This is an almost complete coastal journey from Mumbai in the west, round the southern most tip of India, on through the temple towns of Tamil Nadu and finishing on the shores of the Bay of Bengal at Chennai.
Day 1: On arrival in Mumbai you’ll be met and assisted with the transfer to your hotel. Overnight in Mumbai.
Day 2: India’s biggest and most cosmopolitan city, Mumbai is a unique blend of influences, religions, cuisines and offers a wide range of sights to be savoured during your full day tour here. Starting in South Mumbai and visiting the Gateway of India before visiting several of the grand colonial buildings in this oldest part of the city, you will also see the Dhobi Ghats - perhaps the largest open-air laundry in the world!- and spend time on Chowpatty Beach- the favourite hangout of locals and visitors alike. In the afternoon you may prefer to venture north and tour the Kanheri Caves - a series of ancient rock-cut temples and shrines- or visit the Prince of Wales Museum- Mumbai’s best collection of Indian treasures. Overnight in Mumbai.
Day 3: In the morning, take a boat ride on Mumbai Harbour to Elephanta Island and tour the caves here. Free time in the afternoon for shopping and exploration, overnight in Mumbai.
Day 4: Transfer to Mumbai airport and fly south to Mangalore on the Sapphire Coast of northern Kerala, where you’ll be met and driven a short distance to your beach resort. Overnight near Mangalore.
Day 5: A full day to enjoy the tranquility of the Sapphire Coast and the facilities at the resort, as well as time to swim in the Arabian Sea. Overnight near Mangalore.
Day 6: Drive inland to the Coorg district of Karnataka - an area renowned for the quality of the coffee grown here- and visit the Elephant Training Camp at Dubare. Coorg is also well known for its excellent trekking opportunities and an extra day or two can easily be added here to enable you to walk in one of the most picturesque parts of Karnataka. Overnight near Madikeri.
Day 7: Tour a coffee and spice plantation and the nearby Tibetan settlements, visit the source of the mighty Cauvery River or cycle along a quiet road to a tribal village - Coorg is a diverse region with plenty of options. Overnight near Madikeri.
Day 8: Leave Coorg and drive 2 hours to Nagarhole National Park, one of the richest wildlife habitats in south India, where you will be able to take several jeep and boat safaris in search of many of the iconic species of the Indian jungle. In the afternoon, head out in a specially designed jeep in the company of a trained naturalist- the dry deciduous forest in Nagarhole provides a sanctuary for elephants, gaur (Indian Bison), several types of deer and a wealth of bird species. Your naturalist will be able to explain what you are seeing and, with a little luck, you may just track down a tiger or leopard. Overnight at Kabini Lake/Nagarahole.
Day 9: A full day to explore the park- at least one of your safaris will be by boat on Kabini Lake. This extensive body of water shrinks after the monsoon and the lush grasslands which are exposing by the retreating waters are subsequently occupied by large herds of elephants as well as many smaller herbivores. You will take two safaris today- one early in the morning, the other in the late afternoon. Overnight at Kabini Lake/Nagarahole.
Day 10: Take a final jeep safari at dawn and after breakfast drive back to the coast and check into your beachside Homestay near to the small town of Thallasery. This part of the Kerala coast has a long and fascinating history and a culture which is subtly different to that of the rest of the state. Overnight near Thallasery.
Day 11: Time to enjoy the beautiful warm waters of the Arabian Sea, watch local fishermen with their nets or venture into the nearby district headquarters at Cannanore. The intriguing and little understood ritual dance form, Theyyam, which is endemic to these parts, can be seen performed in local villages at certain times of year. The rituals of Theyyam are shrouded in mystery and anyone who claims to fully understand the form probably doesn’t! This is a genuine shamanistic ritual and performances occur not to a tourist-friendly schedule but rather to the local time frame, meaning to see a Theyyam event you may find yourself at a village in the small hours of the morning- an unusual but totally unforgettable experience. Overnight near Thallasery.
