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“Definitely not your run of the mill, cookie cutter tour!”

Jennifer Campbell, US

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“Unique and unforgettable experience!”

Nick Hughes, UK

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“Above and beyond expectation!”

Amy Sund, US

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“A very special adventure!”

Donna & Lou Delurgio, US

SOUTH INDIA SERENADE

India Adventure

ADVENTURE DETAILS

DURATION16 days
GROUP SIZEMaximum 16 people
GROUP MINIMUM1 person (all our trips are guaranteed departures)
STARTS INChennai
ENDS INChennai
START DAYSaturday
END DAYSunday
Double click on the map to enlarge it – click and drag to move it

16-day journey into the heartland of South India where ancient ruins, terrific temples, gorgeous gopurams, magnificent monuments, sensational saints, palatial palaces, paddies, peaks and plantations meet vibrant villages, coconut tree lined coasts, brilliant backwaters, bustling bazaars and balmy breezes!

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Wedged between the mountainous Western and Eastern Ghats of Southern Asia – lies the hidden gem of South India! Far less visited than the North or the tourist saturated beaches of Goa, South India is a wealth of cultures, architecture, history, geography, really cool (and colorful) temples and some of the tastiest vegan food found on the subcontinent. Home to coconut-tree-lined coasts that give way to fine sandy beaches, vast plains scattered with paddy fields, small villages and ornate temples, wild jungles, wild elephants and misty mountains, as well as bustling metropolises flourishing with skyscrapers that rise up next to surviving relics of ancient history – South India is a true melting pot of civilizations.

Discovering the history, heritage, traditions and cuisines of this unique part of India through cultural immersion and local interaction is what this adventure is all about. From joining local families at their homes in the countryside where we’ll learn about village life and customs to watching the sun set at the southern most tip of India and exploring intricately carved temples painted in Technicolor hues in fantastic temple towns. From following in the footsteps of the mighty Chola, Pallava and Pandyan dynasties who ruled the region for centuries and whose reach extended all the way to the shores of Southeast Asia, to enjoying the laid back beach life and backwaters of Kerala – we’ll journey off-the-beaten track as we discover the treasures and wonders of the region.

No VegVoyages adventure is complete without a little eating (okay, a lot of eating), and this adventure is definitely no different – as we love South Indian food! South India is home to some of the tastiest vegan cuisine found on the subcontinent! This includes a definite cultural contribution to the world of culinary arts – the delectable dosa! Southern food is not just about dosas, and as any South Indian foodie will tell you – there’s nothing quite like a tasty banana leaf meal. With a mound of rice in the middle of a fresh banana leaf, local veggies, dhal, spicy rasam, papad and pickles are piled up in front of you! Banana leaf meals are usually an all-you-can-eat endeavor – so be careful on this adventure or you may take home a few extra pounds!

On our South India Serenade adventure, we invite you to journey off-the-beaten-track with us into the heart and soul of the deep south exploring the stunning states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and the old French enclave of Pondicherry, learning about the diverse cultures, cuisines, and way of life of the people who make up the rich tapestry of South India!

WHAT’S INCLUDED

ACCOMMODATION:

15 nights accommodations (combination of historical heritage inns, old colonial-era villas, palatial mansions, boutique bed & breakfasts, seaside hotels, a charming plantation bungalow, backwater river houseboat and jungle camp)

MEALS:

46 meals (16 breakfasts, 16 lunches, 14 dinners)

TRANSPORT:
  • Private air-conditioned vans
  • bicycles
  • rickshaws
  • jeeps, boats
  • train
  • and domestic flight to Chennai (on last day of trip)
STAFF

VegVoyages Adventure Leaders & Local Guides

OTHERS INCLUDED:
  • Vegan cooking classes
  • daily language lessons
  • all local guide fees
  • live traditional music and folk dances
  • Bharatanatyam classical dance workshop
  • South Indian cultural lessons
  • introduction to local martial arts
  • airport arrival pick up *
  • national park entry fees
  • jungle safari
  • village visits
  • heritage walks
  • guests at local schools
  • donation to local schools
  • guests at a local tribal villages
  • exploring local bazaars
  • visit to a local animal rescue
  • donation to a local animal rescue
  • meals with local families
  • participation in an ancient aarti (Hindu ritual) ceremony
  • traditional Ayurveda massage
  • visit to auspicious South Indian temples
  • visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Mahabalipuram historical temples & sanctuaries
  • tea plantation visit
  • mountain hike
  • bicycling
  • Yoga Lessons
  • scenic train journey
  • vegan welcome package
  • and all other activities and entertainment as per the itinerary

* Airport pick up is provided only if you arrive a day or two earlier than the tour date. If you would be arriving three days or more early, please arrange for your own airport pick up.

NOT INCLUDED:

International airfare, airport departure transfer, visa for India, personal travel insurance, gratuities and items of a personal nature.

