The detailed itinerary provides an outline of the proposed daily program. Participants should note that the daily activities described in this itinerary may be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate changes in museum opening hours, flight schedules etc. All meals are included in the tour price and are indicated in the itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner. Bottled water is also included. All entrance fees and permits are included in the tour price.
Chennai - 2 nights
Day 1: Saturday 9 January 2021, Arrive Chennai
- Arrival transfer for participants arriving on the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Our tour commences in Chennai. Participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flights are scheduled to arrive into Chennai with Singapore Airlines in the late evening. After clearing Passport Control and Customs we will transfer by private coach to our hotel located in the city centre. If you are not arriving on the ASA ‘designated’ flight you will be required to make your own way to the hotel, or you may wish to contact ASA to arrange a private transfer. (Overnight Chennai)
Day 2: Sunday 10 January, Chennai
- Fort St George
- Welcome Lunch at the Hotel Residency Towers
- Chennai Museum
- Colonial Architecture
Chennai, formerly Madras, has a population of around 6 million. It grew by uniting geographically a number of small coastal villages and today sprawls across more than 70 square kilometres. Although a bustling metropolis, it has a more relaxed pace than Delhi, Calcutta (Kolkata) or Mumbai and it offers a fascinating gateway to our exploration of South India. As a port, trade and commerce have shaped Chennai into what it is today. Historically, the city became a significant linchpin in the rapid expansion of the British Empire. The fort area is striking for its grand colonial architecture. Built around 1653 by the British East India Company, the Fort currently houses the State Secretariat and the Legislative Assembly. Although access is restricted inside the Fort area, the Fort Museum houses memorabilia from both the British and the French East India Companies, as well as artifacts from the Raj and the Muslim administrators. Just outside the fort area stands the High Court, a vast structure and one of the most splendid examples in Chennai of Indo-Muslim architecture. It is claimed to be the largest judicial structure in the world after the Courts of London.
Following a welcome lunch at a local restaurant, we explore the magnificent collection of 11th- to 13th-century Chola bronzes at the Chennai Museum, which constitutes a corpus equalling the quality of any great European collection. The bronzes, representing Shiva, Vishnu, their consorts, and other members of the pantheon like Ganesha, often adopt exquisite dancing poses. Their naturalism and sensuality – they evince an extraordinary sensitivity to the rendition of flesh – contrast starkly to their stiff European medieval counterparts. Many of these images, their subjects inspired by poetry and dance, were carried in ancient temple processions. A change in religious thought around 1000 AD led to the bronzes being incorporated into human activity, especially processions, when they were paraded clothed in precious garments.
After exploring the museum we shall take a coach tour of the colonial architecture of this city, noting especially the mix of European, Hindu and Islamic styles that contributed to the fascination of the architecture of the Raj. (Overnight Chennai) BLD
Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu - 2 nights
Day 3: Monday 11 January, Chennai – Kanchipuram – Mahabalipuram
- Temple city of Kanchipuram
- Shore Temple at Sunset, Mahabalipuram
This morning we drive the short distance to Kanchipuram (pop. c. 170,000). One of Southern India’s most ancient cities, it was an early Chola capital in the 2nd century BC. From the 3rd to the 9th century AD, it became the Pallava capital, and from the 10th to the 13th century, it served as the late Chola government headquarters. An important Vijayanagar town from the 15th to the 17th century, it was conquered by Muslim and Maratha armies in the 17th century and by the British in the 18th century, after which it was twice sacked by the French. Throughout its history, Kanchipuram remained an important pilgrimage centre. In its early years it was a Jain and Buddhist centre of learning, and the great Hindu philosopher Ramanuja (traditionally dated 1017-1137) was educated there. Now considered one of the seven great sacred Hindu cities in India, it contains 108 Shaiva and 18 Vaishnava temples. We shall spend the morning visiting the city’s major temples and have lunch in the city.
In the afternoon we continue south to the coastal town of Mahabalipuram. After checking into our resort hotel we make a short visit to view the exterior of the two-towered Shore Temple. The view of the Shore Temple at sunset is breathtaking. Its warm stone colours are counterpointed by the brilliantly coloured saris of the many pilgrims who visit it each day. (Overnight Mahabalipuram) BLD
Day 4: Tuesday 12 January, Mahabalipuram
- The Five Rathas
- Shore Temple
- Arjuna’s Penance
- Krishna’s Butterball
- Time at leisure
Mahabalipuram was the capital of the Pallava Dynasty, the first Tamil dynasty of any real consequence to emerge after the fall of the Gupta Empire (c. 500 AD). It achieved the height of its power from the 5th to 8th centuries AD. There are numerous temples and rock carvings to explore here, most of them completed during the reign of Narasimha Varam I (630-68) and Narasimha Varam II (700-28). Narasimha Varam I was also known as Mahamall (‘Great Wrestler’) and it is from this that the town derives its name.
The massive relief rock carving known as Arjuna’s Penance shows myriad animals, deities and other semidivine creatures, as well as fables from classical Hindu texts. It is thought to symbolise the triumph of Hinduism over Gupta Buddhism. According to myth, asuras (demons) sent a boar to kill Arjuna. Shiva protected Arjuna in the form of Kirata (a hunter). Arjuna and Shiva killed the boar and then fought over who had succeeded in the killing. Shiva won and then revealed his true self to Arjuna. He blessed him and gave him the weapon for which Arjuna is shown performing his penance. The huge sculpture, which also shows the descent of the Ganges, is astounding in its finesse and intricacy.
