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Day by Day Itinerary

Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

Explore India and see its colorful southern region. From the rock-hewn temples that overlook the shimmering Bay of Bengal to the lush palm-fringed shores of the Arabian Sea, southern India is brimming with natural splendor and cultural diversity. Chennai, where Tamil music fills the air … Tanjore, where millennium-old Chola temples rise over ancient streets … rugged Kerala, where abundant wildlife roams free on the Cardamom Hills. Surrounded by a symphony of colors and languages, your OAT small group will revel in the guidance of an expert resident Trip Leader, who knows how to make the most of your travel experience, whether you’re exploring sacred temples or spice-filled markets. As you meet brick-makers, grape farmers, schoolchildren, and even join a family on their houseboat in the backwaters, you’ll come to know the people who truly are the vibrant Soul of India.

Chennai Bangalore Expand All

    You depart today on your overnight flight from the U.S. to Delhi or Mumbai, India, where you connect to your flight to Chennai.

    • Accommodations:
    See Kapaleeswarar Temple while exploring Chennai

    Depending on flight schedules, you’ll arrive in Chennai, the capital of the southeastern state Tamil Nadu and the Gateway to South India, either late this evening or early in the morning of Day 3. Consult your air itinerary for details. When you arrive, an OAT representative will meet you at the airport and escort you to your hotel. Travelers on the Sri Lanka pre-trip extension will join the main trip today.

    Perched upon the ancient clay where the Cooum and Adyar rivers snake through their last miles toward the Bay of Bengal, Chennai (formerly Madras) is one of India’s largest cities. Widely considered the “Musical and Cultural Capital of India,” Chennai’s streets are frequently alight with world-renowned classical dancing and the captivating rhythms of Carnatic music. Chennai is also the center of Tamil film industry; A.R. Rahman, composer of the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, calls this city home.

  • After breakfast, gather for an orientation briefing with our Trip Leader. Then, we’ll explore Chennai, a bustling hub of commerce from its inception in 1639 by the British East India Company. This area has been an important economic and cultural center for nearly 2,000 years, thanks to its perfect position at the nexus of three rivers and the Bay of Bengal.

    Chennai is famous for its confluence of cultures, and is one of the few places on earth with national celebrations for almost all major religious holidays. To highlight this region’s rich European-flavored history, we’ll take a heritage walk in Georgetown and Mypalore, and visit St. Thomas Basilica, a church atop St. Thomas Mount, where we’ll take in panoramic views of the city. The basilica, which is locally known as “Santhome Church,” is reputed to be the final resting place of Saint Thomas and was visited by Marco Polo during his epic travels.

    After lunch on our own, we’ll travel south along the coast to the stonecarving village of Mahabalipuram. Upon arrival, we’ll check in to our hotel, where we enjoy a Welcome Dinner tonight.

  • Believed by many historians to have been the site of a training school for sculptors, Mahabalipuram is situated on a rocky outcrop between a shimmering lagoon and a silver, sandy beach. With its remarkable rock temples overlooking the shining Bay of Bengal and graceful casuarinas trees swaying in the tropical breeze, this open-air museum is truly a sight to behold.

    We’ll explore the rock sculptures of Mahabalipuram, beginning with the world’s largest bas-relief in stone, the Descent of the Ganga. The sculpture depicts a scene from Hindu mythology, with hundreds of beings—celestial, human, and animal—that seem to be miraculously moving towards a natural cleft in the center of the stone.

    We’ll also see Arjuna’s Penance, depicting a scene from the Mahabharata; the Five Rathas, “chariots of the gods” hewn from solid rock; and the twin-spired Shore Temple that overlooks the Bay of Bengal. Later, we’ll have time to walk around on our own to see local artisans creating rock sculptures, just as they have for centuries.

    You can find a restaurant to have lunch on your own and spend the rest of the day at leisure. Or you can join an optional excursion to Kanchipuram, "City of 1,000 Temples." Kanchipuram was the capital of the Pallava Dynasty from the fourth to ninth centuries, during which many of the city’s temples were built. Kanchipuram’s most celebrated temples include the ancient rock-cut Kailashnath Temple and the Ekambareswarar Temple, a gathering place for worshippers dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.

