14 Day South India With Backwaters - Compass India Holidays
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The mysterious Kerala backwaters, tiger trails, exotic temple towns, ancient beach sculptures, an apostle’s grave. The ultimate luxury holiday in South India.

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14 Day South India With Backwaters Return to list of tours

Day 1 Arrive at Cochin

A Compass India Holiday representative will receive you on arrival at the airport and assist with your hotel transfer.

The ancient port city of Cochin or Kochi comprises a cluster of islands and peninsulas in a serene saltwater lagoon. Ferries connect the islands to Ernakulam town on the mainland. Dotted with lakes and gently swaying palm groves, Kochi’s otherworldly beauty, coupled with the lure of spices and seafood, draw scores of travellers every year to this natural harbour.

Overnight at Cochin.


Day 2 Sightseeing in Cochin

Breakfast will be served at the hotel.

Kochi’s famed Chinese fishing nets are perhaps one of the most iconic and oft photographed sights of Kerala. Mounted on teak and bamboo poles and supported by large stone counterweights, they hang gossamer-like all along the Fort Kochi seafront. Their origins are obscure with some claiming they were imported by the Portuguese from Macau while according to others,  the credit goes to Chinese traders from the court of Kubla Khan himself.

The Old Cochin area is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, and the Paradesi Synagogue built in 1568 is a must-see treasure of this eclectic corner of South India. Known for its distinctive tiled roof and bell towers, the synagogue’s interiors feature intricately hand-painted blue and white Chinese willow tiles of which no two are alike. Elegant Belgian chandeliers adorn its central area. An exquisite oriental rug and gold crowns received as gifts from visitors are also on display.

Also of interest is the intriguing International Pepper Exchange that deals in the global trade of black pepper.  Nearby are Vasco Da Gama Square, the Santa Cruz Basilica that counts among India’s oldest churches, St. Francis Church where Vasco Da Gama was originally interred, VOC Gate and Bastion Bungalow, all of which, according to local records, go back to between the mid fourteenth and early fifteenth century.

Wind up your day with a Kathakali performance later in the evening. A traditional dance drama form involving elaborate costumes, highly stylized expressions and choreographed to hypnotic music, the Kathakali is a truly unforgettable facet of your luxury holiday in exotic Kerala.

Overnight at Cochin.

Day 3 Cochin to Alleppey by road, Backwaters Cruise begins

The city of Alleppey or Alappuzha is the headquarter of Alappuzha district and highly popular with travellers for its lush greenery, beaches, lagoons and the famous backwaters of Kerala. The name Alappuzha means “the land between the river and the sea” and its intricate network on inland canals earn it the title of “Venice of the East.” This watery network has long been Alleppey’s lifeline, from its days as one of the best known ports on the Malabar coast up until modern times as the world’s gateway to the Backwaters. Alleppey too is an important venue for boat races, in particular the Nehru Trophy Race on the Punnamada Lake on the second Sunday of August.

Attractions in Alappuzha include the beautiful Alappuzha Beach, the Ambalappuzha Sri Krishna Temple, the Edathua Church and the Krishnapuram Palace.

The city of Alleppey is also your gateay to Kerala’s famed backwaters.

Running along the Malabar Coast of Kerala, the Backwaters are a massive 900 square kilometre network of lakes, rivers, streams, lagoons and canals that both connect and divide the land, giving rise to a unique amphibious culture and way of life that’s perhaps unique in the world.

Here, the saline waters of the Arabian sea mix with fresh water from inland streams fed by the Western Ghats, resulting in a knife-edge ecosystem that’s as fragile as it is distinctive. Teeming with fish, mudskippers, crabs, turtles and otters, the lush vegetation on its banks is home to flocks of cormorants and terns.

Human habitation in the region too are a gift of the backwaters, with the brackish channels snaking into the land often being the only means of transportation between villages and towns.

You will be cruising through the backwaters on a traditional thatched houseboat equipped with modern amenities.

Tranquil and mysterious, the backwaters feature prominently among the highlights of your luxury holiday in exotic South India.    

Proceed for your Backwaters Cruise on a traditional thatched houseboat fitted with every modern amenity. All meals will be served in the houseboat.

Day 4 Cruise to Kumarokom, Kumarokom to Thekkady (Periyar National Park) by road

After breakfast start for Kumarokom at a leisurely pace, cruising past traditional villages and startling the occasional otter by the riverbank.

