South India Tour: Temples and Traditions
Tour archaeological sites of Hampi, Mahabalipuram, and one of the Greatest Living Chola Temples. Cruise through the Backwaters of Kerala.
With Professors Paula Richman and Michael H. Fisher
January 22 – February 7, 2024
Why travel on Far Horizons’ South India Tour ?
- See Shiva’s ‘Going to Bed’ ceremony at Meenakshi Temple
- Witness pooja ceremonies at several sanctuaries.
- Explore three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Hampi, Mahabalipuram and one of the Greatest Living Chola Temples
- Overnights in unique, charming hotels and resorts
- Cruise the Backwaters of Kerala
- Limited to 14 participants
(click to enlarge)
Tour South India – Daily Itinerary
Day 1: Depart USA
Day 2: Arrive Bangalore.
Day 3: Transfer to Hospet and Hampi. Overnight two nights.
Day 4: All day in Hampi
Day 5: Chitradurga Fort. Transfer to Chikmagalur and overnight two nights.
Day 6: Belur and Halebid.
Day 7: Sravananabelgola. Fly to Cochin and overnight.
Day 8: Cochin city tour. Transfer to Coconut Lagoon and overnight two nights
Day 9: Cruise through the Kerala Backwaters by private boat.
Day 10: Transfer to Madurai and overnight for two nights.
Day 11: Madurai city tour.
Day 12: Transfer to Karaikudi. Afternoon tour of Karaikudi. Overnight one night.
Day 13: Visit Brihadishvara and Darasuram Temples. Overnight Kumbakonam for one night.
Day 14: Chidambaram Temple. Tranfser to Mahabalipuram and overnight two nights.
Day 15: Tour Mahabalipuram.
Day 16: Kailasanathar, Ekambaraehwarar and Varadharaja Perumal. Transfer to Chennai.
Day 17: Return flight to the USA.
Join Far Horizons and only 13 others on a 17-day journey to South India. Immerse yourself in a history spanning over two thousand years, a region home to a myriad of powerful and extraordinary dynasties and empires. Dive into an area of India which has managed to retain the essence of its mystique despite invasions both historical and modern. From Hampi and Chikmaglur and Karaikudi to Tanjore, the temples we visit contain some of the greatest architectural and sculptural achievements in India.
But wait! There’s more….The cuisine we indulge in will satisfy every sense. And several of our overnights will be memorable as we stay in Visalam, a gracious century-old mansion with original woodwork and art deco grilles; Paradise Resort and Spa, set around a traditional South Indian home; and the Coconut Lagoon in Kerala’s Backwaters, described by Condé Nast Traveler as one of the 25 Best Destinations in the World, and featured in National Geographic Traveler’s ’50 greatest places of a lifetime’.
From fragrant tea plantations to many-hued spice markets, vividly painted and ornate temple facades to the serene backwaters of Kerala, you will find yourself intoxicated, seduced, and delighted. A journey to this hemisphere offers the receptive traveler an exceptional opportunity to explore a unique and often seemingly enchanted land.
South India Tour Leaders
Michael H. Fisher received his PhD in History from the University of Chicago and is the Robert S. Danforth Professor of History, Emeritus, at Oberlin College. Dr. Fisher has been traveling to India since 1971 and has published many articles and books on the history of that country, including A Short History of the Mughal Empire, A Clash of Cultures: Awadh, the British, and the Mughals, and Across the Three Seas: Travellers Tales from Mughal India. He is the featured lecturer on The Great Courses series A History of India. Paula Richman graduated with a PhD in South Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago, and is Emerita William H. Danforth Professor in the Department of Religion, Oberlin College. She has won awards for her teaching skills, including Distinguished Teaching Award. Dr. Richman is the author and editor of many articles and books, including Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia and Performing the Ramayana Tradition: Enactments, Interpretations, and Arguments. She speaks and reads several Indian languages and has traveled throughout India for more than three decades. . This husband-and-wife team brings a broad knowledge of the history and religions of India, plus exceptional teaching skills, that makes them ideal study leaders.
