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    Cruising Keralan backwaters
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    Giants in Periyar
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    Mahabalipuram's Ancient Temple
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    Mysore Palace
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    Toy trains and tea
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    A Kathakali dance performance
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Experience the sensual delights of southern India touring from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea

Discover the contrasts of Southern India from the coast to the highlands of the Western Ghats. Stay in a hill station, cruise the peaceful Keralan backwaters by houseboat, and see wild elephants in the Cardamom Hills. Explore ancient temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu, wonder at opulent royal palaces, and relish the cultural delights of bustling cities and the calm of an ashram.


21 nights in hotels and 1 in flight

45 meals: 21 breakfasts, 3 lunches and 21 dinners

Excursions and visits

  • City tour of Chennai
  • Explore the monuments of Mahabalipuram
  • Visit Auroville Ashram
  • Tour historic Puducherry
  • Sightseeing in Thanjavur
  • Visit Madurai's flower market and temple
  • Walk in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and a spice garden
  • Cruise the Keralan backwaters by houseboat
  • Visit a Keralan village
  • A live Kathakali dance performance
  • Explore Cochin's Old City
  • A toy train through a tea plantation in the Nilgiri Hills
  • Time in Madhumalai National Park
  • See Mysore's palaces and temples
  • Visit Siriangapatna Fort

View Full Itinerary

Day 1 UK-Chennai

Depart on your overnight flight to Chennai.

Day 2 Chennai

Ramakrishna Temple, Chennai

The city, formerly known as Madras – its name was changed in 1996 along with those of many Indian cities – lies on the Bay of Bengal and is the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu.

Transfer to the the locally rated 5-star Trident Hotel in Chennai for an overnight stay. The hotel is set within lush gardens and facilities include two restaurants, an outdoor swimming pool, fitness centre and spa (charges apply). There are 167 bedrooms each equipped with air-conditioning, a television, safe, complimentary Wi-Fi, tea and coffee-making facilities, and hairdryer. Settle in, then enjoy the rest of the day at leisure. B, D

Day 3 Chennai-Mahabalipuram

Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Chennai

See the highlights of Chennai on a city tour.

The oldest buildings date back to the 7th century, including the Hindu Kapaleeshwarar Temple, built in ornate Dravidian style. But there are numerous old colonial buildings that reflect the influence of the British up until 1947, including the Central Railway Station. The earlier English fortress – Fort St George – was built in 1644, the first such building in India.

After the tour, transfer to the ancient town of Mahabalipuram for a three-night stay at the locally rated 4-star Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay, facing the Bay of Bengal or the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel.

The Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay hotel is set in 44 acres facing the Bay of Bengal, has 144 guest rooms and villas, and is less than two kilometres from the town's monuments and temples. As well as three restaurants and two bars, the hotel has a meandering pool, an infinity pool, two spas, and a pitch-and-putt golf course. Each air-conditioned room has a television, telephone, coffee-making facilities, minibar, and complimentary internet access.

Facilities at the locally rated 4-star Four points by Sheraton Hotel include a restaurant, lounge bar, outdoor swimming pool and gym. Each of the 90 bedrooms is equipped with air conditioning, television, tea and coffee making facilities, safe, hairdryer and free Wi-Fi. B, D

Day 4 Mahabalipuram

Ancient temples at Mahabalipuram

Enjoy your first taste of southern India as you visit this small town, set on a peninsular between the Bay of Bengal and the Great Salt Lake. The town is famous for its 7th and 8th-century temples established by the Pallava Dynasty. The Group of Monuments here, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, comprises the domed Shore Temple dedicated to Shiva and Lord Vishnu, and the ‘Ratha’ cave temples carved from rocks into the shape of chariots, or decorated with incredible bas reliefs. B, D

Day 5 Mahabalipuram

Silk City, Kanchipuram

Today is at leisure to explore independently or perhaps head to the beach here. An optional excursion visits Kanchipuram, otherwise known as Silk City. B, D

Day 6 Mahabalipuram-Puducherry

Transfer to the fascinating former French colony of Puducherry, aka Pondicherry. Stop en route at the Auroville Ashram to see this ongoing experiment in human unity. This community, eight kilometres outside of Puducherry, was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa, 'the Mother', the former companion and spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo, the influential philosopher and yogi. The community was founded on a concept of human unity through diversity, and today the township has more than 2,000 residents.

