A Compass India Holiday representative will receive you on arrival at the airport and assist with your hotel transfer.
The ancient port city of Cochin or Kochi comprises a cluster of islands and peninsulas in a serene saltwater lagoon. Ferries connect the islands to Ernakulam town on the mainland. Dotted with lakes and gently swaying palm groves, Kochi’s otherworldly beauty, coupled with the lure of spices and seafood, draw scores of travellers every year to this natural harbour.
Overnight at Cochin.
Breakfast will be served at the hotel. Afterwards, proceed for a sightseeing tour of Cochin.
Kochi’s famed Chinese fishing nets are perhaps one of the most iconic and oft photographed sights of . Mounted on teak and bamboo poles and supported by large stone counterweights, they hang gossamer-like all along the Fort Kochi seafront. Their origins are obscure with some claiming they were imported by the Portuguese from Macau while according to others, the credit goes to Chinese traders from the court of Kubla Khan himself.
The Old Cochin area is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, and the Paradesi Synagogue built in 1568 is a must-see treasure of this eclectic corner of South India. Known for its distinctive tiled roof and bell towers, the synagogue’s interiors feature intricately hand-painted blue and white Chinese willow tiles of which no two are alike. Elegant Belgian chandeliers adorn its central area. An exquisite oriental rug and gold crowns received as gifts from visitors are also on display.
Also of interest is the intriguing International Pepper Exchange that deals in the global trade of black pepper. Nearby are Vasco Da Gama Square, the Santa Cruz Basilica that counts among India’s oldest churches, St. Francis Church where Vasco Da Gama was originally interred, VOC Gate and Bastion Bungalow, all of which, according to local records, go back to between the mid fourteenth and early fifteenth century.
Attend a Kathakali dance performance in the evening. A traditional dance drama form involving elaborate costumes, highly stylized expressions and choreographed to hypnotic music, the Kathakali recital is a truly unforgettable addition to the leg of your luxury holiday in exotic South India.
Overnight at Cochin.
After breakfast at the hotel, proceed to Alleppey in a spacious, comfortable Compass approved vehicle.
The city of Alleppey or Alappuzha is the headquarter of Alappuzha district and highly popular with travellers for its lush greenery, beaches, lagoons and the famous backwaters of . The name Alappuzha means “the land between the river and the sea” and its intricate network on inland canals earn it the title of “Venice of the East.” This watery network has long been Alleppey’s lifeline, from its days as one of the best known ports on the Malabar coast up until modern times as the world’s gateway to the Backwaters. Alleppey too is an important venue for boat races, in particular the Nehru Trophy Race on the Punnamada Lake on the second Sunday of August. Attractions include the beautiful Alappuzha Beach, the Ambalappuzha Sri Krishna Temple, the Edathua Church and the Krishnapuram Palace. Alleppey is also your entry point into ’s famous backwaters.
Running along the Malabar Coast of , the Backwaters are a massive 900 square kilometre network of lakes, rivers, streams, lagoons and canals that both connect and divide the land, giving rise to a unique amphibious culture and way of life that’s perhaps unique in the world.
Here, the saline waters of the Arabian sea mix with fresh water from inland streams fed by the Western Ghats, resulting in a knife-edge ecosystem that’s as fragile as it is distinctive. Teeming with fish, mudskippers, crabs, turtles and otters, the lush vegetation on its banks is home to flocks of cormorants and terns.
Human habitation in the region too are a gift of the backwaters, with the brackish channels snaking into the land often being the only means of transportation between villages and towns.
You will be cruising through the backwaters on a traditional thatched houseboat equipped with modern amenities.
Tranquil and mysterious, the backwaters feature prominently among the highlights of your luxury holiday in exotic South India.
Check into a traditional thatched houseboat, fitted with every modern amenity. Overnight in houseboat.
Breakfast will be served on the houseboat. A leisurely cruise through villages and verdant greenery sees you in Kumarokom.
