Spiritual Southern India

16-day Spiritual Southern India Escorted Tour!

Book by September 4, 2018 and save $600 per couple!

Tour Highlights!

  • Soaring Temples, Colonial-Flavored Cities and Welcoming People 
  • When most travelers think of India, they imagine the Mughal fortresses and sweeping cityscapes of the north: Delhi’s colossal monuments and palaces, Agra’s Taj Mahal, the cultural centers of Jaipur and Jodhpur and the sacred city of Varanasi along “Mother Ganges.” But India has another side, of bustling spice and silk markets kissed by breezes from the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea … of crescent beaches, remote backwaters and magnificent natural beauty … of colossal Hindu temples and palaces evoking the grand India of old … and of the colonial remnants of Britain, France, Holland, and Portugal. It’s all a stunning backdrop for a rich and intoxicating culture of gracious Hinduism, time-honored crafts, bustling bazaars, and mouth-watering cuisine. And Discovery Tours is delighted to peel back its many layers for you, revealing a magical place deeply rooted in its spirituality.Welcome to Southern India!
  • Awash in Temples and the Gracious Spirit of Hinduism 
  • The third largest religion in the world, with more than one billion followers, Hinduism is largely rooted in the concepts of dharma (ethics), moksha (freedom), and karma (kindly actions). About 80% of Indians embrace its teachings in every aspect of their lives, and by some accounts, millions of gods are worshipped by the many schools of Hinduism, so you won’t be surprised to find countless temples.Many of the temples you’ll see were constructed in the Dravidian style, of pyramid-shaped towers. It’s a style that began in Southern India and spread to other parts of the world, so it’s a privilege to see them here in their place of origin. As you traverse the magnificent landscapes, you will see too many to count, stopping to explore the most spectacular ones almost daily. 
  • Mahabalipuram enjoys a sweeping setting on the Bay of Bengal. These incredible temples overlook the water from a dramatic rocky outcropping and were once part of a thriving seaport. Admire the intricately carved bas reliefs throughout the site and stop to view the nearly submerged Shore Temple, which has stood in the sea for more than 1,200 years. In Kanchipuram, “City of a Thousand Temples,” explore some of the most divine, from the Ekambareswarar Temple, with its 540 pillars, to the Kailasanathar Temple, adorned with elaborate carvings. In Chidambaram, admire Nataraja, a sprawling temple complex spread over 50 acres. In Srirangam, visit the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world, Ranganathaswamy, spread across an island in the city’s Cauvery River. One of the most visually striking temples, Meenakshi, was nominated to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and you’ll understand why when you gaze upon it 14 towers, or gopurams. Once the heart of the 2,500-year-old city of Madurai, a trade stop for merchants of ancient Greece and Rome, it boasts about 33,000 sculptures within.
  • Colonial Accents Hint at a Rich HistoryThe beauty of exploring Southern India is its rich blend of sacred structures and vestiges of its colonial past. You may observe a purity in the region’s many temples, a glimpse of India’s old ways before Europeans arrived. Juxtaposing them with the state buildings and spired churches of Britain, France, Holland and Portugal provides a quick lesson in India’s imperialist past, a history fraught with turbulence but fascinating nonetheless.
  • St. George Fort in Chennai is a dramatic symbol of Britain’s influence. This was the first English fortress in India, erected in the 1650s. Because these fortifications were built on uninhabited land, only to later be surrounded by the Indian city, some say that Chennai was founded as a British city. An excellent museum within the fort explains. Further down the east coast, the French East India Company established five trading posts from their headquarters in Pondicherry, affectionately called Pondy. Today, this city’s French Quarter is lined with shade trees, cobbled streets, cafes and colonial-era villas draped in bougainvillea, providing a little taste of France in India.
  • On the west coast, the city of Kochi harbors evidence of both Portuguese and Dutch influence, with a hint of Chinese. This was the first Indian city to be colonized by Europe when the Portuguese explorer Pedro Cabral arrived in 1500. The city fortress was the center of Portugal’s power, but it was overtaken by the Dutch in 1663. As the British East India Company encroached in the early 19th century, the Dutch ceded the region to George III in 1814. In Kochi, the Mattancherry Palace is a remarkably simple melding of colonialism and traditional Indian design; its European-style exteriors house richly textured murals created in the tradition of Hindu temple art. Two temples – one dedicated to Lord Krishna and the other to Lord Siva – flank the main house. Meanwhile, in Kochi’s harbor, fishermen cast cantilevered nets into the water, a fishing method that dates back to the days of the court of Chinese ruler Kublai Khan. To any visitor, Kochi emerges as a remarkable amalgam of varied cultures.
  • A Welcoming EmbraceBehind the grandiose temple facades and colonial influence, it’s the open-armed people who are at the heart of authentic India. And you’ll meet them during exclusive visits to their homes and workplaces. Visit a traditional silk-weaving workshop to meet local artists and learn the secret to perfectly draping a sari. Stop by a meditation center and mingle with the spiritually-minded as you take in its serene setting. Watch as pilgrims cleanse themselves in a bathing ghat on the banks of the Kaveri River. Chat with shopkeepers at a Madurai bazaar and learn the many uses of local spices during a plantation tour. Pick up some secrets of Indian cuisine during a cooking lesson. And so much more, thanks to the unprecedented access our small group provides to the small, intimate venues that reveal the true Southern India.