Barely 16 kms from the city of Kottayam, Kumarokom is located by the Vembanad, Kerala’s largest fresh water lake, and is one of the important venues for Kerala’s famous boat races. During the festival of Onam, hundreds of traditional boats, some seating as many as fifty highly vocal rowers, steak down the lake amidst much fanfare, competing for top spot.

Disembark at Kumarokom. A spacious, comfortable Compass approved vehicle will be waiting to drive you to Thekkady (Periyar National Park).

On the banks of the Periyar river, amidst coffee plantations and the fragrant cardamom hills, lies the Periyar National Park, one of India’s major wildlife reserves. Look out for the Asian elephant, antelope, the Indian bison, the elusive Bengal tiger, the dhole or wild dog, and the extremely rare and endangered Nilgiri Tahr, a species of ibex native to the region.

Birdwatchers may be rewarded with sightings of greater hornbills, darters, herons, egrets, owls and brightly coloured kingfishers.

Overnight will at Thekkady.

Day 5 Explore Thekkady (Periyar National Park)

Breakfast will be served at the resort.

Afterwards, leave for a jungle walk with a highly experienced guide. This is a unique programme where tourists get the chance to get deep into the forest the least obtrusive way - on foot, maximising the chances of wildlife sightings. These walks can be customised depending on how long the guest wishes to spend in the park.

 Later visit the local spice market, reputed to be the largest in Asia is also worth a visit. Spices make for a unique and imaginative gift for friends and family back home.

Overnight at Thekkady.

Day 6 Thekkady to Madurai by road

Drive to Madurai after breakfast.

The ancient temple town of Madurai traces its history as far back as the 3rd century BC, and finds mention in the writings of Greek explorer Megasthenes.

The breathtaking Sri Meenakshi Amman Temple, a mini-city in its own right, dominates the Madurai skyline. One of the finest living examples of Dravidian art and  architecture, its towering gopurams loom over the city, every inch of its outer surface crowded with multicolored carvings of gods, goddesses and beasts of mythology. According to local lore, the foundations of the Sri Meenakshi Amman temple date back to well over two thousand years. Successive generations of rulers built over and added to the work of their predecessors until the compound grew to its current sprawling size of the 65000 square meters. The square-shaped temple grounds are surrounded by high walls with twelve stupendous Gopurams (temple towers) bidding entry to visitors. One of the highlights of your luxury holiday in exotic South India and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In the evening, visit the temple to experience the hypnotic aarti ritual, a ceremonial offering of lights. Your guide will be at hand to explain the nuances of the proceedings.

Overnight at Madurai.

Day 7 Sightseeing in Madurai

Breakfast will be served at the hotel. Afterwards, proceed for sightseeing around Madurai.

Inside the Meenakshi Amman Temple Compound, defying description, lies the Hall of Thousand Pillars, each pillar adorned by exquisitely detailed sculptures of celestial beings. A marvel of ancient Indian design, the pillars align in perfect straight lines no matter which angle they are viewed from. Outside the hall, a corridor is lined by the temple’s famed musical pillars, each of which produces a unique musical note when tapped. Don’t miss the Thousand Pillar Museum in the temple complex.

The spacious Gandhi Memorial Museum chronicles in loving detail the history of India’s independence movement. The museum organizes regular seminars on Gandhi and his principle of non-violence or ahimsa.

 Located a few minutes from Madurai, the Vishnu Temple is one of the most important temples of South India and is unique in the layout of its three altars, arranged as they are one on top of one another. Each altar shows the Lord Vishnu in a different posture. The seated Vishnu on the middle altar, Koodal Alagar, is the main deity of the temple. The temple’s exterior too, covered with beautiful carvings depicting celestial beings, is well worth the traveller’s time.

Built by King Thirumalai Nayak in 1636, the eponymous Thirumalai Nayak Palace fell to ruin after the king’s demise and was restored only partially by the British. Still, the present day structure gives the visitor a good idea of its grandeur in its heydays. Look out for the intricate stucco work on its arches and pillars and the astonishing Sorgavilasam or Celestial Pavilion, a 1300 square meter free-standing structure, unsupported by any pillar or girder. 

The giant Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam reservoir is fed by a Vaigai River through an invisible maze of underground channels. During Teppam (tr.The Float Festival), hundreds of boats chockfull of devotees crowd the reservoir in a race to reach the temple at its center.

