Places Visited: Kochi, Kumarakom, Trivandrum, Kovalam, Madurai, Chennai
Departure Dates: Saturday 6th February 2021 & Saturday 27th March 2021 (Easter Departure)
Tour Price: from £3,975 per person
We’re delighted to bring you an extraordinary, escorted journey into the beautiful South Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Especially led from the UK by a guest lecturer, author and photographer, Serena Fass, the tour incorporates not only the must-see sights of these Southern Indian states but also visits the historical vestiges of numerous sites associated with the life and times of the Saint Thomas the Apostle, including the recently excavated tomb of the saint on the outskirts of Chennai (Madras) and the ancient port city of Muziris, frequented by Roman trade ships, from where Saint Thomas began his 20 year mission into India, in AD52.
The evocative monuments, ancient excavations, lush, tropical landscapes, luxurious, modern properties, fine local cuisine, perfect February or March weather and Serena’s great erudition all combine to bring this remarkable journey to life.
With two departures, the tour guarantees a unique and interesting perspective of Southern India.
About Serena Fass
An old friend of TransIndus, Serena has led several very successful tours for us over the years, and given fund-raising lectures at the Royal Geographic Society, Victoria & Albert Museum and Nehru Centre in London. For her book on St Thomas the Apostle she conducted research in numerous countries, tracing his mission by land and sea from Jerusalem to Pathia and across South India, and finally the route followed by his body from Mylapore near Chennai to Ortona in Italy, via Mesopotamia and Greece.
To find out more about this tour, speak with Brijesh on 020 8566 3739.
- Group Size
- Internal Travel
- Accompanying Guide English-speaking guides
- Accommodation 13 nights accommodation
- Meal Plan Breakfast daily
Itinerary for Kerala & Tamil Nadu - in the Footsteps of Saint Thomas the Apostle
The group will assemble at London Heathrow by 11am, departing three hours later aboard British Airways’ direct flight to Bangalore.
On arrival, we’ll transfer to Bangalore’s domestic airport to board a connecting flight to Cochin. The transfer to your hotel takes around an hour. Spend the remainder of the day recovering from the journey, before enjoying a sunset cruise on Cochin Harbour in the evening, followed by a buffet dinner.
The hub of colonial trade in South India for four centuries, Fort Cochin occupied the tip of low lying peninsula at the mouth of the Periyar River. Portuguese, Dutch, Jewish, Armenian, British and Indian merchants all settled here over the centuries, leaving in their wake a rich architectural legacy, which you’ll be able to enjoy from the launch. The whitewashed church spires an red-tiled rooftops of former tea and spice warehouses still dominate the seafront, along with the famous ‘Chinese fishing nets’, which dangle like great predatory insects from the promenade.
Today the group will be taken on a daytrip to the site of Muziris, the lost port city to which St Thomas travelled in the first century AD. In the afternoon, enjoy a backwater cruise and visit to a church founded by the apostle.
For centuries, before its sudden demise in the 1340s, Muziris was the largest harbour on the Malabar Coast. Ships from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, Persia and Arabia travelled to it in great fleets to purchase black pepper, pearls, slave girls, diamonds and silk, leaving behind vast quantities of gold and silver. The precise whereabouts of the harbour, however, remained a mystery until recently, when archeological digs at the village of Pattanam, near Kodungallur, revealed significant quantities of Roman coins and glass, and the foundations of large wharves. A selection of the finds is displayed at the site museum, which the group will visit.
Later, we’ll board a launch for a cruise around the local backwaters, pausing for lunch at a local seafood restaurant en route to a church believed to have been founded by St Thomas in AD 52.
Today we’ll explore the fascinating history and monuments of Fort Cochin and neighbouring district of Matancherry. Lunch will be in the Brunton Boatyard hotel, overlooking the waterfront.
Fort Cochin’s pretty backstreets retain the largest concentration of early colonial architecture in India. The most famous of them is the Church of St Francis, next to the old Parade Ground, where Vasco da Gama – who opened up the sea route from Europe to India in 1498 and died of malaria in a house nearby –was temporarily buried. A collection of 16th- and 17th-century tombstones chart the rise and fall of the Portuguese, Dutch and British eras.