Barely 16 kms from the city of Kottayam, Kumarokom is located by the Vembanad, ’s largest fresh water lake, and is one of the important venues for ’s famous boat races. During the festival of Onam, hundreds of traditional boats, some seating as many as fifty highly vocal rowers, streak down the lake amidst much fanfare, competing for top spot.
Disembark at Kumarokom and proceed to Thekkady (Periyar National Park) by road in a Compass approved vehicle.
On the banks of the Periyar river, amidst coffee plantations and the fragrant cardamom hills, lies the Periyar National Park, one of India’s major wildlife reserves. Look out for the Asian elephant, antelope, the Indian bison, the elusive Bengal tiger, the dhole or wild dog, and the extremely rare and endangered Nilgiri Tahr, a species of ibex native to the region. Overnight at Thekkady.
Breakfast will be served at the resort.
Afterwards, proceed for a jungle walk in the forest, accompanied by a highly experienced guide. This is a unique programme where tourists get the chance to get deep into the forest the least obtrusive way - on foot, maximising the chances of wildlife sightings. These walks can be customised depending on how long the guest wishes to spend in the park.
Also not to be missed, a bamboo rafting excursion down the river. The raft offers a great opportunity to watch animals, particularly elephants, as they come down to the waters to cool off in the daytime. You may also be able to spot sambars, barking deer, mouse deer, wild pigs, porcupines, lion-tailed macaques, the Malabar Squirrel and sloth bears. Tigers and Leopards are usually hard to come by on the banks during the day.
Later visit the local spice market, reputed to be the largest in Asia is also worth a visit. Spices make for a unique and imaginative gift for friends and family back home.
Overnight at Thekkady.
Drive to Madurai after breakfast.
The ancient temple town of Madurai traces its history as far back as the 3rd century BC, and finds mention in the writings of Greek explorer Megasthenes.
The breathtaking Sri Meenakshi Amman temple, a mini-city in its own right, dominates the Madurai skyline. One of the finest living examples of Dravidian art and architecture, its towering gopurams loom over the city, every inch of its outer surface crowded with multicolored carvings of gods, goddesses and beasts of mythology. According to local lore, the foundations of the Sri Meenakshi Amman temple date back to well over two thousand years. Successive generations of rulers built over and added to the work of their predecessors until the compound grew to its current sprawling size of the 65000 square meters. The square-shaped temple grounds are surrounded by high walls with twelve stupendous Gopurams (temple towers) bidding entry to visitors.
Visit the temple in the evening to experience the spectacular, hypnotic ritual of aarti, a ceremonial offering of light to the deity, accompanied by music and chanting. One of the highlights of your luxury holiday in exotic South India.
Overnight at Madurai.
Breakfast will be served at the hotel. Afterwards proceed for sightseeing.
Inside the Sri Meenakshi Amman Temple, defying description, lies the Hall of Thousand Pillars, each pillar adorned by exquisitely detailed sculptures of celestial beings. A marvel of ancient Indian design, the pillars align in perfect straight lines no matter which angle they are viewed from. Outside the hall, a corridor is lined by the temple’s famed musical pillars, each of which produces a unique musical note when tapped.
Visit the Thousand Pillar Museum in the temple complex.
The spacious Gandhi Memorial Museum chronicles in loving detail the history of India’s independence movement. The museum organizes regular seminars on Gandhi and his principle of non-violence or ahimsa.
Located a few minutes from Madurai, the Vishnu Temple is one of the most important temples of South India and is unique in the layout of its three altars, arranged as they are one on top of one another. Each altar shows the Lord Vishnu in a different posture. The seated Vishnu on the middle altar, Koodal Alagar, is the main deity of the temple. The temple’s exterior too, covered with beautiful carvings depicting celestial beings, is well worth the traveller’s time.
Built by King Thirumalai Nayak in 1636, the eponymous Thirumalai Nayak Palace fell to ruin after the king’s demise and was restored only partially by the British. Still, the present day structure gives the visitor a good idea of its grandeur in its heydays. Look out for the intricate stucco work on its arches and pillars and the astonishing Sorgavasal or Celestial Pavilion, a 1300 square meter free-standing structure, unsupported by any pillar or girder.
