SOUTH INDIA IN STYLE - A Very Gentle Tour of Kerala
19 January – 9 February 2019
Tour Leader(s): Richard Hunt
£3759 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 Wyanad(3 nights), Kabini(3) & Rajakkad (3)]; government taxes, entrance fees.
Insurance; Indian Visa; other meals and incidentals. Single room supplement £1125. 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 Western Ghats at Wyanad, the Nagarhole National Park & Tiger Reserve, the Nilgiri & Cardamom Hills, & the Malabar backwaters, as well as visiting the historic city of Cochin (Kochi) with its palace, 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 and WYANAD We take an overnight flight via Abu Dhabi to Kozikhode on the west coast of India. From here a drive of about 70 kms takes us to our hotel in Wyanad in the Western Ghats, known for its mist-laden mountains, lush forests and green paddy fields stretching up to the horizon. This is an ideal place to unwind from the flight and start our exploration of rural India. Nature walks and bamboo rafting on the river are available from our hotel, and we can venture further afield to nearby wild-life reserves and to Sultan’s Battery (Tipu Sultan, the 18thC ruler of Mysore was a thorn in the flesh of the British attempting to take over the territory), with Jain & Hindu temples, mosques & orthodox Syrian churches
3 nights at Wyanad Wild, a luxury remote hotel deep in the forest: views, pool & good food (FB)
NAGARHOLE WILD LIFE & TIGER RESERVE. A short 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 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
3 nights at Waterwoods Lodge, Kabini (FB). A small riverside hotel close to the Kabini reserve, with gardens & swimming pool. Full board. Safaris by Cantor vehicle and by boat,
NILGIRI HILLS to Ooty and Coonor. The Nilgiri hills (in present day Tamil Nadu) passed into British territory after its 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. Time to visit Sim’s Park Gardens in Coonor and Government Botanical Garden in Ooty & Fernhill Palace, built by the Maharajah of Mysore and now a hotel.
2 nights at the Neemrana Wallwood Garden, Coonor. A small colonial guest house. Quite cool at night!
MUNNAR & THE CARDAMOM HILLS. A long but 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. The tea gardens appear like giant landscape topiary gardens, dotted with enormous black rocks, all against the brilliant blue sky. We can visit a tea factory, take an interesting walk to Dolmans (ancient burial sights) at sunset point, 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.
THE RAKAKKAD ESTATE A foray into the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu takes us to Rajakkad. 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. We can walk down to nearby villages and a school. During our stay we hope to visit the nearby Hill Station of Kodaikanal.
3 nights at Rajakkad. Breakfast & lunches in the garden, dinners in the palace. (FB). We hope the British hosts, Francis and Jessie, will give us a tour of the tropical garden. It has a recent, but fascinating history.
THEKKADY & PERYAR. Descending to the plain, a drive of about 3 hours takes climbing to Thekkady, passing nurseries and villages on the way and re-entering Kerala State. This is the location of the Peryar Wildlife Sanctuary, over 300 square miles, where a dam across the Peryar River has formed a huge artificial lake, where we can go for a boat ride around the lake (a bit commercialized, but worthwhile as we have often seen herds of elephants, wild dog, otters, deer, gaur (wild cattle) and lots of birdlife). We can also take nature walks, go bamboo rafting or just relax at the very comfortable
Niraamaya Retreat Cardamom Club (2 nights). Set in a cardamom plantation, just 13 rooms, with pool.
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. From Peryar we drive down through the Western Ghats to Kottayam, where we board a boat to cross Lake Vembanad to arrive at our lakeside hotel near Allepey, the main hub of the backwaters. Next day we take small country boats through narrow canals that link the town and the villages of this area, perhaps with a picnic, before driving the short distance to Cochin.
1 night at Purity, Vembanad. A luxury backwaters resort. Infinity pool over the lake.
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’…)
4 nights at the Secret Garden Hotel. A small heritage hotel (9 rooms) very conveniently located in Fort
Cochin, close to the Chinese fishing nets, with small swimming pool. Most welcoming!
SUMMARY OF PROVISIONAL ITINERARY SOUTH INDIA 2017:
Depart Heathrow by ETIHAD 14.05 via Abu Dhabi (1 hr 20 mins)
Arrive Kozhikode 08.30. [India is 5 ½ hrs ahead] After wash and brush up at a hotel, proceed Wyanad Wild for 3 nights (full board).
Relaxing with time for nature walks, bamboo rafting etc
Optional visit to wild life reserve and or Sultan’s Battery.
Drive to Kabini Wild life reserve and check in at Waterwoods Lodge for 3 nights (full board).
Wild life safaris by jeep and boat, relaxation at the jungle lodge.
More wild life safaris
Drive into Nilgiri Hills, to Coonor Taj Gateway Hotel 2 nights. Botanical gardens.
Visit Ooty by narrow gauge railway. Botanical garden, Fernhill Palace
Drive down Nilgiris and into Cardamon Hills to Munnar, Spice Tree hotel for 2 nights.
Tea gardens and sightseeing.
Drive to Rajakkad Estate for 3 nights (full board)
Rajakkad activities – perhaps visit Kodaikanal Hill station
Drive to Thekkady Cardamom Club 2 nights
Peryar Wild life reserve – boat ride, nature walks, rafting
Drive to Kottayam. Boat journey to Allepey. Purity Resort 1 night.
After small country boat rides in backwaters, drive to Cochin Secret Garden 4 nights
City tour of palace, synagogue and Fort Cochin
Morning heritage walk. Afternoon sunset cruise of harbor
At leisure Evening Kathakali dance programme
Depart for airport and flight to London.