Continue to Puducherry for a two-night stay at the locally rated 4-star Shenbaga Hotel & Convention Centre. Situated in the city while just a kilometre from the sea, the hotel’s facilities include a restaurant, bar, coffee shop, rooftop swimming pool, gym and spa (charges apply). Each of the 124 bedrooms is equipped with air-conditioning, television, telephone, safe, hairdryer, and free Wi-Fi. B, D

Day 7 Puducherry

Notre Dame des Anges in Pondicherry

Annexed by the French East India Company Puducherry was largely a French settlement until 1962. Enjoy an included tour of this historic town to admire quaint colonial buildings and boulevards, then take a rickshaw ride through the French and Indian Quarters. The French Quarter was built along the line of the coast on sand dunes. If the elegant, colonial-style buildings that line the wide streets look familiar, it's because it was used as a location for the movie The Life of Pi. As you pass through, admire the colourful yellow, peach and pink hues of the buildings. B, D

Day 8 Puducherry-Thanjavur

The Brihadeeswarar Temple has stood for over 1,000 years

Transfer to Thanjavur, home to the Chola dynasty from the 9th-14th centuries and enjoy an afternoon sightseeing tour. See the towering Brihadeeswarar Temple which is over a thousand years old. It ranks as one of the country's largest temples.

Stay overnight at the the locally rated 3-star Sangam Hotel or the Ideal River View Resort.

The Sangam Hotel has a restaurant, a lounge bar, outdoor swimming pool, and a spa. All 54 air-conditioned rooms have a television, telephone, tea and coffee-making facilities, minibar (extra charge), a safe and a hairdryer.

The locally rated 3-star Ideal river View Resort is situated amidst pleasant gardens and facilities include a restaurant, outdoor swimming pool and spa (charges apply). Each of the 42 bedrooms are equipped with air-conditioning, a television, tea and coffee-making facilities, and hairdryer. B, D

Day 9 Thanjavur-Madurai

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple

En route to Madurai, drive past the mighty Rock Fort at Trichy, which perches on an 83-metre rocky outcrop said to be older than the Himalayas. You'll visit the towering, eleven-tier Ranganathswamy Temple, the tower is 72 metres in height. Relax over an included lunch in a restaurant.

Stay two nights at the locally rated 4-star Courtyard by Marriott Madurai. The hotel has a restaurant, bar, swimming pool, fitness centre and spa. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available. All 50 rooms have a television, telephone, tea and coffee-making facilities, and a safe. B, L, D

Optional excursions

This evening you have the opportunity to see a Hindu ceremony at the magnificent Meenakshi Temple. This vast complex, which extends over 15 acres, dates back at least 2,000 years, though the current temple structure which features carved and painted limestone gopuram – or monumental towers – the tallest reaching  nearly 170 feet in height, was only built in the 17th century. Four of the goparum are smothered in colourful carvings from Hindu teachings, and the temple is dedicated to Shiva and his consort Meenakshi – a form of Parvatii. Non-Hindus can visit the temple, but may not enter the shrines. Every evening the temple holds a noisy 45-minute closing ceremony. This nightly event sees an idol of Lord Shiva being carried on a curtained litter to Meenakshi's's temple, and there placed in the inner sanctum with her to pass the night. This famous evening ceremony is accompanied by prayers, incense, music and drums.

Meenakshi Temple
Meenakshi Temple Madurai Tamil Nadu India Asia

Day 10 Madurai

Great Meenaskhi Temple, Madurai

Thrill your senses with an early morning visit to Madurai's colourful and fragrant flower market. The fragrant local jasmine – Madurai Maddi – has such a heady perfume that it has been granted a geographical indication mark to protect local growers – some 490 tonnes of the flowers are grown here annually.

