"If I'm an advocate for anything, it's to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Walk in someone else's shoes or at least eat their food." - Anthony Bourdain
There is no place better to unravel and demystify the secrets of the tongue than India, which boasts 5000-year-old recipes and a multitude of various regional cuisines. Since ancient times, traders have visited India to procure its most exotic spices. Today, travellers from across the world visit India to surprise and delight their palates and learn some of the secrets of authentic Indian cooking. The southern part of India has as many experiences as the tongue has taste buds. Home to the most delicious dishes, South Indian food has a long repertoire of vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian cuisines, which are prepared oh so delicately!
Welcome to India! Upon arrival in Chennai, you will be met by our on-ground staff and transferred to your hotel.
Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is the capital of Tamil Nadu located in the Coromandel coast off the Bay of Bengal. It’s the sixth largest city in India and among the most visited city by foreign tourists. The city is known as the health capital of India, but more importantly to our travels, National Geographic has ranked Chennai’s food as second best in the world. It is the gateway to the south of India and has a history rich in literature, philosophy, religious faith and a form of classical music known as the carnatic musical style. Tamil, the language of the region, is believed to be one of the oldest and one of the most complicated in the world. Chennai is nicknamed as the “Detroit of India” with one-third of India’s automobile industry based here. It also houses the Tamil film industry known as “Kollywood”.
After a leisurely breakfast, the hotel’s chef will give an introduction to Indian cuisine.
Then we will set out on a food walk in George Town exploring the jumble of narrow streets and bazaars in this historic area of the city. There is fine dining here too and we’ll have a wonderful meal at one of the city’s top restaurants.
This evening we’ll join the scene at Marina Beach, six kilometres long, making it one of the longest urban beaches in the country and one of the longest in the world - this is where locals go to fly kites, take walks and swim.
This morning, drive to the airport to fly to Trichy. Upon arrival to Trichy we will drive to Chettinad, the cultural home of the Chettiars who made their fortune as moneylenders, merchants and jewelers. Chettinads are known for their distinctive cuisine, their architecture, temples and handicrafts. Some well-known Chettinad dishes are Chicken Chettinad, Vegetable Chettinad and dishes featuring seafood. Their architecture is well known for its mansions, spacious rooms and wide courtyards which are built with marble and teak.
We’ll be staying in one these splendidly restored mansions. The hotel’s kitchen is presided over by an experienced local who has carefully maintained the traditions of the distinctive Chettinad cuisine.
The Indian adage has it that “one is lucky to eat like Chettiar”. Food in Chettinad is some of the most distinctive in the country. Majority of the dishes are non-vegetarian and uses a distinctive set of spices including star anise, peppercorns, cinnamon, bay leaves, nutmeg and unusual local ingredients such as “black stone flower,” a dried herb, and marathi moku, a kind of sun dried caper.
We have arranged for you to partake in a cooking class to prepare a traditional meal. We’ll see that chutneys and pickles are an important part of every South Indian meal.
Later today we’ll visit a local producer to observe how a number of different meals are made.
We’ll also stop in the village of Pillayarpatti, home to one of the most important temples to the elephant-headed god Ganesha and home to a world-renowned school for the training of priests.
We’ll observe the sacred ‘homa’ fire ceremony and be brought into the inner temple to witness an elaborate blessing and offering to the image of Ganesha carved into the rock of the hillside.
This morning drive through the Tamil countryside to Madurai, one of the oldest cities in India along the banks of Vaigai River, a metropolis that traded with Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece which dates back to 300 BC. The city is believed to be a significant antiquity and has been ruled by various dynasties such as Cholas, Pandyas, Vijaynagar kingdom among others. The town has been patterned as a lotus flower, with the temple of Goddess Meenakshi at the centre.
Your afternoon tour allows you to visit the Meenakshi Temple with its gigantic gateways (some over 49 meters high), the 1000 pillared Temple Museum which houses a large collection of icons, the Mariamman Tank and the Gandhi Museum.
This morning, we will take a walking tour of Madurai. The tour begins at 6am and we’ll see everyday life in Madurai.
Later we’ll visit the Meenakshi Amman Temple, a historic Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Parvati, and her consort, Shiva. Renowned for its astonishing architecture, Meenakshi Amman Temple has been nominated for the new Seven Wonders of the World. The temple houses 14 gopurams or gateway towers which are 40 metres tall, with the southern gopura being the tallest at 51 meters.