Inclusions!

  • Flights Montreal-Chennai, Kochi-Montreal. Other departure cities available. 
  • Airline taxes & fuel surcharges
  • 14 nights accommodations
    • 2 nights Chennai
    • 2 nights Mahabalipuram
    • 1 night Pondicherry
    • 2 nights Thanjavur
    • 2 nights Madurai
    • 2 nights Periyar National Park
    • 3 nights Kochi
  • Hotel taxes, fees & service charges
  • Hotel porterage
  • All transfers
  • 31 meals: 14 breakfasts, 9 lunches, 8 dinners with wine♦
  • Sightseeing per itinerary in modern air-conditioned vehicles
  • Services of English-speaking tour manager throughout
  • Comprehensive, guided sightseeing and entrance fees per itinerary
  • Comfortable wireless earphones for enhanced touring
  • Active itinerary with unique cultural features
  • Small groups of maximum 22 travelers guaranteed 
  • .
  • .

Is This Trip Right for You?

This is an active trip. Our small group covers a lot of ground each day, and we spend three to four hours on our feet during tours and four to seven hours driving between cities. Some of our tours require walking over uneven surfaces or up and down steep slopes. We have many early mornings. This tour is not recommended for people who have difficulty walking. This is a Small Group program. For more information please call us.

Tour Highlights!

