Chennai – Mahabalipuram. Welcome to Southern India. Upon arrival at Chennai airport you'll be met by our representative and transferred to Mahablipuram, about a 90 minute drive from Chennai. After arriving at our hotel the rest of the day is free for you to relax or explore on your own.
This morning we visit Kanchipuram, the capital of the Pallava dynasty from the 6th to 8th century and home to some of southern India's most impressive temples. Split in to two sections we will visit the northern Shiva temples as well as the southern Vishnu temples. Kanchipuram is also known as the 'silk city of India', it has a thriving handloom industry with an enviable reputation as the producer of the best silk saris in India. This afternoon we return to Mahabalipuram, also know as Mamallapuram, for a tour of the highlights. Our first stop will be to the beautiful Shore Temple, built in the 7th century during the reign of Rajasimha, it's so named because it overlooks the Bay of Bengal. Next we continue to Arjuna's Penance, the worlds largest bas-relief carving. This impressive collections of sculptures is one of India's most fascinating ancient artworks. Our final stop this afternoon is the Five Rathas, each one incredibly carved from single large rocks. Built in the 7th century these Hindu temples were covered in sand until their discovery by the British around 200 years ago.
Mahabalipuram – Pondicherry. Departing Mahabalipuram this morning we head for the former French colonial city of Pondicherry (Puducherry). French rule of the city lasted until 1954 and the influence can still be seen today in the architecture of the old town and the many French-India restaurants. Our first stop today will be Pondicherry Beach, with it's beautiful golden sand and lapping waves. We then continue to Sacred Heart Church, built in 1895 this beautiful red and white church was upgraded to a Basillica in 2011. Another highlight and one that brings many travellers to Pondicherry is the the popular Sri Aurobindo Ashram, whose spiritual tenets combine yoga and modern science.
Temples of Tamil Nadu Pondicherry – Tanjore. After breakfast we head away from the coastal Pondicherry to an important centre of South Indian religion, art and architecture, Tanjore (Thanjavur). En route we'll visit temples in the towns of Chidambaram, Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Darssuram. In Chidambaram we'll visit the Natraja Temple, the present temple dates to the 10th century, making it one of the oldest temples in Southern India. We continue to Gangaikonda Cholapuram where we visit Brihadisvara Temple, completed in 1035 it is a great example of a Dravidian style temple. Next we visit Darasuram, home to the 12th century, UNESCO world heritage listed, Airavateswara temple. At this temple you'll witness some well preserved stone carvings including a number of Chariot inspired structures. Our day ends this afternoon upon arrival in to Tanjore, where you'll have the evening free to relax or explore this colourful city.
Tanjore – Madurai. This morning we enjoy a tour of Tanjore, an ancient fortified town, with a glorious history dating back more than 1500 years. Thanjavur was the ancient capital of the Chola kings whose origins date back to the beginning of Christianity. Our city tour includes the enormous Brihadishwara Temple. Built by Raja Raja in 1010, the World Heritage protected temple has a dome weighing an estimated 80 tonnes which was hauled into place along an earth ramp in a manner similar to that used for the Egyptian pyramids. This afternoon we drive to Madurai and check in to our hotel. Later we make our way to Meenakshi Temple to enjoy an Aarti Ceremony, which involves candles and music in praise of the gods and goddesses being worshipped.
After breakfast we proceed for half day city tour of Madurai, first up we visit Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal, a temple built in the Indo-Saracanic style by the Nayaks. The main attractions here are the musical pillars and the pathway. We continue to Thirupparankunram Murugan Temple, located around 8 km from the center of Madurai city. This temple is cut straight into the rock and is considered one of the six abodes of Lord Murugan. Next we revisit Meenakshi temple, for a second chance to view the magnificently carved temple. Considered by some as the holiest place of worship in South India, it draws thousands of devotees everyday. We end the day exploring the local bazaar.
Madurai – Trichy - Kochi. Today we make our way to Trichy (also known as Tiruchirappalli). Our first stop is Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, this colourful temple covers 156 acres and lies on an island formed by the Kaveri and Kollidam rivers. Dedicated to Ranganatha, a reclining form of Vishnu, it is believed that the sight on where the temple stands has existed since the 2nd century. Next we visit the Rock Fort Temple, originally built as a temple by the Pallavas, it's location a top a ancient rock meant that it was eventually used as a fort. The Rock Fort temple has witnessed fierce battles over the years and played an important role during the Carnatic wars, helping to lay the foundations of the British Empire in India. We also visit Sri Jambukeswarar Temple, built by Kochengon, a Tamil king during one of the Early Cholas, said to be around 1,800 years ago. This evening we transfer to the railway station to board our overnight train journey to Kochi. It's recommended to brings snacks and supplies for the journey and the following morning.
Arriving into Kochi train station this morning you'll be met and transferred to your hotel. The rest of the day offers free time to explore Kochi. Long famed in the history books, Kochi (formerly known as Cochin) offered refuge to Jews more than 2,500 years ago. The Portuguese founded the first European colony in Kochi in the 16th century, then the Dutch quickly followed and eventually, the British. The cosmopolitan mix of cultures makes the city truly fascinating.
Our tour comes to an end after breakfast today. A transfer will be provided to take you to Kochi airport.