South India Odyssey (9 Days and 8 Nights)

Chennai - Mamallapuram - Tiruvannamalai - Thanjavur - Madurai - Kanyakumari - Thiruvananthapuram
You will be received at Chennai International Airport by our tour guide. Drive to a hotel for check-in. There will not be any excursions during the day, so that you can recover from jet lag.
After breakfast, drive to Mamallapuram (60 km, 1.5 hours), which is located on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal. In Mamallapuram, you will explore the Shore Temple and the Pallava’s Panch Rathas. The Shore Temple consists of three shrines, which were constructed in the 7th century AD by the Pallava king Rajasimha. Two of the shrines are dedicated to Lord Shiva and one to Lord Vishnu. The Shore Temple is a five-storied rock-cut, free-standing structural temple. The temple is not used for active worship anymore and stands as a testimony to the expertise of Pallava architecture.

The Pancha Rathas are also referred to as the Pandava Pancha Rathas. These are rock-cut monolithic structures of Granite in the shape of five chariots. Each of these chariots is named after the five Pandava Brothers (the main characters of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata) and their spouse Draupadi. These structures were intended to be temples, but the work could not be finished and the idols were never consecrated. The construction of the Pancha Rathas took place during the reign of the Pallava king Narsimhavarman-I between 600-630 AD. The Shore Temple and the Pancha Rathas, along with some other monuments, are termed as the Group of Monuments of Mamallpuram and are listed under the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Post lunch, you will proceed to Tiruvannamalai (150 km, 3 hours) where you will check in at a hotel for an overnight stay.
After breakfast, you will explore the majestic Arunachaleshwara Temple of Lord Shiva, also called the Big Temple. The temple finds mention in the poetic compilations of the 7th-century AD saints of Tamil Nadu. Based on the inscriptions found on the temple wall, it is ascertained that the present structure of the temple was built in the 9th century AD by the rulers of the Chola dynasty. However, it is not clear when the temple was first constructed. The temple is spread over 24 acres with four entrance towers. There are many halls inside the temple, the biggest of all being the thousand-pillared hall. The Shiva Linga consecrated in the temple represents the fire element. This is the biggest temple of Lord Shiva in the entire of India where active worship takes place.

You will then visit the ashram of Sri Ramana Maharishi and explore the two caves associated with him. Sri Ramana Maharishi was an enlightened sage who gave the method of Self-Enquiry for self-realization. He had lived in the two caves, which are located on the mountain Arunachala. The panoramic view of the town and the Big Temple is an added reward for those visiting the two caves. Later in the evening, take a walk around the holy mountain Arunachala. The mountain is revered as a form of Lord Shiva. Every full moon, thousands of devotees do the circumambulation of the mountain, seeking the blessings of Lord Shiva. A leisurely walk enables one to get a glimpse of the rural life of the villagers. Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
Check out from the hotel and drive to Darasuram (175 km, 4 hours). In Darasuram, you will explore the Airavateshvara Temple, which is one of the three temples referred to as the Great Living Chola Temples. The Airavateshvara Temple was built by Emperor Raja Raja II of the Chola dynasty during his rule from 1143 to 1173 AD. Lord Shiva is the principal deity of the Great Living Chola Temples. Compared to the other two temples of the group, the Airavatesvara Temple is smaller in size, but more exquisite, and has details in its sculpting art.

Drive to Thanjavur (36 km, 1 hour), where you will check in at a hotel. Later in the day, visit the gigantic Brihadeesvarar Temple of Lord Shiva, which is the biggest in the group of the Great Living Chola Temples. This massive temple was built in the year 1010 AD by the great Raja-Raja Cholan I, who was the emperor of the Chola dynasty. The temple complex is rectangular in size, measuring approximately 140 x 75 meters, and is surrounded by outer walls. There are three entrances decorated with sculptures of guardian figures. The temple tower is almost 216 feet tall, and there is a dome above it, which is cut out of rock weighing 80 tons. The architecture was planned in such a way that the shadow of the dome does not fall on the ground. The Great Living Chola Temples are listed under the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Overnight stay at the hotel.
Proceed to Madurai (190 km, 3 hours) where you will check in at a hotel and have lunch. Later during the day, visit the Tirumalai Nayak Palace. The Thirumalai Nayak Palace was constructed by king Thirumala of the Nayak dynasty in the 17th century AD. The architecture of the palace is a blend of Dravidian and Islamic architectures. The domes have impressive stuccowork done on them. The celestial pavilion is a unique architectural feat because it was made without using any supporting rafters. Visitors are allowed to explore the entrance gate, main hall, and dance hall.

