Ancient cave with animal column in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu
Ancient cave with animal column in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu

Southern India: Sanctuaries and Spices


20 days From $8,250

November 9 2019

Spanning 2,000 miles from top to bottom, Asia’s second-largest nation does nothing by halves, whether it be the colorful contrasts of its landscapes and lifestyles or the countless treasures of its historical, cultural and architectural heritage. To travel through the south of the country is to find yourself caught in the embrace of India at its most dazzlingly exotic: a tropical India of fertile green coastlands, the craggy Deccan plateau and its rolling hills, serene coconut groves and spice plantations, lush forests and cool backwaters – and game reserves that are a haven for elephant and (occasionally!) tiger.

Our journey explores an India enriched by the unique cultural fusion of the different dynasties, faiths and civilisations that have made their home here over two millennia. Today’s inhabitants are largely descended from indigenous Dravidians driven south by Aryan invaders of old. To them especially, beguiling South India now owes much of its flamboyant flavor – and a spectacular array of centuries-old Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Jain temple complexes, rock sculptures, monuments and haunting ruins.

To all these our tour will add opportunities to savor South India’s speciality regional cuisines, enjoy classical dance performances and discover something of the exuberant mood of modern India in the cities of Mumbai, Chennai and Mysore.

What's included?

  •  Expert Scholar & Tour Manager
  •  Accommodation
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary
  •  Local Transport
  •  Entries & Tips

Led by...

Dr Mehreen Chida-Razvi

Dr Mehreen Chida-Razvi is a Research Associate in the Department of the History of Art at SOAS, and Assistant Editor for the International Journal of Islamic Architecture.

Book Now $8,250
Includes deposit: $500 Single supplement: $1,880

Tour highlights:

  • Explore the impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site at Ellora, where over 30 ancient cave temples (some dating back to the 5th century CE) are carved out of solid rock
  • Spend a relaxing afternoon at peaceful Periyar National Park – a superb spot for viewing elephants up close
  • Go behind the scenes at a private Kathakali dance performance, one of the major forms of Indian classical dance
  • Enjoy a day admiring the world-famous rock-cut shrines and shore temples of Mamallapuram, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Stand before the world’s largest monolithic statue at the ancient Jain pilgrimage site of Sravanabelagola

Tour details

Dates November 09 2019 - November 28 2019
Duration 20 days
Cost $8,250
Single supplement: $1,880
Deposit: $500 , balance due by 17 August 2019
Activity Level Moderate
Tour code A19INS

Book Now or call 866-740-5130 if you have any questions

November 9 2019: Itinerary

We arrive in Mumbai and transfer directly to our hotel. We take the rest of the day to relax after our flight, before enjoying our first dinner as a group.

Meals include: Dinner

Hotel: The Taj Mahal Tower, Mumbai

We spend our morning visiting the Gateway of India, Prince of Whales Museum and Dhobi Ghat. This afternoon we transfer to the airport for our flight to Aurangabad, a city founded in 1610 by the popular prime minister Malik Ambar. We check in to our hotel and prepare for tomorrow’s adventures.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Vivanta by Taj, Aurangabad

Today we drive to Ellora, a famed UNESCO World Heritage Site, where we find some 34 cave temples carved out of solid rock, dating from between the 5th and 13th centuries. Created by monks chiselling out over 3 million cubic feet of stone, and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, Kailasa is the world’s largest single monolithic rock excavation. We have the afternoon at leisure.

Meals include: Breakfast

Hotel: Vivanta by Taj, Aurangabad

This morning we visit the Ajanta Caves. There are thirty caves, including some unfinished ones. Of the Ajanta caves, five are prayer halls and the rest are monasteries. The paintings within the cave delineate the life and teachings of Buddha, his early life as a prince surrounded by women, and the splendour of court life. In the late afternoon we fly to Mumbai and then on to Chennai.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Taj Coromandel, Chennai

We enjoy a morning at leisure and continue touring in the afternoon with a visit to the Government Museum, a site rich in archaeological material including the largest collection of Roman antiquities outside of Europe. We also visit Fort St George and St Mary’s Church, the oldest British building in India.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Taj Coromandel, Chennai

We drive south to Mamallapuram, the second capital of the Pallava Kings. We spend the day visiting Pancha Rathas, a World Heritage site of rock-cut shrines and shore temples. Afterwards, we return back to our hotel in Chennai.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Taj Coromandel, Chennai

A morning flight takes us down to Tiruchirappalli. Once the seat of power in southern India, Tiruchirappalli’s recorded history goes back as far as the 3rd century BC when it was ruled by the culture-rich Chola dynasty. After lunch, we proceed to tour Tiruchirapalli Rock Fort and Ranganathaswamy Temple. Even after many invasions by Mughal Kings, this temple still stands without losing its beauty and fame. We will then continue our drive to Tanjore and check into our hotel.

