Discover the highlights and contrasts of north and south India

Experience the real India on this comfortable introduction to the cultures of north India and the lush beauty of southern India. Travelling from Delhi in the north to Trivandrum in the south, discover everything that India has to offer. The highlights and hidden jewels are revealed against a backdrop of green on a Kerala tour and in the vibrant towns of Rajasthan. Visit India's flamboyant major cities and the quiet repose of tiny fishing villages, along with tea gardens, tribal homes and colonial enclaves. Discover the culinary delights of each region and stay in colourful hotels, heritage accommodation and even a palace!

TRIP CHANGES FOR 2017:
From 1st January 2017 this trip will spend one less day in Chennai and no longer visit Munnar. This is to allow us to visit the new destinations of Tanjavur (Tanjore) where we explore the Brihadishwara Temple, and Karaikudi, where we will enjoy a village walk. More details to follow in coming months, with the itinerary outlined below:
12 Chennai
13 Pondicherry
14 Pondicherry
15 Tanjavur
16 Karaikudi
17 Madurai
18 Madurai
19 Periyar
20 Periyar
21 Kochi
22 Kochi
23 Kerala Backwaters
24 Kovalam
25 Kovalam
26 Depart

Start
New Delhi, India
Finish
Kovalam, India
Countries
India
Themes
Explorer
Code
HHKZC
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Ages
Min 18
Group size
Min 1 Max 16
Carbon offset
1 170kg pp per trip


Highlights

  • Discover the man-made beauty that lies across the north of India – from Jaipur’s ‘Palace of the Winds’ and Royal City Palace, Agra’s Red Fort and iconic Taj Mahal, to the palaces of Orchha and the carved steps leading down to the river in Varanasi
  • Be immersed in the spirituality of India – the Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi, the ghats of Varanasi, Kama Sutra carved temples and Buddhist pilgrimage sites; evening prayer ceremonies, ancient bathing rituals and candle flower ceremonies on the Ganges
  • With its idyllic lifestyle and contemporary feel, Puducherry is a beautiful seaside town to explore
  • Learn about the man who dedicated his life to the independence of India at The National Gandhi Museum
  • Track footprints in search of wild elephants in the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary
  • The rolling hills and chai gardens of Munnar are a tea lover’s dream
  • Ferry-hop between the islands of Fort Kochi to discover palaces, temples and Portuguese architecture at every turn

Itinerary

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 May 2016 to 31 December 2016. View the itinerary for departures between 01 January 2017 - 31 December 2017

