15 Days | Travel to the cultural and scenic highlights of southern India.
Lush and tropical, southern India is inspiring and delightful. Beneath the green shade of a coastal paradise, meet with locals in their fishing villages and tribal homes. Join them in the bazaars, on buses and boats, or even on pilgrimage in Madurai. From cultural sights like the Maharaja's Palace in Mysore to French-influenced Puducherry and the vast landscape of Periyar, southern India's spirituality, friendly people, and wild animal sanctuaries make it a fascinating part of the country to explore.
Why you'll love this trip
Specific transfer information can be found here:
Trip map & itinerary
This comprehensive map is designed to guide you through an exciting journey filled with remarkable destinations and captivating experiences.
Day by day itinerary
Your Indian adventure starts today in Kochi with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. If you arrive in Kochi early, there are plenty of things to see and do. Once an important spice-trading centre, Kochi has been under Portuguese, Dutch and British rule at various times throughout history. Explore with one of our Urban Adventures or wander down to the shore and seek out the huge Chinese fishing nets dotted along the coast of Fort Cochin.
This morning, take on Kochi with a leader-led orientation tour. Take a local tuk tuk to Mattancherry and drop by the Dutch Palace, built by the Portuguese in the 16th century before it was renovated and presented to the Rajas of Cochin by the Dutch. Pay an optional visit to Paradesi Synagogue – the oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth and home to many rare antiques. Then amble around the spice bazaars and antique stores of Fort Cochin. In the evening, experience a Kathakali performance. This Keralan dance is an ornately costumed display of storytelling, requiring complete control of the body.
Buckle up, because most of today is spent travelling. Catch a 3.5-hour train to Coimbatore, before travelling by private vehicle to Conoor, where dinner is included at your accommodation tonight.
Spend the morning in Conoor with an orientation walk and a visit to a tea plantation to learn about the history of tea production. Later board Ooty’s renowned toy train for a ride along the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. Be sure to get a window seat for great views over the lush countryside. In nearby Conoor, visit a tea plantation to learn about the history of tea production. Spend the rest of the day exploring Ooty’s Botanical Gardens, which are home to over 650 species of plants and trees. Alternatively, get a little bit romantic with a boat ride on the lake.
Take a private vehicle for the short drive to Bandipur today. Set against the backdrop of the Nilgiri Hills, Mudumalai National Park was once the Mysore Maharaja’s private hunting ground. In 1974 it was brought under Project Tiger and is now one of the best sanctuaries in India to observe wildlife in close proximity. Embark on a short safari in search of tigers, leopards, elephants, sloth bears, sambars, spotted deer, and much more. There’s also an amazing variety of birdlife in the park. Tonight’s family-run accommodation in Bandipur is a mixed-gender dormitory style with a common bathroom. This dorm room is only open to your group.
Travel by private vehicle across the scenic Karnataka plains to Mysore, stopping to share a biryani lunch with local host Raju and his family. Mysore is an easy-going town with a pleasant climate, perfect for wandering around on foot. Your leader will provide an orientation walk for you to get your bearings. A visit to Mysore is incomplete without a look around Mysore Palace. One of the most ornate palaces in India, its interior is full of colour, mosaics, and mirrors.
This morning, head out of Mysore and climb Chamundi Hill to the Sri Chamundeswari Temple, dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Durga. Continue on to the Keshava Temple in the small town of Somnathpur – an excellent example of Hoysala architecture. You’ll also have some time to pay an optional visit to Tipu Sultan’s mausoleum in Srirangapatna, or instead, return to Mysore for a palm reading or to catch a film at the local cinema. Tonight, board an 11-hour overnight sleeper train to Chennai.
After arriving in Chennai, take a private vehicle along the scenic East Coast Road to Mamallapuram. Explore this ancient seaport town by tuk tuk, paying a visit to the seventh-century Shore Temple and the enormous bas-relief rock carving, known as Arjuna’s Penance. There will also be time to inspect the town’s numerous mandapams (pillared temple pavilions), watch local stonemasons at work, or just to kick back and relax at a beachside restaurant.
Travel by private vehicle for 5 hours through palm trees and rice paddies to Puducherry (Pondicherry). On arrival, head out with your group and leader on a walking tour to see local temples, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, and the French Quarter. Once a French colony, you’ll see evidence of French influence in Puducherry’s architecture, its wide town squares, and even in the uniforms of the police.
Transfer by taxi to the railway station at Villupuram and board a train to the temple city of Madurai (approximately 6 hours). Madurai’s Tamil roots stretch back 2500 years, making it one of the oldest cities in India. Wander the lamp-lit labyrinth of the Sri Meenakshi Amman Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva and goddess Meenakshi. Visit the Gandhi Memorial Museum, which displays a detailed account of India’s struggle for independence along with the bloodstained dhoti the famous leader wore when he was assassinated.
This morning, travel by private vehicle along a winding road to the Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve. High in the ranges of the Western Ghats, the park is set among stunning scenery and is the most popular wildlife sanctuary in Southern India. Both today and tomorrow, you’ll get to explore the national park on foot and will understand why Periyar is a popular wilderness sanctuary because of its lush surroundings. In the evening, enjoy a tour of a local spice plantation. And then join our hosts at a local family and try some authentic home-cooked flavors in Southern India.
Venture back into the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary today for a guided nature walk. Encounters with animals in the wild are never guaranteed, and this is more of a jungle walk than an animal spotting tour, but do look out for tiger tracks, spotted deer, Indian elephants, or gaur – the world’s largest species of buffalo. In the afternoon, unwind with an optional ayurvedic massage at your accommodation, or just relax in this scenic setting with a drink in hand.
Travelling by private vehicle, pass through the rubber, tea, and coffee plantations on the way to the backwaters of Kerala. Board a motorboat to cross to the island village where you’ll stay with a local family tonight. In the late afternoon, explore the island with a local English-speaking guide, and sometimes your homestay host! This is a great chance to meet locals and learn more about their unique way of life. Take a leisurely punt boat ride around the waterways and enjoy the scenery. In the evening, share stories and a traditional home-cooked Keralan meal with your host family.
Wake early, before crossing the backwaters by private boat to Alleppey. From here, take a 2-hour local bus back to Kochi. The rest of the day is free for you to choose your own adventure. Perhaps you’d like to stroll down Princess Street for a spot of shopping, or book yourself into a southern Indian cooking class – your group leader will have some other recommendations, so be sure to ask them. Tonight, why not gather together with your group and have a night out at a local restaurant. Whatever you do, be sure to snack on a pazham pori (fried fritter of banana or plantain) while you explore the city.
With no activities planned for today, you are able to leave the accommodation at any time.
Each image tells a unique story, inviting us into a world of emotion, beauty, and complexity. Get ready to be moved, inspired, and challenged as we journey through this captivating collection of images.