Nearby is the ‘butterball’, a giant precariously perched rock, 5 metres in diameter. In Hindu mythology Lord Krishna had an insatiable appetite for butter and as a child would steal a handful from his mother’s butter jar. The rock is reputedly a bolus of butter he stole.
There are also a number of cave temples to see, as well as freestanding temples. Of the latter, the most fascinating are the so-called Five Rathas (the Dharmaraja, Bhima, Arjuna, Draupadi and the Sahadeva), a group of five intricately fashioned buildings carved, like sculptures, from the living rock. This extraordinary, monumental group was probably based upon wooden prototypes. Such elements as beams, eaves, brackets, door- and window frames, all carved from the living rock, reflect an earlier, lost, wooden temple tradition that may have preceded these masterpieces by many centuries. Mahabalipuram’s age-old tradition of stone carving continues today. Some 200 stonemasons live here and literally ‘carve their living’ by turning lumps of granite into statues of the gods. These are exported throughout the Hindu world.
We also make a return visit to the Shore Temple, said to be one of the most photographed structures in India. The tsunami in 2004 caused loss of life and some damage to this temple, however the giant wave also unearthed some previously hidden structures, sparking a new burst of archaeological activity. One of the main attractions of the area’s sculptures is that they reveal scenes of everyday life as opposed to the usual depictions of gods and goddesses. This is a strong element in much Tamil sculpture, echoing the vivid naturalism of Tamil poetry. (Overnight Mahabalipuram) BLD
Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu - 1 night
Day 5: Wednesday 13 January, Mahabalipuram – Gingee Fort – Pondicherry
- Gingee Fort
- Dinner at the De Bussy Restaurant
Today we make the drive south from Mahahalipuram to Pondicherry via Gingee Fort. Gingee Fort is a remarkable example of military engineering with its three citadels perched atop separate hills marking out a triangle protected by walls that are still largely intact. The fort is almost 1.5 kilometres from north to south, and scattered with the ruins of mosques, mandapas (a pillared outdoor hall or pavilion for public rituals), shrines, water tanks and granaries. Spectacular examples, of the once grand buildings, include the Krishna Temple and Durbar Hall, the Venkataramana Temple and the huge Kalyana Mahal and watchtower. Several temples mostly dedicated to Vishnu also survive; built in the 15th and 16th centuries by the Nayaka governors of the Vijayanagar empire. The fort saw many battles and was occupied by the Muslim sultans of Bijapur, the Marathas, the French and the British, as the East India Company expanded its hold on Southern India.
We shall have a boxed lunch at the site of Gingee Fort before heading to the coastal city of Puducherry (formerly known as Pondicherry). Founded in 1674 as the capital of the French Territories in India and a base for trade in textiles and spices, Pondicherry is laid out as an ordered grid along 3 kilometres of the Bay of Bengal. The streets adjoining the waterfront abound with elegant French mansions, tree-lined boulevards, parks and cafes. The town is integrally associated with Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), the Bangali poet, freedom fighter and mystic. Educated at Cambridge University, he returned to India to work in the administrative service of the Maharaja of Baroda and then the British Civil Service. He became increasingly active in political resistance in Bengal and after a period in prison fled British India to settle in French territory. In 1926 he established an Ashram where he wrote on and popularised the principles of yoga; the essence of his spiritual philosophy was that the humanity could further evolve in the spiritual sense through yogic practice, much as Darwinian theory sees human evolution. The Ashram remains a centre for charitable activities and spiritual devotion with many international devotees.
Following some time at leisure to enjoy the atmosphere of our hotel which is built in the French Colonial style, we enjoy dinner at the De Bussy Restaurant, located in the White Town district of Pondicherry. (Overnight Pondicherry) BLD
Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu - 2 nights
Day 6: Thursday 14 January, Pondicherry – Gangaikonda Cholapuram – Kumbakonam – Thanjavur
- Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple
- French Colonial architecture of Pondicherry
- Bronze Foundry, Kumbakonam
Following a short orientation tour of Pondicherry to view the town’s elegant colonial architecture, we explore two of India’s most magnificent Hindu temples. These two Chola temples date back to the 10th century and, like Chola bronzes, constitute masterpieces of Indian visual art.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram is a Shiva temple built by the Chola Emperor Rajendra I (1012-1044). It includes splendid carvings, among them fascinating images of Shiva, Ganesh and Nataraja. The original temple was made up of three main sections, each of its four gates protected by the goddess Kali. The lush gardens of this temple are a testimony to its sophisticated watering systems. A stairway descends to a well through the sculptured body of a lion. It is thought that the Chola Kings poured water from the Ganges into it so that there would be a permanent source in which the gods could bathe.
After lunch in Kumbakonam we make a brief visit to a local bronze foundry. Historically bronze casting has been one of the major art/craft forms of India. The earliest examples date back to Harappan culture four thousand years ago. The basis of the craft is the lost wax technique, where a wax model is cast in bronze. The finest examples of this craft are found in the Chennai and Thanjavur museums. The high point of bronze casting was from the Chola to the Vijayanagara periods (9th – 16th century AD).
