Depart London Heathrow for the overnight flight to Cochin.
We arrive in Cochin and transfer to our hotel. Those clients not travelling on the group flight will make their own way to the hotel and will join us there. The evening is free for dinner and for you to relax after your journey.
In the morning 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 about 160km and should take approximately 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.
A beautiful drive to the Silent Valley (1 hour), passing through some tea estates and plantations in a valley surrounded by hills. Our trek will start with a gradual climb from the tea estate to grassland. The first part of trek is gradual but becomes steeper as we leave the tea plantations behind. There are beautiful views all around, mostly of the tea estates, that give us a good feel for the area. After lunch in the forest we continue climbing and finally descend to our first camp, situated on a meadow by a stream, where we spend 2 nights. (5-6 hours walking).
Today we have a half day walk to Meesapulimala Peak (2,630m), the second highest in south India (Anamudi is the highest but it is in a restricted area). From our camp, the trail ascends through rough grassland until we reach open ridges, which bring us to Meesapulima Peak. It will take us about 2 - 3 hours to reach to the top. From the top, which is also the border between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, there are breath-taking views all around. After a short break at the top we will descend to our camp for a late lunch and free afternoon. (4 - 5hrs walking)
Quite a long day today as we walk through an area of plantations enjoying the magnificent scenery enhanced by red Rhododendron. This plateau of the Western Ghats is home to many endemic species of flora and fauna, such as Atlas moth, wild goat and wild boar. We can spot some villages and lakes from the top, such as Allapetty, Kendaley Dam and Kundemalai Village. The walking is not hard and we ascend gradually in the morning and then descend in the afternoon back into the tea plantations. Overnight at Top Station. (Approx. 6hrs walking).
We start our trek towards Nagamalai Coffee Plantation (Central Station) with a steep descent through lemon grass with great views across the valley to the Kolukumalai Tea Plantation (known as the world's highest tea region). We continue descending to coffee plantations. Due to the price of coffee falling in the past few years the plantations and trails have become overgrown. From a distance we can see tribal village of Kezhmuttap. The government has settled these tribes of Mudhuvans here and given them small houses with electricity and almost all of them are working in nearby estates as labourers. The final stretch to reach camp is a steep climb.
The last day of walking is fairly easy as we descend through coffee plantations, dense forests and cotton plantations. We descend through Central Station Village and further down past Kotakuddi. At one point we pass a lovely waterfall where we stop for a rest to cool off our feet. Continuing on down we finally reach the rice paddies in the valley bottom. The final stretch of our trek takes us through coconut and mango plantations, which spreads over hundreds of acres of land. Today's walk is about 6 hours through the immensely rich and fertile land of Tamil Nadu. We finish our walk near the village of Mundhan, where our jeeps will meet us for a 15 minute drive to our last night's camp. (There is also the option today to go the shorter easier pony route that will take around 2hrs).
Leaving Kerala behind we drive (2 - 2.5 hours) through the plains to the colourful temple town of Madurai, in Tamil Nadu. Madurai is one of the oldest and most fascinating cities in south India. The great Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar Temple, most of which was built during the Nayak period between the 16th and 18th centuries, 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. Worshippers bathe in the tank of the Golden Lily and throng the Hall of a Thousand Pillars, where each one is uniquely carved. Madurai is a perfect place to wander around and experience Hindu culture.
Leaving Madurai in the morning we drive to the small village of Thekkady. The drive is spectacular as the road climbs through the Western Ghats and we have fantastic views across Tamil Nadu. Thekkady is a small bustling village from where we visit the Periyar National Park. This whole area is a centre for spice growing and after lunch there will be a short walk around a spice garden, where we can see many different spices 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. (4-4.5hrs drive).
The Periyar National Park is one of the largest in south India and is set around a large man made lake. In the early morning we will have a short trek for 2 - 3 hrs in the surrounding nearby forest and in afternoon an optional boat trip and cruise on the lake (tickets for these cruises are only available on a first-come, first-served basis and can't be organised in advance). This is an ideal opportunity to spot birds and occasionally we may spot an elephant, otters, wild pig and buffalo. There is an abundance of bird life - kingfishers, storks and hornbills are the most commonly spotted.
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 transporting 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. All the houseboats are comfortably equipped and have 2 twin bedded rooms with bathroom. 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. We overnight in the middle of the famous Vembanad Lake. Sometimes there is also a chance of an Ayurvedic massage (optional), which can be arranged in the nearby Ayurvedic massage centre, before boarding.
After a relaxing breakfast on the houseboats we will disembark and drive along the scenic Malabar Coast to the Coir Village Resort at Trikunnupazha. We stay the night in the resort here, which is situated alone in a beautiful setting on the banks of the backwater canals, surrounded by coconut palms and rice paddies. Later we will have the chance to explore the surrounding villages and gain an insight into traditional village life.
We head back to Cochin and during the afternoon there will be a guided tour; this will include Mattancherry Palace built by the Portuguese as a gift for the Raja of Cochin, the Jewish synagogue dating from 1568 and St Francis church. We also explore the town of Cochin, its bazaars and old harbour area. There are plenty of shopping opportunities here. Fort Cochin is believed to be the earliest European settlement in India, and was founded by the Portuguese in 1503. 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. Further along the road you 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 eating, you should 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. Most people choose to stay in Fort Cochin and wander around its fascinating streets. In the evening there is the chance for an optional visit to see a display of Kathakali Dancing, a form of dance unique to Kerala.
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