  • Soaring Temples, Colonial-Flavored Cities and Welcoming People 
  • When most travelers think of India, they imagine the Mughal fortresses and sweeping cityscapes of the north: Delhi’s colossal monuments and palaces, Agra’s Taj Mahal, the cultural centers of Jaipur and Jodhpur and the sacred city of Varanasi along “Mother Ganges.” But India has another side, of bustling spice and silk markets kissed by breezes from the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea … of crescent beaches, remote backwaters and magnificent natural beauty … of colossal Hindu temples and palaces evoking the grand India of old … and of the colonial remnants of Britain, France, Holland, and Portugal. It’s all a stunning backdrop for a rich and intoxicating culture of gracious Hinduism, time-honored crafts, bustling bazaars, and mouth-watering cuisine. And Discovery Tours is delighted to peel back its many layers for you, revealing a magical place deeply rooted in its spirituality.Welcome to Southern India!
  • Awash in Temples and the Gracious Spirit of Hinduism 
  • The third largest religion in the world, with more than one billion followers, Hinduism is largely rooted in the concepts of dharma (ethics), moksha (freedom), and karma (kindly actions). About 80% of Indians embrace its teachings in every aspect of their lives, and by some accounts, millions of gods are worshipped by the many schools of Hinduism, so you won’t be surprised to find countless temples.Many of the temples you’ll see were constructed in the Dravidian style, of pyramid-shaped towers. It’s a style that began in Southern India and spread to other parts of the world, so it’s a privilege to see them here in their place of origin. As you traverse the magnificent landscapes, you will see too many to count, stopping to explore the most spectacular ones almost daily. 
  • Mahabalipuram enjoys a sweeping setting on the Bay of Bengal. These incredible temples overlook the water from a dramatic rocky outcropping and were once part of a thriving seaport. Admire the intricately carved bas reliefs throughout the site and stop to view the nearly submerged Shore Temple, which has stood in the sea for more than 1,200 years. In Kanchipuram, “City of a Thousand Temples,” explore some of the most divine, from the Ekambareswarar Temple, with its 540 pillars, to the Kailasanathar Temple, adorned with elaborate carvings. In Chidambaram, admire Nataraja, a sprawling temple complex spread over 50 acres. In Srirangam, visit the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world, Ranganathaswamy, spread across an island in the city’s Cauvery River. One of the most visually striking temples, Meenakshi, was nominated to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and you’ll understand why when you gaze upon it 14 towers, or gopurams. Once the heart of the 2,500-year-old city of Madurai, a trade stop for merchants of ancient Greece and Rome, it boasts about 33,000 sculptures within.
  • Colonial Accents Hint at a Rich HistoryThe beauty of exploring Southern India is its rich blend of sacred structures and vestiges of its colonial past. You may observe a purity in the region’s many temples, a glimpse of India’s old ways before Europeans arrived. Juxtaposing them with the state buildings and spired churches of Britain, France, Holland and Portugal provides a quick lesson in India’s imperialist past, a history fraught with turbulence but fascinating nonetheless.
  • St. George Fort in Chennai is a dramatic symbol of Britain’s influence. This was the first English fortress in India, erected in the 1650s. Because these fortifications were built on uninhabited land, only to later be surrounded by the Indian city, some say that Chennai was founded as a British city. An excellent museum within the fort explains. Further down the east coast, the French East India Company established five trading posts from their headquarters in Pondicherry, affectionately called Pondy. Today, this city’s French Quarter is lined with shade trees, cobbled streets, cafes and colonial-era villas draped in bougainvillea, providing a little taste of France in India.
  • On the west coast, the city of Kochi harbors evidence of both Portuguese and Dutch influence, with a hint of Chinese. This was the first Indian city to be colonized by Europe when the Portuguese explorer Pedro Cabral arrived in 1500. The city fortress was the center of Portugal’s power, but it was overtaken by the Dutch in 1663. As the British East India Company encroached in the early 19th century, the Dutch ceded the region to George III in 1814. In Kochi, the Mattancherry Palace is a remarkably simple melding of colonialism and traditional Indian design; its European-style exteriors house richly textured murals created in the tradition of Hindu temple art. Two temples – one dedicated to Lord Krishna and the other to Lord Siva – flank the main house. Meanwhile, in Kochi’s harbor, fishermen cast cantilevered nets into the water, a fishing method that dates back to the days of the court of Chinese ruler Kublai Khan. To any visitor, Kochi emerges as a remarkable amalgam of varied cultures.
  • A Welcoming EmbraceBehind the grandiose temple facades and colonial influence, it’s the open-armed people who are at the heart of authentic India. And you’ll meet them during exclusive visits to their homes and workplaces. Visit a traditional silk-weaving workshop to meet local artists and learn the secret to perfectly draping a sari. Stop by a meditation center and mingle with the spiritually-minded as you take in its serene setting. Watch as pilgrims cleanse themselves in a bathing ghat on the banks of the Kaveri River. Chat with shopkeepers at a Madurai bazaar and learn the many uses of local spices during a plantation tour. Pick up some secrets of Indian cuisine during a cooking lesson. And so much more, thanks to the unprecedented access our small group provides to the small, intimate venues that reveal the true Southern India.

Inclusions!

