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Explore historic Chennai, the cultural, culinary and artistic hub of Southern India.
Marvel at the extensive cave temples and life-size bas-relief sculptures of Mahabalipuram.
Join a local chef in Puducherry for a market visit and cooking lesson.
Join 45 nations at Auroville, the New Age community founded in the 1960s that still attracts devotees the world over.
Experience an evening aarti ceremony at Meenakshi Temple with a local guide.
Enter a world of tea, from plant to pour, amidst the plantations of Munnar.
Watch the colourful port city of Kochi come to life with an expert guide.
Arrive Chennai, India
Arrive to a warm welcome and transfer to your hotel. Chennai – formerly Madras – plays a unique role as keeper of South Indian artistic, religious and culinary traditions. Recent years have introduced a new layer of cosmopolitan glamour and modernity, but the best of Chennai remains its old soul. The rest of the day is yours to explore at leisure. The city boasts many museums and temples worth visiting, as well as authentic South Indian delicacies to savour. Perhaps finish the day with a sunset saunter along Marina Beach, the world's second-longest urban beach.
After breakfast, meet your Resident Tour Director® for a briefing along with your fellow travellers. Take a walking tour and discover colonial-era Madras through the buildings left behind by the British Raj. Then zigzag your way through the bustling lanes of vibrant Georgetown with your guide pointing out the fresh produce, famed mulberry silk, local everyday commodities, and colourful market stalls, pausing along the way to taste handpicked street-food treats. Finish the day at Marina Beach at sunset before a welcome dinner.
Today, travel south to the UNESCO-listed town of Mahabalipuram. Visit Bhagiratha's Penance, a bas-relief sculpted over enormous rocks depicting animals, gods and saints. Then, stop at the Shore Temple, site to remarkable seaside monuments including the 7th-century open-air Tamil art museum. After lunch, head to Puducherry and your hotel in the French Quarter. Puducherry is one of India's most tranquil cities and featured in the film Life of Pi. This afternoon, take a wander through the 18th-century French Quarter, full of colonial-era mansions, tree-lined bicycle routes, parks, cafés and boutiques.
Explore Puducherry – or ‘Pondy’ – on foot, beginning in the French Quarter with its wide, shady streets, colonial-era architecture and soft pastel colours. Pause at Sri Aurobindo Ashram, an influential spiritual community founded in 1926, before spending your afternoon at leisure. This evening, visit the local market, where greengrocers, fisherfolk and fruit vendors display their wares, and where your local chef-guide will teach you how to pick the best produce for Indian cuisine. Back at the hotel, join the kitchen staff in preparing your dinner, which, as per tradition, is served in the kitchen for you.
Today, travel to the nearby community of Auroville. This experimental, New Age township, founded in 1968, attracts devotees from over 45 nations who come to follow the teachings of philosopher and long-time resident, Sri Aurobindo. Particularly impressive is the Matrimandir, a huge golden globe used as a meditation centre. Later, visit Mohanam Cultural Centre, which plays host to various events and festivals throughout the year, and works to preserve the rich cultural heritage of South India. The rest of the day is your own to explore, or relax in your hotel.
Drive south to Thanjavur, once the capital of the Chola empire. This historic city is home to the magnificent temple of Brihadishvara, commissioned in the 11th century by King Rajaraja I. Many other temples and shrines were added over hundreds of years, making this one of the most important and visited historical sites in India today. On the way, stop in Chidambaram to visit the vibrant Nataraja Temple, famed for its bronze dancing Shiva and host to daily Brahmin rituals. Arrive in Thanjavur and settle into your hotel ahead of a restaurant dinner.
Spend some time today admiring the spectacular 11th-century Brihadisvara Temple. Seek out its elaborate stucco sculptures, shrines and statues and the exquisite Chola frescoes. Later, stroll through the 14th-century Tanjore Palace built for Maratha royalty and bursting with captivating art, royal artefacts, and many intriguing curiosities. Meet artisans who craft the melodious veena, a musical instrument carved from a single piece of jackwood. Afterwards, be mesmerised as you watch master painters at work perfecting the classical Thanjavur style, and bronze sculptors whose techniques have changed little since the Chola period. Tonight, dinner is included at your hotel.
