Assistance upon arrival & transfer to hotel. Madras, now called Chennai, the first city of Tamil Nadu and the Gateway to the South of India, is 350 years old. This fourth largest city in India grew from the fort that Francis Day and Andrew Cogan of East India Company built on a narrow spit of no-man's land, which was obtained as a grant from the local governors of the region in early 17th century. The 5-square kilometer sand strip Francis Day was granted has now grown into a city of about 170 sq Kms with a population of about 6 million. Chennai was the first British major settlement in India, and it was here that many who went on to build the empire first learned their trade. Hence the city is replete with much that is of significance in British Indian history. The older settlements of this area have stories to tell too, and the city is an amalgam of ancient and more modern history. The particularly charming features of Chennai are its allegiance to ancient traditions, no matter how modernized it has become and its willingness to spread out further. It is a city that adheres to the leisurely tempo of the life of a world of yesterday; a city whose values of the other day still survive amidst the humdrum bustle of today; a city that still retains the charm, culture, hospitality and courtesies of the ages.
After leisure breakfast at the hotel, proceed for the city tour of Chennai visiting the Cathedral of San Thome, Fort George, St. Mary's Church, Chennai Museum and Kapaleeswara Temple. The Cathedral of San Thome is the last resting places of St. Thomas the Apostle who brought Christianity to India in 52 AD. Fort George is where most of Chennai's history was written. These are focal points of our visit. St. Mary's Church within the fort was built in 1678 - 80, and Robert Clive was married in this church in 1753. Elihu Yale who in his later years founded the famous Yale University in the U. S., was one of the early governors of Madras as it was then known. Today the fort houses the Secretariat and the Legislative Assembly. Chennai Museum is famous for its splendid collection of Chola bronzes. Kapaleeswarar Temple, built over many centuries, has an intricately carved gopuram (gateway). This ancient Shiva Temple is a delightful introduction to Dravidian temple sculpture and architecture. The magnificent 37-m tall gopuram is profusely carved. The crowded cosmogony of stucco gods, goddesses and saints depict important mythical legends that abound Hinduism.
After breakfast at the hotel, transfer to Mahabalipuram by car (75 kms / 3-4 hrs drive including en-route visit Kanchipuram). Kanchipuram, literally meaning the 'City of Gold' or the 'Golden City' and is one of the seven sacred cities in India. An erstwhile capital of the Pallavas and Cholas - 7th to 10th Century AD, Kanchipuram is dotted with soaring spires of literally a hundred or more temples. It has been a seat of learning and a centre of culture since early times. Kanchipuram is also the home of the South Indian silk. We will have the opportunity to see the looms in the homes of weavers. Weaving is a cottage industry here. Visit the Kailasanthar Temple which was built in the 8th century AD by the Pallavas. It is an excellent example of early Dravidian architecture. Ekambareswarar Temple is dedicated to Shiva, where Shiva is worshipped in the form of "Prithvi" (earth). Visit the thousand-pillared hall of Varadarajaswami Temple, well known for its intricate carving in granite.
After leisure breakfast at the hotel, visit the glorious Shore Temple, one of the oldest in South India, which stands on the seashore with its paved forecourts. See the great bas-relief of Arjuna's penance, the five Rathas, the Mahishasura Mardhini, Krishna and the Varaha Mandapas (Caves).
After leisure breakfast at the hotel, transfer to Pondicherry by car (120 kms / 3 ½ hrs drive). Arrive in Pondicherry & check-in at the hotel. Pondicherry upholds the French tradition to this day. The town raised phoenix - like after the British literally razed it to the ground in the 18th century. It is home to the much acclaimed philosopher Sri Aurobindo Gosh, a onetime Bengal revolutionary who later took to spiritual path and the founder of the Aurobindo Ashram. Pondicherry is known for its French architecture and cuisine.
After breakfast at the hotel, transfer to Thanjavur by car (170 kms / 4-5 hrs drive including en-route visit Chidambaram). Chidambaram was the capital of the Cholas from 907 to 1310 AD. The name is derived from Chit Ambaram which literally means 'wisdom and intelligence infused into the atmosphere'. Lord Nataraja, an aspect of the Divine, is said to have emerged from the sacred space as the Cosmic Dancer and performed His Cosmic Dance before two of his devotees. It is a special temple with an unusual vimana over the Sanctum Sanctorum, which holds the Divine as 'Space' without any form. The 108 Karanas (poses) of the Classical Dance form of South India are depicted in sculpture on the walls of the temple and are excellent.
