Tamilnadu Trail with Kerala Backwater Cruise



A journey through the heart of the Dravidian South. Visit the famous temples of South India with their elaborate carvings and architectural styles. 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. Glide through the backwaters of Kerala – God's own country.

Tours Highlights

  • Visit the Government Museum Chennai, one of the oldest museums in the world
  • Explore the UNESCO World heritage site in Mahabalipuram and visit famous city of Kanchipuram
  • Visit the World famous Meenakshi Temple and a special evening ritual ceremony
  • Enjoy the nature walk and Bamboo Rafting in Periyar
  • Guided walking tour of Fort Kochi
  • Witness the Kalaripaiyattu, the ancient martial art of Kerala

Destinations Covered

Detailed Itinerary

  1. Day 1 Arrive Chennai


    After clearing immigration and customs, our representative will meet you at the receiving area and escort to your hotel for check-in.

    Chennai (formerly known as Madras) is the capital of Tamil Nadu and the fourth largest city in India. It encapsulates the spirit and unique culture of India's southernmost state. A major centre of commerce - cars, buses, auto-rickshaws, mopeds, pedestrians, fish carts and cows, all compete for space on the streets. Although seriously congested there is a complete lack of stress and tension which is greatly symbolic of the deep spirituality of this state. The first British settlement in India, Chennai still has a fine legacy of colonial architecture which displays a wide range of influences from the elegant classical style of the 18th century to the much more eclectic Anglo-Indian school of the late 19th century. It is the latest in the line of Indian cities that is hurtling into the 21st century and now even has a small but impressive collection of trendy shops, coffee bars and nightclubs.

    Like many cities of the North, Chennai is an intriguing blend of the old and new, with an array of both traditional Indian and Western colonial architecture. Today, it is the centre of political power for the Tamil people.

    Overnight at the Hotel (No meals)

  2. Day 2 Chennai


    After breakfast, explore key sites in the old city.

    Begin the tour with visit to the Kapaleeswarar Temple, showcasing the Dravadian architecture, a 7th century temple for Goddess Karpagambal or 'Goddess of the Wish-Yielding Tree'. The goddess is one of the forms of Parvati, Lord Shiva's wife. The temple has numerous shrines, with those of Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal being the most prominent and overlooks the serene Mylapore tank.

    Next, explore Santhome Basilica, a 16th century Roman Catholic basilica built by the Portuguese over the tomb of St. Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. In 1893 it was rebuilt as a church with the status of a cathedral by the British. It also hosts a small museum which is a treasure house of great antiquities.

    Visit Fort St. George, formerly known as White Town, located on the banks of the Bay of Bengal. It was established as the East India Company's fortified foothold in Madras and it was from this small trading post that British influence spread throughout India. The fort was named after St George who is believed to have preached in the region. Today, Fort St George is famous for its exotic collection of books in the library and housing the legislative assembly in the secretariat building.

    You will explore the Government Museum, which is considered to be one of the oldest museums of India, since its inception dates back to the Colonial rule. Housed across from the striking British-built Pantheon Complex, this excellent museum is Chennai’s best. The big highlight is building 3, the Bronze Gallery, with a superb collection of South Indian bronzes from the 7th-century Pallava era through to modern times. The other interesting galleries and sections include Archaeology Section, Zoology Section, Botany Section, Geology Section, Numismatics Section, Children’s museum and Art gallery. (Note: Government Museum is Closed on Monday).

    Drive past Marina Beach, the longest beach in the world after the one in Brazil.

    Overnight at the Hotel (B)

  3. Day 3 Chennai to Mahabalipuram by road (approx. 60 kilometre / 37 miles / 1.5 Hrs.)


    Toda morning, after breakfast, 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.

    Mahabalipuram is commonly known as the “City of the Seven Pagodas,” even though five of the seven pagodas are actually rathas (stone chariots). The Pallavas, the ruling power of South India during the 7th and 8th Centuries and prolific patrons of the arts, reached their greatest architectural achievement in the visually dramatic temples at Mahabalipuram. A wealthy maritime trade with Southeast Asia enabled the Pallava monarchs to construct a large number of temples and sculptural programs, which garnered them both religious merit and promoted the political and social ideals of South Indian society.

    In Mahabalipuram, visit the photogenic and windswept Shore Temple, dramatically perched near a promontory overlooking the Bay of Bengal. Also 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 made 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.

