Group Tour 13 days from £2055 per person

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  Places Visited: Mahabalipuram, Pondicherry, Kumbakonam, Madurai, Periyar, Kumarakom, Alleppey (Rice boat), Cochin

Covering some of the finest sights of the southernmost states of India, our Southern Explorer tour commences with the atmospheric temple towns of Tamil Nadu, including Mamallapuram and its beautiful shore temples and bas-relief. After an overnight stop at the uniquely French city of Pondicherry, we drive to Thanjavur to see the UNESCO World Heritage temples of Brihadeeshwara and the bustling Meenakshi temple at Madurai. Crossing the Western Ghats into Kerala at Periyar, we enjoy a boat ride on tranquil Lake Periyar and experience a night under the stars sailing the backwaters on a traditional rice boat before visiting Colonial Fort Kochi.


Meenakshi Temple

Holiday Types

Cultural Holidays Wildlife Holidays River Cruising Holidays Luxury Train Holidays Family Holidays Honeymoons Beach Holidays Adventure Holidays


Travel Arrangements

  • Group Size 4 -12 people
  • Internal Travel Arrival & departure transfers. Internal travel by road
  • Accompanying Guide English-speaking guides. Accompanying tour escort when minimum group size achieved
  • Accommodation 12 nights
  • Meal Plan Breakfast daily. Lunch on days 3, 4, 5, 10. Dinner on days 1, 10


Itinerary for Southern Explorer

Day 1
Chennai - Mamallapuram

Greeted on arrival in Chennai and transfer to the Ideal Beach Resort at Mamallapuram or similar for two nights. Enjoy a restful day at the beach followed by a welcome dinner.

Thousands of years before the British first landed on the Coromandel Coast, merchants’ ships were setting sail from a city further south to ports as far afield as the Malacca Straits. Known as Mahabalipuram (or Mamallapuram), 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.

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Day 2

Morning sightseeing of Mamallapuram includes a visit to the ancient Shore Temple and the impressive rock carvings and reliefs from the mythological Indian epic known as the Mahabharata. The afternoon is at leisure with the option of a city tour of Chennai, which can be arranged at a supplement.

Numerous vestiges of this golden era survive amid the giant humpback boulders looming above the modern village. Ranging from shrines sculpted in the form of rathas (temple chariots), to mandapas (cave sanctuaries) and giant open-air reliefs, they include the world-famous Shore Temple.

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Day 3
Mamallapuram - Pondicherry

Drive South on the pretty East Coast Highway to the former French colony of Pondicherry (3 hours). Explore the colonial buildings, statues, and churches on foot. Spend the night at Residency Towers or similar for the night.

Puducherry, also known as Pondicherry or Pondi, a half-day’s drive south of Mamallapuram, served as France’s principal stronghold on the Coromandel during the Carnatic Wars of the 17th century, and remained a colony until 1962. Typically French houses with louvered windows and colour-washed Neoclassical facades line the backstreets of the former Ville Blanche, and other echoes of the Gallic era abound, from the red képis worn by local policemen to the games of pétanque played on the palm-shaded seafront square.

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Day 4
Pondicherry - Kumbakonam

A day’s drive inland to Kumbakonam (5 hours), via Darusaram, home of the UNESCO World Heritage Airavateshwara Temple. Stay at the Mantra Koodam or similar for two nights.

The Great Living Chola Temples were built by kings of the Chola Empire, which stretched over all of south India and the neighbouring islands. The site includes three great 11th-and 12th-century Temples including the Airavateshwara Temple at Darasuram. The Airavateshwara temple complex, built by Rajaraja II, testifys to the brilliant achievements of the Chola in architecture, sculpture, painting, and bronze casting.

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Day 5

Today is a full day of sightseeing in Thanjavur, including a visit the Brihadeeshwara Temple complex: its 62m high tower is the tallest of its kind in India. Also enjoy a traditional Tamil thali lunch.

The Kaveri (Cauvery) Delta of central Tamil Nadu was the heartland of the mighty Chola Dynasty, whose towering temples stand as south India’s defining monuments. One of the greatest of these giant shrines is Brihadeshwara in the town of Thanjavur (Tanjore) – a soaring pyramid of granite, exquisitely constructed and embellished with inscriptions and carvings of deities which look almost as fresh today as they must have during the reign of Rajaraja I (985–1014AD), who commissioned them.

Elsewhere in this bustling Tamil town, the impressive Durbar Hall of the Royal Palace Complex stands as a reminder of the glory days of the Nayak Kings of the 16th and 18th centuries, while in the same compound, the town’s Art Gallery holds an extraordinary collection of Chola bronzes.

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Day 6
Kumbakonam - Madurai

Drive to the town of Madurai (5-6 hours), to visit the stunning Meenakshi Temple complex with its vast colourfully carved gopuram (towers) and bustling bazaars. Stay overnight at the GRT Regency hotel or similar.

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-Eyed Goddess’ soar 46m above the city’s streets, writhing in stucco figures of gods, saints, demons and mythical monsters. The great pyramids, however, are merely an overture to the wonders enclosed below, where a labyrinth of richly carved pillared halls, colonnaded walkways, and interlocking courtyards host a never-ending round of rituals.


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Day 7
Madurai - Periyar National Park

In the morning, drive across state borders into Kerala arriving at Periyar National Park, for two nights at the Cardamom County Resort or similar.

