SOUTH INDIA IN STYLE Kerala & Karnataka
12 January – 1 February 2017
Tour Leader: Richard Hunt
PROVISIONAL COST: £3475 including: scheduled flights [London-Bangalore /Trivandrum–London] travel by coach or boat; accommodation in good hotels (often the best) in double/twin bedded rooms with breakfast. [Full board at Kabini & Dewalakum]; government taxes, entrance fees.
EXTRAS: Insurance; Indian Visa; other meals and incidentals. Single room supplement £875. Tips for guides and drivers. Yoga & Ayurvedic massage, for which the area is famed, are available in all the hotels.
This new tour is planned as a leisurely and gentle journey through many of the delightful experiences Southern India offers. It is a green and beautiful land, with lush vegetation, brilliant green rice paddy, waterways lined with coconut palms, contrasting with dramatic hills growing spices or tea and coffee. The Dravidian people, tracing their origins from very ancient times, are hospitable, gentle and devout. They preserve their Hindu faith through traditional worship, music and dance, painting and sculpture. They are devoted to their deities residing in the many magnificent temples. In the towns and cities the pace of life is slower and more relaxed than in the north, and often the main activities seem to be, as well as farming, preparation for festivals or just selling flowers to offer the God or for ladies to wear in their hair.
Our tour focuses on relaxing amid the beautiful scenery in the Nagarhole National Park, the Nilgiri & Cardamom Hills, the Malabar backwaters & lovely beaches, as well as visiting the historic cities of Mysore, Cochin (Kochi) & Trivandrum with their palaces, temples and the more recent colonial history of the Dutch & British Raj. We visit during the rice harvest and can see the patterns of agriculture in the varied landscapes of our journey. We travel at a leisurely pace, allowing time to explore alone or simply relax at some very comfortable hotels. Many of the journeys are through very beautiful scenery and we have time to stop to look at the many fascinating scenes and activities along the way.
This is a holiday! There is so much to see, but we cannot see everything! So the itinerary is selective, yet offers great variety with some time to explore alone, go shopping or just relax beside a swimming pool. When we are not in transit you are perfectly free to include or omit any of the day’s activities. We stay in hotels chosen for their location, interest and personal attention rather than every western 5* luxury although the hotels on this tour are often the best available. We do our utmost to plan carefully, but frustrations can occur with flights or hotels, which may involve changes in our programme. Indians are most hospitable, friendly and helpful and any difficulties can easily be overcome if we are tolerant and adaptable.
We hope to offer good value for money: this is not the cheapest tour to India as we use convenient scheduled flights, good ground services and appropriate hotels.
ARRIVAL & MYSORE: Our flight takes us to Bangalore (now called Bengalaru) and we drive on to MYSORE (renamed Mysuru), capital of the princely state until 1947. The palaces, temples and markets are delightful - a city well worth exploring alone or in small groups. We plan an orientation tour of the city [with a wonderful vegetable and flower market] and city palace, including an evening visit to the palace during the spectacular illumination with thousands of bulbs. Not far away is SERINGAPATNAM where Tipu Sultan, the ‘Tiger of Mysore’, whose father Hyder Ali had seized power from the Hindu rulers, was finally defeated by the British in 1799. Tipu's painted wooden summer palace survives intact. On the same excursion is the beautiful Hoysola temple of SOMNATHPUR, with some of the finest stone carving in South India [the Hoysolas were a ruling dynasty of 12th & 13th centuries].
3 nights at the Royal Orchid Metropole Hotel, a small heritage building, with modest garden and pool.
NAGARHOLE WILD LIFE RESERVE. A drive through the hills and forests takes us to Kabini, located on the lakeside with access to the wild life reserve. Here we take a boat journey across the lake before climbing aboard safari vehicles which take us deep into the forest. On our first safari last year we all saw a huge male tiger, first swimming, then walking past us at close quarters for about 10 minutes! Some of us also saw a female with three grown cubs! On previous visits we have seen leopards, and on all our visits we have regularly seen wild elephants, cattle (gaur), as well as a variety of deer and of course plentiful bird-life
2 nights at Waterwoods Lodge, Kabini. A small riverside hotel close to the Kabini reserve, with gardens & swimming pool. Full board.
NILGIRI HILLS to Ooty and Coonor. The Nilgiri hills passed into British territory after their victory over Tipu Sultan in 1799. Hearing reports of the beauty and healthy climate of the area, the East India Company official, John Sullivan, built a house in the hills in 1819, laid a roadway up to Ooty and slowly the place developed as a hill station – a cool retreat from the hot Indian summers – with military hospitals & boarding schools as well as the clubs, churches, bungalows and guest houses. The Madras government moved here in the summers, the mountain railway was built between 1899 – 1903, and a number of Maharajas built their summer palaces. Various satellite resorts, including Coonor grew up in the area. The drives up and down are delightful, and we plan to travel on the narrow gauge railway between Ooty and Coonor.
1 nights at the Taj Gateway (Garden Retreat),Coonor. An old colonial guest house with wonderful views. Time to visit the Botanical Garden and colonial church.
