Those who are on the group flights will land in Chennai very early in the morning. Those not on the group flights will need to be at the airport when the group land if they would like to join the group transfer. Once everyone has arrived we will then depart on the 3.5 hour drive to Pondicherry with a break in the journey at Mahabalipuram which is famous for its shore temples and rock carvings. Carving in stone is still a living art here and we will see stonemasons chipping away along the busy roadside, practising the skills that flourished centuries ago. Later in the day we assemble the bikes and explore locally, a short 6km ride, before an evening briefing about our cycling adventure.
Circular ride passing Auroville, a new aged spiritual commune. Founded in 1968 by 'The Mother' and named after her Guru Sri Aurobindo, it offers a more balanced way of living. Revitalized by some earthly fruit juices, we ride the last 15km back into town, cycling along the promenade, which still retains some of its Gallic charm.After lunch the afteroon free to wander around or ride back to the hotel 9km from the town. Ride approx. 48km.
Riding from our hotel we leave the coast road in places to explore tiny fishing villages, experiencing rural life where simple mud huts contrast with the brightly coloured saris worn by the local women. We end the ride after 60km and transfer 50km to lunch at Gangaikondacholaprum, the abandoned city of the Chola king Rajendra 1. After lunch there is plenty of time to explore the Chola ruins and magnificent Brihadishwara temple, before the final 35km ride to Swamimalai. This small village, perched on the banks of the Cauvery River, is the centre for traditional bronze deity casting, and there should be time to see some of the master craftsmen at work. Ride approx. 87km.
Scenic morning ride along the banks of the Cauvery River to Thanjavur. Previously a capital between the 9th and 13th centuries, it regained its status under the Nayaks in the 16th century who rebuilt the Royal Palace, Durbar hall and libraries. Afternoon free to visit the Palace which houses one of the finest collections of bronze sculptures and stone carvings in southern India. Ride approx. 49km.
Leaving the city by the old road, we head out into the Tamil Nadu heartland, to an area renowned for its impressive mansions built by wealthy traders know as Chettiars. Some of these palatial houses have been converted to boutique hotels, offering a glimpse of the past. The grand interiors of Burmese Teak and elaborate plaster work retain much of the traditional architecture of a bygone age. But it's from the kitchins tucked away at the rear of the house that the real flavour of India comes to life: Chettinad cuisine is as traditional as its buildings, the piquant curries are slow cooked in copper pots over a wood stove, and are as memorable as the ride to get here. Ride approx. 102km.
We follow the back road to Madurai. Riding from the hotel we pass the granite quarries and workshops of the master masons, whose caste have been carving temple pillars for 2500 years. Around the town of Melur we'll see hundreds of red clay horses surrounding small village shrines - these represent the god Aiyannar who protects the village boundaries. Another rocky outcrop is the sacred abode of Lord Murugan, the son of Shiva and also know as Skanda, the most revered god in Tamil Nadu. Staying on the outskirts of Madurai we avoid the worst of the busy traffic. Ride approx. 99km.
Morning free to explore the old city and Sri Meenakshi-Sundareshwara temple, one of the largest temple complexes in India and one of the highlights of Tamil Nadu. Thousands of huge stone pillars line the hallways, each adorned with different deities, are said to represent the 3,333,333 gods of the Hindu cosmos. A constant flow of worshipers, offering pujas, (rituals performed by the temple priests to the various deities) add to the heady atmosphere of incense and camphor smoke, and make this an unforgettable experience of Hindu culture. Blessed, we leave the heat of Madurai for the cool air of the Cardamom Hills, transferring 3 hours to our lunch stop close to Theni. Hidden behind the banana plantation are the vineyards of southern India's new venture in to wine making. These give way to the forested slopes of the Western Ghats and a slow but beautiful ascent up through the rainforest to Thakkaday, a small town close to the entrance of Periyar Wildlife sanctuary and our accommodation for the next two nights. Ride approx. 40km.
Kerala, the land of coconuts and nicknamed 'God's own country', is the southern most state of India. High levels of education and healthcare have given Kerala an enviable reputation elsewhere in India and its unique balance of Hindu, Muslim and Christian sets it apart from its neighbouring states. Today is free to relax or go on one of the trekking and boat safaris to the nearby Periyar wildlife park. Centred around a man-made reservoir, it is possible to see wildlife all year round, although the best time is the dry season (March-May) when herds of Elephant come to the lake to graze by the shore; if you are very lucky you may even see a leopard or tiger coming down to quench their thirst.
Riding from the hotel we cycle through cardamom and tea estates, stopping mid-morning for tea and to visit the local tea factory, learning more about the tea making process. Refreshed, we continue along hilly tea plantation roads with a lunch break at a small roadside restaurant en route to Vagamon, an area of outstanding natural beauty and one of the most scenic roads in Kerala, ending the ride at an old plantation bungalow. Ride approx. 70km.
Today we ride through rubber and spice plantations en route to Kottayam , known as the Syrian Christian heart land of Kerala. Here grand churches dot the landscape and we break for lunch at Palai to visit St Thomas Church, its white washed facade and distinct gilded ceiling predates its Portuguese renovation. All roads converge into Kottayam City, and we may have to transfer a short distance if the roads are too busy before entering a world in which the author Arundhati Roy set in her book 'The God of Small Things', close to the shore of Vembanad Lake. Ride approx. 90km.
Free morning to relax and enjoy the lake view; or visit the nearby Kumarakom bird sanctuary. Mid morning we board our houseboats for a stunning backwater cruise. The houseboats, converted rice barges now come with a captain, cook and crew ; we just sit back, sip long drinks and watch the world go by. Ride approx. 35km.
In the middle of the morning we disembark at Alleppey, the 'Venice of the East'. Riding along the old canal road, we can view some of its more historic buildings, before meeting the Arabian Sea. We take the coast road north to Marari Beach for lunch, famous for it seafood, and spend the next few hours relaxing by the sea. The afternoon ride ends at Fort Cochin, completing our journey across southern India from coast to coast. Ride approx. 61km.
A free day to explore the town of Cochin, its bazaars and old harbour area. Warehouses filled with the smell of tea and spices are limewashed bright green, yellow and blue; rickety old bikes and handpainted trucks piled high with goods, fill the narrow streets and food stalls stand on every corner. Further along the road we come to Mattancherry and the Dutch Palace. Next to the Palace 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. For food, try the fish market near the Chinese fishing nets, where you can buy the day's catch and have it cooked to your own taste. There are also plenty of shopping opportunities here.
If you are on the group flights you will have an early morning transfer to the airport for the flight back to London. Those not flying with the group will leave us at the hotel in Cochin.