Best ofSouth India

Duration :18 Nights/ 19 Days

Destination Bombay, Bangalore, Belur, Halebid, Hassan, Sravanabelagola Mysore, Somnathpur Mysore, Nagarhole, Ooty, Cochin, Periyar, Madurai, Trichy, Pondicherry, Mahabalipuram, Madras

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Itinerary Details

Day 1 Arrive in BOMBAY

Arrive Bombay. You are met outside the International Arrivals Hall and transferred to the hotel where rooms have been booked for immediate occupancy.

In the afternoon, take a tour of this metropolis. From humble obscure beginnings as a set of seven small islands, Bombay (now called Mumbai) has today risen to the eminence of India's most important commercial and industrial centre. The Gateway of India was conceived as a triumphal arch to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary for the Delhi Durbar in 1911. The honey coloured basalt of the arch, facing the Arabian Sea, catches the light of the rising and setting sun and changes from shades of gold to orange and pink. The Prince of Wales Museum, built of blue-grey basalt and yellow sandstone, contains some excellent examples of Indian miniature paintings of the Mughal and Rajasthan Schools, as well as collections of jade and chinaware artifacts. Flora Fountain, now called Hutatma Chowk (Martyr's Square) is a major landmark in the heart of the city's Fort area. Marine Drive is a long gracefully curving road along the buttressed sea-coast. The wide sidewalk is ideal for the early morning jogger, evening walker or late-night stroller. The city has several fine examples of colonial architecture including the Afghan Memorial Church, established in 1847 which has Gothic arches and stained- glass windows; the Clock Tower - now called Rajabai Tower, the University Hall and Elphiston College with canopied balconies, the School of Art, built in the late 1800s, where Rudyard Kipling was born; Crawford Market which has bas-reliefs designed by Kipling's father; the massive Victoria Terminus, built of yellow sandstone and granite combined with polychromatic stones and blue-grey basalt and the Municipal Corporation building. The Hanging Gardens on Malabar Hill, offer a magnificent panoramic view of the metropolis and the Arabian Sea. Overnight at the hotel.


In the morning take a boat trip to Elephanta island which lies 10 km across Bombay harbour and contains a fine cluster of 6th to 8th century rock-cut caves, carved during the Golden Age of the Guptas and inspired by the worship of Lord Shiva. The most outstanding of the beautiful sculptures is the Maheshmurthy or Trimurthi, a 5 meter high three-headed bust hewn from a single rock, representing the three aspects of Shiva - the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer.

Later in the day, transfer to the airport for the flight to Bangalore. You are met on arrival and transferred to the hotel for overnight stay.


In the morning explore Bangalore, the capital of the state of Karnataka, which offers the graceful charms of a well laid out garden city with parks and beautiful buildings. Its lack of ancient monuments is compensated for by first rate modern city planning. The 'Garden City' has several fine parks; Lal Bagh, the botanical gardens laid out by Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan in the 18th century, is the loveliest spot in Bangalore. Extending in terraces for over 240 acres, the garden has centuries-old trees, lakes, lotus pools, rose gardens, a deer park and an assortment of tropical and subtropical herbs and plants. The pretty glass house in the centre is the venue of the bi-annual Horticultural Exhibition. Cubbon Park is an extensive stretch of green sprawling over an area of 300 acres. The imposing red gothic structure within the park is now the public library. Vidhan Soudha is an imposing granite structure built in the neo-Dravidian style and houses the Secretariat and the State Legislature. Its cabinet room has a massive door made from pure sandalwood. The Bull Temple is built in Dravidian style and has a monolithic figure of Nandi, the bull, 15 feet high and 20 feet long. History records that it was built by Kempegowda, the founder of the city. The Museum, located on Kasturba Gandhi Marg, is one of the oldest in India, established in 1886. It houses a varied collection of items relating to archeology, geology, art and numismatics, some items dating back to the time of Tipu Sultan. Overnight at the hotel.


After breakfast depart for Belur. Situated 222 km (5 hours drive) from Bangalore, this was a flourishing city under the Hoysala kings some 800 yeas ago. The Belur temple is star-shaped and embellished with gods and goddesses in all their varied aspects and incarnations, as well as scenes from the great Indian epics. The realities of life are also depicted beautifully in the forms of hunters, dancers, musicians and women at their daily toilette. A series of semi-detached pillars and ornamented porches lend variety to the facade; the artistic combination of horizontal and vertical light and shade and the play of silhouettes far surpasses anything in Gothic art.

