Kerala and the Southern Highlights
From $5,346 - 18 Days, fully inclusive from selected Australian cities
From the moment you set foot in southern India you will be transported to another time and place. Southern India is very different from the north, providing exceptionally stark contrasts between spices, food, cultures and climate.
Commencing in Chennai, this amazing tour includes a journey on the Shatabdi Express train to Bangalore, sure to delight any train enthusiast; as will the Toy Train ride to Ooty, which takes you through pine forests where you’ll have the most breathtaking views. Learn about the timeless cultivation of tea, look out for elephants at Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Thekkady, and enjoy the serenity of a cruise through the backwaters of Kerala.
This fascinating tour is set to entice even the most widely travelled individual, taking you to one of the world’s most desirable destinations, a land that will certainly leave a lasting impression.
DAY 1: ARRIVE CHENNAI
Upon arrival in Chennai, we will be welcomed by our Local Guide or National Escort and transferred to our hotel. Please refer to the top of your hotel list for your guide’s contact details.
Chennai, originally known as Madras, is India’s fourth largest city. It was developed as a British trading post and as such, most of its attractions have a distinct colonial influence. In the last few years, Chennai has become a major commercial, cultural, economic and educational centre in Southern India. A major part of India’s automobile industry is based in Chennai, as well as computer technology, hardware manufacturing and healthcare sectors.
DAY 2: CHENNAI
We commence our tour of Chennai city this morning, starting with a visit to the second longest beach in the world, Marina Beach, which stretches for over 13km.
We then head to Fort St. George. Built by the British East India Company in 1653, it was one of the first bastions of British power in India. The fort is presently used as the offices of the Tamilnadu Secretariat and the Legislative Assembly. We also visit St. Mary’s Church, often described as the Westminster Abbey of the East and India’s oldest surviving British church, built in 1680.
Later we head to the Kapaleeswarar Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Situated at Mylapore, it is over 350 years old and is considered by Hindus to be one of the most sacred sites in southern India.
DAY 3: CHENNAI – KANCHIPURAM AND MAMALLAPURAM
This morning we drive 64km south to Kanchipuram, the ancient capital of the Pallavas. It is one of the seven sacred cities of India and attracts a large number of visitors. Dating back to the 2nd century, the region originally had 1,000 unique temples, of which about 200 still exist.
The 7th-century Kailasnatha Temple is the oldest and also considered the most beautiful of the town’s temples. The Varadaraja Temple was built by Vijayanagara Kings in the 16th century. The main shrine is on an elephant shaped rock. Other temples include the Ekambaresvara Temple and the Vaikunth Perumal Temple. Kanchipuram is also famous for silk textiles so before leaving we visit the Shreenivas Silk House.
Next we drive to the coastal temple town of Mamallapuram, also called Mahabalipuram, to see the rock carvings which date from the 7th and 8th centuries. Here we will see the Shore Temple, the Panch Pandava Rathas and Varaha Cave before returning to Chennai.
Please note at the temples there is little to no sun protection or shade. Please remember to bring a hat and sunscreen with you. The streets surrounding the temples are filled with markets and locals selling crafts, jewellery and snacks. If you do not wish to purchase anything, please be polite and firmly decline and keep walking along with the group.
DAY 4: CHENNAI TO BANGALORE
We rise early this morning to catch our day train, the Shatabdi Express, to Bangalore. On the train you will be provided with a simple, light breakfast however if you require additional food make sure you pre-purchase it before boarding.
Indian Trains – Our train is a day train and our seats will be in an air-conditioned Chair Car. There will be local travellers in the same carriages. Please keep an eye on your belongings at all times.
Upon arrival we are transferred to our hotel. Bangalore, the capital of the state of Karnataka, is known as the ‘Garden City’ because of its countless parks and avenues of Jacaranda, Gulmohur and Cassia. It is also home to an expanding IT industry. This afternoon we enjoy a city tour of Bangalore including the Bull Temple, one of Bangalore’s oldest temples, and Tipu Sultan’s Palace who ruled most of southern India during the 18th century. We also visit Vidhana Soudha, one of the most imposing buildings in Bangalore. Built in 1954 by convicts, the building houses the Legislative Chambers of the state government.
