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India: South India Culinary & Cultural Discovery (16 days)

Elephant FestivalThis special journey connects you to the cuisine, architecture, rich culture and nature of Southern India. 

Since ancient times, India has been coveted as a prize by many a military force. From Alexander the Great to the modern British, India was invaded for its riches, its jewels, and its mystique. Somehow South India remained relatively unaffected by the invasions in the North. Here is where the true ancient Indian, the Dravidian culture survived. On this Southern sojourn, traversing through Tamil Nadu and Kerala, you explore the unique and breathtaking architecture, sculpture, ancient culture and influenced by the Pallava, Chola and Pandya dynasties. Enjoying market and spice trails with local story-tellers and becoming involved in the cuilinary dishes that have delighted even the most jaded taste buds.  Attend a Kerala elephant festival, stay in an Ayurvedic Health Resort, and enjoy exploring the canals that make up the back waters of the Arabian Sea from a deluxe houseboat. After all of this, relax on the authentic Kovalam coastline.  

Small Group Departures

March 13 to March 28, 2019
February 9 to 22, 2020

Tour Cost based on First Class hotels: $ 4,589 CAD / $ 3,765 USD

Single Room supplement TBA ~ share request available 

Independent departures can be arranged for other dates, based on minimum 2 persons - add $ 450 CAD / 370 USD per person

Itinerary 2018

You will arrive early morning at Chennai International Airport. Following customs, immigration formalities and baggage collection, our representative will meet you and transfer you to Mahabalipuram for 2 nights. (Pre-tour night is available in Chennai.) Located on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal is Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu and the fourth largest city of India. The Gateway to South India, the city is famous for its temples, beaches, and silk saris. Known earlier as Madraspatnam or Madras, the city of Chennai has grown tremendously from a small trading post under the British to a bustling metropolis. It is now a large commercial and industrial centre also known for its rich cultural heritage and temple architecture.

The drive to Mahabalipuram is (58 Km, 1 hour & 15 minutes). Built in the 7th century, this was an ancient Pallava port and today is a UNESCO world heriage site. Dinner. 2 nights at the Radisson Resort Temple Bay.

Today we will visit the photogenic and windswept Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram. Mahabalipuram is known as the "City of the seven Pagodas". The Shore Temple is dramatically perched near a promontory overlooking the Bay of Bengal.  We can see the Fie stone chariots at the southern end of town.  These 'rathas date to the 7th century and are extraordinary examples of rock shrines hewn from monolithic stone, and are named for the heroies of the epic Indian Mahabharata. We also visit Arjuna's Penance, the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world and the finely sculptured and carved Cave Temple. Dinner.

After buffet breakfast, you will be driven from Mahabalipuram to Pondicherry (180 Kms / 2 hours).  Pondicherry is a union territory that retains the borders of former French India. It consists of four small unconnected districts. Pondicherry, Karaikal and Yanam by the bay of Bengal and Mahe by the Arabian Sea. Pondicherry is steeped in history and is the perfect setting for you to relive an era straight out of a history book. In Pondicherry you will get to experience a special food trail with your story teller and hear the special stories about the people who make Pondicherry such a vibrant city. 2 nights at Palais De Mahe. 

After early breakfast proceed for the walking tour around the French quarters of Pondicherry, learn the tales of all who have walked through the fabric of this town. After your walking tour the rest of the day is free to explore the local markets and stroll around the promenade beach in the evening. 

After buffet breakfast Driver to Tanjore.  En-route stop at Chidambram, the capital of the Cholas from AD 907 to 1310, Chidambaram lies 9 km north of the Coleroon River, the northern limit of the Kaveri delta. It is one of Tamil Nadu's most important holy towns. After visiting Chidambaram. Upon arrival, proceed for check-in at your hotel. About a thousand years ago, Tanjore, or Thanjavur was the capital of the powerful Chola dynasty. Today, it is the little town set amidst the lush green rice fields of the Cauvery delta. Magnificent temples still bear witness to the splendour of Chola architecture. Dinner at hotel. 1 night at the  Hotel Svatma.