ADVENTURE DATES AND PRICE

YEAR2014201420152015
START DATEJanuary 12December 20January 17December 19
END DATEJanuary 26January 4, 2015February 1January 3, 2016
START DAYSundaySaturdaySaturdaySaturday
END DAYSundaySundaySundaySunday
PRICE (US$)COMPLETED2,5952,5952,595

* Promotional Prices – please note, promotional prices are not valid with any other discounts or offers. Also, bookings must be made directly to VegVoyages. Thank you.

ITINERARY

DAY   1 Chennai

Vanakkam! Welcome to Chennai! Previously known as Madras, the capital of Tamil Nadu was once a scattering of villages along the coast of the Bay of Bengal until the British arrived and changed the course of its history forever. Today, it’s a bustling city where the old and new sit side-by-side with the city’s ancient roots felt on almost every street as skyscrapers rise up next to ancient temples and traditional shops. Upon arrival, we’ll pick you up at the airport. After our orientation meeting in the morning, we’ll head out into the city’s lively streets where we’ll not only learn about the capital’s fascinating history, but also get our first taste of the rich culture and heritage of South India! (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

DAY  2 Mahabalipuram & Puducherry

From the busy streets of Chennai, our journey takes us along the Coromandel Coast past sleepy villages, swaying palms, salt pans and backwaters to the magnificent monuments of Mahabs whose stunning stone sculptures date back well over a millennium. After, we’ll continue to the old French enclave of Pondy – as the locals still call it, where we’ll be staying in charming villas in the heart of the old town. Boasting beautiful old French architecture, sweeping promenades, quaint cafés, classic cathedrals and aging canals, this afternoon we’ll take in the town’s historical streets seeing it from a local’s point of view. As the sun sets, we’ll settle down for a tasty vegan dinner accompanied by traditional music and dance performed by students from a local arts school. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

DAY  3 Puducherry

It’s not just the French influence that made Pondy what it is today, but more so, the influence of the different cultures and communities who settled here over the centuries. So to start the day, we’ll make our way out to the local market to begin our cultural culinary experience where we’ll learn how to cook a full course South Indian meal. After filling our minds and bellies, we’ll join a grassroots street theater troupe for the evening where we’ll experience the work they do in getting the word out on important issues to rural villages through the important, but unfortunately dying, art of street theater. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

DAY  4 Neduncherry

Bidding adieu to the big city (okay, Pondy isn’t that big, but it will seem that way compared to where we’re going), we’ll head off-the-beaten-track to a small village located among the paddy fields, farms and rural temples of Tamil Nadu. Here, we’ll spend our time focusing on local customs, culture, cuisines and way of life in rural South India. On arrival, we’ll sit down for a delicious banana leaf lunch where we’ll learn about the intricacies behind eating this most traditional of South India meals before setting out to explore the countryside. Then, we’ll make our way to one of the region’s most sacred temples to learn about their auspicious aarti (Hindu ritual) ceremonies before returning to our village for dinner. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

DAY   5 Neduncherry

Kaalai Vanakkam (Good Morning in Tamil)! After a traditional breakfast, we’ll set out on bicycles into the surrounding countryside peddling our way through rice paddies, sleepy villages, farms and fields where we’ll learn about the unique way of life in rural Tamil Nadu. Later, we’ll take a breather from our bikes as we’ll settle down as guests of a local family at their home for a lunch of fresh South Indian delicacies. Today we’ll also visit a nearby lake before sitting down for a colorful evening of Tamil folk music, dance and dinner. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

DAY   6 Tanjore & Kadiapatti

Starting early, we’ll head across the plains of Tamil Nadu making our way to the legendary land of the Chettiars! A prosperous merchant community, the Chettiars were key in the wealth and business affairs of South India as far back as the reign of the Chola Empire. Known both as seafaring traders, merchants and moneylenders, their influence extended well outside the borders of India all the way to Singapore, Malaya (Malaysia), parts of Africa, and beyond. Their rich heritage, history and culture is evident in their ornate temples and magnificent mansions. During our journey today we’ll also visit the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Brihadeeswarar Temple, before settling down at our mansion for an introduction to the famous, albeit spicy, cuisine of Chettinad! (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

DAY   7 Kadiapatti

We’ll begin with a cultural culinary experience for breakfast where we’ll learn how to make appams, idiyappams and paniyarams – and of course, eat them too! Then we’ll head into the countryside where we’ll explore ancient ruins set around a large stone hill, some cool Jain caves, and an old historical fort. We’ll be out all day, including have a local picnic lunch amongst some centuries old ruins. Back at our palace, you’ll have time to relax and freshen up with a swim before we meet for a delicious dinner of local Chettinad delicacies! (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