MUNNAR & THE CARDAMOM HILLS. Another most picturesque drive – Jill & I agreed last year that the ascent towards Munnar was one of the most beautiful journeys we have made - takes us to Munnar, another hill station in an important tea and spice growing area in Kerala, at about 1600 metres above sea level. We can visit tea gardens and a factory, cardamom and other spice plantations, take nature walks and relax at the very comfortable -
2 nights at the Spice Tree Boutique Hotel, with solar heated pool! A charming hotel tucked away in the forest, with spectacular view, infinity pool and excellent food. From here it is a reasonably short drive to another relaxing base:
3 nights at Dewalakum Homestay. Just 75 miles from Kochi (Cochin) this is a working farm run on organic & eco-principles, with just 10 rooms in a lovely location. Here we stay as guests of the family. They stress that this is a simple home-stay – not a luxury hotel – but the place is charming, the hosts welcoming, with much emphasis on Keralan cuisine and culture. There are many activities to choose from should we wish to be more active: walking in the forest or nearby village, exploring the spices and farming, swimming in the pool or river, cooking demonstrations, cycling…
COCHIN: We drive down to COCHIN (now called KOCHI), a thrilling city on the Arabian Sea. Settled by Jews, Portuguese, Dutch, and British, as well as various Indian rulers, it is built on a series of islands connected by bridges and ferries. Shipping, fishing, coconut processing and religious festivals seem the main activities, although, like all Indian cities, it has grown tremendously in recent years. We focus on the old city of Fort Cochin, [avoiding the rapidly growing mainland developments] visiting the harbour by boat, and a variety of monuments including the old city, the rajah's palace (paid for by the Dutch as a gift, with excellent Indian murals), the Jewish synagogue, Chinese fishing nets, and St Francis church. We plan an evening visit to a nearby theatre for Katakhali, the dance-drama of Kerala, and this is the season for spectacular temple festivals, involving processions and temple elephants. Will we be lucky? Warning: the street of a thousand delights – ‘Jew Town’ near the synagogue - is a serious shopping temptation (clothing, textiles, ‘antiques’…)
3 nights at the Fort House Hotel. A simple small heritage hotel very conveniently located on the waterfront in Fort Cochin,close to the Chinese fishing nets, with an excellent outdoor restaurant on a pontoon overlooking the harbour.
BACKWATERS & ALLEPEY. Kerala is famed for its backwaters – canals, lagoons and waterways along the western coast, connecting areas used mainly for rice and coconut growing. We drive the short distance to Allepey, the hub of the backwaters and take a country boat through narrow canals that link the town and the villages.
1 night at Raheem Residency, a small historic house overlooking the sea, with courtyard swimming pool and garden.
THE JOURNEY TO TRIVANDRUM & the far south. We drive on to Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram), the state capital of Kerala, and on to a luxurious and delightful hotel located on the coast near Kovalam. The area is the former princely state of Travancore, and during our visit here we plan to visit royal palaces – one in the capital and another wooden palace from the 16th century, together with a number of temples [some we cannot enter as they are restricted to Hindus] and an interesting museum. We can visit the southern tip of India at Kanyakumari (Cape Cormorin) in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu – a place of pilgrimage where three oceans meet, with many temples and statues.
3 nights at Niramaaya Surya-Samudra Retreat. A lovely small luxury hotel overlooking picturesque beaches. A wonderful place to relax and an excellent base for sightseeing.
SUMMARY OF PROVISIONAL ITINERARY SOUTH INDIA 2017:
Depart Heathrow by ETIHAD 14.05 via Abu Dhabi (1 hr 20 mins)
Arrive Bangalore 08.30. [India is 5 ½ hrs ahead] After wash and brush up at a hotel, proceed to Mysore. Royal Orchid Metropole Hotel for 3 nights.
Maharajah Palace, fruit & veg market, Chaumundi Hill [evening visit to palace illuminations]
Visit temple of Somnathpur, lunch beside Cauvery River, Tipu Sultan summer palace.
Drive to Kabini Wild life reserve and check in at Waterwoods Lodge for 2 nights (full board).
Wild life safaris by jeep and boat, relaxation at the jungle lodge.
Drive into Nilgiri Hills, to Coonor Taj Gateway Hotel 1 nights. Botanical gardens.
Drive down Nilgiris and into Cardamon Hills to Munnar, Spice Tree hotel for 2 nights.
Tea gardens and sightseeing.
Drive to Dewalokum Homestay for 3 nights (full board)
Drive to Cochin (Kochi) Fort House Hotel in Fort Cochin 3 nights. Evening Kathakali dance programme and dinner.
City tour of palace, synagogue and Fort Cochin; afternoon and sunset cruise of harbor.
At leisure to explore old Cochin
Drive to Allepey (40 kms) Country boat through narrow backwaters
Drive via Trivandrum to Kovalam. Niramaaya Retreat Hotel (overlooking beaches) 3 nights.
At leisure and optional excursions to Konya Kumari (southern tip of India), with palace and temple visits, and to Trivandrum city – museum, palace and temple.
Trivandrum airport for ETIHAD flight at 21.30 [check in 18.30]
Arrive Heathrow 06.40 via Abu Dhabi