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

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

Book Now $8,250
Includes deposit: $1,250 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 9 2019 - November 28 2019
Duration 20 days
Cost $8,250
Single supplement: $1,880
Deposit: $1,250 , balance due by August 17 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 to our hotel. The rest of the day is free for relaxation. This evening we enjoy our first dinner together as a group.

Meals include: Dinner

Hotel: The Taj Mahal Tower, Mumbai

We take advantage of our stopover in Mumbai to enjoy a morning tour to view some of the key points of interest in India’s largest city and financial center. These include the symbolic stone arch of the Gateway to India, overlooking the harbor and set up by the British Raj nearly a century ago; the Prince of Wales Museum (better known today as the tongue-twisting “Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya'), the city’s finest museum, displaying a vast collection of India-wide artifacts and art); and the amazing 140-year-old Dhobi Ghat, the world’s largest “outdoor laundry” where Mumbai’s hotel and hospital washing is washed and beaten! After lunch a 60-minute flight brings us to Aurangabad, where we stay for two nights.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Vivanta by Taj, Aurangabad

Today we drive to nearby Ellora, whose amazing ancient cave temples have been given UNESCO World Heritage Site status in recognition of their enormous scale and extraordinary artistry. Carved from solid rock, the 34 temples date from 600 to 1000 CE and were chiseled by monks from over 3 million cubic feet of stone to create sanctuaries devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. Their splendidly sculpted imagery offers a fascinating insight into the civilization of ancient India. Our afternoon is free for relaxation or for exploring Aurangabad, once a Mughal Empire capital and the setting of the 17th century marble Bibi ka Maqbara shrine, styled on the Taj Mahal.

Meals include: Breakfast

Hotel: Vivanta by Taj, Aurangabad

After breakfast we drive 60 miles north-east to see the famous UNESCO-listed Ajanta Caves, the remote river valley site of one of India’s first monastic institutions, dating from between the 2nd century BCE and the 6th century CE and thus older than its Ellora counterpart - whose arrival may have played a part in Ajanta’s decline. Today Ajanta is visited primarily for the paintings and rock-cut sculptures in many of its 30 caves, considered masterpieces of early Buddhist religious art and created to impart to the community the teachings of Buddha and the story of his experiences during his various reincarnations (as recounted in the “Jataka Tales”). After our visit we return to Aurangabad for our flights to Mumbai and on to Chennai, where we stay for the next three nights.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Taj Coromandel, Chennai

Overlooking the Bay of Bengal, Chennai (formerly Madras) is the bustling and increasingly cosmopolitan capital of the state of Tamil Nadu. After a relaxed first morning at leisure we enjoy an afternoon tour of this vibrant gateway to the eventful history and flamboyant religious and artistic culture of Southern India. Among the highlights we visit are the Government Museum, whose impressive array of archaeological and anthropological material include the largest collection of Roman antiquities outside Europe; Fort St. George, completed in 1653 and today a fascinating museum that documents Chennai’s origins as a British military garrison and East India Company trading outpost; and St. Mary’s, a 17th century Anglican Church, said to be the oldest British building in India.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Taj Coromandel, Chennai

The UNESCO-listed archaeological site of Mamallapuram, on the Coromandel coast about 40 miles south of Chennai, is the focus of our day. An ancient capital and seaport visited by the Romans and Greeks, Mamallapuram is famed for its South Indian Dravidian architecture of exquisitely carved rock-cut Hindu temples and monuments built by the Pallava dynasty in the 7th and 8th centuries CE. We spend the day exploring the site, including the monument complex of Pancha Rathas (“five chariots”), with five huge structures each cut from single rocks.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Taj Coromandel, Chennai

A 60-minute morning flight takes us south to Tiruchirappalli. The recorded history of “Trichy” goes back as far as the 3rd century BCE, when it was a seat of power under the rule of the art and architecture-loving Chola dynasty. We tour the city after lunch, visiting the historic Rock Fort complex, whose ramparts tower high above the river plain, and dazzling Sri Ranganathaswamy temple, the amazing 156-acre site of what is quite possibly India's largest temple. We then continue to Tanjore, a little over an hour’s drive away.

All meals included

Hotel: Svatma, Tamil Nadu

The bustle of today’s Tanjore (now better-known as Thanjavur) is deceptive - for this former capital of the great Chola Empire is a both a city and many-templed pilgrimage center where past and present collide. Pride of historical place on our morning tour goes to the vast 11th century complex of UNESCO-listed Brihadeeswarar Temple, an outstanding example of Chola architecture, distinguished by its immense stone-carved tower, over 200 feet high. We also call at the Raja Museum & Art Gallery, notable for its excellent collection of Chola bronzes. After lunch, we enjoy an afternoon drive that takes us deeper into Tamil Nadu to Madurai, where we visit the great Meenakshi Temple to witness the nightly “puja” prayer ceremony.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: The Gateway Hotel, Madurai

Though unmistakably Indian in its dichotomy of energy and antiquity, commerce and spirituality, 2,500-year-old Madurai draws visitors and pilgrims primarily for its Dravidian-style Meenakshi Temple. First this morning, though, we visit the 17th century former royal palace of Thirumalai Nayak, an architectural gem and haven of calm amid column-flanked courtyards, cloistered archways and tranquil gardens. We then make a return visit to the maze-like Meenakshi Temple, whose total of 14 soaring gateway towers or “gopurams”, decorated with colorful carvings of Hindu gods, dominate the city skyline. Set behind high masonry walls, Meenakshi is so large that it can feel like a town within a town. Our afternoon is free for relaxation or private sightseeing, while in the evening we attend a performance of Bharatanatyam, a classical Tamil Nadu dance form.