After visiting the foundry we drive to Thanjavur, to the Ideal River Resort. This lovely, secluded hotel is located on the banks of the Vennar, a branch of Cauvery River. We shall dine on the terrace overlooking the river. (Overnight Thanjavur) BLD
Day 7: Friday 15 January, Thanjavur – Srirangam – Thanjavur
- Sri Ranganathaswamy (Ranganatha) Temple, Srirangam
- Brihadishwara Temple
- Surya Pongal Festival
This morning we drive through fascinating landscapes observing village life and explore the Sri Ranganathaswamy (Ranganatha) Temple, one of the largest temple complexes in India. Covering 60 hectares, the temple comprises seven concentric walls and 21 gopurams (monumental sculpted towers). This temple enshrines a statue of Vishnu reclining on a great serpent. There are many stories surrounding this representation of Vishnu. One has it that a sage aimed to transport the Vibhisana idol, known as Sri Ranganatha, across India to Sri Lanka. To rest from his efforts, he placed the statue on the ground. After a short while, when he was ready to continue his journey, he found that the statue had somehow bound itself to the earth. A hundred hands could not budge the idol, so a small temple was built over it. The temple complex, which has since grown around the statue, has been rebuilt and enlarged many times over the centuries. Most of the extant buildings, including a grand hall of one thousand magnificently sculptured pillars, were constructed between the 14th and 17th centuries.
Vishnu, the second deity of the trinity of Hindu gods, is responsible for the sustenance, protection and maintenance of the created universe. A gentle, loving god representing the heart, he is the focus of intense devotional worship by a large percentage of the Indian population. To ward off the extraordinary perils that threaten creation, Vishnu frequently incarnates himself. He has appeared as Rama, Krishna, the Buddha and other incarnations. The Naanmugan Gopuram is 13 stories tall and completely covered with intricately carved, brightly painted statues of the many incarnations of Vishnu. These sculptures are not only very beautiful and extraordinarily expressive, but also function as a three-dimensional storybook of Hindu mythology. They were intended, like the stained-glass windows of European Gothic churches to communicate visually the myths to a largely illiterate population.
For two thousand years the temples of Srirangam have been centres of Bhakti Yoga, which may be defined as the practice of devotional love of God as a spiritual path leading to enlightenment. Generous financial support of the temple by numerous ancient Indian dynasties made Srirangam a haven for those wishing to dedicate their lives to the practice of meditation and devotion. Many of India’s most loved saints and sages spent time at Srirangam, including the 11th-century sage Ramanuja who lived and was buried in the temple grounds. Srirangam is also listed as one of the Nava Graha Sthalas, or temples representing the planets.
This temple is superbly preserved with excellent carvings and countless shrines dedicated to myriad gods. Non-Hindus can journey as far as the sixth wall but are not permitted into the gold-topped sanctum. The outer four walls are filled with bazaars and houses for pilgrims. An annual wooden chariot festival is held here in January. The highly decorated chariot is pulled through the streets by dozens of devotees in homage to the gods.
After lunch in Srirangam we return to Thanjavur to visit the enormous tower of the Brihadishwara Temple (1010). This temple is regarded as the pinnacle of Chola architecture. We shall visit this temple at sunset. The temple, dedicated to Shiva, possesses many examples of the dancing Shiva. There is very little building stone around Thanjavur so all construction material would have been transported a great distance, an extraordinary feat. The temple’s dome is fashioned from a single piece of granite that was hauled into place along a four-kilometre earthwork ramp. There are 250 lingams enshrined along the outer temple wall and inscriptions on the wall record the names of dancers, poets and musicians, a reminder of the significance of this region to the development of Indian classical art. A huge Nandi (bull) looks towards the inner sanctum of the temple.
Note: Today we also plan to enjoy activities associated with the Pongal Festival. In 2021 the festival begins on the 13th January and takes place over four days. It corresponds with Makar Sankranti, the winter harvest festival celebrated throughout India, which marks the start of the sun’s six-month journey north (the Uttarayanam period) and warmer weather. This occasion honours the sun god, Surya, for providing enough warmth and energy for a prosperous harvest. Festivities feature the preparation of the Pongal dish, which is offered to the sun and shared with loved ones. It’s made, facing the rising sun to the east, by boiling the first rice of the season with milk and sugar. The highlight is when the dish spills over during cooking, signifying abundance. (Overnight Thanjavur) BLD
Madurai, Tamil Nadu - 2 nights
Day 8: Saturday 16 January, Thanjavur – Chettinad – Athangudi – Madurai
- Shivappa Nayaka Palace: Saraswati Mahal Library & Art Gallery, Thanjavur
- Chettinad Cuisine
- Athangudi Palace Tiles
This morning we explore the small city of Thanjavur (formerly Tanjore: pop. c.30,000), capital of the ancient Chola kings. We begin with a visit to the Shivappa Nayara Palace and its wonderful art gallery and library. The palace with its vast halls, long corridors and shady courtyards was constructed around 1550 by the Nayaks of Madurai and completed by the Marathas. The art gallery is located inside one of the palace halls and has a superb collection of Chola bronzes dating from the 9th to the 12th century that rival those you will have seen in Chennai. Also inside the palace complex is the Saraswati Mahal Library. Established around 1700, the library contains a collection of over 30,000 palm-leaf and paper manuscripts, some of which are of great antiquity.
