Spirit of South India



Temple towns of Tamil Nadu to backwaters of Kerala

14 days £2,395 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Intro, Dates & Prices


Experience the diversity of South India on a journey from the towering temple towns of Tamil Nadu and the French colonial charm of Pondicherry through to the UNESCO-endorsed township of Auroville and the fragrant tea plantations of Ooty by toy train towards the soothing backwaters of Alleppey. En-route witness the rural towns of Kerala and Cochin`s importance in the spice trade with a fascinating walking tour. Throughout your South Indian odyssey, stay in heritage properties, cosy cottages and welcoming homestays, all the time savouring authentic South Indian cuisine and aromatic tea.


  • Intricately carved cave temples in Mahabalipuram
  • French colonial heritage in Pondicherry
  • Savour spicy Chettinad dishes
  • Travel by toy train in Ooty
  • Tea tasting experience in Coonoor
  • Alleppey, the "Venice of the East"
  • Sunset cruise on Cochin harbour

Places Visited

Mahabalipuram - Kanchipuram - Pondicherry - Chettinad - Tanjore - Madurai - Ooty - Ooty toy train - Palakkad - Alleppey - Cochin

What's Included

Airport transfers
Train ticket
Ground transport with driver
Breakfasts and some meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
English-speaking guides
Activities as per itinerary

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Itinerary & Map
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Day 1 : Arrival

Arrive in Chennai, where you will be met by a Travel The Unknown representative and transferred to Mahabalipuram. In the evening enjoy a guided tour of Mahabalipuram. Overnight in Mahabalipuram.

Meal plan: n/a

Mahabalipuram/Mamallapuram, 50km south of Chennai, is a recognised beach destination on India’s east coast and is frequented by tourists throughout the year. The city is also famed for its stone sculpting industry. Thanks to the Pallava kingdom’s stonemasonry, Mahabalipuram holds some of the most outstanding examples of Dravidian art and architecture. One example is the rock-cut Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram (a complex of 7th and 8th century religious monuments). The UNESCO site has 400 ancient monuments and temples, including the Shore Temple, which overlooks the Bay of Bengal, and one of the largest open-air rock reliefs, Descent of the Ganges. Carved on two monolithic rock boulders, it illustrates the story of the sacred and supernatural river Ganges forming in earth from heaven, led by the king Bhagiratha.

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Day 2 : Mahabalipuram - Kanchipuram - Mahabalipuram

After a relaxed breakfast proceed to Kanchipuram for a visit of the site. Return to Mahabalipuram for overnight.

Meal plan: Breakfast

In Hindu theology, Kanchipuram is one of the seven sacred cities. Nowadays it is best known for its hand-woven silk fabrics and saris. A holy pilgrimage site for Saivites and Vaishnavites, the city is home to 14 of the country's 108 holy temples dedicated to Vishnu.

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Day 3 : Mahabalipuram - Pondicherry

After breakfast continue to Pondicherry. The rest of the day is yours to explore this French era settlement. Overnight in Pondicherry.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Pondicherry, recently renamed 'Puducherry', is a former colonial French town tucked away in the Southeastern seaboard of India. Among its diverse attractions are a 32km-long coastline, palm-fringed beaches, backwaters, fishing villages, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the international city of Auroville, and the French boulevard town centre with its unique heritage.

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Day 4 : Pondicherry - Tanjore - Karaikudi

Depart Pondicherry for Karaikudi, the capital of Chettinad. Stop en route for a guided tour of Tanjore. Overnight in Karaikudi.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Tanjore is an important centre for South Indian religion, art and architecture. Most of the Great Living Chola Temples, which are UNESCO World Heritage Monuments, are situated in and around the city.

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Day 5 : Karaikudi (Chettinad)

Proceed on a guided tour of Karaikudi, covering the Chettinad Museum and a traditional tile factory to discover how the region's famous handmade terracotta tiles are made. Overnight in Karaikudi.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Chettinad cuisine is typically spicy and pungent, and consists  mainly  of non-vegetarian food. The dishes contain freshly ground masalas, and are often topped with a boiled egg, which is considered an essential part of a meal. They also use a variety of sun-dried meats and salted vegetables, reflecting the dry environment of the region. Meat dishes are restricted to fish, prawn, lobster, crab, chicken and lamb. People from this region do not eat beef and pork. Exciting Chettinar dishes include the fried murrell, a delicately-spice lamb dish, as well as robust curries with hints of fresh pepper and raw mango.