    Overnight at the Hotel (B)

  4. Day 4 Mahabalipuram: Excursion to Kanchipuram


    After breakfast, embark on a half-day excursion to Kanchipuram, also known as the, ‘City of a thousand temples’ and famous for Kanjeevaram silks. Kanchipuram is also considered a holy pilgrimage site by Hindus.

    Explore some of the famous temples of the Kanchipuram including the Ekambeshwara temple, dedicated to the deity Shiva & significant to the Hindu sect of Saivism as one of the temples associated with the five elements, the Pancha Bhoota Stalas, and specifically the element of earth, or Prithvi.

    Later drive back to Mahabalipuram.

    Afternoon is at leisure to relax.

    Overnight at hotel (B)

  5. Day 5 Mahabalipuram to Chennai and fly to Madurai (approx. 60 kilometre / 37 miles / 1.5 Hrs.)


    Today, after an early breakfast, drive back to Chennai to board your flight for Madurai.

    On arrival at Madurai airport, you will be transferred to your hotel.

    Madurai: One of South India’s great temple towns, constructed in the form of a lotus, Madurai is famous for the awe-inspiring Sri Meenakshi Temple complex. It is an animated city packed with pilgrims, beggars, business-people, bullock carts and underemployed rickshaw drivers. It’s one of South India’s oldest cities and has been a centre of learning and pilgrimage for centuries. A textile centre from way back, the city was also the setting for Mahatma Gandhi’s decision, in 1921, to wear nothing but khadi (homespun cloth), and tailors’ shops are everywhere in town.

    In late afternoon, take the cycle rickshaw riding into the streets of Madurai and explore the banana market, vegetable market, other activities on the street and ending at the Meenakshi temple. Visit the Tailor’s market next to the Meenakshi temple at the east entrance. It is where all locals goes to get their clothing made or tailor work done. You can bring the fabric and they will give you the tailor made stitched clothing in just 2 hours.

    Late evening, visit the night ceremony at the great Meenakshi temple where the Lord Shiva is reunited with his wife Meenakshi for the night.

    Overnight at hotel (B)

  6. Day 6 Madurai


    Today explore The Meenakshi Temple of Madurai, which 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 multicolour 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.

    Visit Thirumalai Nayak Palace, an architectural grandeur built in 1636 AD and designed by an Italian Architect, served as the residence of the King. The palace is divided into two major parts, which include the royal residence, theatre, shrine, apartments, armory, palanquin place, royal bandstand, quarters, pond and garden.

    Later, explore the colorful markets of Madurai on your own.

    Overnight at hotel (B)

  7. Day 7 Madurai – Thekkady (Periyar) by road (Approx. 138 kms. / 86 miles / 4 Hrs.)


    Today, drive towards Thekkady. 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.

    The Periyar forest of Thekkady is one of the finest wildlife reserves in India. Spreads across the entire district are the picturesque plantations and hill towns that nestle beautiful trails for treks and mountain walks. The very sound of the word Thekkady conjures up images of elephants, unending chains of hills and spice scented plantations.

    This afternoon, proceed for the Guided Nature walk that takes one through dense deciduous forests and swampy grasslands followed by trekking in the region.

    Overnight at hotel (B)

  8. Day 8 Thekkady


    Today morning, a guided plantation walk will take you to a nearby private spice plantation, which grows pepper, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and more. The spice plantation in Thekkady is one of the major spice plantations in Kerala. 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.

    Afternoon is at leisure.

    Overnight at hotel (B)

  9. Day 9 Thottapally to Kochi by road: (approx. 155 Kms / 96 miles / 5 Hrs.)


    After breakfast, checkout and drive to Kochi.

    Kochi (also known as Cochin), the last port of Vasco Da Gama, where you will find synagogues, mosques, churches and temples side by side, is a place with a fascinating history. It is a vibrant city situated on the southwest coast of the Indian peninsula in the breathtakingly scenic and prosperous state of Kerala. Heralded as the Queen of the Arabian Sea, Kochi was an important spice trading center on the Arabian Sea coast from the 14th century.

    Afternoon explore the city on your own.

    Overnight at hotel (B)

  10. Day 10 Kochi


    Today, enjoy a guided tour of Fort Kochi.

    Explore the Fort Kochi on a guided tour, where the Portuguese flag was first hoisted and is is believed to be the oldest settlement in India. At each and every nook of this island steeped in history, there is something amusing awaiting you. It is a world of its own, retaining the specimens of a bygone era and still proud of those days.

