South India with Backwater River Cruise

Introduction

Far Horizon takes you on a journey through the heart of the Dravidian South. Visit the famous temples of South India with their elaborate carvings and architectural styles. Glide through the backwaters of Kerala – God's own country. The backwaters give you an opportunity to Experience the Living Cultures of Kerala at close quarters. The incredible festivals of the south, with gold caparisoned elephants and garishly decorated chariots moving in processions through the temple towns, complete the cultural experience. Visit the Periyar Sanctuary where you can see wildlife in its natural habitat. Walk through the Spice Plantations for a glimpse of the exotic spices used in Indian cooking. Kerala is known for its wonderful food, come enjoy the food and learn the secrets of this wonderful cuisine.

Tour Highlights

  • Visit UNESCO World Heritage site in Mahabalipuram
  • Visit the Silk weaving units in Kanchipuram
  • Explore Pondicherry known as "The French Riviera of the East"
  • Food trail in Pondicherry
  • Bronze art work at Tanjore
  • Grand temples of South India
  • Nature walk and Bamboo Rafting in Periyar
  • Cruising on the Kerala Backwaters
  • Cooking class followed by Home hosted lunch in Cochin
  • Kathakali Dance performance

Destinations Covered

Detailed Itinerary

  1. Day 1 Arrive Chennai & drive to Mahabalipuram

    Mahabalipuram

    You arrive at Chennai International airport. After clearing Indian Immigration and Customs, you step into the receiving area where you will be met by our Chennai representative.

    You will make the 2 hours’ drive along the coastline of the Bay of Bengal to the ancient temple town of Mahabalipuram, yet another of India’s fabulous UNESCO World Heritage sites.

    Evening is free at leisure.

    Dinner on own

    Overnight at the hotel (No Meals)

  2. Day 2 Mahabalipuram

    Mahabalipuram

    We will visit the photogenic and windswept Shore Temple, dramatically perched near a promontory overlooking the Bay of Bengal. We can see the Panch Rathas (Five Stone Chariots), at the southern end of town. The Rathas, which date to the 7th Century, are extraordinary examples of rock shrines hewn from monolithic stone, and are named for the heroes of the epic Indian tale- the Mahabharata.

    In the centre of Mahabalipuram is the main cluster of temples and rock sculptures. Life size stone statues of an elephant, bull and a lion guard these delicately sculptured temples. Depictions of scenes from Indian mythology carved out of stone cover the temples. One of the most elaborate is the Bhagirathi’s Penance, which despite its mammoth proportions, is intricately carved. So large is the bas-relief that it is often described as a “fresco in stone.” In fact, a number of stonecutters still work in Mahabalipuram and continue to produce high-quality traditional sculptures.

    Visit the Krishna’s butterball a giant balancing rock, perched on a smooth slope.

    Rest of the day is free at leisure.

    Dinner on own

    Overnight at the hotel (B)

  3. Day 3 Mahabalipuram – Pondicherry (approx. 2½ hours’ drive)

    Pondicherry

    Today after breakfast, we will proceed for Pondicherry

    This afternoon, proceed for the special food trail with your Story teller and hear the special stories about the people who make Pondicherry such a vibrant city, taste the foods that tagged along with them when they travelled. As you discover the food that Pondicherry loves, you will uncover forgotten stories and histories of people who make up this town. For centuries, Pondicherry has been a place of refuge and reinvention and all of this is reflected in its vibrant food. Delve into all this and more while you dig into a variety of treats and uncover the delicious stories at every corner (1630 – 1930 hrs.)

    Overnight at the hotel (B, Afternoon Snacks)

  4. Day 4 Pondicherry

    Pondicherry

    After an early breakfast, proceed for the walking tour around the French quarters of Pondicherry, telling tales of Kings and commoners, poets and all of whom wove their way into the fabric of this town. Behind every charming facade, you will find incredible stories. Did you know that the Romans were in Pondicherry as early as the 2nd century AD? Explore the stories and the ironies, the contradictions and the culture, of this eclectic town.

    Rest of the day is free to explore the local market and you may go for a stroll around the promenade beach in the evening.

    Lunch & Dinner on own

    Overnight at the hotel (B)

  5. Day 5 Pondicherry – Chidambaram - Tanjore (approx. 6 hours’ drive)

    Thanjavur (Tanjore)

    After early breakfast, check-out and drive to Tanjore.

    En-route stop to explore, Chidambaram Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located in the heart of the temple town of Chidambaram,Tamil Nadu. The temple complex is spread over 50 acres in the heart of the city. It is an ancient and historic temple dedicated to Lord Shiva Nataraja and Lord Govindaraja Perumal, one of the few temples where both the Shaivite and Vaishnavite deities are enshrined in one place. The word Chidambaram may be derived from chit, meaning "consciousness", and ambaram, meaning "sky" (from aakasam or aakayam); it refers to the chidaakasam, the sky of consciousness, which is the ultimate aim one should attain according to all the Vedas and scriptures.