A short drive from Madurai, Thirupparankundram is a highly elaborate emple carved out of solid rock. The chief deity is the Lord Subramanya, but other shrines dedicated to Shiva, Durga, Vishnu and other deities abound in the complex. Adorned with highly complex woodcarvings, the shrine holy not only for Hindus but also the local Muslims.

Overnight at Madurai

Day 8 Madurai to Tanjore (Thanjavur) by road

Breakfast will be served at the hotel. Afterwardsm drive to Tanjore.

Tanjore or Thanjavur was the capital of the Chola empire from the 10th century to the 14th century A.D. and was for long periods the political and cultural nerve center of the region. The Great Living Chola Temples that form a UNESCO World Heritage Site are located around Thanjavur, also home to the distinctive Tanjore style of Painting.

Overnight at Tanjore.

Day 9 Sightseeing in Tanjore, Tanjore to Pondicherry by road

Breakfast will be served at the hotel. Afterwards, proceed for sightseeing.

The magnificent Brihadisvara Temple is an architectural marvel and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Vimana atop the temple is a 60.95m high 13-storey pyramidal tower, in turn crowned by a 70 tonne stone domed monolith. The inner walls are adorned with murals of Shiva in the 108 mudras, or poses, of Bharatanatyam, the classical Indian dance form.

The 16th century Palace of Thanjavur is spacious with large halls, shady courtyards, endless corridors, tall observation posts and a ornate bell tower. It is also home to the Royal Museum as well as the iconic Saraswati Mahal Library.

Saraswathi Mahal Library, established in the early 18th century houses a wealth of manuscripts dating back to the Nayak Kings of Tanjore and its subsequent Maratha rulers. Also of interest are rare European manuscripts like Lavoisier’s Traité Élémentaire de Chimie or Elements of Chemistry and Charles Le Brun’s pictorial charts depicting the evolution of man.

The Thanjavur Art Gallery is also worth a visit for its impressive collection of 250 Chola Bronze statues and 150 stone statues dating from the 9th to 12th century.

After lunch at local restaurant, proceed to Pondicherry.

A French colony until 1950, Pondicherry (now Puducherry) is markedly different from the rest of Tamil Nadu state in architecture and town planning. Modelled after towns in the French Mediterranean, Ville Blanche or White Town is dotted with colonial villas, while more Indian style buildings populate Ville Noir or Black Town. Today, unlike in the past, both halves of Pondicherry is open to all residents of the city. Use of French is still common in Pondicherry.

Overnight at Pondicherry.


Day10 Sightseeing in Pondicherry

Breakfast will be served at the hotel.

Visit the paper factory and the fishermen village.

Founded by nationalist turned mystic Sri Aurobindo, Aurobindo Ashram is a commune housing followers from the world over. The ashram aims to disseminate the philosophy of Aurobindo’s “integral yoga”, a synthesis of ancient mystical thought and modern science.

Aurobindo Ashram generates a substantial income through services and goods produced by the Ashram’s inhabitants. Aurobindo Hand made Paper factory is one of its leading commercial ventures and its hand made paper is exported worldwide.

Designed by architect Roger Anger, Auroville is a unique urban experiment in communal living where men and women of various races and nationality attempt to live together in peace and harmony. In the words of its founder Mirra Alfassa or The Mother, “The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity."

Located in the former French Administration building, the Pondicherry Museum has an enviable collection of rare bronze and stone artifacts from the Chola and Pallava eras, as well as objects excavated from Arikamedu some of which are Roman in origin, indicating extensive trading links between the Rome and the ancient cultures of South India.

The 300 years old Manakkula Vinayagar Temple is famed for its golden spire and forty beautiful likenesses of Lord Ganesh.

On Subbayah Salai, the white and brown neo-gothic Sacred Heart church is one of Pondicherry’s finest Catholic churches. Beautiful stained glass panels depict incidents from Jesus Christ’s life.

Afterwards, explore the town on foot.

Overnight at Pondicherry.

Day11 Pondicherry to Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) by road

Drive to Mahabalipuram after breakfast.

Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) was once the main seaport of the Pallava Empire and is famous for its medieval sculptures, in particular, a series of spectacular freestanding boulders on the beach, carved to resemble small temples and animals.

According to legend, Mahabalipuram was such a beautiful city that envious gods sent down floods to submerge six out of the seven pagodas the city was known for, leaving behind only the structure known today as the Shore Temple. Onlookers swear that when the seawaters receded just before the tragic 2004 tsunami, the lost pagodas of Mahabalipuram became visible for a few moments before disappearing under the rush of oncoming tidal waves. While there is no scientific evidence to corroborate their claim, initial explorations have revealed the possibility of underwater ruins off the coastline.

