Kerala & South India Explorer    *alt*

17 days, from £2395
Mountain Kingdoms
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Tigers, palaces, temples, festivals & the Ooty mountain railway

*- Search for the Royal Bengal Tiger at the Nagarole game park
*- Explore mountains, tea plantations and ride the Ooty railway
*- Attend a Theyyam festival
*- Stay in a houseboat, a homestay and an opulent palace
*- Relax at a beautiful beach resort

Kerala is a perfect winter holiday destination, with a lovely climate and enchanting scenery. Southern India is completely different from the north. It is a land of colour and vibrancy, of tea, coffee and spice plantations, backwaters, ranges of inland hills rising to over 2,500m / 8,200ft and white, coconut-fringed beaches.

This tour takes us to some of the best places in northern Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. There are pleasant and interesting day walks, as well as sightseeing of fantastic palaces and temples along the way.

The game park at Nagarole supports an abundance of wildlife including Royal Bengal tiger, and we stay at the lovely Kabini River Lodge. The food in Kerala is delicious, fresh and full of flavour. At the beautiful Aranyakum homestay we will enjoy a cookery lesson, and whilst in Ooty, take lunch at the Savoy Hotel, a wonderful throwback to the times of the Raj. There is a short Kerala houseboat cruise and of course a trip on the world famous Ooty steam mountain railway. There are stunning drives through the tea estates and impressive mountains of the western Ghats, as well as time at leisure at Flameback Lodge. This property is one of the most atmospheric places we have encountered in many years of travel and from here there are decent day walks in the hills nearby. The visit to Mysore is fascinating and includes historical tours of two grand palaces. Indeed you stay here in the Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel, an incredible colonial property.

Towards the end of your all too fleeting time in this beautiful country you will attend one or two of the famous Theyyam festivals (February and March departures), with time to relax at a boutique style beach resort, before returning home.



Fly from London to Kozhikode (formerly Calicut)
Overnight: Meals In Flight London To Caliccut (Kozhikode)


On arrival at Calicut airport (Kozhikode) you will be met and transferred to your hotel. You will stay at the Kadavu Resort for the night, which has beautiful gardens and a relaxing swimming pool. The remainder of the day will be at leisure to rest and recover from the long flight. There is a cruise in the afternoon (numbers permitting) on a converted rice barge up the river next to the hotel. This will be short, from 1630 to 1730. This is a relaxing cruise around the island near the hotel and starts and ends at the hotel jetty.
Overnight: Kadavu Resort Hotel, Calicut

 Day 3 - DRIVE TO WAYANAD. REMAINDER OF DAY AT LEISURE (3 hour drive, 95kms)

After a leisurely morning drive up the ghats to Wayanad, you will stay at the Aranyakam Plantation for 2 nights. You will stop at Vythiri for lunch en route. Aranyakam is a homestay managed by Rajesh and his wife, Neema. The accommodation is in comfortable rooms in a building adjoining the main house and surrounded by coffee and other spice plantations. The area is also well known for its wildlife and vegetation. The property has the forests of Nilambur on one side and the Nilgiri hills on the other. Food is local and freshly prepared from locally sourced ingredients. For those interested, a cooking demo can also be arranged where you could try your hands at some local cuisine! Remainder of the day will be at leisure. Local walks in the plantation are possible.
Overnight: Aranyakam Homestay, Wayanad


You will have the day at leisure to explore the area. Wayanad is a part of Kerala that has just recently opened up to Western tourists. The area is known for its tribal populations, estates of coffee and tea and plantations of hard wood trees. For those of you who would like some exercise there is an excursion to:
Chembra peak, the highest hill in Wayanad, is near Meppadi town. Trekking to the top of this peak takes half a day. You start the walk early in the morning to make the best of the cool weather. You will have a local guide to accompany you on the walk and a picnic lunch will be provided. You return to your homestay by the early afternoon. Please note, the peak is part of the Wayanad Wildlife sanctuary and is strictly monitored by the forest department. During the summer months the park is closed and walking is not permitted to prevent forest fires.
Overnight: Aranyakam Homestay, Wayanad


Drive to Ooty this morning, through the Nilgiri Hills. After a brief look around Ooty, and a snack lunch at the Savoy Hotel (not included), you will board the Toy train for the ride down through the hills. The initial journey from Ooty to Coonoor will be powered by a diesel engine, and then from Coonoor onwards, by a steam train, (they will change the diesel engine for a steam engine here). You will continue on the train for the steepest section of the journey down to Hillgrove, a small station near the foothills in the jungle. You will disembark at Hillgrove and walk down to your resort - approximately an hour's walk. (This walk is subject to local conditions and may not be available). This is a good opportunity to experience the area and for bird watching. (Your luggage will travel down in the vehicle and will be waiting for you at the resort. If you would prefer not to walk, you can get off at Coonoor station, and be driven straight to your resort).
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is one of the oldest mountain railways in India. Under consideration since 1845, the line was finally opened by the British in 1908, and was initially operated by the Madras Railway Company. The railway is one of the few in the world that is dependent on steam locomotives. In July 2005, UNESCO added the Nilgiri Mountain Railway as an extension to the World Heritage Site of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the site then became known as "Mountain Railways of India." The 'Nilgiri Passenger' train covers a distance of 26 miles (41.8 km), travels through 208 curves, 16 tunnels, and 250 bridges. The uphill journey takes around 290 minutes, and the downhill journey takes 215 minutes. It has the steepest track in Asia with a maximum gradient of 8.33%.
Overnight: Kurumba Village Resort