All meals included

Hotel: Svatma, Tamil Nadu

Today we visit the famous Brihadeeswarar Temple. Completed in 1010 AD, it is an outstanding example of the Chola architecture. It is one of the largest temples in the country and is distinguished by its truly immense stone-carved tower. We will also visit the Raja Museum & Art Gallery, where we see its excellent collection of Chola bronzes.  After lunch, we drive to Madurai where we visit the Meenakshi Temple to witness the nightly prayer ceremony.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: The Gateway Hotel, Madurai

Our day starts with a visit to Thirumalai Nayak Palace, a visual feast of column-flanked courtyards, cloistered archways and tranquil gardens. We then have the opportunity to revisit Meenakshi Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi. We have a free afternoon and then enjoy a Bharat Natyam dance performance this evening.

Meals include: Breakfast

Hotel: The Gateway Hotel, Madurai

We drive to Periyar where we experience a boat ride on the Periyar Lake. The cool surroundings and panorama of tropical jungles spread across an area of 777 Sq. This wildlife sanctuary lies at an elevation of 914 to 1828 meters above sea level in the hills of Western Ghats.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Spice Village - CGH Earth, Thekkady

After breakfast we continue our journey with a visit to the spice gardens around Periyar Lake – a chance to learn more about the area’s indigenous plants. We embark on a house boat for a cruise with lunch. Here we will be awed at the vast expanse of the paddy fields that surround these beautiful backwaters. After we disembark at Alleppey we drive to Kochi and check in to our hotel.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Fragrant Nature, Kochi

We tour Kochi this morning, getting to know the country’s first ever European settlement. As part of our tour we visit Mattancherry Palace and St Francis Church. We are on our own for an afternoon at leisure, before regrouping to watch a Kathakali dance performance. Kathakali is the second major dance form originated in Kerala and is exclusively danced by men.

Meals include: Breakfast

Hotel: Fragrant Nature, Kochi

We fly to Bengaluru and drive to Mysore, stopping at Somnathpur to visit a 13th century Hoysala temple. The exterior walls of the temple are frescoed with iconography of Hinduism and display extensive friezes of Hindu texts such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata Purana. We continue to Mysore, the cultural capital of the state of Karnataka.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel, Mysore

We start the day by visiting the Srirangapatnam Fort, former summer palace of Tipu Sultan. After lunch we continue to the Maharajah’s Palace, one of the largest and most splendid royal residences in India. We also visit Chamundi Hills, which houses a temple to Durga.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel, Mysore

This morning we head towards Shravanabelagola, one of the most important Jain pilgramge centes in India. After lunch, we explore Belur, Chennakshava Temple and then continue to Halebid to visit the Hoysaleswara Temple. We end at the day at Chikmagalur.

All meals included

Hotel: The Gateway Hotel, Chikmagalur

Our journey take us further north to the temple town of Hampi, our base for exploring the extraordinary Vijayanagara ruins. We enjoy a free afternoon after checking in to our hotel.

All meals included

Hotel: Evolve Back, Hampi

We continue to tour the sites of Hampi throughout the day – seeing all that we can of this treasure trove of handsome temples, majestic artwork and stunning Medieval architecture – before returning to our comfortable hotel.

All meals included

Hotel: Evolve Back, Hampi

We proceed with a visit to the richly decorated Aihole Hindu Temples. We also visit the archaeologically significant Temples of Pattadakal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is also protected under Indian law, and is managed by the Archaeological Survey of India. We check in to our hotel and enjoy our final afternoon at leisure. Tonight, we reunite for an unforgettable farewell dinner with the group.

All meals included

Hotel: Evolve Back, Hampi

We end our tour with a drive to Bengaluru. Here we spend the night at an airport hotel.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Taj Bengaluru, Devanhalli

Today we transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.

November 9 2019: Additional Info

November 9 2019: Accommodation

Built in 1973, the iconic The Taj Mahal Tower Mumbai stands majestically across from the Gateway of Indiaoverlooking the Arabian Sea. The Tower stands in harmonious contrast to The Taj Mahal Palace with its arched balconies and newly refurbished rooms. Sprawling over 2.6 acres, this luxurious hotel features 10 restaurants and a variety of traditional Indian therapies at Jiva Spa.

