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Get a taste for South India on this culinary journey through Kerala. Uncover the forts, palaces, and backwaters of the state, all while sampling some of the region's most famous dishes. From spice gardens to tea plantations, get closer to Keralan dishes and culture.
Explore Tour Leader
1 nights premium boat
1 nights simple homestay
3 nights premium hotel
3 nights comfortable hotel
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Kochi (formally known as Cochin) has been a gathering place of merchants since antiquity. It is a city packed full of bustling markets and great food experiences. The focus for the start of our food tour is the Fort Kochi area, the oldest European settlement in India dating from 1500, with a mixture of English, Dutch and Portuguese influences, much of which survives in the remaining architecture. Built on several islands and criss-crossed with waterways, the city has a very cosmopolitan feel and attracts artists and artisans from around the region as well as offering its own take of distinctive Indian flavours in its street food and local eateries.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 5.00 pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Kochi at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Cochin International Airport (COK), which is 40km/1.5 hours from the airport. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
Our hotel for the next two nights is an art decor style property with a choice of excellent in house restaurants located on Willingdon island, just a short distance from Fort Kochi.
Hotel Casino (or similar)
Our destination this morning is the Fort Kochi district. Taking a brief auto rickshaw ride to Embarkation Jetty we take a public ferry to cross the short stretch of water over to Mattancherry Palace. Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, the palace has undergone extensive renovations by the Dutch earning it the name the Dutch Palace. It houses some of the most exquisite murals in India, depicting scenes from the Ramayana and other great legends.
From the palace we venture out to further explore bustling Fort Kochi, combining many of the islands best known sites including the Jewish town synagogue where Kochi's surviving Jewish community come to worship and the famous cantilevered Chinese Fishing nets, with an introduction to South Indian cuisine. Venturing into Fort Kochi's numerous alleyways and markets, we will get our first taste of Indian street food including Masala vada, a fritter made from chana dal, fennel seeds and peppers and Bonda, a fried bite size snack made from spicy potato and fried in a flour batter.
Continuing the food theme, lunch is taken at the Tea Bungalow. Todays meal is the perfect introduction to Kerala food and in particular Sadya (literally translated as banquet) which consists of a variety of traditional vegetarian dishes normally served on a banana leaf and served by families at the festival of Onam. After learning about the origins of Kerala's distinctive food from the Tea Bungalows resident chef, we get to sample an assortment of flavoursome dishes freshly prepared.
After lunch we head to Fort Kochi tourist jetty for a cruise around Kochi harbour to take in the sea air and get to see the expansive waterways and islands that have been the beating heart of Kochi's commercial success for hundreds of years.
To round off the day we return to shore for a performance of Kathakali, which is thought by some to be the very essence of the culture of Kerala. Its origins may have come from traditional temple rituals and from an art form known as Koodiyattam. It is the face make up which makes this dancing so unique and the dancers can take up to three hours painting their faces - the features are heavily emphasised as it is the facial expressions and co-ordinated eye movements which are important in the dance. The dances usually portray events from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, great Indian epics.
Making the most of our time in Kochi, we rise early to witness the city waking up and preparing for the busy day ahead. Heading to Ernakulam town by public ferry, we take a walk through the busy vegetable market where our tour leader will point out many of the exotic fruits, vegetables and spices used in Southern Indian cooking. We'll make a stop at the Shiva temple to see the court complex from outside then head to local restaurant for a breakfast dosa making demonstration.
Dosas originate from South India, they are a delicious thin batter-based crepe (or pancake) generally made from a fermented batter consisting of lentils and rice and accompanied with aloo masala, potato with onion, turmeric and black mustard seeds or sambar, a soup like vegetarian dal. Popular as a breakfast dish, dosas can equally be taken as a light mid morning snack and are available throughout India and further afield as their popularity has spread.
Mid morning we bid farewell to Kochi and the Indian Ocean and drive inland to the mountainous region of Munnar, a journey of around five hours. En route we stop at a local eatery to sample a traditional thali lunch. Consisting of rice, a flatbread, lentil, dal, seasonable curried vegetables, a chutney and sometimes a fish dish thali lunches; thali is typically served in small bowls arranged on a large plate. Eaten throughout the region, thali is a great way to try different flavour combinations.