    You’ll have lunch at a local restaurant (included with the price of the optional tour), then explore Kanchipuram’s spiritual legacy with a visit to both of these temples. First you visit the eighth-century Kailashnath Temple with its two-story halls and heavy, horizontal lintels, and then you continue to the even older Ekambareswarar Temple, noted for its pyramid-shaped towers and colonnaded corridors. You’ll return to Mahabalipuram, where you’ll be free to explore on your own and choose a local restaurant for dinner.

  • After breakfast this morning, we’ll depart for the beautifully landscaped city of Pondicherry, designed in French style with Parisian-inspired city plans. Pondicherry is simultaneously a resort destination for beachgoers and an educational center for South India: it boasts 35 colleges and universities, from law schools to technical institutions.

    We'll arrive this afternoon and enjoy an included lunch. Then, your Trip Leader guides you through the side of Pondicherry only the locals see, with stops at some of his or her favorite places in conjunction with a rickshaw ride in the French Quarter. Throughout our exploration of Pondicherry, we’re sure to find remnants of this charming city’s colonial legacy along every wide boulevard and picturesque promenade. Don’t be surprised if you hear local people speaking French as you enjoy the evening at leisure to explore our surroundings. Perhaps you’ll stroll along Goubert Salai (Beach Road), a beachside promenade, before seeking out a restaurant of your choice for dinner in Pondicherry this evening.

  • Explore Chidambaram and Kumbakonam on a guided tour in India

    After breakfast at our hotel this morning, we’ll depart for Tanjore, stopping along the way to visit Chidambaram, an important site of pilgrimage for Shaivites and Vishnaivites (worshippers of Shiva and Vishnu). We’ll also stop at a local village and learn more about the art of mat weaving.

    Then we continue to Kumbakonam, which is located still farther south in Tamil Nadu and bordered by two rivers. Known for its Mahamaham festival, which takes place every twelve years and involves bathing in a ritual tank that holds water from many sacred rivers, Kumbakonam is a small village with a wealth of temples. Enjoy an included lunch here before we visit a weaver's colony then continue on to Tanjore.

    Later this afternoon, we arrive at our hotel in Tanjore and check in. We'll enjoy dinner together this evening in the hotel.

  • After breakfast this morning, we visit Brihadisvara temple, passing through the gopurams, the two temple gates that guard the UNESCO World Heritage Site temples at Tanjore. The main temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is a powerful symbol of the Chola empire, testifying to its achievements in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting. We’ll discover two of these important arts—first, on a visit to a bronze school and casting center, we’ll find out how the ancient craft is practiced today. Then we’ll visit the artisans who make veena, a traditional Tamil Nadu musical instrument.

    Encounter local school children while touring southern India

    After an included lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll visit a local orphanage and school, supported by Grand Circle Foundation, where we’ll be greeted by one of the staff before meeting some of the children. We spend some time here, interacting with the kids (who are certain to charm) and asking questions of the teacher. Dinner is included this evening at our hotel.

  • Explore Madurai and see Hindu temples

    This morning we continue to Madurai, the second-largest city in the state of Tamil Nadu. An important Hindu pilgrimage site, Madurai is a temple city that draws streams of worshippers making puja (prayer ceremonies) everyday. This cultural hub dates back more than 2,500 years, making it one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the entire subcontinent—and also one of the most culturally diverse. You’ll feel the pulse of these ancient grounds in the bustling marketplaces and streets that merge concentrically like lotus petals around Sundareswarar Meenakshi, the glorious fortress-like temple in the center of the city. Meenakshi’s labyrinthine grounds are dedicated to the Hindu Lord Shiva who, as legend has it, descended on Madurai to bless the city during its first days, and showered divine nectar down from his locks, giving Madurai its original name, Madhurapuri, the “City of Divine Nectar.”

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll continue our journey, arriving in Madurai in the late afternoon. Dinner will be on your own this evening.

  • This morning after breakfast, visit Meenakshi Temple for a daylight viewing of its gopurams. These pyramid-shaped structures often function as gateways to the temple complex, but at Meenakshi they rise above mere gateways due to the riotous and highly colored tiers of sculptures culminating in shell-like finials.

    Explore Thirumalai Naicker Palace in Madurai

    Next we’ll visit Thirumalai Naicker Palace, a stunning fusion of diverse architectural influences, including Italian, Dravidian and Islamic. Lunch will be on your own, and you’ll have time at leisure this afternoon before dinner together in a local restaurant.