Day 12: Free time in the morning before taking a 5-hour train journey to Cochin through the picturesque agricultural plains of coastal Kerala. You’ll be met on arrival in Cochin and transferred to your hotel. Overnight in Cochin.
Day 13: Cochin is an important trading port and has been so for more than 500 years. The resulting mélange of influences has created one of Kerala’s most interesting cities you’re your sightseeing tour of historic Fort Cochin and Mattancherry will touch on Arab, Jewish, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese and British elements throughout the town. Later in the day take a sunset cruise on Cochin Harbour and see modern-day Cochin without having to brave its slightly chaotic traffic. Overnight in Cochin.
Day 14: Drive 90 minutes to Alleppey where you will board a private houseboat for a lunch cruise on the backwaters of Kerala. This unique region of rivers, canals, reclaimed land and a largely aquatic transport network is one of the iconic destinations of Kerala and best appreciated slowly- the pace of life here demands it. Disembark the boat in the late afternoon and check-in at your backwater accommodation on the banks of one of the many rivers here. Overnight near Alleppey.
Day 15: Staying at a homestay or resort in the backwaters allows you to access those parts of the area which the larger houseboats cannot reach. Take a walk, ride a bicycle or, best of all, a dugout canoe trip (a local fisherman will propel your craft) to get into the areas of the backwaters less visited by tourists.Overnight at near Alleppey.
Day 16: Head back to the mainland and drive south to Kovalam near to the southernmost extremity of the sub-continent. Overnight at Kovalam
Day 17: Drive to Kanyakumari at the southernmost tip of India where you can take a boat ride, visit the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi and experience India’s “Land’s End”. Later continue on to Madurai, Tamil Nadu’s 2nd largest city and one of the most important pilgrimage centres of southern India. Overnight in Madurai.
Day 18: Morning tour of Madurai to visit local sights with a guide, including the famous Meenakshi Temple with its towering gopurams (entrance towers) and the Nayak palace. Later in the day drive to Trichy and visit Srirangam Temple in the late afternoon. Srirangam is one of the largest temple complexes in Asia, occupying over 60 hectares- it would probably be more accurate to describe this as a town with a temple at the centre. In the evening, visit the bazaar in the city, and stay overnight in Trichy.
Day 19: In the morning, drive two hours east to Tanjore and visit the palace and temple here before continuing on to the coast and the small and very unexpected town of Tranquebar. Few people are aware that along with the more well known colonial influences (British, French, Dutch, Portuguese), there was a small Danish presence along the Tamil Nadu coast for over 200 years up to the mid-19th century. The Danish stronghold was at Tranquebar- only major remaining sign of this long history is an impressive fort on the beachfront. NowaDays Tranquebar is a quiet fishing village with a few unexpected quirks which relate to this Danish history of the town. Overnight in Tranquebar.
Day 20: Enjoy a relaxed morning on the beach and walking around Tranquebar before driving north Pondicherry. This uniquely French/Tamil city is the headquarters of the Union Territory of Pondicherry and has many elements of its 2-century-plus Gallic history which are plain to see. In the afternoon, take the self-guided heritage walking tour of the French Quarter. In the evening, the Tamil part of town comes alive with vibrant markets and some of the best boutique shopping in India. Overnight in Pondicherry.
Day 21: Morning free in Pondicherry before driving 2 hours north to the seaside town of Mahabalipuram. Time in the afternoon by the pool, or on the beach, overnight in Mahabalipuram.
Day 22: Morning sightseeing around Mahabalipuram taking in several UNESCO World Heritage listed monuments which reflect the era (over 1000 years ago) when this now sleepy village was a major port and the capital of the ruling Pallava dynasty. You’ll see Arjuna’s Penance- the world’s largest bas-relief carving- several rock-cut shrines and the famous Shore Temple. Later transfer 90 minutes to Chennai airport for departure