Day 1: Arrival Chennai - Mahabalipuram. Arrive in Chennai (formerly known as Madras), the 4th largest metropolitan area in India. Be met by our local representative, transfer to our resort in Mahabalipuram, and settle in for the evening. Nestled close to the legendary Shore Temple and the popular 7th century monoliths, you will find the Swamimalai Sterling Resort, the town’s only luxury boutique hotel. The property, which spreads over a tranquil beach, also includes a state of the art Ayurvedic Centre for those interested in experiencing the science and art of Ayureda.
Overnight at hotel.
Day 2: Kanchipuram - Mahabalipuram. This morning enjoy an introduction to yoga with early morning yoga in the gardens followed by breakfast. We then visit Kanchipuram, one of Hinduism’s seven most sacred cities. In ancient times, the city was called Kachi and Kachiamapathi. This “Golden City of a Thousand Temples” dates back to the early Cholas in the 7th century AD. Only approximately 70 temples of the original 1000 ancient temples are still intact, the most famous of them being the Kailasanatha Temple, a sandstone temple built in the early 7th Century designed to mirror Mount Kailash, the home of Lord Shiva.
As this city is renowned for its silk weavings and hand-woven sarees, a visit to the nearby villages to see the craftsmen at work on their looms is a rewarding experience. We return to the resort for lunch and then take a short trip to visit the magnificent site of the Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram, a nearby “open air museum” which occupies a stunning position on a rocky outcrop facing the Bay of Bengal. Overnight stay at hotel.
Day 3: Pondicherry - Aureville. Arise early for morning yoga, followed by breakfast. We then begin our drive to Puducherry, formerly known as Pondicherry, considered the French Riviera of the east. Later we visit the Aurobindo Ashram, the former home of Mother Mirra and Sri Aurobindo, whose teachings start from the ancient sages of India. He taught that behind the appearance of the universe, there is the reality of a being and consciousness, a self of all things, one and eternal.
He believed that all beings are united in that one self and spirit, but divided by a certain separatist of consciousness, an ignorance of their true self and reality in the mind, life and body, and that it is possible, by a certain psychological discipline, to remove this veil of separative consciousness to become aware of the true self and the divinity within all of us. We then check into our wonderful Heritage Hotel and relax for the evening. Overnight at Hotel.
Day 4: Chidambaram - Swamimalai. This morning we make our way to Swamimalai, stopping en route in the temple town of Chidambaram, one of Tamil Nadu’s most important towns and a major pilgrimage site for Shaivites. The word Chidambaram may be derived from the word chit, meaning “consciousness”, and ambaram, meaning “sky” (from aakasam or aakayam), thus it refers to the chidaakasam, the sky of consciousness, which is the ultimate aim one should attain as mentioned by all the Vedas and scriptures. Here we will visit the impressive Chidambaram Temple, a famous Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in his form of the Cosmic Dancer, Nataraja.
This is one of the few temples where Shiva and Vishnu are enshrined under one roof. In Hindu literature, the temple is one of the holiest of the 5 Shiva Temples, each one representing one of the 5 elements, and represents the element of Akasa or Ether. The temple is an architectural wonder, one of the special features being the bejeweled image of Nataraja. It depicts the Lord Shiva as Bharatanatyam, “The Lord of the Dance”. The Cosmic Dance of Lord Nataraja symbolises the motion of the universe sustained by Lord Shiva. Upon arrival in Swamimalai, we check into our beautiful Anandham Swamimalai Resort, a 100 year old Heritage home set amidst a lush green coconut grove. The location is a perfect base for exploring the many temples nearby.
In the afternoon we visit Swamimalai Murugan Temple, 4th among the 6 paddai veedu, the Sacred Shrines dedicated to Lord Muruga. According to Hindu belief, Swamimalai is where Muruga, at a young age, preached to his own father, Lord Shiva. This is also the place where, according to legend, Lord Muruga proposed the meaning of “Om”, the Sacred Pranava Mantra, to his Father Lord Shiva, and thus, assumed the title Swaminath, “Lord of Lords”. As the legend goes, when Brahma, the Lord of All Creation, was proceeding to Kailasa, the ever-playful child, Lord Muruga, asked him for the meaning of the Pranava, “Om”. When Brahma admitted his ignorance, the Lord imprisoned him.
