Day 1: Depart from origin
. You can ask us to include international flights.
Day 2: Arrive at Mumbai.
Our services begin here. You are greeted at the airport by an Easy Tours Travel Facilitator or your Mumbai Tour Director, and then ushered to a chauffeur driven vehicle. You are then driven to your hotel where you are assisted with your check in. The next day’s plans are briefly reviewed and you are presented with your welcome package. Among other things, this package includes a beautiful handcrafted journal for your explorations, travel documents such as your air tickets and hotel vouchers, as well as copies of documents (such as our General Travel Guide) that were sent to you earlier.
Day 3: Mumbai.
You are at leisure in the morning to recuperate from your International travel. You will be introduced to the other members of your group this morning. Start your exploration of India with a half day city tour of Mumbai.
The tour begins at the Prince of Wales Museum, built to commemorate King George V’s first visit to India in 1905. Designed in the Indo-Saracenic style, the museum has sections of art, paintings, archeological exhibits and natural history. After the museum tour you will visit the famous ‘Dhobi Ghat’ & observe the age old tradition of the Dhobi’s doing Mumbai’s laundry!
Continue the tour
with a drive up to Malabar Hill, where the hanging gardens give a panoramic view of the city and the "Queen’s Necklace" (Marine Drive). The tour then takes a drive through the Flora Fountain and Fort area, where you can view the impressive Gothic and Victorian buildings that were constructed during the British ‘Raj’. Visit the Victoria Terminus (now known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus). It is India’s finest example of a Gothic architecture and one of the world’s busiest railway stations.
Drive around Horniman Circle and visit the Town Hall, right besides the docks of Mumbai. Visit the city’s signature landmark, “The Gateway of India”, situated overlooking Mumbai’s harbor. This structure was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Mumbai.
Day 4: Mumbai - Aurangabad.
You check-out and are then driven to the airport. Board the early morning flight to Aurangabad. Upon your arrival at Aurangabad you are greeted at the airport by your Aurangabad Tour Director. You are driven to your hotel and if an early check-in is possible, you can check-in to your room. If not, you can drop off your bags and use the facilities. In either case, we recommend that you consider taking advantage of the packed lunch that the hotel offers to its guests - the dining option near the monuments are not recommended in terms of hygiene as well as choices of cuisine.
Enjoy a full day guided
excursion to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ajanta. Buddhist monks and local craftsmen began excavating, sculpting, and painting at Ajanta in the 2nd century BC. The incredible variety of paintings and sculpture were created in hard rock by using primitive yet ingenious lighting, tools, and materials. These 28 caves are a testimony to the devotion of the Buddhists, as well as the talents of their skilled craftsmen.
Of particular interest is the concept of “Vertical Excavation”. When your Easy Tours Guide passionately explains this concept and describes the processes, you will be awed by the achievements of the craftsmen. Although the caves themselves are very impressive in their design and volume of massive sculpturing and excavation, it is the art inside the caves that will take your breath away. The incredible artistry and colors of the paintings and sculptures is unique - such art has not been seen anywhere else, not just in India, but anywhere in the world. Ajanta's incredible paintings are even more impressive considering that the color and texture you're admiring today was created by artists about two thousand years ago.
After exploring the caves at Ajanta you drive to Aurangabad and your hotel.
Day 5: Aurangabad.
This morning you will proceed for a half day guided excursion to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ellora. Again, we recommend that you consider taking advantage of the packed lunch that the hotel offers to its guest. Explore the magnificently sculptured cave temples and monasteries of Ellora. They are 34 ‘Caves’ at Ellora and any of them would individually be considered a significant attraction in most nations. They were built between 600 AD & 1000 AD and are devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.
17 of these caves illustrate a resurgence of Hinduism in this area, as reflected by their Hindu themes, sculpture, and art. The epitome of this is Cave 16, the awe-inspiring "Kailash Temple". It was finished during the 8th century and is supposed to evoke one of the abodes of Lord Shiva, Mount Kailash in the Himalayas.
The Kailash Temple
is notable for its immense scale; it is the most awe-inspiring of all of the amazing monuments at Ajanta Ellora. More than 200,000 tons of rock was excavated and six generations of craftsmen worked for a hundred and twenty years to create this masterpiece.
On your way back
to your hotel you can stop at Daulatabad Fort. This 14th century hilltop Fort is an impressive sight but what will amaze you is your guide’s illustration of the multiple ingenious architectural facets that were used to make it virtually impregnable. The once sloping sides of the massive stone hill were manually carved sheer on all sides so that no one could climb straight to the top.