    Visit St. Francis Church, the oldest church built by Europeans in India. On his 3rd visit to Kerala, Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese trader who reached India from Europe by sea, fell ill and died in Kochi. He was buried in the St. Francis Church. Later his remains were taken back to Portugal. In spite of that, his burial spot inside the church has been clearly marked out.

    Pay a visit to the picturesque Chinese fishing nets unique to Kochi. These iconic land-based nets combine elegance and ingenuity with 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 visit the Jew town of Mattancherry, the epicenter of the spice trade for centuries and the bustling part of Old Fort Kochi. 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.

    Explore The Mattancherry Palace (Dutch Palace), originally built by the Portuguese and modified by by the Dutch in 17th centuary and mpresented to the Raja of Kochi. Coronation of many Rajas of Kochi was held here. The palace has a fine collection of mythological mural painting and has traditional Keralite flooring. (Closed on Friday).

    Proceed to visit the Jewish Synagogue. It was built in 1568 and was considerably embellished in the mid-18th century by Ezekiel Rahabi, who built a clock tower and paved the floor of the synagogue with hand- painted tiles brought all the way from Canton in China. It is magnificently decorated by Chinese tiles and Belgian chandeliers. Giant scrolls of the Old Testament can be found here. It is the oldest synagogue in all the Commonwealth of Nations. (Closed to non-Jews Friday afternoon and Saturday and Jewish Holidays).

    Overnight at hotel (B)

  11. Day 11 Cochin – Board Riverboat at Marad


    This morning, you will be transfer from the hotel in Cochin to the embarkation jetty at the ancient village ‘Pallippuram’, at the northern border of Cochin.

    Enroute, visit a Kalari – the traditional training centre for authentic Martial art (Kalarippayattu). Kalarippayattu in Kerala has its origin from the ancient Indian scripture, Dhanur Veda. This training helps to understand the 107 energy points in human body, learn the practices to maintain the normal flow of the energy and to heal ailments by Marma therapy. The exercises help to gain stamina, flexibility, calibrated functioning of body and mind, and quick reflexes required for self-protection.

    The south-west corner of a Kalari houses the guardian deity of the Kalari. The seven tiers symbolize the seven abilities that each person must possess: Strength, Patience, and Power to command, the posture, the expression and the Sound. Flowers, incense and water are offered to the deity every day. Before starting the day’s practice, it is the norm for practitioners to pray to the deity. There is also a Guruthara inside all Kalari, where a lamp is kept burning in reverence to all the gurus (masters) of the Kalari.

    After the performance, drive to the embarkation jetty.

    Our welcoming team on-board will help you with smooth check-in, give a briefing about the facilities on-board the safety measures to be familiar with. Relish the Sadya, the traditional freshly cooked complete meal served on clean Banana leaf. Unwind as the boat leaves behind the bustling township and cruises gently to the remote villages. By evening we arrive at the ancient pilgrim town Vaikom and drop anchor.

    You will have a short walk to visit local cultural centre to watch Kathakali, the traditional dramatic and mimetic dance form, which plays stories from epics. It is a unique blend of dance, music, action, literature and make-up.

    You will experience the short tuk-tuk ride to the ancient temple. The town is centered at the ancient temple of Lord Shiva. The town made an indelible mark in the history of Casteism in Kerala, when the feudal ban on underprivileged communities from entering temples and their premises, was abolished due to a massive protest of the public. This incident had set in motion the social reformation in Kerala.

    The architecture of the temples in Kerala is based on ancient science of construction and geographical features of the land. As per the traditional architecture, each element of temple represents an element of human body and, a temple is not only the space for spiritu al enlightenment but also the venue for harmonious social networking. Even the devotees from far off places come all the way down to Vaikom for ritualistic ceremonies such as the first meal of babies, marriage and thanks giving offers such as meal for the poor, cultural performances and specific rituals prescribed by the Veda.

    After watching the ritual by sunset, return to boat and relax. (The pompous 12-days’ long annual festival of this temple is vibrant with ancient Vedic rituals and cultural performances of devotees.)

    Return to the boat and relax.

    Overnight onboard RV Vaikundam (B, L, D)

  12. Day 12 Vaikom – Chenganda – Kumarakom


    After breakfast we sail to Chenganda village. The people of this rustic village are having a laid-back and peaceful life.