With Brahma imprisoned, all creation came to a standstill and the devas prayed to Lord Shiva to have Brahma released. When Muruga insisted that the imprisonment was a just punishment for the ignorance of Brahma, Lord Shiva asked him whether he himself knew the meaning of the primordial Pranava, “Om”. Lord Muruga said that he knew the meaning of “Om” and could explain it, but only if Lord Shiva would accept him as guru and listen to the explanation as a devoted disciple. Lord Shiva agreed to this request and accepted the teachings of Lord Muruga and thus, the place became known as Swamimalai and the presiding deity as Swaminathan. After dinner we will gather by the pool, enveloped by palms and the tranquil sounds of nature, to enjoy evening yoga and close with a meditation using the sacred mantra, “Om”. Overnight at hotel.
Day 5: Thanjavur. We awake early this morning for invigorating morning yoga in the courtyard, followed by breakfast. We then set off for a full day of sightseeing in Thanjavur (Tanjore), considered the “Granary of South India” due to its agricultural activities. It is one of the oldest cities in India and is an important centre of South Indian art and architecture. It is also home to most of the “Great Living Chola Temples”, UNESCO World Heritage monuments, the foremost among them being the Brihadeshwara Temple, a brilliant example of the major heights achieved by Cholas temple architecture.
As we explore this temple and complex, which stands amidst fortified walls surrounded by a moat, we will appreciate this remarkable architectural feat. The temple itself is made of hard granite stones which were not available in the area and is an amazing example of Dravidian architecture. The temple is a tribute and reflection of the power of its patron Rajaraja Chola and remains one of the greatest glories of Indian architecture. It was built as the royal temple to display the emperor’s vision of his power and relationship to the universal order and was also the site of major royal ceremonies.
The Vimana, or temple tower, is 216 ft high and is among the tallest of its kind in the world. The Kalash or Shikhara (bulbous structure on the top of the temple), is itself very large and heavy. At the entrance sits a big statue of Nandi, the “Sacred Bull”, carved out of a single rock and measuring about 16 ft long and 13 ft high. Near the temple, we visit the Thanjavur Palace of Nayaks, a huge palace constructed partly by the Nayak rulers and partly by the Maratha rulers. The entrance of the palace has a large quadrangular courtyard which leads to a pillared hall.
The palace houses a library, which contains 40,0000 rare books and palm leaf inscriptions, an art gallery, which exhibits a large collection of bronze and granite Chola sculptures, and a museum, which is home to many items and relics belonging to past kings. We freshen up for dinner upon our return to our resort and then enjoy a heart-opening meditation and sharing circle, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature that envelop us. Overnight at hotel.
Day 6: Swamimalai - Kumbakonam temple. We enjoy an energizing morning yoga session, followed by breakfast and then head off for a full day of sightseeing, visiting some of the many temples around Swamimalai and Kumbakonam. We begin with Gangaikondan Cholapuram, an architectural work of genius. The temple was built by Rajendra Chola, who was the son and successor of Rajaraja Chola, in the early 11th Century, in an attempt to reproduce the “larger - than - life” achievement of his father. Next, we visit the ancient town of Darasuram and the Airavatesvara Temple, a Hindu temple of Dravidian architecture, considered a “sculptor’s dream in stone”, and one of the oldest of the Chola temples.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site, also built by Rajaraja Chola in the 12th Century, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is a storehouse of art and architecture and has some exquisite stone carvings. Although this temple is much smaller than the Brihadeshwara or the Gangaikondan Cholapuram Temples, it is more exquisite in detail due to the fact that it was said to have been built with nitya-vinoda, “perpetual entertainment”, in mind. We end our day of sightseeing with a visit to the Adi Kumbeswarar Temple, the major temple of the Shaivites. In the evening, we will wind down after dinner with another relaxing meditation circle before drifting off to peaceful slumber. Overnight at hotel.
Day 7: Chettinad - Madurai. Arise early for morning yoga, followed by breakfast and then we head to Madurai. We stop en route to visit Chettinad, known for its cultural heritage, architecture, and art. It is also known for its several temples and elaborate mansions. As Chettinad is also known for its fine cuisine and culinary delicacies, make sure to sample the fine fare. Later, we continue our drive to Madurai and settle in for the evening. Overnight at hotel.
