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This two-week journey is the perfect introduction to India's varied south. As we wind our way around the region we discover intricately carved temple complexes, ornate palaces and lush scenery in the tropical south-west.
Explore Tour Leader
1 nights simple boat
9 nights comfortable hotel
3 nights premium hotel
1 nights simple overnight train
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Chennai (Madras); Capital of India's southern state of Tamil Nadu, the city is one of the most important economic hubs of the country, partly due to its role in the development of the automotive industry in India.
For those arriving on time today our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 2pm for the welcome meeting and to take us on a walk around the southern neighbourhood of Mylapore. Older than Chennai itself, Mylapore is an affluent and characterful quarter, home to a variety of cultural and historical sites as well as buildings influenced by the European colonies. As part of our walk we will visit the Kapaleeshwar Hindu Temple, rebuilt after it was destroyed by the Portuguese in the 16th century and the Roman Catholic Luz Church (Our Lady of Light).
If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Chennai International Airport (MAA), which is 1 hour/20 km from the hotel.
Please note that if you wish to join the Mylapore tour today, you must arrive at the hotel by 2pm. If you are booking your own flights, we recommend giving yourself at least one hour to clear the airport. From the airport to the hotel is around one hour's drive, so therefore the latest your flight can arrive is 12pm. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
The Pride Hotel (or similar)
This morning we drive to Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary, approximately two hours drive from Chennai. The sanctuary is a protected area and an important breeding ground for large migrating birds such as herons, cormorants, storks, ibises, pelicans as well as other smaller species such as pintails and sandpipers. Migrating season is generally from November to March and in the height of breeding season there can be thousands of birds here (Please note Vedanthangal bird sanctuary is closed from 31st May to the 31st October).
After this, we drive to Pondicherry where we will check in to our hotel and have lunch in the town's colonial French Quarters. The European influence both from a cultural and culinary perspective is very much alive here after the city remained under French reign until 1954. Many of the streets retain their French name and as we walk around we will see several bakeries and cafes serving up fresh baguettes, crepes, waffles and even croissants. The architecture also makes us feel as if we were in a Parisian suburb with whitewashed colourful mansions lining the streets and Pondicherry's own version of the Arc De Triomphe and Notre Dame church (Notre Dames des Agnes).We will also visit the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a small spiritual community devoted to providing its members with a balanced and healthy life. The ashram has a real presence in the town as they also run a handmade paper factory, making all sorts of goods out of waste material including wind chimes, notebooks, paper bags and birthday cards.
Hotel Atithi (or similar)
Early this morning we leave Pondicherry and travel to Tiruchirappalli to discover the Srirangam Hindu Temple. Located on an island, at the confluence of the Kaveri and Kollidam Rivers, the temple complex is one of the largest in India and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, one of the main deities of Hinduism. We will also visit the river ghats at Amma Mandapam, where devotees and residents of Srirangam and the surrounding areas come to bathe.
After lunch, we will continue our journey towards Madurai, where we will arrive in the late afternoon. Madurai is a city at the heart of the Tamil and Dravidian cultures. Of huge importance to Hindus, Madurai is known as the 'Nectar City' as it is believed drops of nectar dropped from goddess Siva's locks here. In the evening we plan to visit the impressive Meenakshi Temple for the evening 'bed ceremony' where the image of Siva is carried from its shrine to join his consort Pavarti in a separate part of the temple. All ceremonies carried out at Hindu temples are very spiritual as devotees say their prayers and bring offerings such as flower garlands and food to their gods. During this ceremony we may also see musicians, temple singers and priests accompany the image of the god to their resting place for the night.
Hotel Fortune Pandiyan (or similar)
This morning we will return to the 16th century Meenakshi Temple for a closer look around. The temple features imposing gopurams (monumental gates) and dominating colourful towers that rise above the chaotic exuberance of the seemingly endless throngs of pilgrims. We will also visit the stunning Thirumalai Nayaka Palace, a 17th century building with impressive archways framing the indoor courtyard.
This afternoon has been left free in Madurai, where you can choose to visit the Gandhi Memorial Museum, housing a small collection of artefacts belonging to the iconic figure. Alternatively you can visit the flower market where thousands of marigolds, tuberoses and roses amongst others are traded each day.
Today we drive west towards Thekkady and the south-western state of Kerala. The drive is roughly around five hours but as we climb through the scenery of the Western Ghats mountain range, we discover an ever-changing landscape which becomes noticeably greener in the form of spice plantations and rolling verdant hills.
