Into the Dravidian Heartland
Into the Dravidian Heartland
Into the Dravidian Heartland

Photos by Dunja Opalko


    12 Days, 11 Nights




    December - February
    October - November


Into the Dravidian Heartland

Traversing South Indian Landscapes

Faint, in the early morning hours, the smell of the flower market becomes intoxicating. The artisan remains hunched, concentrated, while hammer and chisel chip away at bronze. Bougainvillaeas hanging over pastel walls blow gently in the sea breeze. As the dancer’s feet smack the floor in quick succession, the salangai voices its own rhythm. A massive ship chugs into the harbour, decks afill with goods from over the world. 

This journey starts at Chennai, the cultural hub of Tamil Nadu before moving on to the temple city of Mahabalipuram on the eastern coast and trails the sandy beaches of the erstwhile French settlement of Pondicherry, spreading across the mainland into Thanjavur and Madurai, draining the Periyar basin in the forests of Thekkady. From here it emerges in the rustic backwaters of Alleppey before finally ending at the western coast, at the new port town of Cochin.  

The fourth largest metropolitan in the country, Chennai offers a glimpse into the intricate weaving of India's cultural past. The imposing stone temples, artefacts from a colonial-era intertwined with the recent burst of modernity, Chennai is a world of its own. Visitors are offered a range of activities to pursue, from history and culture to the mouthwatering cuisine of the South.

From a bustling city, you move to the serene shores of Mahabalipuram. Surrounded by two beautiful lakes, the small strip of Mahabalipuram is home to some of the oldest architectural marvels in India. The famous Shore Temple overlooking the Bay of Bengal, with its large granite stone architecture perfectly encapsulates its essence. A huge monolithic rock, famously called the Krishna’s Butterball, hangs miraculously on a slope just so and has survived earthquakes through the ages.

The journey continues southwards and into Pondicherry, a city caught in a time-warp, which tells the tale of French influence and Tamil sensibilities. Walking through the cobbled streets, the romance of the old French town comes alive with sprightly shades of yellow on its chic buildings and colonial churches. Merchants sell country-made glass bangles in front of chic designer boutiques and the pleasures of coconut-based cuisine can be had in cafes with sophisticated French names.

The city of Thanjavur, south of Pondicherry, gleams with one of the oldest temples in the county. Once the cultural seat of the Chola empire, its splendour is visible in the many majestic temples in and around town. The epitome of the Dravidian style of architecture, the Bhrihadeeswara temple is situated in the heart of the city with a wealth of art, painting, sculpting.

The journey moves towards the mainland, and into the city of Madurai. The prime centre of Tamil culture, literature, art, music, and dance, Madurai has flourished through the centuries and has preserved its tradition of celebrating culture through the confluence of poets and artists, even today. The Meenakshi temple with its towering gopurams, sculpted brightly from stories of the past, stands tall in the proud blue sky.

In the Periyar basin, the deep jungles of Thekkady are home to a variety of species of indigenous flora and fauna including the mighty Indian tiger, elephants, deer, and langur to name a few. The Periyar National Park has sounds of local birds and gurgles of streams which can be explored by walks, treks, and the cradling bamboo rafts on the river.

Trail through thick forests to the pristine backwaters of Kerala in the little town of Alleppey. The lush and graceful backwaters of Alappuzha, anglicised as ‘Alleppey’, provide a rare respite from the bustle of cities. Cruise through the backwaters in the unique houseboats, or visit the temple by the lake known for its beautiful architecture. Unwind on the untouched beaches of the town before continuing to the busy city of Cochin.

The journey concludes at the western coast of India at the port town of Cochin. Popular for Dutch and Jewish influences, Cochin is the land of spices and Chinese fishing nets. Home to Kerala’s fabled backwaters, the roots of history run even deeper in Cochin to support the skyscrapers of modernity, much like the tallest of coconut palms that tirelessly line the coastal city.   

  • Cities
    Into the Dravidian Heartland
    Allepey / Kumarakom

    Alleppey,situated 13 Kms away from Kottayam is a sleepy little village on Vembanad Lake in Kerala. It offers wide variety of flora, exotic sightseeing, boating and fishing experience. The beautiful paradise stocked with mangrove forests, emerald green paddy fields and coconut trees comprises with water ways and canals adorned with white lilies enchants the tourist from world over.

    Into the Dravidian Heartland

    Situated along the rippling coastline of the Bay of Bengal, Chennai rose to prominence under the colonial rule. From the classical Carnatic music traditions to the folk gana traditions of the fishing community, this city is where the many cultures within Tamil Nadu converge and coexist. Fondly called Madras, the port city, which is also the seat of Tamil Cinema, has acquired a flamboyant character of its own.

