Southern India - View from the Inside - 2019

The relics carved into the rock face at Mahabalipuram were exquisite although the baby elephants were the star attraction, look out for them in between the adults legs.

June 2019 • Francis Torrilla, Managing Director

Southern India - View from the Inside

Our tour began at hotel ITC Chola; inspired by the many temples you will see on your tour, this hotel is big and luxurious, a great choice. We found that the eclectic mix of hotels throughout our tour led to discussions every evening as we all tried to work out which our favourite one was. I will save mine to the end of the article…

ITC Grand Chola, Chennai, India


Fort St. George and St. Marys church were a good introduction to British India, having only visited northern India previously it was great to come where it all began. The museum complex is as interesting for its fantastic bronze statues as it is for its colonial architecture, despite looking tired and in need of some care and attention.
We then drove to Mahabalipuram, to a wonderful resort hotel on the beach with a fantastic pool, and close enough to the town to be able to wander out for a meal. The temples we visited from here gave us a taste for the many sites we would visit over the next two weeks. The relics carved into the rock face at Mahabalipuram were exquisite although the baby elephants were the star attraction, look out for them in between the adults legs.

 

 

Pondicherry (Puducherry) or the French quarter of the city felt very much like some of the smaller streets of Nice or Montpelier, the Ashram surrounded by streets bearing the names of Rue de St Louis and Rue Marine bring you right back to India with its residential spiritual community and its yoga practitioners. The boutique hotel we stayed in was perfect, it transported you back in time to an era reminiscent of the Raj; imagine my surprise when I found out that it was only built this century!


One of my favourite temples was the one we visited in Gangaikondacholapuram, it is a living temple so dress is conservative with no shorts or bare arms if you want to go inside and I very much recommend that you do go in. Just mind your step as it is quite dark and take a minute to adjust to the low light before you start looking around.


At Tanjore the Ideal River View Resort is in a great spot. This hotel very much focuses on local produce with a section of the garden given over to growing many of the ingredients for the restaurant. We then drove straight to Madurai with a short stop at Trichy. The Palace at Madurai was a welcome change to the many temples we had visited and was reminiscent of some of the Moghul structures of Northern India however, they had saved the best for last… the Meenakshi Temple was the real highlight for me, not only is it spectacular on the outside, it is the inside that did it for me. Unfortunately you are no longer allowed to take pictures inside but maybe it is better this way as we all get to enjoy the moment rather than hiding behind our cameras. Moreover, the many pictures I have seen online fail to capture the essence of the temple. Our hotel here had spectacular views of the city and a great garden for sitting out after dinner.


On to Kerala and the Western Ghats; as the bus starts climbing into the mountains you realise what a different experience Kerala is promising. It is lush, humid and cleaner, a theme that will follow you throughout your stay. The spice village where we stayed is a lovely property comprising of thatched cottages dotted around the gardens, they all have a veranda and it was lovely sitting out watching the birds and reading a book, a welcome break from the more hectic days in Tamil Nadu. The spice plantation was excellent and we all bought numerous spices to bring home. The martial arts performance was also great, although I was hesitant at first, I left feeling it was both exciting and well worth the visit. We walked back to our hotel and were just in time to see the cultural dance before going for dinner.


We left Periyar and stopped for lunch at a local house; the food was excellent and we watched some rubber tapping but unfortunately the rain cut short our demonstration and we were all glad to get back into the house and have another cup of tea before continuing our journey.


We boarded a Keralan houseboat at Kumarakom and what a treat it was. The cabins are lovely and the main viewing area at the front is enclosed but can be opened which was great in the daytime and more importantly mosquito free in the evening. I can see why so many clients rate their night on the houseboat as one of the highlights. We disembarked the following morning and drove to Cochin. The hotel is in a great spot and Cochin is a lovely city to explore on foot or by Tuk Tuk. The guided walk helped us to get our bearings and decide which parts we wanted to revisit in our free time. I headed for the shopping street near the synagogue as I had spotted some fantastic wooden sculptures that I wanted to take a closer look at. When I go back as I am sure I will, I shall extend for one or two night in Cochin as it had a great choice of restaurants and I didn’t quite finish my shopping…

 

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