Guests are spoiled for choice in dining options – the famous Wasabi by Morimoto offers innovative Japanese cuisine, and other gourmet highlights include the Golden Dragon Chinese Restaurant and the poolside Aquarius Lounge.

Stylishly designed, the rooms offer amazing sea, city or pool views. Each room includes a 32-inch flat-screen TV, a well-stocked minibar, free WiFi and a luxurious bathroom.

This hotel brings India to life with vibrant colors in a blend of contemporary & traditional styles. This chic hotel has the coolest bar to spend the evenings. Alternatively, find a calm urban retreat in the Jiva spa, so you can put your feet up after a day’s exploring. The breakfasts are equally delightful with a wide range of choices, both Asian and Western.

Taj Coromandel is a grand luxury hotel, step onto the marbled floor of the lobby with the twinkling light of the crystal chandelier. In the past, the hotel has played host to Prince Andrew and the Emperor & Empress of Japan. These exquisite rooms are tranquil places to unwind with contemporary furniture and polished wood flooring.

The beautiful interior of the hotel and rooms replicate that of a charismatic & elegant family home. Every spot of the hotel has personality, from the social terraces and lounges to the hidden away corners for a private retreat. The neutral décor is brought to life by blasts of rich bright colors and golds in a traditional style. Try something unique in this hotel and re-energize in an evening’s yoga session with traditional meditation.

Sitting on the top of Pasumalai Hill, The Gateway Hotel Pasumalai stretches over 62 acres of peaceful landscaped gardens. It has an outdoor pool, tennis courts and an Ayurvedic treatment center. The Gateway Hotel Pasumalai enjoys beautiful views of the famous Meenakshi Temple, Madurai City and Kodai Hills. The spacious rooms feature either classic or modern interiors, all equipped with a satellite TV and a minibar. Most rooms have large bay windows with garden views. Private bathrooms come with a bathtub. Local and international dishes are served at VISTA restaurant. The charming Harvey's Lounge Bar offers imported liquors and a billiard table. 

Resembling a traditional tribal village, Spice Village offers thatched-roof cottages with a minibar. The property houses an outdoor pool, tennis court and skilled Ayurvedic doctors. The rustic cottages come with a private veranda which overlooks fruit trees and herb beds. All cottages have a park bench and private bathroom. Guests can play billiards at Woodhouse Bar. The resort also provides a tour desk, laundry services and airport shuttles at an extra charge. The restaurant serves Kerala cuisine, heavily flavored by local spices. The chef can also prepare traditional tribal curries and Western dishes. 

Wake up hidden away in the mist covered mountains in the Fragrant Nature Hotel. Breathe in the crisp air and look out on stunning scenery and dew-covered tea leaves. The world-class hospitality will leave you regenerated… and with exciting cultural dance & music displays at the hotel, you’ll have an embellished stay! At breakfasts try some Indian delicacies, with continental selections too.

Offering stunning views of the Chamundi Hills, this luxury hotel is one of the best in Mysore. These rooms are contemporary and the soothing tones create a space to recline after a busy day exploring. With all the state of the art amenities, you’ll can wake up to picturesque views.

Situated within the coffee district of Karnataka, this hotel is housed in a resorted colonial building, with hotel rooms and cottages overlooking the gardens or the pool. The restaurant here offers a casual dining experience, serving both Indian and European dishes. All hotel rooms have tea/coffee making facilities, air conditioning and a minibar.

Offering a spa center and hot tub, Evolve Back Hampi is located just 2.5 miles from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hampi. Evolve Back Hampi is inspired by the architectural splendor and magnificence of the Vijayanagara Empire. The resort features all the charms of the bygone era like the fort like entrances, stone-paved boulevards, arched hallways and regal chambers.

The rooms come with a flat-screen TV. Some rooms have a seating area for your convenience. A terrace or balcony are featured in certain rooms. Rooms are equipped with a private bathroom equipped with a bath. For your comfort, you will find bathrobes and slippers. Evolve Back Hampi features free WiFi .

The resort can arrange for heritage walks. You will find a 24-hour front desk and gift shop at the property. 

This luxury and modern hotel makes the perfect end to your holiday. You can relax in the calm of the terrace and enjoy the hotels alfresco dining or venture to the hotel’s chic spa facilities and pool. The hotel’s emphasis is on elegance and style and the rooms reflect this with all modern & comfortable furnishings, looking out over the gardens and water features.

November 9 2019: Enquiries

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