Day 8: Madurai. Today we enjoy a full day in Madurai, the oldest inhabited city in the Indian peninsula. One of South India’s great temple towns, Madurai is synonymous with the great Meenakshi Temple, a historic Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and his consort, the goddess Parvati. Later we visit the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, a 17th Century palace built by King Thirumalai Nayak. The palace was built with the aid of an Italian architect and is a classic fusion of Dravidian, Islamic, and European styling.
Day 9: Madurai - Periyar. This morning, we drive to Periyar, also known as Thekkady, set high in the mountains of Kerala and renowned for its geography and wildlife. Upon arrival, we will check into our amazing Treetop Resort and then head off for a delightfully relaxing boat ride on Periyar Lake.
Day 10: Periyar - Alleppey. After breakfast, we begin our drive to Alleppey in Kerala, fondly known as the Venice of the East and famous for its Snake Boat Races. This charming town of picturesque canals, backwaters, beaches and lagoons, is the perfect place to enjoy a little R and R. As we drift peacefully along the backwaters on our beautiful and relaxing houseboat, we can enjoy the breathtaking scenery and a microcosm of flora and fauna, as well as local villages. In the evening, we gather for a tranquil meditation circle before being gently rocked to sleep on our houseboat. Overnight on Houseboat.
Day 11: Alleppey - Kochi. We enjoy breakfast on our houseboat and then make our way to the vibrant city of Kochi, also known as Cochin. A centre of trade, Kochi merchants began trading spices such as black pepper and cardamom with the Arabs, Dutch, Portuguese, and Chinese more than 600 years ago. A striking scene here is the row of Cheena vala, Chinese fishing nets that line the mouth of the harbour which leads to the Arabian Sea in Fort Kochi. Spend the afternoon at your leisure strolling through this seaside city flanked by Western Ghats.
Visit the museum to learn about the history of this charming town, enjoy shopping at the local antique stores and spice markets, or just relax on the beach and watch the fishermen bring in their fresh catch of the day. In the evening, we will gather together to witness the captivating Kathakali Dance Show before retiring for the evening at our Heritage Hotel, a 17th Century Dutch Palace beautifully restored and later converted into a small and intimate hotel.
Day 12: Kochi. Begin with morning yoga and then enjoy the day at your leisure for independent activities. You may also want to take advantage of an optional excursion to Amma’s Ashram and, if she is present, meet with Mother Amma, fondly called the “hugging saint”, for darshan. The Sanskrit term darshan means “vision” and is used to describe a meeting with a holy person, especially a Self Realized master. Amma’s darshan is unique. As the embodiment of supreme motherhood, she welcomes every person who comes to her, listens to his or her problems, offers advice and guidance, and brings reassurance to a troubled heart.
Day 13: Kochi - Varkala. Enjoy morning yoga, followed by breakfast and then off for a full day of sightseeing. In the morning we enjoy a city tour of Kochi. We visit the Dutch Palace, originally built by the Portuguese and then later modified by the Dutch in the 17th Century, the Jewish Synagogue, magnificently decorated with Chinese tiles and Belgian Chandeliers. In the afternoon we drive to the Ernakulam railway station and board our train for Trivandrum. Upon arrival, we transfer to our beautiful beach resort in Varkala.
Day 14: Varkala. We begin the day with morning yoga and then enjoy the rest of the day at your leisure. Visit the well stocked library, shop at the resort’s eco-friendly shop or enjoy the Ayurvedic therapy programs offered at the center. In the evening, we gather for our meditation circle to lull us into restful sleep.
Day 15: Arkala. Indulge in a rejuvenating morning yoga session to start another glorious day in paradise. Continue to enjoy the resort and all its amenities at your leisure. Stroll along the pebbled pathways for an acupressure treatment to restore sore and tired feet, explore the rocky shoreline and many coves, lay back and relax on the pristine beach, get the heart pumping and circulation flowing with an invigorating hike or bike ride, or head into town for some sightseeing. You will find 2 major attractions nearby, the 800 year old Janardana Swamy Temple and the Nature Cure Center. In the evening, we gather for our Farewell Dinner and our last meditation and sharing circle before retiring for the night. Overnight at Krishnatheeram Resort in Varkala.
Day 16: Depart Trivandrum. Today, bid your farewells to new found friends and remarkable South India and transfer to Trivandrum International airport for your return home or extend your blissful stay in Varkala with our optional extension.
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