Classic South India Trip Notes
Trip code: GICS
Trip valid from: 01/09/2011
Trip valid until: 30/06/2013
Trip length: 12 days
Trip starts in: Mamallapuram, Tamil N?du, India
Trip ends in: Kochi
Maximum group size: 16
- Cochin's Diverse History
- Train Travel - A Quintessentially Indian Experience
- Varkala On The Arabian Sea
On our travels through Tamil Nadu and Kerala we uncover all the classic highlights of southern India. Starting from our initial base, the beachside retreat of Mamallapuram, we then travel to explore Pondicherry and the historic temple city of Madurai. Next is tropical and lush Kerala, where we enjoy a relaxing beach stop in Varkala before taking to the rural palm-fringed backwaters around Alleppey on a fascinating boat ride. Our adventure finishes in the colonial port city of Kochi (Cochin).
Chennai - MamallapuramUpon arrival at Chennai's Anna International Airport (next to the international terminal is the Kamaraj domestic terminal), please find your way to Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram). A pre-paid taxi from the airport will cost between US$35 and US$40. We advise that you book the taxi from the counter inside the airport, as it is run by the government and is a more reliable option than going out and negotiating with the taxi drivers yourself. If you have booked an arrival transfer, our airport representative will be waiting for you outside the arrival hall, located after passing out of the customs area. Look out for the signboard. It usually takes about an hour's drive to reach our destination. Lying south of Chennai and overlooking the Bay of Bengal, the ancient seaport of Mamallapuram (also called Mahabalipuram) is now a coastal retreat with a long sandy beach, flanked by volcanic rocks.
MamallapuramMamallapuram became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, due to its large number of impressive sites. The town has also been a sculpture centre since the 5th century when, at its height during the Pallava Dynasty, many of the temples in the town were constructed. We enjoy some sightseeing today in this village of 12,000 people. The highlights include a visit to the fabulous rock-cut temples, the giant frieze and the Shore Temple, carved out of rock along the Coromandel Coast and decorated with ornately carved figures. There are many man-made caves to explore and at the centre of the village are two massive rocks covered in bas-reliefs, known as Arjuna's Penance and the Krishna Mandapa. We have the afternoon at leisure to take in the seaside ambience and perhaps seek out some of the delicious seafood that this place is famous for.
Pondicherry(Driving time: approx 3 hours) We drive south down the coast from Mamallapuram to the former French settlement of Pondicherry (Puducherry). En route we visit the Auroville community, which was inspired by the founder of Sri Aurobindo Ashram - a Parisian painter named Mirra Alfassa, who was known as the ’Mother’. The centre’s charter states that to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness. With roughly 1800 residents from 38 nationalities, mainly Europeans, serving the Divine Consciousness, the centre operates as a kind of alternative community, subsisting from handicrafts and alternative technology. Pondicherry was the capital of French India and along the seafront we can still discern traces of the colonial influence in the design of some of the houses and also in the kepi-wearing policemen. An important trading post since ancient times, the town has also been colonised over the years by the Portuguese, the Danes and the British, as well as the French. It is now both a bustling Indian market town, but also takes on the appearance of being a permanently out-of-season seaside resort. Pondicherry attracts visitors who come here to study yoga or practice meditation in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. A heritage walk around town gives us a chance to witness the colonial buildings that makes this city unique. Pondicherry is also famous for its French-influenced cuisine and in the evening we can chose from one of the many great eating spots on offer.
Madurai(Driving time: approx 1 hour; train journey: approx 6 hours) We drive from Pondicherry to a nearby railway station in Velapuram where we board the Guruvayoor Express train for our day journey. The train departs at approximately 10:30 am and arrive at our next destination, Madurai, at around 4:30 pm. Madurai is full of colourful bazaars, street tailors, throngs of pilgrims and joyful religious processions. We have the evening free to wander around the lovely local markets.
MaduraiMadurai is famous for a temple dedicated to the goddess Meenakshi, one of the re-incarnations of Parvati – Shiva’s consort. The Meenakshi Temple is one of the finest and largest examples of Dravidian architecture, has an estimated 33 million sculptures and is always a hive of activity. The most fascinating features of the temple are its musical pillars, each of which is carved out of a single block of granite and each when tapped let out a musical note. Then there is the Hall of a Thousand Pillars, part of which has converted into a museum filled with sculptures and antique treasures. It is well worth returning in the evening to see the closing ceremony, in which an image of Shiva is carried in procession to Parvati’s shrine. This ceremony is accompanied by chanting priests, drummers and torch-bearers, making it an unforgettable experience. In the evening we board the train for our overnight journey to the Kerala coast.
VarkalaWe spend a couple of days in Varkala - a beautiful beach town on the Arabian Sea about an hour's drive from the capital of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum). The main beach here is Papanasham Beach, which is long and golden with a backdrop of red laterite cliffs from which mineral water springs forth. It is a chill-out place and in the mornings and evenings we can witness fishermen pulling up their nets from the sea. Our tour guide is able to take us to various beaches in the surrounding areas and advise us on various optional activities such as witnessing an evening Kathakali or Kalaripayatt show. It is also a town famous for Ayurvedic massage centres - ideal for rejuvenation!
