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  • India
  • Sacred South India

Sacred South India

14 Day Escorted Tour

India, Indian Subcontinent

A magical tour through the spiritual riches and cultural melting pots of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Marvel at the magnificence of ancient Shiva temples built by Chola kings a thousand years ago. Admire the fusion of European and Asian architectural styles in Pondicherry and Kochi. Savour the scenery up in the misty hills and tea plantations around Munnar. Along the way, delight in the unique flavours of South Indian cuisine.

2020 Dossier

2021 Dossier

Tour Highlights

  • Explore three of the 'elemental' Pancha Bhuta Temples representing Water, Fire, and Space
  • Discover colonial and ancient history behind the modern facade of Chennai, formerly Madras
  • Visit the majestic Arunachaleswara Temple at Thiruvannamalai, the spiritual hub of South India
  • Ponder the mythical red Mountain of Arunachala, where Sri Ramana Maharshi meditated for 23 years
  • Take a tour around the boulevards of Pondicherry's French Quarter, then visit the famous spiritual communes of Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville
  • Marvel at the magnificent Brihadeeswarar Temple at Tanjore, Chola King Rajaraja's extravagant creation a thousand years ago
  • Witness the evening ceremony at Meenakshi Temple, the crowning glory of Madurai
  • Enjoy a trip to a tea plantation up in the lush hill country around Munnar
Train
Coach
Boat
Airplane
Walking
1
Number of nights

Itinerary

Day 1
UK to Chennai

Depart London on your scheduled overnight flight.

Day 2
Chennai

Dinner

On arrival, you will be met by a local guide and transferred to your hotel.

Day 3
Chennai

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

British presence in India was established in Chennai, formerly Madras, by the East India Company in 1639. Today India's fourth largest city is a technology boomtown but there is some interesting history behind the modern facade. This morning's tour starts with a visit to Fort St. George, completed in 1653 as a bastion of British power. Its museum gives a fascinating insight into early colonial life, and nearby St Mary's is the oldest Anglican church in India. The drive along the elegant promenade by the world famous Marina Beach takes you to Mylapore, the old heart of Chennai. Look inside the San Thome Basilica, resting place of "Doubting Thomas", the Apostle who ended his days preaching on the nearby beach.

Day 4
Chennai to Thiruvannamalai, via Mahabalipuram

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Today's transfer takes in a visit to the monolithic shrines and rock-cut temples of Mahabalipuram, once a thriving port city under the Pallava dynasty between the 4th and 9th centuries AD. Highlights of this UNESCO World Heritage Site includes the Shore Temple, built to honour Lord Shiva c700 AD; the cluster of temples known as the Five Rathas; and the incredible 'Arjuna's Presence' bas-relief carving. From here continue to Thiruvannamalai and a relaxing dinner at your hotel

Day 5
Thiruvannamalai to Pondicherry

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Thiruvannamalai is the spiritual hub of South India, and top of this morning's agenda is a trip to the majestic Arunachaleswara Temple. This is a sacred place for Hindus where Lord Shiva is worshipped as Agni Linga ('the form of fire'). The temple complex, which covers 10 hectares, lies at the foot of the mystical red mountain of Arunachala, today's next port of call, which for many is as sacred as the temple itself. A short walk away from the main temple, on the way to Arunachala, we'll pass the sanctum sanctorum which houses the ancient Agni Linga itself - a place where the linga has remained unmoved for millennia. Whilst exploring the Arunachala mountain, see the Virupaksha cave on this extinct volcano - reputed to be one of the world's oldest mountains - where Sri Ramana Maharshi meditated for 23 years from 1899 to 1922. Continue on to Pondicherry, your base for the next three nights

Day 6
Pondicherry

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

After breakfast, take a rickshaw ride around the serene boulevards of Pondicherry's French Quarter and savour the Gallic colonial style of architecture, especially the 200-year old Raj Niwas, the former Governor's residence. This laid-back seaside town was under French rule until 1954 and the legacy is brilliantly illustrated in the Pondicherry Museum, even down to Governor Dupleix's bed! Don't miss Pondy's most attractive church, the Notre Dame des Anges, where you'll see a rare painting of Our Lady of the Assumption - a gift from Napoleon III. Then discover your inner yogi with a visit to Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the famous spiritual commune whose followers practice a form of yoga that involves practical community work more than meditative retreat. See how the New-Age philosophy was extended in the 1960s at nearby Auroville (the 'City of Dawn'). It's as futuristic in appearance as it is idealistic in principle, with around 1,500 residents from 35 countries involved in an enlightened experiment in alternative living.

Day 7
Pondicherry

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Enjoy the full day at your leisure.

Day 8
Ponicherry to Tanjore

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Set off for Tanjore, stopping en route at Chidambaram to visit the magnificent Nataraja Temple, one of Tamil Nadu's five Pancha Bhuta temples - this being aligned with the element of 'space'. Notice the heavy emphasis on dancing, with carvings of the 108 sacred positions of the classical Indian dance form Bharatanatyam. The temple is a dedication to Shiva as the Natajara - Lord of the Dance - and a representation of the exuberance of creation. The five-temple structure was built in the Chola times and boasts a golden roof and four massive gopuram towers, the whole complex covering around 35 acres. It is believed to have been consecrated by Patanjali, the 'Father of Modern Yoga', more than 2,000 years ago. The beauty and intricacy of the various carvings, murals, shrines, and images are awe-inspiring. Continue your journey to Tanjore to enjoy a relaxing evening with dinner at your hotel.