Return to your hotel
in the afternoon. You may want to turn in early today so as to prepare for the early start on the next morning.
Day 6: Aurangabad - Trivandrum.
You check-out and are then driven to the airport. You are assisted with boarding the morning flight to Mumbai. Connect with the flight to Trivandrum. Upon your arrival at Trivandrum you are greeted at the airport and ushered to your chauffeur driven vehicle. You are driven to nearby Kovalam where you check-in at your ocean front resort.
You are at leisure
for the balance of the afternoon, and you can enjoy your incredibly scenic surroundings.
Day 7: Kovalam (Trivandrum) - Cochin.
You check-out in the mid-morning and are driven to nearby Trivandrum. If today is a Thursday, you may want to start out early from your hotel in the morning as that will enable you to visit the Jewish Synagogue during your time in Cochin. Enjoy a guided city tour of the ancient city of Trivandrum. Explore the temples, monuments and statues, all of which are great examples of pure Dravidian Temple architecture.
Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant (included) and then proceed on the picturesque journey to Cochin. There is a plethora of opportunities for photography of great scenery and local rural cultural experiences on this drive.
Arrive at Cochin
and you are assisted with your check-in at your hotel.
Day 8: Cochin.
Start your exploration of the fascinating port city of Cochin and marvel in its culture and architecture, a result of centuries of various European influences combined with rich indigenous history. The tour begins from the Jewish Synagogue (closed on Fridays and Saturdays), which was built in 1568 and is still an active house of worship for the few remaining Jews in the area. If the synagogue is closed on this day the visit can be facilitated on the day before or the day after. Next to the synagogue is Cochin’s ancient and colorful Jew Street with its antique stores and souvenir peddlers. There is evidence of a Jewish presence in Kochi from 70 AD. After the synagogue you visit the St. Francis Church, which was established by the Portuguese Franciscan friars in 1503. This is one of the first European churches built in India and the famed Vasco Da Gama was buried in its courtyard for a few years before his remains were returned to Portugal.
You now visit the most photogenic of Cochin’s attractions, the Chinese fishing nets. Folklore will have it that these enormous nets (or at least their design) were brought here by famed Chinese Explorer Zhang He about 600 years ago. Local fishermen manipulate these massive nets with an ease that comes from centuries of practice - it is a vocation handed down by generations. The lowering and raising of the nets has a synchronicity and rhythm that is quite an amazing experience. Some of the nets are more than a century old as the fishermen patch them up and keep going. Finish your exploration with a short guided walk through Fort Kochi and experience the unique local culture and architecture - Fort Kochi is one of India’s best cities to explore on foot. You will be driven to your hotel after your walk.
- An Easy Tours facilitator will pick you up from your hotel and accompany you to a local theatre where you get to experience Kerala’s ancient performing art, a Kathakali dance performance. Kathakali literally means the art of storytelling through dance and the dance form is an ancient forefather of many Asian dance forms.
After the dance performance
you are driven to an experience that is the highlight of many of our guests’ time in Kerala. You will be hosted by a famous Keralan Chef and her family at their home. A delicious dinner will follow, and cooking lessons are included. At the end of dinner you will be driven back to your hotel.
Day 9: Cochin - Backwaters cruise.
You are assisted with your check-out by an Easy Tours Travel Facilitator and driven to the backwaters. If the previous day was a Saturday, you can visit the Jewish Synagogue on your way to the backwaters. Proceed on the drive to Alleppey in the morning & board your houseboat.
Take our word for this
, your backwaters cruise will very likely become one of your most treasured travel memories. The incredible lushness of the vegetation around the fresh water canals, rivulets and lakes, the beauty of the water bodies themselves and the abundance of coconut trees and other exotic plants create a subtropical environment not found elsewhere on this planet. When you combine this with the opportunity to be part of a unique way of life that hasn’t changed much for a few centuries, it results in most visitors’ second highest rated experience in India (after the Taj Mahal). Relax and have a great time until the next morning as you cruise the amazing backwaters. The cook and other staff make sure that all your needs are taken care of, while serving you with delicious Kerala cuisine. You have the option of taking shore excursions at one or two of the tiny rural communities as you cruise by - the locals are very friendly and communicative.
Day 10: Backwaters - Periyar National Park.
