SOUTH INDIA: KERALA & TAMIL NADU
1 – 22 February 2018 with Richard Hunt
Tour Leader: Richard Hunt
PROVISIONAL COST: £3295 including: scheduled flights [London – Cochin; Madras - London] travel by coach or boat; accommodation in good hotels (often the best) in double/twin bedded rooms with breakfast.; government taxes, entrance fees.
SUPPLEMENT: If you choose to start the tour with 4 days of luxury in Kovalam, starting 27 Jan (flying to Trivandrum), there will be a supplement of £450
EXTRAS: Insurance; Indian Visa; other meals and incidentals. Single room supplement £995. Tips for guides and drivers. Yoga & Ayurvedic massage, for which the area is famed, are available in most hotels.
This new tour starts in Cochin on the Malabar West coast, overlooking the Arabian Sea. We travel on through the Cardamom Hills into the Tamil heartland, including Chettinad, famous for the many mansions built by rich merchants. This 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 plains are dotted by the extraordinary temple towers that dominate the landscape. 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 farming, preparation for festivals or just selling flowers to offer the God or for ladies to wear in their hair. . Our tour ends on the Coromandel East coast on the Bay of Bengal, with its memories of French and British colonial rule in Pondicherry and Madras.
We fly to the historic city of Cochin, with its palaces, temples and the more recent colonial history of the Dutch & British Raj. We travel on through the Cardomom hills to the tea and spice growing area of Munnar before entering Tamil Nadu where we stay in a small luxury estate in the hills above Madurai, famous for its astonishing ornate and vibrant temple. We then visit the area of Chettinad, known for the large number of mansions built by rich merchants who traded in Burma and the far east. We then journey on through some of the famous temple cities of Tamil Nadu – Trichy & Tanjore – before arriving at the former French colony of Pondicherry. We end our stay on the beach at Mahabalipuram, close to Madras (now called Chennai), where we can relax as well as visiting the wonderful sculptures and rock temples, or travel inland to Kanchipuram (one of the seven sacred cities of India). On our last day we can visit Madras city and the historic British enclave of Fort St George. Our journey is during the rice harvest and we 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. 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.
COCHIN (Now called Kochi): We fly 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 Secret Garden Hotel. A small heritage hotel very conveniently located close to the waterfront in Fort Cochin, with swimming pool and garden, close to the Chinese fishing nets
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 our next relaxing base:
THE RAKAKKUD ESTATE & MADURAI: Set at 1000 metres above sea level in the Palani Hills, we stay for three nights in this quiet and remote hotel of just 7 rooms – reconstructed from an 18th C traditional Keralan mansion. The garden and small farm supply the kitchen where traditional south Indian food is served. Visits can be arranged, perhaps with picnic lunches, for walks in the hills through coffee plantations and to waterfalls in the hills where we may swim. Visits can be arranged to nearby villages and a school. On leaving Rajakkud we drive down to MADURAI an important centre of Hindu pilgrimage, over 2000 years old, with the vast and fascinating Shri Meenakshi Temple (16th century), dedicated to Shiva’s consort (usually called Parvati, but who is called Meenakshi here). Here is Hinduism at its most intense – the temple is thronged with pilgrims and often busy with ceremonies. Madurai also has the Tirumala Nayak Palace, now partly in ruins, but with impressive stucco work on the domes and arches.
3 nights at Rajakkud Estate where we occupy all 7 rooms with full board. Simple but charming. No swimming pool.
CHETTINAD. In the 19th century, many merchants from this area migrated to the new British colonies of Burma, Singapore, Ceylon and beyond, where many became extremely wealthy, spending their money on building lavish mansions, temples and monuments in their native area of Tamil Nadu. Burmese teak as well as Belgian glass, Italian marble and other luxurious materials were used, and the result is the rather curious existence of hundreds of mansions which were and are seldom used except for perhaps family weddings. Many have fallen into disrepair or have disappeared, but many remain, and during our three day stay in one of these mansions we plan to explore the area – the villages, temples, crafts (especially weaving and tile making), and also enjoy the famous Chettinad cuisine.
3 nights at Chettinadu Mansion, one of the smaller of the mansions with just 12 rooms and swimming pool.
