ARRIVE CHENNAI, INDIA
Arrive in Chennai (formerly Madras) and transfer to your hotel.
Discover colonial Madras through the buildings left behind by the British. Then, zigzag your way through the bustling bylanes of vibrant Georgetown as your guide points out the fresh produce, local everyday commodities and colorful market stalls, pausing along the way to taste handpicked street food treats. Finish the day at Marina Beach at sunset before a welcome dinner held tonight in the hotel’s award-winning Southern Spice restaurant.
Travel south to the ancient Pallava capital of Mahabalipuram, site of the UNESCO-listed cave temples, bas-relief sculptures, pillared halls carved out of the rocky hillside and the delightful shore temple. After a lunch of southern Indian delicacies, head to Puducherry and your hotel in the French Quarter.
Explore “Pondy” on foot starting in the French Quarter, admiring the wide shady streets, colonial architecture and soft pastel colors. Pause at Sri Aurobindo Ashram, which influences much of the city. Founded by the Indian philosopher, yogi, guru, poet and nationalist Sri Aurobindo in 1926, it is home today to 1,200 devotees from around the world. The main building houses the mortal remains of Aurobindo and his spiritual collaborator, “the Mother,” in a marble mausoleum. The nearby New Age community of Auroville, founded in 1968, also attracts devotees of Aurobindo from over 45 nations. If you wish, wander through the site and visit Mohanam Cultural Centre, which preserves the rich cultural heritage of South India. During your stay, you are invited for dinner into the stylish home of dancer-turned-designer Vasanty Manet with local entertainment.
Drive farther south to Thanjavur (formerly Tanjore), the ancient Chola capital, stopping on the way in Chidambaram to visit the vibrant Nataraja Temple, famed for its bronze dancing Shiva. Observe the daily Brahmin rituals at shrines throughout the 40-acre complex.
Spend some time today admiring the 11th-century Brihadisvara Temple, one of India’s most spectacular. Seek out its elaborate stucco sculptures, shrines and statues, along with the exquisite Chola frescos. Later, stroll through the 14th-century Tanjore Palace — built for Maratha royalty — and meet artisans who craft the melodious veena, a musical instrument carved from a single piece of jackwood. Watch master painters at work perfecting the classical Thanjavur style, and bronze sculptors whose techniques have changed little since the Chola period.
Journey on to the Chettinad region, home to a prosperous banking and business community and remarkable cuisine, among Tamil Nadu’s most famous. Take a bull cart to lunch, where you’ll savor the subtle and aromatic local flavors, followed by a visit to a tile factory and a weaving center to admire soft cotton sarees before continuing to Madurai.
Step out into vibrant Madurai, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Famous for temples built in the Dravidian style, Madurai is also home to a maze of markets and museums. This afternoon, choose between two Design Your Day® activities.
Visit a potters’ village, and discover mystifying stories from the potters who breathe life into mud structures.
Head out on a food trail, experiencing Madurai’s lively food scene and some of its recorded history spanning two millennia.
This evening, travel like a local by tuk-tuk to an aarti (Hindu prayer ceremony) at the 12th-century Meenakshi Temple, a dazzling, multitiered wonder, heaving with carved mythical figures and devout pilgrims.
Your journey continues into Kerala and the lush Western Ghats, where your old-world plantation retreat is located. Stroll around the estate with an expert naturalist, who identifies the local flora and fauna.
Discover a world of tea today as you witness every step, from leaf plucking and processing to packaging and pouring. Visit the tea gardens, see the plantation workers and their villages, taste the various grades at the Lockhart Tea Factory established in 1879, and enjoy the opportunity to make your own brew. Afterward, enjoy some lively conversation with the planter’s family over high tea in the hotel.
Drive through scenic forest into the countryside, where rubber trees grow and spices are cultivated. Visit local farms and meet the friendly villagers, and stop by a community school and a forest temple for a glimpse into hill station life. After lunch, continue the drive to Kochi (formerly Cochin). This evening, motor around the harbor and soak up the sunset.
Spend the morning exploring this charming port town on the Malabar Coast, where you discover an intriguing mix of cultural influences. Visit one of the oldest Jewish synagogues in India, decorated with blue ceramic Chinese tiles and surrounded by an aromatic spice market and the boutiques of Jew Town. See the story of the Ramayana depicted in the wonderful murals at charming Mattancherry Palace (Dutch Palace) and visit St. Francis Church, both of which were erected by the Portuguese in the 16th century. On the harbor shore, see the cantilevered fishing nets brought from southern China by traders — a testament to the centuries-old link between these regions. Enjoy the afternoon at leisure before absorbing Kerala’s Hindu culture at a Kathakali performance, one of the oldest dance forms in the area. See the elaborate makeup process before the show, and then, watch this unforgettable art form combining classical dance, theater, opera and pantomime.
Today, personalize your travel experience with a selection of Design Your Day® adventures.
Meet a local cook and food consultant, Nimmy, who shares her Syrian-Christian heritage through home-cooked food.
Tour the city with a local expert, who shares the heritage and history of the Malabar Coast through its temples, mosques, palaces and museums.
A day in the backwaters. Cycle to a market to taste local fruits and delicacies, cruise leisurely down palm-lined canals, lunch on typical Keralan fare with a local family and witness the impressive craftsmanship of local boat builders.
Return to Kerala in time for a farewell seafood dinner.
Transfer to the airport for your departure flight.