Disembark from your houseboat in the morning and embark on your drive to Thekkady (Periyar National Park). Arrive at Thekkady and check-in at your hotel. This is the heart of spice country and the pleasant, mild aroma from the surrounding plantations will fascinate you when you arrive.
Periyar is located around a picturesque artificial lake that was formed in 1895 by building a dam on the Periyar River. The terrain is hilly and the elevation of the park ranges from a few hundred feet to about 6000 feet above sea level. The lake occupies the valleys of the thickly forested hills, serving as a permanent source of water for wildlife in the Park. Although it falls under “Project Tiger”, the main attractions of the park are definitely elephants.
Periyar is home to just under a thousand elephants and also over 60 other mammal species including tigers, bison, deer, wild boar, and wild dog. There are over 300 species of birds, and even 160 species of butterflies. Prominent among the birds are Cormorants, Kingfishers, Darters, the great Malabar Hornbill, and the racket-tailed Drongoes. Unlike Ranthambore, your chances of seeing a tiger in this park are extremely slim.
Thekkady is a great stopover on this itinerary for a variety of reasons, only one of them being the National Park. The Spice plantations are another reason to stop here, as is the fact that this rural area happens to be located in one of the most picturesque parts of the Western Ghats.
- Drive up to Lake Periyar and embark on a boat ride around the lake. Enjoy the incredible scenery and view the wildlife as you cruise around the spectacular lake -elephants, wild boar and deer are the most commonly sighted wildlife.
Day 11: Periyar - Madurai.
Start your morning with a visit to a neighboring spice plantation where an experienced naturalist will guide you through scores of different spice plants and illustrate their medicinal and gastronomical properties.
After you return to your lodge and freshen up, you will check-out and eat lunch before you leave Thekkady.
After lunch you will proceed
on the picturesque drive to Madurai with your chauffeur.
Arrive at Madurai where you are assisted with your check in to your hotel.
Over 2500 years old, Madurai is the second largest city of Tamil Nadu. It is an important cultural and commercial centre. It was once the seat of Tamil learning and still the place where the Tamil language is spoken in its purest form. The city is planned in the shape of a lotus. Incongruously, modern Madurai is a burgeoning industrial centre, even though the vast stretches of paddy fields, dusty roads and crowded bazaars make it seems like an overgrown village.
- attend the ancient & impressive evening “Palli Arai” ceremony at the mammoth Sree Meenakshi Temple Complex with your guide. This elaborate and ritualistic ceremony has been written up in many international publications.
Day 12: Madurai.
Proceed for a guided city tour of Madurai. The main attraction of Madurai is the great Sree Meenakshi Temple. This awe-imposing monument is the finest example of Dravidian temple architecture on this planet. Its Hall of a Thousand Pillars is a fabulous collection of elaborately sculpted and painted deities as well as other creatures from Hindu religious annals. The temple is always a beehive of activity as pilgrims from all over India come to seek the blessings of Meenakshi (Goddess Parvati) & Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva) and is filled with worshippers at all hours of the day. You will witness Hindu priests performing various ceremonies in different parts of the temple complex as you explore this huge structure, including religious aspects of traditional weddings. According to Tamil belief the temple has existed for about 2000 years, but this current structure is a mere four centuries old (the previous majestic temple was destroyed by Muslim invaders in the 14th century). The massive complex includes 14 magnificent Gopurams that jut into the sky from different parts of the temple. These Gopurams have thousands of elaborate sculptures carved into them and these have been colorfully painted. The most significant of these Gopurams are the two golden towers dedicated to the two main deities, the tallest one reaches 170 feet.
After you leave the temple you are driven to nearby Thirumalai Nayak Palace. Constructed in 1636 AD by an Italian architect, the palace is an interesting confluence of Dravidian, Islamic & European architectural styles. You are dropped off at your hotel in the afternoon for a late lunch.
- you are at leisure. This is a good day to turn in earlier than usual as an early departure the next morning will avoid Madurai traffic and let you get more out of a rather full day of sightseeing and traveling.
Day 13: Madurai - Trichy - Tanjore.
