Find out what makes Indian cuisine so special during a food tour in Madurai, a home-cooked meal with a local family, a fragrant lunch at a spice plantation and an ayurvedic cooking demonstration and dinner.. Discover India’s old-world and new-age religions during tours of ancient temples and a visit to the modern spiritual community of Auroville.. Witness a fusion of influences in the stunning former French colony of Puducherry, and see touches of a Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and British past in the exuberantly multicultural Kochi.. Experience a thousand shades of green as you tour a scenic tea plantation in Munnar and track footprints in search of wild elephants in the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.
Swaying palm trees, rolling emerald hills and tranquil backwaters make up the lush surface of southern India, but dig a little deeper and discover a land of charismatic people, ancient religion and cherished cuisine. This 13-day Premium adventure will take you into the home of a local family, down the French-inspired streets of Puducherry, through the maze of food stalls in Madurai and into the wilderness of the Periyar National Park, all with the passionate guidance of a local leader.
Breakfast Included: 12 Lunches Included: 2 Dinner Included: 4
Welcome to India! Your adventure begins in Chennai, India’s cultural heart and fourth largest city. You will be met on arrival at the airport and transferred to your hotel. Meet your fellow travellers and experienced group leader for an important 6pm welcome meeting. If you arrive in Chennai with time to spare, you may like to pay a visit to the colourful market stalls of the Georgetown Bazaar. After your meeting, join your leader and group for a welcome dinner at Chennai’s first chain restaurant, serving up an iconic array of south Indian vegetarian dishes like idly, dosa and poori. It’s never hard to find something fantastic to eat in south India, the only challenge is deciding what to order. Luckily your leader is on hand to help you navigate the flavour-filled menu.
This morning you will leave the city behind and drive along the scenic East Coast Road to the fishing town of Mamallapuram, home to sprawling, relaxed beaches. Visit the 8th-century Shore Temple and its mandapams (carved pillars) and watch locals pay their respects to the deity Shiva. Later in the afternoon continue the drive to Puducherry. A French colony until 1954, the old parts of town retain a distinctly European feel. Leafy boulevards are lined with colonial-style houses and trendy boutiques – this place has a certain je ne sais quoi. On arrival, the rest of your evening is free to explore. Puducherry has a varied food scene with traditional Indian and classic French influences. Be sure to ask your leader for some tips on where to grab a fabulous meal.
Today you will visit the famous Auroville, an experimental township just outside Puducherry dedicated to the concept of human unity. With more than 80 rural settlements and home to over 1500 residents, half of the town’s population are foreign nationals. Auroville is also home to the world’s largest solid crystal, which you can examine, then make a visit to the spiritual community of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Return to Puducherry for a walking tour to see local temples and the charming French Quarter. Stroll past mustard coloured buildings draped with vibrant bougainvillea as your leader shares stories of the revolutionaries, generals and kings who once walked these streets. Stop by the pastel pink Church of Notre Dame, perhaps even more gorgeous than its Parisian counterpart. Evidence of the French colonial period is everywhere – the architecture, sprawling town squares and even in the police uniforms. The evening is free for further explorations.
Today, continue to the city of Madurai, with plenty of chai stops along the way. Arrive in the late afternoon and head out on a short orientation walk to get acquainted with one of India’s oldest cities. Once you’ve got your bearings, join your leader on a trip for the taste buds – a tantalising tour of the city’s Tamil cuisine. Madurai is bursting with street food stalls, family-owned restaurants and plenty of regional delicacies – your leader will show you the dishes that aren’t on the tourist menus. Have a taste of mutton dosa or some fish gravy as your leader regales you with stories of centuries-old recipes and the passionate people who make them. Round off the night with some Jigarthanda; Madurai’s most celebrated dessert is a delicious and refreshing blend of condensed milk, almond gum and ice cream.
Continue your walking exploration of Madurai today. Your leader will guide you through the Tailor's Market, the local bazaars and the Sri Meenakshi Temple. Still in use today, this ancient temple is a maze of lamp-lit corridors leading to shrines where traditional rituals take place. Next is the National Gandhi Museum, dedicated to the life and achievements of the 'Father of the Nation' and the leader of India's fight for independence. Stop by the extravagant Thirumalai Nayak Palace, built in the 17th-century by King Tirumala Nayaka. This evening you’ll have the unique opportunity to immerse yourself in Tamil culture when you join a local family for a traditional home cooked dinner. Chat with the family about their lives and try some more wonderful dishes such as chettinad chicken, egg paratha and vegetable korma.