    Into the Dravidian Heartland

    An important port since early medieval times, Cochin is a salubrious town on the Malabar Coast, where ancient trees watch over winding lanes rich in history. With the Western Ghats on the eastern front and the Arabian Sea lapping its shores on the west, the city has grown with its own unique identity and an unlikely blend of European and Middle Eastern influences.

    Into the Dravidian Heartland

    Madurai, the second largest city in Tamil Nadu and one of the state's top destinations, is more than 3,500 years old and has remained a major center for Tamil culture and learning. The city is often referred to as the "Athens of the East" because of its similar architectural style, including many alleyways. During the heyday of its history, when the Nayak dynasty ruled, many magnificent temples and buildings were constructed. These days, Madurai attracts pilgrims and tourists in equal numbers.

    Into the Dravidian Heartland

    Scattered around the base of a colossal mound of boulders 58km south of Chennai is the small seaside town and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mamallapuram (formerly Mahabalipuram). From dawn till dusk, the rhythms of chisels chipping granite resound down its sandy lanes – evidence of a stone-carving tradition that has endured since this was a major port of the Pallava dynasty, between the fifth and ninth centuries. The famous bas-reliefs, Arjuna’s Penance and the Krishna Mandapa, adorn massive rocks near the centre of the village, while the beautiful Shore Temple, one of India’s most photographed monuments, presides over the beach. 

    Into the Dravidian Heartland

    The Periyar forest of Thekkady is one of the finest wildlife reserves in India. Spreading across the entire district are the picturesque plantations and hill towns that nestle beautiful trails for treks and mountain walks. Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary is a protected area, home to a wealth of rare, endemic, and endangered flora and fauna.

    Into the Dravidian Heartland

    Bounded by the state of Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, commonly called ‘Pondy’ sits along the South Eastern coast of India. Colonized by the French, who left a big impact here, by far. The streets still have French names and some restaurants are owned by French nationals. The culture is an undiluted confluence of the Tamil and the French. Pondicherry helps you slow down and experience things one at a time. 

    Into the Dravidian Heartland

    Thanjavur, formerly known as Tanjore, is located near the banks of Kaveri River, once the capital of the mighty Cholas. The pursuits of different rulers are reflected in the great monuments and arts in the district. This was a kingdom so fertile that it was called the ‘Rice Bowl of South India’. Rich harvests, a lush country, and a full river gave people the leisure and inclination for the finer things of life: culture, religion, architecture, and literature. 

    Old Harbour Kochi-200x200
    Old Harbour

    A heritage monument-turned-hotel, this 300-year-old building was built in the style of Dutch architecture, with Portuguese influences. This was the first hotel of Old Cochin and yet, even today remains unrivalled in its fine construction and grandeur. And when coupled with the variety of modern amenities provided, this becomes the perfect retreat for the weary traveller.

    Pondicherry Palais de Mahe-200x200
    Palais de Mahe

    A serene blend of French colonial architecture and modern Tamilian influences, the Palais de Mahe is a home of rich contrasts and a charming heritage. Wide halls, arched doorways, and bright shades of ochre welcome you into an airy, elegant, and captivating world.

    Periyar Spice Village-200x200
    Spice Village

    Relax in a tribal village set in a spice garden in the cool highlands of Periyar in Thekkady. Spice Village is modelled on the dwellings of the native Manan tribe of this region and exudes the raw spirit of unblemished nature.

    Amble through the French Quarters

    Walk into the eastern corner of the town to find a medley of cobbled streets lined with romantically dishevelled mustard buildings. Take a superb heritage walk starting from the seafront promenade which explores the best areas of this enchanting quarter.

    Drift Along the Backwaters

    Aboard the traditional houseboat, lay back leisurely and observe the town life by the lakeside while feasting on a sumptuous local cuisine prepared on board using fresh catch of the lake.

    Observe the craft of veena-making

    Discover the laborious process of making veenas, the divine instrument of the South. During this workshop, learn how parts of the veena are carved out of the trunk of the jackfruit tree and how the veena becomes more melodious as the wood ages.

    Taste the flavours of Chettinad

    Experience the delectable cuisine of Chettinad through the feel and smell of ingredients, taking part in the cooking, followed by an elaborate lunch of the signature dishes served on a banana leaf.

    Witness a Storied Dance performance

    Stand mesmerised by an evening performance of kathakali, a performative art that is a unique combination of dance and storytelling. Watch as the performers, masked in elaborate make-up and extravagant costumes, bring forth the most exquisite expressions with a slight twitch of the brow.

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