15 days

Treasures of South India

Treasures of South India

Train travel - a quintessentially Indian experience

Houseboat backwater cruise in Kerala

Cochin's diverse history

British East India Company trading post town of Chennai

Trip rating
  • This leisurely journey through Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka encompasses all the highlights of southern India. The beachside retreat of Mamallapuram is our initial base. We then travel to explore Pondicherry and the historic temple and palace cities of Tanjore (Thanjavur), Chettinad and Madurai. Next is the lush tropical land of Kerala - home to Periyar National Park where we go in search of wildlife, palm-fringed backwaters and the harbour city of Kochi (Cochin), with its diverse architectural and religious influences. Alleppey is a village where we observe the rural lifestyle in the backwaters before boarding a traditional rice barge and taking to the main waterways. The historic palace city of Mysore takes us back to the grandiose age of the maharajas. Our journey ends back in the lively former trading outpost city of Chennai (Madras).


    Day 1 - Chennai - Mamallapuram

    Upon 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 in Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram). Our airport representative will be waiting for us outside the arrival hall, located after passing out of the customs area. Look out for the signboard. It usually takes about an hour's drive to reach our destination. Lying south of Chennai and overlooking the Bay of Bengal, the ancient seaport of Mamallapuram (also called Mahabalipuram) is now a coastal retreat with a long sandy beach, flanked by volcanic rocks. The town has been a sculpture centre since the 5th century when, at its height during the Pallava Dynasty, many of the temples in the town were constructed. Most famous of these is the Shore Temple overlooking the beachfront, decorated with ornately carved figures. There are many man-made caves to explore and at the centre of the village are two massive rocks covered in bas-reliefs, known as Arjuna's Penance and the Krishna Mandapa. Mamallapuram became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, due to its large number of impressive sites.

    Day 2 - Mamallapuram

    We enjoy some sightseeing today in this village of 12,000 people. The highlights include a visit to the fabulous rock-cut temples, the giant frieze and the Shore Temple, carved out of rock along the Coromandel Coast. We have the afternoon at leisure to take in the seaside ambience and perhaps seek out some of the delicious seafood that this place is famous for.


    Day 3 - Pondicherry

    (Driving time: approx 3 hours) We drive south down the coast from Mamallapuram to the former French settlement of Pondicherry (Puducherry). This was the capital of French India and along the seafront we can still discern traces of the colonial influence in the design of some of the houses and also in the kepi-wearing policemen. An important trading post since ancient times, the town has also been colonised over the years by the Portuguese, the Danes and the British, as well as the French. It's now both a bustling Indian market town, but also takes on the appearance of being a permanently out-of-season seaside resort. Pondicherry also attracts visitors who come here to study yoga or practice meditation in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. There is also an international flavour present in the nearby Auroville community, which was inspired by the founder of Sri Aurobindo Ashram - a Parisian painter named Mirra Alfassa, who was known as the 'Mother'. The centre‘s charter states that “to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness“. With roughly 1800 residents from 38 nationalities, mainly Europeans, serving the Divine Consciousness, the centre operates as a kind of alternative community, subsisting from handicrafts and alternative technology. Our time in Pondicherry is at leisure, so those with an interest in the philosophy of the centre may be interested in arranging a visit. Pondicherry is famous for its French-influenced cuisine and in the evening we can chose from one of the many great eating spots on offer.


    Day 4 - Tanjore

    (Driving time: approx 4 hours) We drive from Pondicherry to Tanjore. Also known as Thanjuvar, the town is a main commercial centre for the surrounding Kaveri Delta, but nevertheless retains the feel of a rural market town. There are some superb monuments in Tanjore, most notably the Sri Brihadishwara Temple - a World Heritage listed monument. This is the most imposing Chola monument in all of Tamil Nadu and contains a superb bronze collection. The temple dominates the skyline of the town with a 13-storey tower and colonnaded walkways around a central courtyard. The town itself is divided in two by the Grand Anicut Canal, with the old town lying to the north. There are still many other temples here, as well as the Nayak royal palace.


    Day 5 - Chettinad

    (Driving time: approx 3 hours) We continue by road from Tanjore to Chettinad. Chettinad is a region of the Sivaganga district of southern part of the state of Tamil Nadu. Karaikkudi is the capital of Chettinad, which includes Karaikkudi and 74 other villages. Chettinad is rich in cultural heritage, art and architecture, and is renowned for its 18th century mansions that are embellished with marble and Burma teak and feature wide courtyards and spacious rooms. Local legend has it that their walls used to be polished with a paste made out of egg white to give a smooth texture. A heritage walking tour takes us to look at the exterior of some of these stately buildings. In your free time, you may wish to visit the interior of one of the Chettiar mansions. Chettinad is also known for its culinary delicacies and we can indulge on some of these in the evening.


    Day 6 - Madurai

    (Driving time: approx 2½ hours) Our next destination, Madurai, is full of colourful bazaars, street tailors, throngs of pilgrims and joyful religious processions. The main attraction is the famous temple dedicated to the goddess Meenakshi, one of the re-incarnations of Parvati - Shiva's consort. The Meenakshi Temple is one of the finest and largest examples of Dravidian architecture, has an estimated 33 million sculptures and is always a hive of activity. The most fascinating features of the temple are its musical pillars, each of which is carved out of a single block of granite and each when tapped let out a musical note. Then there is the Hall of a Thousand Pillars, part of which has converted into a museum filled with sculptures and antique treasures. It is well worth returning in the evening to see the closing ceremony, in which an image of Shiva is carried in procession to Parvati's shrine. This ceremony is accompanied by chanting priests, drummers and torch-bearers, making it an unforgettable experience.