Morning sightseeing will start with a visit to Brihadeeshwara Temple, built in the 10th century by Raja Chola. It is considered to be artistically the most perfect of Dravida temples. Besides the temple, you will visit the Palace, housing the Tamil University Museum; the Art Gallery; and the Saraswati Mahal Library which houses palm leaf and paper manuscripts. Then drive to Madurai (175 km/ 4 hours). Enroute stop in Trichy. The site is situated on the banks of the river Cauvery and is the fourth largest city in Tamil Nadu. It was a citadel of the early Cholas, which later fell to the Pallavas. Trichy is a fine blend of tradition and modernity built around the Rock Fort. The town and its fort were built by the Nayaks of Madurai. A visit to the Rock Fort, one of the oldest in the world, approximately 3.800 million years, making it as old as the rocks of Greenland and older than the Himalayas. A climb of 434 steps leads to the ancient temple of Ganapati on top and a further climb to a Shiva Temple.Upon arrival, proceed for check-in at your hotel. One of the oldest cities in South India, Madurai has been the centre of learning and pilgrimage for centuries. Spread along the rocky banks of the river Vaigai in the state of Tamil Nadu, this modern industrial city is today famous as a temple town. Dinner. 2 nights at the Taj Gateway. 

Breakfast at the hotel. Enjoy a culinary day in Madurai will include a visit to the local market where we will learn about spices and ingredients used in regional cooking. In the afternoon there will be a cooking demonstration and then we will dine on our Chettinad cuisine at a local family house. This day you will experience the richness of Chettinad cuisine, one of the spiciest and the most aromatic in India. Famous for its use of a variety of spices used in preparing mainly non-vegetarian food, the dishes are hot and pungent with fresh ground masalas (spices), and topped with a boiled egg that is usually considered essential part of a meal. The use of sun dried meats and salted vegetables, reflects the dry environment of the region. The meat is restricted to fish, prawn, lobster, crab, chicken and mutton. Chettiars do not eat beef or pork. Most of the dishes are eaten with rice and rice-based accompaniments such as dosais, adais and idlis. The Chettinad people through their mercantile contacts with Burma, learned to prepare a type of rice pudding made with sticky red rice. 

Breakfast followed by a morning drive from Madurai to Munnar, a former British hill station on the slopes of the Western Ghats 500 feet above sea level. En- route you will stop at a private spice plantation which grows pepper, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and more. You will learn what they are, how to combine them and how to use them. We will then continue our drive to lunch at a tea estate. Overnight Windemere Estates.

After breakfast drive to Pakkad, approx. 4 hours.  Palakkad is famous for Panikkanar temple situated in the western end of town. The temple is more than 800 years old. After check-in witness the elephant festival. The excitement of the festival starts one month before with houseelephant fest cleaning and painting.  The festival features a lot of fireworks, elephant processions, and other cultural events. 2 nights Kairali Ayurvedic Health Resort. The accommodation is basic and serves only simple vegetarian food. 

After breakfast you will have time to relax. Post lunch drive to the location of the temple elephant festival to witness the pageantry and events of a traditional festival. Festival is an expression of the rich and cultural traditions of the area. With your guide spend a few hours attending the festivities. Normally from a quiet village it becomes a vibrant, colourful site during the festival day. With its plethora of colourfully caparisoned elephants, this festival draws hundreds of pilgrims across Kerala, and will provide you with an unforgettable experience and insight into the vibrant religious festival tradition of the south. The festivities begin in the afternoon with the decorations of the elephants, before the start of the procession and continues late into the night with music and dance. 

Drive to Cochin (3 hours). Upon arrival, proceed for check-in at your hotel. Kochi, or more familiarly, Cochin is a city of many parts. Kochi played a pivotal role in the development of shipping and trade in the region. Kochi's prime location on the west coast, its fine bay and protected harbour made it popular with seafarers and merchant ships who made frequent stops to stock up on spices, coffee and wood enroute to the rich markets of Europe and West Asia. 

