Exquisite Temples and Tropical Landscapes


Ancient spice ports, seaside temples, tea plantations—what a colorful world southern India is! We discover the south’s distinctive flavors as we roam the narrow lanes of Cochin, ancient port of entry for spice traders on the Malabar Coast, and travel aboard beautiful private houseboats in enchanting tropical Kerala, watching the pageant of traditional riverside life. In Tamil Nadu, we find ourselves in a virtual outdoor museum of magnificent sacred architecture as we explore tranquil rural villages with astounding temples and gigantic gopuras (towers) soaring above the palm forests and paddy fields. Visits to the former French colony of Pondicherry and the exquisite rock-cut seaside temples at Mamallapuram round out our lively South India odyssey. Along the way, we savor legendary cuisine, from coconut-infused fish curries to tangy rasam.

Itinerary at a Glance

Days 1-2

In Cochin, with its stunning location along the Arabian Sea, our walks reveal the legacies of its European past, from British mansions and Dutch cottages to a 16th century synagogue.

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Days 3-6
Kerala Houseboats / Periyar / Madurai

As we glide by deluxe private houseboat, Kerala’s picturesque rural scenes are all around us. Our journey on waterways through this quiet region reveals the life of people working their fields with water buffaloes and fishing with nets from traditional longboats. We may even see some school boats (no school buses here). After heading through tea plantations to Periyar in the Cardamom Hills, we continue to Madurai. The vast, fortress-like Shri Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar temple dominates this city, and we immerse ourselves in the fascinating temple scene, with its Shaivite priests and ongoing weddings.

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Days 7-10
Karaikudi / Thanjavur / Pondicherry

Crossing a green landscape of rice paddies and coconut palms, we discover Chettinard mansions and ancient temples in wayside villages. Bustling Karaikudi, with its antique shops, and famed Thanjavur, a center for art and music, are wonderful highlights. On Day 10, we walk the lanes of the French Quarter of Pondicherry.

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Days 11-14
Mamallapuram / Chennai

From our beach resort, we marvel at Mamallapuram’s rock-cut temples by the sea and visit an open-air museum of traditional Tamil culture. Depart on Day 14.

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Ancient trading port of Cochin on the Arabian Sea
Private houseboat with an on-board chef
Madurai’s colossal temple, French colonial Pondicherry by the sea
South India’s savory cuisine, from curries to dosas


Length: 14 days
Cost From: $7795  
Arrive: Cochin, India
Depart: Chennai (Madras), India
Lodging: 12 nights first-class hotels, 1 night aboard private houseboat
Meals: All meals included
Activity: Walking, Archaeology, Cultural Adventures
Trip Level:

Overland travel with walking tours, cultural explorations

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A Passage to India

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