Munnar is known for its verdant spice and tea plantations. Kerala has been renowned for its spices for at least 2000 years, the coast had been known by the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs and Chinese for its sandalwood and spices. There was also a flourishing trade in 'black gold' - pepper - which, along with the spices, was sent to Europe by the Jewish and Arab traders. In return, copper, brass and gold coins came to Kerala. It was this trading link which brought Christianity and Islam into Kerala - the first place in India to host these two faiths.
Munnar is a pleasant place to spend two nights, with its green tropical forests, fresh mountain air and expansive tea plantations blending seamlessly into the hillsides.
Copper Castle Resort (or similar)
Our day starts with a visit to the tea plantations. It is the women who usually pick the tea because of their nimble fingers, their brightly coloured clothes contrast sharply with the greenery of the plantations. Moving onto the tea museum we get to learn how the tea leaves come into the factory as freshly picked leaves and leave as the product we are used to in brewing our morning cuppa just 24 hours later.
This afternoon is free relax at the hotel, use the spa or take part in a yoga class. It's possible to undertake a circular walk lasting four hours through the grasslands and tea plantations, climbing to an altitude of 2000 meters. Alternatively, the hotels has a limited numbers of bicycles for hire.
Descending from the highlands we drive to the teak forests around Thekkady and Periyar National Park. The theme for today is spices and a tour of a spice garden and farm with a resident expert, learning the importance of spices in Indian cuisine and why so many spices thrive in this part of the world (some of the highest quality cardamom is grown in the Kerala region).
As well as cardamom, pepper, vanilla, nutmeg, ginger, cocoa pods and curry plant is also produced. Having toured the spice gardens we will have a cooking demonstration showcasing how spices are carefully blended and used in cooking. Lunch at the spice gardens is included on this day.
Our comfortable hotel tonight is located in Kumily, and offers a mixture of jungle cottages and rooms amongst the forest with a spa offering Ayurvedic therapies and a swimming pool.
Abad Green Forest (or similar)
Leaving Thekkady we head back towards the coast and our homestay for the night. We stay with local families within a village, and your tour leader will brief you on local customs and traditions.
It is a great opportunity to spend time learning about the real life of Keralans as well as an opportunity to sample some delicious home cooking - perhaps a spicy coconut curry. The rooms are in the same style as a traditional Keralan home with mattresses made locally using coir fibres, a material taken from coconut husks which allows air to flow naturally - ideal in this humid region.
This afternoon there will be a chance to take gentle walks through the surrounding villages where we learn about toddy tapping, a fresh sap collected from palm trees, which undergoes five hours of fermentation to convert it to toddy with 6-7 % alcohol content. This evening join our host family as they prepare a delicious home cooked meal from recopies passed down through the generations.
All rooms are twin share and the majority of them have their own attached bathrooms, although there are some rooms with a private bathroom located in a corridor next to the room. Bathrooms are basic with a toilet and a simple shower, and hot water can be limited at times. All bedding and towels are provided.
Simple Homestay (or similar)
This morning we board our houseboats and begin our journey into the network of the Kerala backwaters. The traditional houseboats were formally used to transport goods from isolated interior settlements to the coast. Designed for their stability many have been painstakingly refurbished and now offer well appointed en-suite twin rooms and fine dining experiences.
The pace is relaxed - enabling us to see riverside village life in its entirety. The industrious villagers survive on narrow spits of land, keeping cows, chickens and cultivating vegetable gardens. Even the shells from the fresh water mussels are burnt to make building lime, and the fibre from the coconut palm has many uses. During the day we make a village stop where we see well tendered gardens often with brightly coloured flowers, such as hibiscus, contrasting sharply with the tropical greenery.
On board we will also have a cooking demonstration with the option to cook a fish curry or a vegetarian dish served on a banana leaf.
Premium Houseboat (or similar)
Wake up to views of rural Kerala as we enjoy a relaxed breakfast on board. Disembarking mid mid morning we return to Kochi, arriving in time for lunch. Kochi is well known for its excellent seafood, our restaurant has a prime position at the northern tip of Fort Kochi, an ideal spot to view the activity in the bay whilst we sample freshly caught fish.
The rest of the day is free; should you wish your tour leader can book a table at the highly acclaimed Chef Pillai at Le Meridien, we strongly recommend a prior reservation which should if possible be made at the start of the tour.