 Day 6 - MORNING JUNGLE WALK. DRIVE TO OOTY VIA COONOOR, 33kms (2 x drives, each approx 1 hour)

The resort will organise a walk for you depending on how easy or hard you would like the walk to be. You can decide on the duration of the walk and a naturalist will accompany you. For those who prefer to relax, the area around the hotel is a great place for bird watching. Later you will drive back up to Coonoor where you can have lunch. You will then drive back to Ooty for an overnight stay at the Savoy Hotel and a sightseeing tour of the town.
Overnight: Savoy Hotel, Ooty


Today you will drive down to the Nagarhole National Park. The drive will be through the Mudumalai and Bandipur National parks where there is a good chance of spotting some wildlife! You will stay at the Kabini River Lodge for 2 nights. Kabini is pure elephant country as one can see numerous herds at a time. However, the blaze of the elusive tiger always haunts you as you drive through the verdant jungle here. Once widely known for the mass elephant trapping operations called 'Khedda', Kabini stands as one of the brightest beacons for wildlife preservation in India today.
In the afternoon enjoy a game drive in the park (time permitting!) Being an important part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (which comprises the Nagarhole, Bandipur, Mudumalai and Wayanad Reserves); the park stretches over 643-square kilometers and is separated from Bandipur by the Kabini Reservoir. The park has rich forest cover, small streams, valleys, and waterfalls and a healthy tiger predator ratio; and tiger, Indian bison, and elephant are much more populous here than in Bandipur.
Overnight: Kabini River Lodge Or Kaav Lodge, Nagarhole


Today you will enjoy various jungle activities, including jeep safaris and a boat trip on the lake to view wildlife. Walks can also be arranged within the property with a naturalist, for people who are interested. When Steve and Seraphina Berry stayed here in 2013 they saw three tigers but of course we cannot guarantee sightings.
Overnight: Kabini River Lodge Or Kaav Lodge, Nagarhole


After your morning game drive, you will make your way to Mysore (2? hours). You will stay at the Lalitha Mahal Palace for two nights.
In the afternoon enjoy a visit to the city palace of the Maharaja in Mysore and a drive up Chamundi Hill to see the Chanakeshwara temple and the statue of Nandi Bull. The Chamundi Hills are located close to the palace city of Mysore. You will have a panoramic view of the city from the top of the hills. Amongst other landmarks, you will see the race course, the Lalitha Mahal palace, Mysore Palace, Karanji and Kukkarahalli lakes. There is a long stairway leading to the top of the hill, comprising 1,511 steps all in all, and climbing the first 400 or so steps takes some effort. En-route to the top, the steps pass the large monolithic statue of Nandi the Bull. You could also drive to the monuments, if you prefer.
The Palace of Mysore is the official residence of the Wodeyars - the erstwhile royal family of Mysore, and also houses two durbar halls (ceremonial meeting halls of the royal court). The Wodeyar kings first built a palace in Mysore in the 14th century. It was demolished and reconstructed many times. The current palace construction was commissioned in 1897, and it was completed in 1912, and expanded later around 1940. Mysore palace is now one of the most famous tourist attractions in India after the Taj Mahal, with more than 2.7 million visitors. Although tourists are allowed to visit the palace, they are not allowed to take photographs inside the palace, and all visitors must remove their footwear to enter. The architectural style of the palace is Indo-Saracenic, and blends together Hindu, Muslim, Rajput, and Gothic styles of architecture. The palace is surrounded by a large garden. The three storied stone building of fine gray granite with deep pink marble domes was designed by Henry Irwin.
In the evening, visit the Devaraja Fruit and Vegetable market. Devaraja market is an apt place to get a flavour of the local way of life. With more than 100 years of history, this market is well knitted into the heritage of Mysore. This is a good sample of a traditional Indian market place that is colourful, noisy and vibrant. You will find a generous mix of vegetable shops, fruit stalls, incense shops, shops selling traditional household tools, conical piles of kumkum (coloured powder used for bindi dots), beetle vine, banana leaves, local flowers, seeds and even some souvenir stalls. There is no concept of 'cold storage' here; everything is raw, straight from the farm to the market to the home. This is a photographer's delight and best visited in the evening when it is busy!
Overnight: Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel, Mysore


