Day 1: New Zealand – – Chennai
Today, depart New Zealand for Chennai, India. On arrival, you will be met and transferred to your hotel.
Chennai established its presence in southern India on the Bay of Bengal in 1639 with the establishment of Fort St. George. The city of Chennai, formerly known as Madras, grew up around the fort area. It now serves as the capital of Tamil Nadu and is the fourth largest city in India, with over six million inhabitants. It sprawls over a large area yet, in spite of recent industrial growth, seems less congested than other large Indian cities. Its role as a trade centre is furthered by rail, road, and air connections in addition to its seaport. It presents both modern and traditional charm, its many British influences juxtaposed with Tamil-Hindu traditions.
Day 2: Chennai (B)
After breakfast, commence a tour of Chennai.
Your tour will start with the visit to, Fort St. George (closed on Fridays & Public Holidays), which is presently being used by the Tamil Nadu Government. Within the compound is a museum (closed on Monday) holding many remembrances of the East India Company and the British period. From the British hold of centre, you will proceed to Mylapore, which was inhabited in the 16th century by the Portuguese; visit the San Thome Church, named for the Christian disciple (“Doubting Thomas”) who lived and taught here in the first century.
Visit local restaurants, small shops selling flowers, coloured powders, and other items for the puja (worship), heritage walk through the area including the four narrow streets which circle the 16th century Kapaleeswarar Temple, honouring Shiva, dates back to the 13th century AD and is the biggest temple in Chennai (from outside as temples close by 1200 hrs). Visit Koyambedu Fruit and Vegetable Market, Parry’s and stroll through the walkways of the local markets.
Day 3: Chennai – Mahabalipuram – Puducherry (B)
After breakfast at the hotel, proceed to Mahabalipuram. Travel time approx. 2 hours.
Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) built in the 7th century, is an ancient Pallava port. Today it is the site of several antique sculptural marvels. Declared as the world heritage site by UNESCO, Mahabalipuram boasts some of India’s most sublime rock-cut art. The town was earlier called Mahabalipuram, but was later renamed as Mamallapuram or the place of the great wrestler – Narasimhavarmam I. He made this port a flourishing trade centre. The only shore temple, which remains here, is the spectacular two-spired shrine, which is unique in that it houses both Vishnu and Shiva in its sanctum. The Pallavas perfected the art of sculpting rocks to build temples without brick, mortar or timber. The open-air bas-reliefs, structured temples, man-made caves and the five monolithic “rathas” (chariots carved from single processions) reflect this art at its best. “Arjuna’s penance” here is the world’s largest bas-relief. Proceed for sightseeing of Mahabalipuram including The Shore Temple, Arjuna’s Penance, Mandapams / Cave temples. The Shore Temple: though known as the land of Seven Pagodasm, is the only one remaining today. The five-storied Shore Temple on the beach was built by the Pallava King Raja Simha at the end of the seventh century in pure Dravidian architecture. Surrounding the temple is Nandi or the row of oxen. This is one of the oldest structural temples in South India and features in the word heritage cultural sites of UNESCO.
Arjuna’s Penance – this skilfully carved rock is the largest bas – relief sculpture in the world. It gets its name from the figure of an ascetic who is believed to be Arjuna, the hero of Mahabharata, doing penance to obtain a boon from Lord Siva. However, there are others who think that the figure is actually Bhagiratha who entreated Siva to let the river Ganges flow over the earth.
Mandapams / Cave temples – the temples are finely sculptured & carved out in Mahabalipuram. Krishna Temple is the oldest temple. The decorated Krishna mandapam is depicted with the episodes from Lord Srikrishna’s life and the lifting up of Gobardhan hill to give protection Gops & Gopies from the curse of the rain God. The rectangular Ganesh ratha was hewn out of a whole rock and is worshipped daily. To the South west of Ganeshrath in Varaha Mandapam. To a little North you will witness the enormous power of the God on the Balancing Rock. Ganesa Ratha, Varcha Cave, Old Light House, Krishna’s Butter Ball, Gopi’s Churn, Valayankuttai Ratha, Kodikal Mandapam, etc.
After sightseeing drive onto Puducherry. Travel time approx. 2 hours.
Pondicherry has a rich French cultural heritage, having been the capital of the French colonies in India since the 17th century. The French legacy is visible in the well-planned town, neatly laid roads, wide and vibrant beaches, beautiful promenades, architecturally imposing churches and public buildings and the statues. Split into two parts, Pondicherry is, on one hand a bustling Indian Market town, and on the other hand, towards the sea, the streets are emptier, cleaner and decidedly European.