Meals include: Breakfast

Hotel: The Gateway Hotel, Madurai

A scenic drive of about four hours takes us west this morning - along a route dotted with rubber, cardamom and cocoa plantations - to Periyar National Park in the state of Kerala. Lying deep within the lush forested hills of the Western Ghats, whose cool heights here reach an elevation of 5,600 feet, Periyar is one of India’s largest wildlife reserves. We enjoy its unique atmosphere and surroundings this afternoon during a boat trip around the edge of Periyar Lake, looking for wildlife.

Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner

Hotel: Spice Village - CGH Earth, Thekkady

On an interesting short tour of a local spice garden this morning we learn about the cultivation of the region’s many indigenous spices. We then continue westwards, dropping down to the hinterland of the Malabar coast. Here the pace slackens as we join a comfortable modern houseboat (built to a design evolved from the traditional local barges once used to transport rice and spices) for a relaxed lunch while enjoying a gentle cruise along Kerala’s peaceful palm-fringed backwaters. We disembark at Alleppey and drive on to Kochi, just a 90-minute journey away.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Fragrant Nature, Kochi

There’s much to see in ancient Kochi (formerly Cochin) and this morning’s comprehensive tour reveals to us the heritage of the city’s uniquely multi-layered past. A port since 1341, when Arab, Chinese and European merchants began to arrive, its long trading history is reflected in the diversity of cultural echoes that survive: from cantilevered fishing nets from China, a 400-year-old synagogue and medieval mosques to faded echoes of Portuguese, Dutch and British rule. Notable on our visiting list are the 16th century Mattancherry Palace (Portuguese but known as the “Dutch Palace’) and St. Francis Church, dating from 1503 and claimed to be India’s oldest European church. Our afternoon is free for sightseeing or relaxation - before we regroup in the evening to watch a performance of Kathakali, one of Kerala’s two classical dance forms and danced exclusively by men.

Meals include: Breakfast

Hotel: Fragrant Nature, Kochi

A short morning flight takes us to Bengaluru, from where we break our 90-mile drive to Mysore at Somnathpur to visit the 13th century temple of Chennakesava, built during the reign of Hoysala emperors and a superbly-carved monument of great intricacy, with an exterior displaying Hindu iconography and extensive friezes of Hindu texts. We continue to Mysore, the cultural capital of the state of Karnataka, where the remainder of our day is at leisure.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel, Mysore

Colorful Mysore (now Mysuru) was the capital of the Kingdom of Mysore from 1399 to 1947 - and at its heart the opulent UNESCO-listed Mysore Palace serves as an exotic emblem of an historic city with a proud royal heritage and a wealth of splendid architecture that has earned it the title of “City of Palaces”. Our day’s exploration begins at the massive ruins of nearby Srirangapatna Fort, famous as the military stronghold of Tipu Sultan, the formidable “Tiger of Mysore” who was killed here by British forces in 1799 after thirty years of war. After lunch we explore the Indo-Saracenic grandeur of the majestic Mysore Palace, among the largest, most resplendent and, after the Taj Mahal, most-visited royal residences in India. We also call at Chamundi Hill, crowned with a tower-topped temple to Durga, a tutelary deity long revered by Mysore Maharajas. 

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel, Mysore

Today we travel to Chikmagalur, a journey of some 120 miles, with a stop en route at Shravanabelagola, whose collection of Jain temples and Gommateshvara Bahubali statue have made it one of India’s major Jain pilgrimage centers. After lunch we visit Belur and nearby Halebidu, settings of spectacular examples of 12th century Hoysala temples, in particular Belur’s Chennakshava Temple and Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebidu.

All meals included

Hotel: The Gateway Hotel, Chikmagalur

A long drive north brings us to Hampi, our base for the next three nights for exploration of this archaeologically-rich area. The rest of our day is at leisure.

All meals included

Hotel: Evolve Back, Hampi

Our day is devoted to detailed study of Hampi’s UNESCO-listed treasure chest of awesome 14th - 16th century CE Vijayanagara Empire ruins - whose magnificent Hindu temples, beautiful artwork and elaborate medieval architecture scattered across a vast rocky landscape are the evocative remains of a once-powerful city.

All meals included

Hotel: Evolve Back, Hampi

We focus today on the Chalukyan dynasties, visiting first the richly-decorated 6th - 8th century temples at Aihole, and then their archaeologically highly significant counterparts at nearby Pattadakal. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is especially important for its later construction of exquisitely-worked Hindu and Jain temples. Tonight we reunite as a group for a memorable farewell dinner.

All meals included

Hotel: Evolve Back, Hampi

Our tour ends with a flight to Bengaluru, where we overnight 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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