    (Special Note: Chidambaram Temple remains closed from 12 noon till 4 pm every day)

    Continue your drive to Tanjore, built in 1010 CE, by one of the Chola dynasty kings who once ruled much of South India. 

    On arrival, check-in to the hotel.

    Lunch & Dinner on own

    Overnight at the hotel (B)

  6. Day 6 Tanjore

    Thanjavur (Tanjore)

    This morning visit the magnificent Brihadishwara Temple which is the crowning glory of Chola temple architecture and is dedicated to Shiva as Nataraja, king of the cosmic dance. Its beauty is particularly enhanced in late afternoon, when its sandstone tower is bathed in the golden hues of sunset. The vimana, or tower, over the temple sanctuary soars to a height in excess of 200 feet, and is adorned with several exquisite pieces of Chola sculpture. The temple sits in the middle of a spacious courtyard, faced by a massive 20-foot long sculpture of Shiva’s vahana (vehicle), the great bull Nandi, carved from a single piece of granite.

    This afternoon visit Tanjore’s second great historical site, the Royal Palace complex, with its impressive observation tower. The Nayakas, who ruled this area in the 16th and 17th Centuries, constructed the palace. Aside from the historical significance of the palace itself, the complex also houses several important museums and libraries, including the Raja Raja Museum and Art Gallery, which contains a number of fabulous sculptural pieces representatives of the broad array of South Indian styles over the centuries.

    Tanjore is famous for the bronze sculpture and paintings; we will visit the small manufacture unit to understand more about this art.

    Evening is at leisure.

    Lunch and dinner on own.

    Overnight at the hotel (B)

  7. Day 7 Tanjore - Trichy – Madurai (approx. 6 hours’ drive)

    Madurai

    This morning after breakfast, we will drive to the ancient 4th – Century temple town of Madurai, renowned for the phenomenal Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple.

    En-route visit Tiruchirapalli “The Town of the Three Headed Devil,” so called after the demon who achieved salvation after being slain by Shiva. 

    Once in Trichy, you will head to the superb Sri Ranganatha temple complex at Srirangam, situated on a 2 mile long island formed by two arms of the Kaveri River. The temple complex is incredibly vast, covering an area in excess of 140 acres. Srirangam is dedicated to the god Vishnu and, like Madurai’s Meenakshi Temple, is one of the most sacred of all pilgrimage sites in South India.

    You can walk around the complex and explore the first three enclosures, beyond which non-Hindus are not permitted.

    Continue your drive to the ancient 4th - Century temple town of Madurai

    On arrival at Madurai, check-in to the hotel.

    If interested you can attend the evening Aarti, a ceremony at the great Meenakshi temple where the Lord Shiva is reunited with his wife Meenakshi for the night.

    Lunch & Dinner on own.

    Overnight at the hotel (B)

  8. Day 8 Madurai

    Madurai

    This morning, explore one of the most important temples in the South, the awe-inspiring Meenakshi Temple, whose complex occupies an area of six hectares. The Meenakshi temple of Madurai is estimated to receive 10,000 pilgrims every day. A riotously baroque example of Dravidian architecture with twelve gopuras (towers), ranging in height from 130 to 165 feet, the towers are covered from top to bottom in a breath-taking profusion of multi-coloured images of gods, goddesses, animals and mythical figures. Legend has it that the temple was founded by Indra (King of Gods) himself. Every point in the temple has a legend attached to it. While exploring the temple, visit the “Hall of a Thousand Pillars,” with its fascinating study of “human expression” carved on the pillars, the walls and the ceiling. Just outside you will find the “musical pillars,” each emitting a different musical note when struck. Explore the Kambatti Mundapum (yet another hall) containing pillars sculptured with various manifestations of Lord Shiva. The Meenakshi Temple is arguably the preeminent example of South Indian temple architecture, and is also one of India’s most important places of pilgrimage.

    Later in the afternoon, visit the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, built in the 17th Century and partially restored by the British in the 19th Century. The Palace is built on a grand scale, with towering pillars and a large courtyard, where the ruler Thirumalai Nayaka received his audience in bygone days.

    We will take the cycle rickshaws riding into the streets of Madurai.

    Dinner on own.

    Overnight at hotel (B, L)

  9. Day 9 Madurai – Thekkady (approx. 5 hours’ drive)

    Thekkady

    Today we will drive towards Periyar. The journey by road itself is an experience, passing through bustling towns in the plains, rubber plantations on the foothills and undulating tea gardens and spice plantations on the mountains.

    On arrival, check-in to the hotel.

