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Highlights of South India




Duration
09 Nights / 10 Days

Places Covered: Chennai (Madras), Madurai, Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve, Kerala Backwaters Cruise, Kochi, Fort Cochin
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Kerala Backwaters CruiseSouthern India is a land of contrast and colour with a pace of life more relaxed than in the north of the country. Chennai (Madras) is capital of Tamil Nadu and considered one of India's major musical and cultural centres. Established by the British in the 17th century, it is a city that prospered during the halcyon trading days of the colonial era. We then discover the temples of Madurai, one of the oldest cities in the country, before heading further inland to enjoy the attractions of Periyar National Park - home to wild elephant, leopard, deer and the elusive tiger. The area is also famous for its spice plantations. Kumarakom is a village where we observe the rural lifestyle in the backwaters before boarding a traditional rice barge and taking to the main waterways. At our final stop, Kochi (Cochin), we discover the Portuguese influence of the enchanting Fort Cochin part of the city, as well as pay a visit to the old Jewish quarter and have a look at the unique Chinese fishing nets.

Cultural Adventure - With focus on local cultures and historic sites, these trips have the perfect mix of discovery, exploration, comfort and relaxation. Some trips may include a little walking or a night or two 'roughing' it. Check the itinerary for details.

Wildlife & Wilderness - With a particular emphasis on wildlife and the environment, these adventures visit some of the world's greatest game reserves and wildlife regions.

Itinerary

Day 1 - Delhi

Route MapUpon arrival at Chennai's Anna International Airport (next to the international terminal is the Kamaraj domestic terminal) we are met at the airport and transferred to our hotel. Our airport representative will be waiting for us in the arrival hall, located after passing out of the customs area. Look out for the Peregrine signboard. as there is nothing arranged for this day. If you have arrived early, you will be briefed with sightseeing options.

Day 2 - Chennai - overnight train
(Train journey: approx 9 hours) Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is the 4th largest city in India. Situated on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal, the city has a diversity of attractions and is also a place of interest for shoppers, augmented by a choice of the finest hand-woven textiles in silk and cotton. Home to spicy south Indian cuisine and strong filter coffee, Chennai is a historic city that is increasingly becoming cosmopolitan. A city tour takes us to some of the major sights including Valluvar Kottam - a memorial to a famous poet-saint, the 13th century Sri Kapaleeshwarar Temple - an ancient Siva temple and a delightful introduction to Dravidian temple sculpture and architecture, San Thome (St Thomas) Mount - a cathedral built in 1523 by the Portuguese on a hilltop where St Thomas the Apostle (the original 'Doubting Thomas'!) was said to have been martyred, and the famous 12 kilometre-long Marina Beach - supposedly the second longest beach in the world. In the evening we board an overnight train bound for Madurai.

Day 3 - Madurai
Our destination is Madurai, one of the oldest and holiest cities in southern India. Its origins can be traced back to the 4th century BC and it supposedly traded with the Ancient Greeks and later the Romans. This rich cultural heritage that blossomed during the great Tamil era, more than 2500 years ago. It was an important cultural and commercial centre even as early as 550 AD and was the capital city for the great Pandya kings. In the afternoon we travel to the banks of the Vaigai River and visit Sri Meenakshi Temple, an elaborate Dravidian-style structure that was designed in 1560 and built between the years 1630 to 1650, during the Nayak Era. However, a temple complex has existed on this site for over 2000 years. Key features are its distinctive towers and stone carvings. It is also a place of frenzied activity with small shops crammed with the confines of the temple, making it a place of commerce as well as a place of worship.

Day 4-5 - Thekkady - Periyar National Park
(Driving time: approx 5 hours) After breakfast we continue our journey by road and cross from one state to another, as we travel from Tamil Nadu to Kerala. Our journey is on a hilly and winding road and our destination is Thekkady, which is set amidst beautiful countryside and is the visitors centre and gateway to Periyar National Park - a renowned wildlife sanctuary and tiger reserve. After arriving we get to relax before making an evening visit to a spice plantation. The next morning, we drive into the park and take a ferry ride on picturesque Lake Periyar, an artificial lake that was built by the British in 1895. Periyar National Park is home to gaur, wild boar, sambar deer, langur, wild elephant, various antelopes and a wide variety of birds. There are also around 36 tigers in the reserve and they are generally quite elusive, but if we are lucky we may even spot one! As well as our included boat excursion, we also have the option of going on a guided nature walk though the beautiful forest.

Day 6 - Kumarakom
(Driving time: approx 3 hours) From Periyar we head towards Kumarakom, which is renowned for its backwaters and the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary. This sanctuary is rich with a number of noteworthy species. Kumarakom itself is a beautiful town situated in the hills and is surrounded by some of the most beautiful and lush scenery in the state, with serene palm-fringed backwaters on the west and the Western Ghats on the east.

Day 7 - Kerala Backwater Cruise
From Kumarakom we board our houseboat, converted from a Kettavallum, or traditional rice barge, and sail the beautiful backwaters of Kerala - a breathtakingly stimulating experience. This large aquatic area is a vast network of lagoons, lakes, rivers and canals, and the people who live in this region have created their own distinct lifestyles. While sailing down the maze of canals one sees simultaneously different scenes - villages, paddy fields, coconut palms, fishermen and everyday local life. From our comfortable houseboats we witness the peaceful way of life on these amazing waterways and get to watch the sun go down over the backwaters. Our overnight stay on board our boat is sure to be a real highlight of our trip and the cool breeze from the lake always helps us to sleep better, after we moor up for the night.

Day 8 - Kochi
(Driving time: approx 1½ hours) We finish our cruise at the small market town of Alappuzha (Alleppey), which is built on a network of canals and surrounded by coconut palms. Our drive to Kochi (Cochin) takes us past some of the numerous villages that line the intricate waterways, where there are various local industries such as like coir making, toddy tapping, spice producing, mat weaving and pot making. The backwaters of Kerala have literally become the lifeline of the state.

Day 9 - Kochi
Kochi is set on a cluster of peninsulas and islands on the Indian Ocean. On a city tour we explore Fort Cochin and also St Francis Church. Built by Portuguese Franciscan monks in 1503, this is said to be the oldest church in India. The structure itself is testament to the evolving history of Cochin, having been used at various times by Roman Catholics, Dutch Protestants and Anglicans. We also visit the famous Mattancherry Jewish Synagogue, which was originally built of wood in 1568. The area surrounding the synagogue is full of spice shops selling cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and a host of other spices. We also take a look at the unique Chinese fishing nets, which are set up close to our hotel.

Day 10 - Kochi
Your trip ends in Kochi this morning after breakfast. Check out time is 12 noon. If your flight leaves in the evening you may wish to book additional accommodation so you have a room until departure. Your leader will be on hand to assist with transfers to the airport.

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