    Later this evening we‘ll have the opportunity to travel by auto-rickshaw back to the Sri Meenakshi Temple to witness a fascinating nighttime ceremony in which deities are put to sleep. Non-Hindus are not allowed to enter inside the main sanctuary where idols of the god Shiva and goddess Parvati are kept. However, the ceremony can be witnessed from a short distance.

  • See the Periyar River while on tour in India

    After breakfast at our hotel this morning, we’ll embark on a scenic transfer overland to Periyar in Thekkady, set high in the rugged mountains in the state of Kerala. Kerala is another timeless region thought to have been inhabited since Neolithic times; indeed, many of the region’s caves harbor some of mankind’s oldest secrets—ancient tombs, mysterious rock formations, and prehistoric artifacts.

    On the way, we'll make a few stops: one at a local brick-making factory, one for lunch on your own, and one at a grape plantation—a crop for which this region is known. After checking in to our hotel, we’ll visit a local spice plantation to discover pepper plants and cocoa beans. We’ll enjoy dinner at our hotel tonight.

  • Explore Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary on an elephant ride

    South India is home to an extraordinary variety of flora and fauna, and many of its most exotic species are native to the region. Today we’ll get a taste of this biologically diverse hotspot as we visit Kerala’s most popular wildlife sanctuary, set high in the Cardamom Hills.

    We’ll embark on a jungle walk, keeping our eyes peeled for the sanctuary’s 62 exotic animal species, including elephants, wild boars, leopards, wild dogs, and monkeys.

    Lunch is on your own, or you may join us for an optional tour in the Periyar area that includes a Home-Hosted cooking demonstration, lunch, and an unforgettable personal encounter with one of India’s emblems, the elephant. You’ll start at a local home, where you meet the family and learn some of the secrets to Southern Indian cuisine during a cooking demonstration. Then you share a home-cooked meal before setting off for the elephant camp. Here you take a 15-minute elephantback ride and then return to the hotel.

    Later, we’ll visit a rubber plantation to learn how this material is produced and witness a demonstration of sap extraction from the rubber trees first introduced by Dutch colonialists.

    Enjoy a dinner at a local restaurant this evening.

  • This morning, we begin our drive to Cochin (Kochi), the cosmopolitan “Queen of the Arabian Sea,” with its fine natural harbor—where mariners from Arabia, China, Holland and elsewhere have left their mark among inimitable South Indian tradition and style. We'll stop at a tea plantation, where we'll meet the local people working in the field.

    Then, we'll head for the “backwaters”—a system of interconnected lagoons, lakes, and canals that stretches along the western edge of Southern India. Like Louisiana’s bayou country, the waterways are a unique ecosystem, lushly overgrown and labyrinthine. Over the years, communities ranging from large towns to small enclaves have sprung up, like the one we visit today for a look into everyday life.

    We’ll board a Kettuvellam (houseboat) during our trek. Originally designed as rice barges, these distinctive boats were later used by royalty when touring. Once aboard, we lunch while cruising through the backwaters of Alleppey, known as “God’s own country” for its serene natural beauty. We’ll see palm-fringed canals, local fishermen, a variety of birdlife, vivid green rice paddies, and sparkling water.

    Upon our early evening arrival in Cochin, we’ll check into our hotel and have dinner on our own in this storied South Indian city layered with Jewish, Portuguese, Chinese, and British influences from its days as a hub for spice traders the world over. Cochin’s colonial history can still be felt today, blending seamlessly with ancient traditions and the modern trappings of a burgeoning hub of commerce and culture.

  • See local fishermen while touring Cochin

    After breakfast this morning, we’ll explore Cochin city proper. We’ll see remnants of the melting-pot culture that emerged here as a result of the spice trade in the blend of Dutch and English architecture and in the elegant cheena vala (Chinese fishing nets) for which Cochin is known. We’ll also visit the Freedom Fighters' Jail and St. Francis Church, burial place of Vasco da Gama.

    Then we'll visit Fort Kochi and embark on a walking tour of its fascinating Heritage Buildings. After our explorations, we'll sit down for lunch together at a local restaurant.

    We return to the hotel for a brief rest before dinner. This evening, we gain an insider’s perspective on life in Cochin as we enjoy a Home-Hosted Dinner with a local family.

  • This morning we stroll the intensely aromatic streets of the old Jewish quarter, once the center of the spice trade and home today to spice shops that sell cardamom, ginger, turmeric, cloves, and cumin.