    We visit the village spending time with the coir weavers, the shell harvesters and farmers, engaging in conversation with them about the riparian life, and watching various indigenous techniques of fishing. Coir, one of the major exports of Kerala, is of much relevance today than ever before when plastic has become a global menace. People of Chenganda are major suppliers of this cottage industry.

    Return to our boat and cruise to Thanneermukkom.

    Cruise to Thanneermukkom. The barrage at Thanneermukkom built across Vembanad, the largest lake of Kerala, divides the lake into two; one half with perennial salty water and the other with fresh water enriched by rivers. The barrage at Thanneermukkom built across Vembanad, the largest lake of Kerala, divides the lake into two; one half with perennial salty water and the other with fresh water enriched by rivers.

    Relax on the boat, enjoying the soothing breeze and the exuberance of the energy that the majestic lake is spreading around. Dinner on-board.

    *Optional visit(Chargeable)

    Visit the house of a Syrian Christian family for a home hosted lunch/Dinner. This house is located on an island which was made by the men of the house, by reclaiming land from Backwaters. A walk in the farm will be educative. The hostess will demonstrate the preparation of traditional Syrian Christian cuisine. You may also try your hand at cooking and listen to the story of her family, of three generations of laborious men, and equally strong women who supported their pioneering spirit.

    We continue the cruise till evening.

    Overnight onboard RV Vaikundam (B, L, D)

  13. Day 13 Kumarakom – Kavalam


    By early morning, we set out by country boat to explore the migratory and endemic birds of Kumarakom, which is a cluster of lagoons of Vembanad wetland eco-system at the backdrop of mangroves, paddy fields and coconut groves. It is home to Waterfowls, Cuckoos, Owls, Egrets, Herons, Moor hens, Cormorants, Gulls, Terns, Skimmers, Storks, Vultures, Storks, larks, flycatchers, wood beetle, and many more.

    Return to the boat, refresh and have breakfast.

    As we cruise on the majestic Lake -Vembanad- its expanse, the calmness, the soothing breeze, the interspersed coconut groves and long stretches of vast expanses of paddy fields lying below the sea level by 2-6ft, give a treat for our eyes. Lunch will be served while cruising. We arrive in Kavalam where river Pampa reverses its course and drain into Lake Vembanad. You may take the ferry to explore the region, walk along the dykes surrounding the expanses of paddy fields and interact with the farmers and members of ‘Kudumbha shree’ -women’s collective for women empowerment and poverty alleviation in rural villages.

    As we cruise, along the way we interact with toddy tappers and watch how they collect the sap of coconut palm and make the alcoholic beverage - Toddy. We continue the cruise till dusk, through the remote interiors of Kavalam.

    Overnight onboard RV Vaikundam (B, L, D)

  14. Day 14 Kavalam – Kainakari – Mankompu


    After breakfast cruise to Kainakari village. We will explore the narrow remote canals by country boat, cruising closer to the laid-back, yet harmonious, life along the way.

    Stop by Chavara Bhavan, the ancestral home of the Saint Chavara, the first canonized Catholic male saint of Indian origin, the co-founder of the first congregation for men, the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate – C.M.I, and of Congregation of the Mother of Carmel C.M.C. He had dedicated his life for the upliftment of the poorest among the poor. Now this house is preserved as a museum.

    Return to boat. After having lunch onboard, we continue the cruise to Mankompu village, which is home to the State Rice Research centre.

    While cruising, we will have an informative lecture by an Ayurveda doctor to know about this 5000-years old Science of life – Ayurveda, which is still being practiced by the local people. Cruise to Mankompu village where we will witness a cultural performance.

    During harvest festivals such as Onam (August/September), Thiruvathira (middle of December) and the annual festival following Vishu (middle of April), the village comes alive with various rituals and cultural performances.

    Overnight onboard RV Vaikundam (B, L, D)

  15. Day 15 Mankompu – Champakkulam – Changankari


    Excursion to Aranmula

    After early breakfast we drive to an ancient village ‘Aranmula’.En route you may visit a Rubber plantation.

    Aranmula is famous for its metal mirrors. The technical know-how behind the making of this unique metal mirror is confined to only some households of master craftsmen in Aranmula. These mirrors have the distinctive feature of 100% reflection unlike the common mirror. These mirrors are unique to this locale and haven’t yet been replicated anywhere else in the world.

