Your Southern Indian adventure starts today in Kochi. Attend a welcome meeting at 6 pm with the travel group. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. We'll be collecting insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you bring these details to provide to your leader. If you're going to be late, please inform hotel reception. If you arrive into Kochi early, there are plenty of things to see and do. Once an important spice-trading centre, Kochi has been under Portuguese, Dutch and British rule at various times throughout history. Explore with one of our Urban Adventures, or wander down to the shore and seek out the huge Chinese fishing nets dotted along the coast of Fort Cochin.
This morning, explore Kochi on an orientation tour. Board a local ferry to Mattancherry and drop by the Dutch Palace, built by the Portuguese in the 16th century before it was renovated and presented to the Rajas of Cochin by the Dutch. Pay an optional visit to Paradesi Synagogue, the oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth and home to many rare antiques. Then amble around the spice bazaars and antique stores of Fort Cochin. In the evening, experience a Kathakali performance. This Keralan dance is an ornately costumed display of storytelling, requiring complete control of the body.
Most of today is spent travelling. Catch a three-and-a-half hour train to Coimbatore, before travelling by private vehicle to Ootacamund (approximately four hours). Often referred to as ‘Snooty Ooty’, it was here that the game of snooker was named and possibly invented. Stretch your legs exploring the town’s Hindu temples or stroll through what almost feels like English countryside. Ooty is pleasantly mild in the summer but can get cold in winter, so make sure you come prepared with adequate clothing. We stay in nearby Conoor, where dinner is included at our accommodation tonight.
Today board Ooty’s famous toy train for a ride along the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. Be sure to get a window seat for great views. In nearby Conoor, visit a tea plantation to learn about the history of tea production. Spend the rest of the day exploring Ooty’s Botanical Gardens, which are home to over 650 species of plants and trees. Alternatively, embrace your romantic side with a boat ride on the lake.
Take a private vehicle for the short drive to Masinagudi today. Set against the backdrop of the Nilgiri mountains, Mudumalai National Park was once the Mysore Maharaja's private hunting ground. In 1974 it was brought under Project Tiger and is now one of the best game sanctuaries in India to observe wildlife in close proximity. Embark on a short safari in search of tigers, leopards, elephants, sloth bears, sambars, spotted deer and much more. There's also an amazing variety of birdlife in the park. Tonight’s family-run accommodation in Masinagudi is mixed gender dormitory style with a common bathroom. This dorm room is only open to our groups.
Travel by private vehicle across the scenic Karnataka plains to Mysore, stopping to share a biryani lunch with our local friend Raju and his family. Mysore is an easy-going town with a pleasant climate, perfect for wandering around on foot. Your leader will provide an orientation tour for you to get your bearings. A visit to Mysore is incomplete without a look around Mysore Palace. One of the most ornate palaces in India, its interior is full of colour, mosaics and mirrors.
This morning head out of Mysore and climb Chamundi Hill to the Sri Chamundeswari Temple, dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Durga. Continue on to the Keshava Temple in the small town of Somnathpur, an excellent example of Hoysala architecture. You’ll also have some time to pay an optional visit to Tipu Sultan’s mausoleum in Srirangapatna, or to return to Mysore for a palm reading or to catch a film at the local cinema. Tonight take an eleven-hour overnight sleeper train to Chennai.
After arriving in Chennai, take a private vehicle along the scenic East Coast Road to Mamallapuram. Explore this ancient seaport town by bicycle, paying a visit to the 7th-century Shore Temple and the enormous bas-relief rock carving known as Arjuna's Penance. There will also be time to inspect the town’s numerous mandapams (pillared temple pavilions), watch stonemasons at work or to relax at a beachside restaurant.
Travel by private vehicle for five hours through palm trees and rice paddies to Puducherry (or Pondicherry), with a stopover at Auroville. Comprised of 80 rural settlements and home to over 1,500 residents, more than half of who are foreign nationals, the living project of Auroville is dedicated to unity and also houses the world's largest solid crystal. On arrival in Puducherry, join a group walking tour to see local temples, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and the French Quarter. Once a French colony, you’ll see evidence of French influence in Puducherry's architecture, its wide town squares and even in the uniforms of the police.
Take a taxi to the railway station at Villapuram and board a train to the temple city of Madurai (approximately six hours). Madurai’s Tamil roots stretch back 2,500 years, making it one of the oldest cities in India. Wander the lamp-lit labyrinth of the Sri Meenakshi Amman Temple, dedicated to the Lord Shiva and goddess Meenakshi. Visit the Gandhi Memorial Museum, which displays a detailed account of India’s struggle for independence along with the bloodstained dhoti the famous leader wore when he was assassinated.
This morning, travel by public bus along a winding road to the Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve. High in the ranges of the Western Ghats, the park is set among stunning scenery and is the most popular wildlife sanctuary in Southern India. In the evening, enjoy a tour of a local spice plantation.
Venture back into the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary today for a guided nature walk (you’ll be provided with leech-proof socks). Be on the lookout for bison, wild boar, elephants, spotted deer and tigers. For something extra, opt for a boat tour on the lake, which was artificially formed by the building of a dam in 1895. Now a vital water source for local wildlife, you may see elephants bathing playfully in the shallows if you’re lucky.
Travelling by private vehicle, pass through rubber, tea and coffee plantations on the way to the backwaters of Kerala. Board a boat to cross to the island village where you’ll stay with a local family tonight. In the late afternoon, explore the island with a local English-speaking guide or your homestay host. This is great chance to meet locals and learn more about their unique way of life. Take a leisurely punt boat ride around the waterways and enjoy the scenery. In the evening, share stories and a traditional home-cooked Keralan meal with your host family.
Wake early, before crossing the backwaters by private boat to Alleppey. From here, take a two-hour local bus back to Kochi. The rest of the day is free for some last-minute sightseeing or shopping.
There are no activities planned for the final day. You’re able to depart the accommodation at any time.