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Day 01 / ARRIVE MUMBAI
Arrive in Mumbai by flight. An Travel With Us representative, holding a sign in your name, will meet you in the arrival lounge. Later, you will be transferred to your hotel of stay. (Check-in time is 0200 pm) Mumbai is the financial capital of India. It has a history of incredible transformation from its foundation to the present day, where small islands were strung together and land between them reclaimed to form the bustling metropolis it is today. A metropolis in the true sense of the word, the city has loads to see during the day and a vibrant life at night. Since it opened in 1903, The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Mumbai has created its own unique history. From Maharajas and Princes to various Kings, Presidents, CEOs and entertainers, the Taj has played the perfect host, supportive of their every need.
Day 02 / MUMBAI
Embark on morning tour by shared boat to the Gateway and Elephanta Caves (Closed on Monday). Enjoy a half-day excursion to the Elephanta Caves. Located across the sea from the Gateway of India and accessible by ferry is the island of Elephant that has rock-cut cave temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. Little is known about their origins but they are thought to have been created between 450 and 750 AD. The most famous sculpture here is the Trimurti, representing the three-headed Shiva where the god is depicted as the trinity of the creator, the preserver and the destroyer. There are also figures of Shiva dancing the tandava, the marriage of Shiva and Parvati and one in which Shiva appears as Ardhanareshwar, uniting both sexes in one body.
Later city tour includes a visit to the Gateway of India, Mumbai's principle landmark; Prince of Wales Museum, Hanging Gardens on the slopes of Malabar Hills offering panoramic view of Marine Lines and Mani Bhawan (the house where the Father of the Nation stayed on his early visits to the city) and Dhobi Ghat Later in the afternoon visit the Khotachiwadi which is a part of the city that connects the old with the new. You explore the area with Anjali, walking along the narrow cobbled lanes looking at the art deco style architecture – you will have the opportunity to tour one of the homes, most of which are over 100 years old.
Day 03 / MUMBAI N- KOCHI
Afternoon you will start your tour of Fort Kochiwith exploration on the Palace road that captures multiculturalism of India. In the short distance you will see temples, schools, shops and homes of different Indian communities. The street is an amalgam of various Indian communities and your guide explains their distinctive practices.
Later, walk through the narrow roads of the area today referred to as the Heritage Zone, you will see various architectural styles reflecting the many cultures that lived here. Dutch houses stand next to spacious porticoed British plantation style homes. Further down are two churches built by the Portuguese, while standing guard over the harbor are the Chinese Fishing nets. In the narrow alleys of the old city you will come across interesting art galleries exhibiting local talent, small cafes and book shops and boutiques. Just before sunset the fishing boats pull in and there are auctions along the waterfront as the excess is sold to local vendors, the rest being supplied to the hotels
The tour will also include the visit to Mattancherry Dutch Palace built by Portuguese, the famous Jew Street, beautiful Kochi Synagogue built in 1568 and St. Francis Church where Vasco Da Gama was buried and the ubiquitous Chinese fishing nets along the shores.(Dutch Palace closed Fridays; Jewish Synagogue closed Friday/Saturday).
Evening enjoy Kathakali dance performance. Kathakali is a ritualized dance form native to Kerala; elaborate costumes and makeup, as seen here, are the norm. Male dancers portray both male and female roles. It is recommended to arrive early to see the elaborate makeup session by the artists, which is the most photogenic of element of this show!
Day 04 / KOCHI - KUMARAKOM
Morning after breakfast, you will be transferred to Kumarakom (approx 3-4 hrs).
On arrival, check in at the hotel.
Kumarakom is an emerald peninsula of paddy fields, meandering lagoons and backwaters that are just out into Lake Vembanad. Perhaps more famously knows as the Backwaters this area is unique being made up of labyrinth of canals and lakes that stretch between the capital Kochiand Quilon in the south.
From the vastness of Lake Vembanad to the quiet streams just large enough for a canoe, the Backwaters form the arteries through which rural daily life calmly flows - children splashing in the water, women washing clothes at the water's edge, fishermen up to their necks in water digging out fish with their feet, rice barges transporting coconuts and rice (the staples of the Keralan diet) and, above all, an overriding sense of peace and tranquility that permeates every aspect of this stunning region.
Rest of the day at leisure or experience the Yoga & Ayurveda activities at the hotel. (No transport or guide service envisaged)
Day 05 / KUMARAKOM
The village of Kumarakom is a cluster of little islands on the Vembanad Lake, and is part of the Kuttanad region. An enchanting backwater destination, Kumarakom is a perfect leisure getaway. Here you can see how people have adapted their lives to the waterways and do everything on these winding canals. A village tour of Kumarakom with a local village guide. You will transfer to the local boat jetty to board a country boat and cruise to the nearby village. On arrival you will be received by the local villagers with flower garlands and you will be taken to see the coconut tree climbing, and will be offered tender coconut to drink. Later you will be taken to a nearby place to witness the toddy tapping, vegetable farming etc and proceed to see the weaving of coconut leaves followed by fascinating various process of coir making. Later on your way you can witness the net fishing, bow and arrow fishing and you will reach a livestock farm with various breeds of cattle.