  • Flights Montreal-Chennai, Kochi-Montreal. Other departure cities available. 
  • Airline taxes & fuel surcharges
  • 14 nights accommodations
    • 2 nights Chennai
    • 2 nights Mahabalipuram
    • 1 night Pondicherry
    • 2 nights Thanjavur
    • 2 nights Madurai
    • 2 nights Periyar National Park
    • 3 nights Kochi
  • Hotel taxes, fees & service charges
  • Hotel porterage
  • All transfers
  • 31 meals: 14 breakfasts, 9 lunches, 8 dinners with wine♦
  • Sightseeing per itinerary in modern air-conditioned vehicles
  • Services of English-speaking tour manager throughout
  • Comprehensive, guided sightseeing and entrance fees per itinerary
  • Comfortable wireless earphones for enhanced touring
  • Active itinerary with unique cultural features
  • Small groups of maximum 22 travelers guaranteed 
  • .
  • .

Is This Trip Right for You?

This is an active trip. Our small group covers a lot of ground each day, and we spend three to four hours on our feet during tours and four to seven hours driving between cities. Some of our tours require walking over uneven surfaces or up and down steep slopes. We have many early mornings. This tour is not recommended for people who have difficulty walking. This is a Small Group program. For more information please call us.

Detailed Itinerary

DAY 1, Monday – Depart for India
Depart for India

DAY 2, Tuesday – Arrive in Chennai
Welcome to India! Arrive in cosmopolitan Chennai on the Bay of Bengal, gateway to South India; transfer to the hotel. Time to rest, relax and acclimate to your new time zone or venture out to get acquainted with some of the city’s extraordinary sights and the lively shops selling vibrant handmade silk sarees
Overnight: Chennai

DAY 3, Wednesday – Government Museum, St. George Fort, Marina Beach
This morning, begin your exploration of the city at the Government Museum, with its fascinating exhibits about ancient Chennai. Then, enjoy lunch before heading on to Fort St. George built in 1653 by the British East India Company. A scenic drive along the coast then takes you to Marina Beach, a surprising combination of colonial buildings, churches, and monuments accented by the natural beauty of endless skies and sea. Leisure time in this lovely setting before returning to the hotel. This evening, join your Tour Manager and fellow travelers at a briefing on the exciting discovery of South India that lies ahead, followed by dinner at the hotel
Overnight: Chennai
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 4, Thursday – Kanchipuram, “City of a Thousand Temples”, Silk Weaving Artisans 
This morning, travel to Kanchipuram, the “City of a Thousand Temples,” one of Hinduism’s most sacred cities. Here, you tour the historically important Ekambareswarar Temple with its 540 pillars. Then, visit the stunning Kailasanathar Temple with its elaborate carvings before enjoying lunch. Kanchipuram, world-famous for its hand-woven silk sarees, is the center of silk production and design in India for over four centuries. As you walk along the lanes of the city, view colorful displays of sarees waving in the breeze, woven on hand looms by artisans throughout the city out of dazzling bright silks, embellished with golden threads. On your exclusive visit to a traditional silk weaving factory, meet with some of the artists and learn how to drape and wear a sari. Afterward, on to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mahabalipuram, an ancient archaeological wonder rising on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Bay of Bengal. Once a major seaport, these magnificent temples, and carvings are remarkable examples of exquisite architecture, illustrating tales from mythology and highlighting the development of the Dravidian temple style. The rest of the day is at leisure for independent activities
Overnight: Mahabalipuram
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

DAY 5, Friday – Mahabalipuram’s Temples 
Early this morning if you wish, join a yoga session. After breakfast, embark on a walking tour. Admire the Shore Temple standing by the sea for over 12 centuries, with an impressive bas-relief and imposing twin towers. At the southern end of the site, see the Five Rathas carved from large boulders and Arjuna’s Penance, a massive bas-relief that magnificently depicts the flow of the Ganges down from the Himalayas coupled with scenes from Indian daily life. This temple complex is considered the finest early example of medieval southern Indian architecture. This afternoon, enjoy the lovely beaches this coastal city has to offer before dinner tonight at the hotel
Overnight: Mahabalipuram
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