TRICHY & TANJORE. On our journey to Tannjore we first visit TIRUCHIRAPALLI and the fascinating Vishnu Srirangam temple on an island in the Cauvery River. Nearby is the area where pilgrims bathe in the river and many rituals are performed, from shaving the heads of children, to private family prayers with the many priests, astrologers who wait for clients. We then drive on to another famous temple town of TANJORE, where we pay a morning visit to the World Heritage site of Tanjore’s outstandingly beautiful 10th century ‘Big Temple’ built in golden sandstone. This must be one of India’s most beautiful buildings. There is also an outstanding museum of sculptures and bronzes from the Chola period (10-13th C). A leisurely afternoon with time to swim and relax
2 nights at the Ideal River View, Tanjore. A lovely situation on the river. Good food, pool and garden.
CHIDAMBARAM AND PONDICHERRY. A long but interesting drive takes us to Chidambaram, which was capital of the Chola Dynasty from AD 907 to 1310 and is one of the most important holy towns of Tamil Nadu. Here is the magnificent Nataraja Temple, reputed to date from the 6th century, but mostly belonging to the 11th to 13th century; the place in Hindu mythology where Lord Shiva as Nataraja - Lord of the Dance - performed his cosmic dance and which is regarded as the centre of the cosmos. We drive on to PONDICHERRY, a French colony until 1954 (coffee and baguettes?) where we can explore the French colonial architecture next day.
2 nights at Maison Perumal – a small French colonial building with 2 rooms and swimming pool.
MAHABALIPURAM & MADRAS (CHENNAI): A short journey takes us to our hotel on a beach on the way to MAHABALIPURAM. Mahabalipuram was the second capital and sea port of the Pallava Kings of Kanchipuram, who reached their peak of power and artistic patronage from 5th – 8th centuries. A variety of monolithic rock-cut temples, bas-reliefs and a famous shore temple provide a wonderful introduction to early Indian art and religion, while present day craftsmen carving temple deities, a fine beach, fish restaurants all provide a fascinating and relaxing place to stay. We may also choose to drive inland to KANCHIPURAM, capital of the Pallava dynasty – one of the sacred cities, famous for temples and hand-woven silk. Not far away is the bustling city of MADRAS, which we visit on our last day before catching our evening flight. Once the most important of the East India Company's Presidencies (before the rise of Bombay and Calcutta), Madras was founded in 1639. Fort St George was begun in 1641, and St Mary's church was the first English church in India. There are other Raj buildings - administration, law courts, colleges, railway stations. As the modern capital of the state of Tamil Nadu (the land of the Tamil speakers), the region once ruled by the ancient Pallava, Chola and Pandya dynasties.
4 nights at the Ideal Beach Resort. Cottages and rooms with direct access to the beach. A simple, but friendly and hospitable hotel, with swimming pool, outdoor restaurant.
PROVISIONAL ITINERARY SOUTH INDIA KERALA & TAMIL NADU 2018:
1st Feb - Depart Gatwick or Heathrow by EMIRATES 13.35 (via Dubai)
2nd - Arrive Cochin 08.05. [India is 5 ½ hrs ahead] Secret Garden Hotelfor 3 nights.
3/4th - Cochin sightseeing
5th - Drive to Munnar. Spice Tree Hotel for 2 nights
6th - At leisure or visit Munnar town and/or tea factory.
7/8/9th - Drive into Palani Hills, Rajakkud Esate for 3 nights. At leisure/ estate activities.
10th - Visit Madurai Temple etc. Drive to Chettinad Mansion for 3 nights.
11/12th - Chettinad sightseeing
13th - Drive via Trichy to Tanjore. 2 nights at Ideal River Resort
14th - Visit Tanjore Temple/ museum/ at leisure.
15th - Drive via Chidambaram to Pondicherry. Maison Perumal for 2 nights.
16th - Explore Pondicherry
17th - Drive to Mahabalipuram 4 nights at Ideal Beach Resort
18/19/20th - Explore Mahabalipuram, optional visit Kanchipuram/ at leisure
21st - Explore Madras. Airport check-in 18.40 departure 21.40 via Dubai
22nd - Arrive Gatwick/Heathrow 06.40