Travel with us – South India – Ancient Tastes and Temples, October 19, 2020

on October 30, 2019
Shore Temple, Mamallapuram - photo by Karen Anderson

Shore Temple, Mamallapuram

For our 2020 India trip – We are pleased to offer this 20 day experience of South India’s Ancient Tastes and Temples 

Led by Alberta Food Tours’ President, Karen Anderson, this experiential travel covers a lot of territory and goes off India’s beaten path to deliver a deep dive into the ancient cultures of three South Indian states: Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Anderson says, “Food will be the key that will open the door to an understanding of this place and its people. Yoga will keep us limber and open us to the plethora of sights, sounds, smells and tastes we’ll be in touch with.”

With the leadership of Anderson’s team of seasoned local Indian guides and chef friends, this trip is sure to inspire personal transformation. “I am so pleased to offer this itinerary, the eighth I’ve led in this amazing country, and I’m sure we’ll all leave with a bit of India tucked into our hearts forever.”  The details of the trip follow.

Routing:   

HYDERABAD – MAMALLAPURAM – PONDICHERRY – KUMBHAKONAM – KARAIKUDI – MADURAI – KANYAKUMARI – KOVALAM – TRIVANDRUM

Accommodation:

OVERNIGHTHOTEL
HyderabadTaj Krishna
MamallapuramGrande Bay
PondicherryMaison Perumal
KumbhakonamMantra CGH
KaraikudiThe Bangala
MaduraiHeritage
KanyakumariSparsha
KovalamTaj Green Cove

Inclusions:

  • Accommodation with 4 and 5 star hotels
  • Air conditioned coach for entire tour (except short excursions in Karaikudi) 
  • English speaking guide for entire tour
  • Entrance tickets
  • High Tea at Taj Falaknuma Palace
  • 10 Dinners including Welcome Dinner
  • Cooking demos at Hyderabad, Mamallapuram, Kumbhakonam and Karaikudi
  • Local guide for city tours
  • Morning Yoga sessions 
  • Flight from Hyderabad to Chennai
  • Lunch at Pumpkin Tales in Chennai
  • Traditional lunch with banana leaves at Mamalla Heritage in Mamallapuram
  • Lunch at Solitude Farm, Auroville
  • Chidambaram temple visit with guide
  • Tanjore temple visit with guide
  • 5 days cooking lessons at Karaikudi with guest chef Sumeet Nair
  • Street Food tour at Madurai
  • All applicable Taxes

TOUR ITINERARY:

DAY 1 – October 19, 2020: ARRIVAL HYDERABAD – TRANSFER TO HOTEL              

On arrival at Hyderabad International airport, our representative will meet you at the airport and escort you to your hotel in Hyderabad. 

Hyderabad, the capital city of Telangana is a popular tourist destination. For locals, it’s an interesting city to live in because of the richness of its culture and deliciousness of its food. Architecture lovers will revel in the beauty of the well preserved structures from older times. Hussain Sagar Lake and Golconda Fort are good choices in Hyderabad for some peaceful moments while the market district bustles with life. 

After a brief rest at the hotel, we’ll explore Chowmahalla Palace. This splendid palace was the seat of the rulers of the Asaf Jahi dynasty. The Nizams (rulers) used to entertain their important guests here with elaborate ceremonies. Erected around 200 years ago, Chowmahalla Palace is a magnificent example of a number of architectural styles. The facade itself is a delicate artwork of domes, arches, windows and meticulously carved designs. The complex is elegantly embellished with gentle fountains, lush gardens, numerous palace wings, a clock tower, Roshan Bangla and the Council Hall. 

Having built our appetites, we’ll learn about the world famous Hyderabadi Biryani with renowned local chef Mr. Mehboob Alam Khan.  Nawab Aalam Khan, as he is known, will share his family’s secret recipe for Hyderabadi Biryani with a cooking demo followed by dinner at his family’s restaurant called Chicha’s.

Overnight in Hyderabad – Accommodation at Taj Krishna – Meals included: Dinner

DAY 2 – October 20, 2020 – HYDERABAD  

Rise early to begin your day with Yoga. 