DAY 5: BANGALORE TO HASSAN
Today we head 163km west to Hassan with our first stop being a visit to Shravanabelagola, one of the most revered Jain pilgrimage centres. We will climb the 650 steps to the top of the temple where the great statue of Sri Gomatswara, also known as Lord Bahubali, stands as the tallest free-standing statue in the world.
Our day finishes with a visit to the 12th-century temples of Belur and Halebid. Belur is located on the banks of the River Yagachi and is well known for its temples. The Chennakeshava Temple of Belur is one of the finest examples of Hoysala architecture. The temple was built in 1117AD and is filled with intricately carved sculptures and friezes.
The temples of Halebid, like those of Belur, are a rich cultural heritage of Karnataka. The Hoysaleswara Temple is breathtaking for its fantastic sculptural details. The walls of the temple are covered with an endless variety of gods and goddesses, animals, birds and dancing girls. Despite 86 years of labour, the temple was never completed.
DAY 6: HASSAN TO MYSORE
We drive south to Mysore today visiting the Srirangapatnam Fort en route. This fort was the stronghold of Tipu Sultan, son of Hyder Ali. Here at the fort, Tipu made a last minute ditch defence against the British in 1799 before surrendering his Kingdom upon his death. Among the many fort buildings still intact are Tipu’s airy summer palace and his tomb at the Darya Daulat Bagh (a garden). Also located here is the celebrated Sri Ranganathswamy Temple.
Upon arrival in Mysore we check into our hotel followed by a visit the Maharaja’s Palace, built between 1911 and 1912, part of which is still in use. We will also visit the Art Gallery and drive up the 1,062m-high Chamundi Hill to see the 12th century Sri Chamundeshwari Temple. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Durga and offers a panoramic view of Mysore city.
On our way back to the hotel we visit the Nandi Bull statue which was carved out of solid rock in 1659. Later, we will enjoy a traditional cooking demonstration hosted by a local family.
DAY 7: MYSORE TO COONOOR
Today we head to the hills and drive to the beautiful hill station of Coonoor. Located on the Western Ghats at the height of 1,839m, Coonoor is the second largest hill station in the Nilgiri hills in the state of Tamil Nadu and is famous for a variety of wildflowers and birds. Our hotel is located beside the All Saints Church, away from the town centre, enabling us to appreciate the peacefulness and beautiful scenery here.
This evening you will have the option to take a walk around this quaint hill station.
DAY 8: COONOOR – OOTY
This morning we catch the miniature, narrow gauge non-air conditioned Toy Train from Coonoor and travel 18km to Ooty, another Nilgiri hill station also known as the ‘Queen of Hill Stations’.
Sitting at an altitude of 2,240m, Ooty was established by the British in the early 19th century to serve as the summer headquarters of the Madras (now Chennai) Government. Until about two decades ago, Ooty resembled an unlikely combination of southern England and Australia, with single-storey stone cottages, fenced flower gardens, leafy, winding lanes and tall eucalyptus trees. Other reminders of the British period include the stone churches, private schools, the Ooty Club and the terraced botanical gardens which we visit this afternoon.
The Botanical Gardens were created in 1847 and the famous attraction is the 20 million-year-old fossilized tree as well as other rare tree species. There is an optional 15 minute walk uphill to a local village situated above the botanical gardens, where we can gain insight into the lives of the local people and enjoy the amazing view over Ooty and the surrounding mountains.
Later this afternoon we return to Coonoor by coach.
DAY 9: COONOOR TO MUNNAR
We have a long day of driving today through windy and hilly roads as we continue our descent from the highlands and head to Munnar, a hill station with vast expanses of tea plantations, sitting at an altitude of 1,524m.
As we drive to Munnar we cross the border into Kerala, one of the smallest states in the Republic of India. Formed in 1956, it has an area of 38,8649sq km, about one percent of the total land area of India. The state stretches for about 579km along the Malabar Coast on the western side of the Indian peninsula.