    As the scents mingle together, you may find it challenging to distinguish one from another, but their magnificent colors are nonetheless a feast for the eyes. This part of town is also home to one of the world’s oldest Jewish populations. At the Pardesi Synagogue, which was founded in 1568, be sure to have a look at the ornate, hand-painted Cantonese tiles decorating the floor, and see if you can decipher the love story depicted in the images.

    We’ll also visit the Mattancherry Palace, also known as the Dutch Palace for its tiled roof and whitewashed walls. But the colorful murals we’ll find here—some of the best examples of Hindu temple art in India—are the main attraction.

    Enjoy time on your own to explore this vibrant neighborhood. After lunch in a local restaurant, we return to the hotel for rest or continue to explore Cochin independently. Tonight, enjoy the intoxicating hues of a South Indian sunset over dinner on your own. Or join an optional evening cruise on the Kerala backwaters, with an exclusive Kathakali dance performance, followed by a seafood dinner at a local restaurant.

  • This morning we’ll rise early, as we have a long journey ahead of us. We start with an early morning transfer to the airport for our flight to Bangalore. After arriving in Bangalore in the mid-morning, we make the scenic journey to Mysore by coach.

    Encounter local farmers while touring India

    This is agricultural India that we travel through; according to governmental statistics more than 60 percent of the region’s land is cultivated and roughly half of the local population works on farms. As we pass by verdant plains and rows of palm tree plantations, scooters and trucks laden with green coconuts zip by while ox-drawn carts plod on at their centuries-old pace. Be on the lookout for carts drawn by zebu oxen, a type of humped cattle originating in this area and still used as beasts of burden.

    We stop en route to pause for lunch. We arrive at our hotel in Mysore this afternoon and check in to our hotel. Later we'll visit a temple dedicated to the nandi, the sacred bull of Shiva, before dinner on your own.

  • This morning, join an optional tour to the Somnathpur temple, outside of Mysore. This less-visited temple is a remarkably well-preserved example of Hoysala architecture. It transports us back to 13th-century India with a symmetrical star-shaped building, carved both inside and out with ornate images of Hindu legends and gods. Lunch at the distinctly European Lalitha Mahal Palace is included in this tour.

    Or, explore Mysore on your own. Perhaps you’ll visit the busy marketplace at the heart of the city. Stroll through the market, see powdered dyes in shocking hues set out in baskets like spices, smell the sandalwood oil, and hear the raucous calls of the vendors each trying to outdo his neighbor.

    See Mysore Palace while touring southern India

    Later, we duck inside the ornate, pink marble-domed Mysore Palace, the former residence of the royal family. We explore opulent ivory inlayed halls and uncover ancient ceremonial objects like glittering gold and wooden frames that once composed an elephant’s train for carrying royalty and other persons of distinction throughout Mysore’s ancient streets.

    Tonight, gather for a Farewell Dinner with your fellow travelers at our hotel.

    • Meals included:
    See the mausoleum in Srirangapattana

    After breakfast this morning, we’ll transfer to Bangalore, a center of the information technology industry in South India. En route we’ll stop in the town of Srirangapatna, which was briefly a political capital under the reign of the Tipu Sultan, the so-called “Tiger of Mysore.” While in town, we’ll visit the mausoleum of the Sultan—a rare Islamic monument in a mostly Hindu region—dedicated to the Sultan who died in a 1799 battle against the British. The romantic image of the brave Tipu has inspired a surprising array of writers, from Jules Verne (Captain Nemo is supposedly Tipu’s nephew) to Wilkie Collins (the opening of The Moonstone is set during the fall of Srirangapatna).

    Upon arrival in Bangalore, we’ll have lunch together at the hotel.Travelers taking the post-trip extension to Goa & Mumbai will check into our hotel in Bangalore, while travelers returning home will transfer to the airport to board flights to the U.S.