Day 4: Puducherry (B)
After breakfast, proceed for a sightseeing tour of Pondicherry. Visit Sri Aurobindo Ashram, located on Rue de la Marine, is the most popular attraction in Pondicherry. The Ashram was founded by Sri Aurobindo Ghose in 1926. Sri Aurobindo, the poet philosopher founded the Ashram to help man reach the zenith of his evolution through spiritual exercises and yoga, combined with physical activity and productive work.
Auroville – a universal township in the making for a population of up to 50,000 people from around the world. Sri Manakula Vinayagar temple & Sacred Heart Church, Baker’s Street, a bakery run by a Frenchman and Tamil & Muslim quarters.
Day 5: Puducherry – Tanjore (B)
After breakfast, drive to Tanjore. Travel time approx. 5 hours.
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. The Chola kings built the majority of Tanjore’s (also known as Thanjavur) 93 temples.
After check in, enjoy a sightseeing tour of Tanjore. Tourist attractions in Thanjavur include the Brihadeeswarar temple that was constructed by the Chola king Raja Chola. This temple has a huge Shiva lingam and a stone sculpture of the Nandi bull. The temple compound has a shrine dedicated to the Lord Subramanya. Note: Foreigners (Non Hindus) are not allowed inside the inner sanctum of the temple. Visit Royal Museum (old palace) buildings (closed on all government holidays and Mondays).
Please note – as there are limited hotel options in Tanjore, your one night stay will be in a good quality well rated standard hotel.
Day 6: Tanjore – Madurai (B)
After breakfast, we drive to Madurai. Travel time approx. 4 hours. Upon arrival, check in at your hotel.
Madurai: The second largest city of Tamil Nadu, is an important cultural and commercial centre. With a history dating back to the 6th century BC, it was once the seat of Tamil learning and still the place where the Tamil language is spoken in its purest form. It was well-known to the Greeks and Romans with whom the city carried on active trade. The old city was planned in the shape of a lotus with the Meenakshi temple, the town’s main attraction, at the centre. Madurai’s main attraction is the famous Meenakshi Temple in the heart of the old town, a riotously baroque example of Dravidian architecture with gopurams (towers) covered from top to bottom with a breathless profusion of multi-coloured images of gods, goddesses, animals and mythical figures. The temple complex is a city within a city and one can spend days exploring its labyrinthine corridors and halls.
After an early dinner, proceed to Meenakshi Temple to witness the night ceremony. Note: Foreigners (Non Hindus) are not allowed inside the inner sanctum of the temple.
Day 7: Madurai (B)
This temple town is unique in that all its temples are living temples and it remains a major religious centre attracting pilgrims the year round. Visit Meenakshi temple once again and then onto Tirumalai Nayak Palace (1636) restored by Lord Napier. Dance and drama concerts are performed here daily.
Day 8: Madurai – Thekkady (B)
After breakfast, drive to Thekkady. Travel time approx. 5 hours.
Thekkady – home to an unending chain of hills, elephants and spice-scented plantations that create this heavenly town. Lying close to these plantations, in the rich jungles of Periyar in Thekkady is one of the world’s most fascinating natural wildlife reserves – the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Periyar is South India’s most popular wildlife sanctuary, encompassing an area of 777 sq. km. Set on the attractive manmade Periyar Lake, it attracts over 300,000 visitors a year. Though the sanctuary was a part of Project Tiger in 1973, it is better known for its elephants. At Periyar, it is possible to take guided treks into the sanctuary. You can also take a boat ride on Lake Periyar, and see the wildlife around the lake as you cruise along its banks. Apart from elephants, bison, sambar, wild boar, langur, otter and flying squirrel are common. There are also 246 species of birds and 112 species of butterfly. Apart from its diversity of wildlife and scenic beauty, this is the only sanctuary in India where you can have the unique experience of viewing wildlife at close quarters from the safety of a boat on her lake. This picturesque town holds great opportunities for treks and mountain walks. Also, don’t miss out on the Spice Plantation tour that cover cardamom, pepper, coffee and tea plantations, tea factories, tribal settlements and the surrounding hill regions.
Optional Tour (additional cost applies): Periyar Lake boat cruise – enjoy the calmness of this lake. Thekkady is an example of nature’s bounty, with great scenic charm, rich bio diversity and providing veritable visitor satisfaction. Sprawled over an area of 920 sq. km. Periyar is one of the 27 tiger reserves in India. Zealously guarded and efficiently managed reserve is a repository of rare, endemic and endangered flora and fauna and forms the major watershed of two important rivers of Kerala, the Periyar and Pamba.
