amongst houses, huts, tea stalls, small shops, etc. Here you can soak in 5,000-year-old legends!
Spend this afternoon sightseeing. Begin with a visit to the famous Meenakshi temple, probably the largest in India; its area, an approximate square, measures 245 by 228 metres and it contains a multitude of shrines, halls and colonnades – all teeming with colour, noise and people.
Afterwards visit the 17th century Nayak Palace – although only a quarter survives, it is still evocative of the splendour of the Nayak rule in Madurai. You also have the option to visit the insightful Gandhi Museum, which gives an overview of the Mahatma’s life through a variety of memorabilia. You may like to spend some time at the bustling tailors’ market, which is great for sharpening your bargaining skills and stocking up on gifts for friends and family at home.
Day 16 Kumbakonam
In the morning drive 5 hours to Kumbakonam, making a stop en route at Tanjore.
Tanjore is dominated by the UNESCO World Heritage listed Brihadeeswara temple, where an 80 tonne piece of granite crowns the 60 metre high central vimana or tower. Your guide will explain the complex system of ramps and wheels used to construct the temple more than a thousand years ago.
After a short tour, continue on for one-hour to your resort-style hotel in Kumbakonam, which features traditional Tamil architecture. The food here is a standout, especially the traditional south India ‘thali’ meal, served on a banana leaf. The lovely pool and sitting areas make for a very pleasant and relaxing afternoon.
Day 17 Pondicherry
Drive 4 hours to Pondicherry this morning.
Originally an 18th century French colony, this now bustling city – although very much Indian – represents the final bastion of French influence in India, particularly in the old quarters, with Rues and Boulevards lined with Mediterranean style houses and patisseries.
Check in to your hotel on arrival and the afternoon is free to relax and stroll through the quiet streets around the French quarter.
Day 18 Pondicherry
After breakfast – perhaps of croissants and coffee – set out for a morning of sightseeing. Explore the heritage area and visit the Aurobindo Ashram – a peaceful place despite the thousands of visitors it attracts – and the Aurobindo Paper Factory, where you can observe the process of making handmade paper – and perhaps buy some last minute gifts.
The afternoon is at leisure. You may like to indulge in some of the activities Pondicherry is known for – eating, drinking and shopping – and end the day with an evening stroll along the beachside promenade.
Day 19 Chennai
After breakfast you have a short drive up the coast to Chennai, with a stop en route to visit the 7th century UNESCO World Heritage listed monuments at Mahabalipuram.
Afterwards continue on to the airport for your flight home.
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