Extensions

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.  Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 8 locations in 16 days with two 1-night stays
  • We make some long overland drives of approximately 5-6 hours each
  • We also have 1 internal flight of about 1 hour which you can expect delays

Physical requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers using wheelchairs or other mobility aids
  • Must be able to walk 3 miles unassisted each day and participate in 3-5 hours of daily physical activities, including scaling several steep steps without handrails
  • Asian squat-style toilets must be used in some villages without other facilities

Climate 

  • Daytime temperatures range from 90-100°F
  • South India has a tropical climate; the rainy season occurs from June to October

Terrain

  • Travel over some rugged paths, as well as bumpy, unpaved, dusty roads, both by bus and on foot

Transportation

  • Travel via bus (no heat or toilet on board), train, rickshaw, and game-viewing vehicle; our vehicles are locally made and are the best available in the region

Accommodations & Facilities

  • All accommodations are hotel-standard, with a variety of amenities, as well as private baths with Western-style toilets

Cuisine

  • Meals will be based on the local cuisine; Western food is limited

Cultural insight

  • We may see people living in poverty, which could be distressing for some travelers

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary:

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens will need a visa (or visas) for this trip. In addition, there may be other entry requirements that also need to be met. For your convenience, we’ve included a quick reference list, organized by country:

  • India: Visa required.
  • Sri Lanka (optional extension): Visa required.

Travelers who are booked on this adventure will be sent a complete Visa Packet— with instructions, applications, and a list of visa fees—approximately 100 days prior to their departure. (Because many countries limit the validity of their visa from the date it is issued, or have a specific time window for when you can apply, we do not recommend applying too early.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your adventure, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Trip Leaders and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Radisson Resort Temple Bay

    Mahabalipuram, India

    Located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, the Radisson Resort Temple Bay is spread over 44 acres of tropical paradise. Within easy access of the area temples, this is a relaxing place to unwind after a day of sightseeing. The resort features a pool, spa services, and each of its 144 rooms has a patio or balcony. In addition, amenities include LCD TV with cable, private bath, hair dryer, and coffee- and tea-making facilities.

  • GRT Sunway Hotel

    Pondicherry, India

    Located in central Pondicherry about a half mile from the beach, GRT Sunway Hotel provides comfortable accommodations near Pondicherry's most notable sites. All 61 rooms include Internet access, telephone with international direct-dialing, minibar, LCD TV, welcome drinks and a complimentary breakfast, and a private bath with shower.

  • Hotel Sangam Tanjore

    Tanjore, India

    The welcoming Hotel Sangam in Tanjore is well-situated close to the area temples. In fact, the magnificent Brahadeeshwara Temple is less than a mile from the hotel. After a long day of sightseeing, unwind in the meandering, peaceful swimming pool. The hotel also offers modern fitness facilities and a restaurant serving multi-ethnic cuisine. Each of the 54 rooms features large windows, TV, minibar, and private bath.

  • Hotel Sangam, Madurai

    Madurai, India

    Located near the famous Maenakshi Temple and other historical monuments, the Hotel Sangam in Madurai offers modern amenities in a tranquil setting. Relax in the beautifully landscaped pool, or enjoy fine cuisine in the restaurant’s multi-ethnic restaurant. All 60 rooms are equipped with cable TV, Internet, minibar, and air-conditioning.

  • Cardamom County Plantation

    Cardamom County, India

    This resort features cottages designed to resemble the plantations of yesteryear. Each of its 30 cottages has a balcony from which you can gaze on the nearby Kumily Hills and the lush Periyar Tiger Preserve. Cottages include telephones, satellite TV, mini-refrigerators, and complimentary bottled water.

  • The Killians Boutique

    Cochin, India

    Built around a lovely courtyard with a swimming pool and Jacuzzi, The Killians Boutique is located in the main Fort region of Cochin. Named after Saint Killian, the hotel offers guests a number of amenities, including cuisine from on-site restaurant Lily Grace and Ayurveda spa treatments. Each of the 22 rooms features air-conditioning, private bath, TV, and minibar.

  • Fortune JP Palace

    Mysore, India

    The 108 rooms of the Fortune JP Palace all feature air-conditioning, private baths, telephones, satellite TV, minibar, and 24-hour room service. Facilities include a swimming pool, fitness center, and cocktail lounge. But the best part of Fortune JP Palace is its location in the heart of Mysore, a short walk from a rail station, with a variety of shops and restaurants easily accessible.

Extensions

  • Dambulla Thilanka Resort & Spa

    Dambulla, Sri Lanka

    This hotel features villas nestled among lush green hilltops on a 25-acre mango orchard, with rice fields and the Dambullu River nearby. Facilities include a restaurant, organic foods café, outdoor pool, and Ayurvedic spa. Each of the 24 rooms features a TV with DVD player, minibar, safe, coffee and tea-making facilities, as well as private bath with hair dryer.