Later explorations will take us to Mattancherry, where you will visit the oldest Jewish Synagogue in India, built in 1568; see the Chinese fishing nets lining the entrance to the harbor; visit St. Francis Church where Vasco da Gama died; and the Dutch Palace built in 1555. In the evening, you will visit a local theatre to watch Kathakali dance performance that represents a synthesis of all that is best in dance, drama and music. It is the impression created by make-up and the costumes that make Kathakali a very impressive visual experience. Return to your hotel after the dance performance. Dinner. 2 nights at the Malabar House Hotel.

Breakfast and some leisure time. Then set off to explore some of the key sites in Cochin. In the afternoon indulge in preparing your own meal, Kerala style in Cochin, in a local family's house. The unusual cuisine of Kerala brings to the fore the culinary expertise of the people of Kerala. Producing some of the tastiest foods on earth, the people of Kerala are gourmets with a difference. 

Kerala Backwaters

The cuisine is very hot and spicy and offers several gastronomic opportunities. The food is generally fresh, aromatic and flavoured. Keralites are mostly fish-and-rice eating people. The land and the food are rich with coconut, though one can not imagine Kerala food without chilies, curry leaf, mustard seed, tamarind and asafoetida. Just a pinchful of tamarind can substitute tomatoes, but there is no real substitute for curry leaf. Since time immemorial, coconut has been an integral part of the cuisine of Kerala. These people put to good use whatever the land offers and the result is a marvellous cuisine that is simple yet palate tickling. They relish equally a dish as simple as kanji (rice gruel) or as extravagant as the sadya (feast). At some point during our tour we will visit a Spice Mill which will us to witness the stocks of famous raw spices and the process of grounding and packing for export. 

After buffet breakfast, you will be driven from Thekkady to Kumarakom, (135 km / 3.0 hours). Upon arrival, proceed for check-in on our houseboat. In the lush backwaters of Kottayam in Kerala, lies a veritable paradise, which is called Kumarakom, or the "Venice of the East." Palm fringed narrow canals winding through the vast expanse of paddy fields, and the neat tiny hamlets lined up along either side of the canals are panoramic sights one can never forget. Kumarakom is Keralas heartland of lagoons, palm fringed lakes, and paddy fields, inter-linked with hundreds of winding canals, with the typical low slung country boats that carry everything from people to fish, rice and coconuts to the milkman and newspaper boy, local politicians and priests to wedding parties. Enjoy an overnight backwaters cruise.

After breakfast, disembark and drive to Kovalam, a breathtakingly beautiful beach town. After your arrival the rest of the day is at leisure to explore the beaches and shops Kovalam has to offer.  2 nights at the Leela Kovalam (beach view). 

"Kovalam" means a grove of coconut trees and true to its name the village offers an endless sight of coconut trees. The crescent-shaped beach has three parts. The southern most beach, and the most popular, is light house beach. It offers an amazing sight of Vizhinjam mosque. The northern Samudra is a laidback one and time seems stands still here. The middle, hawah, in the early day, is a beehive of activities with fishermen setting out for sea. With a high rock promontory and a calm bay of blue waters, this beach paradise creates a unique aquarelle on moonlit nights. Day is at lesiure.  A very special place to enjoy the essense of Kerala! 

You will be transferred from Kovalam to Trivandrum International airport for your flight back home or for your India extension.

Extensions can be arranged! 
Domestic airfare can be added to connect you to other regions of India or to departure flights in Delhi or Mumbai. 

Additional Information

The prices include:

  • Accommodation on twin/dbl sharing at the hotels mentioned above
  • Meals as specified by B = breakfast, L = lunch, D = dinner
  • Culinary program
  • All transfers, excursions and sightseeing tours will be by Air-conditioned Large Coach
  • Entrance fees at all monuments, road taxes, parking fee, fuel charges, interstate taxes, and porterage at all hotels & airports
  • English speaking local guide

Does not include:

  • International airfare
  • Meals not specified
  • Indian Visa fee
  • Optional but recommended travel insurance (Tours of Exploration can provide rates for insurance)
  • Tips at the discretion of the traveller
  • Items of a personal nature
  • Domestic airfare to join up with post trip extensions or to fly from home from airports other than Trivandrum