Mid-morning we depart Thanjavur for Chettinad, whose cuisine is perhaps the most renowned fare in the Tamil Nadu repertoire. Dishes are made with freshly ground masalas and contain a variety of spices, sun-dried meats and salted vegetables, reflecting the dry environment of the region. After lunch in Chettinad we travel to Athangudi village to visit the factory where the tiles (popularly known as ‘Pokal’) are made. The stately mansions of the Chettinad region in Tamil Nadu are a statement of the affluence the mercantile community enjoyed at the height of its prosperity during the British Raj. Many mansions feature interiors decorated with Athangudi handmade tiles which are eco-friendly and feature traditional designs.
In the late afternoon we drive south to Madurai, our base for the next two nights. (Overnight Madurai) BLD
Day 9: Sunday 17 January, Madurai
- Meenakshi Temple
- Thirumalai Nayak Palace
- Ghandi Memorial Museum
We begin today with a visit to the vast Meenakshi Temple, which spreads over six hectares and dates back more than 2000 years to the time when Madurai was the capital of the Pandyan Kings. The temple has 12 gopurams, and there is a thriving bazaar between the outer and the inner walls that offers a great opportunity to hone your bargaining skills. There is also a ‘tailoring hall’ at the temple. If tailoring were an Olympic sport these tailors would certainly be in the gold medal stakes!
After a break in the hottest part of the day we visit the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, built by King Thirumalai Nayak to designs of an Italian architect in 1636 AD. The palace complex, a classic example of the Indo-Saracenic style, was originally four times larger than the present structure. It is divided into two major parts: the Swargavilasa and Rangavilasa. The royal residence, theatre, shrine, apartments, armoury, carriage house, royal bandstand, living quarters, pond and garden were situated in these two portions. The courtyard and the dancing hall are the major attractions of the palace today.
We also visit the Ghandi Memorial Museum housed in the 17th-century Tamukkam Palace. Inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru on 15 April 1959, exhibits include a part of the blood-stained garment worn by Gandhi when he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse. Also on display is an original letter written by Gandhi to Shri Narayanan Sathsangi of Devakottai, and a congratulatory message sent by Gandhi to freedom fighter and poet Subramania Bharati. (Overnight Madurai) BLD
Thekkady, Kumily, Kerala - 1 night
Day 10: Monday 18 January, Madurai – Thekkady
- Thekkady Spice Plantation
This morning we leave the state of Tamil Nadu and enter the state of Kerala, driving through lush agricultural areas and then high up into the Ghat Mountains to Thekkady, a mountain sanctuary that is famous for its dense evergreen, semi-evergreen, moist deciduous forests and savannah grass lands. The drive is dramatic, and amply demonstrates how this mountain range separated the very different societies of Kerala and Tamil Nadu for centuries, isolating Kerala, which avoided subjugation by the greater Indian dynasties throughout its history.
On arrival at the Thekkady Spice Village Resort we shall check in and have lunch. After lunch we shall drive by jeep to a 45-hectare spice plantation, whose owner will introduce the plantation and teach us the various uses to which spices like pepper, cardamom and cinnamon are put. We return to the resort in good time for you to enjoy its lovely gardens. (Overnight Thekkady) BLD
Cochin, Kerala - 2 nights
Day 11: Tuesday 19 January, Thekkady – Alleppey – Cochin
- Tea Plantation
- Cruise on backwaters of Vembanad Lake, Kumarakom
- Evening Performance of Kathakali
We begin today with a short visit to a working tea factory and plantation where we may view the tea-making process, the tea garden, and enjoy a tea-tasting. We then drive down from the mountains to the lush lakeside resort of Kumarakon. We have now entered a unique tropical environment, very different from the comparatively dry plains of Tamil Nadu, and the high Ghats. Much of Kerala consists of a deep labyrinth of waterways in which pirates who prayed upon Indian, Arab and later Portuguese shipping once hid. Only when the Europeans fortified the area did local potentates, who throve in Kerala’s fragmented topography, and the pirates, lose their power.
In the afternoon we shall cruise the backwaters of Vembanad Lake. These waterways are lined with coconut palms and there are exotic plants everywhere. Fishing boats ply the glassy lagoon waters, which have also been popularised by the famous Keralan houseboats. In the late afternoon we continue our drive north for approximately 50 kilometres to the famous port of Cochin.
On arrival in Cochin we shall witness a performance of Kathakali. The word Kathakali literally translates to ‘Story Play’ because the Kathakali performance is actually a dramatised presentation of a narrative. Today around 30 plays are performed (originally there were around 100). Performances are based on the Hindu epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as well as the Puranas. They address universal themes of good and evil, frailty and courage, poverty and prosperity, war and peace. They are performed across terrestrial or cosmic landscapes. These highly ritualised and vibrantly colourful plays can occupy many hours with every movement and every sound becoming a symbolic gesture that adds to the narrative. (Overnight Cochin) BLD
Day 12: Wednesday 20 January, Cochin
- Mattancherry Palace
- Fort Cochin & St Francis’ Church
- Fish Market & Chinese Fishing Nets
- Sunset Cruise on Cochin Harbour
- Special seafood dinner at Brunton Boatyard, overlooking the harbour
Cochin (pop. c. 60,000) is set on a cluster of islands and peninsulas and is home to one of India’s largest ports as well as a major naval base. The harbour is busy, with ferries as well as large merchant ships carrying on a bustling trade that has helped define this locale for centuries. The Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama died in Cochin in 1524 and was buried here for 14 years before his body was returned to Lisbon. His tombstone lies inside St Francis’ Church, built in 1503 by the Franciscan friars.
