Flight 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 morning. In the afternoon we explore the town of Cochin, its bazaars and old harbour area. Warehouses filled with the smell of tea and spices are lime-washed bright green, yellow and blue; rickety old bikes and hand-painted trucks, piled high with goods fill the narrow streets and food stalls stand on every corner. There is the synagogue, built in 1568 for the Jewish members of Cochin's trading communities, adorned with hand-painted tiles from China and elegant Belgian chandeliers, all donations from wealthy merchants. The area around the synagogue is excellent for shopping. We also have a look at the fish market near the Chinese fishing nets. The elegant Chinese fishing nets are said to have been introduced by traders and need at least four men to control them.
In the morning we drive away from the costal plain to Salim Ali bird sanctuary home to many local and migratory birds including the black-faced Cormorant and the Stork. Return to Cochin around Lunchtime. In the evening there will be a chance to go to a Kathakali dance show; this is a south Indian dance traditionally used to depict ancient and religious Hindu tales (optional).
Early today we head out to the elephant training centre at Kodanad. As capturing elephants from the wild was banned in 1977 the emphasis now is on training the young elephants that have been stranded in nearby forests in a pleasant and humane environment. The main attraction is the feeding of the young elephants but there is also a small wildlife park attached to the centre. There will also be the opportunity to have a short ride on an elephant there (optional) before continuing on to Munnar - which is set amongst Kerala's highest mountains. The drive is about 180 km and should take approximately 4½ 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.
After an early breakfast we visit the nearby Annamudai village and start our gentle trek in the surrounding hills and tea plantations, which is well worth the effort. Lush green tea estates are nearby and on our way back to Munnar we stop off and visit a tea museum. In the afternoon, back in Munnar, there will be time to explore the busy bazaar and maybe purchase some of the locally grown tea and coffee.
We transfer to bustling Madurai. 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. Today there is an optional visit to the Gandhi museum, a rare living memorial to 'The Father of the Nation'.
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 where worshippers bathe before entering the shrines. 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. In the afternoon we'll 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 Maduarai is renowned for it's silk and cotton.
Early morning drive to Periyar, and slightly beyond, where we embark on some gentle hill walks in the picturesque surrounding countryside. We spend the evening at a campsite which is lots of fun for the whole family.
In the early morning we explore some local farms and a traditional village nearby before driving to back to Periyar. In the afternoon there is an optional boat trip on Periyar Lake. This is an ideal opportunity to get close to the animals and we have the opportunity of spotting elephant, otters, wild pig and buffalo. There is also an abundance of bird life - kingfishers, storks and hornbills are the most commonly spotted.
In the morning we have a jungle walk for 2-3 hrs in Periyar National park. This whole area is a centre for spice growing. There is plenty of time in the afternoon to explore the bazaar, where we can visit the numerous shops selling cardamoms, vanilla, peppercorns, chillies, turmeric and other spices. In the afternoon there will be a short walk into a spice garden where we can see many different spices growing. In the evening there is an optional Keralan martial art show.
Today we begin by transferring to Allepey on the coast. 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 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 different perspective on village life. All the houseboats are comfortably equipped and have 2/3 twin bedded rooms with bathroom.
This morning we check-out from our houseboat and drive to the Coir Village Resort at Thrikunpuzzha. We stay the night here, at this wonderful little resort, which is situated alone in a beautiful setting on the banks of the backwater canals, surrounded by coconut palms and rice paddies. In the afternoon/evening there will be an optional canoe ride along the backwaters to the ocean in time for sunset.
In the morning we will walk to a local village to see coir making (ropes made from coconut fibre), one of the main sources of income for the area. Today we head to Kovalam Beach for some rest and relaxation (approx 4 hrs drive). There are numerous seafood restaurants here and you can try some of the Tandoori dishes - the clay ovens give a more authentic taste to breads and curries
A free day to relax at the beach!
Today we transfer to the airport, very early in the morning, for our flight back to London. Those not flying with the group will leave us at the hotel.