Fly from the UK to Kochi, via Doha. An overnight flight means you can set straight off on your southern Indian itinerary.
The port of Kochi has been a bustling trade hub since the 12th-century. Over time, countless cultures have left their mark on the city. Chinese fishing nets swing alongside Portuguese mansions and British colonial remains. Eighth Bastion, a hotel overlooking the lively harbour, makes a great base. Settle in, visit the nearby Fort Kochi, or head out on a peaceful cruise to watch sunset across the horizon.
Immerse yourself in Kochi’s heady spice markets, wandering through narrow lanes infused with the scents of turmeric, clove and cardamom. At Kochi’s heart is the historic waterfront, which is still in use today. Watch fishermen casting huge, sail-like Chinese nets, and check out their daily catch. Unsurprisingly, the seafood here is second to none. At sunset, watch a Kathakali performance – an extravagant display of costumes and expressive dance.
It’s just a short drive from Kochi to the peaceful village of Kumarakom. Set on a cluster of lake islands, the village is bedecked with houseboats and palm-tree fringed waterways. The small island at the centre of nearby Vembanad Lake is a sanctuary for migratory birds. You’ll spend the next two nights at the aptly named Coconut Lagoon.
The best way to explore Kumarakom’s leafy backwaters is with a cruise on board an elegant rice barge. Float lazily through a timeless landscape of lush paddy fields, forested highlands and sandy beaches. Soak up the atmosphere as children play along the banks and locals loll languidly in hammocks.
Head inland to the verdant mountains of Periyar National Park. Nestled in Cardamom Hills and centred on the glistening Lake Periyar, this nature reserve is home to an array of wildlife. Enjoy a walk with an expert naturalist, who’ll show you colourful birdlife, elephant, rare lion-tailed macaque and even the occasional big cat.
Endless unfurling leaves and tea plantations beckon as you travel to the refreshing hill station of Munnar. This town in the Western Ghats mountain range is a former resort for the British Raj. Capturing all the emerald-hued charm of days gone by, the charming Windermere Estate will be your home for two nights.
Explore the Windermere Estate's manicured tea gardens and thick forests, on foot or by bicycle. Much exotic birdlife awaits, and you can also stop off to shop for teas and spices. We highly recommend visiting the hiking trails in nearby Eravikulam National Park. The park is home to rare mountain goat and the frothing splendour of the Lakkam Waterfalls. You’ll definitely want to bring your camera.
It's a dramatic drive to the escarpment of the Western Ghats. From here, pass from the state of Kerala into Tamil Nadu, an equally dramatic region. Artistic culture thrives here, while the landscape is liberally dotted with an endless sea of ornate temples. Your destination is Madurai, one of South Asia’s oldest cities. Settle in to the hilltop Gateway Hotel.
Known as the Athens of the East, the temple town of Madurai has a cultural heritage spanning over 2,500 years. Lose yourself in a maze of markets and museums. The jewel in its crown is undoubtedly the 12th-century Meenakshi Temple. This multi-tiered, technicolour wonder of a creation heaves with carved mythical figures and devoted pilgrims. A guide will help you unravel some of its mysteries.
A short flight will bring you from Madurai to Chennai, a bustling hub on the Bay of Bengal. Stay at the luxurious Trident and indulge at the spa treatments combine eastern and western techniques. This is the perfect way to unwind at the end of a busy, but brilliant, Indian adventure.
With a healthy glow and memories to last a lifetime, it’s time to bid your farewells to southern India. From Chennai, you’ll journey home to the UK.