We begin today with a visit to the 16th-century Cochin Synagogue. Its small congregation forms part of a very ancient Jewish community in India. First built in 1568, the synagogue was destroyed by cannon fire during a Portuguese raid in 1662 and was rebuilt two years later when the Dutch took Cochin. The small structure has willow-pattern floor tiles brought from Canton in the mid-18th century. A much earlier synagogue built around 1344 has since disappeared; all that remains is a stone slab. The area around the synagogue is known as ‘Jewtown’ and is a centre of the Cochin spice trade. This area is crowded with stalls and shop fronts selling every imaginable type of spice. The whole area is permeated with a pungent odour of ginger, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, cloves and many other exotic aromas.
Nearby is the Mattancherry Palace. Also known as the ‘Dutch Palace’, it was built by the Portuguese and presented to the Raja of Kochi, Veera Kerala Varma (1537-65), in 1555. Its current moniker was adopted after 1663, when the Dutch carried out extensions and renovations. The rajas also made improvements to it. Today, it holds a portrait gallery of the Cochin Rajas and is notable for some of the best mythological murals in India, which are in the finest traditions of Hindu Temple Art. The Palace, with two floors built around a central courtyard, follows the traditional Kerala style of architecture known as ‘nalukettus’. From the outside, it appears almost European in character. The interiors, panelled with wood, also hold exhibits from the Rajas of Kochi such as ceremonial robes, headdresses, weapons, palanquins and furniture, but the main feature is the series of astonishing murals, depicting scenes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Puranas connected with Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna and Kumara.
This afternoon we visit Fort Cochin. Cochin city (also known as Kochi) has an eclectic mix of cultures, architecture and commerce, a pastiche of Portuguese, Chinese, Dutch, English, Jewish and, of course, Hindu influences. Here you will find the oldest Christian church in India as well as 500-year-old Portuguese houses. There are also the famous cantilevered Chinese fishing nets (offering wonderful photographic opportunities).
We end our day with a sunset cruise followed by a sumptuous seafood dinner overlooking Cochin’s magnificent harbour. (Overnight Cochin) BLD
Mysore, Karnataka - 3 nights
Day 13: Thursday 21 January, Cochin – Mysore
- Early morning flight from Cochin to Mysore (today’s program subject to flight schedules)
- Chamundi Hills lookout
Early this morning we transfer to Cochin airport for our flight to Mysore. On arrival we transfer by coach to our hotel located in the centre of Mysore, the former capital city of the Wodeyar Maharajas. After lunch we travel 13kms east of Mysore to the Chamundi Hills; the main hill provides a wonderful panoramic view of the city. This is also the site of the Chamundeshwari Temple, patronised by Mysore rulers for centuries. (Overnight Mysore) BLD
Day 14: Friday 22 January, Mysore – Seringapatam – Somanathapura – Mysore
- Seringapatam Fort
- Daria Daulat Bagh
- Tomb of Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan
- Chennakesava Temple, Somanathapura
This morning we drive to the very ancient trade and pilgrimage town of Seringapatam (pop. c. 25,000), which is separated from the mainland by a larger and smaller branch of the River Kaveri. A number of island temples on this river, like that of Seringapatam, are dedicated to Sri Ranganathaswamy, a manifestation of Lord Vishnu. The Seringapatam temple was founded in the 10th century and added to in the styles of the Vijayanagar Empire, and of the Wodeyar Maharajas of Mysore who asserted their independence (1399) when the Vijaynagar Empire began to disintegrate. In the 18th century the Muslim leader Hyder Ali (1721-1782), Dalavayi (commander-in-chief) of the Wodeyar leader Krishnaraja Wodeyar II, wrested power from his lord and made Srirangapatna his de facto capital. His son Tipu Sultan (1750-1799) succeeded him.
Several Indo-Islamic monuments such as Tipu Sultan’s palaces, the Daria Daulat and the Jumma Masjid (Friday congregational mosque), date from this period. We shall explore the town’s fort as well as the Daria Daulut Bagh, a pleasure pavilion built by Tipu Sultan to celebrate Hyder Ali’s defeat of Colonel Baillie at Pollilore, during his clashes with the British. It sits in a huge park and is approached by a typically Islamic long path and pool. Within the pavilion there is a fascinating mural depicting Hyder Ali at court. Nearby, we visit the Tomb of the two leaders.
On our return to Mysore we drive 35 kilometres to Somanathapura to visit the Chennakesava Temple, one of the finest examples of Hoysala architecture, dating back to the 12th century. (Overnight Mysore) BLD
Day 15: Saturday 23 January, Mysore
- Maharaja’s Palace
- Shweta Varahaswamy Temple, Maharaja’s Palace
- Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery
- Devaraja Market
- Time at leisure
This morning we explore the vast City Palace of the Maharajas of Mysore that was designed by British architect Henry Irwin for Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, who took power after the death of Tipu Sultan and reigned from 1799 to 1868. It remained the family palace of the Wodeyar royal family. Henry Irwin designed this vast palace in a florid Indo-Saracenic style that blended Hindu, Muslim, Rajput, and Gothic elements. Today there is a museum within the palace, and its numerous carved wooden and silver doors, stained glass mirrors, and history paintings attest to the wealth and prestige attained by the Wodeyar family during their long rule.