Day 06 / KUMARAKOM - PERIYAR
Morning after breakfast drive to Periyar and check in at hotel The Periyar National park and Tiger reserve lying at the heart of the sanctuary provides one with a unique opportunity to view wild animals in their natural surroundings. The Asiatic wild elephant, majestic gaur, deer, wild boar, tortoise, flying squirrels and the distinctive nilgiri langur are often spotted along the lake as also water birds. Sprawled over an area of 777 Sq. km. Periyar is one of the 27 tiger reserves in India. Zealously guarded and efficiently managed reserve is a repository of rare, endemic and endangered flora and fauna and forms the major watershed of two important rivers of Kerala, the Periyar.
Day 07 / PERIYAR
This morning, enjoy a spice plantation tour and learn about the mystery and history of Indian spices. The spice plantations in Kerala are captivating farms to wander in, since different spices are cultivated in different sections of each plantation. While exploring the Kerala spice plantations, you can go for nature walks, bird watching treks, taste the various spices a nd breathe in the fragrant air.
Rest of the day free for independent activities or to enjoy the hotel facilities. Evening, enjoy cooking demo at your hotel with Chef.
Day 08 / PERIYAR - MADURAI
After breakfast at the hotel proceed for a private car transfer to Madurai. On arrival, check in at the hotel.
Madurai is located on the banks of river Vaigai. This ancient city is about 2600 years old. This city is referred to as the Athens of the East. This is the place where the tradition of the Tamilians got its emergence and grew popular. The Tamil literature flourished due to the kings, nobles and poets who dwelled in this part of the ancient Tamilnadu. The three Tamil Sangams evolved and flourished here. According to mythologies and history, this is the oldest city of Tamil Nadu. Ramayana and Arthasasthra the great epics had something to do with Madurai.
Later in the evening you will be taken to see the Gods Going to Bed Ceremony at the Meenakshi temple complex. In this ceremony every night the image of Shiva (in the form of Sundareswarar) is carried from his shrine to join his consort Parvati (in the form of Meenakshi) at hers, in another part of the temple. Each morning he is returned to his own place. (Non-hindus are not allowed to enter the Temple’s main sanctum area but can witness the ceremony from a gallery outside) This tour will include visit the daily vegetable market and the gorgeous flower market.
Day 09 / THANJAVUR
After breakfast you will be transferred to Thanjavur. On arrival, check in at the hotel.
Thanjavur derives its name from Tanjan - an asura (demon) who according to local legend, caused devastation and was killed by Sri Anandavalli Amman and Sri Neelamegapperumal. Tanjan's last request, that the city might be named after him, was granted. Thanjavur has the reputation of being the Rice bowl of Tamil Nadu.
Later, proceed for a visit of a beautiful Chola Temple of Brihadishwara which is fine example of Dravidian temple architecture. The temple is capped by a monolithic cupola made of a single granite block weighing 80 tons which was taken to the top with the help of a 6 Km long ramp, an old technique used by the Egyptians for building pyramids. Its bronze and handicrafts make Thanjavur one of the highlights of a visit to South India.
Visit a school or art which focuses on Tanjore paintings. These unique paintings are created using a style and technique, which originated in Tanjore in the 16th century during the Maratha period. Tanjore is also famous for Veena making. The veena is considered as the queen of Indian musical instruments. The present form of the veena is a polyphonous instrument designed and developed by Govinda Dikshitar during the reign of Raghunath Naik of Tanjore. It is often called the Tanjore veena or the Saraswati Veena. The veena is four feet in length consisting of a large resonator (kudam), a wooden bridge (kudurai), a tapering hollow neck (dandi), a smaller non-functional resonator and seven strings of the Veena. You will have an opportunity to visit a Veena making workshop in Tanjore and see the art of making this unique musical instrument.
DAY 10 / THANJAVUR - PONDICHERRY
After breakfast you will be transferred to Pondicherry. En route visiting the famous temple complex of Darasuram and traditional bronze and metal workshops in Sawamimalai.
After a traditional lunch at local restaurant continue your drive to Pondicherry.
On arrival in Pondicherry, check in at the hotel. We would suggest a light lunch at Le Café, which is a quaint eatery located in the French quarters of Pondicherry.
