Our South India Small Group Trip delves into the full range of sights and experiences unique to South India, using beautiful homestay, small guest house and heritage accommodation, with lots of easy walks, activities and interaction providing an engaging and fulfilling overall experience.
The diversity of South India is staggering: every state speaks a distinct language; everywhere Hinduism manifests differently, in addition to vibrant Muslim and Christian communities. Physically there are the extremes of the hot, dry Deccan Plateau, and the lush, tropical backwaters of Kerala. Agriculture is the predominant industry, though increasingly knowledge and service industries, such as IT, are playing a role in the economies of the southern states.
Group size: max 10.
Tempo: easy does it/on the go.
Included: accommodation, transport, western leader and local guides, all meals, entrance fees.
Accommodation: small guest houses, homestays and heritage hotels.
Transport: 11 seater air-conditioned van
Combines with: ends in time for start of Central North Small Group Trip
Notes: itineraries presented here are based on past trips; forthcoming trips may vary slightly
Day 1: Arrive Goa Goa eases us into India: a laid-back atmosphere, quiet beaches, and delicious Portuguese-influenced cuisine. Some low-key local activities and acclimatising is the order of the day. (As with all Group Trips, travellers are encouraged to arrive one or two days early in order to acclimatise prior to the start of the trip proper - we can make all the necessary arrangements to accommodate your early arrival.)
Day 2: Goa – Hampi This morning we board an air-conditioned train bound for Hampi. Sit back and enjoy a cup of chai as the countryside rolls by. On arrival we will be met by friends and transferred to their simple guest house, where we are welcomed with genuine hospitality by the family.
Day 3: Hampi We walk, ride, and motor around the remarkable ruins of the ancient city of Vijayanagar – some claim the world's largest archaeological site. On its way to increased visitor numbers but still relatively unknown, this is one of the great ancient marvels of the world, in pristine condition, populated by no more than a few backpackers and banana farmers.
Day 4: Hampi – Bangalore Only on your second day in Hampi will you start to appreciate the magnitude of this once thriving city. Today we visit the most well preserved and impressive remains. In the evening we board a train for Bangalore; overnight on board the train.
Day 5: Bangalore to Mysore After arrival and breakfast in Bangalore we drive 3 hours to Mysore. With a Sunday arrival we get to see the 97 000 light bulbs on the palace are switched on - along with the carnival atmosphere - to make an awesomely illuminated scene.
Day 6: Mysore Today we have all day to discover the pleasures of Mysore, with its famously elaborate princely palace, lively market and otherwise laid back atmosphere. We can also visit Chamundi Hill, though climbing the 1000 steps to the temple at the top is optional.
Day 7: Wayanad After breakfast drive 3 hours to Wayanad and check into hotel. In the afternoon visit Edakkal cave, where 5000 year old pre-historic rock carvings are found. Dinner in a large cave by candle light (conditions permitting) and the local Keralan style cuisine is a highlight.
Day 8: Wayanad – Kannur Before breakfast, take a jeep to Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, where there is a good – but not guaranteed – chance to elephants, deer and bison. Later in the morning drive 5 hours down the steep ghat road to the Arabian Sea. Our home for the next two nights is a small guest house by the beach, where the food is again a standout.
Day 9: Kannur Today we will dedicate some serious time to relaxing and enjoying the location and the semi-private beach on offer. In the afternoon we can hopefully see a performance of the religious dance form 'Thayyam', which is a blend of ancient local tribal beliefs and the 'newer' – though more than 1500 year old – influence of Hinduism.
Day 10: Kannur – Cochin In the early afternoon board a train bound for Cochin, where we will arrive in the evening. It's been in the hands of the Dutch, British, Portuguese, and Chinese, but now it's in ours. With virtually no traffic, it's the perfect place to explore on a bike, or do nothing but enjoy the character of our heritage hotel. Includes India's oldest church, a Jewish quarter called – you guessed it – Jewtown, and the photo-esque Chinese fishing nets.
Day 11: Cochin Full day to discover Cochin with a local guide, including a private harbour cruise, a walk through historic Fort Cochin, and a performance of Kathikali, a traditional Keralan dance.
Day 12: Houseboat on the backwater In the morning drive to Alleppey and board a houseboat, then relax as the three staff pamper you all the way through the backwaters. This is a highlight of the South for many people. In the afternoon we disembark and drive 2 hours to Palai.
Day 13: Palai A sprawling rubber plantation with a palatial family home, this property is set deep in the coffee, tea, and spice plantations of the Keralan midlands, and is memorable for many reasons – not least the unique home-style Syrian Catholic food on offer. Cooking demonstrations, Ayurvedic massage, a visit to see elephants at work are the activities on offer during our stay.
Day 14: Palai – Madurai Today involves a 6 hour drive up and over the Western Ghat mountain range, with beautiful views as we go. We can break the drive in Periyar with lunch. An afternoon arrival leaves us just enough time for a cursory foray into the busy central streets of this temple town.
Day 15: Madurai Madurai is famous for its Sri Meenakshi temple. Covering six hectares, with 50 meter high towers, and a thousand pillared hall, this is one of the most awe-inspiring temples to visit in the whole of India. We also have the option to visit the insightful Gandhi museum and bustling tailors market, great for sharpening your bargaining skills.
Day 16: Madurai – Tanjore In the morning drive 5 hours to Tanjore; our resort style hotel here has a palm-fringed swimming pool. Afternoon free to relax with a swim or Ayurvedic massage.
Day 17: Tanjore – Pondicherry Tanjore is dominated by the World Heritage listed Brihadeeswara temple, where an 80 ton piece of granite crowns the 60 meter high central vimana or tower. A local guide will explain the complex system of ramps and wheels used to construct the temple complex more than 1000 years ago. After a morning visit to the temple drive 5 hours to Pondicherry. We stay in a heritage property run by a French-Indian family, where the coffee and croissant breakfasts are not unwelcome.
Day 18: Pondicherry This former French colony has passed its French heritage down in a unique way – through the proliferation of retail outlets selling high quality Indian-inspired clothes, handicrafts, and designer homewares. Pondicherry is also famous for its beautiful heritage buildings – some of them now boutique hotels – and fabulous restaurants.
Day 19: Pondicherry – Chennai After breakfast we have a short drive up the coast to Chennai airport, with a stop en route to visit the 7th century World Heritage listed monuments at Mahabalipuram. Transfer to airport for flights home or to onward Indian destination for more travelling.