India: Sanctuaries and Spices

Spanning 2,000 miles from top to bottom, Asia’s second-largest nation does nothing by halves, whether it be the colorful contrasts of its landscapes and lifestyles or the countless treasures of its historical, cultural and architectural heritage. To travel through the south of the country is to find yourself caught in the embrace of India at its most dazzlingly exotic: a tropical India of fertile green coastlands, the craggy Deccan plateau and its rolling hills, serene coconut groves and spice plantations, lush forests and cool backwaters – and game reserves that are a haven for elephant and (occasionally!) tiger.


Nov 9 – 28 2019 (20 days)
Price TBC
Deposit $500


Tour Description

Our journey explores an India enriched by the unique cultural fusion of the different dynasties, faiths and civilisations that have made their home here over two millennia. Today’s inhabitants are largely descended from indigenous Dravidians driven south by Aryan invaders of old. To them especially, beguiling South India now owes much of its flamboyant flavor – and a spectacular array of centuries-old Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Jain temple complexes, rock sculptures, monuments and haunting ruins.

To all these our tour will add opportunities to savor South India’s speciality regional cuisines, enjoy classical dance performances and discover something of the exuberant mood of modern India in the cities of Mumbai, Chennai and Mysore.


  • Explore the impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site at Ellora, where over 30 ancient cave temples (some dating back to the 5th century CE) are carved out of solid rock
  • Spend a relaxing afternoon at peaceful Periyar National Park – a superb spot for viewing elephants up close
  • Enjoy a day admiring the world-famous rock-cut shrines and shore temples of Mamallapuram, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Discover Chalukyan architecture (6th – 8th century CE) at the beautiful rock-cut Badami cave temples set in a canyon by the shores of Agastya Lake

  • Go behind the scenes at a private Kathakali dance performance, one of the major forms of Indian classical dance
  • Stand before the world’s largest monolithic statue at the ancient Jain pilgrimage site of Sravanabelagola
  • Wander amid the extraordinary Vijayanagara ruins at Hampi, founded 700 years ago and former capital of one of the largest Hindi empires, the Karnata, and today a UNESCO World Heritage Site



Nov 9 – 28 with Dr Mehreen Chida-Razvi

2019 Itinerary

Saturday, November 9: MUMBAI
We arrive in Mumbai and transfer directly to our hotel. We take the rest of the day to relax after our flight, before enjoying our first dinner as a group.

Sunday, November 10: AURANGABAD
We spend our morning visiting the Gateway of India, Prince of Whales Museum and Dhobi Ghat. This afternoon we transfer to the airport for our flight to Aurangabad, a city founded in 1610 by the popular prime minister Malik Ambar. We check in to our hotel and prepare for tomorrow’s adventures.

Monday, November 11: AURANGABAD
Today we drive to Ellora, a famed UNESCO World Heritage Site, where we find some 34 cave temples carved out of solid rock, dating from between the 5th and 13th centuries. Created by monks chiselling out over 3 million cubic feet of stone, and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, Kailasa is the world’s largest single monolithic rock excavation. We have our afternoon at leisure.

Tuesday, November 12: CHENNAI
This morning we visit the Ajanta Caves. There are thirty caves, including some unfinished ones. Of the Ajanta caves, five are ‘Chaityas’ or prayer halls and the rest are ‘viharas’ or monasteries. Hewn painstakingly as monsoon retreats or ‘varshavasas’ for Buddhist monks, the cave complex was continuously inhabited from 200 BC to about 650 AD. The paintings within the cave delineate the life and teachings of Buddha, his early life as a prince surrounded by women, and the splendour of court life. Elegant worship halls and dormitory cells merely strengthen the sense of a great spiritual legacy.

In the late afternoon we fly to Mumbai and then on to Chennai, the city formerly known as Madras, where we check in to our hotel.

Wednesday, November 13: CHENNAI
We enjoy a morning at leisure and continue touring in the afternoon with a visit to the Government Museum, a site rich in archaeological material including the largest collection of Roman antiquities outside of Europe. We also visit Fort St George, the first fortress founded in India by the English, and St Mary’s Church, the oldest British building in India; both striking remnants of the early colonial era.

Thursday, November 14: CHENNAI
This morning we drive south to Mahabalipuram, the second capital of the Pallava Kings. We spend the day visiting Pancha Rathas, a World Heritage site of rock-cut shrines and shore temples dating to the late 7th century. Afterwards, we return back to our hotel in Chennai.

Friday, November 15: TANJORE
A morning flight takes us down to Tiruchirappalli. Once the seat of power in southern India, Tiruchirappalli’s recorded history goes back as far as the 3rd century BC when it was ruled by the culture-rich Chola dynasty.

After lunch we proceed to tour Tiruchirapalli Rock Fort and Srirangam temple, a massive temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Even after many invasions by Mughal Kings, this temple still stands without losing its beauty and fame. We will then continue our drive to Tanjore covering a distance of 63 kms in approximately 1 ½ hour, and on arrival check in to our hotel.

Saturday, November 16: MADURAI
Tanjore has the distinction of having been the capital of the Cholas, one of the greatest dynasties of the South. The Cholas were great temple builders and Tanjore bears witness to this, dotted by no fewer than 74 temples. The most famous is the Brihadeeswarar Temple. Completed in 1010 AD, it is an outstanding example of the Chola architecture. It is one of the largest temples in the country and is distinguished by its truly immense stone-carved tower.

We will also visit the Raja Museum & Art Gallery. The gallery has an excellent collection of Chola bronzes with different interpretations of the same figure from early to late Chola dynasty. The museum displays the royal costumes, cutlery, utensils and weapons. After lunch, we drive to Madurai where we visit the Meenakshi Temple to witness the nightly prayer ceremony.