Within the palace grounds we visit the Shweta Varahaswamy temple in the Hoysala architectural style. The shrine of the Goddess has an elegant doorway and intricately carved pillars and tower. There are fine stucco niches and beautiful mural paintings depicting incidents from the Ramayana and the Bhagavata concentrating on the exploits of Lord Krishna.
We next visit the Jaganmohan Palace, which houses the Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery, one of the largest and finest in Southern India. It is especially known for its collection of paintings by Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906), an artist from Travancore (Kerala) who achieved recognition for his depiction of scenes from the epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana. His paintings are considered to be among the best examples of the fusion of Indian traditions with the techniques of European academic art.
We end the day with a visit to Devaraja Market, one of India’s most colourful and lively bazaars. (Overnight Mysore) BLD
Hassan, Karnataka - 1 night
Day 16: Sunday 24 January, Mysore – Belur – Halebid – Hassan
- Channakeshava Temple, Belur
- Hoysaleswara Temple, Halebid
Today we drive this morning to the city of Hassan for lunch and then continue north a short distance to visit two magnificent Hoysala style temples, noted for their intricate carving, and both UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites.
Hoysala temples are distinct because they don’t have the soaring gopurams (towers). Built on raised platforms that serve as mantapas (prayer halls), they eschew the more common four-sided Indian temple layout for a multi-sided polygon with entryways in the four cardinal directions. The shikhara (tower) here has a pyramidal structure studded with carvings.
The Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana built the Channakeshava Temple on the banks of the Yagachi River in Belur (Beluru), an early Hoysala capital. Channakeshava (lit, ‘handsome Kesava’) is a manifestation of Vishnu. It was commissioned in 1116 AD to commemorate the Hoysalas’ victory over the neighbouring Cholas. The facade of the temple is filled with intricate sculptures of elephants, lions, horses, episodes from the Indian mythological epics, and sensuous dancers (Shilabalikas). Inside, every inch of the space on the walls and ceilings of the temple have been sculpted. The ornate friezes include the Darpana Sundari showing a woman admiring herself in a hand-mirror; another depicts the churning of the ocean by the Asuras and Devas for the coveted pot of nectar.
The Hoysaleswara Temple in Halebid (Halebeedu), on the other hand, is dedicated to Shiva. Construction also began during the rule of King Vishnuvardhana around 1121 AD and went on for more than 190 years. It was never completed, but nonetheless stands today as a masterpiece of Hoysala architecture. The interior of its inner sanctum, chiselled out of black stone, is marvellous. On the outside, the temple’s richly sculpted walls are covered with a flurry of Hindu deities, sages, stylised animals and friezes depicting the life of the Hoysala rulers.
Tonight we stay in an eco-resort located just north of Hassan. (Overnight Hassan) BLD
Hampi, Karnataka - 3 nights
Day 17: Monday 25 January, Hassan – Chittradurga Fort – Hampi
We drive north east today to Hampi via Chitradurga Fort. This citadel straddles several hills and a peak overlooking the flat Vedavati river valley in the Chitradurga District. The fort’s name, ‘Chitrakaldurga’, which means ‘picturesque fort’ in Kannada, gave its name to the adjacent town on the Vedavati and its administrative district. The fort, built by various dynasties between the 15th and 18th centuries, comprises a series of seven concentric walls with various passages, a citadel, mosque, warehouses for grains and oil, water reservoirs and 19 ancient temples; 18 temples lie in the upper fort and one huge temple in the lower fort. Among these temples the oldest and most interesting is the Hidimbeshwara temple. Hyder Ali added the mosque after he defeated the Nayakas of Chitradurga in 1779. (Overnight Hampi) BLD
Day 18: Tuesday 26 January & Day 19: Wednesday 27 January, Hampi World Heritage Site
- Hampi Bazaar
- Virupaksha Temple
- Hemakuta Hill
- Nandi Statue
- Vittala temple
- Zenana Enclosure
- Lotus Mahal
- Queen’s Bath
- Archaeological Museum
We spend days 17 and 19 exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hampi-Vijayanagara, which has a special connection with Australia, having been studied, measured and drawn by teams led by Melbourne architectural historian, Professor George Michell. The Hindu Vijayanagara Empire on the Deccan Plateau rose to power when the southern states fought to ward off Islamic invasions. For 200 years until it declined after military defeat (1565) by the Deccan sultanates it prospered through trade and conquest. It attracted merchants and travellers from Arabia, Portugal, China, and even Russia. The Empire is named for its capital city of Vijayanagara, whose vast 13 square kilometre ruins surround present day Hampi; the Tungabhadra River runs through the hills on which myriad temples and royal monuments were built. Previous South Indian temple building traditions coalesced in the Vijayanagara architecture style. Innovative temple construction developed from the mingling of faiths and vernacular styles as well as influences brought about by the Empire’s substantial trade networks. Seven lines of fortifications with many bastions and gateways originally defended the city of Vijayanagara; the innermost enclosing the city core is the best preserved. The city’s monuments include religious, civil & military buildings. Jain temples on Hemakuta hill, two Devi shrines & some structures in the Virupaksha temple complex predate the Vijayanagara Empire; the Shiva shrines with their stepped superstructures are Chalukyan (9th-10th centuries). Of the Vijayanagaran monuments, the Vittala Temple Complex is arguably the most famous. The road leading to the temple is lined by the ruins of the original horse market; the temple contains images of foreigners like Persians selling horses. Nearby is a great stone chariot. Within the temple are famous ‘musical’ pillars. The British cut two pillars in an attempt to divine the source of the sound; they found nothing but hollow pillars.