Over in Matancherry you’ll have the chance to see the sumptuous, multi-coloured Keralan murals at the Dutch Palace before paying a visit to the Pardesi Synagogue nearby. Hub of a once thriving Jewish community, the building is renowned for its sumptuous interior tilework – though it is rarely used for worship these days, the majority of Cochin’s Jews having departed for Israel in the 1950s.
Matancherry also holds a number of excellent antique and souvenir shops which you’ll have time to visit before returning back to your hotel for the remainder of the afternoon.
In the evening, we’ll attend a performance of Kathakali – Kerala’s unique form of dance drama – in which performers wear elaborate, colourful costumes. We’ll arrive ahead of the show so that you’ll be able to see the dancers having their make up applied – a great photo opportunity.
A leisurely day of travel begins with a drive south from Fort Cochin to the town of Alleppey, principal hub of the Kuttinad backwater region, where you’ll embark on a half-day cruise, ending at your hotel on the shores of serene Vembanad Lake.
Kerala’s backwaters, known locally as ‘Kuttinad’, is a hidden world of winding, lotus-choked canals and rivers interlacing a myriad islands on the state’s coastal plain. Intensely green and fertile, the area supports a unique way of life. Chugging around the waterways you’ll pass tracts of viridscent rice paddy, huge mango trees overhanging waterside papaya orchards and low-slung houses with rooftops of orange terracotta tiles. On the water, look out for floating duck farms (the farmers paddling along behind in dugout canoes), Orthodox Syrian priests travelling to Mass by speedboat, soapy kids splashing around in the shallows and, of course, the elegantly canopied houseboats that are nowadays used to transport visitors around the region.
Your hotel is situated on one of India’s longest lakes, Vembanad – a 96-kilometre-long expanse of shimmering water that’s teeming with birdlife. After checking in, enjoy the warm breezes and glorious views over the water from the pool.
The sixth day of your tour begins with a 45-minute drive around the lake and over Thanneermukkom Bund (a barrage regulating the flow of salt water into Vembanand) to the village of Kokkamangalam, where we’ll visit another important shrine associated with St Thomas. The afternoon will be at leisure to enjoy the facilities of your hotel, or undertake optional excursions in the area.
St Thomas is believed to have preached for a year at Kokkamanagalam, where he established a Christian community and church. A relic of the saint, brought from Ortona in Italy as a gift by Pope John Paul II in 1999, is today enshrined inside the building – an object of great veneration for Syrian Christians. Worshippers congregate in particularly large numbers on Friday evenings, when anyone hoping to procure a job overseas prays for the saint’s intercession. A replica of the cross the apostle erected on the lakeshore in AD 52 also remains (the original resides at nearby Pallipuram).
In the afternoon, you’ll be free to relax back at your hotel. Anyone wishing to visit the early 16th-century Portuguese churches of Cheriapalli and Valliapalli, at nearby Kottayam, may also do so (a taxi can easily be arranged through the hotel for an additional cost).
A long drive south across Kerala today will be punctuated with a pause at St Mary’s, Niranam – one of the oldest churches in the world – and another at the 8th-century Syriac Church in Kollam, close to the spot where St Thomas is thought to have arrived in the area. From there we’ll proceed to the palm-lined coast of Kovalam for a two-night stay.
Orthodox Syriac Christian tradition holds that St Thomas founded the church at Niranam in AD 54, which would make it one of the oldest surviving churches in the world. Nothing of the original shrine survives, the building having been completely reconstructed on four occasions, although several inscriptions and stone crosses attest to its great antiquity. This is also where it is believed the apostle made his first converts in India – members of two local Hindu Brahmin families.
Before leaving the backwater region, we’ll pause at one final church founded by St Thomas, this time in the market town of Kollam. We’ll also visit the bay where he arrived by boat – one of the principal ports of ancient India, visited by huge junks from China in the first century AD.
From Kollam, the group will travel to the south of Kerala for a two-night stay on one of the prettiest coves south of the resort of Kovalam.
A full day’s sightseeing in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram (‘Trivandrum’), begins with a visit to its splendid main temple, followed by a guided tour of the nearby royal palace. After lunch, the group will cross the city for a look around the Napier Museum, followed by visit to a local market.
