Enchanting Temples, Rich Cultures, and Undiscovered Treasures of India’s Vibrant South


A kaleidoscope of adventures await in South India, where ancient temples are alive with the attentions of devout worshipers, colorful festivals abound, and a teeming melange of distinct cuisines and vibrant cultural heritages are evident everywhere you go. On this Private Journey, discover the distinctive flavors of the south as you explore the rock-cut caves of Ellora and Ajanta, the exquisite temples of Madurai, one of India’s oldest cities, and seek out wildlife in Periyar, a wildlife reserve set near tea plantations and spice gardens. In enchanting tropical Kerala, travel quiet waterways aboard a beautiful private houseboat to watch the pageant of traditional riverside life and roam the narrow lanes of Cochin, ancient port of entry for spice traders on the Malabar Coast.

Itinerary at a Glance

Days 1-2
Dynamic Mumbai

Mumbai (formerly Bombay) was the first part of India to be colonized by the British. Today it is a dynamic powerhouse of business, trade, and industry, including its film industry (“Bollywood”), the largest in the world. With your private guide, visit the Elephanta Caves, a cluster of rock-cut caves carved in the 6th to 8th centuries, and tour the city, including the Gateway of India, the city’s iconic landmark overlooking the sea.

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Days 3-4
Magnificent Ellora and Ajanta

On a privately guided visit, explore the cave temples of Ellora and Ajanta, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Built between the 5th and 10th centuries, Ellora’s temples are carved into volcanic rock and display elaborate bas-reliefs and sculptures depicting images of the Buddha, other deities, and garden scenes, as well as cathedral-like halls and courtyards. The Ajanta cave temples and monasteries, beautifully situated in a wooded ravine in the Waghora Valley, are hollowed out of granite cliffs. They contain richly ornamented sculptures and are noted for the fresco-like murals depicting Buddhist legends and deities.

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Days 5-6
Cochin, tropical Kerala

Cochin (now known as Kochi), set in a stunning location along the Arabian Sea, has a long history as a trading city. With your private guide, explore the old Fort Cochin and Mattancherry districts, with their interesting cultural monuments reflecting a diverse heritage, view Cochin’s trademark fishing nets along the waterfront, and enjoy a traditional Parimaral meal, typical of the intriguing diversity of South Indian cuisine. On one evening, enjoy a performance of traditional arts and dance forms of Kerala.

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Day 7
Kerala Backwaters Cruise

Aboard your deluxe, private houseboat, cruise through the tranquil backwaters of Kerala, a beautiful region nestled between the sea and the hills of Cochin. An overnight journey through this quiet region reveals the picturesque rural life of Kerala people working their fields with water buffaloes, fishing with nets from traditional longboats, and washing their clothes at the water's edge.

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Day 8
Cardamom Hills / Periyar

Travel through beautiful tea, spice, and rubber plantations to Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in the Cardamom Hills of the Western Ghat Mountains. At least 260 species of birds have been recorded at Periyar reserve. This afternoon, enjoy a visit to a private spice garden nearby as well as the local spice market, or enjoy a walk on a forested trail in the reserve.

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Days 9-11
Temples of Madurai, Chennai

In Madurai, join your guide for a visit to the Shri Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar temple, a fortress-like structure that is breathtakingly baroque with its abundance of gods, goddesses, rearing horses, and mythical figures. Visiting the temple is a truly intense and fascinating experience, with a constant flow of devout worshipers and a profusion of colorful flowers and puja offerings (ritual worship or devotional offerings). You will also visit the 17th century Thirumalai Nayak Palace, with its interesting blend of Dravidian, Islamic, and European styles. Fly to Chennai (formerly known as Madras) for departure on Day 11.

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The rock-cut caves of Ellora and Ajanta, the exquisite Meenakshi temple of Madurai
Spice gardens and tea plantations, Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary
Travel the quiet waterways of Kerala aboard a beautiful private houseboat
Roam the narrow lanes of Cochin, ancient port of entry for spice traders on the Malabar Coast


Length: 11 days
Cost From: $5795  
Arrive: Mumbai, India
Depart: Chennai, India
Lodging: 9 nights in comfortable hotels (first class or deluxe option), 1 night well-appointed houseboat
Meals: All meals included except 1 dinner (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Walking, Cultural Adventures
Trip Level:

Overland travel with walking tours

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