Arrive in Kochi at any time. There are no planned activities, so check into to the hotel (check-in time is 12.00 midday) and enjoy the city. In the evening you will meet your fellow group members to go over the details of your trip. Check the notice board to see what time and where the group meeting will be held. There are plenty of things to do in Kochi, this seaside Indian city with its Portuguese and Dutch history, architecture and style. Kochi is renowned for its exquisite gold designer jewellery and is also home to the Dutch Palace (Mattancherry), Jew Town with its synagogue and the Fort itself. The oldest church in India, the Anglican St. Francis Church, sits near mosques and synagogues, and Portuguese housing sits side by side with English manor homes. Vasco de Gama's tombstone is still here, even if his remains are back in Lisbon, and the Dutch cemetery is worth a quick look. Watch the sunset from the tip of Fort Kochi where you ill spot the old cantilevered fishing nets, common here in Kerala. Originally brought from China, in Malayalam they're called 'cheena vala', and used mainly at high tide. An important stop on the spice trading route due to its strategic location near the tip of the Indian subcontinent, Kochi (Cochin) has been a melting pot of influences since the 14th century. The city’s history stretches back much farther: by 1102, Kochi was already the seat of an eponymous princely state that traced its lineages to the Kulasekhara empire. Ancient travellers and tradesmen made references to Kochi in their writings, and in 1503 Kochi became the first European colonial settlement in India when it was occupied by the Portuguese. Also of interest is the fact that Vasco da Gama, the first European explorer to set sail for India, was initially buried in Kochi’s St. Francis Church until his remains were returned to Portugal in 1539. Later, both the Dutch and British occupied Kochi, resulting in the variety of architecture, food and other influences typical of today’s Kochi. Today Kochi is the commercial hub of Kerala state, and a growing centre of information technology, tourism and international trade. However, like other large cities in the developing world, Kochi continues to struggle with urbanisation problems like poor sanitation and traffic congestion.
Estimated Travel Time: 1.5 Hours This morning we travel to Allepey, a golden streak of land woven with rivers, lakes, lagoons and canals, Alappuzha or Alleppy is labelled as the Venice of the East. Alappuzha, meaning the land between the sea and a network of rivers falling into it, evokes a sense of romance and beauty. Alappuzha has been the focus of trade and commerce from time immemorial, infact it is also known as the "Venice of the East", as it was here that traders from across the seven seas came in search of black gold and souvenirs. As early as the 1st century a.d., Christianity had gained a foothold in this district when St. Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ, landed at Maliankara, present day Cranganore. Alappuzha Famous for its 'snake boat' (chundan vallam) races and has some old trading houses still in use. It is also home to Kuttanad, The rice bowl of kerala, one of the very few places in the world where farming is done below sea level. Tonight we will sleep in a homestay in the backwaters this offers you the opportunity of talking and interacting with the local families, learning about life in the islands and dining on traditional local cuisine. Accommodation is on a multi-share basis and all the families live within a few hundred metres of each other, with at least one person in the family speaking a reasonable standard of English. In the afternoon, we explore the island with a local English-speaking guide and learn about the local way of life. We will continue our explorations by boat along winding backwaters seeing Keralan life in all its colour, and as the sun goes down we will be entertained by the boatmen singing traditional songs.
Day 3 - Estimated Travel Time: 4.5 Hours We drive to Periyar and its acclaimed wildlife sanctuary. One of the few habitats remaining for wild tigers in India (and indeed, the world) Periyar is part of Project Tiger, a wildlife conservation project designed to protect Royal Bengal Tigers from extinction. Set high in the mountains of the Western Ghats, this protected area covers some 777 km², out of which a 350km² fors part of the core zone known as the Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve. Famous for its picturesque (though artificial) lake and of course the tiger (which number about 40), the park is also home to 62 different kinds of mammal. The most well known of these are the park’s famous herds of wild Asiatic elephants, which often come to bathe in Periyar lake. Other mammals found here include gaur, sambar (horse deer), barking deer, mouse deer, Dholes (Indian wild dogs), mongoose and leopards and Indian Bison. For ornithologists it has over 330 species of birds including the majestic Great Hornbill. We join a naturalist-led walk in search of wildlife and to get a better understanding of the surroundings. Many of the guides are in fact former poachers. You can also take a boat ride around the lake for a more relaxing view of the park and more wildlife spotting. In the afternoon we head out to a spice plantation to learn amongst other things, how cardamom and pepper grow.
Day 5 - Estimated Travel Time: 6 Hours Varkala, a temple town, is also known for its landscape. A high rocky cliff ends abruptly and a stretch of clear sand extends down to the sea. The High cliffs with mineral springs rise majestically from the coastline giving the visitors a spectacular view. The best time to visit the beach is when the beach extends up to the very cliff face giving an additional 500 meters of serene beach space. The contrast between the cliffs, sand and sea makes Varkala Beach a striking sight. The sunset at Varakala Beach is truly breathtaking with the sun sinking into the sky like a ball of molten gold as the sun and sea are tinged with crimson and vermilion. The quiet and isolated Varkala beach is a sandy expanse where one can enjoy a relaxing moment without the crowds and bustle of other beaches in Kerala. Spend time wandering the peaceful gardens of an ashram devoted to Kerala's most eminent spiritual and social reformer and the mystical Janardhana Swamy Temple, or just head to the beach to relax and watch the Arabian Sea. The legend behind the name of this scenic town is that a group of devout pilgrims approached Narada, a saint of ancient times and confessed to having sinned. Narada threw his valkalam (cloth made out of the bark of a tree) and it landed at a place near the seashore. Thisplace was thus given the name 'varkala'. Narada directed his devotees to offer prayers at the beach where the valkalam landed. This place then came to be known as 'Papanasam' meaning redemption from sins.
Estimated Travel Time: 3.5 Hours This morning we take train from Varkala to Cochin where the trip ends upon arrival at the Kochi (Cochin) train station. If you are booking onward travel today we recommend that you don't book your flight until 2pm or later.