Alleppey(Train journey: approx 2 hours and 15 minutes; boat trip: approx 1 hour) We take a late morning train to Alleppey (Alappuzha) – a journey of just over a couple of hours. After arriving we are met and transferred to the boat jetty where we catch a motorised boat to the village, where we stay for the night in a homestay as a guest of the local people. There are about four houses in this village that take in travellers, with all rooms having attached bathrooms. We get treated to typical southern Indian hospitality and enjoy delicious Kerala cuisine at dinner time with the local family. (D)
AlleppeyAlleppey is set in the midst of the beautiful backwaters of Kerala - a breathtakingly beautiful place. This large aquatic area is a vast network of lagoons, lakes, rivers and canals, and the people who live in this region have created their own distinct lifestyles. We enjoy a walk in the village where hopefully we may see the village blacksmith at work and also some coir making before hopping on a local fishing boat and cruising down the maze of canals, simultaneously absorbing different scenes - villages, paddy fields, coconut palms, fishermen and everyday local life. We witness the peacefulness of life on these amazing waterways before returning to our homestay for the night. (B, L, D)
Kochi(Boat journey: approx 1 hour; train journey: approx 1½ hours) We take the motor boat back into town and catch the train on to Kochi (Cochin). Kochi is set on a cluster of peninsulas and islands in the Indian Ocean and is a fascinating blend of cultures. From time immemorial it has been the favourite destination of globe-trotters and explorers. Blessed by one of the finest natural harbours in the world, Kochi has been eulogised as the 'Queen of the Arabian Sea'. We include a tour of the Fort Kochi peninsula where we discover the Dutch Palace, which was restored by the Dutch and presented as a gift to the King of Kochi, and St Francis Church - the oldest Christian church in India, built by Portuguese Franciscan monks in 1503. The church itself is testament to the history of historic Cochin, having been used at various stages by Roman Catholics, Dutch Protestants and Anglicans. We also visit the famous Mattancherry Jewish Synagogue, originally built of wood in 1568. The area surrounding the synagogue is full of spice shops selling cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and a host of other spices. We also take a look at the unique Chinese fishing nets, which are set up close to our hotel. In the evening we can watch a performance of Kathakali dancing (optional). (B)
KochiYOur trip ends today around breakfast time. If you wish to stay on in Kochi, please pre-book your post-tour accommodation before you commence your travels.
Itinerary VariationWhile the information presented here details our planned itinerary, including routes taken, activities included, accommodation and meeting times, please accept that unforseen changes may occur. We are constantly on the lookout to improve our program and further enhance your experience. Naturally, we will keep you up to date with any last minute amendments to your tour.
About The Imaginative Traveller
Our aim has always been to provide exceptional travel experiences. We believe that adventure travel should be stimulating, and that it should give you an authentic experience of a place. We want our travellers to relish the amazing diversity of countries and cultures the world has to offer. Our focus is on innovation, not imitation.
Obsessed with quality
One of our strengths has been our obsession with quality. We've always believed that our commitment to you doesn't end as soon as you've paid for your holiday. On the contrary, it is just beginning. Whilst most operators simply get a local company to handle the day to day operation of their tours, we do it all ourselves. We have managers for each of our key destinations around the world and all our small groups are escorted by our own leaders. Our local teams include guides, drivers, administration staff and contacts in the local community who help us ensure that our adventures are active and involving.
For comparability, all prices in this dossier are quoted in one currency. We use the US Dollar since that is familiar to most. However, once on tour you will need to pay for all goods and services in the local currency. See your Country Dossier for details of exchange rates.
Whether you’re taking in man’s greatest works at places like Petra or Angkor Wat, experiencing grand set-pieces like the Trans-Mongolian Railway or trying your hand at regional specialities like tango in Buenos Aires, getting to grips with local cultures is what travel’s all about. A few tips from a guide and a sense of adventure are pretty much all you need. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get the lowdown on high Tibet among Lhasa’s magisterial temples; follow up Delhi’s eye-popping bustle with a fix of its fiery food; and mix manic markets and Incan masterpieces in Peru.
No particular level of fitness is required for this holiday. You need only to be in good health.
Experienced regional tour guide and all transportation and accommodation as indicated in detailed Trip Notes. The following sightseeing trips are included: Madurai - Meenakshi temple including entrance, transport and local site guide fees; Kochi - tour of Fort Cochin including entrance, transport and local site guide fees.
International flights, arrival and departure transfers, airport/departure taxes, visas, pre or post tour accommodation, all other meals, optional tours sightseeing or activities during free time, transfers outside of the tour program, travel insurance, tips and items of a personal nature, laundry and flights unless specified. Some places that we visit charge additional fees if you are entering with a camera or camcorder - your city guide will advise on these and they can be paid for locally.
