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Southern India Sojourn

  • Port City of Kochi
  • Kathakali Classical Dance Performance
  • Tea and Spice Plantation Tours
  • Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Madurai and Meenakshi Temple
  • Village Life Experience in Kumarakom
  • Overnight onboard traditional Kettuvallam (house boat)
  • Kalariyapattu Martial Art Performance
  • Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary

Overview

From 26 February to 09 March 2025 Live the Journey will travel to Southern India. We start our immersive sojourn in the fascinating port city of Kochi. Also known as Cochin, it has been a port since 1341. Set on the Arabian Sea along the southwestern coast of India’s Kerala state, it has been an important spice trade centre for centuries and is a melting pot of Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, Arab and British influences. From Kochi we travel in-land to the historic hill station of Munnar, enveloped by tea plantations.

Our visit to the ancient city of Madurai is a highlight of the trip. More than 2,500 years old, Madurai was built by the Pandyan king, Kulashekarar, in the 6th century B.C. The reign of the Nayaks marks the golden period of Madurai when art, architecture and learning flourished expansively. The most beautiful buildings in the city, including its most famous landmark, the Meenakshi temple, were built during the Nayak rule, and is a breath-taking sight.  Tour members can also look forward to a visit to the lively Madurai Flower Market as well as the evocative National Gandhi Museum, dedicated to the life and achievements of the “Father of the Nation” and the leader of India's fight for independence.

From Madurai we head to Thekkady, surrounded by spice plantations and home to the Periyar Wildlife Reserve. We discover its unique natural heritage on foot, before continuing our journey to Kumarakom, stopping en route to spend some time with local villagers. An overnight Kettuvallam cruise (house boat) on the fascinating Kerala Backwaters completes our tour.  

Itinerary

DAY 0: JOHANNESBURG / CAPE TOWN - KOCHI

Meet at the check-in counter for your international flight from Johannesburg or Cape Town to Kochi, India.

DAY 1: KOCHI ARRIVAL

Namaste! Welcome to India. The cosmopolitan city of Kochi, also known as Cochin, has been a port since 1341. Set on the Arabian Sea along the southwestern coast of India’s Kerala state, it has been an important spice trade centre for centuries and is a melting pot of Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, Arab and British influences.

Our friendly team will be waiting in the arrivals hall to transfer you to your hotel where you can relax for the rest of the day. Transfer about 90 minutes in duration. (Check-in at the hotel is from 14h00, early check-in is subject to availability.)

Due to road construction near the hotel, the approximate last 10 minutes of our drive will be covered in small vehicles.

12:30 Enjoy lunch before checking into your rooms.

In the early evening we will enjoy a Kathakali dance performance and welcome dinner. This classical Kerala dance style combines symbolic storytelling with physical technique. It is one of the most vibrant and extraordinary theatre forms in the world and proficiency requires incredible commitment and rigorous training.

O/N Fragrant Nature Hotel or similar including lunch and dinner.

DAY 2: KOCHI

After breakfast at our hotel, we proceed with a city tour of Kochi (Cochin).

We start our day at the St. Francis Church, the oldest European church in India built in 1503, where the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama was originally buried and the Santa Cruz Basilica, one of the finest and imposing churches in India.

From here we head to the Dhobi Khana (laundry station), once throbbing with activity, it is now a picture of slow extinction. Continue through the small streets of Mattancher to the Jewish quarters.

The Mattancherry Palace, also known as the Dutch Palace, is popular for its architecture, in the traditional Kerala style. The palace was built by the Portuguese and gifted to the King of Cochin back in the day. The palace was later renovated by the Dutch. It now hosts a remarkable series of murals. There is also an interesting collection of Dutch maps of old Kochi, coronation robes belonging to the maharajas, royal palanquins, weapons and furniture.

From there, it is a short walk to the Pardesi Synagogue - one of the oldest, active synagogues in the Commonwealth of Nations, Paradesi Synagogue was built by the Spanish-speaking Jews in 1568. Its eclectic décor includes a floor paved with hand-painted blue and white Cantonese porcelain tiles, no two alike, and a glass, oil-burning chandelier from Belgium. The surrounding area is still called Jew Town and is a fascinating mix of antique shops, handicraft, warehouses, and a spice auction room. The Synagogue is only open to the public at certain times.