  • Hotel Thilanka

    Kandy, India

    Swaddled in the mist of the nearby Hunnasgiriya Mountains, the Hotel Thilanka provides a relaxing atmosphere. Hotel amenities include a restaurant, bar, swimming pool, spa, and yoga lessons. Each of Thilanka’s 87 rooms is equipped with a minibar, TV, and a private bath with shower. The hotel’s proximity to parks and temples makes it a natural choice for your stay in central Sri Lanka. Perhaps you’ll even meet the monkeys from the nearby Udewattakela Sanctuary that frequent the hotel’s balconies.

  • Galle Face Hotel

    Colombo, India

    With spectacular views of the Indian Ocean, the Galle Face Hotel was built by British colonials in 1864. Well situated in the heart of Colombo, the hotel’s grounds contain a rolling lawn called Galle Face Green and an outdoor pool, along with four restaurants and three bars. Each of the 145 rooms offer air-conditioning, television, private bath, and other amenities.

  • Citrus Goa Hotel

    Goa, India

    Located a mile from Calangute Beach, the Citrus Hotel offers 88 rooms, each with air-conditioning and private bath. A coffee shop, outdoor pool, poolside bar, fitness room, and restaurant are on-site.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two adventures to maximize your value. Here are more ways to create the OAT adventure that’s right for you:

  • Extend your adventure and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip extensions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your adventure
  • Choose to “break away” before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of OAT adventures to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent traveler miles

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $2495
w/ standard air $3895
Gateway Travel Time*
New York (JFK) 23hrs
Chicago 25hrs
Minneapolis 28hrs
Boston, Detroit 29hrs
Houston 30hrs
Denver, Washington, DC (Dulles) 31hrs
Miami 32hrs
Philadelphia 33hrs
Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, OR, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa overnight JFK

*Estimated total time including connections and layovers. Actual travel time may vary.

The following information is your approximate flight time to Chennai, India. Routing is based on availability and subject to change. You will receive your final air itinerary approximately 14 days prior to departure.

Partner since: 2011
Total donated: $105,034

Supporting a World Classroom: South India

By funding improvements in local schools and orphanages, the Foundation’s World Classroom initiative is focused on supporting society’s most precious resources: its children. In India, you’ll meet young students at a local orphanage and school, supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation. Our projects have included building ten new bathrooms and installing toilets, painting the girls' dormitories, building an area for contained waste disposal, and cultivating the orphanage garden.

"The visits to schools were a delight. The emphasis on providing education for all—girls and boys—is admirable."

Anne & Nicholas Phillips
Carbondale, Illinois

Venkateswara Orphanage and School

Partner since: 2011 • Total donated: $17,600

We’ve been supporting the Venkateswara Orphanage and School since 2011 and the children who live and study here have benefited greatly from Grand Circle Foundation – donations have thus far provided ten new bathrooms and toilets, paint for the girls' dormitories, an area for contained waste disposal, and improvements to the orphanage garden. Spending time with the children and their teachers will open a door to local culture which most travelers to this region never experience.



School in session:

Early July through late April; closed periodically throughout the year for Hindu and national holidays

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Athletic equipment, such as soccer balls and basketballs
  • Books for the children's personal use and for the school library
  • Maps of the world and U.S.
  • Games that are both educational and fun
  • Crayons
  • Coloring books
  • Pads of drawing paper
Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

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Solo Traveler Stories

Why Travel Solo on Soul of India: The Colorful South

We're proud to offer the best value for solo travelers in the industry, guaranteed, with FREE Single Supplements on your base trip and all extensions. Travel with the leader in solo-friendly travel on Soul of India: The Colorful Southand save up to $1200 per person versus the competition.

Our small group size and expert, resident Trip Leaders help solo travelers make personal connections and ensure peace of mind. Here are some thoughts from solo travelers about why this adventure was right for them.

"Soul of India is the best trip I’ve ever taken! My Trip Leader, Jairaj, made sure all of us were exposed to the culture if we wanted to be. He showed us interesting aspects of daily life, like how they do the laundry in Kochi. The fishing village allowed us to see ordinary people at work. We saw women selling and buying fish, and watching them do these important jobs was inspiring. Jairaj explained all the interactions with village members in detail. Plus, the cooking demo was great fun, and the silk spinning and weaving demonstrations were outstanding."