‘Paula and Michael are a first-class team, obviously deeply enamored of their respective areas of expertise and great teachers to boot. I’d love to travel with them again and hope you will let them design a future India trip.’ – Barbara Rachko
South India Tour Itinerary
(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner
Day 1: Depart the USA.
Day 2: Arrive in Bangalore, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Bangalore was founded in the 16th century and is known as the Garden City. Today it is regarded as India’s “Silicon Valley”. Transfer to The Park, a charming boutique hotel, our home for one night.
Day 3: In the late morning, transfer to the airport for a non-stop flight to Vidhyanagar, followed by a short drive to Hospet, our base for Hampi, or Vijayanagara—the City of Victory. Overnight for two nights in the elegant Evolve Back County Resort near Hampi. (B/L/D)
Day 4: All day will be spent in Hampi, the seat of the famed Vijayanagara Empire and the capital of the largest kingdom in post-Mogul India. This city once boasted riches known far beyond the shores of India and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Virupaksha Temple contains the shrines of Shiva, Pampa, and Bhuvaneswari. It has a conspicuous, 164-foot-high gopura, or entrance tower, and parts of this temple are older than the rest of the Vijayanagara monuments. The monolith—21 feet high—of Ugra Narasimha is nearby. It was carved from a single boulder in 1528 and presents an image of Vishnu. The Hazara Ramachandra Temple may have been the private place of worship for the royal family. The most splendid monument of Hampi is undoubtedly the Vitthala Temple Complex with its 56 musical pillars that resonate when tapped. The Lotus Mahal, shaped like a lotus flower, was the air-cooled summer palace of the the queen. The Krishna Temple is a monumental complex east of Virupaksha Temple dedicated to lord Krishna, one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The King’s Balance, near Vitthala Temple, is where kings were weighed against grain, gold, or money which was then distributed to the poor. And then see the Queen’s Bath with lotus-shaped fountains that once spouted perfumed water. Our walk includes the Elephant Stables which housed these huge royal pachyderms. (B/L/D)
Day 5: Drive from Hospet to Chikmaglur with a stop to visit Chitradurga Fort. Enclosed by seven concentric stone walls, it is a modern reminder of the Nayak dynasty that once held sway across this part of central Karnataka. This fort was effectively the heart of the Nayak kingdom until conquered by the Mysore Kingdom in 1779. Although traces of older fortifications can still be found here, most of the standing walls and gateways were constructed by the Chitradurga Nayakas and Tipu Sultan, a ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. Overnight for two nights in the Gateway Hotel in Chikmaglur, a lovely 29-room resort set at 4,000 feet altitude in coffee producing countryside. (B/L/D)
Day 6: The morning is free to relax by the pool or explore the area. Lunch is on our own. In the afternoon, visit Belur and Halebid for a style of architecture unique to the region. The buildings here were built in the twelfth to thirteenth centuries by Hoysala rulers. Each small, compact temple is lavishly decorated with sculpture, and the decorations cover every inch of wall space. This tightly packed sculptural scheme is exclusive to Hoysala art and was never replicated. Prime sites in the area include Hoysaleshvara Temple in Halebid, with the Archaeological Museum, and Chennakeshava Temple in Belur. (B/ /D)
Day 7: Begin at Sravanabelgola, where we climb a flight of 614 steps (you can take a palanquin!), finely chiseled into the granite of the mountain, to the summit. Here, the sixty foot tall statue of Sri Gomatheswar, carved more than one thousand years ago, dominates the open plaza. It is purported to be the tallest free-standing statue in the world. Continue to Bangalore for our flight to picturesque Cochin, an important spice trading center and sea port. Pepper and cardamom, cinnamon and ginger, nutmeg, mace and anise from the Periyar hills – all were transported to Cochin to be shipped to a spice-hungry world. Overnight for one night at the Eighth Bastian Hotel. This boutique hotel is located in the renovated old section of the city where streets are filled with tiny, upscale shops housed within the Dutch Colonial mansions. Enjoy a late dinner at our hotel. (B/L/D)