Chettinad is best known for its unique ancient temples. Tamil Nadu was once ruled by the Chola Dynasty (9-13th centuries), who constructed some of the most ornate temples in South India. Dedicated to various Hindu gods, these temples contain intricate life-sized carvings, beautiful murals and are a display of master craftsmanship.

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Day 6 : Karaikudi - Madurai

After breakfast you will be transferred to Madurai. In the evening proceed to Meenakshi temple to witness the evening ceremony. Overnight in Madurai.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Madurai is one of South India’s great temple towns. It was an important cultural and commercial centre in 550 AD. Sitting on the banks of the river Vaigai, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

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Day 7 : Madurai - Ooty

After breakfast, check out and drive to the hill station of Ooty. The rest of the day is free to enjoy at your leisure. Overnight in Ooty. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Situated in the Nilgiri hills, Udhagamandalam (Ooty), is known as the Queen of Hill Stations due to its jade-green valleys and picturesque mountains 2,240 metres above sea level. During colonial days it was a popular summer resort where soldiers like the 1st Duke of Wellington were sent to recuperate. Nowadays it serves as a popular hill resort and is renowned for its UNESCO protected mountain railway.

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Day 8 : Ooty - Coonoor - Ooty

Proceed on a guided tour of Ooty. Later, board the toy train to Coonoor. Upon arrival, you will enjoy a gourmet tea tasting experience designed to take you on a sensory journey through the myriad of aromas, flavours and colours of Nilgiri tea. Return to Ooty for overnight stay.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Built by the British in 1908, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a 1,000mm metre gauge railway in Tamil Nadu. Along its 28 mile track it negotiates 208 curves, 250 bridges and 16 tunnels. Relying on steam locomotives, it provides a typical steam train experience, passing tea estates, forested hillsides and mountain regions.


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Day 9 : Ooty - Palakkad

Transfer to Palakkad, where you will have the rest of the day to explore and relax at your leisure. Overnight in Palakkad.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Palakkad  is a large town in the state of Kerala whose name is thought to mean both 'dry lands' and 'forest'. Incredibly scenic and surrounded by small villages, Palakkad is home to the Palakkad Fort, the intricately-carved Jain temple and charming local markets full of exotic fruits and spices. The area is known for its paddy fields, rice cultivation and running several traditional festivals each year. Palakkad boasts lush tropical countryside and mouth-watering Keralan cuisine, with dishes such as coconut and tamarind chutneys served on banana leaves.  

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Day 10 : Palakkad - Alleppey

After breakfast depart for Alleppey. Rest of the day at leisure. Overnight in Alleppey.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Also known as the 'Venice of the East', Alleppey is a town with a large network of picturesque canals, backwaters, lagoons and beaches. In the past, Alleppey was one of the busiest trade centres along the Malabar coast. The way of life on the backwaters is based around fishing and the cultivation of rice, coconuts and cashew nuts. Birdwatchers will have a great opportunity to spot lots of exciting species, such as kingfishers, bee-eaters, bulbuls, darters, herons, cormorants and 2 types of kite. There are almost 2000 kilometers (1250 miles) of 'backwaters', interconnected lakes, lagoons and canals, which are mostly just inland of the Kerala coast. This is a unique and fascinating water world, enclosed by palm trees.

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Day 11 : Alleppey

In the morning you will be given a walking tour of Alleppey. Later, board a house boat for a day cruise. Lunch will be cooked and served onboard. In the evening you will disembark and transfer to your homestay. Overnight in Alleppey.

Meal plan: Breakfast

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Day 12 : Alleppey - Cochin

Depart Palakkad and transfer to Cochin. The rest of the day is yours to enjoy as you wish. Overnight in Cochin. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Cochin, the 'Queen on the Arabian Sea', is a major port city that was once a much-prized pawn for the English, Portuguese and Dutch due to its strategic location and prominence in the lucrative spice trade. This history of foreign colonies has resulted in a diverse culture, with European influences visible in much of Cochin's architecture and overall development, aiding it to become the commercial and industrial capital of Kerala. 

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Day 13 : Cochin

After breakfast proceed on a walking tour of Cochin, which will provide you with a glimpse of the city's rich history and heritage. Witness the mix of Dutch, English, Portuguese and Jewish influences that make the city such a unique place. In the evening enjoy a motor boat cruise at Cochin harbour. Overnight in Cochin.