Today, journey to the Chettinad region, home to a prosperous business community and renowned local cuisine. Ride like a local, taking a bull cart to a lunch of subtle, aromatic local flavours. Next, visit a tile factory to marvel at the colourful materials, and a weaving centre to admire soft cotton sarees, before continuing to Madurai – an energetic, ancient city on the Vaigai River. This evening, enjoy a sundowner on the magnificent Moon Deck overlooking Madurai, followed by dinner.
After a morning at leisure – perhaps exploring Madurai’s Dravidian temples or maze of markets and museums – choose one of the following Design Your Day® activities:
Option 1: discover spectacular handcrafted wares on the potter's trail. Watch dexterous villagers hand-fashion mud dolls, then try your hand at this traditional skill. Afterwards, enjoy a soothing soak in the nearby lotus pool.
Option 2: tantalise your taste buds on a food tour of Madurai, sampling regional delights whilst gaining insight into the city’s lively culinary scene from a local expert.
Option 3: embark on a ‘Once upon a Madurai’ walking tour, where you are guided between historic sites by a local expert – who will regale you with fascinating tales of a bygone time.
Travel overland to Munnar, once a favourite retreat of the British Raj and typified by rolling hills and emerald-green tea plantations. Your accommodation, The Windermere Estate, is set against the Western Ghats mountain range and near the Eravikulam National Park – a haven for wildlife. Enjoy a sumptuous lunch at your hotel, with the afternoon at leisure. This evening, take a two-hour walk through The Windermere’s cardamom plantation, accompanied by an expert naturalist. Keep an eye out for giant squirrel as you admire the trees, flowers, plants and enchanting babbling streams.
Discover a world of tea today as you witness the complete process from leaf plucking and processing to packaging and pouring. Visit the tea gardens, taste various grades at the Lockhart Tea Factory, and try your hand at this traditional art – with the opportunity to make your own brew. Next, head to the nearby village for more insights into this region’s rustic way of life. Witness cattle grazing in the meadows and admire houses set amidst the plantation hills. This evening, enjoy lively and insightful conversation over high tea with the tea planter's family.
This morning, drive through the countryside, passing rubber-tree groves and into spice-filled air, to Kochi. After lunch with your group, the afternoon is yours to explore. Kochi has been drawing travellers and traders to its serene shores for over 600 years. The region hosts a 450-year-old synagogue, ancient mosques, colonial-era houses and relics of the British Raj. It's also a centre of Keralan arts and a standout place to see kathakali (classical Indian dance) and kalari (an Indian martial art). This evening, motor around the harbour and soak up the sunset.
Your early start this morning lets you see fisherfolk set off to cast their nets, and peek into the massive seafood auction to witness fervent haggling over prized catches. Later, ride the local ferry to see more lively markets, ahead of a more tranquil temple visit. After breakfast, visit one of the oldest Jewish synagogues in India, admire the wonderful murals of Mattancherry Palace and visit St. Francis Church. Spend the afternoon at leisure, before enjoying an authentic performance of kathakali – a tradition that combines classical dance, theatre, opera and pantomime.
Today, choose one of the following Design Your Day® activities:
Option 1: explore the Kerala backwaters, beginning with a stroll through a village set amidst lush paddy fields. Cycle to a market abrim with delicacies, before a leisurely cruise down palm-lined canals, lunching with a local family.
Option 2: embark on a Keralan culinary trail, helmed by experienced local chef, Nimmy – who demonstrates her flare for traditional home recipes and helps you bring your own dishes to life.
Option 3: discover the many faiths and histories of the Malabar Coast on a cultural tour, visiting fascinating museums and hallowed places of worship.
Your journey around captivating Southern India comes to an end. Transfer to the airport for your departure flight.
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