Day 8: Cochin is full of echoes of Kerala’s past colonizers, including Hindu and Mughal dynasties, Portuguese and Dutch conquerors, and the British Empire – which came seeking control of the lucrative pepper trade. The city hosts the oldest church in India, 500-year-old Portuguese houses, old tiled houses built in the Chinese pagoda style, and a Jewish community whose roots go back to the Diaspora. Spend the morning seeing the sites of this lovely city including Mattancherry Palace (Dutch Palace), built by the Portuguese in 1557 and containing stunning murals depicting scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranic legends. In the afternoon we transfer to the lovely Coconut Lagoon Resort, located on the edge of the great Vembanad Lake. Fittingly, the resort can be reached only by water. The tile-roofed bungalows, set amidst lush foliage will be our home for two nights. (B/L/D)
Day 9: After a free morning at leisure, board a traditional houseboat called kettuvallam, made of bamboo, rattan, and wood, and spend several hours drifting through the picturesque Backwaters of Kerala, a network of canals, lakes, lagoons and estuaries stretching over almost 1000 square miles. As we float along the palm-fringed narrow waterways and through a vast expanse of paddy fields, coconut groves, and flocks of migratory birds, delight in lunch prepared onboard as we enjoy the traditional village life that lines the banks. (B/L/D)
Day 10: Today’s journey takes us through a panorama of cardamom, coffee and pepper plantations to Madurai, one of South India’s great temple towns. Overnight for two nights at the 5-star Taj Gateway Madurai Hotel. (B/L/D)
Day 11: The area around Madurai has a rich cultural heritage passed on from the great Tamil realm more than 2500 years ago. It was an important cultural and commercial center even as early as 550 A.D. and was the capital city for the great Pandya kings. Our first stop is Tirumalai Nayak Palace, built in 1636 A.D. by one of the Madurai Nayak rulers. During the 19th century the Governor of Madras renovated the complex, and today only the spacious rectangular courtyard called the Swarga Vilasam and a few adjoining buildings survive. Their imposing scale evokes the grandeur of a vanished era. Then it’s on to the enormous Meenakshi Temple complex encircled by high walls and containing twelve soaring gopura towers. The turrets are completely covered with exquisite stucco figures of vividly painted deities and mythical animals. There will be time in the late afternoon to enjoy the hotel spa. Dinner is on our own. Return to Meenakshi Temple for the evening ritual where enveloped in a cacophony of music, intoxicating incense, and reverent singing, witness the memorable ‘Going to Bed Ceremony’. Each night the image of Shiva is carried in a silver palanquin from his shrine to another part of the temple to join his consort Parvati at hers. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)
Day 12: Depart Madurai for our drive to Karaikudi, capital of the Chettinad region in the state of Tamil Nadu, and the original homeland of the Nattukottai Chettiars, a prosperous merchant community dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The wealth of the traders is displayed in the area’s palatial houses notable for their ornate doorways, chandeliers, and carved wooden ceilings. Spend today in Karaikudi’s historical environs including a stop at a neighboring village, home to one of the most imposing mansions in the region. We visit local artisan workshops to observe the traditional hand-loomed weaving of the bold and vibrant patterned cotton used for the famous Chettinad saris as well as the enduring art of Athangudi tile making. There is time for an exploration of Karaikudi’s famous Antique Market. Overnight for one night in one of the grand mansions, now a resort in Visalam near Karaikudi. (B/L/D)
Day 13: Drive to Thanjavur (Tanjore) with a stop at Brihadishvara Temple, completed in 1010 AD and an outstanding example of Chola architecture. The gigantic statue of Nandi the Bull guards the inner shrine, and the courtyard walls of the sanctum are covered with paintings from the Chola and Nayak periods, comparable to the famous Ajanta cave frescoes. Recently declared UNESCO World Heritage as a part of the Greatest Living Chola Temples, Airavateshvara at Darasuram is one of the oldest of the Chola temples. Drive on to Kumbakonam, one of the oldest towns in south India and the capital of the Chola kings in the 7th century. Overnight for one night at the Paradise Resort, cottages patterned after typical south Indian homes. (B/L/D)
Day 14: Depart this morning for Chidambaram where we visit Natarajar Temple, one of the most ancient and celebrated shrines in India. The roof of this Shiva temple has 21,600 gold tiles and 72,000 nails that represent the breaths a person takes each day. We continue to Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram), the chief seaport of the Pallava kings who ruled over much of south India from as early as the first century BC. Overnight for two nights in the luxurious GRT Temple Bay Hotel, built along a beautiful beach overlooking the Bay of Bengal in Mamallapuram. (B/L/D)
