Discover the best of South India and Sri Lanka on this comprehensive journey of highlights, relaxation, delectable cuisine, dramatic landscapes, and more. Start in colourful Cochin as you stroll along the bustling harbour and quaint backstreets before enjoying an evening Kathakali performance. Depart for Kumarakom, a veritable paradise where you explore the backwaters by boat and then head to the ‘Land of Spices’, Periyar, as you walk among plantation fields and nature trails. See the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, experience Chennai and then head for Colombo in Sri Lanka. See the ruins of the rock fortress of Sigiriya, take in the sites of the picturesque town of Kandy, head into the lush tea-country of Nuwara Eliya, and then relax on the coast in Beruwala with an excursion to the Dutch Fort of Galle.
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Hotel with daily breakfast, lunches & dinners as indicated, services of expert English speaking local guides, entrance fees to sites listed on the itinerary, private A/C transportation, 2 on-tour flights, and airport transfers. International flights are not included, contact us for preferred rates and schedules.
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Upon arrival in Cochin, you will be met by your local guide in the arrivals area holding a name-board. After a warm welcome & brief introduction, you will be transferred to your hotel for check-in. The remainder of the day is at your leisure.
This morning, start on a guided city tour. Begin your exploration of the city with a walk through the bustling harbor area and quaint backstreets to discover it’s rich and multifaceted past. See the St. Francis Church, originally named after Santo Antonio and dedicated to him as the Patron Saint of Portugal. Once a wooden building, it was replaced by the present stone building. Across, the four-century old Jewish synagogue was built in 1568 AD, it was destroyed by the Portuguese and rebuilt by the Dutch a century later. We will explore the Jew-town, which abounds with fascinating antique shops and wares. Looming protectively over the synagogue is the Mattancherry palace, erstwhile home to the Verma kings and today a fine museum. In the evening, you will visit a local theatre to experience the Kathakali performance. Kathakali literally meaning "story dance" is the pantomimic dance drama, the dancing and the acting being blended together into an inseparable form.
Begin the day early with a morning excursion to a local beach, timing our arrival as the local fishing boats pull in with their catch for the day. There is a lovely auction on the beach with retailers and exporters bidding for the best catch of the day. Return to the hotel for breakfast and then depart for Kumarakom. Kumarakom, or the 'Venice of the East', is a veritable paradise in the lush backwaters of Kottayam. It is Kerala’s heartland of lagoons, palm fringed lakes and paddy fields, inter-linked with hundreds of winding canals with the typical low slung country boats that carry everything from people to fish, rice and coconuts to the milkman and newspaper boy, local politicians and priests to wedding parties. One of the best ways to enjoy the lake is to take a sunset cruise, an hour-long idyll. On your arrival at the hotel, check-in and have the rest of the day at your leisure to indulge in the hotel amenities or simply relax in your room.
Wake up early for a session of yoga under the guidance of an expert yoga master at the open air platform yoga centre. Breakfast is at leisure. Later, take a short drive to Allepey where you board a Kettuvallam, a traditional houseboat, and cruise through the day drifting through the backwaters of Kerala. The backwaters are a network of canals, lakes, lagoons and estuaries stretching over almost 1000 square miles. Here, palm-fringed narrow canals wind through a vast expanse of paddy fields. As you float along, enjoy the picturesque hamlets that line the banks, migratory birds in abundance, water lilies and coconut groves. Your ride ends close to the hotel on the edge of the great Vembanad Lake. The remainder of the day is at your leisure.
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel and then drive overland to Thekkady. The road leaves the coastal plain, then winds into the Cardamon Hills, which form part of the great Western Ghats range that divide the Indian Ocean coast from the Deccan Plateau that covers most of the Indian interior. On arrival, you will check-in to your hotel. Periyar is the ‘Land of the Spices’ Columbus was seeking when he stumbled on the New World; Kerala’s Malabar Coast is famous for its fabulous spice crops. In the afternoon, visit the neighbouring pepper plantation to see traditional plantation techniques, walking amidst the rows of vines creeping upwards on trellises.