After breakfast at the hotel, proceed for the city tour of Thanjavur visiting the magnificent Brihadeeswara Temple completed in 1010 AD by Raja Chola. This temple is a living testimony to the sculptural and architectural excellence of the Cholas. It is to be seen to be admired and believed. Visit Thanjavur Palace, partly built by the Nayaks in 1550 AD and partly by the Marathas. Also visit Saraswathi Mahal Library which has an extensive collection of over 30,000 manuscripts, palm leaf inscriptions and books.
After breakfast at the hotel, proceed for the city tour of Madurai visiting the Tirumal Nayak Palace constructed in the Indo-Saracenic style in 1639 AD. The curved dome, standing without the support of a girder or rafter, is an architectural feat. Pass by the Mariamman Teppakulam - the tank with a mandapam in the center. Also visit Shree Meenakshi temple.
After early breakfast at the hotel, transfer to Thekkady by car (140 kms / 3-4 hrs drive). Upon arrival, check-in at the hotel.Periyar Tiger Reserve, 777 sq kms in area, is set in a rich, mixed deciduous forest, interspersed with open areas of tall grass. Periyar has a splendid artificial lake dotted with snags of dead wood, which provides a perch for water birds: darter, grey heron, egret and kingfisher. It is one of the finest habitats for the Asiatic elephant. These enormous mammals swim in the waters and streams and usually can be observed during an exciting boat ride. You may view a tiger, leopard, sambar, wild dog, barking deer, the unique Nilgiri langur-the lion tailed macaque and a variety of birds.
Afternoon: Visit Periyar National Park by boat to see the wildlife in their natural habitat.
Early morning: Visit Periyar National Park by boat to see the wildlife in their natural habitat.
Return to hotel for breakfast
After breakfast, drive to Kumarakom (120 kms / 3 hrs). Upon arrival, check-in at the hotel. Located on the edge of Vembanad Lake and along the backwater cruising route, lies Kumarakom, a typical Kerala village. The traditional tharawad (matriarchal family home), style of housing has been adapted in this resort. A gentle trip along the numerous inter-connected canals on a traditional rice boat is a must. Enroute, one may stop and come ashore to see village residents working on coir or fish processing, or to exchange views over a cup of coffee at the little shops that dot the canals. Ideally, one may come ashore from the boat and walk around the village waterside where the local residents will happily interrupt work to explain their daily life.
After a leisure breakfast at the hotel, embark on your private houseboat at about 1200 hrs and sail through Vembanad Lake to Alleppey. To experience this world of simple pleasures, you'll skim past ancient Chinese fishing nets, water lilies, lush paddy fields, coir villages, rustic homes, temples, churches and coconut groves.
Your houseboat will have a captain besides a cook and few attendants. You will be served delicious lunch & dinner during your stay on the houseboat. Lunch & evening tea / coffee with cookies will be served on the houseboat.
After leisure breakfast at the hotel, disembark upon arrival at Alleppey boat jetty, where your car will be waiting for you to transfer to you Cochin (60 kms / 1 ½ hrs drive). Upon arrival in Cochin , check-in at the hotel. Cochin (Kochi) was born in a storm, nurtured in rivalry, and established as the Crossroads of the Battling Empires of Europe: Portuguese, Dutch and British. In the 1340's torrential rains filled the Periyar River, which broke through to the Arabian Sea and formed Kochi's protected harbour. Trading ships soon sailed in: and out. The much-photographed Chinese fishing nets at the harbour-mouth, best seen at sunset, testify to Cochin's pre-European association with China. In 1502, Portuguese Seafarer Vasco da Gama came to Kochi seeking spices. He found his spices, launched Europe's great Age of Exploration, and prayed in the first European church in Asia and converted many of the locals to Christianity. Unlike the Portuguese, Kochi's kings were very tolerant of other faiths. European Jews, fleeing persecution at home, settled in Jew Town near the Mattancherry Palace of the Hindu king and prosper.