Southern India & the backwaters of Kerala

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An outstandingly comprehensive tour of India’s southern states, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Kerala, discovering their remarkable cities, thought-provoking temples and astonishing natural wonders. Less familiar than the north, visiting the south of India is an incredible journey of discovery: we’ll see amazing thousand-year old rock-cut and granite temples, intricately carved, rising to over 200ft high, packed with pilgrims and devotees and remarkable forts, mansions and churches from British, French, Dutch and Portuguese colonial periods. We’ll sail on converted rice barges through the tranquil backwaters of Kerala and walk through fragrant spice plantations and pristine tropical forests of the Western Ghats. Staying in colonial hotels, lakeside bungalows, thatched cottages and hundred-year old original traders’ mansions and we’ll experience a cuisine and hospitality renowned throughout India. All blended together; this outstanding eclectic mix will ignite your imagination.Southern India and specifically the vast states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, are worlds away from New Delhi, Agra or Rajasthan. It’s much more laid back here, slower paced and a simpler way of life. There are no deserts here and lush fertile land yields plentiful harvests of rice and every sort of tropical fruit.

In the higher elevations of the Malabar Hills in the Western Ghats, the altitude and temperature are perfect for every type of spice - the ‘black gold’ of 500 years ago was not oil but pepper from these very hills. Vast fortunes were made and lost, battles and campaigns were fought and colonies founded just to control the spice trade. We’ll stay in Kumily, at 2,600ft, markedly cooler than the plains below, with its lush spice plantations and Kerala’s best known Nature Reserve, Periyar, where we’ll explore the enchanting forest during a fascinating walk with a naturalist guide.

The great temple cities of Tanjore and Madurai are quite unique - there is nothing like them anywhere else in India. The astonishing craftsmanship and sheer scale of these temples is extraordinary. But the real beauty here is that they are not mere tourist attractions; they are working Hindu shrines, many locals visit daily and many more travel great distances. You’ll see young people and families, from every walk of life, coming to pay their respects.

In Chennai, we’ll visit Fort St George, the British fortification where Clive of India first rose to prominence from a lowly clerk with no military training, to a Major-General securing India for theEast India Company and ultimately the British Crown. The fascinating museum houses some of hisletters, period military uniforms, cannons and arms.

We’ll also explore one of the least visited but most intriguing regions of Tamil Nadu - the Chettinadu. Originally home to the Chettiars, financiers and traders par excellence, they amassed vast wealth trading in raw materials with Burma and South East Asia. Using their profits to build opulent, flamboyantly coloured 60-room mansions housing their extended families, the beauty of these unique houses has recently been rediscovered and great efforts have been made to preserve their remarkable legacy.

The setting of the novel and film ‘The Life of Pi’, visiting Pondicherry is like stepping back in time. One of India’s few French colonial outposts, it was one of the major centres of military operations against the British. Changing hands several times during various wars, the French subsequently stayed, although nothing remains of the impressive fortifications – all were demolished. Independent since 1954, what remains is an elegant, quiet, tree-lined slice of the Côte d’Azur transplanted to sub-tropical India. Palm-fringed Kerala has the highest literacy rate of any Indian state and thus is one of the most affluent too. Its greatest natural assets are the 900kms of waterways known as the backwaters, creating a watery world of tranquil palm-shaded canals, with mats of water hyacinths lazily floating by and paddy fields stretching as far as the eye can see. Gliding gently in a typical Keralan houseboat all local life is there to be enjoyed: fishermen casting their nets from tiny wooden canoes, sari-clad women washing clothes, while kingfishers and darters look out for an easy meal. Cochin is the main city here, Portuguese in the 16th century, it was the first European colony in India. We’ll see St Francis church, India’s first, where Vasco da Gama was originally buried plus Cochin’s most iconic sight, the famous Chinese fishing nets – huge wooden cantilevered structures, operated by just four men as they are lowered and raised from the waters below.

Southern Indian cuisine displays a marked difference too; Tamil Nadu is known for the huge variety of its vegetarian dishes, different chutneys and pickles, whilst in Kerala, coconut, seafood and bananas feature heavily. Whatever your tastes, the food of the south is a revelation and completely different to what often passes for Indian cuisine at home.

In short, perhaps the greatest allure of India is that we feel it with all our senses: from the unbelievably luminescent saris of every hue and description, to the noisy excitement of the markets, the heady aromas of the spices, the delicate flavour of a dosa with a hot sambar soup. Azure skies above crown the lushest of greenery below, all reflected in the Keralan backwaters. Every day brings a myriad of new discoveries on this outstanding tour.

Holiday Highlights

  • NEW! We are now offering return flights from Manchester on selected dates.
  • Stay in hand-picked three, four and five-star hotels
  • Visit Chennai’s Fort St George, where Clive of India commenced his glittering career
  • Explore the rock-cut temples of Mahabalipuram, one of India’s largest religious sites
  • Enjoy a tour of elegant Pondicherry, a French colonial outpost until 1954 and distinctly different
  • See the breathtaking temples of Madurai, southern India’s greatest cultural icon
  • Visit Periyar National Park, home of bison, langur, tigers and enjoy a nature walk through primeval virgin forest
  • Explore the fascinating and undiscovered Chettinad region staying in an original traders’ mansion
  • See the extraordinary World Heritage Site of Tanjore’s Brihadeeswara Temple
  • Visit a 500-acre Spice Plantation high up in the stunningly beautiful Western Ghats learning how the world’s most popular spices are grown
  • Relax amongst the backwaters of Kerala at the end of your tour
  • Enjoy a day on a typical houseboat cruising Kerala’s picturesque canals and waterways
  • Visit Cochin on the Malabar Coast, India’s first European colony, settled by the Portuguese, Dutch and finally the British
  • Daily breakfast and five meals included
  • Escorted by our experienced tour manager
  • Return scheduled flights and transfers included
  • Selected departures from January to November 2019

What's Included

  • The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room. Scheduled flights to Chennai and from Cochin via Colombo; all transfers; twelve nights accommodation in three, four and five-star hotels with breakfast; five meals; guided visits to Fort St George in Chennai, temples at Mahabalipuram, Tanjore and Madurai, guided tour of Pondicherry and Chettinadu region, walking tour of a spice plantation and Periyar nature walk, day-cruise on the Kerala backwaters by houseboat, city tour of Cochin; hotel porterage of one item of luggage per person; the services of a Riviera Travel tour manager.

Holiday Provided By

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