DAY 6, Saturday – Pondicherry’s French Quarter, Auroville Meditation Center, Paper Factory
Your journey along the coast takes you to enchanting Pondicherry, a former French colonial settlement that still retains its carefree French atmosphere and architectural legacy. In the charming Old Quarter, with its tree-lined cobbled streets, colonial villas are draped with fragrant bougainvillea, and sidewalk cafes abound. Even the policemen are dressed in traditional French red hats and belts! Lunch is followed by a visit to serene Auroville, City of Dawn famous for the meditation center inspired by the teachings of the Indian yogi Sri Aurobindo. Many spiritually minded visitors come here and stay to nurture his vision of human unity. Next, view the golden-domed Mother Temple. Later, tour a factory where delicate individually handcrafted papers are produced followed by a visit to Aurobindo Ashram. Enjoy a rickshaw ride around the French, Hindu and Muslim quarters of Pondicherry. Tonight, dinner together at the hotel
Overnight: Pondicherry
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 7, Sunday – Chidambaram Temples, Thanjavur, Maratha Palace
Depart Pondicherry for Chidambaram, home to the massive temple complex of Nataraja, one of the holiest of all Shiva sites, a spectacular architectural marvel spread over 50 acres in the heart of the city. After time to relax over lunch, travel to Thanjavur (Tanjore) once a thriving capital of the celebrated Chola Empire, known as the “rice bowl” of the Tamil Nadu region. On arrival, visit the spectacular Maratha Palace, within a maze-like complex; walk through the open courtyard Art Gallery displaying priceless collections of superb Chola bronzes and stone carvings and visit the Saraswathi Mahal Library. The remainder of the day is at leisure in Thanjavur
Overnight: Thanjavur
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

DAY 8, Monday – Amma Mandapam, Ranganathaswamy Temple, Lord Brihadeeswarar Temple
The early morning drive to Trichy is highlighted by a visit to Amma Mandapam, a religious bathing ghat on the banks of the Kaveri River. Witness pilgrims immersing themselves in a ritual bath before proceeding to worship at the sacred Ranganathaswamy Temple. Stop at this famous temple, one of the most illustrious in the country, nestled in an ethereal setting on the island of Srirangam. Following lunch, stop at the grand Lord Brihadeeswarar Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where thousands of people worship daily. Built by King Raja Raja Cholan over a thousand years ago, this impressive temple is one of South India’s most magnificent architectural accomplishments. Afterward, visit a local dance school practicing Bharatnatyam. Meet with students to learn more about the dance and attend a performance. Tonight, enjoy dinner at a local restaurant
Overnight: Thanjavur
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 9, Tuesday – Chettinad’s Palaces, Meenakshi Temple, Madurai’s Bazaars
Your travels take you to Chettinad, land of the Chettiars, a community that dates back to the Chola period making its fortunes as money lenders, merchants and jewelry dealers. Here, see lavish palaces and mansions that reflect the opulence of a bygone era. Also known for its food and Master Chefs, enjoy a distinctive traditional lunch of local favorites. Next, you reach the vibrant city of Madurai on the banks of the Vaigai River, a center of learning and pilgrimage for many centuries. View the 1000-year old Meenakshi Temple, the principal attraction of the city esteemed as one of India’s largest pilgrimage sites with 12 towering gopurams. In the afternoon, shop at the bargain-filled bazaars bursting with treasures and jewelry shops galore. This evening, dinner at the hotel
Overnight: Madurai
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 10, Wednesday – Madurai’s Temples, Ghandi Museum
Don’t miss this morning’s optional Vanakkam (means welcome in Tamil language) private interactive walking tour of Madurai! At the first light of dawn, walk the quiet streets as the city awakens. Observe first-hand how everyday life begins in this Indian city from prayer rituals at the temple to market shopping — truly a total immersion into the culture. Return for breakfast, followed by a visit with the group to the ancient Meenakshi Amman Temple, an enormous Nayak complex built between 1623 and 1655, as a majestic testament to their ruler. Later, to the massive Thirumalai Nayakkar Palace with its imposing courtyard, grand throne chambers and entry flanked by stone carved horses. A visit to the Gandhi Museum follows with an opportunity to learn about this remarkable man lovingly called the “Father of the Nation” instrumental in India’s fight for independence
Optional: Vanakkam Madurai Tour (AM)
Overnight: Madurai
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