With its multi-storeyed gateway tower reflected in the shimmering waters of the adjacent tank, Padhmanabhaswamy is one of the region’s most beautiful and revered Hindu temples. Its prominence as a place of worship is tied to that of the local rulers, the Travancore royal family, whose tutelary deity resides within. The temple made international headlines in 2012, when its vaults were discovered to contain a vast horde of treasure, including sacks of diamonds, a 1-metre-tall, jewel-encrusted statue of Vishnu, thousands of pieces of antique gold jewellery and trunks holding 800kg of ancient coins, many of them 2,000 years old!
Unfortunately, non-Hindus are strictly forbidden for entering, but you can admire the building from the approach road, lined with stalls selling incense and flowers. Afterwards, we’ll take a look around the adjacent royal palace, Puttan Malika, renowned for its traditional Keralan architecture, before pausing for lunch at Ariya Niwas.
In the afternoon, the group will pay a visit to the Napier Museum (a grandiloquent vestige of the Raj era) and nearby Chitra Art Gallery, which holds one of the world’s largest collections of Ravi Varma paintings.
A long journey from Trivandrum to the Tamil city of Madurai takes up the ninth day of your tour. The drive will be broken by stops at some fascinating historical and religious sites along the way: an ancient Hindu temple; a wonderful 16th-century Keralan palace; and another church founded by St Thomas.
The Travancore kingdome extended further south than the modern state border, and one of its most important temples today lies in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. A typical Dravaidian-style shrine retaining its original wooden doors, pillars and roofs, the Adikesava Perumal temple is enfolded by a bend in the Paralliyar River, a couple of hours’ drive south from Trivandrum.
Unlike in Kerala, non-Hindus are permitted to enter temples in Tamil Nadu, so the group will be able to see the deity inside: Vishnu reclined on a bed of coiled serpents. This was the Travancore royal shrine before the palace moved to the new capital of Trivandrum in the British era.
Until 1750, Kerala’s royals lived in the beautiful palace of Padmanambhapuram nearby, which you’ll also have the chance to visit today, along with another church founded by St Thomas, St Mary’s (aka ‘Thomayar Kovil’) in the village of Thiruvithamcode.
After a four-hour onward drive, the group will arrive in Madurai before sunset.
A full day’s sightseeing in Madurai today, starting after breakfast with the first of two visits to the great Meenaskshi Aman temple.
No-one can say for sure when Madurai was founded, but it has been in constant use since at least the time of Pharaonic Egypt. The town features in the account of India by the Greek ambassador Megasthenes, who came here in 302BC, and was mentioned by Strabo in Roman times. It almost certainly featured on the journey of St Thomas two millennia ago.
Then, as now, the city’s defining landmark would have been the mighty Meenakshi Aman temple, shrine of the ‘Fish-Eyed Mother Goddess’. A phalanx of impressive gateway towers loom over its precincts today, the largest of them 170 ft (52 m) tall. Thousands of stucco figures of multi-limbed gods, goddesses, celestial nymphs and fanged mythological monsters swarm over the sides of the towers, depicted in a wild array of dance poses.
You’ll make two separate visits to the temple, one in the morning to see the religious souvenirs market and outer precincts, and another in the evening to attend a ritual at the innermost shrine, when the goddess, Meenaskshi, and her consort, Sundeshwar, are ‘put to bed’ for the night, accompanied by traditional music played on the Tamil oboe, the ‘nageswaram’ and percussion.
After breakfast, transfer by coach to Madurai airport for a short flight to Chennai (Madras), where you’ll be staying for the remainder of your tour.
St Thomas arrived on this stretch of the Coromandel Coast in AD 68, and stayed for around four years, opposing the orthodox Brahmins in the ancient temple of Mylapore (now in a southern suburb of the city) before being martyred. His followers built a tomb and monastery over his grave, which later became a pilgrimage centre for Muslims and Hindus, as well as Nestorian and Orthodox Syrian Christians.
The British first came to the area in the early 17th century in search of the region’s famed calico cloth, establishing a trading post in 1639. The fortified settlement boomed and within a decade the sloping-walled citadel had become the nucleus of a small city. Its heyday, however, was in the late-18th century, when a new harbour made it the principal hub of trade between India and Europe under the East India Company.
Today, Chennai is it’s a fast-paced, cosmopolitan metropolis of nearly five million people, retaining many evocative monuments of its colonial past.
After breakfast, board the group bus for a daytrip to Mamallpuram, an hour-and-a-half’s drive down the coast.