Day 9: Thekkady – Kumarakom (B)
Take an early morning Jungle Walk with the Naturalist. The walk is an interpretative program that allows you to explore the dense Periyar wilderness, enjoy the nature, sight wildlife, hear the rustle of wind and smell the wild blossoms. Different nature trails traversing diverse habitats form the trekking routes, generally 4 – 5 km in length. The trails often pass through evergreen and moist deciduous forests interspersed with marshy grasslands.
We then drive to Kumarakom. Travel time approx. 5 hours. 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 Kerala’s heartland of lagoons, palm fringed lakes and paddy fields, interlinked 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.
Day 10: Kumarakom (B)
Enjoy today at leisure.
Day 11: Kumarakom (B,L)
Today, proceed for a cruise on the backwaters of Kerala. Embark the houseboat, which will sail down gently on the backwaters of Kerala. Check in time is 12:30pm. Houseboats are also known as the “Ketuvallam” or the Rice Boat. Ketuvallam ride can be the most romantic ride you can ever have with a night halt in the middle of the lake Vembanad Lake/canal. A backwater comprises of a unique web of rivers, lakes, bays, lagoons and canals extending into the villages and town of the city. Backwaters are a central part of Kerala’s Tourism Synopsis, making an absolute cruiser through the twisting and meandering water streams. This backwater journey through the narrow canals crossing exquisite villages of Kerala, embellished with lush green paddy fields, tall coconut grooves makes it a most spellbinding site. Return to the hotel in the late afternoon.
Day 12: Kumarakom – Cochin (B)
After breakfast, proceed to Cochin. Travel time approx. 2 hours.
Cochin – more popular as the Queen of the Arabian sea, Cochin is a cluster of islands on the vast expanse of the Vembanad Lake. The Lake opens out into the Arabian Sea here to form one of the finest natural harbours in the world. This natural advantage has made Cochin a fascinating blend of the cultures and influences of explorers and traders. The Arabs, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and the British have all left their mark here. The Jewish synagogue, the Dutch Palace, the Chinese fishing nets, and other remnants of European and Asian architecture merge smoothly into the traditional fabric of the seaport city.
Upon arrival, check in at the hotel and rest of the day is at leisure.
Day 13: Cochin (B,D)
After breakfast, commence a sightseeing tour of Cochin. Visit Dutch Palace, also known as Mattancherry Palace (closed on Fridays) built by the Portuguese and presented to the Raja of Cochin in 1555 AD. It acquired the present name after 1663 when the Dutch carried out extensions and repairs in the palace. At no time did the Portuguese or Dutch stay here. Its interiors are decorated with murals from the Ramayana and there are some lively displays of royal costumes and palanquins.
Continue to visit Jewish Synagogue (Closed on Fridays, Saturdays and Jewish Holidays) was built in 1568 AD. The Great Scrolls of the Old Testament, the copper plates in which the grants of privilege made by the Cochin rulers were recorded and the exquisite Chinese hand-painted tiles are of interest.
Chinese Fishing Nets – line the sea front and exhibit a mechanical method of catching fish by local fishermen in Fort Kochi. Said to have been brought from China by traders of Kubalai Khan’s Court, they are used at high tide.
Also visit St. Francis Church – the Protestant church was originally built by the Portuguese in 1510 AD and is believed to be the oldest church built by the Europeans in India. It is here the remains of the inveterate traveller, Vasco da Gamma were initially buried and 14 years later, his mortal remains were taken to Portugal.
Tonight you will enjoy some local entertainment with snacks at Greenix Theatre. The cultural show called Kerala Kaleidoscope is a mixture of all Kerala Dance Forms. Show casing quintessentially magnificent vignettes of Kerala’s rich cultural traditions, Kerala Kaleidoscope is essentially an exclusive, uniquely choreographed repertoire of live classical dance and music performed in a heritage theatre with legendary ritualistic folk invocations and martial arts. It is a medley of many authentic dances of Kerala, especially the mellifluously lyrical and graceful Mohiniyattam, dance of the enchantress. Exquisitely devotional for some, sublimely sensual for others, the rigorously codified majestic spectacle of Kathakali, Kerala’s trademark dance drama instantly recognizable for its dazzling regalia and trance-inducing rhythms.
Day 14: Cochin – – New Zealand (B)
Today at the appropriate time, you will be transferred to the airport for your homeward flight.
Day 15: New Zealand
Arrive home today.