Arunchaleshvara_Temple

This 20 day tour departs from South Africa on 22 January 2011 and flies directly to Mumbai on SAA for onward connection to Chennai. One night will be spent in Chennai to visit the city before moving on to Pondicherry visiting Mahabalipuram and Kanchipuram, famous for their temples, rock carvings and silks.

The French colonial heritage town of Pondicherry came under French rule in the mid-18th century and was finally returned to India in 1954. Pondicherry is tangibly Gallic and here we will spend two days exploring this vibrant city.

The tour proceeds from Pondicherry to Tanjore to visit the UNESCO World Heritage temple sites which were constructed during the 11th and 12th centuries. These impressive temples testify to the brilliant achievements of the Chola dynasty in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting.

From Tanjore, its on to the great temple town of Madurai, one of the oldest cities in south Asia. Madurai is also known as the spiritual centre of the south and has been a centre of learning and pilgrimage for centuries. Two days will be spent here and visits to the famous Sri Meenakshi Temple, a riotiously baroque example of Dravidian architecture, the Ghandi Memorial Museum and the Vandiyur Mariamman Tepakulam are included.

Heading overland to Thekkady, we will travel into the forested highlands to visit Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary for 2 nights. Here we hope to see elephant, plentiful wildlife and, if we are lucky, an elusive Bengal tiger, which are easily visible on the shores of the vast artificial lake in the sanctuary

We’ll have a spellbinding trip from Periyar to Munnar. Munnar is surrounded by tea plantations owned by the industrial giant, Tata, and is the centre of Kerala’s principal tea-growing region. This hill-town still has something of a colonial look about it with verandahed British bungalows clinging to the valley’s sides. At 1600 m above sea level, the town enjoys a refreshing climate.

Kumarakom is technically an island on Vembanad Lake. This is an unbelievably beautiful paradise of mangrove forests, emerald green paddy fields and coconut groves interspersed with enchanting waterways and canals adorned with white lilies. We’ll have 2 days here to explore the backwaters and experience the luxury of ayurveda spa treatments.

It is a short drive from Kumarakom to Alleppey, also known for its picturesque canals, backwaters, beaches and lagoons. Here we will board a houseboat for a one night trip through the waterways.

From Alleppey, the tour continues to the venerable city of Kochi (long known as Cochin). Kochi is Kerala’s prime tourist destination, spreading across islands and promontories in a stunning location between the Arabian Sea and the backwaters. During a wander through Cochi’s narrow lanes, you’ll stumble upon spice markets, Chinese fishing nets, a synagogue, a Portuguese palace, India’s first European church, Dutch homes and a village green that could have been transported from England’s Home Counties.

Two nights at the end of the tour will be spent at Marari Beach Resort in order to relax and unwind before our trip home.

The return flight departs from Mumbai arriving back in South Africa on 10 February 2011.

Liz Cotton will be accompanying the group fro South Africa and professional local guides will be escorting the group from arrival in Mumbai throughout. This will be a unique and unforgettable experience for every member of the group.