With 16 wildlife sanctuaries and 5 national parks nestled along the Western Ghats; Kerala is a hotspot for wildlife. The Western Ghats – geologically older than the Himalayas – is one of the world’s most significantly bio diverse regions and has been given World Heritage Site status by UNESCO. The Forests of Kerala account for more than one-third of its terrain. In the morning, drive up to the nearby Periyar National Park reserve, along the Cardamom and Pandalam hills of the Western Ghats. From the entrance gate, take a guided nature walk for about an hour on a trail through the park towards Periyar lake. At the bank of the lake, take a bamboo raft and cruise through the scenic Lake for about 2 hours through many delights of the sanctuary. From the elephant and tiger to the nilgiri sambar, wild dog, leopard smooth-coated otters and lion-tailed macaque – around 35 species of animals live here. Afterwards, drive downhill towards the city of Madurai and check-in to your hotel.
Visit the magnificent Sri Meenakshi Temple which is the abode of the triple-breasted, fish-eyed Goddess Meenakshi Amman and considered by many to be the height of South Indian temple architecture. It’s not so much a temple as a 6-hectare complex enclosed by 12 gopurams, the highest of which towers 52m over Madurai, and all of which are carved with a staggering array of gods, goddesses, demons and heroes. Also visit the elegant Thirumalai Nayaka Palace. Built in 1636 in the Indo Mughal style, its 15 domes and arches are adorned with stucco work. Its Celestial Pavilion, an arcaded octagonal structure, is curiously constructed in brick and mortar without supporting rafters. Finish with a visit to the excellent Gandhi Memorial Museum, which contains an impressively moving and detailed account of India’s struggle for independence from 1757 to 1947, and the English language signs pull no punches about British rule. In the late evening revisit the Temple to attend the night ceremony. This is a ceremony that takes place every evening when the temple bronze of Lord Shiva is carried to the bed chamber of Parvati. The procession is accompanied by religious prayer and temple music.
This morning, you will fly to Chennai where you will be met for your city tour. The East India Company established its presence in southern India on the Bay of Bengal in 1639 with the establishment of Fort St. George. The city of Chennai, formerly known as Madras, grew up around the fort area. It now serves as the capital of Tamil Nadu and is the fourth largest city in India, with over six million inhabitants. With your expert guide, visit the rich archaeology and art collection of the Madras Museum and then continue to the Valluvar Kottam memorial honouring a Tamil poet and his classic work, the Thirukural, which provided a moral code for millions of followers. Next, visit the St. Thomas Mount, the site where St. Thomas was believed to have been martyred. The St Thomas Cathedral was originally built by the Portuguese in 1504 and then rebuilt in neo-Gothic style in 1893. Your next stop is Fort St. George, which is presently, being used by the Tamil Nadu Government. Within the compound is a museum holding many remembrances of the East India Company and the British period. End the tour with a visit to the Kapaleeswarar Temple, the biggest temple in Chennai dating back to the 13th century AD, honouring Lord Shiva.
Enjoy the morning at your leisure and then fly to Colombo in Sri Lanka. On arrival, meet and transfer to your hotel and have the evening at your leisure. Colombo is the trade and commercial capital of Sri Lanka and has long been the traditional gateway to the Orient. As Sri Lanka’s largest city, it is located on the west coast and draws together all the cultures, religions and influences of foreign lands into a pot-pourri of sounds, smells and a kaleidoscope of colour. The original traders and settlers - the Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch and the British have left in their wake churches and monuments, names and religions, costumes and food and smatterings of their languages which have been absorbed into the speech of the Sri Lankan.
Explore the city by wandering through the sprawling collection of ancient artifacts and colonial-era relics at the must-see National Museum, beautiful Buddhist & Hindu temples, the historic Wolfendhal church, Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall, the New Parliament in Sri Jayewardenepura, the Folk Art Centre, Art Galleries, Parks, Independence Square, ODEL, the renowned shopping centre, and more. In the afternoon, drive through lush green countryside, a mix of coconut palms, paddy fields and banana plantations to Dambulla where you will visit the magnificent Cave Temple, the most impressive sight in Sri Lanka.