You check-out and then proceed on the 3 hour drive to Trichy. Arrive at Trichy & begin a guided exploration of the ancient Tiruchirapali Rock Fort & Temple Complex. The complex is perched on an immense boulder that is 256 feet high. This boulder is one of the largest such formations on our planet and is also one of the oldest at 3.8 million years of age. The Vinayak temple, dedicated to Lord Ganesh and built in 580 AD, is located at the very summit. You may not want to ascend to the top as you have to climb 437 steps that have been cut into the rock itself. The Fort complex was built much later and has a legacy full of tales of blood and valor; it changed hands numerous times as it was conquered by various dynasties until it eventually landed in the control of the British in the late 18th century. There are a few cave temples in the complex with beautifully carved panels and pillars as well as a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
At the base of the boulder is the Manikka Vinayakar temple, a large and impressive Hindu house of worship and you may want to explore this if you choose not to make the climb. There is also a tank and a pavilion which are used during the float festivals of the temples. Among all these temples you will find an 18th century Church that was built by Reverend Schwartz, a Danish Priest who was part of the British occupying garrisons.
There is a break for lunch.
lunch you can explore the spectacular island temple complex of Srirangam, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. This complex covers 156 acres and is one of the largest religious complexes in the world. Although this temple is mentioned in Tamil mythology as having existed for many millennia, archeological studies of the current structure date it back to the 10th century AD. It is surrounded by 7 concentric walled courtyards that add up to over 6 miles of walls. There are 21 magnificent Gopurams (Tower gateways) and there are festivals celebrated in this complex on about 322 days every year. Within the temple there are many impressive shrines as well as a colorful mix of flower markets, restaurants and other stores catering to the worshippers. Non-Hindu’s are not allowed past the 6th wall and thus cannot enter the gold crowned inner sanctum. If you are feeling a little ‘templed’ out at this point of your discovery of India, you may want to pass up on this part of your itinerary as Srirangam’s design and other attributes have quite a bit in common with the Sree Meenakshi Temple at Madurai.
- After your exploration of Srirangam temple you are driven to your hotel in Tanjore (Thanjavur).
A Note about Hotels in this area: The Hotels in the central parts of Southern India do not offer the world class luxury offered at most destinations in India. At Tanjore the options are very few - the best lodging would equate with a Highway motel in the western world. At Pondicherry there are a few small boutique establishments with a colonial flavor and one or two small business hotels that are fairly luxurious, but nothing that compares with the luxury hotels in the rest of India. Easy Tours routinely monitors these establishments for changes in management and service standards and makes changes as the need arises. For guests that require luxury in all their lodging we recommend that you select one of our other tours from the South India Collection.
Day 14: Tanjore - Pondicherry.
The Great Living Chola Temples are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and your day will start with a guided visit to the most amazing example of these, the Brihadishwara
. This awe-inspiring Temple Complex is constructed solely of granite, a material so hard that no architect today, with all our current technology, would even dream of building a structure with the incredible detail and mammoth scale of the Brihadishwara. These are just a few of the reasons why this monument is one of India’s most treasured architectural achievements.
This ancient temple’s crown
is a massive granite monolithic cupola. This temple was built by the great King Rajaraja Chola. Construction commenced in 1003 AD and the height of the main structure is 216 feet, which means that the 80 ton cupola had to be raised about 200 feet and placed at the top of the structure. The temple itself is decorated with carved panels depicting mythological events. An immense Nandi (the Bull) stands in front of the main shrine - carved out of a single piece of granite and measuring 16 feet long & 13 feet high. The incredible detail and complexity of the carvings is matched by the vibrant colors and talented artistry of the elaborate frescoes inside the structures. The colors used are said to have lasted this long because they were achieved by locating stones in those natural shades and grinding those stones to a paste.
After your exploration of the Brihadishwara, if time permits, you can enjoy a guided tour of the Saraswati Mahal Library and Art Gallery. The Gallery houses a large collection of ancient Chola bronzes, and the building is an architectural marvel.
- Return to your hotel to freshen up and pack. Check-out of your hotel and break for lunch. After lunch you proceed on a drive to Pondicherry. Check in to your hotel on arrival.
Day 15: Pondicherry - Mahabalipuram.
Start your day with a guided tour of Pondicherry. Pondicherry was a French colony for about two hundred and eighty years and became a part of India in 1954. Some claim that its history can be traced back to Agastya, South India’s revered sage, who built his hermitage here many millennia ago. There is evidence that the Romans had a trading post here in the 1st Century AD. However, most of what a visitor will experience today has a distinct colonial flavor. The culture presents an unusual combination of European culture and Indian traditions - French is still spoken here in some parts of the population, along with Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and English. As you tour the city you will be captivated by its architecture as well as the friendliness of its inhabitants. Traces of the French colony still remain in its churches, cuisine, grid-pattern streets and colonial buildings. Return to your hotel after the city tour.
