Jan 17th: Arrive at Cochin
(most flights arrive either in the evening or at night). Our services begin here. You are greeted at the airport by an Easy Tours Travel Facilitator or your Tour Director, and 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.
Jan 18th: Cochin. (B,L,D)
If you did not meet him the previous evening, you will be introduced to your Tour Director prior to beginning this excursion.
Start your exploration of South India with a guided visit to the island of Cherai. Visit the 19th century Azheekkal Sree Varaha Venkateswara Temple – the temple Ratha (Chariot) is unique and very impressive. Also visit the Portuguese Fort, which was built in 1503 and is the oldest European structure in India. You will also stop at the Pallipuram Church, completed in 1577 by the Portuguese. There are some amazing artifacts in the church.
There is a break for lunch, followed by a walk on Cherai beach that allows you to experience coastal Keralan culture.
You are taken back to your hotel. You are at leisure for a couple of hours.
– Your South India Tour Director or 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.
Jan 19th: Cochin. (B,L,D) Explore
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 guided tour begins from the Jewish Synagogue (closed on Fridays and Saturdays – will be facilitated on other days for
some departures), 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 one of the other days that you are in Cochin. 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 A.D. 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 back to your hotel after your walk.
In the evening
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.
Jan 20th: Cochin - Backwaters cruise. (B,L,D)
You are assisted with your checkout by an Easy Tours Travel Facilitator and driven to the backwaters.
Arrive at Alleppey and you are assisted in boarding 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.
Jan 21st: Backwaters Cruise – Thekkady (Periyar National Park). (B,L,D)
Disembark from your houseboat in the morning and enjoy the fascinating
drive through the Western Ghats as you to head for Thekkady. This is one of the most beautiful drives in all of South India. Arrive at Thekkady and you are assisted with your check-in to your scenic nature resort. You are now in the heart of spice country, and, if you breathe deeply, the air carries a faint aroma that will delight you.
There is a break
for a late lunch.
This is the heart of spice country and the mild and pleasant aroma from the surrounding plantations will fascinate you when you arrive. Periyar National Park 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 6,000 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.
is home to just under a thousand elephants and also more than 60 other mammal species including tigers, bison, deer, wild boar and wild dog. There are more than 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.
– Visit a neighboring spice plantation where an experienced naturalist will guide you through scores of different spice plants and illustrate their medicinal and gastronomical properties.
Jan 22nd: Thekkady (Periyar). (B,L,D)
Start your day with a drive up to Lake Periyar and embark on a lake cruise on the spectacular lake. Periyar is a man-made lake that was created by the building of a dam in 1895. The scenery is both gorgeous and surreal, as ancient tree stumps still protrude from the waters of the 26-square-kilometer lake. Although Lake Periyar is officially a Tiger Reserve, chances of you seeing a big cat here are almost non-existent. What is very common is to see elephant herds as they come to the lake to drink, or as they traverse the terraced hills surrounding the lake. Wild boars are also a common sight.
There is a break
for Lunch after the cruise.
-you can choose to enjoy your scenic pastoral resort and its surroundings this afternoon, or you can opt to visit Elephant Junction. The flora (and other attractions) of your nature resort are very impressive, as is the nearby spice market that sells locally grown products. The resort staff will be happy to give you a guided tour of the variety of plants and trees there, as well as their organic gardens. Upon request you can spend time with the chefs who will give you insights into the preparation of the delightful local cuisine that they offer. There is also a great Ayurvedic Spa that you can try – advance reservations are recommended.
If you choose
the Elephant Junction option (no charge), you will get a couple of hours where you can mingle with the trainers and other staff as they go about their daily business. You will have opportunities to feed and assist in bathing the gentle giants, as well as experience elephant back rides.
Jan 23rd: Thekkady - Madurai. (B,L,D)
You are assisted with your checkout and your baggage is loaded into your vehicle. You will be taken by a 45 minute or so jeep ride to a scenic village that lies hidden in the valley behind the mountains of Periyar Tiger Reserve. Here, among many other experiences, you will have the option of traveling in a bullock cart. The village is rich in bird diversity and has diverse agricultural crops such as mango, tamarind, onion, sunflower, jasmine and dozens of other fruits and vegetables. The drive and the village are both very scenic and the excursion is fascinating, especially the glimpses of rural life that you will experience. Your Tour Director will illustrate how farming has woven itself inextricably with the culture and the life of the natives. After this experience, you will join your chauffeur at a scenic spot next to some grape plantations and then you will be driven to Madurai. A bagged lunch will be provided for this journey.
