Flights usually depart London in the evening.
On arrival those on group flight arrangements will be transferred to our hotel in Mahabalipuram. Those clients not travelling on the group flight make their own way to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax and recover.
This part of Tamil Nadu was once known as the Coromandel Coast. It has a language over 2,000 years old and poetry dating back to before the birth of Christ. It also boasts some of the most remarkable temple architecture in India, and with a living tradition of music and dance, is culturally very rich. In the morning we visit the rock cut caves and temples at Mahabalipuram. Occupying a stunning position on a rocky outcrop between the beach and a lagoon, the port was made famous by the Pallava dynasty in the 7th century. There are numerous cave temples, monolithic carved shrines in the shape of chariots, stone temples and relief sculptured rock panels all dating back to the 7th century. Carving in stone is still a living art here and we will see stonemasons chipping away from dawn till dusk along the busy roadside, practising the skills that flourished centuries ago. The afternoon is free to enjoy the beach and local area.
In the morning we drive to Kanchipuram, one of Hinduism's seven most sacred cities, 'the Golden City of a Thousand Temples'. Dating from the early Chola dynasty in the second century there are still about 70 temples in the town. We visit some of the most impressive, including the Ekambaresvara Temple with its Thousand Pillared Hall and the Kailasanatha Temple, considered to be the most beautiful of the town's temples (please note some temples remain closed from 1130-1530). Later in the day we drive to Chennai.
In the early morning we take the express train to Mysore via Bangalore. We arrive in the afternoon and transfer to our hotel.
Mysore is the city of royal palaces, sandalwood and the manufacture of incense sticks; it is the former capital of the princely state and is Karnataka's second largest city. Today we have a sightseeing tour of Mysore and its surroundings. Just outside of Mysore is Srirangapatnam the capital of Haider Ali and his famous son, Tipu Sultan. Tipus' famous battles against both the French and the British are depicted in the murals on the walls of his delightful summer palace. Ruins of the Fort and the Gumbaz, the family mausoleums are also here. Returning to Mysore we spend the afternoon exploring the beautifully restored City Palace. Designed by Henry Irwin and built in 1897, it is a remarkable building with domes, arches and colonnades of carved pillars and shiny marble floors. The stained glass, wall paintings, ivory inlaid doors and ornate golden throne are all remarkable. The rest of the day is free to wander round the bazaar.
Today we drive to Bandipur National Park (80km, approx 2 to 3 hours), in the afternoon we take a jungle safari. The park stretches over 874 square kilometers, protecting the wildlife of Karnataka, hopefully you will see Gaur (Indian bison), wild elephant and Sambars.
If possible this morning there will be an optional visit to an elephant feeding centre, we then drive to Ooty (80km, 2 to 3 hours drive) in the state of Tamil Nadu. Ootacamund (2,286m), or 'Snooty Ooty' is queen of the southern hill stations and was a refuge for British Officials and tea planters in Southern India. We will visit the Botanical Gardens which contain over 1,000 varieties of plants, shrubs and trees including orchids, ferns and alpines set amidst beautiful lawns. There should also be time to visit the nearby St. Stephens church or wander around the bazaar and maybe try some of the locally made chocolate before driving down to Coonoor where our hotel is located (17km, 30 mins drive).
This could be Ooty's twin, but Coonoor with its distinctive charm is different. Mist-clad Nilgiri hills, the bright green of the tea estates contrasting sharply against the red poinsettias and quaint bungalows that speak stories of what this was. It was once home to the Coons tribe, and possibly that's where the name comes from. Famous for its verdant surroundings and for a variety of wildflowers and birds today is free to soak up the atmosphere of this hill station, possibly taking a walk through tree plantations or ride the famous toy train (Nilgiri Mountain Railway), one of the oldest mountain railways in India and a UNESCO World heritage site. From Coonoor to Ooty is a delightful one-hour train journey which most groups love to take (please be aware that this isn't always possible if there are bad weather conditions or if they have technical problems with the train).
A long drive today (265km, approx 5 to 6 hours) as we leave the Niligiri Hills and drive towards the coast. We leave Tamil Nadu and enter Kerala; the road winds down through forested hillsides and this journey is one of the most scenic in South India giving superb views of the plains below. Late in the afternoon we arrive in Cochin (Kochi) which is set on the Malabar, or 'Pepper Coast', and is one of South India's most interesting towns and is believed to have been the first European settlement in India. Rich in history despite recent growth it retains a relaxed, quiet atmosphere. Narrow spits of land and coconut covered islands jut out into the wide, almost enclosed bay whose neck is lined with the famous Chinese fishing nets.
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.
We head for Alleppey (65km, 1 to 1 hour 30 mins drive) to board our deluxe houseboats for an overnight stay cruising on the backwaters. We board around noon and begin our cruise along the backwaters of Kerala. The cruise is one of the highlights of the trip - these enchanting houseboats, 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 differing perspective on village life. The cruise takes us along shallow, palm-fringed canals where coconut fibre 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 bathrooms. There is a cook and boat 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.
This morning we leave our houseboat and drive along the scenic Malabar coast to laid back Varkala with its coffee bars and yoga schools perched along its cliff-top.
Today is totally free to do whatever you want, relax by the pool, stroll along the two beaches or just wander around the shops. You can also choose from a wide variety of beach shack restaurants for lunch, which serve excellent seafood. 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 early this morning for the daytime flight back to London; those on Land Only arrangements will finish after check-out from the hotel.