Pondicherry traces its origin to Saint Agasthya, the revered sage of the south. Situated on the Coromandel coast, about 160 kms south of Chennai, lies the Union Territory of Pondicherry. The French ruled this territory for 300 years, and today, it stands as a living monument of the French culture in India. It is bound on the east by the Bay of Bengal and on the other three sides by the South Arcot District of Tamil Nadu. Later enjoy a walking tour of Pondicherry to explore architectural styles reminiscent of the French, and also see the Tamil influence characterized by features such as thinnais (semi-public verandah spaces) and thalvarams (street verandahs with lean-to roofs over wooden posts). You will also visit the beautiful 150 year old Neo-Gothic Church of The Sacred Heart of Jesus, with its rare stained glass panels depicting the life of Christ. Later venture into the Tamil Quarters which has contrasting architecture and designs.
DAY 11 / PONDICHERRY - AUROVILLE -
MAHABALIPURAM - CHENNAI
After breakfast, you will be transferred in a private car, to Chennai en route visit Auroville & Mahabalipuram.
Located just 20 mins drive outside of Pondicherry on the Chennai highway, Auroville was founded as a project of the Sri Aurobindo Society in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa, The Mother. She was spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo, who believed that man is a transitional being Mother expected that this experimental "universal township would contribute significantly in the progress of humanity towards its splendid future by bringing together people of goodwill and aspiration for a better world. Mother also believed that such a universal township will contribute decisively to the Indian renaissance.
Matrimandir is located in the middle of the town which has been acclaimed as an outstanding and original architectural achievement. It was conceived by The Mother as a symbol of the Divine answer to man's inspiration for perfection. Silence is maintained inside the Matrimandir to ensure the tranquility of the space and entire area surrounding the Matrimandir is called Peace area. Inside the Matrimandir, a spiraling ramp leads upwards to an air-conditioned chamber of polished white marble referred to as a place to find one's consciousness. The surface of the dome has 56 kg of Gold, which was sandwiched between as thin sheets. At its centre is a 70 cm crystal ball in a gold mount which glows with a single ray of sunlight that is directed on the globe from the top of the structure. According to Mother, this represents a symbol of future realization. Matrimandir is equipped with a solar power plant and is surrounded by manicured gardens. When there is no sun or after the sunset, the sunray on the globe is replaced by a beam from a solar powered light.
Continue to Mahabalipuram and visit the world-renowned shore temples the Rathas. These 7th century temples, regarded the pioneer of an entirely revolutionary style of architecture – the Dravidian architecture style, are refreshingly uncluttered and tower over the waves, behind a protective breakwater. These beautiful temples, ravaged by wind and sea, are a World Heritage site and are probably one of the most photographed monuments in India. Situated amidst Casuarina trees are the five ‘Rathas’- meaning Chariots which have an association to the great epic Mahabharata. The magnificent way in which these Monolithic Cave Temples were excavated by scooping out the scarp of the hill from front to back is a real treat for the eyes.
After lunch at local restaurant continue your drive to Chennai, on arrival check in at the hotel Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu is a teeming, sprawling, bustling metropolis which established on the site of a fishing village in 1639 as the first British settlement in India. The city has a strange mix of British Raj-era monuments, Portuguese churches, Hindu temples, and one of the longest urban beaches on earth. One of its big attractions - Kanchipuram, city of a thousand temples - is a day excursion away, while the region's most celebrated tourist attraction, the Shore Temples, lie 1 hour south at Mamallapuram, a spectacular World Heritage Site.
Tonight enjoy Fare well dinner at a local restaurant.
DAY 12 / CHENNAI - MUMBAI
After breakfast at the hotel, explore Chennai. You will be taken for a tour through Mylapore (in the southern part of Chennai city) with your expert guide. Mylapore is an ancient town in the heart of modern Chennai. It is considered the hub from where the rest of the city grew and has kept alive many traditions and arts that Chennai is so well known for. Discover the many stories hidden away as you walk through the by-lanes of the city. Visit the Kapaleeshwar Temple, a fine example of pure Dravidian architecture, walking through the surrounding areas where you can see jewelers, silk merchants, fruit and vegetable sellers and the flower vendors in the bazaars. The walk takes you down narrow lanes with old-style Tamil Brahmin homes called Agraharams, through silk shops and - stores selling music and religious memorabilia. Also, visit the Fort St George, built by the East India Company in 1653 and said to be the first bastion of the British power in India and also St. Mary's Church, the first Anglican Church in Asia. (St. George is closed on Tuesdays). This will be followed by a drive past the George Town colonial buildings and a walk through the market allowing the group to visit one of the oldest flower markets in the city.
You will be drive to Chennai airport to board your flight to Mumbai.
13 nights, 12 days.
Accomodation in Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Brunton Boatyard, Coconut Lagoon, Spice Village, Heritage Madurai, Ideal River View Resort, The Promenade, ITC Grand Chola
Mumbai, Kochi, Kumarakom, Periyar, Madurai, Thanjavur, Pondicherry, Chennai