Known as 'God's Own Country', Kerala is a relaxing contrast to other Indian states. Explore tea and spice plantations at Munnar, learn about a rich history in the ancient trading port of Kochi, and overnight on a traditional houseboat, experiencing village life as you glide through the tranquil Keralan Backwaters. Kochi - Explore colonial Kochi from the water, including the Fort, St Francis Church and Mattancherry Palace Kumarakom - Witness waterfront village life as you cruise through the tranquil 'backwaters' Periyar - Search for elephants and other wildlife in Periyar National Park
Kochi (Cochin) has been a gathering place of merchants since antiquity and is still full of bustling traders. The Fort Kochi area is the oldest European settlement in India (dating from 1500) and has a mixture of English, Dutch and Portuguese influences, much of which survives in the remaining architecture. Built on several islands and criss-crossed with waterways, the city has a very cosmopolitan feel today and attracts artists and artisans from around the region. You will be met on arrival at Cochin International Airport (COK) by a local representative, and driven to your centrally-located hotel. The city is about 40km and a 1.5 hour drive from the airport. There are no activities planned today, so feel free to arrive in Kochi at any time. For those booking their own flights, you will just need to let us know your flight details no later than three weeks prior to departure, in order to be met on arrival.
Delve in to Kochi's eclectic past today with a guided visit to the Mattancherry Palace, built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Extensive renovations by the Dutch some hundred years later earned it the name the Dutch Palace. It houses some of the best murals in India, depicting scenes from the Ramayana and other great legends. The guided tour continues both on boat and on foot, visiting the Jew town synagogue where Kochi's surviving Jewish community come to worship. Nearby are the famous cantilevered Chinese Fishing nets, and in the early evening you'll see a performance of Kathakali, which is thought by some to be the very essence of the culture of Kerala. Its origins may have come from traditional temple rituals and from an art form known as Koodiyattam. It is the face make up which makes this dancing so unique and the dancers can take up to three hours painting their faces - the features are heavily emphasised as it is the facial expressions and co-ordinated eye movements which are important in the dance. The dances usually portray events from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, great Indian epics. It's important to note that the Mattancherry Palace is closed on Fridays, and the Synagogue is closed from Friday afternoon throughout Saturday. If you wish to visit these sites then you may wish to avoid beginning your trip on a Thursday or Friday. Alternatively, it may be possible to visit these sites at the end of you trip upon your return to Kochi.
Take a five-hour journey today to Munnar, driving through an area of spice and tea plantations. Kerala's coastline has been renowned for its spices for at least 2000 years, attracting ancient communities of Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs and Chinese for its sandalwood. There was also a flourishing trade in 'black gold' - pepper - which, along with other spices, was sent to Europe by the Jewish and Arab traders. In return, copper, brass and gold coins came to Kerala. It was this trading link which brought Christianity and Islam into Kerala - the first place in India to host these two faiths. Munnar is a pleasant place to spend time, with its green tropical forests, fresh mountain air and neat tea plantations. It is hardly surprising it has become a favourite for Indian honeymooners. The afternoon is free to explore this beautiful town.
Visit one of Kerala's tea museums with a local guide and learn the fascinating process of tea production. It is the women who usually pick the tea because of their nimble fingers, their brightly coloured clothes contrast sharply with the greenery of the plantations. Leaving the tea museum, drive for around 4 hours to Thekkady and take a walk through one of the region's many spice gardens, where the passionate staff will tell you all about how the famous spices are grown and processed.
The route this morning takes you past rubber plantations and varied spice gardens to Periyar wildlife sanctuary, close to the border with Tamil Nadu. One of 16 tiger reserves in India, Periyar is it is perhaps better known for its elephants. There are about 40 tigers living in the 777 sq km park but, as they are solitary creatures, the chances of seeing them are very slim. The naturalist guide will take you, and possibly other customers up to small groups of six people, in search of other wildlife such as the wild boar, giant malabar, porcupine and the flying squirrel. The park itself is made up of a variety of habitats, open grasslands, deciduous, semi-evergreen and tropical forests all of which have different animal species. The ecosystem of the tropical evergreen jungle is very interesting as the trees grow up to 40m, and the dense canopy only allows in limited sunlight. Therefore at ground level, there are abundant ferns, orchid and airplants- plants which need little light to survive. Leaving the park, drive back towards the coast at Kumarakom, one of the most famous and lively places on Kerala's bustling backwaters.
Today you're free to explore Kumarakom. The bird sanctuary nearby is home to many species of bird including the cuckoo and Siberian stork. The quiet roads and trails are also the perfect place to take a leisurely cycle, and a traditional Ayurvedic massage can be arranged post-ride. Alternatively, experience the tradition of 'toddy tapping' - a South Asian practice involving the 'tapper', usually a slim, agile young man, scaling coconut palms to tap into the sap at the top, which is then predominantly used for drinking. Often they walk tightropes between palms to tap multiple plants at the same time. The sap begins fermenting immediately after collection, and is usually alcoholic within several hours. After that, it may also be used in leavening bread or as a pickling liquid. However you choose to spend the day, the interweaving network of canals and warm breeze make this a great place to soak up Kerala's relaxing atmosphere.
Board a houseboat this morning and begin your journey into the network of the Kerala backwaters. The traditional houseboats are simple vessels, with en-suite twin rooms. We endeavour to book a boat that fits your group - so if you are a couple, the boat should only have one bedroom, and so on. Witness riverside village life in its entirety, as you float down the river at a relaxed pace. The industrious villagers survive on narrow spits of land, keeping cows, chickens and cultivating vegetable gardens. Even the shells from the fresh water mussels are burnt to make building lime, and the fibre from the coconut palm has many uses including coir products made from coconut fibre. The gardens are generally well tended often with brightly coloured flowers, such as hibiscus, contrasting sharply with the tropical greenery.
After a relaxed breakfast, disembark from your houseboat and return to Kochi where the rest of the day is left free for you to explore at your leisure.
Your trip ends today, and you will be taken to the airport to meet your international flight. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Cochin International Airport (COK) at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel.
8 Break Fast(s) 1 Lunch(es) 1 Dinner(s)
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