WAY DOWN SOUTH
17 days

From ancient kingdoms to India’s encounters with colonialism to the site of India’s richest Hindu pilgrimage centre, how much more variety can you get? This comprehensive tour of Tamil Nadu offers an insight to the often surprisingly easy co-existence of tradition and modernity in India.

Chennai, the modern capital of Tamil Nadu was the first bastion of the British in India. Tirupati is where millions come to pay obeisance to Lord Venkateshwara and second only to the Vatican in terms of wealth. Vellore, Gingee, Pondicherry and Tranquebar represent how foreign influences are absorbed, assimilated and transformed into what is our own. Travel west from the coast into Dravidian heartland and be amazed by the grand temples epitomising the superb artistic and architectural skills of the Chola empire.

DAY 1 | CHENNAI

Arrive in Chennai today, where accommodation is held from 12 noon.

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DAY 2 | CHENNAI

Full day tour viewing the city’s characteristic and well-preserved British architectural heritage, the Government Museum & Art Gallery (closed Fridays/holidays) for the world’s best collection of Chola bronzes and the lively Kapaleeswara temple in Mylapore, ending the day with a walk through the locality.

DAY 3 | CHENNAI/ MAHABALIPURAM/ CHENNAI

Drive south along the coastal fringe to Mahabalipuram (64 km/1.5 hours), the great 7th century port-city of the Pallava dynasty and repository of some of the finest rock cut temple architecture. Stop at Dakshinachitra (closed Tuesdays/holidays) on the way back to Chennai to view a fine architectural and cultural exposition on southern India.

DAY 4 | CHENNAI

Early morning at Kalakshetra (closed Sundays/holidays), India’s finest classical dance training school. Later, drive along the Chennai/Bangalore highway to Kanchipuram (140 km roundtrip /1.5 hours’ drive each way), one of India’s seven sacred cities. View a progression of temple styles from ancient to medieval times, and the looms that produce the town’s famous silk.

DAY 5 | CHENNAI/ TIRUPATI

Drive north this morning to Tirupati (152 km/3 hours) in Andhra Pradesh. Atop Tirumala Hill is the 9th century Shri Venkateshwara Temple, India’s most revered Hindu pilgrimage site. Afternoon tour of the temple and its surrounding bazaars, full of atmosphere and colour.

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DAY 6 | TIRUPATI/ VELLORE

Morning at Shri Venkateshwara temple. Re-enter Tamil Nadu this morning, driving to Vellore (105 km/2 hours). In the afternoon, visit the impressive 16th century Vellore Fort, cornerstone of the town’s history.

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DAY 7 | VELLORE/ GINGEE/ PONDICHERRY

Drive south to Gingee (104 km/2 hours). Once referred to as “India’s greatest unvisited monument”, its three citadels stand atop three hills enclosed by running walls within which are palaces, temples, mosques, pavilions and granaries that are testimony to waves of conquest from the 15th to 17th centuries starting with the Nayakas and ending with the British. Continue to Pondicherry (64 km/1.5 hours).

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DAY 8 | PONDICHERRY

A small though prominent French enclave that retains much of its original savoir faire, Pondicherry is best explored on foot. Walk through its old quarter to see a varied collection of buildings, churches, homes and markets and thoroughfares with French names and the occasional gendarme waving traffic along.

DAY 9| PONDICHERRY/ CHIDAMBARAM/ TRANQUEBAR

Drive south along the Coromandel coast road to Tranquebar (120 km/3 hours plus stops), pausing en route at Chidambaram, one of Tamil Nadu’s classic temple towns, the site of the ancient Shiva Nataraja temple. The picturesque 17th century Danish trading post is highlighted by the signature Town Gate, the imposing Fort, and a few churches.

DAY 10 | TRANQUEBAR/ THANJAVUR

Drive east into the Kaveri Delta and Thanjavur (90 km/2.5 hours plus stops), visiting two notable temple towns, Gangaikondacholapuram and Kumbakonam, full of atmosphere, inspiring architecture, markets and colour. Arrive in Thanjavur in the late afternoon.

DAY 11 | THANJAVUR

A grand capital for over a thousand years to the Cholas, Nayakas and Marathas, Thanjavur’s pride is the awe-inspiring 11th century Brihadesvara Temple, visited during the morning and evening. The Raja Raja Museum exhibits bronze and stone sculptures dating to the 10th century, the Saraswati Mahal Library (closed Wednesdays/holidays) is among India’s foremost, and the bazaars display the town’s great crafts.

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DAY 12 | THANJAVUR/ TIRUCHIRAPALLI/ KARAIKUDI

Drive this morning to Tiruchirapalli (58 km/1.5 hours), once abode of a mythical three-headed demon, to experience the island temple town of Srirangam. Enter another world of temples adorned with tall gateways, shrines, markets, throngs of reverent devotees and rituals in progress. In the afternoon, drive on to Karaikudi (90 km/2 hours).

DAY 13 | KARAIKUDI

Ancestral home to a community of financiers and traders, the town is known for its unique mansions built in varying sizes and styles, lively streets and markets, colourful temples and interesting villages on the periphery. A full day tour takes in all these attractions in a little known region of the country.

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DAY 14 | KARAIKUDI/ MADURAI

Spend the morning in Karaikudi for further explorations. In the afternoon, drive south west to Madurai (114 km/2.5 hours), taking in more of Tamil Nadu’s busy and interesting roads.

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DAY 15 | MADURAI

In its ancient heyday, Madurai traded with Greece and Rome and was the centre for Tamil poetry and literature. Today, it is symbolised by the iconic Meenakshi temple, visited on morning and evening tours, along with its surrounding bazaars. Other attractions are the noteworthy Tirumala Nayak Palace, and Temple Tank which is usually the centre for Madurai’s many festivals.

DAY 16 | MADURAI/ KALUGUMALAI/ KANYAKUMARI

The last leg of this journey goes south to Kanyakumari (245 km/5 hours plus stops), pausing at Kalugumalai to view the excellent 7th century rock cut cave temples that evoke comparisons with the Ellora Caves. The journey concludes at land’s end, Kanyakumari, meeting place for the waters of Indian Ocean, Arabian Gulf and Bay of Bengal.

DAY 17 | KANYAKUMARI/ TRIVANDRUM

Drive to Trivandrum (105 km/2.5 hours) to connect with your onward flight, or extend your holiday in Kerala.

ITINERARY ON A MAP
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