Wildlife & Nature
Southern India Family Holiday
The southern state of Kerala consists of a range of jungle-covered hills which undulate gently towards the Indian Ocean - a perfect tropical getaway! Your adventure starts in the colourful 'spice town' of Cochin, where you get a glimpse into the region’s rich and multi-cultural history. You'll also visit an elephant training camp and eco-farm to walk amongst fields of spices. Next you travel via the beautiful ‘hill station’ of Munnar, to the one of India’s oldest cities, Madurai – a centuries old centre of learning and pilgrimage. Periyar National Park offers a complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of city life, with over 300 square miles of lush tropical forests. It’s the perfect place for getting up close and personal with animals such as wild elephant and otters. You'll continue to the beautiful Kerala backwaters, exploring the area’s villages on an overnight cruise on a comfortable houseboat. With beautiful unspoilt beaches to finish, this trip provides a great insight into the delights of southern India and this wonderfully friendly and easy-going area.
Your journey begins with an overnight flight to Cochin.
After your flight, you transfer to your first night’s accommodation and check in. After time to freshen up and relax after your long flight, your Group Leader will brief you on what to expect in the days ahead. The rest of the day is free for you to relax after your flight. Today or tomorrow perhaps you’ll also take in a Kathakali show, a traditional dance drama in which performers wear an incredible amount of colourful costume and make-up. They sway to the music as local legends are retold by this art form dating back 500 years or more (optional).
The Grand Hotel (AAA) - 2 nights (B)
Today you’ll take a sightseeing tour of Cochin’s main attractions. Cochin (now known by the local name Kochi) – is built around a saltwater lagoon on the Arabian Sea, and remains the commercial capital of Kerala. From the tightly packed streets the scents of cinnamon, cloves and countless other spices mingle in the sea breeze. On the western shore of the Fort Cochin peninsular, rows of cantilevered Chinese fishing nets remind us of Kerala’s trade links with the outside world. The area is also home to a small community of Jews whose descendants sailed into exile some 2,000 years ago - a synagogue still remains. Close by is Mattancherry Palace originally built by the Portuguese and given to the Raja of Kochi in exchange for trading rights. Here you’ll see the remarkable series of murals, which illustrate tales from the sacred epic of the Ramayana.
There is plenty of time to wander through the narrow lanes lined with houses built by the Portuguese, Dutch and British in their own distinctive styles. However it’s not only the extraordinary assortment of architectural styles that can be found but also an array of interesting and tasty local dishes. Still strong on rice, coconuts and fish, local cuisine also embraces influences from Europe and the Arab world. This evening we have included a harbour cruise, a relaxing end to the day! (B)
Cochin to Guruvayur
This morning leave Cochin and head to Guruvayur where you'll check in to your hotel and enjoy some free time to relax. Later you visit the Punathir Kota Elephant Camp – undoubted fun for the kids who will be able to get up close and personal with these gentle giants. Elephants are loved, revered, groomed and are an integral part of Kerala culture and daily life. Over forty elephants are groomed at the Punathir kota (kota means 'fort') and are brought as ritual offering to the temple. You can spend a whole afternoon with these huge mammals here. Watching the naughty baby elephants' playful antics is an entertaining experience. The place provides you an opportunity to watch how the sick elephants are medically treated in the traditional manner. You can also watch the training given to the elephants for various ritualistic performances.
Kanoos Residency Hotel (AAA) - 1 night (B)
After breakfast you’ll board your charter bus for the journey eastward (approx 5-6hrs) to Munnar. You’re now in hill country and should notice the difference in both temperature and humidity from Cochin. Munnar was developed by British tea companies in the early 20th century and many buildings still reflect the town’s days as a British ‘hill station’. Today you will also visit a local family and share lunch with them. The following day you explore Eravikulum National Park. This park was established in the 1970’s, primarily as a means of protecting an endangered species of wild goat, the Nilgiri Tahr. The terrain in the park is quite rough and steep but you’ll take a gentle trek along good paths, to spot these animals along with possibly elephants, sambar and macaques. This afternoon there’s time to wander around Munnar’s bazaars.
Deshadan Mountain Resort (AAA) - 2 nights (Bx2, Lx1)
NB. Eravikulum National Park is normally closed in April due to breeding season and for a part of the summer, when it's monsoon season. In these instances, you will visit a tea museum and take a guided walk around the town. In addition to this, the lunch with a local family will either take place with a family in Munnar or a family in Periyar, depending on their commitments.
This morning you continue your journey westward by bus to Madurai, a city with an illustrious history The journey usually takes around four hours and you should arrive at your hotel around lunch time, however road conditions on this journey may mean the time taken is longer. Madurai is the largest of what are collectively known as ‘The Temple Towns’. South India’s temple architecture is very different to that of the north, but these are iconic structures in their own right. On the northern plains, temples are graced with slim sikaras (towers) whereas here in the south immense gopurams (gateways) carved with thousands of painted Hindu gods are the most striking elements of the Dravidian temples.
Meenakshi temple is no exception - inside is a maze of halls, pillared cloisters and sanctuaries - all of which seem to be decorated with a profusion of murals, carvings and inscriptions. The heady fragrance of incense is everywhere, as is the chanting of priests whose deities are garlanded with colourful flowers. Outside the temple complex the streets are no less enthralling and seem to resemble one huge bazaar with hawkers, stalls and even the occasional passing elephant! Every morning Shiva is taken from his resting place with Meenakshi to the main temple shrine and returned in the evening with great ritual. Tonight, after an afternoon’s exploration, you should have the chance to visit the Meenakshi temple to witness the daily ceremony of ‘Putting Shiva to Bed’. You’ll return to your hotel by cycle or auto rickshaw.