Upon arrival you will be collected at the airport by one of our transfer representatives. Your Indian adventure will begin with an important meeting at 6 pm. You will find details of the meeting venue at the hotel reception.
Keep in mind that you will need your next of kin and insurance details with you at this meeting.
If you arrive early, you will have the opportunity to explore India’s capital - a bustling, exciting and often chaotic hub, filled with fascinating historical sites, galleries, museums and incredible bazaars.
There are a number of sites worth seeing in your free time. The 1570 Mughal masterpiece of Humayun’s Tomb is a World Heritage-listed site. It was the first garden tomb in India.
The tall brick minaret of Qutub Minar was crafted in the 12th century; it is a fascinating site to explore. You may also like to visit the mighty Red Fort of Delhi. This part-palace, part-fort has hosted a variety of guests ranging from British soldiers to royal families.
Join your group leader on an excursion into the sights and sounds of Old Delhi! Set off on the city's modern metro system, then get a taste of India's famed public transport with an option for a cycle rickshaw ride through chaotic streets, such as the famous Chandni Chowk. Make a visit to the Jama Masjid, Delhi's oldest mosque and one of its most impressive buildings, then visit the Sheeshganj Gurudwara (Sikh Temple) to learn about the Sikh religion.
You will travel by express train into Rajasthan and on to its capital, Jaipur, today (approx. 5 hours).
Here, traditionally dressed Rajput men wearing colourful turbans and sporting magnificent moustaches will make their way through crowded streets packed with cars, camel carts, rickshaws, trucks, and bicycles. You will also find bustling, brightly coloured bazaars filled with handcrafted textiles, folk art, and semi-precious stones, the local specialty. You will walk amidst the wonderful madness and discover the city for yourself. Jaipur is a favourite among travellers.
You will then travel 11 kilometres out to the stunning medieval Amber Fort. This fort was built in 1592 by Maharajah Man Singh and is a superb example of Rajput architecture.
You will also stop for photos of the Hawa Mahal (or Palace of The Winds), which is the most photographed structure in India after the Taj Mahal.
You will also see one of five astronomical observatories built by the founder of Jaipur, Maharaja Jai Singh.
Continue to indulge in the wonders of Indian culture by watching a Bollywood blockbuster - a vivid combination of action romance, drama and music, at the spectacular Raj Mandir Cinema.
For many travellers a hot air balloon experience is one of the highlights of Jaipur. Ballooning can be done over Jaipur on the morning of day 4 between Sep & Jun. For additional information please see the important notes section of your trip notes.
Travel out to the old capital of Amber and explore the hilltop fort complex known as the Amber Fort. Set in stunning surroundings on a hilltop overlooking Maota Lake, the fort is a superb example of Rajput architecture. One of its most spectacular buildings is the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors). With its walls completely covered with tiny mirrors, the hall becomes a dazzling fantasy with the light of a single match.
Today you will journey across the plains of Rajasthan by private vehicle to reach Agra (approximately 6 hours). Agra is home to one of the world's most recognisable monuments, the Taj Mahal.
You will be taken on a cycle rickshaw tour of the city, a wonderful way to uncover the best of Agra. (Please note that in the case of an unreasonably hot, or cold, foggy day, the cycle rickshaw tour will be replaced with a battery-powered rickshaw tour.)
Next you will visit the spectacular Taj Mahal - a masterpiece of glistening marble set amid picturesque, formal gardens. This amazing 17th century marble mausoleum was built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his second wife, who died giving birth.
Started in 1631, the project was completed in 1648 and employed a workforce of over 20,000 people. Construction materials were brought from all over India with the marble from Rajasthan transported by over 1000 elephants. The Taj has been described as a 'teardrop on the face of eternity' (by writer Rabindranath Tagore).
You will also visit the nearby Agra Fort - a huge complex built originally as a military structure of red sandstone by Akbar in 1565, and partially converted into a palace during the time of Shah Jahan.
From the majestic Taj, you will travel by express train to Madhya Pradesh (approximately 3.5 hours). Upon arrival in Jhansi, you will be collected by automatic rickshaws and carried through traditional rural Indian landscapes to reach the beautiful town of Orchha. Here you will have the opportunity to uncover a very different side of India (approximately 45 minutes).
You will make a stop at Taragram on the way to Orchha, one of our Responsible Tourism projects. Taragram is a paper making factory that enables local tribal women to work outside the realm usually afforded to them. The paper is crafted from wood pulp and recycled clothing.
Orchha is lovely town on the banks of the Betwa River. Initially a hunting area, Orchha has changed very little over the centuries. As the capital of Bundela, it was bestowed with a myriad of beautiful temples and palaces that belie its insignificant size.
You will visit the Orchha Palace that was built by Bir Sing Deo for his friend Jehangir, who was a great Mughal ruler.
Lastly, you will have the opportunity to be immersed in the flavours of the district’s culture with a cooking demonstration by the town’s local people.
KHAJURAHO AIRPORT:
Please note that due to ongoing construction works at Khajuraho Airport, many airlines have reduced the number of flights into and out of this airport. As a result we have had to reroute some trips between Khajuraho and Varanasi to an overnight train replacing the flight. Please be aware that while we will continue to do all we can to secure tickets on the limited flights available, this change may need to be made last minute to your itinerary. Your leader will notify you at the Group Meeting of any changes. All activities will continue to be included.
Today you will explore Khajuraho, a place famed for its incredible 1000-year-old temples, untouched by foreign invaders for centuries thanks to Khajuraho’s remote location, far from any major historical or modern centres.
The temples are especially reputed for their explicit carvings that illustrate the entire Kama Sutra.
Built during the Chandela Dynasty 1000 years ago, over a 100 to 150 year period, these temples have become a source of great perplexity for Indians and foreigners alike. The British only rediscovered the temples in the late 19th century.