After checking in to our hotel, we will learn a little about how Indian spices are grown and processed with a walking tour of a spice garden. India is the world's largest exporter and consumer of spices and the soil composition in the area is ideal for growing cardamon, cloves, nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon.
Abad Green Forest (or similar)
This morning we drive to the Kerala Backwaters, a network of low-lying waterways, lagoons and rivers running parallel to the Arabian Sea. Often lined with tropical plants and palm trees they are a haven for a variety of birdlife and also villages that dot the many shores. We board our houseboat around midday for an exotic journey, chugging in unhurried style on waterways used by villagers to connect each of the communities . We dock in the middle of the waterways before dusk and watch the sun go down over the horizon.
Converted from old rice-barges, the houseboats we use are simple yet comfortable vessels which have a en-suite rooms and an area to relax and watch riverside life as we go by. Whilst the engine boat is running there will be some power supply to charge cameras and the air conditioning will be limited to night time only.
Kerala Houseboat (or similar)
After disembarking our houseboat, we drive to the fort town of Kochi. With a beautiful natural harbour that earned it the title of 'Queen of the Arabian Sea', the town was founded on trade from Jewish and Arab spice traders in the first century AD. Its prosperity and importance increased even more with the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, closely followed by the Dutch and the English, an eclectic heritage that helped produce a fascinating mix of styles and influences.
After lunch, we will walk around the fort and get our first look at the Chinese Fishing nets. First introduced by Chinese explorers in the 14th century, this style of fishing is rarely found in India and they have become a symbol of Kochi.
The rest of the day will be left free and there is an option to enjoy a Kathakali dance performance. Thought by some to be the very essence of the culture of Kerala. The intricate make-up is unique and often dancers can take up to three hours painting their faces - the features are heavily emphasised as it is the facial expressions and coordinated eye movements which are important in the dance. Alternatively you may wish to learn about south Indian cuisine with a cookery class at a local home. During the class you'll learn to cook typical Keralan dishes including coconut milk curries and crispy laced rice pancakes, whilst chatting to your hosts about their life and culture.
Hotel Casino (or similar)
After a leisurely breakfast, we will head towards Kochi's Mattancherry Palace and explore this colonial gem. Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, it underwent extensive renovations by the Dutch some hundred years later, which earned it its name as 'The Dutch Palace'. Today it houses murals depicting scenes from the Ramayana and other great legends. Whilst in Kochi's Jewish quarter we will visit the oldest active synagogue in India, the Paradesi Jewish synagogue. This area is also great for a variety of interesting stores including antique warehouses and spice auction rooms which we hope to visit. Later we will also visit St Francis Church, another fascinating example of the melting pot of cultures which have brushed past this fort town and left their mark. The church was the original burial site of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama before being returned to his native Portugal as his final resting place. Later in the afternoon we will take a cruise in Kochi's harbour to watch the sun setting over the Chinese fishing nets.
Today we have a long drive ahead of us as we head north-east back into the state of Tamil Nadu and the city of Coimbatore. On the way we will stop in Palakkad to admire the 18th century fort. Unlike sandstone examples seen in India's Northern state of Rajasthan, Palakkad Fort is built out of granite and is surrounded by grass and a large water moat around it. After exploring the fort we will continue our drive towards Coimbatore, a journey of two hours approximately. Dinner is included tonight in Coimbatore as you get the opportunity to sample some south Indian delicacies such as savoury dosas served on a banana leaf with different chutneys, pickles and vegetables.
Hotel Zibe Coimbatore by GRT (or similar)
Early this morning we travel towards Coonoor to board the toy train along the Niligiri Mountain Railway. Built by the British in the late 19th century to negotiate an otherwise difficult terrain, an old locomotive will pull us up the hill through dense green forest landscapes as we cover a distance of 19km from Coonoor to Ooty in about one and a half hours. The toy train has been running for many years so there are times where it doesn't run due to maintenance or when the weather is poor. In such circumstances we will drive to Ooty instead, which still makes for a scenic journey through the hills.
The town of Ooty, often referred to as 'Snooty Ooty' was once a colonial hill station and home to officials from the British East India Company looking to escape from theat of the southern lowlands. On arrival we will have lunch and have a short tour of the town including a visit to the town's botanical gardens, home to more than 1000 varieties of plants and trees arranged in a colourful way. Afterwards we will continue our journey towards Bandipur National Park.
