This holiday itinerary offers you the most comprehensive, contrasting and experience-led journey across Southern India.
It takes you from the city of Chennai (Madras), the gateway to the cultural south, through spectacular Tamil temple towns and cool, tea-covered hills before finally reaching the laid-back, tropical paradise of Kerala on the south-west coast.
- Experience the bohemian-chic of old town Pondicherry, a former French colony.
- Visit temple towns like Kumbakonam, Darasuram, Tanjore and Madurai, all with their own distinct style and prominence.
- Enter Chettinadu, an age-old trading region to explore the opulent mansions built by the traders who lived here at the peak of their wealth.
- Leaving the dry plains of central Tamil Nadu, journey up into the green and glorious tea-clad Western Ghats (hills).
- Take a cruise on the Keralan backwaters and spend a few days relaxing at Marari Beach.
The capital of Tamil Nadu and fourth largest city in India, Chennai is rapidly modernising and worth spending a day exploring. With the introduction of luxury hotels and contemporary boutiques and restaurants alongside some exceptional temples like those found at Kanchipuram and Mahabalipuram, Chennai offers the visitor an essential introduction to Southern India.
Coming from Chennai, Pondicherry is a breath of fresh air. A former French colony, the town has a distinctly French aesthetic with quiet, clean, shady cobbled streets, lined with colonial style houses. Visit Sri Aurobindo Ashram which focusses on integral yoga as 'the path towards a supramental consciousness which will divinise human nature'! Pondicherry itself is easy to navigate although we highly recommend taking a guided walking tour of this ususual, south Indian town.
Tamil Nadu Temples
Each town has temples distinct from the other, built in the inimitable style of the ancient King who had commissioned them. There are more than 30,000 temples in Tamil Nadu, each temple not just a place of worship, but a place for social gatherings, education and celebration, a place where the artisans skill was show-cased. Visit Tanjore, capital of the Cholas and the Nayaks and once an important centre for classical arts and music. Tanjore has 93 temples, the most impressive of these is Gangaikondacholapuram. You also visit Kumbakonam and Chidambaram.
In contrast to the many temples of Tamil Nadu, Chettinadu is a total surprise. In the early 19th century, wealthy traders settled here and built themselves opulent mansions, with no expense spared. Over time, with the collapse in trade, these beautiful houses were abandoned and left to ruin. Many have been sold off piece by piece, however today a few still remain and are well worth visiting. The architecture and design is quite exquisite and the town of Karaikudi is a treasure trove of antiques shops. The region is also well-known throughout India for its exceptional cuisine.
Madurai is an eminent religious and cultural centre in India. The most prominent structure is that of the Meenakshi Temple dating back between the 12th and the 18th century. Its enormous towers, gaily coloured statues and magnificent sculptures have become recognised the world over as the face of the temples of Tamil Nadu.
Leaving the flat plains of Madurai, the journey continues up into the Western Ghats, a line of hills that separates Tamil Nadu from its neighbour, Kerala. The rather splendid scenery and cooler climes are extremely attractive and a welcome contrast from the dusty roads and towns below. Munnar offers excellent walking options and the opportunity to learn about tea production in the area.
Descending from the hills, the journey brings you to Cochin. Set on a cluster of islands and narrow peninsulas, linked by a network of ferries and bridges, the ancient water city of Cochin (Kochi) reflects the eclecticism of Kerala perfectly. With its rich past and bustling present, it has been the business hub of the region for centuries. Cochin is the oldest European settlement in India, with an amazing blend of architectural styles making it a delightful place to stay.
The influence of Chinese, Jews, Arabs and Europeans is evident throughout Cochin and its people, with colonial houses sitting alongside Chinese fishing nets and an ancient synagogue. Cochin is an attractive city with serene back-waters, lagoons overhung with feathery coconut palms and picturesque islands.
Backwaters & Beach
During your time in Kerala, visit villages, markets, cruise on small canals, watch unusual, traditional dance displays, eat a whole new type of Indian cuisine, learn about the many influences that have shaped this colourful region and rest and relax on its golden beaches.
For a more detailed itinerary with great ideas on what to do and where to stay, please get in touch with our experts.