Gloria Smith, 5-time traveler
Fairfax, Virginia

Fascinated by South Indian Art

By Barbara Spencer, 4-time traveler, San Francisco, California

There’s nothing I enjoy more than traveling with my friends to new places. And I’m lucky to have found my dear friend, Mary Jane—whom I met 40 years ago while we attended law school together—to explore the world with me. We’re extremely interested in the more exotic locations, and Asia holds a special interest for the two of us. Since Mary Jane’s husband doesn’t really like to travel, we do it together. And we both realize that since we’re getting older, we need to do the more strenuous trips now.

It was Mary Jane’s idea to travel on OAT’s Soul of India: The Colorful South adventure. We’ve visited many Asian countries in the past, including Nepal, China, Bhutan, and India, and we’re both fascinated by Dravidian art—so this adventure included everything we wanted to do and see in this area of India. And when I realized I was able to enjoy the free Single Supplement, it sealed the deal for me and we reserved our trip.

We had such a wonderful group of fellow travelers. There were five other singles in our group, and we all had great interaction with one another. One of the women in our group was also a lawyer from the Los Angeles area, so we had a lot in common, and found ourselves spending a lot of time with her. And another thing I really enjoyed about our group was that everyone was so well-traveled. For this reason, no one complained when any glitches happened because we all understand that these things happen during travel.

We couldn’t have asked for a better Trip Leader. Jairaj was so well-versed in the culture and arts of South India, and was able to bring the temples alive for us. The colors and sizes of each were so foreign to our visual experiences—and they were so exotic.

Mary Jane and I love to shop—and Jairraj went out of his way to steer us to one of the shops known for its textiles. Mary Jane found a beautiful silk kurta, and I was able to find placemats during our visit to the FabIndia shop.

One of the things that fascinated me the most about India was how bright—and different—everything was around me. I watched in awe as women stacked bricks in their vibrantly colored saris. And the night ceremony, where we witnessed deities being put to bed at the Sri Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, was truly amazing.

Everything about this trip was a learning experience for Mary Jane and me. Each place we visited offered something new for us. One of the things I enjoy most about traveling is learning about new cultures and finding out how other people around the world live. It’s the curiosity factor for me: I want to know what else there is to see in the world. Each new experience I encounter provides me with a greater understanding of what’s around me. The more you see, the more you know.

Private Departures—New for 2015

Now you can reserve a Private Departure of Soul of India: The Colorful South for your exclusive group of as few as 4 travelers. Enjoy a truly special adventure—starting from only $600 per person.

On your private departure, you can …

  • Travel in an exclusive group of friends or family members
  • Bring along several generations of your own family
  • Tailor the pacing of activities
  • Work with your Trip Leader to create unique experiences and special memories

"We wanted to take a family trip and called OAT to see if we could arrange a private departure. We has a great adventure—one that was extra special as it was just with family. We had all the lodges to ourselves and great guides. Everything ran like clockwork. I couldn't think of one thing to make the trip better."

P. Smilsky
11-time traveler
Eastham, MA

Group Size Additional Cost
4-6 $1200 per person
7-9 $600 per person

For more details, call our Group Sales Team
1-800-353-6262 and select Option #3.
Your representative can also tell you about the benefits of reserving a group of 10 or more.

This program is available on new reservations in 2015 only, and cannot be combined with any offers, including our Vacation Ambassador Referral program. The additional cost of a Private Departure is per person, on top of the departure price and varies by trip. Private Departures do not include any changes or additions to our standard itineraries. Age restrictions may apply to some itineraries and must be at least 13 years old to travel with Overseas Adventure Travel. Ask your Group Sales Team for details. Additional taxes and fees will apply. Standard Terms & Conditions apply. Every effort has been made to present this information accurately. We reserve the right to correct errors.

The Spice of Life

Cochin and the trade that changed the world

by Andrea Calabretta, for Overseas Adventure Travel

Once, the peppers and cloves that continue to grow in such abundance here were as valuable as gold and silver.

The tantalizing fragrance of cinnamon, with hints of cardamom and sweet clove, permeates the air as you approach the Cochin spice market. Then come hints of nutmeg and notes of ginger, followed by the more pungent perfume of dried chili. As you wander the stalls—displaying brightly colored barrels of aromatic powder, foot-long sticks of cinnamon, and neatly wrapped packets of star-shaped anise—the scents grow stronger. Buyers and sellers haggle noisily over shelves bearing delicately carved wooden vessels containing yellow turmeric, and woven baskets piled high with green cardamom pods.

