Snake Boat Festival Tour
Day 1: Arrive Chennai
Day 2: Kanchipuram is the temple town of south India. The Ekambareshwar Temple, dedicated to Shiva, is one of the largest and houses the 3500-year-old mango tree from which its name derives and whose branches are said to represent the four Vedas.
The oldest and most beautiful of Kanchipuram's temples is Kailasanathar, an excellent example of Dravidian architecture. A fitting compliment to all this history is a typical south Indian lunch of thali, served on a banana leaf.
Mamallapuram is a wonderful combination of heritage monuments, sandy beaches and excellent seafood. The perfect introduction to Indian life, it is also one of the best places in south India for handicrafts. Sightseeing includes the 7th century Shore Temple, Arjuna's Penance bass relief, cave temples and a crocodile farm with over 2000 resident crocs.
Days 3 & 4: Today's first stop is Gangaikonda Cholapuram (a famous Shiva temple) with beautiful high towers adorned with many small sculptures depicting the stories of old epics. It is then on to Darasuram temple, built in memory of the white elephant - Airavath.
Tangore was the ancient capital of the Chola Kings between the 10th and 14th centuries and became a center of learning and culture. It is also known as the rice bowl of Tamilnadu. Sri Brihadeshwara Temple, built by the great Chola king Raja Raja in the 10th century, is an outstanding example of the Chola architecture and houses Asia 's largest image of Nandi, Shiva's bull. The Raja Raja Palace has been converted into an excellent Museum & Art Gallery.
Trichy is situated on the bank of river Cauvery and Srirangam, the largest temple complex in India, has twenty thousand people living and working within its labyrinths. The Rock fort temple, built by the Nayak King of Madurai, has shrines to both Ganesh and Shiva. Festivals are almost continually celebrated in the temples and along the river.
Days 5 & 6: Madurai, known as the Nectar city, is the oldest in Tamilnadu. It has a lotus shape and was founded by the Pandya king Kulashekara. Thousands of priests and worshippers come daily to Sri Meenakshi Temple where believers bathe themselves in the temple baths and have their fortunes told. The evening ceremony where the god Shiva is lead to the bedroom of his wife, Meenakshi is not to be missed. Madurai is also a great place to look for bronze statues, carpets or other souvenirs.
Days 7 & 8: Drive into the foothills of the Western Ghats towards Periyar National Park. A plantation tour introduces the numerous varieties of spice that this region is famous for. The tour is accompanied by a guide who provides an explanation of the native spices, tea and coffee. It is also possible to organize a visit to the local tea factory.
The best way to observe the game in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is by boat. There are herds of elephant, and bison, packs of wild boar various species of ape including the golden langur monkey, rarely seen elsewhere in India. Turtles can often be seen sunning themselves on the pieces of wood that stick out of the water. Osprey and cormorants are the most prevalent bird species in this area.
Day 9: Drive through magnificent mountain country with jungle, palm forests, tea and coffee plantations. Slowly descend to a green area where cocoa, rubber and spices grown. Kumarakom, the best of Kerala's backwaters, is situated on Vembanad Lake near Kottayam. A paradise of mangroves, paddy fields, water lilies, kingfishers and coconut groves networked by a maze of waterways and canals. Wake up to a hive of activity, tiny canoes ferrying fruits and vegetables, children rowing to school, fishermen casting for the day's catch, the tempting aroma of fried fish and juicy mussels. The Kumarakon Bird Sanctuary attracts numerous migrating flocks.
Day 10: The Snake Boat race is the most colorful water festival of Kerala. You watch the race from a private boat. After the race drive to Cochin.
Day 11: Cochin is situated on a number of small islands and peninsulas. Ferries join the islands and you are transported by boat through the green lagoons that form the city's harbor. In 1653 the Dutch settled in Cochin to trade in pepper. The spice trade is still important, as is shipbuilding. In the Dutch Palace beautiful murals depict episodes in Hindu mythology. Cochin boasts a 16th century Jewish synagogue and the only Jewish neighborhood in India. The ten meter high Chinese fishnets that Marco Polo mentioned are wonderful to see - a method of fishing that originated in the 11th century. After a trip to a backwater village finish the evening with the famous dance drama of Kerala, the Kathakali. Grotesque gesticulations, amazing costumes and very extensive make-up characterize this dance. The stories are mostly taken from the Mahabharaata and Ramaayana.
Day 12: The entire coastal stretch between Quilon and Cochin is crisscrossed by beautiful palm fringed narrow canals and wide rivers. Dugout canoes with huge sails and prows carved into the shape of dragon still transport people and coir products from near the villages to nearby market towns. Our overnight journey affords a very special glimpse of the lives of those who inhabit this water world.
Days 13 & 14: Transfer to Mararai Beach to relax in the sun and enjoy excellent seafood.
Day 15: Depart