2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 2 dinners
1 night Overnight train,8 nights Hotels/guesthouses,2 nights Village homestay
Single room supplementMost of our travellers like the thought of travelling with a few like-minded souls. There are NO compulsory single supplements on most tours as we simply arrange twin shared accommodation for you and another tour member of the same sex. But don't worry if that doesn't appeal. We do understand there are times when you just want a bit of privacy and 'me' time so we are more than happy to arrange a private room upon request when you book.
Boat,Bus,Local bus,Overnight train,Taxi,Train
*prices below are guide onlyKochi - Ferry Tour of Fort Cochin Islands
- - R100
Responsible Travel - Travellers' Guidelines
At Imaginative Traveller we love helping our clients experience the beauty and cultures of the destinations we visit. However, hand in hand with this we have always been aware that we have a responsibility to minimise any negative impacts that tourism can bring.
Responsible Travel is twofold. It’s about taking people to the places they want to go in a safe and responsible manner but also about respecting and maintaining the natural and often delicate balance of the destination. Economic gain from tourism is often fundamental to a country, but should never be at the expense of its culture or the environment.
- It is our aim to provide journeys that have minimal negative and maximum positive impact on the places we visit.
- We do not believe that, as visitors, we should impose our own cultures on others; rather that we should experience foreign cultures and appreciate them for what they are.
- Whilst it is our aim to show destinations and cultures in a positive light, we do not believe in papering over the cracks or shielding visitors from the realities of life. This does not mean, however, that we condone or endorse certain situations or regimes that may be in place.
Our guidelines are meant not as rigid instructions but rather as suggestions to make our holidays more enjoyable – for everybody. As cultural and environmental sensitivities vary from country to country more specific guidelines can be found in our individual country and trip dossiers.
Before you depart try to spend some time familiarising yourself with the destination you will be travelling to – their culture and customs. The country dossiers on our website offer detailed information about all the regions we visit. They also include some useful phrases in the local language for you to use on your trip! A few words of the local language can open up many more opportunities for you to interact with the people you will meet.
Although it is tempting to give out pens, sweets and money to people begging, and particularly tempting to give to children, we feel that this encourages a begging mentality and has a long-term negative impact on communities. If someone begging earns more than someone in the same community who works this can discourage local employment. If children regularly bring home money it may discourage their parents from sending them to school. It is of course your own personal choice but you could consider giving to registered charities or contributing to our Responsible Travel fund instead. Money donated through our fund to our worldwide projects is matched pound for pound by Imaginative Traveller and used to help local grassroots projects.
Always ask permission to photograph local people and respect their decision if they would prefer not to have their picture taken.
Respect local dress codes, especially at religious sites. Our tour leaders are always on hand to give you advice about this.
In many of the countries we visit you might see examples of animal cruelty (for example dancing bears, performing monkeys and snake charmers). Please do not take photographs of this or offer money as it encourages the activity.
Respect the environment you are in. It sounds obvious but do not throw litter, take it with you or use rubbish bins! You may see locals throwing rubbish on the street but do not follow their example!
When shopping in countries where haggling is the norm – enjoy it and only pay what you feel is a fair price for the goods you are purchasing. However, remember that the shopkeeper does have to make a living so do stop once you have reached a price you are happy with. Bargaining should be fun but always remember that a small amount can mean much more to the vendor than to you.
Endeavor to take home souvenirs made locally; the money you spend can be very important to the local communities. However, do use your common sense and don’t buy anything that you think might be made out of endangered animals or plants.
To help keep as much money as possible in the host country - try to eat in locally owned restaurants and order local drinks and produce rather than international brands.
In hotels do be conscious of how much water you are using. Many of the areas we visit regularly have shortages; try not to have hour long showers! Don’t leave lights, air conditioners or fans on when you leave the room – you wouldn’t at home!
Respect the environment you are in, especially when in national parks or reserves. Pay attention to rules about keeping on paths, keeping a distance from animals and not removing any of the natural habitat.
Relax and immerse yourself in the differences of the culture you are in – you’ll be back home in the familiar soon enough (and wishing you were still on holiday!). These cultural differences are part of what makes your experience special.
If you would like to offset the carbon dioxide that will be produced on your flights you can do this on our website (on our Responsible travel page). We work with climatecare, who will reduce the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide that you produce in another part of the World through their emission reduction projects. These projects are low carbon efficient technologies in developing countries and not only serve to reduce emissions but also help to spread the adoption of low carbon technologies and improve the quality of life for local communities. Details of climatecare’s projects can be found on their website.
If you would like to contribute to our Worldwide projects, helping communities all over the World, you can also do this on our website or with a sales consultant. Please refer to our responsible travel page on the website for details of our current projects. Any donation you make will be matched £ for £ by Imaginative Traveller (up to a maximum of £1000).
Have a great trip!
Please do let us know if you have any comments about responsible travel at firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Imaginative Traveller & Gecko's Adventures This trip is operated by our partner company, Gecko's Adventures. Gecko's is an Australia based company with more than 10 years experience in adventure travel and they share our ethos for offering unique holiday adventures. As this is a code shared departure you can expect there to be both Imaginative Traveller and Gecko's travellers on your trip.
Last updated: 01/04/2012