Check-out of your hotel, and then you are driven to Mahabalipuram. This is a scenic drive along the coast that includes glimpses of the ocean and photo opportunities at rural farming and fishing communities. Arrive at Mahabalipuram and check-in to your ocean front resort.
Day 16: Mahabalipuram.
Start your day with a guided exploration of the ancient port of Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This laid back coastal
town south of Chennai is world famous for its 8th century shore temple & other historical marvels. Mahabalipuram was the second capital of the Pallava Kings of Kanchipuram, the first Tamil dynasty after the fall of the Gupta Empire. The massive rock sculptures carved into softly sloping hills, monolithic temples, ancient manmade caverns with incredible sculptures, and the world’s largest bas-relief in stone, all combine to make Mahabalipuram a living museum. Vying with this splendor is a beach and the picturesque Bay of Bengal. The famous Pancha Rathas (Five Chariots) Temples, the Penance of Bhagirath (also known as Arjuna’s Penance), the Shore Temple, the massive bas-relief Descent of the Ganges and the eight Mandapams (Shallow halls carved out of sheer rock) are all located within the small coastal community. A captivating sight can be experienced from the beach twice a day as the local fisherman head out in their colorful fishing boats early in the morning and then again when they return in the afternoon with their catch.
- You are at leisure to explore the ocean front resort and surroundings. The afternoon is a great time to walk 50 yards down the beach as this allows you to mingle with the local fishing community and their colorful wooden boats. You will see a variety of activities going on - many of the fishermen are returning from their days work and they are going through various processes of pulling their boats up on the beach and organizing their nets and other gear. The fish are stacked into plastic bins which are then weighed right there on the beach. Now the negotiating takes place. You will witness women repairing nets and a lot of other similar activity. Boats will be coming ashore and one of the larger boats will actually head out at this time of day. Photo opportunities abound, including the famed 8th century Shore Temple, from which you are only a stone’s throw away.
Day 17: Mahabalipuram.
Enjoy a guided excursion to Kanchipuram and Chennai
. If you feel that you have seen enough Dravidian temples, you may want to opt out of the Kanchipuram portion of this trip - you can either enjoy your ocean front resort or the charming town of Mahabalipuram. The ancient holy city of
Kanchipuram is known as the ‘golden city of a thousand temples’ and is one of the seven sacred cities of India. Its many Gopurams (temple domes) can be seen from a long ways away as you approach the city. Kanchipuram history can be traced back for about three millenniums and it was successively the capital of many South Indian dynasties. It was a great center of learning and great sages of the Buddhist and Jain faith originated here. The largest enterprise in this city is silk weaving and Kanchi silk sarees are considered to be the finest on the planet - a visit to a silk weaving family’s home is part of the tour.
After touring Kanchipuram
you will drive to Chennai so as to experience India’s third largest city. The tour of Chennai begins from St. Mary’s Church (built in 1678 - 80); this was the first English Church in Chennai. After the church you continue on to visit the Saint Thomas Cathedral (originally built in 1504, then re-built in neo-gothic style in 1893), this Roman Catholic Church is said to house the remains of St. Thomas the Apostle. After the cathedral you visit the National Art Gallery & Museum and explore the beautiful temple friezes, the bronze gallery, and the Archaeological section. Finish your exploration of Chennai with a drive by the High Court, Fort St. George, and the popular Tamil film studios that put out hundreds of movies every year.
Return to your resort in nearby Mahabalipuram at the end of the day.
Day 18: Chennai - International Flight (OR /Mumbai/Delhi).
You are assisted with your check-out by an Easy Tours facilitator and then driven to Chennai airport in time for your outbound flight. Board your international flight or your flight to Mumbai/Delhi.
As most international flights
depart in the evening, if you are boarding your international flight from Chennai a personal vehicle and driver are available to you until your assisted check in at the airport.
If you are boarding a daytime flight
to Mumbai/Delhi in order to connect with your international departure, you are greeted at the airport by an Easy Tours Facilitator & your chauffeur on arrival at Mumbai/Delhi. You are provided with personal vehicles for each single traveler / couple / family traveling together. This is a good time to do some last minute shopping and/or sightseeing if you are so inclined. Your vehicle and driver stay with you until your (usually late evening) assisted check in at the airport. If your flight departs early in the morning you may want us to arrange a room for you so you can rest.
Our services end
at Mumbai/Delhi/Chennai airport.
Day 19: Arrive at your next destination