Upon arrival in Munnar we check into our hotel. Located on the side of a mountain, it offers breathtaking views over the valley.
DAY 10: MUNNAR TO THEKKADY
Before leaving Munnar this morning, we visit a local tea plantation and the Tata Tea Museum (closed on Mondays) to learn about the timeless cultivation of tea. The Tata Tea Museum houses photographs and machinery, each depict a turning point that contributed to the flourishing tea industry that is evident today.
Afterwards we commence our drive to Thekkady, where Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is located. Periyar is South India’s most popular wildlife sanctuary, encompassing an area of 777sq km and set on the attractive man-made Periyar Lake. The construction of the Mullaperiyar Dam across the Periyar River at Thekkady in 1895 submerged large tracts of land and created a huge lake covering an area of 26sq km. Years later in 1935, the then Maharaja of Travancore declared 600sq km of forest surrounding the lake a wildlife sanctuary.
Declared a Tiger Reserve in 1978, the sanctuary is a rare example of human interference having enhanced rather than damaged an ecosystem. Though the sanctuary was made a part of Project Tiger in 1973, it is better known for its elephants.
DAY 11: THEKKADY – PERIYAR WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Periyar is home to 62 species of mammals, 320 species of birds, 45 species of reptiles, 27 species of amphibians, 38 species of fish and 160 butterfly species.
Enjoy a walk through the park this morning, searching for the local wildlife such as elephants, wild dog, barking deer, mouse deer or the rarely seen tiger.
Before lunch we also visit a local spice village and market in Thekkady.
The afternoon is at your leisure before we enjoy a Kalaripayattu performance this evening, a traditional form of martial arts that started in south India. Kalaripayattu martial arts incorporate kicks, strikes, grappling and weaponry in their movements.
DAY 12: THEKKADY TO PALLATHURURUTHY
This morning we leave Thekkady and drive to Pallathururuthy.
On arrival we board our houseboat, a converted rice barge known as a ‘kettuvallam’. Today, the houseboats have all the comforts of a good hotel including furnished bedrooms, modern bathrooms, cosy living rooms, a kitchen and even a balcony for angling. Parts of the curved roof of plaited palm or wood open out to provide shade and allow uninterrupted views.
While cruising to Alleppey we will witness the village life around the backwaters of Kerala. What is truly magical about a houseboat ride is the breathtaking view of the untouched and otherwise inaccessible rural Kerala. An unhurried backwater cruise on a traditional houseboat is the best way to discover Kerala’s exceptional scenic beauty.
We will enjoy dinner on board and stay overnight on the houseboat, enjoying traditional Keralan cuisine for dinner.
Please note: While on the houseboats, electricity can be intermittent. There is a generator onboard, so keep this in mind when charging phones, cameras or other electronic items. The cabins on board are all air conditioned, but the living areas and deck may be cooled with fans. If you are a light sleeper you may wish to bring ear plugs, as the generators may be loud at night.
DAY 13: HOUSEBOAT TO KUMARAKOM
After breakfast on the houseboat we disembark and drive to Kumarakom. En route we stop at Alleppey, where we will browse a local market and tour a coir factory, where a fibre obtained from the husk of a coconut.
Proceed to Kumarakom and check into our hotel. The afternoon is free at your leisure to explore the town.
DAY 14: KUMARAKOM TO KOCHI
After breakfast, drive to Kochi, also known as Cochin. Kochi is Kerala’s most cosmopolitan city and its main trading centre for spices and seafood. Built around a saltwater lagoon of the Arabian Sea, Kochi is a collection of narrow islands and peninsulas.
Upon arrival in Kochi we will check into our hotel. After lunch visit the Kumbalangi Integrated Tourism Village, located 20km outside the city. Kumbalangi Integrated Tourism Village is a unique program which transformed a tiny island into a model fishing village and tourism spot, and is where you can glimpse the traditional lives of the local villagers.
Return to Kochi this afternoon.