Day 15: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mamallapuram is recognized for some of the greatest architectural and sculptural achievements in India. At the southern edge of the site there is a group of five free-standing temples. Four of them were carved out of a single, long granite boulder and are detailed replicas of ancient wooden structures. Built of granite blocks, the Shore Temple is the earliest known example of a stone-built temple in south India. The sculptured rock relief known as Bhagiratha’s Penance illustrates the descent of the Ganges, which begins in the heavens as the Milky Way. The celestial river descends from the sky to the summit of Mount Meru, the cosmic axis mountain, and then splashes and flows through the Hindu world. Lunch is on our own. Enjoy a free afternoon to relax poolside with the Bay of Bengal as your backdrop, followed by our farewell dinner. (B/L/D)
Day 16: This morning we drive to Kanchipuram (Kanchi). This city has served as a royal capital to great empires for centuries, and this is reflected in its many exceptional temples. The temple of Kailasanathar, dedicated to Shiva, contains splendid carvings of divinities, including a depiction of a dance competition between Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Ekambareshwarar Temple depicts the warlike feats of the Pallava rulers in bas-relief style on the temple walls. Varadharaja Perumal Temple was built by the Cholas in 1053 A.D. Continue on to Chennai where we will have day-use rooms (with a late check-out until 9pm) at the GRT Grand Hotel. Dinner is on our own. A late evening departure to the airport begins our flight back to the USA. (B/L)
Day 17: Arrive back in the USA.
$10,595.00 (per person, double occupancy) includes all hotel; gratuities to guides and drivers; most meals (as noted); entry fees, ground transportation; and two domestic flights within India.
Single Supplement Cost: $2,195.00. Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement will be charged.
Cost does not include: Round trip international airfare into Bangalore, India and out of Chennai, India; a separate $150.00 (per person) donation check; passport or visa fees; airport or departure taxes; beverages or food not included on regular menus; laundry; excess baggage charges; personal tips; email, telephone and fax charges; necessary vaccines and tests; or other items of a personal nature.
Fuel Surcharges: Far Horizons must pass on price increases when additional fuel charges are levied.
Donation Checks: As a travel company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural projects and museums we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant write a check to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person and is made by check directly to the donation project. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable. We will be designating a donation project for this trip shortly.
A deposit of $750.00 per person is required along with your registration form. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Upon receipt of your deposit and completed registration form, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information. Prior to the trip, we will send links to various websites of pertinent interest. Click here to download our Registration Form.
Cancellations and Refunds
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $450.00 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Insurance recommended by Far Horizons can be reviewed by clicking HERE.
International flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If you do not arrive or depart on the scheduled days, you are responsible for all transportation (including airport transfers) to join the group. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.
Private Tours of Archaeological Sites
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Note about Travel in Southern India
This trip is designed for adventure loving travelers and may involve schedule changes, poor road conditions, and local staff unaccustomed to tourist groups. Southern India is huge and four days will entail long drives. All participants are expected to be physically active and able to walk independently throughout our very full touring days. Keeping up with the group is each participant’s responsibility; please do not expect assistance from the other group members or staff. One of the pleasures in traveling through southern India it that it is off-the-beaten-tourist-trail and the landscape largely unspoiled. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.
This Archaeological Tour to Southern India is limited to 14 participants