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Home > India > India Itineraries > Authentic India Itinerary

Authentic India Itinerary

Departures

December to March

Duration

16 Days

Locations

Hyderabad – Madurai – Chennai – Mahabalipuram – Cochin – Colombo – Galle – Hatton – Kandy – Colombo

Overview

This fascinating tour introduces you to the wonders of southern India, down to the island nation of Sri Lanka. India never fails to astound visitors via its ancient temples, historic bazaars, fascinating museums, and golden shrines. Wander through storied fishing villages and art galleries, witness colorful festivals, and learn about the gods and goddesses that pepper the country’s rich history. Sri Lanka is awash in color, lush vegetation, and peaceful hillside retreats, delivering ancestral culture, tea plantations, and an elephant sanctuary.

Itinerary in Detail

    Day 1: Hyderabad

    Your first order of business today is to meet long-time residents of Hyderabad – a group of ladies who will translate their knowledge of the city on an exciting tour. This begins in the Old City with a walk around the four palaces of the Chowmahalla Complex. Hear the stories about the seven Nizams of Hyderabad whose destinies and decisions shaped the history and culture of the region. Wander through the imposing Durbar Hall and its various rooms, each recreating a slice of life from the past. Next, you visit Nizam’s museum at Purani Haveli and and marvel at the luxurious wardrobes and riches gifted to this dynasty by various kings across the world.   The charm of Hyderabad is found wandering the through historic Lad Bazaar, listening to the stories of its grand past, and discovering the many art and crafts that developed under royal patronage. You will walk through the colorful and chaotic market where vendors sell an extraordinary variety of items ranging from mundane to ornate. The rest of your day is spent at your leisure. 

    Hotel: Falaknuma Palace

    Falaknuma Palace

    Day 2: Hyderabad - Madurai 

    Today, you take a short flight to Madurai. This evening, you will visit the Minakshi Temple, an incredible structure dedicated to Minakshi the “fish-eyed goddess” who is also the consort of Shiva. Shiva has a temple dedicated to him within the complex. This is a living temple and each shrine has priests performing rituals in front of them – and you will also discover the decorated temple elephant. 

    Hotel: The Gateway Hotel Pasumalai, Madurai 

    The Gateway Hotel Pasumalai, Madurai 

    Day 3: Madurai - Chennai 

    This morning, you set out to explore the markets surrounding the Minakshi Temple. You will pass streets dedicated to the sale of particular items – stationery, flowers and fruits, vessels, items used in worship, and more. There is even a lane dedicated to bananas – South India boasts more than 50 varieties. Housed in the remains of 16th-century city ruins nestled amongst the decorated pillars and carvings are a remarkable collection of stalls selling everything from silk scarves to plastic hairclips. The walk is a remarkable experience, one you share with the local residents.  This afternoon, you take a short flight to the city of Chennai, a conglomeration of several fishing villages, considered the cultural capital of Southern India. Chennai was a fortified settlement under British rule. It is also believed that Saint Thomas was martyred here and his tomb is housed in the impressive San Thome Basilica in the historic Mylapore area.  Because you are in Chennai during the annual festival of music and dance, a theatre performance is scheduled for this evening.

    Hotel: The Leela Palace Chennai 

    The Leela Palace Chennai 

    Day 4: Chennai 

    Today is the last day of the Pongal Festival, an annual event celebrating the end of the harvest. You will meet your guide for a tour of some of the oldest areas of Chennai – the city of Mylapore. The area will be at its most colorful, with small shops selling the items needed for performing a “puja” or religious rituals – aromatic flowers, colored powders, and sandalwood. You will stop outside houses and watch them decorating the steps with “kolams,” designs drawn with rice flowers. You continue to walk through the narrow lanes to Kapleeswar Temple, the oldest in the city. On this walk, you will also hear legends of the city of Madras, and of the gods and demons to whom the temples are dedicated. 

    Hotel: The Leela Palace Chennai

    The Leela Palace Chennai

    Day 5 : Chennai - Mahabalipuram 

    This morning, you will tour the Madras Museum, housed in the Pantheon Complex, a complex of cultural institutions. The museum is a sprawling complex of labyrinthine corridors and numerous galleries. Your visit will focus on the Bronze Gallery with its superb collection of 9th- to 13th-century bronzes.  Following this, you make the one-hour drive to Mahabalipuram, stopping at Dakshin Chitra, a living museum that showcases the art, architecture, craft, and cultures of the four Southern States. After lunch at your hotel in Mahabalipuram, you embark on a tour of the city. Spread along the coast are some outstanding examples of 7th-century sculpture – cave temples, an enormous bas-relief depicting scenes from the Indian epic the Mahabharata, and an amphitheater of chariot-shaped temples. The landmark of this marvelous collection is the Shore Temple, a world heritage monument.   Later, you enjoy a Mahabalipuram dance festival performance. 

    Hotel: Taj Fisherman’s Cove Resort & Spa

    Taj Fisherman’s Cove Resort & Spa

    Day 6: Mahabalipuram - Cochin 

    This morning, you take a short flight to Cochin, the province of Kerala’s most cosmopolitan city. Once a main trading center for spices and seafood. While the more modern Ernakulam neighborhood boasts restaurants, modern shopping malls, and commercial complexes, the Mattancherry and Fort Cochin area is still traditional, retaining much of its original architecture and old-world charm. The streets here are crowded with spice shops, galleries, and cafes, the architecture, and cuisine reflecting the influences of the many traders who visited and ultimately settled.   This afternoon, you visit the Heritage Zone, with its varied architectural styles highlighting Cochin’s history of being occupied by various foreign rulers. The narrow streets are lined with art galleries, boutiques, and cafes, the houses exhibiting varying architectural styles ranging from British to Dutch. You can also visit some of the exhibitions of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, an annual international art festival that showcases art from India and overseas. Your walk concludes at the harbor when the fishing boats are pulling in for the lively daily auction. 

