Duration : 10 Nights / 11 Days
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Arrive in Chennai and be transferred to your hotel. Rest of Day free to recover from your long flight.
Your Day will begin with a morning tour of Chennai, in the state of Tamil Nadu. Visit the bronze gallery and see their superb collection of Chola art. Visit a local market, Kapeeleshwar Temple, Marina Beach among others. After a short drive, we will spend the Day exploring Mahabalipuram (formerly Mamallapuram), the histo ric, picturesque to wn that is world-renowned for their highly skilled sto ne carvers. The sweeping stretch of golden sands lacing the Bay of Bengal has defied time and retained its pristine nature, and is the setting for the amazingly well preserved shore temples that date back to the 8th century. Visit the World Heritage Site Five Rathnas and you'll see five impressive shrines carved out of pink granite and named after five famous characters from the Mahabharata. Watch local fisherman practice the labor intensive ancient art of pulling in their haul by hand from the beach.
After breakfast, you'll depart for Chennai where you will catch a flight to Trichy. Situated on the banks of the river Cauvery, Tiruchirappalli (or Trichy) is the fourth largest city in Tamil Nadu. A fine blend of tradition and modernity and built around the impressive Rock Fort, it is home to many churches, colleges and missions dating back to the 18th century. Here we will sto p at the Srirangam Temple in Trichy, the foremost temple devoted to Vishnu in the world. It is the largest and arguably the most impressive temple complex anywhere spanning 156 acres. From here, you'll drive to Chettinad where you'll relax for the evening.
Known for their cultural heritage and culinary delicacies, the Chettiars are widely known as the histo rical business tycoons of the South. What remains in Chettinad to Day are their architectural legacies and many of their descendents. The local village Karaikudi is famous not only for its traditional houses, but for it's unique, brightly colored handmade tiles that you will see all over India. Lunch will be at the Bangala, a traditional Chettinad style restaurant overlooking a spectacular garden. Chettinad food is famous for using a variety of different spices and masalas in preparing vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, and for the beautiful banana leaf presentation. After your meal, spend some time wandering through the Shandi market seeing the unique goods that are available in this region. In the evening, you'll learn the art of authentic South India cuisine at a cooking class and then dine on the delicacies that you've helped to prepare.
From Chettinad, you'll make your way to the second largest city in Tamil Nadu, Madurai. Enroute, sto p at one of the five Gandhi sanghralayas (museums) in the country, and learn a bit more about India's iconic hero. Endowed with a rich cultural heritage and glorious traditions, Madurai is considered one of the "antique" cities of India. With histo ry dating back to the 6th century BC, it's often called "The Athens of the East". In the late afternoon, you'll visit the elaborate Meenakshi Amman Temple complex, which is the largest Shiva temple in the world. The soaring to wers rise from solid granite bases and are covered with intricate stucco figures of deities, mythical animals and monsters painted in vivid colors. Witness the evening prayers and feel the sacredness of this very special temple.
Spend the Day getting a deeper appreciation for one of India's most popular cities for Indian residents. Spend a bit more time at the Meenakshi Temple Complex, and visit the Tirumala Nayak Palace, a gracious 17th century building in the Indo Saracenic style famous for intricate stucco work on its domes and arches. After lunch, take a short drive to the Thiruparankundram Temple where the Hindu got Murugan is said to have married Deivanai. The temple is the first among the six holy abodes of Murugan and the second most popular temple in Madurai. You'll end the evening with an adventurous auto rickshaw ride through to wn, returning to the hotel for dinner.
Drive through the scenic Eastern Ghats, the mountains of South India and experience a very different landscape. After a morning drive you will enjoy a to ur of a spice plantation and get to experience the taste of fresh spices from the garden! After lunch, take a boat ride on Lake Periyar, in one of South India's most popular wildlife reserves. Make your way to your hotel where you will get to watch a cooking demonstration by the chef, and enjoy traditional Keralan cuisine for dinner, with an emphasis on the flavors created by the fresh vegetables and local spices.
You will depart after breakfast for Kumarakom, deep in the tropical heart of Kerala. "God's Own Country" as the locals call it, Kerala has the country's highest literacy rate at 91%. It's mostly known for its lush backwaters, which are a peaceful slice of heaven far away from the clamor of India. Kumarakom is an emerald peninsula jutting into the beautiful Vembanad Lake, where you'll see plenty of traditional country crafts, boats and canoes. The fresh water of the lake runs through the flat lands of Kerala. Here you will board a traditional "kettuvallam" for a to ur through the backwaters where land, sea and sky come to gether. Cruise comfortably and slowly on an air-conditioned boat through quiet canals lined with coconut palms and rice paddies. Before roads were built the waterways were the highways of South India and they still are in a different way as you'll see. Enjoy a wonderful freshly prepared dinner that you will not soon forget.
Disembark from the houseboat and visit the Allepey market. Experience the unparalleled magic of the narrow, shaded streets and vibrant color of this quaint to wn built along canals and shaded by coconut trees. Mid-Day you will visit a local home, where you will eat a lovingly prepared meal and meet the family. Afterwards, you will have free time to walk in the village. In the evening, you will learn firsthand the finer points of Keralan cuisine from a local chef.
This morning, travel about an hour north to Cochin, the distinctive colonial to wn that has been home to Jewish settlers, Portuguese and Dutch traders, Chinese visito rs with threads of Syrian, Christian and Portuguese merchants. Wake up and greet the fishermen at Cochin's famous Chinese fishing nets during their morning catch. The strong are invited to help pull in a net! Enjoy a fascinating to ur of Cochin's heritage sites including St. Francis Church (the oldest in India, built in 1506), the Jewish Synagogue, Mattancherry Palace, and the world famous spice markets. Shopping opportunities abound! If all that shopping has you tired, indulge in one of Kerala's famous ayurvedic massages. Cochin clings to its vibrant histo rical traditions such as Kalarippayat, a gravity-defying martial art. In the evening, witness another one of their sacred traditions, a trance-induced ritual Kathakali, a blend of religion and dance.
Depart from Cochin airport to home, or extend your stay with one of our post-to ur extensions.