We end with a visit to the famous Chinese Fishing Nets. The huge cantilevered Chinese fishing nets that droop towards the waters like over-sized hammocks, have become a hallmark that characterizes Fort Kochi on every postcard.

O/N Fragnant Nature Hotel or similar including breakfast, lunch and dinner.

DAY 3: KOCHI – MUNNAR

After breakfast, this morning we will drive to Munnar (approximately 5-hour drive), India’s largest tea-growing region and favourite summer retreat during the British Colonial era, cradled in a picturesque valley. At 1525 metres above sea level, there’s likely to be dramatic drop in temperature here, so have your jacket ready!

If you suffer from motion sickness, we highly recommend that you take medication this morning, as this road is very winding.

Lunch will be at local restaurant / hotel in Munnar town. We will visit the Tea Museum and later, the lively local market.

We are then transferred to our hotel via a pick-up point where we will be met by jeeps for the last 4 kms of the transfer.

Enjoy a late dinner at the hotel.

O/N Tall Tree Hotel or similar including breakfast, lunch and dinner.

DAY 4: MUNNAR

Enjoy breakfast at the hotel this morning. Today we will explore our wonderful, lush surroundings on foot.

Our guided trek starts with a hike through the tea plantations.

Those who wish to continue, walk on to a hilltop rest point.** From here our walk will continue along the ridge of the hill, offering staggering views on every side - grasslands and rocky mountain slopes on one side and tea plantations with patches of Shola forest (tropical montane forests) on the other. On a clear day it is possible to view Anaimudi, the highest peak in Southern India, and the waters of Idukki Dam which is listed as the highest arch dam in Asia and third tallest dam in India. The walk also offers a great opportunity to spot some endemic birds of the Western Ghats. We enjoy a picnic lunch en-route and return to our hotel in the early afternoon.

This hike is suitable for reasonable fitness levels. You must be able to keep a steady pace on an incline. Please bring your backpack to carry water and your lunch pack. Long pants, walking shoes and a walking stick is recommended.

Guests who do not wish to participate, may spend the morning at leisure; the hotel has beautiful gardens for you to relax in.

We end the day with a scenic drive to Mattupetty Dam, a storage Concrete Gravity dam, built in the mountains to conserve water for hydroelectricity. Because of the abundance of water, the dam is home to hundreds of migratory and resident bird species.

Return back to the hotel for dinner.

O/N Tall Tree Hotel or similar including breakfast, picnic lunch and dinner.

DAY 5: MUNNAR - MADURAI

Enjoy breakfast and check-out. This morning we drive to Madurai (approximately 156 km/ 5-hour drive). The ancient city of Madurai, more than 2,500 years old, was built by the Pandyan king, Kulashekarar, in the 6th century B.C. But the reign of the Nayaks marks the golden period of Madurai when art, architecture and learning flourished expansively. The most beautiful buildings in the city including its most famous landmark, the Meenakshi temple, were built during the Nayak rule.

Upon arrival, check-in at the hotel and freshen-up.

We enjoy lunch before departing to the National Gandhi Museum, dedicated to the life and achievements of the “Father of the Nation” and the leader of India's fight for independence.

Later this afternoon we enjoy a sightseeing tour of the city starting with a visit to the Meenakshi Temple. Located in the heart of the city of Madurai, the Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar temple is dedicated to goddess Meenakshi, the consort of lord Shiva. It is one of the most important places of Hindu pilgrimage. For the people of Madurai, the temple is the very centre of their cultural and religious life. It is said that the people of the city wake up, not by the call of nature but by the chant of hymns at the temple. The sculpted pillars are adorned with the exquisite murals that celebrate the ethereal beauty of princess Meenakshi and the scenes of her wedding with Lord Shiva. At the Sundareswarar temple across the courtyard, Lord Shiva is represented as a lingam. The pillars depict scenes from the wedding of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar. There are 985 richly carved pillars here and each one surpasses the other in beauty. *

Please note that non-Hindus are not allowed to enter the main Shrines.