The reason behind their existence and more interestingly, the inspiration for the intricate, erotic carvings is open to wide interpretation. Some argue that the carvings, all located on the exterior of the temples, signified the act of leaving sexual desires behind upon entering the holy temples, while others think them descriptive learning tools for young boys in the area about life beyond religion.
You will go on a tour of the western temple complex.
You will also have the opportunity to see a performance at the famous classical dance festival that occurs here.
Before leaving the town you will visit the home of a local Hindu family, where you will enjoy a home-cooked meal and be immersed in the life of middle-class Indians.
From the wondrous temples of Khajuraho, you will take a short flight to the spiritual centre of Varanasi. At certain times of year this flight could be delayed due to heavy fog.
Varanasi is awash with shrines and temples, it is the ultimate destination for Hindu pilgrims; devotees travel from far and wide to experience this spiritual centre. Varanasiis recognised as one of India’s most inspiring cities. You will be overwhelmed with sensory wonder. From the labyrinth of narrow laneways packed with stalls and shops, and the dhobi wallahs and burning ghats, to the endless temples that echo with bells and chimes and the pungent aroma of incense. You will also bare witness to pilgrims performing ancient bathing rituals and ceremonies.
The day will start early with a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges, where you will pass a multitude of temples and ghats. This is one of our favourite activities in India and is sure to impress. There is nothing like watching the sun rise over the ghats while pilgrims come to the river to bathe. The rest of the day is free to further explore this timeless city.
You will have a free morning to explore Varanasi. You may like to wander through the ghats, or do some last minute shopping in the incredible bazaars.
You will then fly to Delhi (approximately 1.5 hours), with the rest of the day free to explore or do some last minute shopping. There will be an (optional) group farewell dinner organised for those interested.
Fly to Chennai for the second half of your trip. This flight is included in the cost of the trip.
Chennai (previously known as Madras) was the site of the first major settlement of the East India Company in 1639, and is now the fourth largest city in India. The town grew up around the Fort St George and along Mount Road and some interesting historic buildings can be seen here. It's true that it is busy, noisy and often extremely hot, but in many ways it is a surprisingly efficient and orderly place by Indian standards. The Government Museum is worth a visit if you're interested in the history of the city, and for motorcycle enthusiasts the Enfield Factory tour is a must - though it only runs on certain days of the week, so check days and times before you make the journey. You might prefer to just wander the streets and soak up the atmosphere, exploring the many temples and bustling local markets.
As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers.
After breakfast head out for an included trip to Chennai’s Kapaleeshwarar Temple. With its multi-coloured gateway and pillared pavilions, this is one of India’s most impressive sights. Move onto the Government Museum to learn more about the history of Chennai. Perhaps head out for some delicious Chennai cuisine in the evening, such as Chettinad pepper chicken or ven pongal (spicy lentils and rice).
From Chennai, drive along the scenic East Coast Road to the fishing village of Mamallapuram. Take a guided tour around the town’s laidback beaches and temples, keeping an eye out for the sculptures and carvings dotted around the place. Visit the 8th-century Shore Temple and its mandapams (carved pillars) to pay your respects to the deity Shiva. Continue onto Puducherry in the afternoon where your evening is then free. Today's drive should take around three hours in total.
Visit the living project of Auroville, dedicated to the concept of unity. With more than 80 rural settlements and home to over 1,500 residents, half of the town’s population are foreign nationals. Auroville is also home to the world’s largest solid crystal, which you can examine, Take a walking tour to see local temples, the French Quarter and the spiritual community of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. You’ll see evidence of French colonial influence in Puducherry's architecture, sprawling town squares and even in the uniforms of the police. Puducherry is also a duty free zone, reputed for its quality leather and hand crafted paper products. You'll notice the French influence of the area extends to the European feel of the shopping.
Today after driving for an hour to the railhead, take a six-hour afternoon train to Madurai. The train will be air-conditioned with comfortable chairs, with western and Indian style toilets. There is a buffett cart and always vendors walking up and down the aisles selling snacks, tea and coffee. Its nice to be away from the roads and see rural India from the train. On arrival, transfer to the hotel by private vehicle. Its a long travelling day so make sure you've got your book and music player ready.
Wander through the markets and bazaars of Madurai before visiting the Sri Meenakshi Temple in the city’s centre. Still in use today, this ancient temple is a maze of lamp-lit corridors leading to shrines where traditional rituals take place. Explore the National Gandhi Museum, dedicated to the life and achievements of the 'Father of the Nation' and the leader of India's fight for independence. Your evening is then free to do as you wish.
Today, take a four-hour drive to Thekkady through rubber and pineapple plantations. Thekkady is the gateway to Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve, perched high in the ranges of the Western Ghats. The sanctuary surrounds a picturesque lake, which was formed as result of a dam that was built in 1895. It ambles through the contours of the wooded hills, and is a permanent source of water for local wildlife. This afternoon, take a tour of a local spice plantation before sitting down to a delicious meal prepared by the owner’s family. If you have time, perhaps attend a demonstration of Indian martial arts (kalaripayattu) at the Kadathanadan Kalari Centre.
In the morning, take a guided nature walk in the acclaimed Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Encounters with animals in the wild are never guaranteed, this walk is more a nature walk than a wildlife spotting trip, but look out for tigers, spotted deer, Indian elephants or gaur - the world's largest species of buffalo. In the afternoon, unwind with an optional ayurvedic massage or just relax in this scenic setting.