Helibid is situated some 16 km from Belur. The main temple, also built in a star-shaped plan is a magnificent example of Hoysala architecture with a breathtaking collection of friezes - first a row of elephants representing stability, then one of lordly lions and above, scrolls of swift horses. There are scenes from the religious epics representing not only philosophical ideas but also the living conditions of the time. The largest frieze is the most exuberant and based on a heavenly theme - celestial maidens, bedecked in jewels, are seen sitting or standing under pierced canopies in graceful postures. The original name of Halebid, the ancient capital of the Hoysalas, was Dwarasamudram, "gateway to the sea". After its sack by the Delhi Sultanate, it came to be known as Halebid, "old Capital". There were many temples and palaces here but few survived the invasion. The magnificent Hoysaleswara temple is very similar to the temple at Belur, though different in detail work. It is set on the same star-shaped platform ascended by a short flight of steps. The palace once stood nearby, connected to the temple by a passage. A Nandi bull, the mount of Lord Shiva, stands guard at the entrance. This temple is about 800 years old, although not wholly in ruins. Only one bracket figure remains, though the relief carvings on the walls are as profuse and complex as at Belur. Among the carvings are scenes of many historical battles, of the child Krishna's frolics, Shiva and Parvati's embrace and Ravana hoisting Mount Kailash. Continue on to Hassan to stay overnight at the rather basic Hotel Hassan Ashok.


After breakfast continue the 155 km (4 hour) journey to Mysore. En route visit Sravanabelagola, said to be the world's tallest monolithic statue. Sravanabelagola is wedged between two rocky hills called Indragiri or Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri. The translation of Sravanabelagola is "the white pond of the ascetic". This most probably refers to a pond that once existed where the present temple tank now is, at the base of the Indragiri hill. The ascetic is Bhagwan Bahubali, also known as Tirthankar Sant Gomateshwara, whose huge statue dominates this little village. This is the holiest of all Jain places of pilgrimage.

Continue on to Mysore the capital of the erstwhile princely state of that name, is famous for its silk and sandalwood, as well as its numerous palaces, well laid out boulevards and beautiful parks. Visit the Maharaja's Palace, the most impressive of Mysore's ochre-coloured buildings - a modern edifice built in 1897, where the oriental decorative imagination runs wild. One of the largest palaces in India, it is a sort of gigantic synthesis of Hindu and Muslim styles. Entrance gateways, domes, arches, turrets, colonnades, sculptures can be seen here in magnificent profusion. The royal family's private chambers, including the impressive Durbar Hall, are open to the public. The Marriage Hall has life-like paintings of the Dassera procession and in the museum is the ruler's golden elephant throne, used during these festivities. St. Phelomena's Church is a magnificent cathedral, the largest in South India. Chamundi Hill lies 10 km from Mysore and is named after Chanduswari, the consort of Lord Shiva and the patron goddess of the royal family of Mysore. On the way up is a colossal figure of Nandi, carved out of a single rock in 1659. The view from the top of the hill is superb. Overnight at the hotel.


Depart on the one-hour drive to Somnathpur, the site of the Prasanna Chennakasava temple, with the star-shaped base characteristic of Hoysala temple architecture. Built in 1268 AD, the temple is situated in a somnolent village about 35 km from Mysore. The exterior walls are frescoed with narrative passages from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bagavatha, laid out so exactly, that each segment ends at a door. Vividly detailed, no two frescoes are alike

Continue on to Srirangapatnam, the capital of Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan till 1799, when the British captured it. It was here that the Tiger of Mysore, as Tipu was called, fought and died. Outside the ruins of the old fort is Daria Daulat (Splendour of the sea), Tipu's summer palace, set in an exquisite garden. The palace has been converted into a museum and houses some of Tipu Sultan's belongings. The tomb of Tipu Sultan and his parents marks the end of the glorious history of this town. Return to Mysore for overnight stay at the hotel.


After breakfast depart on the 80-km (2-hour) drive to Nagarhole National Park, established in 1955 and extended to its present size of 573 sq. km in 1975. The Kabini river has been dammed to form a large and attractive reservoir which separates the park from the Bandipur National Park to the southeast. Overnight at Kabini River Lodge.


Early morning and late afternoon game viewing in the park. Large herds of gaur (the largest of wild oxen), elephants, sambar, cheetal (spotted deer) are among the game found. Leopard and tiger are also occasionally sighted. The park has over 250 species of birds recorded. Game viewing is by jeep or coracle - excellent for birdwatching as well as viewing animals on the banks of the river. There are also several watchtowers where one can spend long interesting hours viewing elephants and other game. Overnight at Kabini River Lodge.


After breakfast depart on the 3-hour drive to Ootacamund. Popularly known as Ooty is the leading hill station in South India. Situated in the heart of the beautiful Nilgiris (Blue mountains) at an altitude of 2,286 meters, Ooty offers salubrious air, rolling parkland, gorse-covered downs and trout- filled streams. The hillsides are swathed in eucalyptus and blue gum trees. The Botanical Gardens, which are a landmark in Ooty, have many rare trees and flowering plants. There is a beautiful lake with boating facilities. Ooty is also known for its tea and coffee plantations and there are hundreds of tea estates in and around this hill resort. Overnight at the hotel.