The following day is set aside for you to choose your own activities. You might choose to laze by the hotel pool, or if you’re feeling more energetic, take an auto rickshaw to the impressive Thirumalai Nayak Palace. Built in Indo-Mhugal style, the Palace was restored by the British in the 19th century and retains some beautiful examples of Tamil decoration. Alternatively you may decide to venture further afield, with a visit to Trichy. The focus of Trichy is the towering Rock Fort Temple. You make your way to the entrance and from there climb the 400 plus steps past several shrines onto a rock plateau. From the plateau there are stunning views over the city, coconut palms and paddy field patchwork of the Cauvery River plains. Back down the steps and you can make your way to the old town where the labyrinth of narrow, 18th century streets are lined with craft workshops and small textile shops.
Hotel Germanus (AAA) - 2 nights - Swimming Pool (Bx2)
Periyar National Park
You cross from Tamil Nadu into Kerala and drive the five or so hours to Periyar National Park, one of the main wildlife sanctuaries of southern India and one of the countries largest. Situated in the Cardamom Hills region of the Western Ghats, the park covers 777 square kilometres, at an altitude of between 914 and 1,828m. At its centre lies a large artificial lake, built by the British in 1895 to supply water to the region around Madurai and over 15 square kilometres in area. In 1973 the park became part of Project Tiger in an effort to save this wonderful animal from extinction. The park has a rich variety of wildlife - both mammals and birds. You would indeed be lucky to see the elusive tiger and leopard - both of which inhabit the forest, but should certainly see sambar, chital, otter, wild boar and gaur along with a rich variety of birdlife (and the odd leech!). In addition, wild elephants are often seen in the park.
You'll have some free time to relax and get used to the sounds of the wildlife in the park. You might like to take the opportunity to take a bullock and cart ride as part of a community-based eco-tourism project where locals will take you around their village in the valley behind the mountains of the Periyar Tiger Reserve. You could also hire a bike in the village of Kumily and explore the area, visiting the local tea and spice markets, or cycle amongst the cardamom-covered hills. Later on, you’ll spend time at a nearby elephant camp where you can see these majstic animals at close quarters again before rounding the day off with a visit to a local market.
The next day you’ll continue your exploration of the park on foot in a small group; this is one of the few wildlife parks in which visitors are able to walk. You make regular stops to watch for elephant and gaur, as well as monkeys and birds.
Hotel Ambadi - 2 nights (Bx2)
This morning you descend from the hills and make the three hour drive to Kumarakom. Here you board a houseboat to begin a cruise through the complex system of beautiful lagoons and canals known as the ‘Malabar Backwaters’. These waterways are the principal means of communication and trade for scores of homes and villages. Along the banks, at jetties and ferry stops, there's often a wonderful array of produce ready for market - sacks of cashews are piled high next to coconuts.
Your houseboat is a converted kettuvallam (rice barge) constructed in a traditional way from anjali (jackfruit) wood. ‘Kettu’ means knot and ‘vallom' means boat. These giant 80-foot long crafts have been adapted to provide simple but comfortable accommodation. The decks are carpeted with coir matting and furniture made from cane which is of typical southern style. Each boat has air conditioning, an open lounge, deck, kitchenette and a crew, usually comprising two oarsmen and a cook. Traditional lanterns are used as lights.
Houseboat - 1 night (BLD)
Backwaters of Aleppy
Your cruise on the backwaters is coming to an end. Before it does, soak up the surroundings and tranquil atmosphere. Yuo may pass houses, perched on strips of land only a few metres wide. Lined with swaying palms, with shimmering green paddy fields beyond, the backwaters make a beautiful and peaceful setting. You may even encounter traditional boats with their huge sails and dragon-carved prows.
Many people are employed in the coconut industry, where the coir (fibres) and copra (white meat) is processed in numerous small, often family-run, mills. Cashews are an important cash crop, and fishing plays an obviously vital role in the economy. After breakfast on board, your houseboat cruise ends at Aleppy where you'll take a transfer to your hotel accommodation.
Kovalam beach stay
This morning transfer to Kollam railway station and catch the train to Trivandrum (2hrs). Approximately 25 minutes drive from Trivandrum lies your accommodation for the next two nights at Kovalam Beach. You’re free to spend your time here lazing on the beach or by the hotel pool. Alternatively you could have a traditional ayurvedic massage, where oils extracted from plants with medicinal properties are worked into the head, arms, shoulders and back – a perfect trip end for parents. Or what about making a full day journey to the very south of India, to Kanyakumari and look south towards Antarctica! You can explore locally on foot and sometimes bikes can be found to rent out.
On your last evening the Group Leader will no doubt organise a traditional ‘last supper’.
This morning you transfer to Trivandrum (25 minutes) where clients travelling on our group flights board the flight home. (B)
Malabar Backwaters & Tropical beaches
You'll travel west to the watery wonderland of canals, lagoons and lakes that make up the Malabar Backwaters. Explore this amazing environment from the relaxed comfort of a houseboat. Wind down as you complete your journey on one of Kerala's fabulous beaches.
Periyar National Park, in the cool of the Cardamom Hills, is home to the best of southern India's Wildlife. There's plenty to see including wild elephants and possibly tigers or leopards.
Over forty elephants are groomed at Punnathur Kotta, the ancient palace of the Punnathur Rajas. You can spend time watching the baby elephants' playful antics, seeing how sick elephants are medically treated in the traditional manner or witnessing their training.
The adventure starts in the narrow streets of historic Cochin, where laden boats still set out past cantilevered Chinese fishing nets.
Our Spicelands and Elephants trip is just one of our many Asia Family tours. To find out more visit our Asia holidays page.