Sunday, November 17: MADURAI
This morning we visit Thirumalai Nayak Palace, a visual feast of column-flanked courtyards, cloistered archways and tranquil gardens created in the early 1600s. Prior to lunch we have the opportunity to revisit Meenakshi Temple. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi. Designed in 1560 by Vishwanatha Nayak, the present temple was built during the reign of Thirumalai Nayak from 1623 to 1655 AD, but its history goes back 2000 years, when Madurai was the capital of the Pandya Kings. The temple is famous for its 1000 pillar corridor. It has also been the centre of Tamil culture, art, dance and music over centuries.

The afternoon is free to relax and explore the ancient city. Tonight we have an evening dance performance of Bharatanatyam.

Monday, November 18: PERIYAR
Today we drive to Periyar where, after lunch, we experience a boat ride in the Periyar Lake. The cool surroundings and panorama of tropical jungles spread across an area of 777 Sq. Km. This wildlife sanctuary lies at an elevation of 914 to 1828 meters above sea level in the hills of Western Ghats.

Tuesday, November 19: KOCHI 
After breakfast we continue our journey with a visit to the spice gardens around Periyar Lake – a chance to learn more about the history and practices of Ayurvedic medicine, as well as the various properties of this area’s indigenous plants.

We embark on a house boat for a cruise with lunch. Here we will be awed at the vast expanse of the paddy fields that surround these beautiful backwaters. After we disembark at Alleppey we drive to Kochi and check in to our hotel.

Wednesday, November 20: KOCHI
We tour Kochi this morning, getting to know the country’s first ever European settlement. Also known as the “Queen of the Arabian Sea”, the port of Cochin stood at the center of India’s spice trade for many centuries. As part of our tour we visit Mattancherry Palace, a Portuguese palace gifted to the king of Kochi in around 1555. We also stop at St Francis Church – the oldest European church on Indian soil, the 16th-century Paradesi Synagogue – the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth, and the excellent Kochi Museum.

We are on our own for an afternoon at leisure, before regrouping to watch a Kathakali dance performance. Kathakali is the second major dance form originated in Kerala and is exclusively danced by men. It tells epic battles of gods and demons and is as dynamic and dramatic as Bharatnatyam is austere and expressive. Kathakali dancing is noted for the elaborate makeup and the colourful costumes, which the dancers wear.

Thursday, November 21: MYSORE
We fly to Bangalore and drive to Mysore, stopping at Somnathpur to visit a 13th century Hoysala temple. The exterior walls of the temple are frescoed with iconography of Hinduism and display extensive friezes of Hindu texts such as the Ramayana (southern section), the Mahabharata (northern section) and the Bhagavata Purana (western section of the main temple).

We continue to Mysore, the cultural capital of the state of Karnataka.

Friday, November 22: MYSORE
We start the day by visiting the Srirangapatnam Fort, former summer palace of Tipu Sultan, an 18th century ruler known to many as “the Tiger of Mysore” for his ferocious attacks against the British and his murder of political dissenters.

After lunch we continue to the Maharajah’s Palace, one of the largest and most splendid royal residences in India, where we find a dazzling throne room, pavilions, and a grand marriage hall covered in mosaics. The palace is a harmonious synthesis of the Hindu and Saracenic styles of Architecture with archways, domes, turrets, colonnades and magnificent sculptures. We also visit Chamundi Hills, which houses a temple to Durga celebrating her victory over the buffalo god.

Saturday, November 23: CHIKMAGALUR
This morning after an early breakfast we head towards Shravanabelagola. This is one of the oldest and most important Jain pilgrimage centers in India. The site of the huge 17m high naked statue of Bahubali said to be the world’s tallest monolithic statue. It overtakes the sedate country town of Shravanabelagola from the top of the rocky hill known as Indiragiri.

After lunch we visit sites around the city of Hassan, including Chennakeshava Temple at Belur. It is one of the finest examples of Hoysala architecture. It took 103 years to complete and the façade of the temple is covered with intricate sculptures and frescoes. We proceed onwards to Halebid and visit Hoysaleswara Temple with its wealth of sculptural details. The walls of the temple are covered with an endless variety of gods and goddesses, animals, birds and dancing girls. Yet no two facets of the temple are the same.

We end the day at Chikmagalur, a verdant town in the foothills of the Mullayanagiri Range, where we check in to our hotel for dinner and well-earned rest.

Sunday, November 24: HAMPI
Our travels take us further north to the temple town of Hampi, our base for exploring the extraordinary Vijayanagara ruins. We enjoy a free afternoon after checking in to our hotel.

Monday, November 25: HAMPI
We continue to tour the sites of Hampi throughout the day – seeing all that we can of this treasure trove of handsome temples, majestic artwork and stunning Medieval architecture – before returning to our comfortable hotel.

Tuesday, November 26: HAMPI
We may now only have hours left in India, but there’s still enough time to explore! We proceed with a visit to the richly decorated Aihole Hindu Temples as well as the archaeologically significant Temples of Pattadakal, the second capital of Badami Chalukyans, where all Royal coronations took place. It reached the height of its glory during the 7th and 8th centuries, when most of the temples here were built.

Tonight, we reunite for an unforgettable farewell dinner with the group.

Wednesday, November 27: HAMPI/BENGALURU
We end our tour with a drive to Bengaluru. Here we spend the night at an airport hotel conveniently located within walking distance.

Thursday, November 28: DEPART BENGALURU
In the early hours of the morning, we walk to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.

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