SOUTH INDIA IN STYLE - A Very Gentle Tour of Kerala
16 January – 6 February 2020
Tour Leader(s): Richard Hunt
£3600 including: scheduled flights [London-Kochi–London] travel by coach or boat; accommodation in good hotels (often the best) in double/twin bedded rooms with breakfast. [Full board at Dewalokum (3 nights), Half board at Thekkady (2 nights)]; government taxes, entrance fees.
Insurance; Indian Visa; other meals and incidentals. Single room supplement £1062 (regrettable, but very scarce). 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 (and often Christian and Moslem) faith through traditional worship, music and dance, painting and sculpture. They are devoted to their deities residing in the many magnificent temples and in Orthodox and Catholic churches. 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 & Cardamom Hills at Munnar and Thekkady, the Malabar backwaters and coast, ending in the historic city of Cochin (Kochi) with its palace, temples and the more recent colonial history of the Dutch & British Raj. We make one foray into the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu to visit the temple city of Madurai, with its palace and vibrant markets. 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 where we can often enjoy Keralan cooking classes, yoga and Ayurevedic massage. 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 small 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 mostly small boutique hotels.
ARRIVAL and CRANGANOR We take an overnight flight to Kochi (formerly Cochin) on the west coast of India. From here a drive of only 40 minutes takes us to our hotel at Cranganore on the banks of the wide Peryar River shortly before it flows into the Arabian Sea. This is an ideal place to unwind from the flight and start our exploration of rural India. Canoeing or swimming in the river (or beautiful pool), yoga and massage. We can plan guided visits (by boat and meandering backwaters) to weaving centres and heritage sites, and to the restored Synagogues (now museums) where it is claimed that the first Jews sought sanctuary in India in the 6thC BC.
3 nights at Cranganore History Café & Riverside Chateau, not a chateau, but a luxury 7 room hotel beautifully located on the river, views, infinity pool & good food.
DEWALOKUM. Our journey through villages, rice fields and rubber plantations takes us to 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, village or temple visits
3 nights at Dewalakum Homestay, on a smaller tributary river located among rubber plantations.
MUNNAR & THE CARDAMOM HILLS. Jill & I agreed last year that the ascent towards Munnar was one of the most beautiful journeys we have made. This is 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 places) at sunset point, take nature walks and relax at the very comfortable.
3 nights at the Spice Tree Boutique Hotel, with solar heated pool! A charming 17 room hotel tucked away in the forest, with spectacular views, infinity pool and excellent food. Previous TC visitors have voted this one of the very best hotels in south India
MADURAI. We descend on the Eastern slopes of the Western Ghats to visit the temple city of Madurai. This is a highly venerated place, attracting millions of pilgrims, for here Lord Shiva (one of the three most important Hindu deities) married his bride Parvati (except that here she is called Meenakshi). The resulting temple is very ancient and over the centuries has grown into one of the largest and most magnificent of Indian temples. The present structures date mainly from 15th/16th centuries, unusually containing two main shrines. Each morning Shiva, having spent the night with Meenakshi in her shrine, is woken, bathed, fed and in a procession carried round to his own shrine. Each evening he is ceremoniously taken back to spend the night with Meenakshi. We plan to visit the evening ceremony and explore the magnificent architecture and sculpture of the temple by day. Madurai also offers us vibrant markets, the enormous 18th C palace of the Nayaka rulers, the Gandhi museum and opportunities for some shopping therapy!
2 nights at The JC Residency. Unlike the other hotels on our tour this is a city-centre business style hotel, but is clean, efficient and has a swimming pool. Convenient for our sightseeing.
THEKKADY & PERYAR. Crossing the plain, a drive of about 4 hours takes climbing through the Cardamom Hills 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, visit an elephant camp, or just relax at the very comfortable
2 nights at Niraamaya Retreat Cardamom Club. Set in a cardamom plantation, just 16 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 Kumarakum, where we board a boat to cross Lake Vembanad, and then take our coach to our hotel on the coast near Allepey, the main hub of the backwaters. From here 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.
3 nights at Flamingo Marari Hotel. A simple small charming hotel with 11 rooms located just a short walk or canoe ride to the palm-fringed and often deserted Marari beach. A small swimming pool and open air restaurant. From the hotel the short (5 minute) canoe ride to the beach is delightful
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 Secret Garden Hotel. A small heritage hotel with 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 2020:
Depart Heathrow by Air India LHR 13.30 Mumbai 04.00/05.30 Kochi 07.40
Arrive Kochi 07.40. [India is 5 ½ hrs ahead] Drive to Cranganore 3 nights
Relaxing /Optional visit to weaving and heritage
Relaxing/ Optional visit to Jewish history and village trail.
Drive to Dewalokum for 3 nights (full board).
Farm and estate visits.
Climb Western Ghats into Cardamom Hills to Munnar, Spice Tree hotel for 3 nights.
Visit Tea Gardens and factory
Relax/ Local walks to Dolmans and sunset point
Drive to Madurai. JC Residency Hotel 2 nights
Meenakshi Temple /Palace / Market visits
Drive to Thekkady Hill station: Cardamom Club 2 nights
Peryar Wild life reserve
Drive to Kumarakom – boat across Lake Vembanad, Flamingo Marari 3 nights
Shikara boat rides in Allepey
Relax/ canoe to beach
Drive to Cochin Secret Garden 3 nights
City tour of palace, synagogue and Fort Cochin
Morning heritage walk. Afternoon sunset cruise of harbour, followed by Evening Kathakali
Afternoon departure to Kochi Airport Depart 20.15 Delhi 23.20/02.30
Arrive Heathrow 06.35