Day - 1
Location: Chennai - Welcome to Chennai, India! Formerly Madras, this frenetic city is South India’s largest, and the perfect place to dive straight into the culture, religion and cuisine of the region. On arrival at the airport, you will be transferred to your hotel. Your adventure begins with an important group meeting at 6 pm, where you’ll meet your local leader and the fellow travellers joining you on your journey. If you arrive in Chennai with time to spare, perhaps take a walk along Marina Beach, check out the Santhome Cathedral or get your hands on a cup of the city’s famous filter coffee.
Day - 2
Location: Mamallapuram – Puducherry - From Chennai, drive along the scenic East Coast Road to the fishing village of Mamallapuram. Join a local guide for a tour around the town’s laidback beaches and temples, keeping an eye out for the sculptures and carvings dotted around the place. Visit the incredible 8th-century Shore Temple and its mandapams (carved pillars) to pay your respects to the deity Shiva. Continue onto Puducherry (Pondicherry) in the late afternoon and enjoy dinner at a restaurant in the White Town area of the city. Known for its French colonial-era villas and leafy streets, a post-dinner stroll along the beachfront promenade is a lovely way to end your day.
Day - 3
Location: Puducherry - Explore Puducherry, which was under French rule until 1954, and the European style of the town extends from beautiful colonial architecture right down to the uniforms of the police. Enjoy a walking tour to see local temples, the French Quarter, and the spiritual community of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The rest of the day and evening is free. Puducherry’s food scene is truly unique, as Indian classics have a distinctly French spin on them – be sure to ask your leader for tips on the best places to grab dinner this evening.
Day - 4
Location: Karaikudi - Drive to Karaikudi today. On arrival, check into your heritage property accommodation, an elegantly decorated mansion built in 1902. After settling in, take a walk around the village with your leader to learn about the lives of the local communities. Along the way, you’ll stop off to admire havelis – these old mansions were ornately decorated as a display of wealth, and many remain around this region today.
Day - 5
Location: Madurai - Continue on to Madurai. Here you will wander through the colourful markets and bazaars, then visit the Sri Meenakshi Temple in the city’s centre. Still in use today, this ancient temple is a maze of lamp-lit corridors leading to shrines where traditional rituals take place, including the remarkable thousand pillar hall. You might also like to explore the National Gandhi Museum (optional), dedicated to the life and achievements of the 'Father of the Nation' and the leader of India's fight for independence. Your evening is then free to spend as you please.
Day - 6
Location: Madurai - The day is yours for your own explorations of one of India’s oldest cities. Madurai has a wealth of treasures to uncover, from buzzing bazaars and tailors’ markets to roadside stalls selling cold glasses of jigarthanda and savoury idli rice cakes. Perhaps visit the Art Museum to see a superb collection of carvings, or check out the Tirumalai Nayak Palace. Be sure to ask your leader where to find local favourites like crispy dosa, fluffy idiyappam and sweet halwa.
Day - 7
Location: Periyar - Drive through rubber and pineapple plantations to Thekkady. Your accommodation here is on the outskirts of Periyar National Park, perched lakeside in the ranges of the Western Ghats. The sanctuary surrounds a picturesque lake, which was formed as a result of a dam that was built in 1895. It ambles through the contours of the wooded hills and is a permanent source of water for local wildlife. This afternoon, take a tour of a local spice plantation. Here you’ll gain insight on the plant life, spices, herbs, fruits and flowers of the region, and how they are used in Ayurvedic medicine. Find out how the spices are grown, harvested, dried and prepared. Later in the day, you may like to attend a demonstration of Indian martial arts (kalaripayattu) at the Kadathanadan Kalari Centre.
Day - 8
Location: Periyar - In the morning, take a guided nature walk in the acclaimed Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary (approximately 3 hours). If you’re lucky, you could spot tiger tracks, spotted deer, Indian elephants and gaur – the world's largest species of buffalo. You may also have the chance to see Bonnet macaques and the Malabar giant squirrel, a species native to India. In the afternoon, unwind with an optional ayurvedic massage or just relax in this scenic setting. Be welcomed into a local home this evening, for a dinner cooked with fragrant local produce by a palate that is finely tuned to the pepper, cloves and cinnamon that are prevalent in many Keralan dishes. Sure to be a highlight of your trip, don't forget to ask for tips on how to recreate these delicious dishes in your own home.
Day - 9
Location: Kochi - In the morning, drive to Kochi, aka Cochin. Today is a long driving day, but your journey will be broken up with plenty of stops, and the fantastic scenery is sure to keep your occupied. Kochi is a veritable melting pot of Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and British influences. On arrival, you may like to stretch your legs and wander along the beach at sunset.
Day - 10
Location: Kochi - Visit the Dutch Palace (Mattancherry Palace), which was built in the 16th century by the Portuguese before the Dutch renovated it. Then check out the oldest functioning Jewish synagogue in India, the Paradesi Synagogue. For lunch today, you’ll meet a local expert and learn all about Satvik Bhojan, the ayurvedic diet. Take part in a cooking demonstration using the methods and recipes discussed, then enjoy the dishes for lunch. In the evening witness a classic Kathakali performance, a dramatic dance that combines storytelling with physical technique.
Day - 11
Location: Kerala Backwaters - Drive from Kochi to Kumarkom to your resort along the riverside. This sleepy village is quintessential Kerala backwaters, with its shady palm trees, winding waterways and traditional houseboats. On arrival, get out on the water and take a short cruise around the backwaters. Sail under palm trees and weave in between the rice fields while you see local residents going about their daily lives in this unique and tranquil environment. Dinner tonight is at a women-run restaurant, serving up fish curries, dal and idli. This venue is a favourite for its excellent local flavours and for the training and employment opportunities it provides to local women.
Day - 12
Location: Kovalam - In the morning, drive to Kovalam via Kerala’s capital, Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram). Kovalam was once a quiet coastal village known for its export of fresh fish and coconuts, but is now one of India’s more popular beach resorts. Visit the ancient temple of Attukal Bhagavathy in the afternoon. If you have free time, explore the old signaling station of Anchuthengu Fort or the 16th-century Koyikkal Palace. Head out with the group for a farewell meal together tonight – the local cuisine is known for its use of coconuts, curry leaves and fresh seafood, so dig in while you have the chance.
Day - 13
Location: Kovalam - Your trip comes to an end after breakfast and you’re free to leave the accommodation at any time.