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Southern India

Trip type: 
Adventure level: 
2. Gentle
Max group size: 
Avg user rating: 
Asia, India | 16 days
Trip code: 
What's included: 

Transport - Train, Private vehicle, 4x4 Safari Vehicle, Ferry, Auto rickshaw, Bus, Overnight sleeper train, Boat

Accommodation - Hotels (9nts), jungle resort (1nt), homestay (1nt), overnight train (1nt), Resorts (2nts)

Meals - 5 breakfasts, 3 lunch & 3 dinners.

Trip Highlights: 
Experience island life on a homestay in the Kerala backwaters
Cycle around the fishing village of Mamallapuram
Be awed by Mysore's ornate Maharaja's Palace
Safari into the wilds of Mudumalai National Park
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(Departures in 2012-13)
  • Day 1 - Fly to Cochin
  • Day 2/3 - Cochin
  • Day 4/5 - Ootacamund
  • Day 6 - Mudumalai National Park
  • Day 7/8 - Mysore
  • Day 9 - Mahabalipuram
  • Day 10 - Pondicherry
  • Day 11 - Madurai
  • Day 12/13 - Periyar National Park
  • Day 14 - Kerala Backwaters Homestay
  • Day 15 - Cochin
  • Day 16 - Tour Ends
Extensions and Extras: Extend your holiday and see more of the world. View additional tours for this trip »

Fly to Cochin

Depart on overnight flight to Cochin.



On arrival you will be transferred to your hotel where you will be free to relax until the welcome meeting with your leader at 6:00pm. Details of where this will take place will have been left at the hotel's reception.

From the tightly packed streets the scents of cinnamon, cloves and countless other spices mingle in the sea breeze. On the western shore of the Fort Cochin peninsular, rows of cantilevered Chinese fishing nets remind you of Kerala’s trade links with the outside world. The area is also home to a small community of Jews whose descendants sailed into exile some 2,000 years ago; a synagogue still remains. Close by is Mattancherry Palace, originally built by the Portuguese and given to the Raja of Kochi in exchange for trading rights. Here you’ll see the remarkable series of murals, which illustrate tales from the sacred epic of the Ramayana.

There is plenty of time to wander through the narrow lanes lined with houses built by the Portuguese, Dutch and British in their own distinctive styles. However it’s not only the extraordinary assortment of architectural styles that can be found but also an array of interesting and tasty local dishes. Still strong on rice, coconuts and fish, local cuisine also embraces influences from Europe and the Arab world. Visit the Dutch Palace, built by the Portuguese in the middle of the 16th century. It waqs taken over by the Dutch in 1663, who added some improvements before presenting it to the Rajas of Cochin. You’ll also take in a Kathakali show, a traditional dance drama in which performers wear an incredible amount of colourful costume and make-up. They sway to the music as local legends are retold by this art form dating back 500 years or more. Hotel - 2 nights



A long day of travelling awaits you today as you head to Ootacamund. The journey is split into two and for the first leg you join the locals and hop on a train to Coimbatore (approx. 3.5hrs). From here you board your private vehicle to your final destination (approx. 4hrs). Although it's a long day, it's a great way to see the country and how people live, as you drive through villages and farms and begin to get a taste for what's to come. 

Ootacamund was a British hill station and for a time was known as Snooty Ooty. It was here that the game of snooker was named, if not invented. You'll take a ride on the famous toy train, be sure to get a window seat as there is a lot of wonderful scenery that you will pass. You'll also visit a tea garden in the nearby town of Coonoor. If plants are your thing, then why not pay a visit to the botanical gardens? Home to over 650 species of plant and tree (additional charge). Hotel - 2 nights

