On arrival at Chennai International Airport you will be met at the airport for your Tamilnadu Kerala tours and then transferred to your hotel. Overnight stay in Chennai.
Chennai was once a group of villages set amidst palm-fringed rice fields until two English East India Company traders, Francis Day and Andrew Cogan, created a factory and trading post here. Completed on St George’s Day on 23 April 1640, this bow site became known as Fort St George. While these traditional posts still bear witness to the majestic British Raj, Chennai has grown upward and outward in recent years, making it the fourth largest metropolis in India. Millions of Indians come here to find work and the city also has one of the largest Japanese populations in India, thanks to the successful car industry that has given it the nickname ‘the Detroit of India’
On the South India Travels we start our day with a morning walk along the 3km main road of Marina Beach, past fishermen bringing in their catch, cricket games, flying kites, fortune tellers, fish markets, corn roasters and families enjoying the sea breeze.
On the guided half day tour of Chennai, we explore the well-preserved architectural legacy of colonial times in Chennai, including Fort St George, the oldest English fortress in India, created by the British in 1640 at the beginning of the East India Company. Learn how it now serves as the headquarters of the legislative assembly of the state of Tamil Nadu. Visit inside St Mary’s Church, Wellesley House and the Fort Museum, where you will see relics of British rule in India, including weapons, coins, medals and uniforms. It was here in St Mary’s Church, the oldest Anglican church in Asia, that Robert Clive married.
On the other side of the city is the sky-high white Catholic Basilica of St Thomas. Originally built by the Portuguese in the early 16th century to mark the burial place of the apostle who came to South India shortly after the death of Christ.
Then head to the Indo-Saracenic Government Museum (also known as the Madras Museum), which is the second oldest museum in India and houses the largest collection of Roman antiquities outside Europe! Browse an impressive collection of traditional and modern paintings and sculptures and explore a variety of exhibitions including archaeological finds, coins, palm leaf manuscripts and Amravati paintings, as well as rare works by Indian artists such as Raja Ravi Varma. Find Chola bronzes from the 10th to 13th centuries. It was from the 9th to the 11th century, in the Chola Age, that bronze sculptures reached their peak. They are magnificent with a grace and delicacy that disproves their weight: Shiva, as the god of dance, Nataraja, who whirls a ring of fire and the three-armed Ardhanarishiva, who embodies the male and female forms.
Enter the Kapaleeshwar Temple to see Brahman priests, the interpreters of the Hindu texts, as they go through their services in the 400-year-old temple. Listen to historical accounts of Hindu gods and learn why the locals walk clockwise around the temple.
For lunch we go to Chennai’s best South Indian restaurant. Dakshin specializes in the cuisine of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
After lunch drive to Kanchipuram (70 km). The city of a thousand temples’ is considered by the Hindus of India as one of the seven holiest cities in the country. Visit different temples with your guide and learn about the importance of the Hindu gods Shive and Vishnu. Explore the Sri Ekambareswarar Temple, which is the largest temple in the city and one of the five most important Shiva temples, each representing an element of nature. Built around 600, this temple symbolizes earth. Then visit the Kailasanatha Temple, the oldest temple in Kanchipuram, built in the early 8th century. Explore its sandstone composition and admire the fascinating carvings, including half-animal deities, which were popular during the Dravidian architectural age. After spending 30-45 minutes in each temple, stop at a nearby silk shop — Kanchipuram is famous for its hand-woven silk saris — to see a silk weaving demonstration. Watch local craftsmen take pure mulberry silk of various dazzling colors and create beautiful saris adorned with fine gold thread.
Then drive about 65 km to Mahabalipuram, or what is now called Mamallapuram. Although things are relaxed here, Mahabalipuram is home to India’s spectacular stone carvings and an ancient stone carving tradition that is very much alive today.
Explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site full of rock carved monuments built between the 7th and 8th centuries on the journey to South India today. These structures, most of which were built in honour of Hindu gods, are some of the oldest existing temples of Dravidian architecture. Visit with your guide some cave temples and carved reliefs, including the Five Rathas, Arjuna Penace, Krishna Mandap, Krishna Butterball and Shore Temples. Your guide will point out the Buddhist elements of these impressive structures and explain the historical significance of the sites you pass.
Visit Arjuna Penace, the crowning masterpiece of Mamallapuram’s stone work. This huge relief carving is one of India’s greatest ancient works of art. Inscribed into two huge adjacent boulders, the penance bursts with scenes from Hindu mythology and everyday vignettes of South Indian life. In the nagas (snake creatures) in the centre, a water-filled crevice once descended, representing the Ganges. On the left side Arjuna (hero of the Mahabharata) practices self-mortification (fasting on one leg), so that the four-armed Shiva will grant him his most powerful weapon, the god-killing Pashupatastra. The many beautifully carved animals in the rock relief include a herd of elephants – mood among the saints – and a cat imitating Arjuna’s penance in front of a crowd of mice.
