An Odyssey in Southern India and Southern Sri Lanka

In India visit 3 of the 4 states of Dravidian culture
(Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala)

Monday, January 13-Saturday, February 7, 2014 (25 days)
or with pre-trip extension to Taj Mahal in Agra (see flight itinerary sheet)
 Saturday Jan 11-Saturday, Feb 7, 2014

Day 1 Monday, January 13
Depart from US home cities.

Day 2 Tuesday, January 14
Flight day

Day 3 Wednesday, January 15
Arrive Chennai (formerly known as Madras), Tamil Nadu state
Arrive in the southern city of Chennai (India’s 4th largest city).  Upon arrival and after clearing immigration and customs you will be met and transferred to your hotel for some rest before afternoon sightseeing.

Chennai, the gateway to the sunny south, the capital of Tamil Nadu is also the seat of an ancient Civilization, with a rich heritage of fine arts, sculpture and architecture.  Historically, Madras has formidable credentials, going back 2000 years, when its old temple quarter, Mylapore, was a port on the fabled Coromandel Coast, busy trading with the Chinese, the Phoenicians, the Greeks, Romans, and later, the French, Portuguese, Armenians and Arabs. St. Thomas, Christ's own Apostle, landed here in 58 AD and was martyred in 72 AD on an inland hillock.

In the late afternoon you will be offered some afternoon sightseeing and orientation to the city.  You will visit the Bronze Museum.  The collection of bronze figures contains specimens of different periods ranging from the early centuries of the Christian era to recent times.
Drive through the old part of the city and Marina beach which reveals some of Chennai’s finest buildings and continue to George Town, with the most interesting landmarks, all of which date from the days of the British.  Dinner and overnight at your hotel The Leela.   1st of 2 nights.

Day 4 Thursday, January 16
Today will be a full day of sightseeing.  Visits will include the Fort, the Fort Museum, St. Mary’s church, a view of the Armenian church (from the outside), the Kali Temple (Kali is a principal female Hindu deity), and the National Art Gallery.

After lunch you will be driven to Mylapore to visit the ancient Shiva temple Kapaleeshvara. This is an excellent example of Dravidian temple architecture, with inscriptions dating back to 1250 AD.  Nearby is also the Parthasarathy Temple, devoted to Lord Krishna.  Also visit the San Thome Cathedral and proceed to the Theosophical Society at Adyar (see headquarters and great banyan tree). 

In the evening those interested, can visit the government run Cottage Industries emporium for shopping.  2nd of 2 nights The Leela Hotel in Chennai.

Day 5 Friday, January 17
Mahabalipuram/Kanchipuram/Fisherman’s Cove
This morning you will depart Chennai rather early (around 8 am) and drive towards Covelong, en route visiting several sites.  These will include the Cholamandal Artists' Village; established in 1966.  Here you will stay an hour or so.  This is the largest artists' commune in India, whose artists are credited for the Madras Movement of Art (1950s–1980s), which brought modernism to art in the South India.  Situated at a village named Injambakkam, 9 km from Chennai, it has over twenty resident painters and sculptors, who live as a community and pool their skills. 

Continue to Dakshinchitra a centre for folk arts where you will have a look.

We will then drive about 1.5 hours to Kalashetra (if it is open).  It is an academy dedicated to preservation and promotion of traditional art forms like dance and music.  It is also a centre that provides holistic education in arts amidst a serene and inspiring natural environment.  

Continue to Kancheepura, a city of 1000 Temples, also famous for its hand woven silk saris.

We will view a demonstration of sari weaving at a local emporium and have lunch at Kanchikudil in a heritage home which gives a feeling of life as lived in the past.  While temples and monuments index the cultural life of a city, the real soul of a place is to be found in its people and their homes.

In the late afternoon drive to Covelong for dinner and overnight at Vivanta Resort at Fisherman's Cove (once an impressive Dutch fort)

Day 6 Saturday, January 18
Covelong/Mahabalipuram /Pondicherry (a Union Territory of India)
We will then continue on another 1/2 hour or so to Mahabalipuram.  The traffic may be more congested than usual because of the festival of Pongal in Tamil Nadu (mainly held Jan 17) during which some schools and offices and institutions will be closed.  Pongal is a farmer’s festival with celebrations in the villages in homes as a private affair; not in the cities, nor is it for the public.  Like Christmas, a festive atmosphere prevails however, everyone dresses up and people exchange greetings and celebrate.

Enjoy some sight-seeing in Mahabalipuram ‘The city of the seven pagodas’ which was once the main harbor and naval base of the great Pallava Empire.  Witness the breathtaking display of the Pagodas or "rathas", (there are five).  These are small-sized shrines that have been chiseled out of boulders in the form of temple chariots dedicated to the Pandava princes.  The masterpiece at Mahabalipuram is the "Penance of Bhagirata," the world's largest bas-relief in stone (27 by 9 meters).  Also visit the lighthouse and the Trimurti cave temple.

In the afternoon continue to the seaside town of Pondicherry about 2 hours away (150 kms).  Having remained the capital of the former French India, the legacies in Pondicherry have a special flavor not found anywhere in the Indian sub-continent.  It is known as the French Riviera of the East (La Côte d'Azur de l'Est).   The city feels French with neatly laid roads, a wide and vibrant beach promenade, French colonial history, the eventful life of Joseph Duplex (whose magnificent statue Francois watches Goubert Avenue pensively from its southern corner), the Mansion of Ananda Ranga Pillai "the Diarist", architecturally handsome churches and public buildings of a bygone era.