After breakfast we’ll tour the city starting with the main highlight of Hyderabad, Charminar. This square shaped structure reaches a height of 56 metres and a breadth of 30 metres. It was constructed in 1591 and is often referred to as the ‘Arc de Triomphe of the East.’ Charminar is adorned with four towers in each corner. The minarets on each side are 48.7 metres, each with four storeys. There is also a small mosque on the top floor with 45 prayer spaces which are still visited by people, particularly on Fridays. 

Here, we will also take time to explore the vibrant Laad Bazaar which is famous for glittering multicolour bangles. No visit to this bustling place would be complete without a bit of chai and a tasting at a little place that Karen thinks is the best cookie bakery in India.  

Later in the afternoon, we’ll go to Golconda Fort. This medieval fort now overlooks the city but was originally built in mud on this hill  400 feet above sea level for the advantage that gave. The fort’s ruins have seen the reign of several dynasties. The remains of multiple fortification layers, armouries, magazines, mosques, granaries, reservoirs, audience chambers and royal dwellings add to the striking appearance of the fort.

In the evening, we will enjoy a special cooking experience at The Culinary Lounge (TCL). First of its kind in India, this Culinary Studio redefines Culinary Spaces and Cultures by creating lifetime experiences and memories, while nurturing relationships and bonding over exemplary dishes.

Overnight in Hyderabad – Accommodation at Taj Krishna – Meals included: Breakfast and Dinner

DAY 3 – October 21, 2020 – HYDERABAD  

Rise early for Yoga. 

Today we are going to explore the third largest museum in India and the biggest one-man collection of antiques on the planet – Salar Jung Museum. A relic of history on the banks of the Musi River, Salar Jung Museum is located at Darushifa and is one of the crowning jewels of Hyderabad. It is one of the three national museums in the country and also among the largest at 10 Acres on just two floors. The most astounding part of going through Salar Jung Museum and its collection is realizing that all of the artefacts inside belonged to and were collected by one man alone! The collection inside the museum is owned by Mir Yousuf Ali Khan who was also known as Salar Jung III. With over one million paintings, sculptures, carvings, manuscripts and artefacts, the museum is a repository of art collections a few of which date as far back as the first century. Some of the valuable and rare pieces in the museum are – A painting of Raja Ram Mohan Roy – the artist, Aurangzeb’s sword, daggers that belonged to Shah Jahan, Jehangir and a full wardrobe of Tipu Sultan. 

This afternoon we’ll arrive at Taj Falaknuma Palace to enjoy the elegance of the surroundings and their sumptuous High Tea.  Not only will we eat the delicacies and sip on exotic teas but we’ll also enjoy a private guided tour of this extraordinary palace, which is something most travellers to Hyderabad can only dream of. The tour is a truly royal experience amid imposing architecture, mesmerizing décor and a rare art collection. With a carefully chosen and extensive menu, High Tea at Taj Falaknuma Palace promises an amalgamation of traditional taste and international cuisines. Along with a tour of the palace and accompanied by rejuvenating music we may leave quite spellbound.

Overnight in Hyderabad – Accommodation at Taj Krishna – Meals included: Breakfast and High Tea

DAY 4 – October 22, 2020 – HYDERABAD TO MAMALLAPURAM

Today fly to Chennai and transfer to Pumpkin Tales for lunch. Pumpkin Tales is the creation of Karen’s dear friend, chef Chindi Varadarajulu. Born in Singapore with Tamil parents, Chindi came to Canada and created an award-winning South Indian restaurant in Vancouver called Chutney Villa. Leading culinary tours to South India led her to be a Director of Grande Bay Resort and to establish L’Attitude 49 there. Now, she’s turned her passion to bring a new dining experience for the people of Chennai with inspiration from all over the world. Serving sustainable, healthful and delicious food, Pumpkin Tales is a warm and conversation-friendly place that serves original global recipes from Singapore to Canada, and everywhere in between!

