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 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 CE 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 expertise of Pallava architecture.

The Pancha Rathas is also referred 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 during 600-630 CE.
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 overnight stay.
After breakfast, you will explore the massive and majestic Arunachaleshwara Temple of Lord Shiva. It is also called the Big Temple. The temple finds mention in the poetic compilations of the 7th century 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 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 visit the two caves associated with him. Sri Ramana Maharishi was an enlightened sage who gave the method of Self-Enquiry for finding one’s SELF. He had lived in the two caves, which are located on the mountain Arunachala (closer to its base). The panoramic view of the town and the Big Temple is an added reward for those visiting the two caves. Later in the evening, 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 to receive the blessings of Lord Shiva. A leisure 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 the emperor Raja Raja II of the Chola dynasty whose rule was during 1143 – 1173 CE. 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 to the gigantic Brihadeesvarar Temple of Lord Shiva, which is 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, which measures approximately 140 x 75 meters and is surrounded by outer walls. There are three entrances which are 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 and weighs 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 to the Tirumalai Nayak Palace. The Thirumalai Nayak Palace was constructed by the king Thirumala of Nayak dynasty in the 17th century CE. The architecture of the palace is a blend of the Dravidian and the Islamic architecture. The domes have impressive stuccowork done on them. The white pillars of the courtyard are 20 meters in height and there are 248 pillars in total. The celestial pavilion is a unique architecture feat because it was made without using any supporting rafter. The visitors are allowed to explore the entrance gate, main hall and the dance hall.

After leisurely exploring the palace, visit to the Meenakshi Amman Temple. The history of the Meenakshi Amman Temple is closely associated with the history of Madurai itself. As per the folklores, the demigod Indra was seen worshipping a Shiva Linga in the forest of Kadamba trees (present day Madurai). The 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. Meenakshi was the daughter of a Pandya king Malayadhvaja (Pandya dynasty ruled Madurai from the 7th century to the 16th century CE) and was born after a sacred fire-ritual conducted by her father, who was childless till then. She led her army to many victories and eventually attacked the abode of Lord Shiva in Kailash. She was married to Lord Shiva and since then regarded as the goddess Meenakshi.

The present-day temple structure was made by the rulers of the Nayak dynasty during the 16th to the 17th century CE. The temple complex is spread over 6-hectares and is a masterpiece of the 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 completed in 4-5 hours.

After hotel check-in, you will have lunch and rest for a while. Later in the day, visit to the Kumari Amman Temple which is located near the shore. The ancient temple whose principal deity is a teenaged goddess, Kumari, finds mention in the Hindu scriptures.

The Kumari Amman Temple is one of the 52 special places of worship dedicated to the feminine aspect of god. 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 the 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 Viveknanda 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 it 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 to the Padmanabhpuram Palace. Padmanabhpuram used to be the capital of Venad Rulers of South Kerala. The Padmanbhpuram Palace was constructed during the 16th century CE 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 Keralam, the Napier Museum and Sree Chithra Art Gallery. 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 rare collection of archaeological and historic artefacts, bronze idols, ancient ornaments, a temple chariot and ivory carvings. The museum was built in the 19th Century and has an impressive building of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. Located near the Napier Museum, Sree Chithra Art Gallery displays paintings by the king Ravi Verma, Svetlova and Nicholas Roerich; exquisite works from the Rajput, Mughal and Tanjore school of arts in India, as well as paintings from some other countries. The collection also includes unique copies of Indian mural paintings from pre-historic times to the 18th century AD.

Post lunch, you will get to see (from outside) the Padmanabhaswamy Temple of Lord Vishnu. The history of 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 idol of Lord Vishnu depicts him to be in a reclining pose and it is 18 feet tall. One has to look from three different doors to get the overall view of the idol. The city of Thiruvananthapuram gets its name from the name of the presiding deity of the temple, Sri Padmanabhaswamy. You will then explore the Lulu Mall where you can shop leisurely. Return to the hotel for an overnight stay.
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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