South along the road from Arjunas Penance are the unfinished Panch Pandava Mandapa (cave temples); the Krishna Mandapa, which magnificently depicts Krishna raising Govardhana Hill to protect cows and villagers from a storm sent by Indra; Crowded together at the southern end of Mamallapuram, the Five Rathas (Ratha is Sanskrit for chariots, the vehicles of gods) look like buildings, but surprisingly they are all hewn from a single rock. Each of these 7th century temples was dedicated to a Hindu god and is now named after one or more of the Pandavas, the five heroic brothers of the epic Mahabharata, or your common wife Draupadi. The Rathas were hidden in the sand until they were excavated by the British 200 years ago. Highlight is the stone chariot of Arjuna, dedicated to Shiva. Its pilasters, miniature roof shrines and the small octagonal dome make it the precursor of many later temples in South India. A huge nandi, Shiva’s means of transport, stands behind it. Shiva and other gods are depicted on the outer wall of the temple.
Finally, visit the famous Shore Temples. Built in the 8th century under Narasimhavarman II, they are the earliest significant freestanding stone temples in India. Standing like a magnificent fist of elegance carved out of the rock overlooking the sea, the two-tower Shore Temple symbolizes the heights of Pallava architecture and the maritime ambitions of the Pallava kings. Its small size disproves its excellent proportions and the extreme quality of the hewn pieces, many of which have been eroded into vague impressionist decorations.
More than a thousand years later, you can still hear the knocking of hammer and chisel along the dusty streets of this village, which is famous for its stonework. The city’s craftsmen still carve statues from local stone – Ganesh, Buddha, Lakshmi, Shiva, Durga, Vishnu, Krishna – in all sizes, from paperweights to 3-meter-high monuments. Explore them on your guided hike!
In the early morning we drive from Mahabalipuram along the coast for about two hours to Pondicherry, the former French colony on the east coast of India. Pondicherry is strange for a destination in India because it is shockingly non-Indian. No noise and no crowds and nervous representatives vying for business that can be seen in the Indian tourist resorts, characteristic Pondicherry. But tranquillity does it and humble kindness does it. The French anchored their merchant ships in these beautiful Indian coasts about 300 years ago to do business, but ended up merging their ways with the ancient Indian way of life. Today, the inhabitants greet each other with a carefree bonjour, police officers wear the cap of the gendarmes, the streets are called rues, pastel-coloured colonnades and villas burst into life past the crowds of Indian houses. French holidaymakers and Indian locals can be seen intermingling and speak effortlessly in French – still a language of instruction in schools. In many ways Pondicherry serves as a rare product of colonization – a meeting place between East and West, a harmony of species, a tapestry of cultures. Pondicherry won its independence in 1954, but a few hundred French families still live here on the Coromandel coast.
On the South India tours, after arriving in Pondicherry, you will visit the Aurobindo Ashram, which is scattered over the French part of the city. This is the place where Sri Aurobindo Ghose, an Indian nationalist, philosopher, yogi, guru and poet – wrote, meditated and left his body; and also where his spiritual partner, the mother (born as Mirra Alfassa in Paris, France) lived and worked and also left her body. The Aurobindo Samadhi is the place where her remains are buried; and it is the spiritual heart of the ashram.
Next, visit Auroville, 10 km from Pondicherry. Inaugurated on 28 February 1968, Auroville is unique: no religion, no nationality, no politics. This international city is said to have 50.000 inhabitants one day. A handful of earth, brought from each Indian state and from 175 countries of the world, is placed in a marble urn in the shape of a lotus flower, standing in the middle of an amphitheatre and representing the birth of a city dedicated to human unity and integrity. There are currently just over 2,100 Auroviliers coming from 31 countries, including India. These 2000 hectares of land have become the basis for an experiment in social integration, reforestation, conservation of water, solar energy, soil conservation and organic farming. Before 1968 it was just uncultivated land. The first occupiers planted two million trees of various species and origin. Auroville is divided into 4 zones: international, cultural, residential and industrial. There are more than 50 production units in Auroville, engaged in activities as diverse as the production of candles, incense, cheese, pottery, jewellery, clothing and articles for tanning, employing around 5000 people. These productions can be bought in the shops of Auroville and Pondichery, but are in fact widely distributed far beyond the borders of India.
