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South India Tour Itineraries - Elephants of South India

It’s indicative of how things change that when we first created an itinerary with this name around 2007, it included several places where visits to captive elephants were included as part of the tour programme. Nowadays we encourage our clients to think very carefully before in any way encouraging the on-going practice of ‘taming’ elephants as there is pretty much always cruelty involved on some level. But this is a two-edged sword, as those elephants already in captivity will live for decades, and starving (figuratively) those who keep them will likely result in even worse treatment and conditions for the elephants to live in in the short to medium term. Temple elephants are still a major part of the largest temples in South India, and changing this will require, most likely, decades of education and a long-term change in attitude. We realise it is not our place to change centuries of culture, but equally we feel it is important to make a stand for animal welfare while also enabling you to experience the majesty of wild elephants in their forest home. The elephant has been central to many aspects of life in India for millennia and you will encounter them in many different situations from sacred representations, temple elephants and those in the wild.

Elephants of South India - ( 18 Days & 17 Nights )


Day 1 :Chennai - Mahabalipuram

You will be met on arrival at Chennai and introduced to your driver. Depart immediately and drive around 90 minutes south to your first stop. Overnight in Mahabalipuram


Day 2 : Mahabalipuram

The first elephants you will see on your tour were carved into living rock more than 1000 years ago. Mahabalipuram was an ancient sea port and capital of various empires and as such attracted the patronage of South Indian rulers through many centuries. On a tour of the town’s bas relief carvings (including Arjuna’s Penance- the largest such carving in the world), the UNESCO World Heritage listed Shore Temple and the Five Rathas, you will get an insight into the culture which has thrived in Tamil Nadu in an unbroken run stretching back into antiquity. The modern town of Mahabalipuram is bustling with seafood restaurants, and alive with the sound of chisel on stone as today’s artists create their own stone masterpieces. Overnight in Mahabalipuram.


Day 3 : Pondicherry

A short drive down the coast to Pondicherry, a former French enclave and a town quite different to any other in south India. The long beach front promenade could, save for the giant Gandhi statue in the middle, be straight out of southern Europe. The designer boutiques, and the excellent patisseries and cafes are unlike anything in this part of the country too. The ‘French Quarter’ lies just behind the promenade and its ‘rues’ and boulevards are leafy and quiet - the perfect place for an afternoon stroll. There is a lot more in Pondicherry than shops and coffee though- it is the nearest town to Auroville, a unique international society of several thousand people from around the world whose goal is to create a totally sustainable and spiritually oriented society. There is also more than a touch of Hinduism present in Pondicherry and the first of several temple elephants you will encounter in your travels is found here. Overnight in Pondicherry.


Day 4 : Chidambaram – Kumbakonam – Tanjore

This is a big day of temples - depart after breakfast and drive to Chidambaram, home to a massive Shiva temple complex and a magnet to thousands of devotees who flock here to worship. After lunch drive to Tanjore, where the temple recently passed its 1000th anniversary- it is known locally as the Big Temple, but officially called Sri Brihadishwara. A visit to this temple at sunset is an essential part of any tour of the south. The colour of the sandstone as it is illuminated by the setting sun is spectacular. If you are lucky your visit may coincide with the twice-monthly ‘washing’ of the giant Nandi statue with a mixture of milk and turmeric. At any time this temple is stunning- it is one of the wonders of Chola temple architecture and a spiritually important place to this day. Overnight in Tanjore.


Day 5 : Tanjore – Chettinad

Tour the Tanjore museum and palace in the morning and then proceed to the small town of Kannudakathan in the Chettinad region. The Chettiars are a merchant caste who have traded with the great maritime powers of the northern hemisphere over centuries. The amalgam of styles and influences that has resulted is utterly unique. You will stay here in one of the mansions which have been restored and now accept guests- sizes up to 3500 square metres are not uncommon. Explore the village on foot or by bullock cart. Nearby is the slightly larger town of Karaikudi where streets of antique shops tempt you with their wares. Overnight in the Chettinad district


Day 6 : Madurai – Periyar

Full day to relax and explore the Chettinad Region. There are hand-painted tile factories, small village temples, local food-producing co-ops and more to visit. You can walk or cycle in the early morning to see the area at its most serene. Overnight in the Chettinad district.


Day 7 : Dindigul

Drive to Dindigul and from there into the shadow of the Western Ghats mountain range. Deep in a quiet and secluded valley, you will stay at Cardamom House. This remarkable place is the home of retired English physician Chris Lucas- a most convivial host- and his band of helpers, all of whom are local. A great place to relax, unwind, walk in the hills and watch the world go by, although being near the end of a dead end road, not much of the world makes it this far! Overnight at Cardamom House.


Day 8 : Cardamom House

As above. It may be ill-advised to stay more than 2 nights at Cardamom House - by the third day you may never want to leave! Overnight Cardamom House.


Day 9 : Dindigul- Madurai- Bangalore

Drive to Madurai and fly to Bangalore where you’ll be met and introduced to your next driver who will be with you for the rest of the trip. Depart immediately and drive to Mysore. Overnight in Mysore


Day 10 : Mysore

South India’s most historic and diverse city has a wealth of sightseeing and some great markets. If you time it right, once a year during the Dasara festival (September/October, depending on the lunar calendar) you can see a parade of elephants in the heart of Mysore. Overnight in Mysore


Day 11 : Mysore- Kabini

Drive up into the hills and reach Kabini after around 4 hours. Here you’ll enter the Nilgiri Biosphere, South India’s largest area of protected habitat, which links National Parks in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. Head out on your first safari this afternoon. Overnight at Kabini/Nagarhole


Day 12 : Kabini

Morning and afternoon safaris by boat or vehicle into the Nagarhole National Park- elephant sightings here are very good, and if you’re lucky you’ll also see tigers, leopards and even sloth bears. Overnight at Kabini/Nagarhole


Day 13 : Kabini- Bandipur

A final safari at dawn, then drive to another National Park within the Nilgiri Biosphere, Bandipur. The habitat here is quite different to that in Nagarhole, which is more densely forested. Bandipur is somewhat drier, and the dominant feature are expansive grasslands. Take your first safari here in the afternoon. Overnight at Bandipur


Day 14 : Bandipur

Early morning start for a jeep safari into the grasslands. Large mammals here include sloth bears, leopards, tigers, several types of deer, gaur (Indian bison) and, of course, elephants. Free time at your forest lodge or tented camp, before a second safari in the late afternoon. Overnight at Bandipur


Day 15 : Bandipur- Kannur Coast

A final safari at dawn, and later drive 4 hours or so down to the Sapphire Coast, and stay on the beach as your trip winds down. Overnight near Kannur


Day 16 : Kannur Coast

A full day on the beach to relax at the end of your time in South India. There is plenty to see around this area if you’re still up for more sightseeing including historic Kannur and a chance to see the indigenous Theyyam dance/drama in a nearby village. Overnight near Kannur


Day 17 : Kannur Coast

Further time here with options to do a little, or quite a lot. Overnight near Kannur


Day 18 : Kannur Coast- Kannur- Depart

Depart from Kannur airport (opened in late 2018) to your international or domestic destination

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