After breakfast you will drive the short distance to visit Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, about 18km from Mysore. This sanctuary is home to some of the most exotic birds. It is a group of small islands in the Cauvery River, and was formed when a small dam was built across the river in the 1600s. The Bird Sanctuary owes its existence to the world famous ornithologist Dr. Salim Ali who convinced the Maharaja of Mysore in 1940 to declare it as a protected area. The sanctuary is not very large, it covers an area of, but is home to a great variety of birds, including cormorants, darters, white ibis, spoon billed storks, open billed storks, painted storks, white necked storks, egrets, herons, terns, swallows, kingfishers, and sandpipers. There are a few mammals in the sanctuary as well, like fruit bats, bonnet macaques, palm civets, common mongoose and common otters. Marsh crocodiles make up the reptile population of the sanctuary. You can take a boat ride around the sanctuary and get a closer look at the birds and the crocodiles.
You will then drive in about a further 10 minutes to visit Srirangapatannam. Srirangapatannam island takes its name from the celebrated Ranganathaswamy temple which dominates the town. Srirangapatannam became the de facto capital of Mysore under Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. There is lots to see there as well as Tipu's palace. Around town there are various old city gates, the old fort and the fascinating Garrison Cemetery which are all worth a visit. Among the major sights on the island is Tipu Sultan's Summer Palace which is one of the most famous palaces of Mysore. Hydar Ali started the construction of this palace, which was completed by his son Tipu Sultan in 1791. The palace was built exclusively for the durbar, which would deal with the happenings in the territory. Most palaces are made of stone or brick but this unique structure - including its delicately carved pillars, its beams and its ceiling - is built of wood. The palace has gardens on either side with fountains in front to keep the air cool. It was originally enclosed in a mud fortress, which was built in 17th century by Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar. The structure is built using the Mughal style of architecture, which resembles the Durbar Hall of Akbar at Allahabad.
You will return to Mysore for an afternoon at leisure.
Overnight: Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel, Mysore


This morning you will drive to the coffee area of Chikmagalur, visiting the statue of Gometeshwara at Sravanabelagola and the temples at Belur en-route. This will take most of the day.
Sravenabelagola is one of the most sacred pilgrim places for people of the Jain faith; the place is renowned for the 57 feet monolithic statue of the Bhagavan Gomateshwara Bahubali. It is considered to be the world's largest monolithic stone statue and was erected by Chamundaraya, a famous king. The base of the statue has inscriptions in Kannada and Tamil, as well as the oldest evidence of written Marathi, dating from 981 AD. The inscription praises the Ganga king who funded the effort, and his general Chamundaraya, who erected the statue for his mother. Every twelve years, thousands of devotees congregate here to perform the Mahamastakabhisheka, a spectacular ceremony in which the statue is covered with milk, curds, ghee, saffron and gold coins. The next Mahamastakabhisheka will be held in 2018. Note, the ascent to the top is up a flight of steps. It is best done in the morning before it gets too hot. You will then stop at Hassan for lunch en route to Belur.
The main attraction in Belur is the Chennakesava temple complex which contains the Chennakesava Temple (dedicated to Chennakeshava, meaning handsome Vishnu) as the centre piece, surrounded by the Kappe Chennigraya temple built by Shantaladevi, queen of king Vishnuvardhana. The temple is one of the finest examples of Hoysala architecture. It was built by king Vishnuvardhana in commemoration of his victory over the Cholas at Talakad in 1117 CE. Legend has it that it took 103 years to complete and Vishnuvardhana's grandson Veera Ballala II completed the task. The facade of the temple is filled with intricate sculptures and friezes with no portion left blank. The intricate workmanship includes elephants, lions, horses, episodes from the Indian mythological epics, and sensuous dancers (Shilabalikas). Inside the temple are a number of ornate pillars. Darpana Sundari (the Lady with the mirror) is one of major attractions in the complex.
Later you will make your way to Mudigeri (near Chikmagalur). You will stay at the Flameback Lodge for three nights.
Overnight: Flameback Lodge, Mudigere

 Day 12 - AT LEISURE

Today is free for you to explore the beautiful estate at Flameback. You can walk or cycle around the lakes, or simply relax by the swimming pool. In the evening there will be a plantation tour and visit to the owner's bungalow.
Overnight: Flameback Lodge, Mudigere


For the energetic, in the morning, there is a walk up the dramatic looking Seven Saints mountain. After a short drive you walk up a track that initially goes through forest before you reach open hillsides. The final ascent is steep (but short). The afternoon is at leisure.
Overnight: Flameback Lodge, Mudigere


Drive down the western ghats to the coastal town of Mangalore. Proceed on to Bekal, a new and upcoming beach destination in northern Kerala. The rest of the day is at leisure.
Overnight: Neeleshwar Hermitage Beach Hotel, Nileshwar


There will be an outing today to witness a Theyyam performance. This is a ritual dance performed in temples and Hindu shrines in northern Kerala. The theyyam dancers go into a trance as the dance peaks, and are believed to become incarnations of the gods on earth. This is an intense religious experience for the locals, who however do not mind visitors. It is a real experience to witness a 'theyyam'! They are organised at the last minute, and may involve an early start or late evening.
Overnight: Neeleshwar Hermitage Beach Hotel, Nileshwar

 Day 16 - DRIVE TO CALICUT (5 hours drive, 170kms)

Drive to Calicut
Overnight: Kadavu Resort Hotel, Calicut


Transfer to Calicut airport for your flight to UK.