After lunch in Auroville, as you continue your journey south to Tanjore, an exquisite landscape unfolds. The soft watery greens of the rice fields make way for golden sections of harvested corn spread out on the roads. Coconut and banana trees stretch into the sky. Women sit washing by rivers or walking with pots and baskets and sugar cane balancing on their heads. The colours are eerily radiant. There are animals everywhere. Goats, oxen, monkeys and even baby elephants stroll through the traffic.
On arrival transfer to the hotel. The vast delta of the Cauvery (Kaveri) River is a fertile rice-growing area and Tanjore is its busiest centre. Overnight stay in Tanjore!
After breakfast you will visit the 9th century Brihadeshwara Temple, a true architectural gem of ancient India.
Built by the great Chola King Raja Raja 1 (985 -1012 AD), the Brihadeshwara Temple is the best example of excellent Chola architectural and engineering skills. This is the finest contribution to Dravidian temple architecture and it has withstood the test of time with its magnificent 64.8m high Vimanam (tower above the Blessed Sacrament), crowned by an 80 ton granite dome. You will be truly impressed by the scale of the temple site and the tranquility that reigned here! It has been declared India’s most treasured architectural site and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and the great living Chola Temples. The stone walls are decorated with intricate carvings and the shrine entrance is guarded by a monolithic Nandi, a holy bull carved from a single rock. The temple has a gigantic “Mahalingam” (Shiva Phallus) in the shrine, which measures 4 meters in height. The entire temple is made of granite and it is the first complete granite temple in the world. The granite quarry is not found in the vicinity of the city. It is not known where the granite was brought from.
The most common belief about this temple is that at noon the shadow of the temple disappears. It is widely believed that it is designed so that the 14-legged pyramidal Vimanam never falls to the ground at noon at any time of the year. The Brihadiswarar Temple is one of the rare temples that has idols for “Ashta-dikpaalakas” (guardians of the cardinal points) – Indra, Agni, Yama, Nirṛti, Varuṇa, Vāyu, Kubera, Īśāna – each of which was originally represented by a life-size statue. However, only four of the eight – Agni (fire), Varuṇa (water), Vāyu (air) and Ishana (aspects on Shiva) – are preserved today.
Within the temple complex, your guide will point out a tamarind tree decorated with rags on the Tamilnadu Kerala tour. Local girls tie sari pieces to the branches to help them get pregnant. Along the roadside you will notice trees that are also covered with rags. These are full of cow placenta to bring health to newborn animals. Everyone here believes in the power of the gods; the air is thick with faith.
The Cholas were great patrons of the arts and commissioned with exquisite bronzes. Many of them are dancing Shivas surrounded by rings of fire and the museum has a large collection within the 16th century Nayak Palace complex. The bronzes are still made using the same ‘lost wax’ process used thousands of years ago.
After lunch you will make a day trip to Tiruchirappalli, commonly known as Trichy or Tiruchi (45 km from Tanjore), a famous capital of the Nayak rulers in the 17th century.
Visit the magnificent Srirangam temple city, which is possibly the largest temple in India. It is truly a temple complex, each one clearing the way for another through gates, like the Forbidden City. Stretching over an area of about 156 hectares, Sri Ranganathaswamy is the largest working temple in the world (the one at Angkor Wat is the largest non-working temple). It has 49 separate shrines, all dedicated to God Vishnu, and to enter the inner sanctum from the south, as most worshippers do, it is necessary to pass seven gopurams (temple towers). Massive! Non-Hindus are not allowed to pass the sixth gopuram and will therefore not see the inner holy of holies which picture shows Vishnu as Lord Ranganatha lying on a five-headed snake.
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Hotels 4 Stars
Delhi: Holiday Inn New Delhi
Agra: Crystal Sarovar Premiere
Ranthambhore: The Tigress Spa & Resort (Pension Completa)
Bundi: Bundi Vilas
Jodhpur: Heritage Hotel Ranbanka Palace oder Radisson
Udaipur: The Lakend oder Ananta Resort & Spa
Old and New Delhi (Start), Mandawa, Khimsar, Jodhpur, Ranakpur, Udaipur, Chittorgarh, Bundi, Jaipur, Fatehpur Sikri, Abhaneri Stepwell, Agra, Varanasi, Katmandú, Patan, Bhaktapur, Pokhara, Dhampus, Nagarkot, Parque Nacional Chitwan, Kathmandu (End)
Neu Delhi – Agra – Fatehpur Sikri – Jaipur – Pushkar – Jodhpur – Ranakpur – Kumbhalgarh (UNECO) – Udaipur – Neu Delhi