The giant Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam reservoir is fed by a Vaigai River through an invisible maze of underground channels. During Teppam (tr.The Float Festival), hundreds of boats chockfull of devotees crowd the reservoir in a race to reach the temple at its center.
A short drive from Madurai, Thiruparankundram is a highly elaborate emple carved out of solid rock. The chief deity is the Lord Subramanya, but other shrines dedicated to Shiva, Durga, Vishnu and other deities abound in the complex. Adorned with highly complex woodcarvings, the shrine holy not only for Hindus but also the local Muslims.
Overnight in Madurai.
Breakfast will be served at the hotel. Proceed to Tanjore by road.
Tanjore or Thanjavur was the capital of the Chola empire from the 10th century to the 14th century A.D. and was for long periods the political and cultural nerve center of the region. The Great Living Chola Temples that form a UNESCO World Heritage Site are located around Thanjavur, also home to the distinctive Tanjore style of Painting. Tanjore is also famous for its silk.
Overnight at Tanjore.
Breakfast will be at the hotel. Proceed for a sight seeing tour.
The magnificent Brihadisvara Temple is an architectural marvel and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Vimana atop the temple is a 60.95m high 13-storey pyramidal tower, in turn crowned by a 70 tonne stone domed monolith. The inner walls are adorned with murals of Shiva in the 108 mudras, or poses, of Bharatanatyam, the classical Indian dance form.
The 16th century Palace of Thanjavur is spacious with large halls, shady courtyards, endless corridors, tall observation posts and a ornate bell tower. It is also home to the Royal Museum as well as the iconic Saraswati Mahal Library.
Saraswathi Mahal Library, established in the early 18th century houses a wealth of manuscripts dating back to the Nayak Kings of Tanjore and its subsequent Maratha rulers. Also of interest are rare European manuscripts like Lavoisier’s Traité Élémentaire de Chimie or Elements of Chemistry and Charles Le Brun’s pictorial charts depicting the evolution of man.
The Thanjavur Art Gallery is also worth a visit for its impressive collection of 250 Chola Bronze statues and 150 stone statues dating from the 9th to 12th century.
After lunch, proceed to Pondicherry by road.
A French colony until 1950, Pondicherry (now Puducherry) is markedly different from the rest of Tamil Nadu state in architecture and town planning. Modelled after towns in the French Mediterranean, Ville Blanche or White Town is dotted with colonial villas, while more Indian style buildings populate Ville Noir or Black Town. Today, unlike in the past, both halves of Pondicherry is open to all residents of the city. Use of French is still common in Pondicherry.
In the evening, go for a walk on the beautiful mile long promenade by the beach. Enjoy the evening at the PROMENADE which stretches for 1.5 km along the beach. Don’t miss the old lighthouse and the war memorial to French soldiers who fell in the battle for India against the British.
Overnight at Pondicherry.
Breakfast will be served at the hotel. Proceed for sightseeing.
Visit the 17th century Cathedral of Immaculate Conception and the white and brown neo-gothic Sacred Heart church, one of Pondicherry’s finest Catholic churches. Beautiful stained glass panels depict incidents from Jesus Christ’s life.
Founded by nationalist turned mystic Sri Aurobindo, Aurobindo Ashram is a commune housing followers from the world over. The ashram aims to disseminate the philosophy of Aurobindo’s “integral yoga”, a synthesis of ancient mystical thought and modern science
Aurobindo Ashram generates a substantial income through services and goods produced by the Ashram’s inhabitants. Aurobindo Hand made Paper factory is one of its leading commercial ventures and its hand made paper is exported worldwide.
Later, visit a traditional fishing village.
Overnight will be at Pondicherry.
After breakfast drive to Mahabalipuram.
Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) was once the main seaport of the Pallava Empire and is famous for its medieval sculptures, in particular, a series of spectacular freestanding boulders on the beach, carved to resemble small temples and animals.