Hemakuta Hill lies to the south of Hampi village. Several small temples here predate the construction of the capital, some being as early as the 10th century. The hill was fortified when the main city was constructed and a number of more recent temples, tanks, entrances, and gopurams built, some of which were never completed.
The Lotus Mahal in the Zenena enclosure is a two-storied symmetrical structure that is a fine example of Indo-Islamic architecture. The base of the structure is in a Hindu style typical of Vijayanagara architecture while the superstructure is Islamic with pyramidal towers instead of regular domes. This gives it a Lotus-like look, hence its name. It is one of the very few buildings with intact plaster decoration. The carvings on the pillar arches including those of birds are exquisite. Pipes running between the arches of the Mahal cooled this palace with fresh air during summer. A rectangular wall surrounds the entire monument; its corner watchtowers served to guard the women’s chambers. (Overnight Hampi) BLD
Badami - 1 night
Day 20: Thursday 28 January Hampi – Pattadakal – Badami
- Pattadakal Mallikarjuna, Virupaksha & other temples
- Badami Cave Temples
Today we travel north to visit two spectacular examples of Chalukyan architecture: the great cave temples at Badami and the UNESCO heritage-listed structural temples at Pattadakal.
We are now in the heartland of the Chalukya Dynasty that ruled much of the Deccan and Southern India between the 6th and the 12th centuries as three related yet individual dynasties. The earliest dynasty, known as the Badami Chalukyas, ruled the western Deccan coastal plain from their capital Vatapi (modern Badami) from c. 540 to 754 AD. It is said that Aihole (old Aryapura) had the honour of being the first capital of the Chalukya dynasty before the capital moved to Badami. Nearby Pattadakal, was their coronation city. The early Chalukyas benefitted greatly from conquering coastal cities like Elaphanta (on an island in Mumbai harbour) and exploiting their trade networks. After their rise to power they came into conflict with the Pallavas and Pandyas of Tamil Nadu and brought about a critical change in Southern India from these smaller kingdoms to a large empire.
The Chalukyas were ardent practitioners of Hinduism, more specifically Shaivism, or followers of Shiva; and to a lesser extent, Vaishanavism, followers of Vishnu. In particular, deities such as Shiva, Vishnu, Karikeya, and the Sapta Matrikas, also known as the Seven Mothers, were worshipped, and many temples were built around the region in their dedication. Despite Hinduism’s popularity as the religion of choice by both the Chalukyan royal family and the masses at large, the Chalukyan dynasty was tolerant of other religions and coexisted with followers of Jainist and Buddhist traditions, although Buddhism was becoming less popular in the region.
The Chalukyas built 10 temples in their coronation city, Pattadakal, between the 7th and 8th century; one of them is a Jain sanctuary. They, like the Badami caves, experiment with a number of styles and thus are extremely important for the evolution of Hindu temple design. Four temples were built in Chalukya Dravidian style, four in Nagara style of Northern India, while the Papanatha temple is a fusion of the two idioms. It is this blending of styles that makes them so significant. We shall pay special attention to the largest of all the temples, the Virupaksha temple.
The Badami cave temples are extremely important as some of the earliest known experiments in Hindu temple design and were critical for the development of temple design elsewhere in India. There are five important caves in all. Caves one to three are dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu, while Cave four features Jain images. There is also a Buddhist Cave that has been converted to temple dedicated to Vishnu. Another cave identified in 2013 has a number of carvings of Vishnu and other Hindu deities; water constantly gushes out through this cave. (Overnight Badami) BLD
Hyderabad, Telangana - 2 nights
Day 21: Friday 29 January, Badami – Belagavi – Hyderabad
- Afternoon flight from Belagavi to Hyderabad (today’s program subject to flight schedules)
Today we travel to Hyderabad across the heart of the Deccan. Muhammad Quli, fifth sultan of Golconda, founded Hyderabad in 1589. He was a highly intelligent and cultured man endowed with immense creative energy. The city fell to the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1687 when he annexed the Golconda state. The governorship of this wealthy and extensive new Mughal province was entrusted to Mir Kamruddin Khan, who had helped Aurangzeb push the Mughal Empire to its southern geographical limits. He remained in Hyderabad as governor of the Mughal Deccan with the title Nizam-ul-mulk, ‘Manager of the State’. Ironically, it was his conquests that pushed the Mughal Empire beyond its manageable limits and triggered its collapse. When the empire began to crumble after Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, Mir Kamruddin Khan declared his independence, retained his Mughal title, and ruled as the first Nizam of Hyderabad.
After a shaky start, during which the new state was worsted by the Marathas, British and French, all of whom had an all-India imperial agenda, Hyderabad emerged under the pax Britannica to become India’s premier princely state, its ruler addressed by the British as ‘His Exalted Highness’ and accorded a salute of 21 guns. His state outlasted the British occupation of the sub-continent to be annexed in 1949 by the fledgling Republic of India.