Mudumalai National Park

Mudumalai National Park

Leaving Ooty, you continue on by private charter vehicle to Masinagudi (approx. 2hrs). Set against the picturesque backdrop of the enchanting Nilgiris with their mist-covered peaks, Mudumalai NP was once the Mysore Maharaja's private hunting ground. Project Tiger then took it over in 1974 and today it is one of the best game sanctuaries in India and often people are able to observe and photograph wildlife in close proximity. Some of the animals that you may be lucky enough to spot here include tigers, leopards, elephants, sambars, spotted deer and very occasionally sloth bear have also been seen. There is also an amazing variety of birdlife, with some of the most notable species being herons, stalks, egrets, kites, peafowl, falcons, woodpeckers, drongos and warblers, so make sure you have your binoculars and camera at the ready! On your arrival at the foot of the Nilgiris (Blue Mountains), you'll set off on a short wildlife spotting safari to see what you can find. Jungle resort (dormitory-style accommodation) - 1 night



Having experienced the thrill of a safari, you travel on through the scenic Karnataka Plains to Mysore (approx. 3hrs). En route you'll stop to enjoy a biryani lunch with our local friend Raju and his family, which is a fascinating opportunity to learn more about the everyday Indian culture, which not many other tourists get.

Mysore is an easygoing town with a pleasant climate. When you arrive your leader will take you on an orientation walk to stretch your legs and give you your bearings. A visit to Mysore isn't complete without stopping by the Mysore Palace, one of the most ornate palaces in India, you'll discover an interior that is a riot of colour, mosaics and mirrors. A drive of about an hour outside of the town will bring you to the Keshava Temple in Somnathpur, which is a stunning example of Hoysala architecture. Another temple not to be missed is the Sri Chamundeswari Temple, so you set out to climb Chamundi Hill, with the temple at the top, dedicated to the goddess Durga. In between temple visits, there will be plenty of time for you to get out and explore the surrounding countryside, so be sure to make the most of your time here.

On the evening of the second day you catch an overnight train to Chennai. These train journeys are an experience in themselves and really add to the sense of adventure. Trains are clean and air-conditioned and are a great way to travel long distances without having to sacrifice any time in the places you visit. Beds are padded bunks that pull down and a sheet, blanket and pillow are provided. Please be aware that while every effort is made to keep the group together, you may find yourself sharing a compartment with locals and people of different genders. Hotel - 1 night, overnight train - 1 night.



Upon arrival in Chennai (Madras) you’ll make the short two-hour transfer to the beach resort of Mahabalipuram; the perfect place to relax after your overnight train journey.

You'll set off on a bicycle tour to see some of the shoreline temples for which the region is famed. Most of the simplistic artistic genius here was created in the 6th and 7th centuries AD. Images of everyday life abound, unique to the state. Its principle creator, Narasimha Varman I – known as Mahamalla, the great wrestler – was inspiration for Mahabalipuram’s old name, Mamallapuram. The romantic Shore Temple (now designated a World Heritage site) is entered through paved gardens, from where you will see the shrines dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. You'll also visit the massive bas-relief rock carving known as Arjuna's Penance, which depicts how Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers, performed extreme austerities in order to obtain Shiva's weapon. The remainder of the day will be free time for you to explore the workshops lining the streets, where you can see craftsmen making sculptures, probably inspired by the temples you have seen earlier. Hotel - 1 night



Today you'll travel through a landscape of palm trees and rice paddies, visiting Auroville en route to Pondicherry (approx. 5hrs). The town of Auroville is an amazing experiment in international living. Made up of 80 rural settlements and home to over 1,500 people, more than half of whom are foreign nationals, this living project dedicated to huiman unity also houses the world's largest solid crystal.

On arriving in Pondicherry, you'll notice that there are still reminders of French influence in the town's architecture, the wide town squares and even in the policemen's uniforms. You'll take a walking tour and visit the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a place that promotes a complete method of yoga that transforms human nature to divine life. It is a large institution that provides many charitable benefits to the area including free medical facilities and a publishing house. You'll also see some of the local temples and the old French Quarter. Hotel - 1 night



Another train journey will take you to the city of Madurai (approx. 6hrs). South India’s temple architecture is very different to that of the north. On the northern plains, temples are graced with slim sikaras (towers) whereas here in the south immense gopurams (gateways) carved with thousands of painted Hindu gods are the most striking elements of the Dravidian temples.