After lunch, we’ll enjoy a scenic 1.5 hour drive to Mamallapuram. Mamallapuram (alias Mahabalipuram) is famous for its seventh and eighth-century bas relief carvings, rock temples, cave temples and “chariot” temples carved into the golden stone of the Coromandel Coast. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for this and for the wonderful Shore Temple dedicated to Vishnu. Built by the grateful merchants, the Shore Temple, rock temples, cave temples, and fine bas-reliefs – including the world’s largest, the Penance of Arjuna are incredible examples of the Pallava Dynasty of the 7th and 8th century. 

Hyderabad to Chennai – 1h 15m by flight – Chennai to Mamallapuram – 1h 15m by road 

Overnight in Mamallapuram – Accommodation at Grande Bay Resort – Meals included: Breakfast and Lunch

DAY 5 – October 23 – MAMALLAPURAM 

Rise early for a yoga session. 

After recharging with an energizing breakfast, we’ll embark on a guided walk through the history of Mamallapuram as we stroll the town with our guide. Each of the cave temples, monolithic chariots, sculpted reliefs and structural temples has its own story to tell. The 7th century town, which is home to the oldest existing remains of Dravidian architecture, will capture our hearts with its quaint beauty and timeless stories. After the history walk, we will enjoy the chance to meet the pioneer of this area’s hospitality industry.

Mr. Janardhanam is the patriarch who developed leading restaurants and hotels in and around Mamallapuram. From his humble desire to provide hospitality to the common, everyday traveller, we’ll hear about his path to success, passion for South India and her cuisine and the history of Mamallapuram in his own words.

From there, we’ll experience a traditional banana leaf thali lunch at one of Mr. Janardhanam’s first restaurants and hotels. India has a long-standing tradition of serving food on banana leaves. Especially in South India, eating food on banana leaves is considered healthy and auspicious. Most people use banana leaves to serve an authentic South Indian feast on festivals and family get-togethers. Banana leaves are loaded with nutrients and food served on banana leaves is enriched with several nutrients that we would otherwise miss.

After lunch we’ll enjoy a free afternoon. You can browse the small shops in the village, walk the beach or rest by the pools back at the resort. Pro shopping tip: Mamallapuram is a wonderful place to buy granite carvings of ANY size, from chess boards, votives and small carvings to full scale temple size pieces!

This evening, we will have a special cooking demo with chef Chindi Varadarajulu. Originally from Singapore, she let her passion for adventure take her to Vancouver, where she pioneered the South Indian food frenzy. Not only did she nurture the taste buds of Canadians with the lip smacking South Indian cuisine of her restaurant ‘Chutney Villa’, she also brought them out to the very land of curries on many culinary tours for nearly five years. Mamallapuram, captured her heart and this resort, her entrepreneurial spirit!

Overnight in Mamallapuram – Accommodation at Grande Bay Resort – Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Karen Anderson at Mamallapuram - photo by Pauli-Ann Carriere

Karen Anderson dishing up at Mamalla Heritage – photo by Pauli-Ann Carriere

DAY 6 – October 24, 2020 – MAMALLAPURAM TO PONDICHERRY

Rise early for a yoga session.

After breakfast we are proceeding to Pondicherry. Attractively set on the Bay of Bengal with delightful unspoilt beaches, this surprising town is a throwback to colonial times when it was a French enclave. Today, it is richly blended with Tamil culture. Those used to British colonial architecture will enjoy the Gallic imprint with the profusion of Catholic churches and distinctly French buildings such as the beachfront Hotel de Ville and a few excellent French restaurants. 

This evening we will explore this beautiful town with a HERITAGE WALK. Like so many Indian cities, Pondicherry is particularly spiritual and is well known for the Shri Aurobindo Ashram. The ashram was set up by one of Shri Aurobindo’s disciples, a Parisian woman known as The Mother, in his memory and is one of the most active ashrams in India. In contrast, we’ll also experience the calm of the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, one of the finest French churches in town. We’ll also see the Hindu temple to Ganesh with walls embellished with a wonderful series of paintings of the elephant God in various forms. 