Today you travel 200 km (5 hour drive) to Cochin. Overnight at the hotel.


Spend the day exploring the “Venice of the East”. Comprising of a cluster of islands and towns, it is a living museum. Fort Cochin is believed to be the oldest European settlement in India, with the Portuguese flag first hoisted here in 1500. St. Francis Church, built in 1510 by friars brought to India by Vasco da Gama, is the first European church built in India and is the site where da Gama was buried. While the remains were later taken back to Lisbon, the gravestone can still be seen here. The Jewish Synagogue was built in 1568 and considerably embellished in the mid 18th century by Ezekiel Rahabi, who built a clock tower and paved the floor of the synagogue with hand- painted tiles brought all the way from Canton in China. The "Dutch Palace" was built in the 1550s by the Portuguese and taken over by the Dutch, who later presented it to the Rajas of Cochin. The palace contains excellent mythological murals and a rare example of traditional Keralite flooring - a subtle mix of burnt coconut shells, lime, plant juices and eggwhites - which gives the effect of polished marble. Overnight at the hotel.


Take a boat trip to Alleppey, known as the "Venice of the East", situated on the Vembabad Lake, the longest lake in India. A maze of canals and a network of bridges give this busy commercial town its descriptive sobriquet. Alleppey is known for its coir, the netted fibre of the coconut husk and for black pepper. Coir yarn, mats and matting and a wealth of other products are manufactured here.

Some 25 km away as the crow flies, lies the prosperous town of Kottayam, an important trading centre and the first town in India to attain 100% literacy. Nestled in the foothills of the Western Ghats, it has beautiful backwaters to its west and scenic fertile mountains to its east. A major centre of the trade, Kottayam also has a strong spiritual side to it, with several sects and divisions of the Syrian Christian faith due to the influence of history over the centuries. The best known churches are the historic Valia Palli and Cheria Palli, both with colourful frescoes enriching their dim interiors.

Continue on to the Periyar Tiger Reserve and National Park. Established in 1934 as the Nelliampatty Sanctuary, the park was enlarged in 1950 and is India's southernmost tiger reserve. The lake covers some 10 sq. km and most of the sanctuary is undulating. Overnight at a jungle lodge.


Spend the day exploring the park. Since boat travel is the only means of transport in the park, large areas can be covered in a short time. Among the game found here are gaur (the largest of the world's wild oxen), elephant, wild pig, sambar, barking deer, mouse deer, the rare and endangered lion-tailed macaque, the Nilgiri langur, the common langur and the bonnet macaque, porcupine, Malabar squirrel, wild dog and tiger. Among the birds commonly seen are darters, cormorant, osprey, kingfisher and kite, great hornbill, grey hornbill, hill mynas, orioles and racket-tailed drongos. Overnight at a jungle lodge.


After breakfast depart on the 146 km (4 hour) drive to Madurai. Known as the City of Festivals, it is the most ancient home of culture, with the first Tamil Academy being founded here by scholars and pious kings. The town has developed around the famous Meenakshi temple, built in the Dravidian style, dedicated to Lord Shiva and his spouse Meenakshi. The Court of Thousand Pillars, built in 1560, has lovely sculptures. Outside the temple are the Musical Pillars which produce different swaras or notes when tapped. The Vasanth Mandapam has life-size statues of the Nayakas of Madurai. Overnight at the hotel.


After breakfast depart on the 128 km (3-hour) drive to Trichy. En route stop at Tanjore or Tanjavur as it was earlier called. It was the capital of the Chola empire from the 10th to the 14th centuries. Later it became part of the Vijayanagar kingdom, then passed into the hands of the Marathas and later still went to the British. For ages it has been the chief political, literary and religious centre of the south. The celebrated temple of Brihadeshwara, built by the Chola king Raja the Great during the 11th century, is its major attraction. The Saraswasti Mahal library, dating from the time of the Marathas, contains a rare collection of books and manuscripts on paper and palm-leaf.

Continue on to Tiruchirapalli, also known as Trichy, which was held by the Chola and Pallava dynasties. The Nayakas of Madurai have constructed the greater portion of the town. The Trichy Fort played an important part in the battles waged between the English and the French to gain power. The Rock Fort is a landmark of Trichy and contains excavated cave temples dating back to the 7th century, the Hall of a hundred Pillars and a Ganesha temple on its summit. On the island of Srirangam is a massive Vishnu temple with seven walls. Overnight at the hotel.