Meal plan: Breakfast

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Day 14 : Cochin - Departure

Transfer to Cochin airport to connect to your onward flight.

Meal plan: Breakfast


Himalayan Extension: Ladakh to Kashmir (5 days)

Travel across the spectacular Himalayan Highway

Treks & Walks (1-12 days)

Himalayan treks, village walks and more

Hill Stations & Mountains

Escape the city and unwind among some of the most breathtaking mountain and hill scapes the world has to offer.

City Extensions (1-4 days)

Visit the must-see sights and the hidden depths of India's most vibrant cities.

Kolkata & Sunderbans (6 days)

Discover colonial Kolkata and the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve

Beaches (1-7 days)

After exploring the busy cities, there's no better place to relax than one of India's paradisiacal beaches

Kolkata & Darjeeling Snapshot (7 days)

Ideal extension to Bhutan

The Golden Triangle (5 days)

Marvel at India's most incredible forts and palaces

Indian Odyssey (29 days)

Experience the best of North and South India

Wildlife of Madagascar, India & Borneo (29 days)

Spot lemurs, tigers & orangutans

Highlights of the Subcontinent (22 days)

Discover iconic sights of India, Nepal & Bhutan

Wildlife of India & Borneo (21 days)

Get under the skin of Asia's two best wildlife spots.

Journey through the Indian Himalayas (20 days)

Travel through the Himalayan foothills via Shimla & Amritsar to Ladakh

Monks, Tribes & Rhinos (20 days)

Himalayan mountains, unseen tribes & amazing wildlife

Classic Bhutan & Assam Cruise (18 days)

Experience Bhutan's rich culture, colonial Kolkata and rural life in Assam

Essential India & China (17 days)

Visit the two most populous countries on Earth.

UNESCO Sites of South India (17 days)

Discover South India's ancient archaeological wonders

Textile Tour of India (16 days)

Textile tour of Gujarat & Rajasthan including the Mewar Festival

Essential India & Sri Lanka (16 days)

India's Golden Triangle & the best of Sri Lanka.

Glimpse of India & Nepal (16 days)

Golden Triangle and the Himalayas

Assam & Nagaland Hornbill Festival (15 days)

Wildlife, tribes & rural life in Assam, Nagaland and Manipur

Rajasthan Explorer & Pushkar Camel Fair (15 days)

Fort cities, rural villages & camel fair

Nagaland: Festival of the Headhunters (15 days)

Aoling Festival, wildlife in Assam & natural beauty of Manipur

Big Six of India (15 days)

Spot tigers, lions, leopards, buffalo, rhino & elephants

Taste of South India (15 days)

Experience the flavours and exotic spices of South India

Kerala Calling (15 days)

Tropical mountains, tea & spice plantations, and backwaters

Lost Silk Road of Rajasthan (14 days)

Explore the lost Silk Road through Rajasthan

Kerala & Karnataka Explorer (14 days)

Idyllic backwaters, tropical forests & ancient temple towns

Tribes of Rural India (14 days)

Visit remote tribal villages of Orissa & Chhattisgarh

Delicacies of North India (14 days)

Discover the huge diversity of North India's cuisine

Spirit of South India (14 days)

Temple towns of Tamil Nadu to backwaters of Kerala

Taj, Tigers & Temples (14 days)

Perfect mix of classic sights and off-beat places for first-timers to India

Tribes of North East India (14 days)

Remote tribal cultures in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam & Nagaland

Hampi and Beyond (14 days)

Discover Karnataka's stone temples, wildlife and coffee farms

Wildlife of North East India (14 days)

Diverse wildlife in Assam and the Sunderbans

Big Cats of India (14 days)

Experience the thrill of the Indian jungle ...