Day 9
Tanjore

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

This morning takes in a visit to the incredible Brihadeeswarar Temple, a World Heritage Site built at vast expense by the Chola King Rajaraja a thousand years ago. As you look at the colossal 230 ft tower over the inner sanctum you can only wonder at the engineering skill and architectural vision, whilst the beautiful fresco murals on the inner walls rank alongside those in the Ajanta caves. Before lunch, there's still time to see the nearby Royal Palace, built as the home of the Nayak rulers and later the Marathas in the 16th century. Admire the huge corridors and spacious halls, and take in the fabulous view from the Arsenal Tower. Part of the palace has been turned into an impressive art gallery with much to admire, mostly from the Chola period. The afternoon is yours to spend at your leisure, with the option of a bullock cart ride to the nearby village and, in the evening, a mouth-watering cooking demonstration of vibrant South Indian cuisine.

Day 10
Tanjore to Madurai

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

After breakfast, transfer to Madurai, one of the oldest cities in the world. After lunch make a fascinating excursion to the nearby "Potters Village" of Vilacheri, where everyone is engaged in the craft of turning wet clay and papier-mache into dolls, idols and other figures. Hear the locals talk about this strange tradition while you watch them mould, bake and paint their creations. Have a go and create a piece of your own if you fancy trying your hand at the art! In the evening pay a visit to the Meenakshi Temple, the crowning glory of Madurai and on' of India's finest temples. Watch the nightly closing ceremony where an icon of Lord Shiva is carried to the Goddess Parvati's chamber for the night to celebrate their celestial union.

Day 11
Madurai to Munnar

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

After breakfast drive to the hilltop hotel near Munnar, South India's largest tea growing region, and enjoy the rest of the day at your leisure.

Day 12
Munnar

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Today you'll discover the lush beauty of this region, with tea-covered, mist-shrouded slopes, refreshingly cool climate and spectacular mountain scenery. Gaze upon the mirror-like waters of the lake created by the Mattupetty Dam. Listen to your own echo bouncing around the surrounding hills at Echo Point. Learn about the origins of your morning cuppa at one of the tea plantations owned by the mighty Tata corporation. And on your way back, take a photo of the amazing Honey Bee Tree, a huge tree that is home to 25 honey bee hives, and ask yourself, why did they choose this tree alone to build their nests? Return to the hotel for a well-earned rest and reviving dinner.

Day 13
Munnar to Kochi

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

In the morning, drive to Kochi (formerly Cochin), then enjoy an afternoon walking tour through the old streets of Fort Kochi. In 1341 it became one of the finest harbours in the world by accident, thanks to a massive flood, making it the first port of call for Arabs, then Chinese and finally Europeans. In just a few hours the walk gives an insight into hundreds of years of history that have created a unique melting pot where fourteen languages are spoken and myriad cultures combine. Watch fishermen hoisting their catch from the cantilevered Chinese fishing nets that line the shore. Then stop by St. Francis Church, India's oldest European church. Other highlights among many include the Santa Cruz Basilica, Mattancherry (Dutch) Palace and the unmissable Paradesi (Jewish) Synagogue. Return to the hotel to freshen up before a farewell dinner capped by a mesmerising Kathakali dance performance.

Day 14
Kochi to the UK

Breakfast

After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight back to the UK or continue onto your chosen extension.

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Dates & Prices

Dates
Price (per person)
Dates available
October 2020
from £1,589
2 Dates
6th Oct - 19th Oct
£1,599
Call to Book:
0333 242 7529
20th Oct - 3rd Nov
£1,589
Call to Book:
0333 242 7529
November 2020
from £1,529
1 Date
4th Nov - 17th Nov
£1,529
Call to Book:
0333 242 7529

Accommodation

The hotels listed below are provided for guidance only and final confirmation of your accommodation will be sent to you approximately 90 days before you travel
The Residency
2 nights
Chennai, India
More details
Sparsa Resort Tiruvannamalai
1 nights
Tiruvannamalai, India
More details
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Tour Reviews

R Reilly

18 Mar 20

It was interesting to stay in a range of different hotels and sample local food. The tour was well organised and excellent value for money. For anyone interested in art and architecture this is a wonderful itinerary. We also saw some stunning landscapes. It was nice to visit a less visited area of India compared with the north. It felt very safe and people were welcoming.

J Lewis

13 Feb 20

Everything on the trip was very good, the guide on time and efficient. The bus was a good size for the group and the pace was not too fast, on the whole the food was good.

Margaret Konigsberg

29 Jan 20

We particularly enjoyed our stay at Kochi and Thiruvannamalai.

More time at these hotels please !!