DAY 11, Thursday – Periyar National Park, Spice Plantation
Today, drive to Periyar National Park perched high in the Cardamom Hills, the best-known wildlife sanctuary in South India, home to elephants, antelope, deer and many species of birdlife. Its variety of flora and fauna, pristine lakes and magnificent forests will surely make this visit most memorable. After time to relax and settle in at the hotel, stroll leisurely through one of the area’s spice plantations. You’ll hear about the many different ways to use these spices in both medicines and in the preparation of food. In the evening, join the optional Kalaripayattu Martial Art Show with dinner. Kalaripayattu, one of the oldest fighting styles in the world, is believed to have been adapted from various martial art forms like karate, kung-fu, and judo
Optional: Kalaripayattu Martial Art Show with dinner
Overnight: Periyar National Park
Meals: Breakfast

DAY 12, Friday – Periyar National Park
Thrilling activities await you today at the acclaimed Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Begin the day with a nature walk inside the National Park. Pass through evergreen and deciduous forests accompanied by your local guide, who informs you about the local flora. A highlight of the day is a scenic Jeep ride to Ottakathalamedu, 1300 meters above sea level, for panoramic views of Thekkady. Afterward, a boat ride on the picturesque lake. At the end of this exciting day, perhaps treat yourself to a rejuvenating and soothing Ayurveda massage. Tonight, enjoy dinner together at the hotel
Overnight: Periyar National Park
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

DAY 13, Saturday – Alleppey Back Waters, Houseboat Cruise, Kochi
The drive to Alleppey reveals this tranquil backwater region of Kerala. Boarding a houseboat, you cruise along this very intricate network of canals, lakes, lagoons and rivers called the “Venice of the East.” Observe Kerala’s rural lifestyle as you glide past tiny villages sprinkled with rice fields and witness a way of life that has changed little through the ages. With women washing clothes on the river banks while children play in the shallows, kingfishers dart among the palm trees and the fishermen stand with water up to their necks, seeking out fish with their feet. Enjoy a specially prepared lunch of Keralan cuisine cooked on board just for you. Arrive in Kochi, a principle port and center of the Malabar Coast spice trade since the 14th century. Known as the “Queen of the Arabian Sea,” it was here that the first European settlement in India was established by Vasco da Gama. Subsequently, the city was ruled alternatively by the Dutch and the British until its independence
Overnight: Kochi
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

DAY 14, Sunday – Home Hosted Cooking Class, Kathakali Dance Performance
Today you’re treated to a specially arranged cooking class at a private home in Kochi. Join your hosts in the preparation of lunch while learning some of the secrets of Indian cuisine. Afterward, view 16th century St. Francis Church, before proceeding to the Santa Cruz Cathedral with its pastel-colored interior and impressive murals.  Head to the harbor where local fishermen continue to use cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, distinctively unique to Kochi, living symbols of a centuries-old Chinese influence on this coast dating back to the court of the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan. Spend the rest of the day on your own in Kochi. Time to relax before tonight’s colorful Kathakali dance performance, Kerala’s popular classical and emotional form of dance, drama and music that combines storytelling with music and rigorous physical training. Following the performance, enjoy dinner at a local restaurant
Overnight: Kochi
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

DAY 15, Monday – Mattancherry Dutch Palace, Paradesi Synagogue, Farewell Dinner
This morning depart on a tour of the Mattancherry Dutch Palace, built by the Portuguese and later renovated by the Dutch in the 17th century. Then, continue to the heart of the Old Quarter. Here, visit the Paradesi Synagogue, the oldest existing Jewish synagogue in India. Magnificently decorated with hand-painted Chinese tiles and Belgian chandeliers, the synagogue has preserved four important scrolls of the Old Testament. Back at the hotel, time to freshen up before tonight’s festivities. Embark on a cruise on the lagoons before enjoying a very special Farewell Dinner – a perfect conclusion to your wonderful journey through South India. Bid farewell to your Tour Manager and fellow travelers
Overnight: Kochi
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

DAY 16, Tuesday – Depart India
Transfer to the airport for your departure flight
Meals: Breakfast

For a full price quotation and availability please call us as package pricing varies according to travel dates and other factors. Book by September 4, 2018 and get $600 discount per couple by using promo code DTNSN250