Mamallapuram to Pondicherry – 2 hrs

Overnight at Pondicherry – Accommodation at CGH Maison Perumal – Meals included: Breakfast

DAY 7 – Oct 25, 2020 – PONDICHERRY 

Rise early for a yoga session. 

After breakfast this morning we’ll drive to Auroville, “The City of Dawn”, an intriguing experimental town. Founded by The Mother, Mirra Richard in 1968, Auroville manifests Shri Aurobindo’s vision by creating a “universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.” Here we will see the exterior of the Matrimandir, a striking 30-metre high golden metal globe in the centre of the town, conceived as “a symbol of the Divine’s answer to man’s aspiration for perfection.”

In the afternoon, we’ll explore an organic farm called Solitude Farm owned by Mr. Krishna and enjoy lunch in their outdoor cafe. Solitude was started in 1996 by a group of young Aurovillians. One of them, Krishna McKenzie, inspired by the founder of the natural farming movement, Masanobu Fukuoka, developed the farm to completely incorporate natural farming and permaculture. No pesticides or fertilizers have ever been used on the land. McKenzie and his team practice non-tillage and no machines or tractors are used. Every part of this land is honoured and respected and the food that comes from it is vibrant and full of taste.

As Auroville houses an incredible community of artists, we’ll take the time to shop at the ashram’s boutiques before returning to Pondicherry. Pro Shopping Tip: clothing, jewelry, paper gifts and packaged foods here are all of artisanal quality.

Overnight at Pondicherry – Accommodation at CGH Maison Perumal – Meals included: Breakfast and Lunch

Pondicherry - photo by Karen Anderson

Pondicherry

DAY 8 – October 26 – PONDICHERRY TO KUMBHAKONAM

Rise early to start your day with a yoga session. 

After breakfast we’ll drive to Kumbhakonam via Chidambaram temple. Chidambaram was the capital of the Cholas from AD 907 to 1310. Chidambaram means sky infused with an atmosphere of intelligence and wisdom and is derived from the words “chit” and “ambaram”. Chidambaram has been ruled, at different times, by the Pallavas until 9th century, Medieval CholasLater Cholas, Later Pandyas, Vijayanagar EmpireMarathas and the British

After our stop at Chidambaram we’ll proceed to the temple town – Kumbhakonam. 

Sandwiched between two great rivers of southern India, the Cauvery and Arsala, Kumbakonam is an astonishing temple town in the heart of Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu. The town is a place for lovers of history and those seeking to understand India’s cultural roots and Hinduism. 

Here we will stay in a heritage resort which is designed like an ‘agraharam.’ An agraharam, which translates to garland of houses, is a typical street lined with homes of the people of the Brahmin (priest) caste. The home are called ‘illams.’ CGH has created this resort as a tribute to the region’s heritage and its historic stature as a seat of power in South India. The living spaces offer a window into what was once a predominant way of life, where cultures, communities and traditions thrived in harmony. 

Pondicherry to Kumbhakonam – 4 hrs

Overnight at Kumbhakonam – Accommodation at Mantra – Meals included: Breakfast and Dinner

DAY 9 – October 27, 2020 – KUMBHAKONAM

Rise early for yoga. 

After breakfast, you are going to explore a Vedic school, the art form of Kalamkari, and a bronze manufacturing village. 

The Raja Veda Kavya Patasala has produced renowned scholars and pandits since its establishment in 1542. You will witness students of Vedic studies partaking in vedic chants – a meditative practice rich in spiritual traditions. 

Kalamkari originated during the Marathas’ rule over Thanjavur and was frequently commissioned by the royal family. It involves intricate artwork on fabric, where the colours are extracted from natural sources such as flowers, barks, roots and seeds to make plant-based dyes on cotton. Even the brushes and pens are carved from coconut shells and bamboo trees – because any synthetic material will not have the same effect on cotton.

In the bronze manufacturing village, we will watch master craftsmen use the ‘Lost Wax’ technique, to combine wax and soft clay from the river bed to make moulds for ornate bronze sculptures.

