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Day 1: Depart London (international flight not included in the cost of the tour).
Day 2: Arrive in Cochin. Transfer to the Taj Malabar Resort & Spa where two nights are spent. Situated on Willingdon Island with a magnificent view of Cochin harbour, the Taj Malabar Hotel combines old-world elegance with modern day convenience. The heritage wing of the hotel was built in 1935 and houses graceful Victorian interiors whilst the tower wing rooms mix the classic with the contemporary. With varied restaurants and a fantastic swimming pool this is an excellent hotel in which to relax. Dinner under own arrangements.
Day 3: Walking tour of Mattancherry, the bustling part of Old Fort Cochin and the epicentre of the spice trade for centuries. The tour reveals Cochin’s multi-layered past, a rich brew of Arab, Portuguese, British, and Dutch influences. Begin at the Dutch Palace built by the Portuguese as a gift for the Raja of Cochin in 1555. See St. Francis Church, India’s first European church famed as the original burial site of Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama. Next visit the picturesque Chinese fishing nets, unique to Cochin, introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He in the 14th century. Lunch under own arrangements. Afternoon at leisure. Welcome dinner at the Rice Boat Restaurant.
Check out and drive to Alleppey, a prominent ancient trade centre visited by the Greek, Arabs and Romans (journey time approx. 1½ hrs). This coastal town is built on strips of land along a magical network of rivers, lakes and lagoons. Take a walk through the old part of the town and the market. Proceed to the jetty and embark on the river cruise boat RV Vaikundam. Set sail through the serene, green world of meandering waters and expanses of paddy fields and coconut plantations.
Traditional lunch on board. Cruise past tiny hamlets, country boats loaded with paddy or local produce or duck farmers herding schools of ducks. Arrive in Kanjippadom village by evening. Take a leisurely walk to visit a boat yard where traditional wooden boats are built and repaired and see the evening bird life. Return to the boat and cruise till the fishermen lay their nets. Dinner on board.
Sail to a quaint village where an 11th century statue of Buddha is preserved in a small shrine and take a relaxing walk in the village.
Lunch on board. Cruise to Thrikkunnappuzha village until evening. Arrive in Thottappali village close to the sea coast. Take a walk to the beach and enjoy the sunset. Return to the boat and take a short cruise to Naluchira village. Dinner on board.
Drive to a temple inside a sacred grove where snakes are revered and worshipped. Proceed to Aranmula village, home to a family of craftsmen who are skilled at making mirror from a special combination of certain metals and visit their workshops. Learn all about the rituals of the village’s annual Snake Boat regatta.
Lunch at a beautiful house in the village, located on the bank of the Holy River Pampa. Return to Thottappalli to re-board the boat and cruise to Thakazzhi village in the interior region of Kuttanad, an area of picturesque reclaimed land and paddy fields protected from flooding by dykes. Dinner on board.
Arrive in Changankari village and take a leisurely walk stopping to watch toddy tapping. Cruise to Champakklam, settled more than 1000 years ago by Syrian Christian traders, who later converted to Roman Catholicism under the Portuguese. Their cultural heritage can be seen in the monumental St. Mary’s Church on the riverside, built in 1550. Visit the church, a school and the local artisans and see the village’s Snake Boat. These boats, decorated in Keralan style and used nowadays for races, were once maritime war boats.
Return to the boat for lunch while cruising to Nedumudi. Afternoon excursion by road to Mannar village, famous for ornate locks, lamps and vessels used in temples. Return to Nedumudi and cruise until dusk arriving in Pulinkunnu village. Dinner on board.
Cruise to Kainakari village in Kuttanad with its vast stretches of paddy fields, dykes and narrow canals. Cruise to another vibrant village and visit a traditional Ayuveda centre to learn about this ancient form of treatment and holistic way of life and try a massage.
Lunch on board. Cruise on to Chavara Bhavan, the ancestral home of Saint Kuriakose Chavara, the first canonized Catholic male saint of Indian origin. Visit a toddy shop and see various local cuisines like tapioca, duck and a variety of fishes which are served with toddy. Cruise to Kavalam and watch a local folk dance (Kai kotti kali) performance by school children. Cruise until dusk with dinner on board.
Visit a farmhouse located on an island which was made by the men of the house, by reclaiming land from the Backwaters. Take a walk on the farm and enjoy a demonstration of traditional Syrian Christian cuisine by a mother and her daughter-in-law.
Take a canoe ride to see the migratory as well as endemic birds of Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary which is made up of a cluster of lagoons of Vembanad lake with a backdrop of mangroves, paddy fields and coconut groves. Waterfowl, cuckoo, owl, egret, heron and water duck are some of the endemic species seen here. Parrots, teal, larks, flycatchers, wood beetle, and other birds are seen here during their respective migratory seasons. Return to the boat and cruise to Thanneermukkom. Dinner on board.
Cruise on Lake Vembanad arriving in Vechoor village where there is the option to watch morning prayers in an old church or take a leisurely walk. Cruise to Chenganda village and see the locals making coir, demonstrating how to collect mussels and their indigenous methods of fishing and farming.
Return to boat for lunch at which the chef will demonstrate the preparation of mussels. Arrive in an ancient village of Vaikom in Kottayam, the land of natural rubber, and watch a performance of the traditional dance Kathakali at a village’s cultural centre. Visit the temple of Lord Shiva, one of the largest in Kerala, where following Keralan tradition each element of temple represents an element of human body. Dinner on board.
Day 11: Cruise to Cochin and disembark at the jetty at Marad in Ernakulam. Drive to the Kalari at Nettoor to watch an authentic performance of Kalaripayattu, the martial art form of Kerala and an integral of the Malayali culture. Visit the Folklore museum at Thevara.
Lunch at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel. Day use rooms will be reserved at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel (one room to be shared between four guests) or one additional night’s accommodation (for those departing the following morning). Dinner under own arrangements.
Day 12: Arrive London.
Gina was outstanding, she really knew her subject and dealt with everything in the most efficient and friendly way.- CT, Canada