DAY 15: KOCHI
Enjoy a full day tour around Kochi today starting with a visit to St. Francis Church, the first European church to be built in India. The history of this church reflects the colonial struggle of European powers in India from the 15th to 20th centuries. It is said that the Portuguese trader, Vasco da Gama, was originally buried in St. Francis Church before being taken back to Portugal.
Our next stop is the Santa Cruz Basilica and from here we view the unique cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, the only place outside China where they are used. Locally known as Cheenavala, they are used for a unique and unusual method of fishing and many fishermen earn a living by using these massive nets.
Continuing our tour of the city, we visit the Jewish synagogue in the heart of the Jewish Quarter. The prosperous Jewish trading community built the Jewish synagogue in 1568. It is the oldest synagogue in India but was partially destroyed in the war of 1662 and was rebuilt by the Dutch. We end the day with a stroll through the nearby markets.
This evening we enjoy a Kathakali dance performance, a story with characters divided into the noble, wicked and grotesque wearing extravagant costumes. Kathakali is renouned for its elaborate and decorative make-up and costumes, detailed gestures and extremely defined body movements that are performed in tune to percussion and music.
DAY 16: DEPART KOCHI
Enjoy the day at your leisure to relax.
Lunch with the group is included today and your guide will advise you when to meet. However, if you decide to have lunch on your own please let your National Escort know; it will be at your own expense if you choose to do this.
This evening we have a late check-out before our farewell dinner and transfer to the airport to board our overnight flight home.
DAY 18: ARRIVE AUSTRALIA
Arrive home today.
Please note: Although your National Escort will endeavour to follow this itinerary as specified, all touring is subject to change due to local conditions.
At any stage, if you are not completely satisfied with any aspect of your tour, please inform your National Escort so that they may resolve the problem. If you need further assistance, please contact our partners in India:
Please note: Although your National Escort will endeavour to follow this itinerary as specified, all touring is subject to change due to local conditions.
"I am captivated by India"Reviewed:
I am captivated by India and this was my second trip to this fascinating country. As I stepped out of the airport at Chennai where we were to stay the first couple of days, I put aside my Western values and allowed myself to be overwhelmed by the noise, the smells (aromatic and otherwise!), the madness of the roads and traffic, the vibrant colour and the friendliness and charming personalities of the Indian people wherever we happened to be. I travelled solo (as several others), however the group comprising equally of Australians and Brits were just so encompassing, we became one big family almost instantaneously together with a great escort, polite, helpful to the tenth degree, speaking excellent English, even if one of our group did take it upon himself to become the official English translator!
After an early morning start to catch the train to the elegant garden city of Bangalore and spending the night there, we began our bus trip to Kerala in the South taking in the small villages and towns all full of interest, the temples and amazing carved monuments, the cultural sites and visits to local places of work plus of course enjoying the wonderful food, such a choice, and the comforts of our hotels and the fine service they provided. Driving through the beautiful mountains and winding through the tea plantations is quite breathtaking. The nature walks by the river and through the plantations provided welcome breaks throughout the long drives.
Boarding the houseboat at Nedumudy before lunch, the overnight stay (5-6 in each boat together with a crew of 3 to spoil us) felt as if we spent a much longer time on the Kerala Backwaters as it was so relaxing. We moved through the quiet waters observing the villagers getting on with their everyday lives and us, just part of the backwater lazy traffic.
A defining moment for me was at Coonor. We stayed at the Gateway Hotel Church Gate, a tranquil location. Coming out of my individual cottage accommodation into the lush gardens first thing in the morning it was a little chilly, spitting slightly (the only rain we encountered) and misty. I stopped. It was magic. It was India.
Travelled on: Kerala and the Southern Highlights
Dates & Prices
Singapore Airlines - Above prices include fuel surcharges and tipping of $732. Please note the Tipping amount of USD90 (AUD98) is payable on arrival in India.
Though status is regularly updated, availability above is indicative only, not live and hence does not guarantee that space is available on your selected tour when you or your agent calls Wendy Wu Tours to book. Booking early is the only way to ensure availability of your selected departure date.