The mountains of inland Kerala, which run the entire length of the state, are one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots. Tea, coffee and spice plantations dominate many areas, but abundant forest also survives, and the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary encompasses one of the most readily accessible of these. Centred on a flooded valley system, the park is among the largest in India, famous first and foremost for its herds of wild elephant, which congregate in the dry season around the shores of Periyar Lake.

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Day 8
Periyar National Park

This morning take a walk in Periyar Nature Reserve with tribal trackers, in search of wildlife. Afternoon visit a spice plantation which offers an insight in the cultivation and processing of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, pepper and more.

Boat safaris on Periyar Lake are fun, but too noisy for serious wildlife spotting. A better option is to take to the footpaths in the company of a local guide, who can track and identify the many creatures who live in this well-preserved tract of forest. Malabar giant squirrels, palm civets and sambar deer are commonly encountered, as are hornbills and other spectacular birds.

During the afternoon tour of a local spice plantation, you’ll see how cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon are cultivated and processed.

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Day 9
Periyar National Park - Kumarakom

Today we descend through the Western Ghats towards Kumarakom (4 hours), a sleepy village on the shores of Lake Vembanad, for an overnight stay at the Rhythm Kumarakom or similar. The afternoon is at leisure.

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 relaxing with its calm waters and horizon merges imperceptibly with the milky tropical sky. Houseboats gliding across the glassy surface of the lake appear to be floating on thin air, and flocks of birds on the wing are pursued by perfect mirror images of themselves on the water below.

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Day 10
Kumarakom - Alleppey (Rice Boat)

Late morning, board a rice boat for an overnight cruise on Lake Vembanad and the backwaters:- a region that, not only shelters some unique animal and bird life, but also lush paddy fields which are referred to as the ‘Rice Bowl of Kerala’. This is one of the few places in the world where farming is done below sea level.

Up until the 1980s, large barges made of oiled jackwood and canopies of plaited palm leaves were used throughout the Kuttinad region to transport rice and other produce through the backwaters. Now, trucks do the haulage work, but the boats – known as kettu vallam in Malayali – take visitors on cruises around the canals, rivers and lagoons of this fascinating region, where most of the population still live in island villages.  A far cry from the oily craft of old, kettu vallam are today fitted with comfortable en-suite, air-con bedrooms, galleys, and viewing decks from which you’ll be able to watch the watery world slip past. Four-course meals of delicious Keralan curries are served by liveried staff in the evening.

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Day 11

Depart after breakfast for Cochin (2 hours). Check-in at the Fragrant Nature or similar for two nights. In the evening, take a sunset cruise on Cochin harbour.

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 red-tiled skyline bears the imprint of its former colonial residents: Lusitanian chapels, Jewish synagogues, Dutch burghers’ houses, Armenian mansions, and British bungalows and godowns (warehouses) all survive in the Fort’s grid of narrow lanes – the largest collection of early colonial buildings in Asia. You’ll get a picture-postcard view of the waterfront, with its iconic Chinese fishing nets, during the harbour cruise in the evening.

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Day 12

Spend the morning taking in the sights of historic Fort Cochin. Explore the colonial streets, the Dutch Palace, with its murals of the Ramayana, the Jewish Synagogue and St Francis, the oldest church in India. In the evening, attend a Kathakali performance, a traditional dance drama in which the dancers wear elaborate costumes and make up.

Your guided tour of the city’s chief landmarks takes in the beautiful Dutch Palace in Matancherry, famed for its traditional Keralan murals, followed by a visit to the old Synagogue in nearby Jew Town. This district holds several huge, and very well stocked, antiques emporia that are well worth a browse. 

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Day 13

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight.

Accommodation Options

Group Tour 13 days from £2055 per person

What's included

✓   12 nights accommodation
✓   Arrival & departure transfers. Internal travel by road
✓   English-speaking guides. Accompanying tour escort when minimum group size achieved
✓   Breakfast daily. Lunch on days 3, 4, 5 and 10. Dinner on days 1 and 10
✓   Entrance fees at monuments. Escorted walks in Periyar

Holiday Extensions for this tour

India: Southern Explorer - Ooty & Mysore

6 days, 5 nights from £825 per person

Single supplement £ 255 per person
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Day 13
Cochin - Hillgrove

A long drive (6-7 hours) from the coast, through paddy fields and up to Hillgrove for a two night stay at the Kurumba Village Resort.

Day 14

A day to relax in your pretty surroundings with options for a tribal village visit, bird watching excursions or walking.

Day 15
Hillgrove - Mysore

In the morning, take the Nilgiri Mountain railway to Ooty, through scenic villages and beautiful mountain landscapes. Journey onward by car to Mysore (4-5 hours) and spend two nights at the Radisson Blu Hotel.

Day 16

A full day of sightseeing in Mysore commences with a visit to Srirangapatnam to see Tipu Sultan’s Palace. Drive up into the Chamundi hills for stunning views of the surrounding area and a visit to the monolithic Nandi Bull. Spend time at the grand Mysore Palace and visit the colourful Devaraja market.

Day 17
Mysore - Bangalore

A morning drive (4-5 hours) to Bangalore: a city that is popularly known as the IT hub of India. The afternoon is at leisure. Stay at the Fortune Hotel or similar for one night.

Day 18

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight.

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