With the rapid decline of the old Mughal capital at Delhi and the overthrow of other Islamic princes and governors across India, many Muslim nobles, intellectuals and artists moved south to settle in Hyderabad. Immigrants were attracted from Persia, Turkey and Arabia. Some were traders and soldiers of fortune. Others were poets, craftsmen and musicians. Hyderabad emerged as the premier centre of Islamic learning and culture in India, a cosmopolitan city ruled by a man whose genealogy was one of the most ancient and illustrious in the Islamic world, with a direct line of descent on the male side from the first Caliph, the Prophet Muhammad’s successor Abu Bakr, and a direct line on the female side from the Prophet himself. (Overnight Hyderabad) BLD
Day 22: Saturday 30 January, Hyderabad
- Chowmahalla Palace
- Mecca Masjid (exterior only)
- Char Minar
- Salar Jung Museum
- Farewell Dinner
We begin today by visiting the opulent 18th- and 19-century Chowmahalla Palace, the official residence of the Nizams while they ruled their state. Salabat Jung initiated its construction in 1750, while Afzal ad-Dawlah (Asaf Jah V) ensured its completion between 1857 and 1869. In Persian, Chahar means ‘four’ and in Arabic Mahalat (plural of Mahal) means palaces, hence the name Chowmahalla/four palaces. This vast palace with grand gardens is believed to have been modeled on the Shah of Iran’s palace in Tehran.
We next visit the the Mecca Masjid, the principal mosque in the city and one of the largest in the world, built in stages over almost the whole of the 17th century and completed by Aurangzeb in 1692. The mosque derives its name from the fact that some of the small red bricks in the central arch were baked from clay brought from Mecca.
Our next stop to the east of the mosque will be Hyderabad’s world famous landmark, the Char Minar (four towers), a ceremonial archway built in 1591 and a masterpiece of the later Deccani (Qutb Shahi) school of architecture, with its graceful synthesis of Hindu and Mughal styles. The Char Minar is the starting point for a walking tour that will take us into the heart of old Hyderabad as we explore the bazaar area, famous for its silks, pearls, spices, ikat textiles and old books.
We end our tour of Hyderabad at the Salar Jung Museum, named after an extremely able chief minister to the Nizams of Hyderabad (1853-83), who was noted for his collection of antiques and rare art treasures. Recently raised to the status of a national museum, it has a unique collection of armour and weaponry, Mughal uniforms and imperial clothing, Deccani miniature paintings and illuminated manuscripts, including some priceless copies of the Koran. Tonight we celebrate the end of our tour with a Farewell meal at the Taj Krishna restaurant. (Overnight Hyderabad) BLD
Day 23: Sunday 31 January, Depart Hyderabad
- Golconda Fort
- Tombs of Qutb Shahi Kings
- Airport transfer for participants departing on the ‘ASA designated’ flight
The sultanate of Golconda was founded from the crumbling Bahmani kingdom when its Turki governor, Quli Qutb Shah, proclaimed his independence in 1518. His Shi’ite dynasty, which lasted 170 years, was one of the most liberal and cosmopolitan of India’s ruling houses. Hindus and Muslims lived peaceably together, men of both religions holding high offices of state. The Qutb Shahis distinguished themselves with their grand civic projects and their patronage of architecture, painting, calligraphy and the decorative arts.
Huge quantities of diamonds were mined in the Qutb Shahi territories and Golconda was a flourishing city in the 17th century, trading with Safavid Persia and Ming China. Its wealth was legendary in a land fabled for its riches.
Apart from its constant rivalry with Bijapur, Golconda’s only wars were with the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar to the south. In 1565 a confederate army of Golconda, Bijapur and Ahmadnagar destroyed this last great Hindu empire in India, vastly increasing Golconda’s wealth and territory. By diplomacy and strong military posturing Golconda kept the Mughals at arms length until Aurangzeb was appointed governor of the Deccan. He laid siege to Golconda in 1656 but had to leave the Deccan precipitately to fight his three brothers for succession to the imperial throne. He returned thirty years later, captured Hyderabad and again besieged the Sultan of Golconda in his own fortress. Abul Hassan held out for 8 months, through summer heat and monsoon rain, against mining, bombardment and infantry assault. The fortress was eventually taken by treachery and the last ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty was sent as a state prisoner to the great fortress of Daulatabad, where he died 17 years later.
The fortress of Golconda, which we will visit this morning, is surrounded by almost two kilometres of solid granite walls. In the centre is the citadel, the Balar Hissar, crowning a rocky outcrop 110 metres high. Inside the walls are the ruins of mosques, palaces and zenanas (the part of the house in which the women of a family are secluded), begun by Quli Qutb Shah and extended by his successors. Here we can see a rare surviving example of Mughal technology: parts of the hydraulic machinery for lifting water from ground level to the roof pavilions for irrigation and cooling are still visible.
The most impressive monuments on the citadel are the 21 tombs of the rulers of Golconda. The architecture of these domed granite mausoleums is pure Deccani: large ornamental façades, bulbous domes and extensive use of stucco work on the minarets.
Following some time at leisure, we take an early evening transfer to the Hyderabad Airport for our return flight to Australia. If you wish to stay in Hyderabad or are taking different flights, please contact ASA for assistance. BL