    We will then visit the ancient temple of Lord Krishna “Aranmula Sree Parthasarathy Temple”. The story goes that the temple had its idol brought here in a raft made with “Aru (six)” pieces of “Mula (bamboo)”. This is what gave the place Aranmula its name as well. Dedicated to the Hindu Deity Lord Krishna, the temple is situated on the banks of the Pampa River.

    Watch cooking demo at a local house and relish a sumptuous meal with the family.

    We drive back to board our boat and sail to Champakkulam village. Kerala’s old spice trade used to pass through this town enroute to Cochin and other ports on the west coast. Champakkulam settled more than 1000 years ago by Syrian Christian traders, who later converted to Roman Catholicism under the Portuguese. We will visit the St. Mary’s Church, one among the oldest churches in Kerala, the St. Mary’s Church or Champakkulam Church in Alappuzha is believed to be one of the seven established by St. Thomas in AD 427.

    As you stroll along you get the chance to interact with the school children, local small-scale entrepreneurs and the local artisans (open on weekdays) who make biblical heroes. Continue cruising to the remote village –Changankari, passing through the serene canals.

    Overnight onboard RV Vaikundam (B, L, D)

  16. Day 16 Changankari – Thottappalli


    Early this morning we can enjoy a leisurely walk in the laid-back village.

    After breakfast, we will continue our sailing towards the coastal village, Thottappalli. The spillway at Thottappalli prevents the saline sea water from flooding the low-lying paddy fields during high tide and eases the flow of the flooded water from the low-lying paddy fields in to the Sea. We get to know about indigenous practices of paddy cultivation at lower altitude than the Sea.

    Honouring your cruise with us, we shall plant a sapling of coconut. Coconut tree is considered as the ‘Kalpavriksha ‘or the Divine tree of Kerala because all parts of coconut tree are useful to earn a livelihood or: the water inside is a healthy drink; the fresh kernel and the oil extract from dried kernel are inevitable components of South Indian cuisine; fibre from the coconut husk is used to make coir, mats and geotextile; the palm fronds are used for thatching roof; the wood suitable for making furniture and all the dried parts of coconut make good firewood. Last, but not the least, the toddy – the boost for the labourers toiling in the fields.

    By evening we take a walk along Thottappalli beach.

    Overnight onboard RV Vaikundam (B, L, D)

  17. Day 17 Thottappalli – Karumadi – Kanjippadom


    After breakfast, we will board the vehicle for a short drive (approx. 30 min) to visit an ancient sacred grove where serpents are worshipped, the only temple in Kerala having female priests. We will walk inside to see the rituals going on. The cult of snake worship in Kerala is closely interwoven with the life of the people and is a component of its rich cultural heritage.

    We then continue our drive (approx. 45 minutes) to an ancient village Mannar (45minutes) which is famous for bell metal craft to watch casting of traditional lamps, ornate locks, bells, cauldrons and various types of vessels being used in temples. Fine clay, which is easily available on the bank of the river and rivulets flowing through the region, is being used for the lost-wax method of casting of these bell metal products (The workplace remains closed on Sundays and religious holidays).

    Return to the boat for lunch as we sail to a quaint village Karumadi. The small shrine preserving an ancient ruin of a sculpture of Buddha, speaks of legacy of the value creating Buddhist philosophy underlying the rich cultural heritage of Kerala. Buddhism prevailed in Kerala for around 8centuries, from 3rd AD onwards. On-board our boat we will watch a presentation and discuss in detail about the cultural heritage of Kerala.

    We will drop anchor at Kanjippadom, where we will explore the village by a leisurely walk. We will also visit the boat building yard to understand the traditional method of building wooden boats (Kettuvallom) by joining wooden planks using coir, cotton and natural resin.

    Tonight, we celebrate our sojourn over farewell dinner on board RV Vaikundam.

    Overnight onboard RV Vaikundam (B, L, D)

  18. Day 18 Kanjippadom – Punnamada & Disembark at Alleppey


    After breakfast we cruise to Punnamada lake. Punnamada Lake is the venue of the annual Snake boat race which held on 2nd Saturday of August every year. People gather in large numbers to watch nearly 100 ft. long boats compete against each other to the tune of old boat songs.

    We disembark by 9.30 AM at the IWAI Jetty, Punnamada, Alleppey. The cruise program concludes


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