According to legend, Mahabalipuram was such a beautiful city that envious gods sent down floods to submerge six out of the seven pagodas the city was known for, leaving behind only the structure known today as the Shore Temple. Onlookers swear that when the seawaters receded just before the tragic 2004 tsunami, the lost pagodas of Mahabalipuram became visible for a few moments before disappearing under the rush of oncoming tidal waves. While there is no scientific evidence to corroborate their claim, initial explorations have revealed the possibility of underwater ruins off the coastline.
Mahabalipuram is a UNESCO designated world heritage site and one of the highlights of your luxury holiday in exotic South India.
Overnight will be at Mahabalipuram.
Breakfast will be served at the hotel. Afterwards, proceed for sightseeing.
The Mahabalipuram Caves are temples cut out of solid rock. The interior walls are adorned with sculpted scenes from mythological battles, Gods, demons and beasts both real and mythical. Don’t miss the Mahishamardini Cave depicting the Goddess Durga’s battle with Mahisasur, a Minotaur-like buffalo demon.
Krishna Mandapam is the largest rock-cut temple of the area with exquisite bas relief work depicting the life of Krishna, as well as scenes from the daily lives of ordinary people.
The magnificent giant bas relief work of Arjuna’s Penance depicts a scene from the Hindu epic Mahabharata where the hero, Arjuna, performs penance on a river bank in order to win the devastating Pasupata weapon from Shiva. A cleft in the rock has been cleverly used to depict the river. It’s possible to spend hours examining the extremely detailed figures of gods, men, birds and animals that populate the sculpture.
A group of five intricately carved monolithic temples, the Pancha Rathas or five chariots are named after their resemblance to ceremonial temple chariots (rathas). According to the Archeological Survey of India, the naming of this group of temples after the Pandavas, the five heroes of the Mahabharata, is a more recent phenomenon. The structures are probably Buddhist in origin. In spite of their huge size, each ratha is carved from a single rock.
One of the oldest temples in Mahabalipuram, the spectacular, brooding Shore Temple on the edge of the sea houses shrines to both Shiva and Vishnu and is one of the earliest examples of the pure Dravidian style of architecture.
Overnight will be at Mahabalipuram.
Breakfast will be served at the hotel. Afterwards, board your Compass approved vehicle and drive to Kanchipuram.
Once a capital of the Pallava Kings, the thousand year old city of Kanchipuram was famous in the ancient world as a seat of learning. Temples and shrines dating back to the 7th century dot the city, making it an important pilgrimage for both the Shaivaite and Vaishnav sects of Hindusim. Today, Kanchipuram is known the world over for its gorgeous hand woven silk. These exquisite silk saris, or Kanjivarams, are the toast of the cocktail circuit from Kashmir to the Kanyakumari.
Continue to Chennai.
The city of Chennai, formerly Madras and originally Madraspatnam, has its roots in a warehouse built by the British on the beachfront in 1639. In 1654, the Fort St. George was established and eventually, village after neighbouring village was added to the territory to form the modern city we know today. In the days of the British Raj, Madras served as the capital of all of South India.
Overnight at Chennai.
Breakfast will be served at the hotel. Proceed for sightseeing.
The Neo-Gothic San Thome Basilica is one of the only three basilicas in the world said to contain the relics of an apostle of Christ and is an important Christian pilgrimage. Built over the tomb of St. Thomas, the original building was said to have been established by the apostle himself.
Founded in 1644 by the British East India Company, Fort St George was the engine of trade and commerce that transformed a beachfront hamlet into a modern city. Fittingly, it is now the seat of the legislative assembly of the state of Tamil Nadu. The Fort Museum located in the oldest surviving building of the fortress is of particular interest to tourists and has an impressive collection of exhibits spread over ten galleries.
The buzzing Kapaleeswarar Temple with its proud 120 feet tall exquisitely engraved Gopuram is one of the finest examples of Dravidian architecture. Inscriptions from the 13th century and highly ornate stucco work adorn its walls. It’s also the site for the spectacular annual Arupathimoovar festival, during which a gigantic wooden chariot carrying the main deity is pulled along the roads by hundreds and thousands of frenzied devotees, followed by a procession of gods involving sixty three idols on palanquins. Students of cinema may recall this festival from French master Louis Malle’s Cinema Verite´ venture, Phantom India.