Kashmir, Ladakh & Hemis Festival (14 days)

Experience dramatic Himalayan scenery, Islamic & Buddhist cultures

Best of Bengal & Sikkim (14 days)

Colonial Kolkata, Darjeeling toy train & Buddhism

Heart of India (14 days)

Take in the highlights of central India

Kerala - Trekking the Western Ghats (13 days)

Explore this UNESCO biodiversity hotspot on foot

Treasures of Gujarat (12 days)

Villages, temples, salt flats & the world's last Asiatic lions

Markha Valley Trek (12 days)

Set foot in Ladakh's hidden Himalayan valleys

Glimpse of India (12 days)

Golden Triangle, tigers & exotic Kerala

Classic Kerala (10 days)

Tea, spices, backwaters & beaches

Essential Rajasthan (10 days)

Discover the forts, palaces, villages and desert of Rajasthan

Living Bridges of Meghalaya (7 days)

Waterfalls, hills and living bridges in North East India

Sacred India

Uncover the religious diversity of India


I would highly recommend Travel the Unknown to anyone visiting India. The service we received both prior to, during and following our travels was always timely and excellent. We were able to customize our trip to our liking and to enjoy a wide variety of activities. The guides in every location were outstanding! Honestly. Having travelled through much of the world I can truly say that we have never been more impressed with the quality of the guides arranged for us in each location, as well as the service we received. Similarly, the hotels were excellent and allowed us to live very comfortably while, at the same time, enjoy an authentic Indian experience. If you haven`t already booked your trip with Travel the Unknown, then either do so now....or at least give them a chance to show you what they can offer.

Tracey & Gary , Tailormade India

Our trip with Travel the Unknown was excellent; the accommodation very varied and very comfortable, the driver exceptional and the guides very knowledgeable. We were looked after very well and felt extremely safe the whole trip. It was also extremely good value for money.

Susan Tongue , Spirit of South India

We went on the Spirit of South India Tour and had a great time on our honeymoon. There was a good variety of places visited and the hotels, drivers and guides were all very good. We would definitely recommend this tour.

Rachel , Spirit of South India, India

I have been on 3 tailor made trips with Travel The Unknown and have found them to be knowledgeable and reliable. We`ve stayed in some wonderful places and have had some unusual and satisfying experiences that go beyond the standard tours.

Joan Edmunds (USA) , Tailormade India

I`m sure I could not have found a better operator for the type of complicated Indian tour I wanted to undertake on a limited budget. India is an intimidating country to visit, and I suspect that some operators look down on the first time visitor, or disparage their requirements. Travel the Unknown, by contrast, helped me all the way, and their local guides were superb.

Andrew Martin , Tailormade North East India

A really well planned trip. We experienced life in Northeast India in just the way we wanted to. We loved the game reserves and saw a rock python which thrilled our guides as it is even rarer than the tiger! We visited villages and were able to interact with local people and loved the busy markets in Delhi and Calcutta. A special highlight was the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland; shown to us by our very own Naga guide Kezo. Kezo accompanied us for 15 days of our trip and ensured that we had many very special experiences - even taking us to the home of one of his Aunts where we spent a couple of hours sitting by the bonfire chatting.

Ann Holgate , Tailormade India

What an excellent service! Rahul adapted, extended and improved our trip so many times without a qualm and we ended up with the trip of a lifetime. The destinations are unusual and interesting but everything has been checked out by the team and works brilliantly. I can`t wait to do another trip.

Penelope Smith , Assam & Nagaland Hornbill Festival, India

The tour was an amazing experience for our first visit to India. The country, its people and its cuisine were friendly,delightful, colourful and exceeded all our expectations. Travel the Unknown have put together a superb unique package that we have no hesitation in recommending to anyone with an interest in food and culture.

Elaine & Neil Smith , Delicacies of North India, India

Thank you for organising our holiday in Kerala. I certainly wouldn`t have had the time or the knowledge to put together such a trip. Munnar was my favourite and the accommodation throughout was excellent.

Vik , Kerala Calling, India

This was my first experience of using Travel the Unknown having enjoyed small group adventure holidays for many years. I was attracted to the company because it seeks out the more unusual and lesser known areas of a country and I was not disappointed by my visit to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. There is a clear contrast between the people and the scenery of these two regions and we saw very few western tourists particularly in Arunachal Pradesh. The tour was well organised with plenty to see and do.

Keith Lewis , Monks, Tribes & Rhinos, India

A fantastic trip to Arunachal Pradesh. Very well organised exactly to our requirements. Superb local guide. Would recommend this trip. Hazel and James.

Hazel Frost , Tailormade North East India

This trip was very well put together and ticked all the boxes that we had requested. The accommodation throughout the tour was of a high standard and our experiences in the national parks was wonderful spotting many different animals including tigers, leopards, sloth bears, lions, jungle cat plus countless number of birds. Thank you Rahul for tailoring this trip to our requirements.

Nigel & Margaret Turner , Tailormade India Wildlife & Birding tour
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