    Hotel: The Brunton Boatyard

    The Brunton Boatyard

    Day 7: Cochin 

    Your tour of Cochin continues today, with a morning visit to a jumble of antique, souvenir, and spice shops, leading to the city’s Synagogue, the oldest in India. Later, you will meet your guide to continue shopping on Bazaar Street. A visit to the Folklore Museum illustrates the rich cultural heritage of the region through music and dance. It showcases an exceptional collection of masks, bronze and stone sculptures, traditional jewelry, and costumes of conventional and ritual art forms. A performance of the traditional Kathakali dance follows the museum visit. This classical dance form originates in Kalarippayattu, a martial art dating back 1,000 years.  

    Hotel: The Brunton Boatyard

    The Brunton Boatyard

    Day 8: Cochin 

    This morning, you depart for Alleppy to begin a tour of the backwaters – an essential Kerala stop. A maze of canals winds through the state, supporting a unique lifestyle dictated by the water. You will board a private houseboat and have a leisurely tour through the Kuttanadu area, one of the few areas where farming is done below sea level – pass paddy fields, banana plantations, and boats ferrying children to school and farmers to the markets. 

    Hotel: The Brunton Boatyard 

    The Brunton Boatyard 

    Day 9: Cochin – Colombo - Galle

    This morning, you take a short flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Over the next few days, you will explore this beautiful island of lush tropical vegetation, pristine hills, serene Buddhist temples, and beautiful beaches. From the airport, you drive to the southern city of Galle and check into your hotel.

    Hotel: Amangalla 

    Amangalla 

    Day 10: Galle 

    Today, you will explore Galle Fort with noted English author and photographer Juliette Coombe. The fort, variously occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch and British, was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988. The quiet streets of the fort are lined with substantial buildings illustrating the characteristic features of Dutch colonial architecture. Also of note here is an 18th-century Dutch Church. You will also stop at the Arab Quarter with its distinctly Moorish atmosphere. 

    Hotel: Amangalla 

    Amangalla 

    Day 11: Galle - Hatton

    A four-hour drive to Hatton is on the agenda today, where you will enjoy accommodation at one of the Tea Trails Bungalows, former homes of the British tea estate managers. Each has been restored to reflect life on the working tea estates, augmented with lovely gardens, pools, and decks offering spectacular views of the countryside. 

    Hotel: Tea Trails Bungalow

    Tea Trails Bungalow

    Day 12: Hatton 

    You enjoy a tour of the tea estate this morning with the head planter, who will introduce you to the fascinating process of tea production. This starts with introductions to the women who work in the tea fields plucking the leaves, moving to the weighing process, to drying, fermenting, and packaging at the actual factory. The tour will be followed by a tea-tasting session. The rest of your day is at leisure. 

    Hotel: Tea Trails Bungalow 

    Tea Trails Bungalow 

    Day 13: Hatton - Kandy

    Today, you drive to Kandy House, the ancestral home of a former Kandyian nobleman. With only nine bedrooms, the experience is more like staying in a private home than a conventional hotel. In the gardens, a stunning infinity pool has been landscaped into the hillside overlooking the rice paddies, and the cuisine is a fusion of European and Sri Lankan influences.  Later this afternoon, you take a tuk-tuk up the hill to the residence of Raju, a well-known Sri Lankan artist of Norwegian and Sri Lankan descent. He and his daughter are entertaining hosts, happy to share his work as an artist and his musical talents.   

    Hotel: The Kandy House

    The Kandy House

    Day 14: Kandy 

    This morning, you have the option to visit the Millennium Elephant Foundation, home of the Samarasinghe family, who have provided sanctuary to more than 60 elephants for the past four decades. Currently, the eight elephants in residence range in age from 21 to 65 years. This afternoon, you visit the Temple of the Tooth Dalada Malgawa, which dates from the 16th century. Entering the shrine over a moonstone step, you pass a statue depicting the Indian goddess Lakshmi and a wall with frescoes illustrating the Buddhist conception of hell. The upper stories contain relics, golden Buddha statues, and modern paintings depicting Buddha’s life.

    Hotel: The Kandy House

    The Kandy House

    Day 15: Kandy - Colombo 

    After breakfast, you embark on a four-hour drive back to the city of Colombo. In the afternoon, you will meet Mark Forbes, a descendant of a family of planters. His passion for storytelling translates into a very enjoyable walking tour of the Fort district. He recreates an era of bustling ports, grand hotels, restaurants, and streets rich with the scents of cinnamon and tea being loaded onto ships. The area is being rejuvenated, and many of the old buildings and mansions have been revived as restaurants and boutiques. This evening, you may wish to dine at the famous Ministry of Crab located in the former Dutch Hospital. 

    Hotel: Tintagelle Colombo

    Tintagelle Colombo

    Day 16: Colombo 

    Today, you transfer to the airport for your flight home.

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