We’ll also see the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, a 17th century palace. The palace was intended to be one of the grandest of south India.
This afternoon we’ll visit Gandhi Memorial Museum, established in 1959, and now one of the five Gandhi Sanghralayas in the country. This museum includes a part of the blood stained garment worn by Gandhi when he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse. The museum contains various photographs of Gandhi’s life and various artefacts of Gandhi’s life.
This evening we’ll take a food safari. You will be taken to various vendors, to taste their specialities. We’ll also be taking various forms of transport to these locations, including rickshaws, buses and cars.
After breakfast drive to Periyar, known as the spice coast, the region boasts some of the country’s finest spice plantations. Enroute we will stop at a plantation and join for lunch with a local family. After lunch we will visit a Tea Factory that will give you an insight into the cultivation and processing of tea.
Once we arrive in Periyar, we will check-in at your hotel. Your hotel re-creates the mood of a tribal community, thatched in elephant grass and set in a lush spice garden. The resort features a specialised Ayurvedic facility. During your free time, you will be able to experience their massages and other therapies.
In the evening, you’ll enjoy 'Kalaripayattu' the traditional martial art of Kerala, which is specifically used for defence and resistance. This martial form of art helps to maintain our physical energy and releases emotional stress. It provides full relaxation, promotes new energy and improves mental awareness. The art originated in North Malabar in Kerala around 300 BC. It is considered to be the oldest surviving fighting system still existing in the world. There are three schools of Kalaripayattu. The art was revived around 1920 as a part of the traditional arts revival in South India.
We’ll start the day with a spiritually refreshing yoga session at your hotel. Yoga is perhaps the world's first system that recognizes the connection between body and mind. The main purpose of yoga is to isolate the mind of all thoughts, worries and fears, and to increase the strength and flexibility of the body. The regular practice of yoga can help keep stress and tension at bay and facilitate the mind to a state of wellbeing and peace.
This morning we’ll visit nearby spice plantations; pepper, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon are all cultivated here and we’ll learn all about the traditional, organic techniques used to prepare the spices for the kitchen. Later explore the local Spice Markets.
Join the chef later in morning for a cooking class specialising in Keralan cuisine. The chef in the resort is a strict follower of 50-mile diet which means all the ingredients are procured from a 50-mile radius, and some of his ingredients come from only 50 yards away.
This afternoon, enjoy a close interaction with elephants. You are encouraged to spend time with the local elephants through a long walk, bathing, feeding and learning how to communicate with this wonderful animal.
This morning, take a boat ride on Periyar Lake, formed by the construction of a dam on the Periyar River. Later, we will drive to Kumarakom, a cluster of little islands on Vembanad Lake. Kumarakom captures the essence of Kerala in a unique and lovely setting. Conde Nast Traveller rated Kumarakom among the 25 best getaways in the world.
In the afternoon we will enjoy lunch with a local family. After lunch, we’ll drive to Kochi (Cochin) which has the best natural harbours in the country. Traders from the West came around the 3rd century and took back spices, ivory and teak. Much later, in the 15th century, the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British came to the region in the guise of merchants, and some stayed on as colonial rulers.
This morning, we’ll discover Kochi by taking tuk-tuk through Willington Island and the historic part of old Kochi at Fort Cochin and Mattancherry, filled with picturesque tiled roofs and pastel-coloured buildings. Kochi has the best natural harbour in the country. It is set amidst picturesque lagoons and backwaters famous across the world. Enjoy the breeze passing through the romantic backdrop of swaying coconut and palm trees.
The tour includes the Dutch Palace, Jewish Synagogue built in 1568 and St Francis Church - the oldest church built by Europeans in India. See the fascinating Chinese fishing nets, and participate in Kochi’s main enterprise, commerce, by stopping at any of numerous shops selling tea, jute, chilies, turmeric, cashew, ginger, cardamom and pepper.
Later we’ll dive deeper into the captivating culture of India on a Kochi food tour that takes you on a flavourful journey through the Muslim, Hindu, and Christian areas of this fascinating city. Take a walk down the road through a bazaar and glimpse into the life of the spice traders. Stop for a tea or coffee and snacks at a local tea shop, easing you nicely into the culture of Kochi.