Also see the 100 year old Rippon Building and the massive red British-era building that is Chennai’s Central Railway station.
Overnight at Chennai.
Breakfast will be served on the train.
The word Mysore is a corruption of Mahishasura Ooru, or the City of the Buffalo Demon. According to Hindu mythology, the buffalo headed Mahishasura, an Indian Minotaur if you will, wreaked havoc on all of creation, defeating gods and humans alike, until he was finally slain in battle by the warrior goddess Chamunda. The magnificent Chamundeswari Temple dedicated to the goddess stands on a hilltop overlooking Mysore, and is the site of a stupendous elephant procession during the festival of Dussehra.
Initially part of the Vijayanagara Empire in the 16th Century, Mysore has since been ruled by the Wodeyar Kings more or less continually, barring the rule of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan in the 18th Century. After the fall of Tipu, the British East India Company reinstated the Wodeyars to the throne of Mysore, where they continued to be titular heads with the blessings of the British Empire until India’s independence in 1947.
Mysore has the distinction of being one of the first cities in Asia to undertake urban planning following a rampaging bout of bubonic plague in 1897 that saw the establishment of the City Improvement Trust Board in 1903.
Today, Mysore is known for its silk, and its fragrant, intricately carved sandalwood work and contributes to 70% of India’s incense export. Known as the City of Palaces, the city is dotted by splendid monuments and temples. Mysore’s latest claim to fame is as a global center for Ashtanga Yoga.
Overnight will be at Mysore.
Breakfast will be served at the hotel. Afterwards, leave for sightseeing.
Standing proudly at the center of town, the breathtaking Mysore Palace takes the crown in this City of Palaces. A combination of Dravidian, Indo-Saracenic and Oriental Architecture, the palace provides the visitor with a lavish treat of carvings, paintings, majestic arched gateways and an exquisite doll’s pavilion. Don’t miss the diamond-studded solid gold Simhasana or the King’s chair and the famed wooden howdah (elephant-saddle) covered with 80 kilos of gold.
At 1062m above sea level, Chamundi Hills tower over the city of Mysore and affords fresh air and magnificent views to whoever decides to undertake the short drive to the city outskirts. Halfway up the hill, one is rewarded with the sight of the 4.8m tall stone statue of Shiva’s bull, Nandi.
Saint Philomena’s Church is a fine example of Neo-Gothic architecture and contains a relic of the saint in its catacombs. Stained glass windows depicting the Nativity and the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ adorn its inner chamber while above two 175 foot high spires tower over the cityscape.
The 19th Century Jaganmohan Palace was later converted into the magnificent Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery. Of note are unusual, exotic musical instruments and a rich collection of paintings b the Russian painter Nicolai Roerich and Raja Ravi Verma, one of the pioneers of Indian art as we know it today. Also of note, the French musical calendar and paintings on grains of rice that are only visible through a magnifier.
The Brindavan Gardens is one of the prettiest in South India and a popular location for shooting Bollywood dance sequences. Don’t miss the famed Dancing Fountains.
Overnight will be at Mysore.
Breakfast will be served at the hotel. Afterwards, proceed to Srirangapatna by road.
Located on an island on the River Cauvery some 16 kms from Mysore city, Srirangapatna (also Seringapatam or Shrirangapattana) was the capital of Mysore state and that of the warrior Sultan Tipu, the last great martial challenge the British faced in South India.
The Srirangapatna Fort is the site of Tipu Sultan’s last stand against the mighty forces of the British East India Company. Today a memorial marks the spot where the warrior king fell.
Also of importance, the Colonel Bailey Dungeon in the fort, where British officers were imprisoned during Tipu’s rule and the Sultan’s summer palace in Dariya Daulat Bagh.
