HIGHLIGHTS OF INDIA
Arrive Chennai by international flight.
Meeting on arrival at the Chennai International airport by our driver. Madras, now called Chennai, the first city of Tamil Nadu and the Gateway to the South of India, is 350 years old. This fourth largest city in India grew from the fort that Francis Day and Andrew Cogan of East India Company built on a narrow spit of no-man's land, which was obtained as a grant from the local governors of the region in early 17th century. The 5-square kilometer sand strip Francis Day was granted has now grown into a city of about 170 sq Kms with a population of about 6 million. Chennai was the first British major settlement in India, and it was here that many who went on to build the empire first learned their trade. Hence the city is replete with much that is of significance in British Indian history. The older settlements of this area have stories to tell too, and the city is an amalgam of ancient and more modern history. The particularly charming features of Chennai are its allegiance to ancient traditions, no matter how modernized it has become and its willingness to spread out further. It is a city that adheres to the leisurely tempo of the life of a world of yesterday; a city whose values of the other day still survive amidst the humdrum bustle of today; a city that still retains the charm, culture, hospitality and courtesies of the ages.
Overnight in Chennai
After a leisure breakfast at the hotel, proceed for a city tour of Chennai visiting the Cathedral of San Thome, Fort George, St. Mary's Church, Chennai Museum and Kapaleeswara Temple. The Cathedral of San Thome is the last resting places of St. Thomas the Apostle who brought Christianity to India in 52 AD. Fort George is where most of Chennai's history was written. These are focal points of our visit. St. Mary's Church within the fort was built in 1678 - 80, and Robert Clive was married in this church in 1753. Elihu Yale who in his later years founded the famous Yale University in the U. S., was one of the early governors of Madras as it was then known. Today the fort houses the Secretariat and the Legislative Assembly. Chennai Museum is famous for its splendid collection of Chola bronzes.
Also visit Kapaleeswarar Temple, built over many centuries, has an intricately carved gopuram (gateway). This ancient Shiva Temple is a delightful introduction to Dravidian temple sculpture and architecture. The magnificent 37-m tall gopuram is profusely carved. The crowded cosmogony of stucco gods, goddesses and saints depict important mythical legends that abound Hinduism.
After enjoying the tour of Chennai, transfer to Mahabalipuram by car (2 hrs drive). Upon arrival, check in at the hotel. Mamallapuram is a historical retreat set amidst natural beauty. This was the ancient seaport of the Pallavas who were great connoisseurs of art. Though ravaged by sea and wind, these unique temples and caves hewn out of solid granite still bear testimony to the magnificent heritage of Dravidian architecture and the genius of the Pallavas.
Later in the afternoon, proceed for tour of Mahabalipuram, visiting the glorious Shore Temple, one of the oldest in South India, which stands on the seashore with its paved forecourts. See the great bas-relief of Arjuna's penance, the five Rathas, the Mahishasura Mardhini, Krishna and the Varaha Mandapas (Caves).
Overnight in Mamallapuram
After leisure breakfast at the hotel, transfer to Pondicherry by czr (118 kms/3 hrs drive). Upon arrival, check-in at the hotel. Pondicherry upholds the French tradition to this day. The town rose phoenix - like after the British literally razed it to the ground in the 18th century. It is home to the much acclaimed philosopher Sri Aurobindo Gosh, a onetime Bengal revolutionary who later took to spiritual path and the founder of the Aurobindo Ashram. Pondicherry is known for its French architecture and cuisine.
Afternoon: Visit Auroville. Designed in February 1968, the City of Dawn was set up as the place of constant progress of unending education, an experiment in international living and understanding. Auroville aims to bridge the past and the future and belongs to all humanity. The Matri mandir (pavilion of the Mother) is the soul, the living symbol of Auroville's aspiration for the Divine.
Overnight in Pondicherry
Make a morning visit to the Aurobindo Ashram, founded in mid the 20th century by Sri Aurobindo. Various craft units – paper manufacturing, silk batik and marble printing, are run by the Ashram and are worth a visit.
Leave Pondicherry for Trichy by car (210 kms /4 hrs drive). Upon arrival in Trichy, check-in at the hotel. Trichy, a town in the Cauvery delta, was a Chola citadel in 2 BC. The present town and the fort were built by the Nayak Kings of Madurai in 16-17 century.
Around sunset visit the temple dedicated to Ganesha on the magnificent Rock Fort which is 84 m high. The 437 steps cut into the rock lead up to the temple built at its highest point. The view of the countryside from the temple is superb
Overnight in Trichy
After early breakfast drive to Srirangam (10 minutes) to visit this fascinating temple town which is on an island in the Cauvery. Seven concentric courtyards encircle this temple and town. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the Universe. The temple has 21 magnificent gopurams (gateways) and is adorned with exquisite sculpture.
Leave Trichy for Madurai by car (150 kms/ 3 ½ hrs).
Situated on the banks of the Vaigai River, the ancient capital of the Pandyan Kings is the sacred city of Madurai. Legend has it that the divine nectar (Maduram) falling from Lord Shiva's locks gave the place its name.
