Sun, Spice, and Everything Nice
Take a two-week expedition through the hot spots of Mumbai, Aurangabad, Hyderabad, Chennai, Cochin, and Lake Kumarakom on this Southern India Experience by Ker & Downey. Travel by plane, car, and boat to explore the hidden secrets of this spice-perfumed region, from ancient monuments to colonial architecture and beyond.
This Southern India Experience begins in Mumbai with the transfer to your luxury accommodations at the Taj Mahal Palace.
The next day, enjoy a full-day guided tour of the city and its surrounds, with a focus on the city's architectural heritage, with a fascinating blend of Gothic, Victorian, Indo-Saracenic, and Art Deco styles. Many forget that Mumbai is home to more Art Deco buildings than any city except Miami! Visit the Elephanta Caves, Prince of Wales Museum, Dhobi Ghats (laundry ghats), Mani Bhawan Museum, and Marine Drive.
Early on day three, fly to Aurangabad to continue this Southern India Experience. Aurangabad was the capital of Aurangzeb in the 17th century CE, and today, it is known for its easy access to the Ellora and Ajanta caves.
In the afternoon of day three, visit the Ellora Caves, home to detailed carvings and sculptures spanning the fourth and ninth centuries CE. There are 34 caves in all, with 12 Buddhist, 17 Hindu, and five Jain temples. The most famous, number 16, is known as Kailash Temple and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Day four is devoted to visiting the 30 rock-hewn Ajanta Caves. These caves are a combination of chapels and monasteries devoted to the Earthly life of Lord Buddha.
The next three days of this Southern India Experience are spent in Hyderabad. Known today as a burgeoning hub of IT excellence, Hyderabad was once the home of the legendary Nizams of India, with many grand monuments remaining.
On the morning of day six, embark on a tour of Golconda Fort and the Qutub Shahi Tombs. Golconda Fort is famous for an ingenious water supply and is still home to the Fateh Rahben Topee, a cannon used in the last siege of Golconda by Aurangzeb. The Qutub Shahi Tombs are known for their combination of Persian, Afghan, and Indian architectural styles.
Spend day seven on a full-day tour of the city. Visit the Charminar, a landmark in the center of the city dating from 1591. Walk through Laad Bazaar shopping for exquisite jewelry, and visit Pather Gatti to browse the famous Deccan pearls. Stop at Mecca Masjid, a mosque that took 77 years to complete, and later visit Chowmahalla Palace, where the Nizams entertained their official guests. Finally, visit the Salar Jung Museum, one of the largest in the world and home to a huge collection of items from Asia, Europe, Egypt, and North America.
Next, this Southern India Experience continues to Chennai, the fourth largest city in India and a former East India Company settlement. Spend two nights here to explore the city and the nearby site of Mahabalipuram.
On the first afternoon, embark on a tour of Chennai with stops at Fort St. George, St. Mary's Church, St. Thomas Cathedral, and the Dravidian-style Kapaleeshwar Temple.
The next day, journey out to Mahabalipuram, a spectacular site full of rock-cut caves, monolithic shrines, temples, and bas reliefs considered to be the best examples of Pallava art. See the Five Rathas monoliths, Arjuna's Penance bas relief, and Krishna Mandapam, dedicated to Lord Krishna's braveness. Then visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mahishasuramardini Cave Temples, the Shore Temple, and Krishna's Butter Ball, a huge and precariously balanced boulder.
The last two stops on this Southern India Experience are Cochin and nearby Kumarakom, the jewels of Kerala.
After breakfast on day ten, transfer to Chennai Airport for the flight to Cochin, the Venice of the East. Spend two nights in this port city, and learn about the Indian spice trade, as well as its Chinese, Dutch, and Portuguese influences.
The next day, enjoy a full-day exploration of Cochin. Visit St. Francis Church, the first European church to be built in India. Then continue to the Dutch Palace, which was originally built by the Portuguese in the 16th century CE, claimed by the Dutch in the 17th century CE, and later transferred to the Rajas of Cochin. See the Jewish Synagogue that was built in the 16th century CE, as well as the Chinese fishing nets, before finishing up with a Kathakali dance performance in the evening.
On day 12, transfer to Kumarakom Lake Resort for the final two nights of the journey. The afternoon and next morning are at leisure to enjoy the resort. In the afternoon on day 13, enjoy a private houseboat tour on Lake Vembanad and the famed backwater channels.
Finally, depart from Cochin International Airport on day 14 for home, or an onward journey.