At the center of the market, men unload trucks bearing huge burlap sacks of spice, releasing more intense aromas into the air. In storefronts and doorways, men and women work quickly to sort and package it. In the nearby godowns, or warehouses, sacks of spices are piled floor to ceiling, and the scent of pepper becomes so strong that, for the uninitiated, it is almost impossible to breathe.

This is the Cochin spice market, where for centuries people have engaged in the trade of aromatics—so prized for their heavenly scents that they inspired men to sail over the horizon into uncharted waters, risking their lives.

A confluence of cultures

Though a popular tourist region today, Cochin’s world-class status came not from tourism but from trade. Many favorable elements combined to make this so. The warm climate and rich soil, kept fertile by the Kerala backwaters, are ideal for the cultivation of spices, and a flood in the Middle Ages created a harbor well suited to sheltering ships. Some records claim that the spice trade here flourished even earlier—as far back as three thousand years, with traders from ancient Greece. Others say it initiated with Arabian and Chinese tradesmen at the beginning of the Common Era.

At the heart of the complex history of the spice trade in Cochin sits a unique community known as the Cochin Jews. Jewish history in this region is said to date back to 2,000 years ago. The Cochin Jewish community came to dominate the local spice trade, occupying an area of the city called “Jew Town,” with its famously fragrant spice market. Due to the network of Jewish populations with commercial trading interests around the world, Cochin’s Jewish leaders could perpetuate and enhance the city’s reputation as a center of spice trade.

Everywhere in Cochin, signs of foreign influence remain—especially in the iconic Chinese fishing nets that line Cochin’s harbor, said to have been brought by sailors from the court of Kublai Khan. The Age of Exploration (between the 15th and 17th centuries) carried a surge of Europeans to these shores, and their mark lingers in Dutch-style homes and palaces; in the white-washed bungalows and basilicas erected by the Portuguese; and in the infrastructure and language brought by the British. It was primarily the spices of South India that lured outsiders to this fertile coast. Once, the peppers and cloves that continue to grow in abundance here were as valuable as gold and silver.

From farm to table

Today in Cochin it is possible to follow the peppercorn from its origins, climbing along a vine, to its final destination—ready for export to the kitchens of Europe and Asia and the United States. You begin in a boat on the backwaters, making your way down the narrow waterways that criss-cross this tropical landscape. Just outside the Cochin city limits, small spice farms appear along the banks of the canals. At many of these farms, you’ll notice a distinctive vine of the pepper plant covered in small flowers and clusters of tiny green balls, growing up the trunks of trees. When the first few balls ripen and turn red, the still green and unripe pods are picked from the vine, cooked briefly in hot water, and left to dry in the sun. As they dry, the skin around each pepper seed becomes black and wrinkled, taking on the familiar appearance of peppercorns found on any American dining table.

Once the pepper crop is harvested and dried, the farmer sells it to a local dealer, who normally buys pepper from several local villages. When his stock is big enough, the dealer sells it to a larger spice trading company for storage and export. Today, many spice-processing factories and warehouses are located on Bazaar Road in the Matancherry neighborhood of Cochin. From here, they are distributed around India or exported on container ships from the harbor at Willingdon Island.

At the Kochi International Pepper Exchange, it is possible to visit the trading floor where premium grade pepper is bought and sold. When a bid comes in via the telephones that line the walls, a commotion begins among the traders at the only pepper exchange in the world. Pepper accounts for one-fifth of the world’s spice trade today, and nineteen percent of that is still produced in India.

A bounty of flavor

Today the cuisine of Cochin showcases with gusto its local spices—and its diversity of foreign influences, from the Chinese to the Portuguese. Because its occupants have been Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and Jews, Cochin’s menus reflect a variety of religious beliefs surrounding food and offer both vegetarian and non-vegetarian specialties. Sampling local dishes is a fine way to discover why the spices of South India have been such prized commodities throughout the ages. Cochin’s cherished aromatics also appear in local perfumes, and as you stroll the city’s streets, it’s easy to find essential oils containing enticing blends of local spices. Ayurveda, a system of traditional medicine native to India, recommends using spices such as turmeric, cumin, coriander, and fennel to promote good health, and several Ayurvedic clinics stand throughout the city.

As the spices of South India remain prominent in the modern world, it isn’t difficult to imagine a time when men and women around the world yearned for these precious seasonings, and when kings and queens commissioned navigators to seek them out across vast continents and oceans.