This afternoon we’ll set off on foot, delving into the heart of Mattancherry, a treasure trove of Muslim culture and food.
This evening, join the chef for a hands-on cooking session.
Optional - Spice Trail
Next will take you to the Spice Trail adventure. Discover the story of Kochi and Kerala through the story of the Spice Trade and how it influenced world history. Perceive how trade has influenced not just the culture of this place but also the local cuisine. All this and more in what is possibly one of the most interesting port towns in the East. Stop at local cafe which was once a bustling pepper godown for a glass of ice tea and understand what went behind the restoration of this heritage building.
Optional - The Toddy Trail
Explores the local alcoholic drink from the coconut tree - Toddy and the traditional craft of its production - Toddy Tapping. Visit a coconut grove and meet the toddy tapper who will show you the indigenous tools used for Toddy Tapping. Watch the Toddy Tapper in action as he demonstrates how the toddy from the coconut tree is tapped, chopped and extracted. Try some freshly tapped toddy straight from the tree to the cup. Later drive to the local watering hole - a toddy shaap where toddy is paired with local delicacies and explore the Toddy Shaap sub cuisine.
This morning is at leisure.
Late this morning drive to Kumarakom, where the famous 'backwaters', a complex network of lakes, canals and rivers that support a beautiful, fragile eco-system, a quiet village tucked away on the banks of the picturesque Vembanad Lake.
Enroute, stop at Philipkutty farm to learn Keralan cooking. Learn the age-old recipes passed down over the generations cooked with wholesome local ingredients.
(Optional) This morning we start our day with a yoga and meditation session. Now that you have been sampling some of India’s most exotic foods, here comes time for relaxation and rejuvenation. Ancient India’s gem, Ayurveda is a specialty of Kerala, and Coconut Lagoon is equipped with a specialized Ayurvedic facility where you’ll be treated with massages and other treatments (at your own expense). Ayurveda literally means the science of life (Ayur = Life, Veda = Science). It is an ancient medical science which was developed in India thousands of years ago. The ancient Vedic literature written by sages has clear instructions to maintain health as well as fighting illness through therapies, massages, herbal medicines, diet and exercise.
Enjoy some free time this morning to relax before you depart for your afternoon boat cruise through the Kerala Backwaters on one the region’s trademark houseboats. Built without a single nail, the planks of these shallow barges are tied together with strong coir rope. From your comfortable vantage point, observe the rituals of village life; farmers tilling fields with buffaloes, women washing laundry and children splashing in the water. You will see shallow, palm-fringed lakes studded with Chinese fishing nets and shady canals where coir (coconut fibre), copra (dried coconut meat) and cashews are loaded onto dugouts. A Keralan lunch will be prepared and served on board.
This morning, explore the nearby Backwater villages by Country boat. You will love the life style of people living in village. They live a laid back and scheduled Life unlike the fast life in the city. The village people live a simple and hassle-free life and Seem to be happy with whatever they have. Experience local village activity like coir yarn processing - made from coconut fibre found between the hard-inner shell and the smooth outer surface of the coconut, and witness copra processing - Kerala’s oldest industry. Later walk through the paddy fields and meet the local people or take a ride to the nearby village market.
Later this afternoon, we’ll drop in to Café Kudumbashree for an evening snack and chai (tea). The government of Kerala has encouraged women to start canteens and catering groups across the state. The government has provided intensive training on health, food habits and customer service to the local women. The women use their own recipes, preserving local flavour and traditional methods of cooking in these cafes.
Optional - Cycling through country roads and small villages
Later enjoy cycling through country roads and small villages where we will see coconut husk being processed and made into coir ropes and mats. You will love the life style of people living in village. They live a laid back and scheduled life unlike the fast life in the city. The people live a simple and hassle free life and seem to be happy with whatever they have. We hit the backwaters and cycle along the waters till a jetty, where we will embark a wooden canoe, to be taken to your backwater homestay.
Enjoy a cultural dance performance this evening followed by our farewell dinner.
Today you will drive to Kochi airport for your international flight back home.
We wish you safe travels back home and we look forward to welcoming you back and continue exploring Incredible India in the near future.