Arrive at Madurai
where you are assisted with your check-in to your hotel.
More than 2,500 years old, Madurai is the second largest city of Tamil Nadu and an important cultural and commercial hub. It was once the seat of Tamil learning; it is still the area where the Tamil language is spoken in its purest form. The city is planned in the shape of a lotus. In contrast with its ancient roots, modern Madurai is a burgeoning industrial center, surrounded by vast stretches of paddy fields, dusty roads and crowded bazaars.
- Attend the iconic and 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. You will be amazed by the incredible scale and colors that you are about to witness. Besides a glimpse of the ancient ceremony, this evening will give you a taste of what you will experience on the next day when you do a detailed tour of this awe-inspiring Temple complex.
Jan 24th: Madurai. (B,L,D)
Proceed for a guided city tour of Madurai. By far 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) and Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva. Its vast interior 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 2,000 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 A.D. by an Italian architect, the palace is an interesting confluence of Dravidian, Islamic and European architectural styles.
You are at leisure
for the balance of the afternoon with your Tour Director and chauffeur.
Jan 25th: Madurai – Karaikudi (Chettinad). (B,L,D)
You are assisted with your checkout in the morning and then you proceed on the drive to nearby Karaikudi. There is a stop along the way for a tour of an old fashioned brick kiln, and you can try your hand at forming the bricks. Arrive at Karaikudi and you are assisted with your check-in at your boutique lodging. A Chettinad mansion is impossible to describe in words. The incredible
detail, the opulence of the materials used in its construction and the remarkable design all combine to make this a unique architectural achievement that creates an ambience not found elsewhere.
There is a break
for lunch (included) at your mansion. Chettinad cuisine is famous all over Asia for a very good reason. It is different from most Indian cuisine and the famous banana leaf lunch, with its multitude of courses and dishes, will not fail to impress you. When you learn how the owners of these mansions were traders who settled in various South Asian countries and became prominent businessman there, it will become easier to understand how they were able to secure all the materials for their mansions, and how the cuisine evolved. There are 22,000 such mansions in the Chettinad region, and more than half of them are now in a state of disrepair. Most of the mansion owners no longer live in Chettinad, having settled in other South Asian countries or various parts of India.
Enjoy a guided exploration
of Chettinad. Karaikudi is the capital of the Chettinad region, a fascinating rural area made up of 76 villages and small towns. The community of traders from this region that created the mansions and the cuisine enjoyed an affluent lifestyle for the last thousand years, and only settled in this region in the 17th century. Their wealth is reflected in the unique and amazing architecture and cuisine, as well as the culture. Although it would be hard pressed to compete with the renovated mansion that you are staying at, you will visit one of the other famous Mansions of Chettinad, where wide open spaces are enhanced by generous use of Burma teak and marble, and the ambiance created puts most modern mansions to shame. A fascinating excursion this afternoon will be to the rural tile manufacturing plant. You will observe how this ancient skill is still being practiced, and the amazing, colorful tiles that are produced by hand even today. Another stopover will be at a handloom weaving plant where, again, an ancient set of skills is practiced even today.
Jan 26th: Chettinad – Tanjore - Trichy – Mahabalipuram. (B,L,D)
You are assisted with your check-out and then you proceed on the two hour drive to Tanjore. As you approach your destination, you will be driving by cashew plantations. A brief stop at a rural roadside cashew roasting and shelling operation will provide great photo opportunities.
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 thousand-year-old awe-inspiring Temple Complex is constructed solely of granite, a material so hard that, with all our current technology, no architect today 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 made up of ten different pieces totaling about eighty two tons. This temple was built by the great King Rajaraja Chola. Construction commenced in 1003 A.D. and the height of the main structure is 216 feet, which means that the incredibly heavy 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 and 13 feet high. The colors used on the elaborate frescoes inside the structures 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 there will be a break for a late lunch (included).
you will drive to Tanjore Museum. The Tanjore Museum has a fascinating collection of ancient temple stone sculptures and lost wax process bronzes, gathered from all over the region. The exploration of this museum is something that art lovers will really enjoy.