Abad Plaza Hotel (or similar)
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Kochi.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Kochi at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Cochin International Airport (COK), which is 40km/1.5 hours from the hotel.
There is considerable variation between the different regions of India but, in general, the climate is tropical. Summer temperatures on the plains are very hot, but cooled by the South-West Monsoon, which lasts from June- September. During these months it can be very wet and therefore very humid. At altitude, temperatures can become quite cool at night even in the summer and may drop below freezing between December and February so warm clothing is necessary. In the winter, northern and mid India can be very cool, with cold evenings, so warm clothing, including plenty of layers, are essential. The south of India remains warm and sunny during the winter months.
3 Pin Round
Catholicism, Hindu, Islam and Sikhism
Hindi and English.
Kerala is a tropical region with high humidity. Lightweights are needed all year round with some warmer clothes for the cooler winter evenings (November to March) in Munnar and Theddaky. Casual clothes are the most practical: tight fitting garments, brief shorts and skirts should be avoided, since they attract unwelcome attention.
Walking shoes or trainers are required for the tour of the tea estate in Munnar and sandals are recommended for the rest of the trip.
One main piece of baggage and a daysac. Remember - hotel porters are not always available, so don't overload yourself.
Binoculars, torch, insect repellent and water bottle.
Bus, Boat, Ferry, Tuk Tuk
Accommodation in India is as varied as the country itself and standards might not always meet those back home. Service can be slow, especially when travelling with a group and a number of hotels in India don't serve alcohol due to complicated licencing laws or for religious reasons. Hot water is not always available at small properties and with a group staying, you might find the water is cooler if you're showering last. Hotels also don't usually have heating, so it can become chilly in the winter months, however, blankets will always be provided. Due to the growth in tourism in India, it's not always possible to stay at our listed accommodation and an alternative will be found. On the backwaters, we stay on traditional houseboats made from anjili wood and bamboo, a time-honoured form of transportation. These are set up with twin-share, en-suite cabins that are air-conditioned at night. The houseboat has a large dining area where homecooked meals are served up and a large deck to enjoy riverside life on. At night, we'll moor amongst other boats at the side of the river to allow us to hook up to electricity. Note, depending on the group size, we might be divided between two or three houseboats. Our homestay offers a fantastic insight into local life in the tropical region. The rooms are in the traditional style of a Keralan home, with mattresses made locally using coir fibres, a material taken from coconut husks which allows air to flow naturally - ideal for humid conditions. All rooms are twin-share and the majority have their own bathroom attached, however, some may have a private bathroom located in the corridor next to the room. Bathrooms are simple with a shower and toilet. All towels and bedding are provided. 20
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
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\red5\green99\blue193;\red177\green45\blue26; India: Holders of passports endorsed British citizen, as well as Australian, New Zealand and US passport holders may be eligible for the e-Tourist Visa to enter India. Unfortunately the Indian government are not currently granting visas for anybody travelling with a Canadian passport. The visa can be applied for through the official Indian government visa website only - \ul \ulnone . Please check all eligibility criteria that can be found on the website but important points are listed below - You must be arriving into one of 29 selected entry points which can be found via the official Indian Government website link above. However, you can exit from any of the authorised immigration check posts in India. Passports must have at least 6 months validity from the date of arrival in India and at least two blank pages for stamping. Visa applications will take approximately 4 days to process. There are different validity visas and the costs are as follows: 30-day validity (travelling between April and June) - $10 30-day validity (travelling between July and March) - $25 1-year validity - $40 5-year validity- $80 Those applying for a 30 day electronic visa can only apply within 30 days of arrival for your visa to be valid. Furthermore double entry is permitted and you can only obtain two 30-day visas in a calendar year. Please note these costs are subject to frequent change so you should check on the official Indian government visa website mentioned above. Biometric data will be collected on arrival in India. If you are not eligible for the e-Tourist Visa, please refer to VFS Global to apply for your Indian visa - \ul \ulnone Whilst the online form offers a relatively quick way to apply for a visa, some applicants have reported difficulty in completing the form. If you do require assistance, then you may consider applying through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. They can complete the online visa on your behalf for a service fee + the visa cost. See \ul www.travcour.com \ulnone If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846 . It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination. 20
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
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Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
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For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
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Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
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You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
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