Hina Lyall

26 Oct 19

Great pace for people of all ages. Reasonable mobility required to walk. Optional mountain climb at Auroville ashram. Our South India Sacred Tour with Mercury Holidays was fabulous. The tour guide Cleetus was very knowledgeable and humorous he added an interesting and enjoyable dimension to our trip. We enjoyed all aspects of the holiday without feeling rushed. The temples churches and palaces were breath taking and awe inspiring. Mercury Holidays were excellent.

M Seel

21 Oct 19

Really enjoyed the trip such interesting places, journeys not too long thankfully. The guide and driver made it very good and the hotels were good too. I look forward to booking again.

Jean Taylor

17 Oct 19

All were of a good quality some more than others depending on the area ie : rural or city

Peter White

25 Sep 19

all hotels of good quality, good service food of high quality.

a couple of hotels had no iron or ironing board in room.

Hamilton Brandon-Salmon

24 Jun 19

very good standard ,very clean and the food excellent even in out of the way places which in india can happen, the holiday was great fun and the whole experience wonderful

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Extend Your Tour

Sacred South India with Dubai City Stay

3 Day Extension
from

£129

pp

Sacred South India with Marari Beach Stay

4 Day Extension
from

£239

pp

Sacred South India with Keralas Backwaters Extension

5 Day Extension
from

£499

pp

Important Information

A visa is required for entry into India. British Citizen Passport Holders will need to obtain an e-Tourist Visa (eTV) for travel to India. We work closely with The Travel Visa Company who will be able to arrange your visa on your behalf. Please call them on 01270 250 590 and quote 'Mercury Holidays'. The cost of the visa is approximately £114 per person. The Travel Visa Company can only apply for these 120 days before your proposed travel date and takes around 10 working days to issue. It is only valid for a 60-day single entry stay from the date of arrival. When calling the Travel Visa Company, they will advise you of any changes to the fees or the procedure, they will also advise you of all information they will require in order to apply for the visa. Alternatively, you can visit The Indian Visa Application Centre in London: 142-148 Goswell Road, London, EC1B 7DU. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months before you enter India. Visa requirements are subject to change and obtaining a visa is the responsibility of the traveller and not Mercury Holidays. We recommend you check with your destinations' Tourist Board or Embassy prior to departure for the most up to date guidelines regarding visas and passport validity.

If booking more than 10 weeks before departure a deposit of £49pp will need to be paid at the time of booking with the full amount payable at 10 weeks prior to departure. The deposit applies to adults and children. If you are within 10 weeks of travel then the full balance of the holiday will be payable.

Flights are operated with Emirates, departing London Heathrow via Dubai. Each passenger is entitled to 30KG of hold luggage plus 1 item of hand luggage not exceeding (Max 10kg - 55cm/38cm/ 20cm) in size. Weight restrictions will be finalized on E-ticket receipt. Should you wish to take additional luggage you will need to pay extra at check- in. Check-In should be at least 3 hours before departure. IMPORTANT: Please note that final flight details will be confirmed on your e-ticket and final documentation which will be sent to you approximately 10 days before departure.

It is your responsibility to check any health and vaccination requirements applicable to your booked arrangements. We can only provide general information about this. Health and hygiene facilities and disease risks vary from country to country. You should take health advice about your own needs as early as possible and in good time before your departure. Sources of information include; www.fco.gov.uk, www.travelhealthpro.org.uk, www.hpa.org.uk, your General Practitioner or a specialist clinic.

This tour is accessible to most people with an average level of fitness and normal mobility. It involves full days of sightseeing, often on foot, & includes some climbing of stairs and getting on and off coaches. This tour is not suitable for anyone with walking difficulties.

The minimum number of travellers in your group will be 10, and the maximum will be 40. If in the unlikely event there are less than 10 people booked on your tour date, we will endeavour to reduce any disruption to your holiday and try to operate your tour with lower passenger numbers. If we are not able to operate your departure date, then you may be asked to change to a different date and a full refund will be made available to you should this alternative not be suitable.

This is a fully escorted tour, meaning that you will be met on arrival by your national guide who will remain with you for the duration of your trip. You will also be joined by a local guide in each of the cities which you visit, ensuring that you have first-hand knowledge at all times.

The currency in India is the Rupee or Rs. The Rupee is a closed currency and officially you are not allowed to take any cash out of India. US Dollars and GBP are also widely accepted in India should you wish to keep an alternative currency on you. There are restrictions on taking Indian rupees into India. Visitors, including tourists, are not permitted to take any amount of Indian currency into the country. You can take cash or travellers' cheques (in pounds sterling or another foreign currency) and/or a bank card with you and exchange or withdraw rupees once in India.

You will need to take some extra money with you to cover any personal purchases, such as souvenirs, laundry and extra drinks and snacks. Approximately £400 per person will be sufficient for the duration of the tour. Tipping is at your discretion; however, we would recommend approximately £12 per person for the duration of your tour. Any accompanying guides we suggest approx. £3 per person per day and for the driver we suggest approx. £1 per person per day. All tips will be collected by your guide at the beginning of your tour for your convenience. Tips are accepted in the local currency, however, it is asked that if you do not tip in the local currency that you only pay with notes, as coins cannot be exchanged.