DAY   8 Madurai & Kanyakumari

We can’t get anymore south in India than where we’re going today – to Kanyakumari – the southernmost tip of mainland India! The town’s proximity at the tip of the country makes it a very auspicious location as it is where three great bodies of water meet – the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, and Arabian Sea. Kanyakumari is also the site of the serene Swami Vivekananda Memorial – located on the rock where Swami Vivekananda discovered his mission in life. Before arriving in Kanyakumari, we’ll visit the ancient city of Madurai and learn about its over two millennia year old history. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

DAY   9 Kerala Beach

Saying goodbye to Tamil Nadu, we’ll cross into Kerala. The border here, much like many borders in India – was not just drawn up on “geographical” lines, but more so – on linguistic and cultural lines. As we make our way into Kerala you’ll notice the script, language (no more Tamil, they speak Malayalam here), food and movie posters have all changed (different language = different movies). Before crossing the border, we’ll visit the well-preserved ruins of an old seaside fort. Arriving in Kerala – its time for sun, sand and sea as we’ll be staying near the shores of the Arabian Sea with fresh ocean air and warm water. (Breakfast, Lunch)

DAY 10   Kerala Beach

Waking up to the sound of waves crashing against the shore, we’ll make our way into Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala! Trivandrum, as it was mispronounced for years, was an important trading outpost for spices whose history dates back centuries. Then, we’ll be introduced to the formidable Kerala martial art form of Kalaripayattu. After having lunch with a local family, we’ll make our way to an important animal rescue that provides much needed care for the abused and neglected animals of the area. As the colors of the day turn to night over the Arabian Sea, we’ll meet up for sundowners, tasty snacks, and a feast of local Kerala dishes! (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

DAY 11   Kerala Backwaters

Driving along the Malabar Coast, you’ll see quite a difference in the villages and geography that hug the main road from those we’ve seen while we traversing Tamil Nadu. In addition to the different script on signboards, different political flags, and different movie posters, another difference you’ll notice is the geography that varies from coconut groves and forests to foliage-thick banks and backwaters – which we’ll be exploring. With over 900 kilometers of canals, lakes and lagoons that are fed by more than 38 rivers and the Arabian Sea, these peaceful waterways also make-up an important ecosystem that is home to a over 225 species of birds. Climbing aboard our traditional-style houseboats, we’ll spend the day, and night, along the canals, lakes and lagoons of Kerala’s famous backwaters! (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

DAY   12, 13 & 14 Coonoor / Nilgiri Mountains

Arriving back onshore, we’ll make our way from sea level up into the Nilgiri Mountains, one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world! On our journey today you’ll see the terrain change a lot as we head up into the mountains! Part of the Western Ghats, the Nilgiris are also known as the “Blue Mountains” and its inviting cool climate, local indigenous tribal cultures, forested hills and tea plantation slopes are synonymous with the mystique and majesty of these ancient highlands. The Nilgiris are also home to a diverse biosphere and a wide variety of wildlife. Over the coming days we’ll learn about the rich history, heritage, local cultures, customs, cuisines and way of life of the people of the Nilgiris. (Breakfast (x3), Lunch (x3), Dinner (x3))

DAY 15   Masinagudi

All aboard the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, we’ll head out on a picturesque journey to the hilltop town of Ooty. Over a century old, as we the make the journey up the mountain, be ready for some lovely scenery on both sides of the train. Then we’ll make our way down from the mountains to the wilds of Mudumalai on the other side! The protected forests of Mudumalai National Park stretch over 321 square kilometers and are home to a variety of wildlife with over 55 species of mammals – including wild elephants, 227 species of birds, and 34 species of reptiles. In the late afternoon, we’ll go on safari exploring the national park and its surroundings before enjoying our last evening together in South India with traditional folk music and dance, drinks, snacks, and a delicious vegan feast. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

DAY 16   Masinagudi – Chennai

For early risers, we’ll set out just after sunrise into the nearby forest for an early morning hike. Then, after breakfast, we’ll board our vehicles and say goodbye to Masinagudi as we make our way to catch our flight back to Chennai where your adventure ends on arrival in the evening at the airport. Mikka, mikka nandri (thank you very much)! (Breakfast, Lunch)

WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING…

I had so much fun and learned a lot.  I loved the many interactions with villages and local people.  The accommodations, food, activities, and leadership were wonderful. I appreciate your incredible work ethic, the amount of planning and continuous effort that create our adventure, the attention to detail, and compassion for the people you bring into the experience. In my eyes, you are beautiful people, and a light to the world.

Joan LearnerNorth Carolina, USA

Many, many thanks for an extraordinary, amazing and discovery full adventure. I am so grateful and in awe of your careful research and preparation, incredible experiences you created for us, your attention to details and your unparalleled efforts to share with us a view of so many places and people and cultures that few will ever have. The memories I have will be cherished for the rest of my life.

Nan Alderson
Philadelphia, US

You have done it again! Thank you for yet another fabulous adventure. It is so worth it to experience India this way. It was a veritable “Thali” of experiences.