Thousands of years before the British first landed on the Coromandel Coast, merchants’ ships were setting sail from Mamallpuram (or ‘Mahabalipuram’) for ports as far away as the Moluccas, in Indonesia. The town was praised by both Periplus and Ptolemy for its wealth and sophistication. Marco Polo enthused about the ‘Seven Great Pagodas’ that rose from its shore, a skyline hewn from solid granite by the Pallava Dynasty in the 7th century AD.
Numerous remains of this golden era survive amid the giant humpback boulders looming above the modern village. Ranging from shrines sculpted in the form of temple chariots (rathas) to cave sanctuaries (mandapas) and giant open-air reliefs, they include the world-famous, ‘Shore Temple’, a UNESCO World- Heritage Monument.
As well as being filled with superb antiquities, Mamallpuram is also a great place to sample seafood: local restaurants do a brisk trade in fresh lobster, tiger prawns and red snapper.
Visit Fort St George in the morning – the greatest citadel erected by the British East India Company in India – and the nearby Government Museum, which holds one of the finest collections of antiquities in the country.
Founded in 1640, Fort St George served as the lynchpin of the East India’s Company’s operations in south India. Its walls were assailed by plague, genocidal warfare and repeated attacks by the rulers of neighbouring Golkonda to drive a period of dramatic expansion at the end of the 17th century. During the Carnatic Wars against the French and Sultans of Mysore fifty years later, one of its inhabitants, a lowly book-keeper named Robert Clive, gained a reputation as a military genius after pulling off an unlikely victory at the Siege of Arcot in 1751. He would later go on to win the Battle of Plassey in 1757, establishing the British as successors to the Mughals, rulers of all India.
A fascinating museum in the fort holds a selection of lithographic prints and other colonial memorabilia that vividly evoke the feel of the 18th century, when new arrivals would have to brace themselves for an often inelegant transfer from their ship by native boat, pitched headlong by rolling breakers on to the nearby beach.
Located in nearby Egmore district, the Government Museum is famous for its superb collection of Chola bronzes. Several magnificent pieces of ancient sculpture from the Buddhist site of Amaravati are also on display – the bulk of the so-called ‘Amaravati Marbles’, however, now reside in the British Museum.
Today the group will visit the greatest of all the monuments associated with St Thomas, in the southern fringes of the city at Mylapore.
The temple town of Mylapore was first described by Marco Polo, who visited in the late-13th century. His account, which recorded the existence of St Thomas’s tomb (already an important pilgrimage centre for Orthodox Syrian Christians) inspired early Portuguese explorers to travel to the Coromandel from Goa. Their descendants later built the first Basilica on the site to house the saint’s relics, including the tip of the spear that allegedly killed him. These are now displayed in a small museum behind the Basilica, accessed via an underground passage.
We’ll also visit the caves where St Thomas and his followers are believed to have lived during the period he preached here. One contains what believers consider to be an imprint of his hand; another a sacred spring producing holy water prized by pilgrims for its healing powers.
A very early start today for your transfer to the airport, where the group will catch British Airways’ direct flight to London at 7.30am.
Group Tour 15 days from £3975 per person
✓ International flights from UK
✓ 13 nights luxurious accommodation
✓ All internal transportation and transfers
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Half board (Breakfast and dinner daily)
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
2021 tour prices for Kerala & Tamil Nadu - in the Footsteps of Saint Thomas the Apostle
|DEPARTURE DATE||PRICE PER PERSON||SINGLE ROOM supplement||AVAILABILITY|
|Sat 06 Feb 2021||£3975||£1145||Good|
|Sat 27 Mar 2021||£3975||£1145||Good|
Places and Experiences in this tour
For centuries the hub of India’s spice and tea trade, Fort Cochin occupies the northern tip of a peninsula dividing the mouth of the Vembanad Lake from the Arabian Sea. Its low-ris…
Kumarakom Backwaters and Bird Sanctuary
Kumarakom, a tiny village located between the shores of Vembanad Lake the largest of Kerala’s backwaters and a vast 200-square-kilometre lagoon provides an idyllic setting for rela…
Kovalam is a beach town in Kerala which has picture-postcard scenery - ideal for photographers and for those who like to venture to more secluded places. Besides golden sands and s…
For sheer visual impact, no Hindu temple in South India can match the magnificence of the Meenakshi-Sundeshwarar in Madurai. The gigantic, multi-coloured gopura towers of the ‘Fish…