Windflower Tusker Trails (or similar)
Today is a day dedicated to searching for wildlife with both morning and afternoon drives in Bandipur National Park included. The park was once the hunting ground for the Maharajah of Mysuru but is today a thriving nature reserve made primarily out of dry deciduous forest. Some of the wildlife we hope to see includes chital (spotted deer), monkeys (especially langur), mongoose, sloth bear and gaur (Indian bison). The park's elephant population is one of the largest in the country and we may see some of them walking in the forest. Though less common, there have also been sightings of leopard and tiger and there is a variety of birdlife such as crested hawk and serpent eagle.
Our wildlife drives in the park are usually at dawn and just before dusk in the afternoon when the animals are most active. Our safari drives will be in shared 4WD trucks designed for viewing wildlife. Each safari will be around three to four hours including our drive towards the park but will of course depend on the wildlife we get the chance to see.
In between the drives we will have some time to relax back at our lodge just outside of the park. There is the option to relax by the swimming pool, enjoy a massage or take a nature walk around the resort.
Early this morning we have the option to take one final drive in the park in search of wildlife. Alternatively, enjoy a leisurely breakfast before we drive north towards Mysore. So called the 'City of Palaces', Mysuru is today renowned as the cultural capital of Karnataka and home to one of the most ornate palaces in south India, the Maharajah's Mysore Palace, which we plan to visit tomorrow.
After checking into our accommodation we will visit the Chamundi Hills area just outside of the city. Offering views over Mysuru, the hills are home to an impressive Hindu Temple and the Nandi statue. This giant black granite bull statue is considered the vehicle of Lord Siva and is an icon of the city of Mysuru. Later in the evening we will head to Mysuru Palace for a sound and light show displayed on the facade of the building itself.
Hotel Sandesh The Prince (or similar)
After a leisurely breakfast we will take a visit to Mysuru's Devaraja market. This vibrant market is a constant hive of activity as locals barter with sellers for the best deal. The market is a photographer's paradise with fruit, vegetable, flower and spice stalls often meticulously displayed.
After our visit to the market we will head towards Mysuru's must see, the eccentric Mysuru Palace. An eclectic mix of Hindu and British architecture, the palace was originally built in the 14th century and has undergone two subsequent re-buildings. Its opulence is demonstrated through its grand proportions, shiny marble floors, ivory doors and recognisable red domes on top of its main towers. After our sightseeing and an early dinner we will transfer to the railway station to board our overnight train to the city of Chennai.
Indian sleeper trains are a fantastic experience and a great way to meet people as we travel. We make our bookings in second class air-conditioned sleepers, which have four beds in each compartment and all bedding provided. Whilst we try to ensure the group is all together, due to overwhelming demand and the system for booking train tickets in India, it may not always be possible to have everyone in the same carriage and some reservations may be in 3rd class. In such cases our Tour Leaders will help everyone to find their seats and ensure you get the most out of your journey. For overnight trains, each berth is separated by curtains and has 4/6 bunk beds. Bedding (sheet, blanket and pillow) is provided but you may wish to bring your own sleeping liner for added comfort.
Overnight train from Mysore to Chennai
Simple Overnight Train
Arriving in Chennai very early this morning we will make a quick stop for a traditional south Indian dosa breakfast. These thin flat crepes are made out of rice batter and often served with a side of chutney, potatoes and lentil sambars. Following breakfast we'll travel towards the shores of the Bay of Bengal and the town of Mamallapuram.
On arrival in Mamallapuram, we will check in to our hotel and enjoy some free time to relax before exploring the nearby shore temples. Mamallapuram was the chief harbour of the Pallavas Kingdom some 1200 years ago and a number of superb examples of its masterful rock carvings still exist today. We will walk around some of the areas most celebrated structures, including the 7th century Shore Temple - a UNESCO World Heritage site - and Ajuna's Penance, the world's largest bas-relief and one of the most impressive friezes in India. Although both have suffered at the hands of natural erosion over many centuries, a remarkable amount of detail still remains amongst the carvings.
The late afternoon has been left free to take an walk on Mamallapuram's sandy beaches or visit the market for some last minute shopping.
Hotel Mamalla Heritage (or similar)
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Mamallapuram .
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Mamallapuram at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to depart from Chennai Airport (MAA), which is around two hours from the hotel.