Mahabalipuram is a UNESCO designated world heritage site and one of the highlights of your luxury holiday in exotic South India.

Enjoy an evening stroll on the beach.

Overnight at Mahabalipuram.


Day12 Sightseeing in Mahabalipuram

Breakfast will be served at the hotel.

The Mahabalipuram Caves are temples cut out of solid rock. The interior walls are adorned with sculpted scenes from mythological battles, Gods, demons and beasts both real and mythical. Don’t miss the Mahisamardini Cave depicting the Goddess Durga’s battle with Mahisasur, a Minotaur-like buffalo demon.

Krishna Mandapam is the largest rock-cut temple of the area with exquisite bas relief work depicting the life of Krishna, as well as scenes from the daily lives of ordinary people.

The magnificent giant bas relief work of Arjuna’s Penance depicts a scene from the Hindu epic Mahabharata where the hero, Arjuna, performs penance on a river bank in order to win the devastating Pasupata weapon from Shiva. A cleft in the rock has been cleverly used to depict the river. It’s possible to spend hours examining the extremely detailed figures of gods, men, birds and animals that populate the sculpture. 

A group of five intricately carved monolithic temples, the Pancha Rathas or five chariots are named after their resemblance to ceremonial temple chariots (rathas). According to the Archeological Survey of India, the naming of this group of temples after the Pandavas, the five heroes of the Mahabharata, is a more recent phenomenon. The structures are probably Buddhist in origin. In spite of their huge size, each ratha is carved from a single rock.

One of the oldest temples in Mahabalipuram, the spectacular, brooding Shore Temple on the edge of the sea houses shrines to both Shiva and Vishnu and is one of the earliest examples of the pure Dravidian style of architecture.

Overnight at Mahabalipuram.


Day13 Mahabalipuram to Chennai by road, visit Kanchipuram en route

Breakfast will be served at the hotel. Afterwards, drive to Kanchipuram.

Once a capital of the Pallava Kings, the thousand year old city of Kanchipuram was famous in the ancient world as a seat of learning. Temples and shrines dating back to the 7th century dot the city, making it an important pilgrimage for both the Shaivaite and Vaishnav sects of Hindusim. Today, Kanchipuram is known the world over for its gorgeous hand woven silk. These exquisite silk saris, or Kanjivarams, are the toast of the cocktail circuit from Kashmir to the Kanyakumari.

Continue to Chennai after lunch.

The city of Chennai, formerly Madras and originally Madraspatnam, has its roots in a warehouse built by the British on the beachfront in 1639. In 1654, the Fort St. George was established and eventually, village after neighbouring village was added to the territory to form the modern city we know today. In the days of the British Raj, Madras served as the capital of all of South India.

Overnight will be at Chennai.

Day14 Sightseeing in Chennai, Tour ends.

Proceed for city tour of Chennai in the morning after breakfast.

The Neo-Gothic San Thome Basilica is one of the only three basilicas in the world said to contain the relics of an apostle of Christ and is an important Christian pilgrimage. Built over the tomb of St. Thomas, the original building was said to have been established by the apostle himself.

Founded in 1644 by the British East India Company, Fort St George was the engine of trade and commerce that transformed a beachfront hamlet into a modern city. Fittingly, it is now the seat of the legislative assembly of the state of Tamil Nadu. The Fort Museum located in the oldest surviving building of the fortress is of particular interest to tourists and has an impressive collection of exhibits spread over ten galleries.

The buzzing Kapaleeswarar Temple with its proud 120 feet tall exquisitely engraved Gopuram is one of the finest examples of Dravidian architecture. Inscriptions from the 13th century and highly ornate stucco work adorn its walls. It’s also the site for the spectacular annual Arupathimoovar festival, during which a gigantic wooden chariot carrying the main deity is pulled along the roads by hundreds and thousands of frenzied devotees, followed by a procession of gods involving sixty three idols on palanquins. Students of cinema may recall this festival from French master Louis Malle’s Cinema Verite´ venture, Phantom India. 

Also see the 100 year old Rippon Building and the massive red British-era building that is Chennai’s Central Railway station.

Later, the Compass team will escort you to the international airport for your flight home.


Compass India Holidays prides itself in its ability to custom design unforgettable luxury holidays in the Indian subcontinent.

To learn more about how Compass goes about making your holidays special, please click here.