Here's the plan
You've seen the Taj and think India can't beat that? This is the trip for you. This is a coast to coast trans-India tour of some spectacular sights, great food and good company.
And while there is no Taj Mahal on this trip, there are some temples and scenery to rival the Taj.
If you want to see a very different side to India then this is the trip for you.
Visit colonial port side towns, stunning temples, mountain plantations, house boats in Kerala - and with lots of fun and good food along the way.
Location : Pondicherry, India
Let's get this party started. You will arrive in Chennai today and we then set off across the sub-continent of India on a tour packed full of laughs, food, great sites and amazing experiences.
Ready to Begin?
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Location : Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu 603104, India
As the song goes: "Didn’t we have a lovely day, the day we went to Mahabalipuram".
After a leisurely breakfast we leave Chennai and take a drive down the coast to Mahabalipuram which is the start of our temple trail. Don’t worry, we are keeping the temples to a minimum.
Arriving just in time for lunch, we walk to the Bay of Bengal for lunch featuring local seafood in a rustic beach shack. After lunch, wander the market streets of this seaside town.
Freshen up at the hotel, have a swim etc.
Afternoon: Off to visit some of the most interesting temples and historic sites while the light is soft and sunset creates stunning photographic backdrops.
Dinner - let’s take it easy tonight and have dinner at the resort, cocktails by the pool, you get the idea.
Location : Puducherry, India
Once again, we are in no rush so after a leisurely breakfast we continue down the coast to the historically fascinating and culturally interesting town of Pondicherry.
Along the way we have a number of stops to visit the sort of things that interest Spirit House: Sea salt harvesting, shrimp farm, local honey, local coffee, cashew and mango plantations. We stop for morning tea at one of the first hippy communes - Auroville.
Auroville was designed in 1964 to be a refuge for humanity and attracted people from all over the world to live there. Some great bakeries and gardens and an excellent stop for morning tea.
Arrive in our French colonial boutique hotel at lunch time where we will stay for two nights right in the middle of the French quarter (white town).
The French settled in Pondicherry in 1674 and relinquished it back to India in 1954. That’s 300 years of French influence which extends to Pondicherry’s architecture, food and boulevards. Chic boutiques, colonial villas make Pondicherry a real gem of a city in India.
Our hotel is walking distance to everything that Pondicherry has to offer - cool cafes and bars, great shops, contemporary restaurants and the famous Beach Road. With so much history and great food, sights etc. we are here for two nights. Dinner will be at local restaurant.
Tanjor temples, massages and home cooked lunch
Location : Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India
After breakfast we make our way to Tanjor visiting some remarkable temples along the way. Before you say, “Not more temples.” - keep in mind you haven’t seen any for two days and besides, the temples are a nice chance to stretch our legs as we arrive at Kumbakonam village for an incredible thali lunch at a reconstructed traditional Indian home.
In the afternoon we reach Tanjor and check in to a fantastic boutique hotel complete with massages, yoga, cooking classes and the most important part - a rooftop bar with extensive wine list.
Dinner - sunset over the temples viewed from the rooftop bar with some great food. The perfect way to end the day.
CHIDAMBARA -Historic Mansions and Amazing Food
Once again a leisurely depart today, time for a massage or a swim, or meditation and yoga with the local priest. We aren’t done with Tanjor yet.
After checkout we visit a local bronze factory where they cast and pour bronze statues.
The Brihadeeswarar temple is worth a visit and is one of India’s oldest and largest temples.
Lunch in town and then hit the road to Chidambara with bronze shiva statues now stuffed in your luggage for good luck. On the way we snack on freshly roasted cashews fresh from the farm. Visit a local tile factory to see the traditional way tiles are made in this part of India.
We arrive at Chidambara in the late afternoon and head out to explore this fascinating town before dinner by foot or bike.
Chidambara is one of 74 villages in the district of Chettinad. This area was historically the home to bankers and business community and were responsible for the spread of trade and religion through South East Asia. They built mansions in these towns and many have been converted in to hotels. Adorned with marble and crystal from Europe, antiques from Asia and crockery from China - the village is a living museum.
Chettinad state is famous for its cuisine and we will be having a Chettinad feast tonight with 20 courses.
Madurai - A Temple to beat the Taj?
Location : Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India
This is a big call but we are going to visit a temple today that we have found to be as magnificent as the Taj Mahal!
After breakfast we drive about two hours to Madurai visiting the bustling and colourful flower market in town.
Then to the stunning Meenakshi Amman Temple which is the lifeline of the 2,500 year old city. Most of the temple was built in 1600s but the original temple was built around 600BC. Housing 14 gateway towers at around 50 meters high, it was on the list of the top 30 nominees for the new 7 wonders of the modern world.
Check in to the hotel featuring great gardens and a panoramic view of the city. Lunch at the hotel in the gardens and then chill out for the afternoon for our next round of adventure tonight.
Rested up? Good, because we’re heading in to town for an incredible food walk. A great introduction to lots of Tamil Nadu specialties - we have a great guide who will demystify all the ingredients, sights and sounds we encounter along the way. Arrive back at the hotel and perhaps a nightcap from the garden bar overlooking the city at night.
Thekkady -Gateway to Kerala
Location : Thekkady, Kumily, Kerala, India
Rise and shine! This is optional, but you’d be crazy to give this a miss. Up at 5.30am for a heritage city walk of Madurai. A totally different look at the city as it comes to life in the early hours. Off to some local markets, breakfast snacks on the way and witness people making offerings etc. with breakfast at a famous local restaurant.
Returning to the hotel you can freshen up, have more breakfast at the hotel and then we hit the road driving over the Western Ghats to the state of Kerala - interesting scenery along the way. Stop at a brickworks along the way - very interesting.
Lunch by the pool with a cold beer at the hotel. Relax this afternoon because this evening we are going to see the local Indian martial arts show and dinner at a great restaurant.
Location : Alappuzha, Kerala, India
Leisurely departure today then off to Alleppy for our luxury houseboat adventure. Along the way, we stop at a Christian pilgrim shrine, interesting churches with great views over the Western Ghats and tea plantations.
Arrive at the backwaters of Kerala ready for you to board your private houseboats.
Lunch and dinner will be cooked on board by your personal chef and served by your personal crew. You will float along the backwaters enjoying peaceful countryside and overnight on the boat in your aircon cabin.
After a night on the water, we meet back at the docks after breakfast ready to depart for Cochin.
Along the way we have a very special visit to Manakkodam village. Visiting the home of a local lady and she will take us on a walking tour through the village visiting interesting things such as: matchstick factory, coir rope factory, local school and farms, then back to her beautiful home for lunch. The food here is incredible and sourced locally. A great taste of traditional village life.
We arrive at Cochin mid afternoon which leaves us plenty of time to explore the streets of this historic city. Tonight, if you’re into dance and culture, we can visit the culture centre and take in the Kathakali dance show - a mesmerising display of dance, costumes and make-up.
A farewell dinner at one of Cochin’s great restaurants.
Occupied by the Portuguese in 1503, Cochin (Kochi) was the first of the European colonies in colonial India. It is historically fascinating with great forts and was described as the Queen of the Arabian Sea. Full of museums and photo opportunities at every turn. Interestingly there is a very old synagogue here too. It was a melting pot of culture and religion which is still evident to this day
Cochin - Depart
The show is over. We have organised transfers to take you to the airport. If you're in the mood to kick on without us, the beaches of Goa are to the north and there is plenty more for you to explore in Cochin if you want to spend an extra day or two.
What about the Taj Mahal? - you might be saying. We have a quick Taj extension for those who have never been to India before.
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India