After breakfast depart on the 166 km (4-hour) drive to Pondicherry, once the capital of the French territories in India. In the afternoon visit the Raj Nivas, residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Pondicherry, a handsome 200-year old building which was once the residence of the redoubtable Marquis Joseph-Francois Dupleix, the builder of Pondicherry. The Romain Rolland Library has over 60,000 volumes of rate French and English books on its shelves. The Pondicherry Museum has an outstanding collection of artifacts, especially relating to all aspects of the French Indian past and retains a French ambiance. The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Gothic in style and serene in atmosphere, has three large stained-glass panels that tell the life of Jesus and many arches that span the nave. The Botanical Gardens were set up in 1826 and have grown over the decades to become one of the best botanical gardens in the South, with unusual and exotic plants from all over the country and abroad. The Church of Notre Dame des Anges, built around 1865, is a striking structure with twin square towers and houses a rare oil painting gifted by Napoleon III. The Institute of Indology was established in the mid 1950s and is today an internationally renowned research organization providing an abiding link between France and India. Ananda Ranga Pillai’s House, architecturally a fusion of the French and Indian styles, is a graceful building, lavishly furnished and decorated, which has been converted into a museum. Spend time at the Aurobindo Ashram which is the best known landmark of Pondicherry. Overnight at Hotel Anandha Inn.


After breakfast depart on the 2 hour drive to Mahabalipuram, the port city of the Pallavas in the 7th century. In this picturesque setting of sandy beaches and the sea can be seen some 70 monuments that influenced temple architecture in Tamil Nadu for centuries to come. The first important group is formed by the five rathas - rock-cut monoliths named after the heros of the Mahabharata which simulate ceremonial chariots. Some of these rathas are unfinished and in them can be seen the carving technique used to form temples out of living rock. Also within this complex are large sculptures of a lion, an elephant and a seated Nandi (the bull) Lord Shiva's mount. The other cave temples of Mahishasuramardini and Olalkkannesware (God of the Flaming Eye) are carved out of the hillside to form pillared halls and enclosed shrines within which are some magnificent sculptures, some larger than life, of gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. Overnight at a Beach Resort.


After breakfast visit Kanchipuram the erstwhile capital of the Pallavas and Cholas who reigned between the 7th and 13th centuries. These two powerful dynasties gave the city its numerous temples and tanks. The town today has as many as 150 active temples dedicated to various gods and goddesses. One of the seven holiest cities of India, it is well planned, with broad streets designed to accommodate the large processions that take place throughout the year in celebration of festivals dedicated to the many and various deities. The Kailashanatha and Vaikuntaperumal Vishnu temples were both built in the 8th century of sandstone and house some of the most elegant sculptures of Shiva, Nataraja, Durga mounted on a lion and of Vishnu. The former also contains some remnants of mural paintings from the Pallava period. The Varadaraja Vishnu temple is a large complex with mandapas, tanks and sculptured halls. It has an ancient mango tree; the four branches are said to represent the four Vedas, and each has a different taste. To eat the fruit is to gain eternal wisdom. The Ekambareshwara temple is also a large complex where devotees flock in large numbers.

Continue on the 55 km drive to Madras, now called Chennai. The gateway to the sunny south, Madras, the capital of Tamil Nadu, is also a seat of ancient civilization, with a rich heritage of fine arts, sculpture and architecture. It has withstood the pressure of modernization to some extent and even today retains an old-world charm which has an instant appeal for the visitor. The British East India Company established one of its earliest seats of power in India in Madras. The construction of Fort St. George was begun around 1650. Today the old buildings in the fort house the Tamil Nadu Government Secretariat and the Legislative Assembly. St. Mary's Church, consecrated in 1680, is the earliest English building surviving intact in India and also the earliest Anglican church in the east. The Fort St. George Museum contains some fascinating items belonging to the early days of the East India Company and the colonial period - coins, weapons, pictures and books form part of the collection. Two beautiful churches that still have regular services are St. George's Cathedral and St. Andrew's Kirk. The latter is said to resemble St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London and its towering steeples and the strength of the pillars of the facade make it a city landmark. The Ice Factory on Marina Beach was built in 1842 to store ice imported from America. It was later converted into a home for widows. San Thome Church is associated with the Apostle St. Thomas. It is believed that he was martyred on St. Thomas' Mount and his remains are enshrined in this church. The Marina, is a 13-km long sandy beach running along the whole length of Madras, fringed with palms and casuarinas. One of the most important localities of Madras is the unified complex of Mylapore where the Kapaleswara Shiva temple, the tank, market area and old Brahmin residential houses are situated. Another ancient and important place of worship is the Krishna Patrathasarathy temple. Overnight at Hotel Trident or similar.

Day 19 MADRAS/Out

Transfer to the airport for onward flight.