Flights usually depart London in the afternoon.
The group flight will arrive in Cochin in the morning and we transfer to our hotel (Please note that you may have to wait to be allocated a room as normal check-in time is mid morning). Those clients not travelling on the group flight will make their own way to the hotel and will join us during the afternoon. The afternoon is free to explore Cochin or simply relax at the hotel. There is also the chance for an optional visit to see a display of Kathakali Dancing, a form of dance unique to Kerala.
In the morning we tour the harbour area by boat and explore Fort Kochi, believed to be the earliest European settlement in India, founded by the Portuguese in 1503. There will be a guided tour of the Mattancherry Palace, built by the Portuguese as a gift for the Raja of Kochi, the Jewish synagogue dating from 1568 and St Francis church. The afternoon is free for individual sightseeing. Most people choose to return to Fort Kochi by ferry and wander around its fascinating streets. A very pleasant lunch of 'fish and chips' is available by the shore. You can buy your fish directly from the fisherman and have it cooked at one of the many adjacent cafes.
After breakfast we drive away from the coastal plain to Munnar set amongst Kerala's highest mountains that form a jagged line due east of Cochin. The drive is 160km and should take approximately 5-6 hours. Munnar is a beautiful hill station on the Western Ghats at about 1600m above sea level. It was once a summer resort of the British Government in South India. The town is situated at the confluence of the three mountain streams (Mudrapauzha, Naliathanii and Kundala) and is surrounded by lakes, reservoirs, forests and several tea estates. Anamudi (2695m), the highest peak in South India dominates the skyline and the many smaller peaks are a walker's paradise.
After an early breakfast we take a short drive through old Munnar and travel down to Nagarmudi, a tiny village, where we start our trek accompanied by a local guide. The walk begins with a gradual ascent through the tea plantations and then climbs into Seven Malai hills. Just before reaching the top we enjoy walking through cardamom and coffee plantations. Our hard work will be rewarded with spectacular views over Chittrapuram Dam, Changulam Lake, Annamudi Peak, Munnar and other local villages. We descend down the same route and meet our vehicle. There is an optional visit in the afternoon to a Tea Museum.
Leaving Kerala behind we drive 165km through the hills to the colourful temple town of Madurai, in Tamil Nadu. The drive should take approximately 6-7 hours and we should arrive in the mid-afternoon. In the evening there are many restaurants to choose from: some of the best are on rooftops, which in addition to allowing us to sample some of the specialties of the region, offer fantastic views over the city.
Madurai is one of Tamil culture's most vital centres and the temple and bazaar are at the heart of this vibrant and colourful city. The most famous sight in Madurai is the Meenakshi Temple, an outstanding example of Vijaynagar temple architecture. Built between the 16th and 18th centuries, it is at the heart of the city and the life of the town revolves around it. It is a hive of activity and the scene of an almost continuous religious festival. The temple's nine towering gopurams stand out with their colourful stucco images of gods, goddesses and animals. There are about 4,000 granite sculptures on the lower levels and numerous pillared temple halls surrounding the Golden Lotus Tank. The main temple is dedicated to Meenakshi, the 'fish-eyed goddess' and the consort of Shiva. One of the spectacular parts of the complex is the 16th century Thousand Pillared Hall with exquisitely carved columns and its sculptured ceiling, which depicts a wheel showing the 60 Tamil years. There is also time to visit the Thirumalai Nayaka Palace, which was built in 1636 in Indo-Mughal style by the Nayak dynasty. The bazaars are colourful and lively and Madurai is renowned for its silk and cotton.
Leaving Madurai we drive in the morning to the small village of Thekkady. After lunch there will be a short walk around a spice garden, where we can see many different spices growing. After the short walk there will be enough free time to wander around in the town where we can visit the numerous shops selling cardamom, vanilla, peppercorns, turmeric and other spices. From here it is a short drive to Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the largest parks in India.
In the morning, before breakfast, we join our local guide for a walk in the Wildlife Sanctuary (2-3 hrs) and return to our hotel in time for breakfast. In the afternoon there is an optional boat cruise on Periyar lake (tickets cannot be purchased in advance, you may need to queue up to buy a ticket yourself, queues may be very long particularly on weekends). This is an ideal way to get close to the animals and we have the opportunity of spotting elephant, otter, wild pig and buffalo. There is also an abundance of bird life - kingfishers, storks and hornbills are the most commonly spotted. Other options available today are an Ayurvedic Massage or Martial Arts display.
Leaving the hills we descend to the coastal plains through tea and fruit plantations to board our houseboat from Alleppey. In the afternoon we board our houseboats and begin our cruise along the backwaters of Kerala. The houseboat cruise is one of the highlights of the trip - these enchanting boats, built of Anjili wood and bamboo, were the traditional method of transport of goods for hundreds of years. Now they have been decorated and made into comfortable cruise boats. The network of rivers, streams, lagoons and canals occupies the alluvial plain between the Western Ghats and the Indian Ocean. As our boat meanders through areas of lush tropical vegetation we have the opportunity to view not only the prolific bird life but also gain a different perspective on village life. The cruise takes us along shallow, palm-fringed canals where coconut fibre, copia (coconut meat) and cashews are loaded on to dugouts. In the evening the boat is anchored in the backwaters and we can watch the sunset over the rice paddies. All the houseboats are comfortably equipped and have 2 or 3 twin bedded rooms with bathroom. There is a cook, driver and assistants for each boat and the food served is traditional Keralan fare using local produce. No trip to Kerala would be complete without the wonderful experience of the backwaters aboard these traditional Keralite vessels.
After a relaxing breakfast on the houseboat we will disembark and drive to Coir Village Resort at Thrikunpuzzha. We stay tonight in the resort here, which is situated alone in a beautiful setting on the banks of the backwater canals, surrounded by coconut palms. Later we have the chance to explore the surrounding villages and gain an insight into traditional village life.
Today we drive along the scenic Malabar coast to Kovalam, via the city of Quilon, once a relaxing hideaway on the old hippie trail this beachside town has now been discovered, but the influx of tourism has not diminished this beautiful setting.
We have a free day to enjoy the idyllic soft sandy beaches, warm clear waters and wide views of the ocean horizon that Kovalam has to offer. There is also the opportunity to do an optional day's sightseeing by taxi from Kovalam to Kanyakumari, the end point of India where 3 oceans meet, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The trip also takes in the old wooden palace of the rulers of Travancore at Padmapuhamban - a marvellous building with fantastic woodcarvings, and the Hindu temple at Suchindran with its amazing stone carvings. (This trip can be booked and paid for locally.)
A free day to unwind on the beach, or visit the many shops for some last minute souvenirs. This is a great chance to enjoy the fresh seafood in the many small beach restaurants. Try some of the Tandoori dishes - the clay ovens give a more authentic taste to breads and curries.
Those on the flight inclusive package will depart for London very early this morning for the daytime flight back to London; Land Only arrangements will finish after check-out from the hotel.