Later visit the Great Meenaskhi Temple, said to house 33,000 sculptures. This vast complex, which extends over 15 acres, dates back at least 2,000 years. Non-Hindus can visit the temple, but may not enter the shrines. Every evening the temple holds a noisy 45-minute closing ceremony which sees an idol of Lord Shiva being carried on a curtained litter to Meenakshi's's temple, and there placed in the inner sanctum with her to pass the night. Finally, explore the Tirumala Nayak Palace, an imposing edifice that encompasses both Dravidian and Rajput architecture. B, D

Day 11 Madurai-Periyar

After breakfast depart for Periyar, home to India's famous wildlife sanctuary, for a two-night stay at the locally rated 5-star Elephant Court Hotel.

Situated near Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary facilities at the hotel include a restaurant, coffee shop, swimming pool, fitness centre, and spa (charges apply). Each of the 65 rooms features air conditioning, a telephone, television, tea and coffee-making facilities, a safe, hairdryer and free Wi-Fi. B, D

Day 12 Periyar

Elephant bathing on southern banks of the Periyar River

Take a walk through Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, in the company of a naturalist, to learn about the rich bio-diversity of the region. Head down to the lake to see the herds of elephants and bison who visit to drink. Once the hunting ground of kings, today the area is home to 35 species of mammal and serves as sanctuary to elephants and tigers – it is estimated that today there are just 40 tigers remaining in the 925-square-kilometre National Park. Later visit a spice garden – the area is famous for its spice cultivation, notably cardamom. B, D

Day 13 Periyar-Kumarakom

After breakfast enjoy a scenic journey to Kumarakom for a three-night stay at the locally rated 4-star Coconut Lagoon, a heritage hotel on the shores of beautiful Vembanad lake that is only accessible by boat.

The 52-room hotel has a swimming pool, an ayurvedic spa and guests stay in villas and bungalows dotted around the extensive grounds. The restaurant specialises in Keralan cuisine, there are many vegetarian options served with the locally-grown red rice and freshly caught fish features regularly on the menu. Head for the cocktail bar, or just hang out in a hammock and watch the sunset. All the air-conditioned bungalows are furnished individually and have a television, tea and coffee-making facilities, a hairdryer and a safe.

This evocative area is chequered with paddy fields, and provides the perfect habitat for all kinds of native and migratory birds. B, D

Day 14 Kumarakom

Traditional Indian houseboat on Kerala backwaters

Step on board a Keralan houseboat – or kettuvallam – for a luxurious afternoon cruise around the backwaters, stopping at villages to explore. These giant craft were once used for transporting all manner of goods – rice, spices and passengers. Traditionally made of wood and coir rope – not a single nail is used in their construction – and coated with a resin made from boiled cashew-nut shells, many are still powered by a skilful chap equipped only with a long, stout bamboo pole. Today they are fitted out inside for the comfort of their passengers and equipped with all mod-cons. Relax, enjoy this extraordinary experience and absorb the magic of the Keralan backwaters. B, L, D

Day 15 Kumarakom

Coco trees along the back waters of Kerala

Visit Kumarakom village, part of Kerala's ‘rice bowl’. Here the locals still work the paddy fields and coconut groves, fish, collect shells, and weave. Learn about the complexities of rice growing, shell-mining. Locals search the waters for black clam, harvesting around 25,000 tonnes per year from Vembanad Lake. The contents are eaten – the clams are an important source of protein – and their shells, which have numerous industrial uses, are sold through fishermen's societies. B, D

Day 16 Kumarakom-Kochi

The colourful costume of a Kathakali dancer

Depart for Kochi on the Arabian Sea for a two-night stay at the the locally rated 4-star Crowne Plaza Kochi.