    This evening, witness the Kalaripayattu performance, regarded as the oldest and most scientific in the world, Kalaripayattu, the martial art form of Kerala, is an integral part of the Malayali culture. Bodhidharama, a Buddist monk, who visited China during the reign of Emperor Wu of the Ling dynasty, is believed to have presented the world with a self-defence system; from which evolved almost all the present day martial art forms. Scholars believe that his philosophy was influenced by the ancient martial culture of Malabar - Kalaripayattu the mother of all martial arts.

    Lunch & Dinner on own.

    Overnight at the hotel (B)

  10. Day 10 Thekkady

    Thekkady

    This morning with packed breakfast proceed for the guided Nature Walk that takes one through dense deciduous forests and swampy grasslands followed by the exciting bamboo rafting.

    (Special Note: Bamboo rafting is subject to water level and one batch can take maximum 10 people, hence we will divide the group if required – 1st Batch from 0730 – 1200 hrs. and 2nd Batch from 0930 – 1400 hrs.)

    This afternoon, we will do the guided walk of a nearby private spice plantation which grows pepper, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and more. You will enter the magical world of Indian spices. What they are, how to use them, combine them, and savour the special magic they bring to even the most commonplace foods and understand how each tree has a story to tell.

    Lunch and Dinner on own

    Overnight at the hotel (B)

  11. Day 11 Thekkady – Backwaters (approx. 4 hours’ drive)

    Alappuzha

    Today you will be driven approximately 4 hours along the Kerala coast to the docks at Thotapally in the Alleppey district to board your private houseboat; an environmentally-friendly vessel unique to Kerala’s placid waterways. Prior to their conversion to passenger boats with all the modern comforts, these traditional crafts known as Kettuvallom once plied these waters as rice barges. Coir (coconut fiber rope) and resin from cashew kernels, not nails, hold the Kettuvallom together – a ship making practice passed down through the centuries.

    The uniqueness of Kerala has always been its Backwaters, and no place in the world is blessed with this mesmerizing beauty. It’s the reason; this heaven is called “GOD ‘S OWN COUNTRY!!”

    Overnight on board Kerala Cruise (B, L, D)

  12. Day 12 Backwaters

    Alappuzha

    On this comfortable floating home you may spend your day relaxing and unwinding. As you slowly cruise along the backwater canals of the Arabian Sea, you may choose to stop and explore some of the many small villages, farmlands, old temples and churches that you come across.

    We see Indian life up close as we slowly cruise along the palm-fringed backwater canals of the Arabian Sea, a distinctive region whose beauty and tranquillity have earned it the sobriquet “God’s own country.” A vast network of lagoons, lakes, and canals formed by the confluence of Kerala’s numerous rivers and the Arabian Sea, the Kerala backwaters run alongside the coast for more than 550 miles. These labyrinthine waterways have served as a thoroughfare for boats like ours from ancient times, and the daily existence in the communities here has changed little over the centuries.

    Overnight on board Kerala Cruise (B, L, D)

  13. Day 13 Backwaters - Cochin (approx. 3 hours)

    Kochi

    After breakfast, check-out and drive to Cochin.

    This afternoon you will be a guest for a local South Indian family at their private home. The hostess will share the cooking recipe followed by the home hosted Lunch.

    Thereafter, go for a walking tour of Mattancherry, the bustling part of Old Fort Cochin and the epicentre of the spice trade for centuries. It remains a densely populated place housing people from different ethnic groups and faiths in very close quarters. Mattancherry is home to a small Jewish community whose origin dates back nearly 2000 years, during the period of King Solomon, when large scale trade took place between the Middle East and the Malabar Coast. Our touring today reveals Kochi’s multi-layered past, a rich brew of Arab, Portuguese, British, and Dutch influences.

    Then we see St. Francis Church, India’s first European church (ca. 1510), famed as the original burial site of Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama, who died in Kochi in 1524 while on his third visit to India. Not immune to the turbulence of the colonial era, the originally Catholic St. Francis church changed hands – and denominations – with each new power that took control of Kochi, becoming a Protestant Dutch Reformed church under the Dutch in 1663 then Anglican under the English in 1804.

    Next we pay a visit to the picturesque Chinese fishing nets unique to Kochi. These iconic land-based nets combine elegance and ingenuity, their massive frames balanced by counterweights manipulated by teams of up to six men. Long believed to have been introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He in the 14th century or possibly travellers from Kublai Khan’s court, these nets actually trace their origin to Portuguese settlers from Macau.

    Later this afternoon, we attend a performance of Kathakali dance, where facial expressions and hand gestures combine with movement to create this highly expressive traditional Kerala art form which depicts great Indian epics. Distinct among the six classical Indian dances, Kathakali is a highly dramatic and mimetic dance depicting various stories from Indian epics. It originated in Kerala during the 17th century and has developed over the years with improved looks, refined gestures and added themes besides more ornate singing and precise drumming.

    Overnight at the hotel (B, L)

  14. Day 14 Departure

    Kochi

    After breakfast, transfer to Cochin airport to connect with your flight to onward destination.

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