Tailor-made Tour 16 days from £3465 per person
Places Visited: Mysore, Nagarhole National Park, Bandipur National Park, Coonoor, Madurai, Periyar National Park, Fort Cochin, Kumarakom
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2012, the Nilgiri Biosphere, in the Western Ghat mountain range of southern India, encompasses the last tracts of wild, forested uplands in peninsular India. Large herds of elephant, and viable populations of tiger and leopard, roam its jungles, along with primeval looking gaur (bison), striped hyena and dhole (wild dogs), all of which are routinely sighted in the national parks encompassing the most pristine parts of the Biosphere. This tour to the heart of these, offering the best possible chances of wildlife sights and a vivid experience of a unique habitat, high above the sweltering plains.
You’ll get to enjoy safaris in three different national parks, and two world-class bird sanctuaries, on a trip bookended by visits to the historic capitals of Mysore and Cochin, and the pilgrimage city of Madurai, home of the region’s most revered Hindu temple. The itinerary also includes a relaxing stay in a former British hill station, surrounded by working tea estates and served by one of the world’s last working narrow-gauge steam railways.
Fly overnight from London to Bengaluru (Bangalore), via the Middle East.
On arrival, you’ll be met by your TransIndus driver and guide and transferred to Mysore, where you’ll stay for two nights. Spend the rest of the day recovering from your journey, perhaps venturing out to explore the neighbourhood around your hotel in the evening.
Mysore, or ‘Mysuru’ as it was recently re-dubbed, is popularly known as the south’s ‘city of culture’ thanks to its profusion of palaces and arts and crafts workshops – a legacy of its status as capital of the Wadiyar dynasty, who ruled the region until 1956. Aside from several extravagant royal palaces and temples, the city holds a particularly atmospheric market, and hilltop temple complex. It’s also a great place to sample traditional South Indian cuisine.
A full day’s sightseeing today in Mysore and nearby Srirangapatnam, springboard for the Ranganathitoo Bird Sanctuary.
Mysore is dominated by its grandiloquent Maharaja’s palace, a building conceived in a surreal combination of architectural styles.
Srirangapatna, outside the city on the Kaveri River, was the site of the region’s capital for more than seven centuries. After visiting Tipu Sultan’s summer palace and tomb, you’ll drive to the nearby Ranganathitoo Bird Sanctuary, where around 40,000 winter migrant birds congregate from mid-December onwards. On a scattering of islands in the Kaveri River, the reserve holds an exceptionally carried population of wildfowl and waders, with 170 species so far recorded.
Nagarhole National Park
Drive to Nagarhole for a two-night stay. You should arrive in time for an evening safari.
Created from the private hunting reserve of the Maharajas of Mysore, Nagarhole encompasses a tract of jungle-clad hills and the banks of a reservoir fed by the Kabini River. When water levels are low between February and March, elephants are enticed out of the trees to drink, along with herds of deer and antelope, and the predators that prey on them: leopard, striped hyena, dhole (wild dog) and even the occasional tiger. Birdlife is also prolific, with 270 species recorded, among them the endangered Oriental white-backed vulture, Greater-spotted eagle and three kinds of hornbill.
Nagarhole National Park
Enjoy morning and afternoon game drives in the park.
Bandipur National Park
Drive to Bandipur, adjoining Nagarhole, for an overnight stay, arriving in time for an afternoon game drive in the park.
Part of the world-famous Nilgiri Biosphere, Bandipur National Park covers another area of forested mountains bordering Nagarhole. The reserve is a prime spot for sighting elephant, which roam in large herds here. The tiger population has also revived well over the past decade, thanks to a concerted effort on the part of local conservation bodies, with an estimated 220 animals living within the confines of Nagarhole and Bandipur combined. The odds of a sighting have never been greater here since the inauguration of the park in 1973!
Drive to Ooty to visit the Botanical Gardens and then board the Nilgiri Mountain Railway to Coonoor, where you’ll stay for two nights.
Located high in the Nilgiri Mountains, Ooty was developed by the British as a hill resort in the early 19th century, when it became the summer capital of the Madras Presidency. Its mild, subtropical climate makes it a perfect place for growing plants from a wide range of climatic zones, as you’ll see in the famous Botanical Gardens, whose collection is dispersed over 55 acres of lush, terraced slopes and mature woodland.
The ‘Nilgiri Blue Mountain Railway’, to give the line its official title, is deservedly one of South India’s great attractions – more for the nostalgia value than its speed and comfort, it has to be said!
Spend the day relaxing in your luxurious hotel on the outskirts of Coonoor, and taking in local sights.