This evening we’ll enjoy an exclusive cooking demo to learn the cuisine techniques  of central Tamil Nadu and its Kumbhakonam dishes. 

Overnight at Kumbakonam – Accommodation at CGH Mantra – Meals included: Breakfast and Dinner

DAY 10 – October 28, 2020 – KUMBAKONAM TO KARAIKUDI  

Rise early for a yoga session.

After a nutritious breakfast, we’ll depart to Karaikudi via Tanjore where we will visit the Brihadisvara temple. This magnificent temple, over 1000 years old and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, evokes the power of the Chola kings as it towers over the town. The detailed inscriptions depict temple life and the dancers, musicians, potters, goldsmiths and astrologers who lived there. We’ll enter the pavilion in the main courtyard to view the shining black Nandi statue, one of the largest in India, it weighs an astonishing 25 tons. 

Now, we’ll drive straight onto Karaikudi in the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu. This prosperous city is the homeland of the Nattukottai Chettiars, a banking and business community, many of whom immigrated to Southeast Asia in the 19th century to expand their business empire. Here, you will have the chance to discover the elegant mansions, which highlights the best of the region’s art and architecture, as well as the weekly Chettinad Shandy market and some fine antique shops. Our accommodation will be in The Bangala – the first Heritage Hotel in Chettinad. The Bangala was built on a property that has been with the family for almost 100 years. We will delight in traditional Chettiar hospitality with modern amenities.

Kumbakonam to Karaikudi  – 4.5 hrs (Kumbhakonam to Tanjore will take 1hr/40 kms)

Overnight at Karaikudi – Accommodation at The Bangala – Meals included: Breakfast and Dinner

DAY 11/12/13/14 – October 29, 30, 31, November 1, 2020 – KARAIKUDI 

These four days you may begin each day with yoga classes with traditional yoga teacher.

Then, after breakfast each day, we’ll enjoy exclusive cooking lessons from the master chef of this heritage hotel and the co-author of The Bangala Table, Sumeet Nair, who is flying in from New Delhi to co-lead this experience especially for our group. Sumeet says we’ll learn to make four to five world famous Chettinad cuisine dishes each day.

There is a saying in South India – One is lucky to eat like a Chettiyar!

Chettiyar food is characterized by a generous dose of pepper, not chillies like other Indian food. This makes it spicy but not hot. The spicing is subtle and its secret is the “instinctive hand” of the “Achi” (the woman who is head of the family). Adding a handful of this and a pinch of that in their masalas, they lead one’s taste buds on a journey of intrigue and delight. There’s also an inherited sense of economy and thrift and a deep concern that food should be tasty and healthy that’s enabled generations of “Achis” to evolve the Chettinad cuisine of today. Because the Chettiyars were financiers across SouthEast Asia, the food has surprising influences from Burma, Singapore and other countries of their travels.

In our leisure time each afternoon, we’ll explore the local market, antique stores, old Chettinad mansions, local temples, and the Athangudi tiles factory. There’ll also be time before dinner to take a dip in the pool and have a rest.

Overnight at Karaikudi – Accommodation at The Bangala – Meals Included: Breakfast and Dinner 

DAY 15 – November 2, 2020 – KARAIKUDI TO MADURAI

Rise early for a Yoga session.

After breakfast we are proceeding to Madurai. This vast, pulsating city, one of the oldest cities in South India, dating back 2500 years, sprawls along the banks of the River Vaigai. Here we’ll have a chance to wander through the fun, packed streets which are full of pilgrims, wandering cows, open-air kitchens and colourful bazaars. 

After lunch, we’ll visit the Sri Meenakshi Temple, which lies in the heart of the city. Still active today, this ancient temple is a maze of lamp-lit corridors. The corridors lead to shrines where elaborate rituals take place. Something is always happening here – ceremonies, musicians playing, weddings, prostrating pilgrims and festivals – making it a compelling place to spend time and enjoy the sights of temple life. 

The temple is also the geographic and ritual center of the ancient city of Madurai. It is divided into a number of concentric quadrangular enclosures contained by high masonry walls. There are four towers each intricately decorated with thousands of coloured figures. You could spend hours examining each tower. The northern tower is more bare, so as not to tempt the demons. There are eight more towers and a hall with a thousand decorated pillars. 