Make your way to the countryside town of Thekkady, driving past pineapple and rubber plantations on the way. Thekkady is the gateway to Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve, perched high in the ranges of the Western Ghats. Stop off at a spice plantation where you’ll speak with a local expert and taste, smell and learn about the brilliant array of spices that colour and flavour India’s famed cuisine. Put your new knowledge to good use as you sit down to a flavoursome lunch made with spices from the plantation. The evening is yours to enjoy in Thekkady. Perhaps wander the shops selling fragrant spices and organic tea, or relax in the palm fringed pool at your resort.
Thekkady - Periyar National Park
This morning, take a guided nature walk in the acclaimed Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Your expert guide will help you look for tiger tracks, spotted deer, Indian elephants and gaur – the world's largest species of buffalo. You are most likely to encounter Bonnet macaques and the Malabar giant squirrel, a species native to India. After an exciting morning of wildlife spotting, the rest of your afternoon is free. You may want to unwind with an optional ayurvedic massage. In the evening, attend an exciting demonstration of kalarippayattu at the Kadathanadan Kalari Centre. Originating in Kerala, kalarippayattu is believed to be the oldest surviving martial art in India. Watching high-energy fighters leap several feet into the air is a truly thrilling sight.
This morning drive north to Munnar, an old British Hill Station cradled in a picturesque valley. At 1525 metres above sea level, there’s likely to be dramatic drop in temperature here, so have your jacket ready! Munnar is one of India’s most important hubs for tea trade, and the rolling emerald hills that surround the town are an unforgettable sight. On arrival, take a tour of the tea plantation, where a resident expert will guide you through the steps of the tea making process. Follow narrow pathways and visit the workers picking the best tea leaves, learn how these leaves are transformed into the world’s most popular beverage, and sample some of the different varieties. There may be an opportunity to visit the tea museum, though opening hours are irregular so this cannot be guaranteed. This evening, relax at your mountain resort.
This morning, take a guided walk around the lush hills of Munnar, often shrouded in ethereal clouds. Be sure to have your camera ready as the beautiful landscape unfolds in front of you. Learn how Munnar’s cool temperatures made the region a favourite summer retreat during the British Colonial era. In the afternoon, journey out to the scenic Mattupetty Dam where you’ll find a beautiful man-made lake and spectacular views of the surrounding valleys. Here you’ll have the chance to take an optional motorboat ride around the lake. After some time to appreciate the stunning scenery, return to Munnar for an evening at leisure.
Drive to the backwaters of Kerala this morning and discover Alleppey’s sleepy, palm-shaded waterways. Once a significant trading port, the town is now famed for the long ‘snake boat’ races that take place in August every year. Kerala’s backwaters were once busy with passing kettuvallams; large wooden boats used to transport rice and spices. Today these traditional vessels have been transformed into magnificent houseboats, offering guests the incredible opportunity to explore the lagoons in total comfort, as you will during your feature stay for the evening. Conversions are made using traditional and natural materials – bamboo becomes roofing, coir mats are turned into flooring and beds are carefully crafted from the wood of coconut trees. These floating cottages share the comforts of a first-rate hotel, including western toilets, private bedrooms, a dining area and open deck where you can watch the world go by. Sit back for a truly unforgettable evening floating through the dreamy waters of rural Kerala.
Enjoy a peaceful morning at the Kerala waters before driving to Kochi in the afternoon. Cochin, as it was formerly known, is spread over several islands and is a melting pot of Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and British influences. Join your leader on an orientation walk to learn how these influences manifest in the city’s architecture, restaurants and daily life. In the afternoon, take some time out to enjoy the city – perhaps head to lively Princess street and kick back with a cup of coffee. Tonight you’ll have the special opportunity to watch a Kathakali dance performance. Kathakali is a classical Indian dance with roots in Kerala, combining symbolic storytelling with physical technique. It is one of the most vibrant and extraordinary theatre forms in the world and proficiency requires incredible commitment and rigorous training. Your feature stay accommodation for the evening is at the sophisticated Dutch Bungalow. This heritage hotel has been standing proud since 1668 and retains the traditional charm of days gone by. Enjoy stylish rooms circling a serene pool and an excellent in-house restaurant.
Today you will explore the antique shops and spice bazaars of Kochi – your leader will show you how to haggle with the best of them. Visit the delightful Fort Kochi area and stop by the famous Chinese fishing nets – perhaps Kochi’s most photographed sight. Make a visit to the Mattancherry Palace, built in the 16th-century by the Portuguese and later claimed by the Dutch. Continue to the Paradesi Synagogue, the oldest existing Jewish synagogue in India. In the early evening you will meet with an ayurvedic doctor, a practitioner who uses ancient holistic techniques to promote a balance of body and mind, resulting in overall health and wellbeing. Learn all about Satvik Bhojan, the ayurvedic diet, and take part in a cooking demonstration followed by dinner using the methods and recipes discussed.