Visit The Aurobindo Ashram, the Aurobindo Archives, the Pondicherry museum and old Pondicherry town.  Dinner and overnight at your hotel in Pondicherry at the Palias De Mahe

Day 7 Sunday, January 19
Pondicherry/Tanjore (in Tamil Nadu state)
This morning visit Auroville or “City of Dawn’ (10 km north of Pondicherry).  This city was conceived as a utopian paradise by the Mother, the spiritual successor of Sri Aurobindo.  The idea was to build a futuristic city where people of goodwill would live together in peace and harmony.  Designed by the French architect Roger Anger, approximately 1,900 people live in communes, with names like Grace, Serenity, Fertile, Certitude and Transformation.  Two-thirds of the residents are non-Indians.  Architecturally speaking the buildings are a combination of modern Western and traditional Indian elements and are set in a rural landscape of narrow lanes, deep red earth and lush greenery.  The residents sustain them-selves by involving themselves in agriculture, handicrafts, alternative technology, and educational projects.

You will have lunch in Swamimalai and will be taken to visit a small bronze casting workshop which is still operated in the traditional, ancient way. 

Continue southwest and drive onward to the Temple town of  Tanjavur (or Tanjore), set among the green velvet paddy fields and tall coconut palms of the fertile Cauvery Delta.  Nearly a thousand years ago (around the 11th century), Tanjore was the capital of a powerful dynasty, of the imperial Cholas; whose empire extended beyond South India and Sri Lanka to the kingdoms of South East Asia.  The Cholas used their wealth to encourage the arts and they built innumerable temples to ornament their land.  Tanjore now has 93 temples!  Dinner and overnight at the Hotel Parisutham in Tanjore. 1st of 2 nights.

Day 8 Monday, January 20
In the morning you will experience sightseeing in Tanjore.  See the Sarawati Mahal library situated in the Thanjavur Palace. This library boasts over 30,000 manuscripts in palm leaf and paper, in both Indian and European languages.

Continue on to Shantivanam to visit the Bede Griffith’s Benedictine Ashram 38 km west of
Trichy at Kolithalai.  Lunch will be offered at the Ashram followed by a drive back to
Tanjore with a visit to Trichy enroute. 
Trichy itself has a long history going back to the centuries before the Christian era when it was a Chola citadel.  Visit The Sri Ranganatha Swami Temple (Srirangam) perhaps one of the largest and most interesting temple complexes in India, built on an island in the middle of Cauvery River and covering a staggering 2.5 square kilometers.

Return to Tanjore for dinner and overnight at Hotel Parisutham.  2nd of 2 nights.

Day 9 Tuesday, January 21
Tanjore/Chettinad/Madurai (in Tamil Nadu state)
In the morning embark on a crafts tour of Tanjore.  Visit small houses converted to workshops to see carving of dried roots, cut glass work, Thanjavur painting etc.

Continue to the Thet Chettinad area in Southern Tamil Nadu state.  This area is comprised of 74 villages and is the homeland of the Nattukottai Chettiars.  The Chettiars (who speak Tamil) were a prosperous banking community who ventured overseas to do business in South and Southeast Asia in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Today there is a diaspora of Chettinad people who live in places such as the USA, Singapore and Malaysia.  Their legacies are the fascinating houses they built with simple materials that have have to be seen to be believed.  Not yet discovered by the world, Chettinad is a rural area certain to surprise even the most discerning traveler.  Apart from the houses, Karaikudi offers extensive antique shopping, temples, visits to craftsmen working with wood and metal, silversmiths and goldsmiths, attractive textiles and exciting Chettiar cuisine. 

Chettinads are considered master chefs who prepare food that reflects the excellence that people in Chennai/South India look for in the preparation and serving of food.  Some cuisines have been renamed after this culinary tradition, such as Chicken Chettinad (Spicy Chicken Curry) or Veg Chettinad (a curry of selective vegetables) to reflect the specialty and care given during the preparation of food.  A special cooking demonstration of local cuisine will be offered with lunch.

After lunch drive west to Madurai with a stop en route at another village to see the an old and traditional way of making tiles.

Continue to Madurai 189 kms away, one of South India's great temple towns and which is synonymous with the celebrated Meenakshi Temple.  Situated on the banks of river Vaigai, Madurai has a rich cultural heritage passed on from the great Tamil era more than 2500 years ago.  Madurai was an important cultural and commercial center even as early as 550 AD.  It was the capital city for the great Pandya kings.

Overnight in Madurai at the Heritage* or The Gateway Hotel
*Heritage Hotels are historic mansions, palaces and forts which have been converted into hotels in India.  They are mainly located in the north of the country.

Day 10 Wednesday, January 22
The morning will offer a tour of the Meenakshi temple and the city, which was designed in the shape of lotus with the famous Meenakshi temple in the center.  This is one of the biggest temple complexes in India.  The five pagodas that surround the temple are known for their intricate stucco work.  The 48.8 meter high southern gopuram is the tallest.  The temple has a marvelous hall of a thousand elaborately carved pillars. 

Not too far from the temple is Thirumalai Mahal, a palace that is constructed in the Indo-Saracenic style.  A set of musical pillars here, each carved out of a single block of granite into 22 slender rods, emit musical notes when tapped.

In the late afternoon take a rickshaw ride through the city and visit the weaver’s colony before returning to the hotel for dinner and overnight.  Late in the evening, after dinner, those interested, can visit the Sri Meenakshi temple again to see the elaborate night ceremonies and rituals for putting the goddess to bed.  These ceremonies begin at 9:00 pm.

Overnight in Madurai at the Heritage* or The Gateway Hotel

Email:  Telephone: (626) 570-1700   Contact: Christine Robison


In India visit Dravidia

(the states of Karnataka, Andrha Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala)


Photo Gallery

Email:  Telephone: (626) 570-1700   Contact: Christine Robison