After leisurely exploring the palace, visit the Meenakshi Amman Temple. The history of the Meenakshi Amman Temple is closely associated with the history of Madurai itself. According to folklore, the demigod Indra was seen worshipping a Shiva Linga in the forest of Kadamba trees (present-day Madurai). King Kulashekhara Pandya came to know about it, and a shrine of Lord Shiva was built. That shrine is believed to have grown in stature as the present-day Meenakshi Amman Temple.

The present-day temple structure was made by the rulers of the Nayak dynasty during the 16th to the 17th century AD. The temple complex is spread over 6 hectares and is a masterpiece of Dravidian architecture. There are 12 Gopurams (entrance towers), which are adorned with 1500 sculptures of divine and demonic beings. The two main shrines of the temple are dedicated to the goddess Meenakshi and Lord Shiva, who is worshipped as Sundareshwara. Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight stay.
After breakfast, you will start for a road drive to Kanyakumari. Kanyakumari is the southernmost town of India located at the confluence of the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, and the Indian Ocean. The distance of 245 km will be covered in 4-5 hours. After hotel check-in, you will have lunch and rest for a while. Later in the day, visit the Kumari Amman Temple, which is located near the shore. The ancient temple, whose principal deity is a teenaged goddess, Kumari, finds mention in Hindu scriptures. The Kumari Amman Temple is one of the 51 special places of worship dedicated to the feminine aspect of god. Enjoy leisure time at the shore in the evening. Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
The day’s excursion will begin with a visit to the Vivekananda Memorial and the statue of saint-poet Thiruvalluvar. Both of these monuments are located on two rock islands, which are adjacent to each other. Swami Vivekananda, the famous Hindu saint, was immersed in meditation on the island for two days in December 1892. During his meditation, he received guidance to go to the west and spread the teachings of Vedanta philosophy; a task that he completed successfully during his short lifetime of 39 years.

The construction of the Vivekananda Memorial was completed in 1970. The architecture of the memorial is a blend of various Indian architectural forms. Adjacent to the Vivekananda Memorial is the smaller island which has a giant statue of the saint-poet Thiruvalluvar. His famous poetic compilation had 133 chapters, thus the total height of the statue was made to be 133 feet. The work on the statue involved 500 sculptors and was completed in the year 2000. A ferry will be used to visit the two monuments mentioned above.

Check-out from the hotel and proceed to Thiruvananthapuram (90 km, 2.5 hours). On the way, visit the Padmanabhapuram Palace. Padmanabhapuram used to be the capital of Venad Rulers of South Kerala. The Padmanabhapuram Palace was constructed during the 16th century AD by the Venad king Iravi Verma Kulasekharan. Subsequent rulers then contributed towards the expansion of the palace and chose the architectural trends of their time. The palace is considered to be the largest wooden palace in the entire of Asia and is spread across 6.5 acres. Carved stone pillars, beautiful murals on the wall, intricate woodwork of the ceiling are some of the remarkable features of this architectural masterpiece. In Thiruvananthapuram, you will check in at a hotel for an overnight stay.
After breakfast, you will explore the magnificent Padmanabhaswamy Temple of Lord Vishnu (from outside). The history of the temple goes back to the 8th century AD, although some believe that the temple could be even more ancient because of the references found in the Hindu scriptures. The city of Thiruvananthapuram gets its name from the name of the presiding deity of the temple, Sri Padmanabhaswamy.

You will then visit the Keralam and the Napier Museum. The modest-sized Keralam is a museum of history and heritage. It charts Kerala’s historical and cultural evolution over the centuries, from pre-historic to historic times. The Napier Museum showcases a rare collection of archaeological and historic artefacts, bronze idols, ancient ornaments, a temple chariot, and ivory carvings. Built in the 19th century AD, the museum has an impressive structure of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture.

Embark on a visit to the Arts and Craft Village of Kovalam. Spanning over 8.5 acres, this unique village is meticulously designed to showcase the traditional arts and crafts of Kerala. The complex encompasses museums, an amphitheatre, an art gallery, and studios for craftspeople. Inside these studios, visitors have the opportunity to observe artists engaged in their craft, providing insight into the creative process and fostering an appreciation for the effort behind each piece of arts & crafts. The final products are then available for sale, making for a perfect souvenir to carry home. Evening at leisure for shopping. Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
After breakfast, you will be driven to Thiruvananthapuram International Airport. You will then head for your onward journey with fond memories of the trip. The tour concludes.
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