    Day 7 - Periyar National Park - Thekkady

    (Driving time: approx 4 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 visitor’s centre and gateway to Periyar National Park - a renowned wildlife sanctuary and tiger reserve and one of the largest national parks in India. Even though there is plenty of wildlife, sightings are of course a matter of chance. We include a forest walk with a local guide in the hope of sighting some of the exotic species of animals that make their home in the park. Periyar is also located around a large artificial lake and you can take an optional boat ride in the late afternoon if you wish.


    Day 8 - Kerala Backwater Cruise

    (Driving time: approx 3 hours) After a drive to Alleppey, 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.

    Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner

    Day 9-10 - Kochi

    (Driving time: approx 1½ hours) We finish our cruise and drive us past some of the numerous villages that line the intricate waterways, to Kochi (Cochin). On arrival we enjoy a city tour and explore Fort Cochin and 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 enjoy a boat cruise around the harbour. In our fee time we can explore other sights of interest including 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. Kochi is set on a cluster of islands and narrow peninsulas and has one of the best natural harbours in the world. It is one of the most unique and fascinating towns in southern India. In the evening we can watch a performance of Kathakali dancing (optional).


    Day 11 - Vaikom - Kochi - overnight train

    (Train journey: approx 12 hours) This morning we drive to Vaikom for a day visit, where we include a boat ride through the small waterways and visit various local industries such as like coir making, toddy tapping, spice producing, mat weaving and pot making. We visit a riverine village and meet the families living in this stunningly unique environment. The backwaters of Kerala have become the lifeline of the state, with a number of towns like Alappuzha, Kumarakom, Kollam, Kuttinad located amidst the maze of waterways. We also enjoy a Keralan lunch at Vaikom, prepared for us by a local family. Late in the afternoon we drive back to Kochi, where In the evening we board a sleeper train to Bangalore (Bengaluru). Our train departs at around 8:45 pm from Kochi Railway Station. On this train we use 2nd-class, air-conditioned sleeper berths.

    Breakfast | Lunch

    Day 12-13 - Mysore

    (Driving time: approx 3 hours) After arriving in Bangalore at approximately 8:35 am, we are met and driven to Mysore - a friendly and easy-going city of shady trees and buildings of faded grandeur. This is one of India's most manageable cities. The huge Maharaja’s Palace is simply magnificent, especially when illuminated during festivals. There are museums, hilltop temples and an extremely colourful fruit and vegetable market, which is a photographer's delight. On a city tour of Mysore we visit the Maharaja’s Palace and Chamundi Hill. Mysore is also a crafts centre and there are numerous shops selling a large range of sandalwood, rosewood and teak carvings, and furniture. Plenty of shopping opportunities!


    Day 14 - Chennai

    (Train journey: approx 7½ hours) We take the Shatabdi Express air-conditioned train back to Chennai, arriving in the evening. Our train is scheduled to depart at 2:15 pm and arrive at Chennai at 9:35 pm. Founded as recently as 1639 by the British East India Company as a trading post, Chennai is divided into three main areas. The original site was north of the River Cooum and is known as Fort St George. Central Chennai is the commercial and business heart of the city and, to the south, Mylapore has temples and other attractions. George Town, to the north of Fort St George, is an area of small, crowded streets lined with interesting architecture; both Hindu and Jain temples are found here, as well as the occasional mosque. There are some good bazaars to explore, but like much of Chennai it can be crowded and chaotic. More manageable is Mylapore, which has the most famous temple in the city - the Kapalishvara. With a 40 metre tower decorated with sculptures and a collection of shrines tended by priests, it is a popular site for devotees and sightseers alike.


    Day 15 - Chennai

    Your trip ends in Chennai 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. This is not covered but can be booked in advance through your travel agent or with us.

  • What to Know

    What's Included

    • Peregrine tour leader, local guides, arrival transfer, transport including train, sightseeing and entrance fees.

    Not Included

    • International flights, airport departure taxes, airport departure transfer, visas, insurance, other meals including lunches dinners, any optional tours and activities during free time, excess baggage charges, tips, items of a personal nature and camera fees (some places that we visit charge additional fees if you are entering with a camera or camcorder - your city guide will advise on these and they can be paid for locally).
  • Map Itinerary

  • Past Travellers' Ratings & Comments

    At the end of each trip, we ask our travellers to provide feedback. We publish the positive, negative and neutral feedback on this page to give you an overall idea of what to expect on this trip.

    Treasures of South India

    JANET - Australia, 17 Feb, 2013
    Overall Rating

    I love peregrine ! you arrange such fabulous trips . i love arriving for a new tour and know i am going to have a great time , with fabulous guides , fabulous adventures and nothing to worry about !!! keep up the fabulous work !!!

    Treasures of South India

    linda - United Kingdom, 1 Apr, 2012
    Overall Rating
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Trip at a glance

Trip Code PITI
Group size 4 - 15
Start City: Mamallapuram, Tamil N?du, India
End City: Chennai
Style: Small Group

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