Coonoor, a tea growing hub and former British hill station just down the mountain from Ooty, is considerably less commercialized than its more famous neighbour, and retains plenty of old-world atmosphere. Surrounded by tea terraces, its leafy outskirts also holds some particularly lovely hotels. Leisurely guided walks in the woods and to nearby viewpoints occupy the day. Visits to local tea factories and the town’s excellent botanical garden are also on the menu if you can tear yourself away from the hotel pool!
Drive down to the Tamil plains and continue on to Madurai for an overnight stay, visiting the Meenakshi-Sundeshwar temple in the evening.
For sheer visual impact, no Hindu temple in South India can match the Meenakshi-Sundeshwarar in Madurai. The temple’s gigantic, multi-coloured gopura towers soar 46m above the city’s streets, writhing in stucco figures of gods and mythical monsters. Below, a labyrinth of richly carved pillared halls, colonnaded walkways and interlocking courtyards host a never-ending round of rituals. Although now a sprawling modern city with a population of over one million, Madurai, with its lively covered bazaars and traditional udipi restaurants, remains one of India’s undisputed highlights.
Periyar National Park
Drive back into the mountains for a two-night stay in Periyar National Park on the Tamil–Keralan border.
The mountains of inland Kerala are one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots. Although tea, coffee and spice plantations dominate many areas, abundant forest also survives, and the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary encompasses one of the most easily 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 can routinely be spotted from the water. A fleet of boats set out on safaris at dawn, but visitors can increase their chances of sightings by opting for less intrusive rafting trips, or treks on foot through the forest.
Periyar National Park
Enjoy a full day of activities inside the park today, from rafting and forest trekking to boat rides on the lake.
Drive down to sea level again today, and across lowland Kerala to the coast. You should arrive in time for a walking tour of the former colonial spice trading port of Fort Cochin.
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 Arabia Sea. Its low-rise, 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.
Transfer to Kumarakom in the famous Keralan backwaters for a two-night stay at Kumarakom, on the shores of Vembanad Lake.
Across the low-lying coastal strip of central Kerala stretches a vast, shimmering saltwater lagoon known as Vembanad Lake. As well as being a prime fishing ground for inhabitants of the surrounding backwaters, the 200-sq-km body of water is also an important nesting site for migratory wetland birds, for whom a sanctuary has been set aside at Kumarakom. Species such as darter, white-breasted water hen and snake birds are commonly sighted between November and March, when the glassy surface of the lake is speckled with dozens of stately houseboats cruising between the resorts located in the area.
Spend the morning visiting the bird sanctuary, followed by an afternoon at leisure.
On the shores of the lake, your hotel is perfectly placed for both birding and ilding, or indeed a combination of the two! Ayurvedic massages and boat rides are available should your wanderlust be not yet fulfilled.
Another day of relaxation on the shores of Vembanad Lake bring your tour to a suitably laid-back conclusion.
For the restless, a shopping excursion into nearby Kottayam can be arranged. The town is dominated by Syrian-Christians, and anyone interested in the history of Christianity in India should consider a visit to the two churches on its outskirts, one of which houses a pair of 8th century Nestorian stone crosses. The other holds an apse decorated with naïve murals thought to have been painted by a Portuguese artist in the 16th century. Fans of proper South Indian fast food should also call at the Anand Lodge, just off the main square, to sample the region’s tastiest dosas.
It’s time to say goodbye to Kerala as you drive to Ernakulam airport for your flight back to the UK, which arrives in the afternoon of the same day.
Tailor-made Tour 16 days from £3465 per person
✓ International flights from London
✓ 10 nights accommodation
✓ All internal transportation and transfers
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Mysore, the former capital of the Wadiyar Rajas, is far and away Karnataka’s most popular visitor destination. Unlike Bengaluru, the city seems to have been largely bypassed by th...
Nagarhole National ParkPlace
The best places to spot wildlife in southern India is the Nagarhole National Park, in Western Ghat mountain range of western Karnataka. Created from the private hunting reserve of...
Newari traders from the Kathmandu Valley established Bandipur as a hub on the Indo- Tibet road in the late 18th century, bringing with them the rich architectural heritage which e...
The main stop on the train ride to Ooty is Coonoor, a major tea market town at an altitude of 1,858m (6,561ft). Lying at the head of the Dodabetta Ravine, its core is a messy baza...
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 ‘Fis...
Periyar National ParkPlace
High in the hills of inland Kerala, the famous Periyar National Park hugs the border with Tamil Nadu. Its focal point is a convoluted reservoir on whose muddy shores herds of elep...
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-ri...
Kumarakom Bird SanctuaryPlace
Vembanad Lake is the largest of Kerala’s backwaters, a vast 200-square-kilometre lagoon that in calm weather is so still its horizon merges imperceptibly with the milky tropical s...
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