Visit the Rock Fortress of Sigiriya. Known by some as Lion’s Rock, it is one of Sri Lanka’s most recognisable landmarks and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sigiriya Rock looms 200 metres above the plains, overlooking the surrounding countryside giving far-reaching views. Used as a safe haven from invaders, the route to the top is up a series of steep steps and gangways. When King Kasyapa built his base here in the 5th century, he didn’t merely create a fortress but a fabulous palace on top of the rock, complete with pleasure gardens below. If you climb to the top, you will be rewarded by one thing that has remained unchanged over the centuries; the magnificent views over miles of jungle and rolling hills. Today, only ruins of the palace remain, but features such as the massive Lion’s Paws and frescoes of beautiful damsels still give visitors a glimpse of its former splendour. Later, drive to Polonnaruwa for a visit to the well-preserved remains of capital of the Singhalese kings from the 11th to the 13th century. See the excavations: Temples, dagobas, the royal palace, the royal library.
Head into the hills to the picturesque town of Kandy. On the way stop at a local spice garden near Matale before continuing through the interior of the island, past paddy fields, palm groves and coconut plantations. Your journey continues via a road that begins to ascend gradually until you arrive in the old royal city of Kandy, situated at 500 m (1,640 feet) above sea level and beautifully nestled between green hills. In its very centre lies a small artificial lake and palace of the last Singhalese king which has become a temple and the holiest shrine in Sri Lanka and where the tooth relic of the Lord Buddha is highly venerated. On arrival, drive around the lake and visit the National Museum. In the evening visit the Temple of the Holy Tooth , which houses Sri Lanka's most important Buddhist relic. The Tooth of Buddha was taken from the funeral pyre in 543 BC and only found its way to Sri Lanka in the 4th century AD. This will be followed by an opportunity to attend a dance performance (subject to availability) where you will see the famous Kandyan dance.
Visit the world-famous Botanical Garden at Peradeniya, and then continue to Nuwara Eliya. The road ascends steadily and shortly before reaching Nuwara Eliya in tea-country; wherever you look, you will see tea plantations, the rich full green of thousands and thousands of tea bushes. Occasionally you can see a few rice fields and near villages, vegetable plantations or gardens. En route visit a tea factory and plantation. Tour the resort town of Nuwara Eliya, situated at 2070 m (6,790 feet) above sea level and which lies on a little lake surrounded by mountains covered over and over by tea bushes. The town itself was the favourite hill station of the British who set it up to look like a misplaced British village. The charming, old, pink-brick post office, the English country house-like Hill Club with its hunting pictures, mounted hunting trophies and fish, the 18-hole golf course (said to be one of the finest in Asia), and even the well-stocked trout streams speak of the area's English past.
After breakfast, you will be driven to Beruwala, home to one of the longest beaches in Sri Lanka. Today is free for you to spend at leisure. Beruwela has maintained its small fishing village charm while its busy main streets host an array of shops and stalls. Perhaps enjoy a stroll before taking a dip in the ocean and lazing on the golden sands and admiring your stunning location.
After breakfast, we set off today and drive along the southern shores of Sri Lanka to Galle to visit the 17th century Dutch Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main attraction is a 17th-century Dutch fort, one of the most extensive monuments left by European colonialists. Although many of the structures that made up the fort are in serious decay, the outer walls are completely intact. If you walk along the top of the walls at dusk, you'll see dozens of cricket games, an old lighthouse, beautiful views of the town's harbor and hundreds of Sri Lankans out socializing. Within the fort, visit any of several old churches or simply stroll the narrow streets to get a good look at the old buildings.
Meet at the hotel at the appointed time and transfer to the airport in Colombo for your departure flight.
Day 4: Take a boat ride through the backwaters of Kerala.
Day 11: Discover the rock fortress of Sigiriya.
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