O/N at the Heritage Madurai or similar including breakfast, lunch and dinner.

DAY 6: MADURAI – THEKKADY

An early start today. Enjoy breakfast and check out. We will then visit the lively Madurai Flower Market where you will witness a vivid variety of flowers being prepared for distribution to the various parts of the city and the state.

Continue to the Palace of Thirumalai Nayak, an Indo-Saracenic building constructed in 1636 by the ruler whose name it bears. The imposing edifice is famous for the “Stuccowork” on its domes and impressive arches. The Sorgavilasam (Celestial Pavilion), constructed entirely of brick and mortar without the support of a single rafter or girder, is a marvel of Indo-Saracenic architectural style. Among other striking features of the palace are the massive white pillars, several of which line the corridor that runs along the courtyard. Connected by high decorated arches, these pillars measure 20 m in height and have a circumference of 4 m. Elsewhere, there are polished black stone pillars of varying heights. It was King Thirumalai Nayak’s grandson who demolished much of the fine structure and removed most of the jewels and woodcarvings to build his own palace in Tiruchirapalli. (His dream never came true). Thanks to Lord Napier, the then Governor of Madras, who partially restored the palace in 1866-72, and the subsequent restoration works carried out several years ago, today, we get to see the Entrance Gate, The Main Hall and the Dance Hall.

We leave Madurai behind and travel to Periyar, approximately a 5-hour drive. Upon arrival this afternoon, proceed to check-in at the hotel.

Our stay in Periyar starts with a tour of a spice plantation. It is an opportunity to see why the cuisine in Kerala is so different from most of the other Indian cuisines. The tour gives you a chance to visit plantations of cardamom, pepper, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and many other varieties of spices and medicinal plants.

Later in the evening, we attend an exciting demonstration of Indian martial arts (Kalaripayattu) at the Kadathanadan Kalari Centre. Kalaripayattu is a 3000-year-old form of martial art, one of the oldest forms existing in the world. Crafted in ancient South India drawing inspiration from the raw power and sinuous strength of the majestic animal forms - Lion, Tiger, Elephant, Wild Boar, Snake, and Crocodile, Kalaripayattu is shrouded in deep mystery and mists of secrecy as it was taught by the masters in total isolation, away from prying eye. Be prepared for a totally mesmerising demonstration.

O/N Elephant Court Hotel or similar including breakfast, packed lunch and dinner.

DAY 7: THEKKADY

Early morning, we will embark on an interpretive, guided nature hike in a buffer area of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the finest in India, with its bountiful treasures of tropical flora and fauna. It is home to many endangered species and a rich tribal culture. The sanctuary is bound by mountain ridges and surrounds the Periyar Lake, the reservoir of the 120-year-old Mullaperiyar Dam. The lake and the meandering Periyar River flow through the forests offering an excellent opportunity of watching birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Our group will divide into smaller groups as a maximum of five persons are allowed on each trail, accompanied by a trained tribal guide. This ensures an intimate experience with nature.
Return to the hotel for buffet breakfast.
This hike is suitable for reasonable fitness levels. Long pants, walking shoes and a walking stick is recommended. Guests who do not wish to participate, may spend the morning at leisure.

A highlight of our visit to the area is Ottakathalamedu. We will take a Jeep ride from Thekaddy to this viewpoint. Situated at an altitude of 1300 m above sea level, it offers a breathtaking view of Kumily, Periyar Tiger Reserve, spice gardens and some villages of neighbouring Tamil Nadu state. If you love to do some landscape photography, don't forget to pack your wide-angle lens.

Late this afternoon we will enjoy a boat ride on Lake Periyar, before returning to the hotel.
O/N Elephant Court Hotel or similar including breakfast, lunch and dinner.

DAY 8: THEKKADY

Spend the morning at leisure. Enjoy some shopping or an optional spa treatment at the hotel.

Enjoy lunch at the hotel.

Late this afternoon we will enjoy a boat ride on Lake Periyar, before returning to the hotel.

O/N Elephant Court Hotel or similar including breakfast, lunch and dinner.

