Welcome to Trivandrum, India. You’ve got the whole day free to explore the capital city (depending on when you get here of course) before you join up with your crew at a 6 pm welcome meeting where you meet your tour leader and travel group. Until the meeting, why not hit the streets! If Mahatma Gandhi refers to your hometown as the 'Evergreen city of India', you better make sure you keep it that way. Thankfully, Trivandrum is now considered as one of the ten greenest cities in India. Phew.
In the morning, head up the coast to the town of Varkala (approximately 2 hours). Once settled into your hotel, use some free time to explore the Keralan coast, which is home to some of India’s most awesome beaches on the Arabian Sea. Soaring cliffs protect Varkala’s sandy bay and, depending on the time of year, dolphins can be spotted from high up on the rocks. The main beach here is Papanasam Beach, which is long and golden with a backdrop of red laterite cliffs from where mineral water springs forth. Chill out here and witness fishermen pulling up their nets from the sea.
Enjoy a free day in Varkala. This is a great place to sit back and relax, but if you want to get active there are plenty of water activities on offer, such as surfing and windsurfing. Otherwise, kick back on the beach and enjoy some low-key time. Even though this is a popular destination for Indian tourists, the beaches are quiet and laid-back. If you have time, perhaps rent a bicycle and ride through fishing villages to Varkala Light House. Your leader will have all the top tips on what to do today.
Take a local three-hour train along the Keralan coastline to Alappuzha (Alleppey). Alappuzha's sleepy, palm-shaded backwaters are Kerala's hidden treasure. Once an important trading port and now famous for its August 'snake boat' races, Alappuzha is the starting point for most journeys into the backwaters. An auto rickshaw will take you from the train station to the boat boarding point. Crossing the backwaters, head to an island village to stay in a homestay overnight (approximately 1 hour). Your guide will take you on a walk around the village and introduce you to the local community. This is a great chance to meet and talk with the people who live here. Strolling under palm trees and weaving in between the rice fields that cover the island, learn about their lifestyles. You’ll also take a leisurely pole boat ride around the lake and enjoy the outstanding scenery.
In the morning cross the backwaters by private boat back to Alappuzha, which takes around one and a half hours. You’ll then take a local two-hour bus to Kochi, arriving around midday. Spread over several islands, Kochi is a fascinating place full of Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and English influences. Here you’ll stay in a lodge in a central location close to most of the sights in Fort Kochi. Once you get here, stretch your legs with an orientation walk around some of the sights of the nearby area, including St Francis Church, Santa Cruz Basilica and the famous Chinese fishing nets. In the evening, there’s the option to attend a classic Kathakali dance performance at 5pm. This performance takes years of special training and is an amazing slice of Keralan cultural traditions.
Today, head to the Mattancherry part of Fort Kochi to explore the old Jewish quarter, synagogue (the Jewish community here goes back to 1,000 AD) and Dutch Palace (Kochi Palace) on an orientation walking tour. The tour takes around three hours, with the rest of the day free to do as you wish. Why not join an Urban Adventures day tours, such as Fort Cochin by Bike, Home Cooked Kochi or Kochi Food and Culture Tour. Afterwards, it’s time to get a true Indian experience – an overnight train to Bangalore. Indian trains are like a moving town – watch the colourful landscape fly by and chat with the locals as the chai wallah walks down the aisle singing about his tea.
You’ll arrive into Bangalore pretty early in the morning, then catch a bus to your hotel in Mysore (approximately 5 hours). Mysore is an easy-going town with a pleasant climate; it’s well laid out, with wide streets and many gardens, making it perfect for wandering on foot. It’s also one of the best smelling places in India – it’s a major base for incense makers, so you’ll be surrounded by the aromas of sandalwood, jasmine, rose and musk. A visit to Mysore isn't complete without a look around Mysore Palace. One of the most ornate palaces in India, its interior is a riot of colour, mosaics and mirrors. There’s also the option to visit the Keshava Temple in Somnathpur, a stunning example of Hoysala architecture just an hour out of town.
Whatever you do, it’s up to you. It’s a free day. There’s loads of time to explore the explore the surrounding countryside, so head out and climb Chamundi Hill – site of the Sri Chamundeswari Temple, which is dedicated to Goddess Durga. No bull – half way up you can’t miss the huge vahana of Lord Shiva that’s carved from a single piece of black granite (it’s a bull). In the evening (approximately 7 pm), board get another overnight train from Mysore up to Hampi. This should take around ten hours, arriving early in the morning.
In the morning, arrive into Hampi and cross the river to your guesthouse on a small boat. Hampi is an ancient temple town sitting on the banks of the Tungabhadra River. Once you’re settled in, maybe head over to the architectural masterpiece of Vittala Temple. This 16th-century temple is the home of mandapas (pillared pavilions), a pool, a palace and the popular stone chariot, which Hindu mythology says was Lord Vishnu’s pimped out ride. Need some tips? You're leader is the one with all the insider knowledge!
Hampi’s a surreal ancient city on a prehistoric-looking landscape of huge boulders. It’s got literally thousands of ruins scattered about, and you could spend forever going from temple to temple in the back of a rickshaw. The town’s famous for it’s part in the Hindu epic story Ramayana, with Shiva and Parvati getting hitched here. Today you can explore the ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire and the huge boulders on the outskirts of town. Check the majestic dome and pillars of the Virupaksha temple, the royal quarters, and the Archaeological Museum to get an idea of life here in the 16th century. The essential sunrise or sunset pics can be snapped at Hemakuta Hill or Matanga Hill.
Hampi is a great place to kick back and relax. Here there’s no better place to chill out that in Virupapuragaddi, which you can get to via boats across the river. It’s called the Hippie side and you can laze about in the backpacker cafes here. If you’re feeling like more walking then you can climb up the steps to the top of Annegudi Hill, which has great views of the surrounding countryside. If you’re not templed-out then there are no doubt still tonnes of hidden structures for you to explore by foot or bike. In the early evening, drive for around three hours by private vehicle to Hubli, where you’ll board an overnight nine-hour train to Goa.
Once the train arrives in Goa, head to the hotel and check in. Brimming with Portuguese influences and famous for the sandy beaches lining its coast, Goa is a fascinating region in India's southwest. The day is free to do what you like. Perhaps relax on the beach, sip a cocktail at a local bar or go for a final dinner in the evening with the rest of the travel group.
There are no activities planned for the final day and you’re able to depart the accommodation at any time. Goa is a great place to end the trip – if you can, we recommend staying on for a couple of nights to relax and explore.