Meenakshi Temple is no exception; inside is a maze of halls, pillared cloisters and sanctuaries, all of which seem to be decorated with a profusion of murals, carvings and inscriptions. The heady fragrance of incense is everywhere, as is the chanting of priests whose deities are garlanded with colourful flowers. Outside the temple complex the streets are no less enthralling and seem to resemble one huge bazaar with hawkers, stalls and even the occasional passing elephant! Every morning Shiva is taken from his resting place with Meenakshi to the main temple shrine and returned, in the evening with great ritual. While you are here you might like to pay a visit to the moving Ghandi Memorial Museum (additional charge), which displays the blood-stained dhoti he was wearing when he was assassinated, along with an impressive and detailed account of the country's struggle for independance. Tonight you should have another chance to visit the Meenakshi Temple to witness the daily ceremony of ‘Putting Shiva to Bed’. Hotel - 1 night

Periyar National Park

Periyar National Park

Today you cross the border into Kerala and drive the five or so hours to Periyar National Park, one of the main wildlife sanctuaries of southern India and indeed one of the country’s largest. Situated in the Cardamom Hills region of the Western Ghats, the park covers 777 square kilometres at an altitude of between 914 and 1,828m. At its centre lies a large, artificial lake, built by the British in 1895 to supply water to the region around Madurai and over 15 square kilometres in area. In 1973 the park became part of Project Tiger in an effort to save this wonderful animal from extinction. The park has a rich variety of wildlife - both mammals and birds. You would indeed be lucky to see the very elusive tiger and leopard - both of which inhabit the forest - but you have a far better chance of seeing wild elephants, sambar deer, chital, otter, wild boar and gaur plus a rich variety of birdlife.

In the evening you'll enjoy a tour around a local spice plantation followed by a delicious meal prepared by the owner's family. Well rested, you’ll set off on foot in a small group on a guided wildlife walk; this is one of the few Indian parks in which visitors are able to walk. You make regular stops to watch for elephant and gaur, as well as monkeys and birds. Hotel - 2 nights

Kerala Backwaters Homestay

Kerala Backwaters Homestay

Travelling by private vehicle, today you head for Kerala (approx 4.5hrs). The low-lying coastal areas consist of a complex system of beautiful lagoons and canals known as the ‘Malabar Backwaters’. These waterways are the principal means of communication and trade for scores of homes and villages. Along the banks, at jetties and ferry stops, there's often a wonderful array of produce ready for market; sacks of cashews are piled high next to coconuts. Crossing the backwaters, you'll head to an island village (approx. 1hr), which will be your home for the night.

In the late afternoon, you'll explore the island with a local guide to see the different facets of local life. This is a great chance to meet and talk with the people who live here and offers a fascinating insight into their lives, as you stroll under palm trees and weave between the rice fields that cover the island. You'll then take a leisurely boat ride around the lake to enjoy the outstanding scenery, so sit back and relax as you slip by.

Your accommodation tonight is on a multi-share basis and all the families on the island live within a few hundred metres of each other, with at least one person in the family speaking a reasonable level of English. You can expect to find delicious Kerala curries or more unusual dishes, making use of fresh fish from the lake such as Pearl Sport fish or Karimeen. This area is famous for its coconuts too and you’ll be able to drink fresh from the husk, or perhaps try a specially-prepared coconut toddy. Homestay – 1 night



The sound of birds singing is your alarm clock this morning and you rise early to return to Allepey (approx. 1.5hrs). You then board a public bus and head for your final stop of the trip: Cochin (approx. 2hrs). You then have the rest of the day here to do as ou wish, which might be some last minute exploring and discovering the sights that you missed at the beginning of the trip, perhaps hunting out some final souvenirs, or relaxing on a nearby beach. Hotel - 1 night


Tour Ends

The tour ends this morning for Land Only passengers. Those on group flights will be transferred to the airport and fly back home.


Total number of meals included: 6 breakfasts, 3 lunches & 3 dinners