Later in the afternoon, enjoy the tour of Madurai visiting the Tirumal Nayak Palace constructed in the Indo-Saracenic style in 1639 AD. The curved dome, standing without the support of a girder or rafter, is an architectural feat. Pass by the Mariamman Teppakulam - the tank with a mandapam in the center. visiting the Meenakshi Temple, a superb example of Dravidian architecture and sculpture, the focal point around which the city has developed. The temple has two sanctoras, one dedicated to Shiva and the other to Meenakshi. The splendidly carved temple complex,
Overnight at Madurai
After leisure breakfast at the hotel, transfer to Munnar by car (160 kms / 3-4 hrs). Upon arrival in Munnar, check in at the hotel.
Situated at 1,524 m above sea level, Munnar is the highest town of Kerala, with a cool bracing climate exuding an old world charm. The atmosphere is fragrant with extensive tea and cardamom plantations. There are enchanting high ranges, lakes, streams and beautiful view of low-lying clouds and the mist filled valleys.
Overnight in Munnar
After a leisure breakfast at the hotel, proceed for a tour of Munnar visiting Mattupetty Lake & Dam, Echo Point, Kundale Lake, Blossom Garden, Rajamalai, Eravikulam National Park, tea plantation & tea factory.
Overnight in Munnar
After breakfast at the hotel, leave Munnar for Periyar by car (110 kms / 3 hrs). Periyar Tiger Reserve, 777 sq kms in area, is set in a rich, mixed deciduous forest, interspersed with open areas of tall grass. Periyar has a splendid artificial lake dotted with snags of dead wood, which provides a perch for water birds: darter, grey heron, egret and kingfisher. It is one of the finest habitats for the Asiatic elephant. These enormous mammals swim in the waters and streams and usually can be observed during an exciting boat ride. You may view a tiger, leopard, sambar, wild dog, barking deer, the unique Nilgiri langur - the lion tailed macaque and a variety of birds.
Afternoon: Proceed to explore the Periyar National Park by walking through the forests and also exploring some part of the forests on country made bamboo boat.
Overnight in Thekkady
After leisure breakfast at the hotel, transfer to Alleppey boat jetty by car (3-4 hrs drive). Upon arrival at the boat jetty, embark on your one room private houseboat. After a brief introduction with your houseboat staff, sail through the back waters of Kerala for Kumarkom round. To experience this world of simple pleasures, you'll skim past ancient Chinese fishing nets, water lilies, lush paddy fields, coir villages, rustic homes, temples, churches and coconut groves. Your houseboat will have a captain besides a cook and an attendant. You will be served delicious lunch & dinner during your stay on the houseboat
Dinner & overnight on the Houseboat
After leisure breakfast on the houseboat, disembark at Alleppey boat jetty, where your car will be waiting for you to transfer to you Cochin (60 Kms / 1 ½ hrs drive).
Innumerable lagoons, lakes, canals, estuaries and deltas of forty-four rivers make up the 900 km backwater network of Kerala. Cochin was born in a storm, nurtured in rivalry, and established as the Crossroads of the Battling Empires of Europe: Portuguese, Dutch and British. The much-photographed Chinese fishing nets at the harbour-mouth, best seen at sunset, testify to Cochin's pre-European association with China. In 1502, Portuguese Seafarer Vasco da Gama came to Cochin seeking spices and converts. He found his spices, launched Europe's Great Age of Exploration, and prayed in the first European church in Asia. Cochin's kings were very tolerant of other faiths. European Jews, fleeing persecution, settled in Jew Town near Mattancherry Palace of the Hindu Raja and prospered.
Overnight in Cochin
After a leisure breakfast at the hotel, proceed for a sightseeing tour of Cochin, visit the synagogue - built in 1568 AD. It contains Grand Scrolls of the Old Testament and the copper plates containing the privileges granted to the Jews by the Cochin rulers. The floor of the synagogue is paved with exquisite Chinese hand painted tiles. Overlooking the Jewish synagogue is Mattancherry Palace, home of the former Rajas of Cochin. Today it holds royal palanquins, weapons, robes and beautiful murals of ancient Hindu epics painted in vegetable dyes. When the Dutch ousted the Portuguese on January 7, 1663, the people of Cochin renamed Mattancherry Palace as the "Dutch Palace" to honour the Netherlanders.
Visit St. Francis Church, built originally by the Portuguese in 1510 AD. It is believed to be the oldest church in India. The building was originally constructed out of timber and later reconstructed in stone masonry during the 16th century. Vasco Da Gama, who died in Cochin in 1524, was buried here before his remains were returned to Portugal 14 years later.
Also visit the Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi, located in the Kochi city of Kerala, make up a very popular tourist attraction. They are fixed land installations, which are used for a very unique and unusual method of fishing. Operated from the shore, these nets are set up on bamboo and teak poles and held horizontally by huge mechanisms, which lower them into the sea. They look somewhat like hammocks and are counter-weighed by large stones tied to ropes
Later in the evening, transfer to the airport in time to board flight for onward destination.
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