Notes: Leech socks will provided for the nature walk around the wildlife sanctuary.
In the morning drive to Munnar, which should take around four hours. Munnar is on an old British hill station cradled in a picturesque valley. At 1,525 metres above sea level, there’s likely to be dramatic drop in temperature here so be sure to pack warm clothing. Relax for the evening in your accommodation in the mountain resort.
This morning take a guided walk around the lush hills of Munnar, India’s largest tea-growing region. Indians are the highest consumers of tea in the world and the second highest exporters after China. Visit a nearby tea garden and the Tea Museum to get your fill of this delicacy. In the afternoon, journey out to the scenic Mattupetty Dam where you can take an optional motorboat ride. The town of Mattupetty is known for its Indo-Swiss livestock project devoted to cattle development. Your evening is then free.
In the morning drive to Kochi, which should take around five hours. Cochin, as it’s more commonly known, is a melting pot of Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and British influences. If you decide to island hop, the ferry network is the best way to get around the town’s numerous islands. On arrival, visit the region of Fort Kochi and explore its antique shops and spice bazaars. The Chinese fishing nets lining the coast can be seen in full operation early in the morning. Use your free evening to wander down the beach at sunset.
In the morning visit the Dutch Palace (Mattancherry Palace), which was built in the 16th century by the Portuguese before the Dutch renovated it. Then check out the oldest functioning Jewish synagogue in India, the Paradesi Synagogue. The fort area is a great place to spend free time wandering. In the evening witness a classic Kathakali performance, a dramatic dance that combines storytelling with physical technique.
Drive to the backwaters of Kerala this morning and discover sleepy Alappuzha, which should take around three hours in total. Once a significant trading port, the town is now famed for the long ‘snake boats’ races that take place in August every year. Alappuzha is a common starting point for journeys through the backwaters. Tonight, you'll sleep on a traditional Kettuvallam (houseboat). These floating cottages have western toilets, private bedrooms, a dining area and sundeck for you to relax on.
In the morning, take a four-hour drive to Kovalam via Kerala’s capital, Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram). Kovalam was once a quiet coastal village known for its export of fresh fish and coconuts, but is now one of India’s more popular beach resorts. Visit the ancient temple of Attukal Bhagavathy in the afternoon. If you have free time, explore the old signalling station of Anchuthengu Fort or the 16th-century Koyikkal Palace. Your evening is then free to do as you wish. Perhaps head out with the group for a farewell meal.
Today, your Classic South India adventure ends after breakfast and you’re free to leave the accommodation at any time. The nearest airport is Trivandrum - your tour leader can assist you in arranging a transfer. If you’d like to book a transfer before travelling to India, please let your agent know.
View trip notes to read full itinerary