DAY 9: THEKKADY – KUMARAKOM

Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before we check out and proceed to Kumarakom (approximately 4.5-hour drive). Upon arrival, proceed to check-in at the hotel.

A cruise along the gentle waters of the great backwaters of Kerala is enchanting in itself but add to it the experience of some of the traditional activities such as coconut palm frond weaving, screw pine making, broom making, fishing with the locals, a visit to local toddy shops, shell mining with the locals and much more to make sure our trip to Kumarakom is worth a lifetime of memories.

This is exactly what today is all about and why we include The Village Life Experience to our tour. Carved out of the innocence and beauty of rural life in Kerala, this programme is focused on local communities. We will meet local villagers who will guide us through their village, making our experience more natural and heart-warming.

Crafted with the best interests of the local community in mind, the Village Life Experience initiative enhances the wellbeing of the locals and also makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, and maintenance of the world's diversity. It brings home additional income to the participating families thereby uplifting the locals and is part of the Responsible Tourism (RT) initiative.

O/N at the Lake Song Hotel or similar including breakfast, lunch and dinner.

DAY 10: KUMARAKOM – ALLEPPEY

Early morning, we depart on a bird watching tour in the Kumarakom area. This is a favourite area of migratory birds like the Siberian stork, egret, darter, heron and teal. The area is situated on the eastern bank of Vembanad Lake and is spread across 14 acres. The main attractions are waterfowl, egret, heron, cormorant and Brahminy kite. Migratory birds from the Himalayas, and as far away as Siberia, make the area their home during winter between November and May. Siberian cranes are the most prominent visitors to the park.

Return back to the hotel for breakfast.

Later we will check out of our hotel and drive to Alleppey (approximately 1.5-hour drive) to board our traditional Kettuvallam (houseboat) for an overnight stay.

Fondly called the ‘Venetian Capital of Kerala’ or the ‘Venice of the East’, the picturesque Alleppey is known for its enchanting backwaters, scenic beauty, azure lagoons, evergreen coconut groves, intricate network of canals, and other natural bounties. Relaxing on board a houseboat is the best way to discover the backwaters. Float past verdant paddy fields, forested moorlands and sandy beaches, watching every-day village life glide by.

Traditional Kettuvallam (house boats) are like floating guesthouses offering accommodation, Western bathroom facilities, a dining room and deck area. For our group we will be using a combination of two-, three- and four-bedroom boats, depending on the number of guests. Note that the air-conditioning in the houseboat may be non-operational at night to keep environment noise-free. The house boats will dock at night.

We recommend only packing an overnight bag for this night including your personal toiletries such as soap and shampoo. Luggage will be stored until you return to the bus the next morning.

O/N on board a houseboat including breakfast, lunch and dinner.

DAY 11: ALLEPEY – KOCHI

We enjoy breakfast before disembarking our Kettuvallam (houseboat). This morning we drive back to Kochi, approximately 1.5-hour drive.

On arrival, proceed straight for Muziris Tour. In the first centuries AD, the port of Muziris was a major centre for trade between Rome and southern India. It specialised in the export of highly prized spices, most notably pepper. Such was its value in ancient times that it was exchanged for Roman gold. The Romans were crazy about black pepper, and the rich would put it in every dish. They also loved the exquisitely fine Indian muslins, which was even more expensive than Chinese silk. India was particularly the source for much of their exotica, especially ivory, apes and peacocks. Muziris is mentioned by a number of Roman sources including Pliny the Elder, who called it “the first emporium of India”. It was the hub of various cultures and religions and legend has it that India's first church was established here by St. Thomas the apostle. Though Roman trade declined from the 5th century AD, this famous city had caught the attention of other nationalities by then, such as the Chinese, Arabs, Jews and Greeks, and Muziris was successively ruled by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. However, with time the once-bustling port fell out of use and literally disappeared from the map. The exact location of Muziris today is still not known to historians and archaeologists, but it is generally thought to be at Pattanam, an archaeological site about 35 km north of Kochi, on the banks of the River Periyar. Trade continued from its ports until the 14th century when it is supposed to have been destroyed by a catastrophe, probably a cyclone accompanied by tsunami-like floods in the Periyar.