After this, we’ll visit Thirumalai Nayak Palace, an example of architectural grandeur. It was built by King Thirumalai Nayak in 1636 AD but was designed by an Italian architect. It served as the residence of the King.  

Karaikudi to Madurai  – 2 hrs

Overnight at Madurai – Accommodation at Madurai Heritage – Meals Included: Breakfast 

Meenakshi Temple in Madurai - photo by Karen Anderson

South India is filled with colourful temples

DAY 16 – November 3, 2020 – MADURAI

Start your day with a yoga session. 

After breakfast we are going to explore beautiful village temple in the outskirts of Madurai called Tirupparankundram Murugan Temple. The temple is built in rock-cut architecture and believed to have been built by the Pandyas during the 6th century. 

After a few leisure hours back at the beautiful Heritage Madurai, we will explore with a street food tour of Madurai. Here we’ll discover Madurai’s specialty dishes and truly local offerings. The roots of every cuisine’s original flavour can be traced to two places… either to the royal kitchen or to the local streets. In a country where having a fully functional kitchen at home is a luxury, the street food stalls offer solace for the millions of poor. They are affordable, authentic and most of all delicious. In this tour we’ll walk down the streets with a local guide who will provide glimpses and tastes of local delicacies. We’ll also visit a couple of restaurants to taste the ‘super specialties’ of the area.

Note: Contrary to what you might think, street food, procured freshly and cooked thoroughly is safe to eat. Come with an open mind, and enjoy as much as you can. This will be a once in a lifetime experience.

Overnight at Madurai – Accommodation at Heritage Madurai – Meals included: Breakfast and snacks from street food tour

DAY 17 – November 4, 2020 – MADURAI TO KANYAKUMARI

Rise early for Yoga. 

After breakfast we are heading to the southernmost tip of India – Kanyakumari! Also called “Cape Comorin” during British rule, Kanyakumari is surrounded by three ocean bodies (Powerful Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea). Kanyakumari beaches are made of beautiful multi coloured soft sand. There is a man-made wall along the sea-shore for safety. There is a calm meditation hall in the Vivekananda rock where you can mediate for some time. And after, it is said, you can feel more peace within you. There is an opportunity to hire a boat service to visit Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar Statue or you can visit Gandhi Mandapam which is located on shore near Amman temple.

Madurai to Kanyakumari – 5 hrs

Overnight at Kanyakumari – Accommodation at Sparsha – Meals included: Breakfast and Dinner

DAY 18 – November 5, 2020 – KANYAKUMARI TO KOVALAM 

Today, after breakfast, we’ll drive to Kovalam. Delightfully located on the stunning Malabar coast, Kovalam has long been a favourite with visitors to the region. The 1960s put Kovalam on the map when the hippies discovered the palm-fringed bays and secluded coconut groves. Development has added luxury resorts and beach hideaways for those who want to enjoy a taste of paradise.

Kanyakumari to Kovalam – 2.5 hrs

Overnight at Kovalam – Accommodation at Taj Green Cove Resort and Spa – Meals included: Breakfast 

DAY 19 – November 6, 2020 – KOVALAM 

Enjoy a leisurely day at the spa, pool, shops or walking on the beach. Join the group for a farewell dinner.

Overnight at Kovalam – Accommodation at Taj Green Cove Resort and Spa – Meals Included: Breakfast and Dinner

DAY 20 – November 7, 2020 – DEPARTURE TRANSFER

Today you will be transferred to the Trivandrum airport to catch your flight home. Alternatively, extension trips can be arranged to explore more of Kerala or to visit Northern India’s Golden Triangle – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.

Jasmine garland - photo by Karen Anderson

Pricing:

No of GuestsPer Person
10 to 156650 CAD $
16 and above6050 CAD $
Single Supplement2500 CAD $

Where do I sign up?

For more information on this once in a lifetime custom tour email karen@albertafoodtours.ca.

 

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