There is considerable variation between the different regions of India but, in general, the climate is tropical. Summer temperatures on the plains are very hot, but cooled by the South-West Monsoon, which lasts from June- September. During these months it can be very wet and therefore very humid. At altitude, temperatures can become quite cool at night even in the summer and may drop below freezing between December and February so warm clothing is necessary. In the winter, northern and mid India can be very cool, with cold evenings, so warm clothing, including plenty of layers, are essential. The south of India remains warm and sunny during the winter months.
3 Pin Round
Catholicism, Hindu, Islam and Sikhism
Hindi and English.
Kochi - Traditional Kathakali Dancing £5.00. Bandipur - Optional additional safari £30
Bear in mind that the area is tropical with high humidity. Light weight clothing is needed all year round with some warmer clothes for cooler evenings, particularly in winter (November-March) in the Nilgiri Hills. Due to the high chance of rain between October and December, it is advisable to take a rain jacket or umbrella during this time. Casual clothes are the most practical: tight fitting garments, brief shorts and skirts should be avoided, since they attract unwelcome attention. Shoes must be taken off for temple visits and you must always cover up arms and legs when going inside. You may want to take an old pair of socks to the temples as the floor can get very hot and difficult to walk on.
Comfortable shoes and sandals.
One main piece of baggage and a daysac. Remember hotel porters are not always available, so don't overload yourself. Soft bags are preferable.
A torch is useful in case of powercuts/ emergencies. We advise taking a water bottle for day to day use.
Bus, 4WD, Boat, Train
\kerning220 Accommodation in India is as varied as the country itself. On this trip we stay in a mix of standard hotels, comfortable hotels, a houseboat and aboard an overnight train. Standards do not equate to standards in the UK and it's best to approach each type of accommodation with an open mind. Service can be slow in places especially when travelling with a group. For the most part hotels do not have heating so in the winter months it can be chilly and if you feel the cold you may wish to ask for extra blankets. Hot water is not always available 24 hours a day in some of the smaller properties, and with a group staying you might find if you are showering last you may miss out on the hottest water. Please also note that a number of hotels in India do not serve alcohol due to the complicated licencing laws or for religious reasons. On the backwaters we stay in traditional houseboats, a time-honoured for of transport. These characterful boats are made of anjili wood and bamboo, and come with a small number of twin share, en-suite cabins that are air-conditioned (only available at night). The houseboat has a dining area where the home-cooked, locally-sourced Keralan meals are enjoyed, and a large deck to sit and gaze on at river-side life. Depending on the group size we may have to split the group between two or three houseboats, but you will reunite for any disembarkation stops as well as the overnight stop. The houseboat moors at the side of the backwaters for the night, allowing the crew to hook up to an electricity supply to run the air conditioning and lighting. For information about the accommodation aboard the train, please refer to the transport section of the trip notes. With India's ever-growing middle-class, domestic travel within India is booming and as such securing accommodation is becoming increasingly challenging. Whilst we will always try to stay at the accommodations we list, there may be occasions where accommodation is changed, sometimes at late notice. \kerning0
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
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Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
India: Holders of passports endorsed British citizen, as well as Australian, New Zealand and US passport holders may be eligible for the e-Tourist Visa to enter India. The visa can be applied for through the official Indian government visa website only - https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/tvoa.html . Please check all eligibility criteria that can be found on the website but important points are listed below - You must be arriving into one of 29 selected entry points which can be found via the official Indian Government website link above. However, you can exit from any of the authorised immigration check posts in India. Passports must have at least 6 months validity from the date of arrival in India and at least two blank pages for stamping. Visa applications will take approximately 4 days to process. There are different validity visas and the costs are as follows: 30-day validity (travelling between April and June) - $10 30-day validity (travelling between July and March) - $25 1-year validity - $40 5-year validity- $80 Those applying for a 30 day electronic visa can only apply within 30 days of arrival for your visa to be valid. Furthermore double entry is permitted and you can only obtain two 30-day visas in a calendar year. Please note these costs are subject to frequent change so you should check on the official Indian government visa website mentioned above. Biometric data will be collected on arrival in India. If you are not eligible for the e-Tourist Visa, please refer to VFS Global to apply for your Indian visa - https://www.vfsglobal.com/india/uk/how_to_apply.html Whilst the online form offers a relatively quick way to apply for a visa, some applicants have reported difficulty in completing the form. If you do require assistance, then you may consider applying through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. They can complete the online visa on your behalf for a service fee + the visa cost. See www.travcour.com
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against Tetanus, Infectious Hepatitis, Typhoid and Polio. Please consult your travel clinic for the latest advice on Malaria, Dengue and Zika Virus. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.