After the museum you will proceed on the short drive to Trichy. Arrive at Trichy and you will stop for a photo opportunity at the ancient Tiruchirapali Rock Fort and 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 more than 3 billion years. After the photo opportunity you will be driven close to the temple complex. The Vinayak temple, dedicated to Lord Ganesh and built in 580 A.D., is located at the very summit. An ascent to the top is not included as you have to climb 437 steps that have been cut into the rock itself, and it takes a lot of time (and effort) to climb up and down. At the base of the boulder is the Manikka Vinayakar temple, a large and impressive Hindu house of worship, and a brief exploration of this is included. 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, and a brief stop here is included.
There is a break
for refreshments or an early dinner.
You are driven to the Trichy airport and assisted in boarding the late evening flight to Chennai. You are greeted at the Chennai airport and then driven to Mahabalipuram where you are assisted with your check-in to your ocean front resort.
Jan 27th: Mahabalipuram. (B,L,D)
You are at leisure this morning to recuperate from your late flight on the previous night.
Start your day at 11 am 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 and 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.
– Enjoy a guided walk 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 some 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.
Jan 28th: Mahabalipuram. (B,L,D)
Enjoy a guided excursion to Kanchipuram
. If you are feeling templed out by this time, you may want to
not take this excursion as none of the temples at Kanchipuram are close to (individually) what you will have already experienced at Madurai. You can, on your own, enjoy your resort or the neighboring fishing community and bazaar. 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 famous sages of the Buddhist and Jain faiths originated here. The occupation of many residents of 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 return to your resort in nearby Mahabalipuram.
Jan 29th: Chennai – International Flight OR Mumbai/Delhi. (B)
You are assisted with your checkout by noon and then driven to Chennai airport in time for your outbound flight. Board your international flight or your flight to Mumbai/Delhi.
Departure Option 1:
If you are boarding
your international flight from Chennai, since
most international flights depart in the evening, a personal vehicle and chauffeur are available to you until 9 pm for your assisted check in at the airport.
An optional guided city tour
of Chennai can be facilitated for those with late departures upon advance request – a surcharge applies. This tour allows you to experience the main attractions of India’s third largest city. The tour of Chennai begins from St. Mary’s Church (built in 1678 – 80), the first English Church in Chennai. After the church you will visit the National Art Gallery and Museum. The museum is famous for its large collection of temple friezes and the bronze gallery with its amazing collection of ancient lost wax sculptures. The Archaeological section is equally impressive, and, of particular interest (located next to the bronze gallery), is the small but fascinating collection of ancient coins that span twenty five hundred years of India’s history. After the museum 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. End the tour with a drive by the High Court, Fort St. George, and some Tamil Film studios. These studios are second only to Bollywood, producing hundreds of motion pictures every year.
Departure Option 2:
If you are boarding a daytime flight to Mumbai/Delhi (flight cost not included in Domestic Flight Supplement)
in order to connect with your international departure from that city, you will have two options. When Easy Tours makes your international travel arrangements, we are usually able to include this domestic flight as part of your international travel booking, thereby enabling you to check your baggage through to your final destination. Here are your 3 options if you are boarding a domestic flight -
Departure Option 2A:
If your international flight departure is less than four hours from your scheduled arrival time at the domestic terminal at Mumbai or Delhi, you will ask the airline staff to assist you with the shuttle that takes you to the international terminal - OR
Departure Option 2B:
If your international flight departure is four or more hours from your scheduled arrival time at the domestic terminal at Delhi or Mumbai, you are greeted at the Mumbai/Delhi airport by an Easy Tours Facilitator and your personal chauffeur. Your personal vehicle and chauffeur are available to you until 9 pm for your assisted check-in at the airport. This is a good time to do some last minute shopping and/or sightseeing if you are so inclined - OR
Departure Option 3:
If your flight departs early the next morning, you may want us to arrange a room for you so you can rest.
Our services end at Mumbai/Delhi/Chennai airport.