This large modern hotel has free Wi-Fi, two restaurants, a grill, coffee shop and a bar. There’s also a fitness centre, outdoor pool and a spa (treatments at extra charge). There are 269 rooms, all with a television, telephone, wired & wireless internet accessibility, bathrobe, minibar and iron and ironing board.

Tonight you'll be treated to a traditional Kathakali dance performance. This stylised form of dance-drama dates back to the 17th century, actors train for long years to perfect the specialist dance and acting techniques. Expect elaborate face make-up and dazzling costumes! B, D

Day 17 Kochi

Chinese fishing nets at Fort Cochin

This centuries-old cosmopolitan city attracted Arab, Phoenician and Chinese spice traders, and later the Dutch and British established colonies here. See the Dutch Palace, the Jewish quarter and the elaborate Chinese fishing nets all strung out along the peninsula. B, D

Day 18 Kochi-Palakkad Jn-Ooty

Emerald Lake, Nilgiris Mountains, Ooty

Transfer to the railway station where you’ll board a train to Palakkad Jn.

Upon arrival look forward to lunch at a local restaurant before continuing your journey by road as you  head up to the romantic hill station of Ooty in the Nilgiri Hills, a journey of around four hours. The British dubbed it 'Queen of Hill Stations' for the beauty of the landscape.

Stay two nights at the locally rated 3-star Fortune Resort Sullivan Court. The hotel has a bar, a restaurant, and a gym. All 67 rooms have a telephone, television, tea and coffee-making facilities, and a hairdryer. B, L, D

Day 19 Ooty

Tea-pickers in the Western Ghats

Ooty, which has a subtropical highland climate, came into the ownership of the East India Trading Company in the late 18th century. Forested by eucalyptus trees, and home to terraced tea plantations, it was developed by the British in the 19th century and became a famous retreat from the heat of the summer. This morning take the toy train up to Coonoor to visit a tea plantation and learn how the tea is harvested, graded and dried. Later you'll have free time to explore Ooty, perhaps visit the Botanical gardens, the Government Rose Garden, Wax World – a curiously diverting museum – or just get out on the lake on a boat. B, D

Day 20 Ooty-Mysore

Glimpse deer at Bandipur National Park

After breakfast head north to Mysore, via Madhumalai National Park where you might catch sight of elephant, sambar, and barking deer. The journey will take around six hours (with comfort stops).

Stay two nights at the locally rated 4-star Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel. The hotel has a restaurant, bar, outdoor swimming pool and fitness centre. Each of the 141 air-conditioned rooms are equipped with a television, tea and coffee-making facilities, safe, and hairdryer. B, D

Day 21 Mysore

The technicolour delight of Mysore market

Dubbed 'Sandalwood City' for its production of incense, Mysore is also noted for its palatial buildings and beautiful gardens. An included visit takes you to the Devaraja flower and veg market and Chamundi Hill, where pilgrims climb 1,000 steps to reach the temple of Chamudeshwari, dedicated to the protective deity of the Mysore Maharajas. You'll also see the Nandi Bull which, according to Hindu mythology, was ridden by Lord Shiva and is venerated for his strength, devotion and fertility, and the magnificent Mysore Palace. B, D

Day 22 Mysore-Bengaluru

Bangalore City skyline, India

Transfer to Bengaluru – aka Bangalore – stopping en route to visit the formidable Srirangapatna Fort built in 1547.

Stay overnight at the locally rated 5-star Lalit Hotel situated within the city. Facilities at the hotel include a choice of restaurants, a ‘boulangerie’, a bar, terrace, outdoor swimming pool, gym and spa (charges apply). Each of the 184 air-conditioned rooms are equipped with a telephone, television, safe, tea and coffee-making facilities, hairdryer and free Wi-Fi.

The rest of the day is at leisure so that you can relax after your journey and enjoy your last night in India. B, D

Day 23 Bengaluru-UK

Transfer to the airport for your return flight to London via Mumbai, and your included door-to-door travel service home. B

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South India: A Grand Tour


from £2,899 per person
2 passengers
22 nights
Including optional travel insurance or a price reduction of £155 if not required