We visit the Muziris Heritage Project whose aim it is to revive the lost legacy by conserving and showcasing the remnants of an ancient civilization. Our tour also includes a visit to the Paliam Palace, once used as the residence of the Paliath Achans, who were the prime ministers to the former Maharajas of the State of Kochi. We visit the spice and fruit garden courtyard before taking a walk through the village, spread along the banks of the Periyar river, inter-acting with local inhabitants.

Later proceed to the airport hotel for check-in. Tonight, we enjoy a farewell dinner at our hotel.

O/N Holiday Inn or similar including breakfast, lunch and dinner.

DAY 12: DEPARTURE

Sadly, today marks the end of our incredible sojourn through Southern India. Our representative will transfer you to the airport for your flight back home.

END OF SERVICES.

Dates

26 February 2025 - 09 March 2025

Rates

LAND PACKAGE COST:

Per person sharing: USD 2 580
Single Supplement: USD 690

Great News - Price Freeze! The above prices will remain as they were for the 2024 rates.

Included

  • Meet and greet upon arrival
  • Services of a qualified English-speaking local guide
  • All transport in an air-conditioned vehicle
  • 11 nights’ accommodation as specified
  • 11 breakfasts, 11 lunches, 11 dinners
  • All sightseeing and excursions as specified
  • Monument and museum entrance fees as per the itinerary
  • Kathakali Classical Dance Performance
  • Tea and Spice Plantation Tours
  • Guided nature walk in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Boat ride on Lake Periyar
  • Kalariyapattu Martial Art Performance
  • Village Life Experience in Kumarakom
  • Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary
  • Overnight onboard traditional Kettuvallam (house boat)
  • 2 Bottles of water (500ml) per person on a daily basis
  • All current applicable tourism taxes

Excluded

  • All international flights and airport taxes (quoted and booked separately)
  • Visa Fees, if applicable
  • Driver, guide and local escort gratuities
  • Drinks and dining rooms tips and porterage
  • Telephone bill, laundry and any items of a personal nature
  • Comprehensive travel insurance

NOTES:

  • This tour requires a minimum of 10 guests to offer it at the quoted price.
  • South African Nationals require a visa to enter India. Passports must be valid at least 6 months after tour dates, with sufficient blank pages.
  • There is a risk of Malaria and a Yellow Fever certificate may be required depending on country of origin and stop-over.
  • Prices for flights, airport taxes, monument entrance fees or park fees may be changed without prior notice. This is beyond our control and any increase levied will payable by the guest.

Reviews

Nelie Coetzee - 16 to 26 October 2022

“Ek wens Ek wens… Dis die titel van ‘n boek geskryf deur Zirk vd Berg en word tans meesterlik deur Frank Opperman vertolk. Daarin word die hoofkarakter met die laaste van drie wense gelaat.
Ek het lank gewonder wat my laaste wens sou wees indien dit ék was…. Tot die 25ste Oktober, want meteens WÉÉT ek net! Ek wens dat álmal die geleentheid mag kry om een van die mees-besonderse plekke, (mees onderskatte plekke bygesê) naamlik Suid-Indië saam met Live the Journey te kan meemaak. Tien dae van intense en heerlike sintuiglike meelewing. Tien dae waar hart, siel en verstand gesalf word - van buite en van binne. Tien dae om geheuelaaitjies in die brein vol te stop om later, wanneer nodig, een vir een op te diep om weer behaaglik daaraan te herkou… oor en oor en oor totdat die welgeluksaligheid van elk van die tien dae jou weer van voorafaan betower…”

Estelle Hurter - 16 to 26 October 2022

"Kerala and her people cannot be fully captured in words. However, expect them to creep under your skin and burrow into your heart. Unforgettable!" (Translated)

Daleen Vosloo - 16 to 26 October 2022

"Ek's soos 'n verliefde bakvissie wat noual vir vier dae onophoudelik aan verruklike Kerela en die deel van Tamil Nadu wat ons besoek het, dink. Die mense se warm opregtgeid en gretigheid om te plesier is aangrypend. Live the Journey se klein groep toere maak 'n toer soveel meer pret, plesier en betekenisvol. "

Reservations

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