Inclusions

Meals
20 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 1 dinner
Transport
Auto rickshaw, Boat, Cycle rickshaw, Metro, Plane, Private vehicle, Shuttle Bus, Train
Accommodation
Heritage Property (2 nights), Hotel (20 nights), Houseboat (1 night)
Included activities
  • Complimentary Airport Arrival Transfer
  • Delhi - Old Delhi Walking Tour
  • Delhi - Jama Masjid
  • Delhi - Sheeshganj Gurudwara (Sikh Temple)
  • Jaipur - Walking Tour
  • Jaipur - Movie at the Raj Mandir Cinema
  • Jaipur - Amber Fort
  • Agra - Taj Mahal
  • Agra - Agra Fort
  • Orchha - Taragram visit
  • Orchha - Orientation walk
  • Orchha - Orchha Palace
  • Orchha - Cooking demonstration
  • Orchha - Ram Raja Temple puja (prayer) ceremony
  • Khajuraho - Kama Sutra temples
  • Khajuraho - Traditional dance performance
  • Khajuraho - Home-cooked lunch & family visit
  • Varanasi - Old City Walking Tour
  • Varanasi - Sunset Candle Flower Ceremony
  • Varanasi - Sunrise Boat Ride
  • Mamallapuram - Shore Temple
  • Pondicherry - Auroville
  • Pondicherry - Walking Tour & Sri Aurobindo Ashram
  • Madurai - Walking tour
  • Madurai - Sri Meenakshi Temple
  • Madurai - Gandhi Museum
  • Periyar - Spice farm tour & dinner
  • Periyar - Guided Nature Walk
  • Kochi - Fort Kochi sightseeing
  • Tour
  • Kochi - Dutch Palace
  • Kochi - Jewish Synagogue
  • Kochi - Kathakali performance
  • Kovalam - Attukal Bhagavathy Temple
  • Kovalam - Walking Tour

Dates

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Important notes

1. The internal flight from Delhi to Chennai is included in the price of your trip.
2. A Single Supplement is available on this trip. See under the Single Traveller section of your Trip Notes for more information.
3. An airport Arrival Transfer is included. Please provide your flight details at the time of booking.
4. Please note that due to ongoing construction works at Khajuraho Airport, many airlines have reduced the number of flights into and out of this airport. As a result we have had to reroute some trips between Khajuraho and Varanasi to an overnight train replacing the flight. Please be aware that while we will continue to do all we can to secure tickets on the limited flights available, this change may need to be made last minute to your itinerary. Your leader will notify you at the Group Meeting of any changes. All activities will continue to be included.
5. This trip is a combination trip and as such the makeup of your group will change on day 12

Trip notes

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Your trip notes provide a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what’s included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

View trip notes

Reviews

Our India Experience trips score an average of 4 out of 5 based on 4 reviews in the last year.

India Experience , January 2016

India Experience , January 2016