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Cruising the Kerala Backwaters

Cruising the Kerala Backwaters Cruising the Kerala Backwaters
£ 3180

Join Hamish Van Gruisen for an enchanting tour in Southern India. Begin in Chennai, the sprawling capital of Tamil Nadu, for three days and immerse yourself in southern Indian history. We will visit the dramatic ‘Shore Temples’ of Mahabilipuram, overlooking the Bay of Bengal, and Kanchipuram, the ancient capital of the Pallava Kingdom and famous for its silk weavers.

We will then commence a pioneering cruise through Kerala from the ancient port town of Alleppey (Alappuzha) to the modern port city Cochin (Kochi), passing through Kottayam, land of latex and spices. Travel aboard a traditional 9-cabin wooden rice barge on what promises be an enlightening as well as an extremely relaxing holiday.
Kerala has an extensive network of water ways that lace its interior coastline, stretching along almost its entire length of around 600kms. It is a land of copious rainfall which flows from the hills and mountain passes in fresh water canals and streams to join the 40 odd rivers in the State. This labyrinthine network of canals, streams and rivers, which converge to form lagoons, make up the Backwaters and give rise to an unique eco system which is a haven for nature. The area has been named by National Geographic as the Green Venice of the East due to the green coconut trees which turn the backwaters an emerald shade of green, with the setting sun adding splashes of red, all contributing to the serenity of this tropical destination. The water-ways team with life as wooden boats are the only way of travelling between villages and along the way we will visit temples, churches, market places, paddy fields, beaches and boat building yards. We will learn about and experience the vibrant culture of the region including coir handloom weaving, snake boat regattas, traditional toddy tapping, local dances, martial arts and festivals.


13 days from
per person
Tour Date:
21st March 2020 -
4th April 2020

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Depart London (international flight not included in the cost of the tour).


Arrive Chennai. Transfer to Taj Connemara Hotel where three nights are spent. The Taj Connemara Hotel is the city’s only heritage hotel, built in 1854 as the Imperial Hotel, renamed Albany in 1886, finally re-established as The Connemara in 1890. Today, this symbolic hotel has been carefully restored to its premier status with influences inspired by the past and present paying homage to the rich design culture of Chennai.
Lunch under own arrangements. Afternoon at leisure. Welcome dinner in the hotel’s Raintree Restaurant.


Full day excursion to Mahabalipuram, commonly known as the ‘City of the Seven Pagodas’, even though five of the seven pagodas are actually rathas (stone chariots). It was built by the Pallavas, the ruling power of South India during the 7th and 8th centuries and prolific patrons of the arts, who attained their greatest architectural achievement in the visually dramatic temples at Mahabalipuram.
Lunch at the Chariot Beach Resort. In the afternoon visit the ‘Shore Temples’ which dramatically overlook the Bay of Bengal. See the aforementioned Panch Rathas (Five Stone Chariots) which date to the 7th century, built from monolithic stone and named after the heroes of the epic Indian tale the Mahabharata. Return to Chennai. Dinner in the hotel’s Coffee Shop restaurant.


Full day excursion to Kanchipuram one of the oldest cities of South India, dating back to 2BC. It was the capital of the Chola and Pallava Kingdoms. Being one of the seven holy cities for Hindus, Kanchipuram has over a hundred beautiful temples. The town is also the centre of south Indian silk weavers.
Lunch at the GRT Regency Hotel. Explore the temples, silk bazaars and meet silk weavers, before returning to Chennai. Dinner in the hotel’s Coffee Shop restaurant.


Morning guided walking tour to discover the Colonial History of Chennai. Formerly known as Madras, Chennai is India’s fourth-largest city. Bursting onto the world’s historical scene with the founding of Fort St. George by the British East India Company in the mid-17th century, Chennai was the centre of British activity in India until the transfer of the Company’s seat of power to Calcutta. Chennai is an ancient city, however, and was a vital port on the Bay of Bengal for the powerful 7th-century Pallava Dynasty.
Lunch at the hotel. Transfer to Chennai airport for flight to Cochin. On arrival 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 in the hotel’s Pepper Restaurant.


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. Dinner at the Rice Boat Restaurant.


Morning 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. Continue inland to Konni to visit an elephant shelter set in the forest and learn about the elephants’ role in the temple festivals in Kerala. 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 Charava 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 farm house 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 coir making, 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 cultural performance 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.


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 Taj Gateway Ernakulam. Day use rooms will be reserved at Taj Gateway Ernakulam Hotel (one room per couple). Transfer to Cochin Airport for your flight to London (international flight not included in the cost of the tour).

  • Alison was so helpful, patient & organised things beautifully. Very professional & knowledgable.

    CC, USA