Dariya Daulat Bagh has a museum that with an excellent collection of murals, paintings, coins and weapons from Tipu Sultan’s era. Also on display, Sir Robert Ker Porter’s celebrated oil painting, “Storming of Srirangapatna.”
Continue to Bangalore.
According to legend, King Ballala of the Hoysala dynasty was once wondering in the woods, lost and hungry, when he came across an old woman. The woman’s humble offering of a bowl of boiled beans satiated the king’s hunger, and to commemorate her kindness, he named the region Bende Kaalu Ooru, the Village of Boiled Beans.
Over time, as dynasties rose and fell, the area came under the rule of the Vijayanagara kings, the Bijapur Sultanate, the Marathas, the Wodeyars of Mysore and finally the British under whom flourished the city of Bangalore or Bengaluru as we know it today.
Post independence, Bengaluru metamorphosed rapidly from a sleepy colonial town favoured by retirees to a buzzing hi tech metropolis, the cradle of India’s information technology boom. With its temperate climate, greenery, lush public parks, natural lakes, malls, bookshops, multiplexes, live music and cafes, Bengaluru is highly popular with India’s burgeoning expat workforce and is your gateway to the wonders of South India.
Overnight at Bangalore.
Proceed for sightseeing after breakfast.
Vidhana Soudha is the seat of the legislative assembly of the state of Karnataka. The foundations of this magnificent neo-Dravidian building were laid in 1951 by the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. However, the structure’s spiritual father remains Kengal Hanumanthaiah, chief minister of Mysore state. Hanumanthaiah visited the great capital cities of the world, drawing inspiration from diverse sources such as the Capitol, the House of Commons and the Kremlin, and incorporated their myriad influences into the blueprint. The resulting building sports majestic columns, domes, pillars and high ceilinged cavernous chambers in a unique marriage of Western architectural styles with Dravidian forms.
The 240 acre Lal Bagh or Red Garden was commissioned in the 18th Century by Hyder Ali, the ruler of Mysore, and completed by his son, the warrior Tipu Sultan. Home to over 1000 species of flora, including rare exotic varieties, this unique botanical garden boasts of centuries old trees, an exquisite glass greenhouse modeled after London’s Crystal Palace and the famed Lal Bagh Rocks, among the earth’s most ancient rock formations and estimated to be about 3000 million years old.
The small but elegant fresco-adorned Tipu’s Palace is known for its teak pillars and stands in the crowded CIty Market area. The two storied wooden structure today houses a museum. Of note is a small replica of the famed Tipu’s Tiger, the lifesize original of which is on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The much-celebrated, if morbid, mechanized toy depicts a tiger (symbolizing the might of Tipu Sultan) in the act of devouring a flailing European, to the accompaniment of fearsome grunts from the tiger.
The ruins of Kempe Gowda’s Fort are nearby. The structure was later dismantled and expanded on by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. Don’t miss the 16th Century Ganapathi Temple within the premises.
Built by Wodeyar Kings, the Bangalore Palace derives its inspiration from the Windsor Castle and is built in Tudor style. Inside are private galleries with photo exhibits and nude paintings. Interestingly, the palace grounds today constitute India’s premier rock music venue and have played host to royalty of a different kind such as rock gods Carlos Santana, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones.
One of India’s oldest museums, the Government Museum of Bengaluru has 18 galleries featuring specimens, art, artifacts and relics from the Hoysala and Vijayanagara dynasties, as well as those from the ancient Mohenjo Daro Civilization that flourished in the valley of the Indus River more than 5000 years ago.
Near the Museum is the K.Venkatappa Art Gallery. Venkatappa was the court artist of the Wodeyar Kings, and the museum houses fine specimens of his work as well as memorabilia from his daily life.
The 300 acre Sri Chamarajendra Park, formerly Cubbon Park, in the heart of the city are the lungs of Bangalore. The park is home to over 6000 specimens of plant life, in an interesting combination of local and exotic flora. Don’t miss the silver oaks near the tennis pavilion and Jawahar Bhavan, with its toy train, fairgrounds and theatre.
Afterwards, a Compass representative will transfer you to the international airport for your flight home.