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Sand and Land Holiday Package

Relax in the serene backwaters, experience a local homestay, chill out on quiet beaches and sample South Indian cuisine. Visit the capitals of Karnataka and Chennai, watch the sunset through the fishing nets of Kochi, stretch out on white-powdery and shimmering sand beaches, drift through the wavy but still backwaters and rise at dawn to see the sunrise.

This `Sand and Land’ Holiday Package  offers a quick introduction to the diversity of South India, as you appreciate the winding roads leading to heritage temples, inhale the exotic perfume of cardamom strolling  through spice gardens and unwind with some yoga in your free time. Meet the denizens and spend the night with a local family on a tour that is all about an authentic cultural experience.

Start with a stopover at Bengaluru, or Bangalore in Karnataka, as it was called earlier, a city which has metamorphosed from an occupied area of parks and bookshops to a glittering IT capital and mecca of the upwardly mobile, boasting of its expansion with the mushrooming of supermarkets and malls all over. The important landmarks to be visited here are the Vidhan Sabha and High Court buildings which epitomize the enigma of the city, the Cubbon Park, another green breath coverage with oak, cassia, and gulmohar standing over grassy patches and walkways, Lal Bagh, a major lung of the city and a horticultural delight for its wealth of flora encompassed with fountains, nurseries and lotus ponds glistens at noon and dusk. There is the Bull Temple in Basavangudi inspiring awe with its monolithic bull hulking over devotees, the ISKCON Hare Krishna Temple and the sprawling Bangalore Palace Grounds, which are a hive of activity throughout the year with exhibitions, festivals, concerts and handicraft fairs. Some great venues to be explored are the National Gallery of Modern Art, a gallery with regular exhibits and shows, and Karnataka Chitrakala  Parishath, with its own galleries and grounds, Visveraya Museum, informative and whimsical,  and Wonder La Amusement Park touted as India’s biggest water park with water slides, wave pools, restaurants and a laser show and fireworks in the evening! Revel in this entertainment as you have a candle-lit dinner with your family, tinkling your glasses of hot or cold beverage!

Move on to cooler environs just to relax!  Coorg, specifically is known for its aromatic spices and captivating waters that make it as refreshing as the coffee it grows. Also known as Kodagu, in the south-western Karnataka, the hill station has its undulated topography carpeted in green, often covered with thin white fog. Bamboo, rosewood forests, sandalwood, streams, rivulets line up the entire area along with children of the river Cauvery wending their way through land. Waterfalls, deep ravines, paddy fields, grassy downs, coffee bushes with red berries, pepper, cardamom, oranges, nutmeg, turmeric, lemon grass together spell it as a land fecund beyond belief! The highlanders comprise of a martial race of men and women who compel a second glance with their chiselled profiles, stately bearing dress, and ofcourse, the crisp air-conditioned weather! A definition beyond countless definitions …….. sounds stunning, and earthy as you may mingle with the habitant race, getting an insight into their skills and perhaps sharing a hot cup of tea or coffee with them, before moving on to some eclectic surprises on the `Sand and Land’ Holiday Package’!

Madkeri or Mekara is the main town of Coorg famous for viewing sunrises and sunsets and encloses the Abbi Falls and the remarkable Omkareshwara Temple in a mosque-like style! The town is a trekker`s paradise up and down the hills, through coffee and pepper plantations. Bhagamandala is another temple town at the confluence of the Cauvery with the Kannike and the invisible Sujyothi rivers. The Coorg Wildlife Society is based in Madikeri and promotes wildlife and environmental conservation and also organizes treks to Pushpagiri and Brahmagiri Sanctuary. The Dubare Reserve Forest is famous for the Elephant Training Camp where the tourists can watch the elephants in different states of eating, bathing, and being themselves and to go on wildlife safaris.  Kakkabe lies at the base of the Western Ghats in southern Coorg and the heavy rainforest cover means a rich bounty of rare orchids, plants and birds. Scenic treks take you to Mallamma Betta, Soma Male and Kabbe Pass from where you can espy clouds caressing Kerala’s hills. The prize catch is Thadiyendamol, the highest peak in Coorg! The Nilakandi Waterfalls, the Igguthappa Temple, and the Nalnad Palace, are places of interest and historical significance in this area. The Siddapur’s lush forests have been transformed into sprawling coffee estates, as earlier this place was considered `the place of the divine’, which perhaps has lent its hand to bless Siddapur with optimal rainfall and a gently undulating terrain, inculcating the correct balance! You could take a stroll through Ammathi twisting and turning past coffee estates,  Pollibetta which is home to a beautiful 9-hole golf course, the thickly forested Titimati, and to the trading town of Gonikoppal!

Move on to Honnemardu, at the Karnataka coast, a tiny hamlet that nestles above the hills overlooking the waters of the Linganamakki Reservoir on the Sharavathi River. It is a land rich in history, numerous Jain basadis or tiny temples, Hindu shrines and tribal villages and also a place that offers enormous scope for the lovers of nature and adventure. The forests around this area are a birdwatcher’s delight and a treat for butterfly lovers.  Camping on the island provides opportunities for trekking, canoeing, rafting, kayaking, wind surfing and swimming. India’s highest waterfalls `Jog Falls’ with its run-off cascades provide an aesthetic delight to the viewers……on this `Sand and Land’ Holiday Package!

Gokarna is a destination for the ardent pilgrim as the beach-lover, and Car Street which runs through the town is flanked by hawkers of puja paraphernalia and souvenirs. The islands off the coast of Karwar have fine sand, blue sea and green forests along with some poetic beauty. Devbagh is admired for its resort and the other islands such as Kurumgad, Sanyasi and Lighthouse are excellent for water sports.

Continue towards the state of Kerala and you would reach its western coastal belt which is relatively flat, and is criss-crossed by a network of interconnected brackish canals, lakes, estuaries, and rivers known as the Kerala Backwaters.   The largest body of water in the state is Lake Vembanad and dominates the Backwaters which are an extensive network of canals that center around Alleppey, Kumarakom, Kollam and especially Punnamada, where the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held in August.

Alleppey or Alappuzha is a golden streak of land woven with rivers, lakes, lagoons and canals, and is labelled as the Venice of the East. Alappuzha meaning the land between the sea and a network of rivers falling into it evokes a sense of romance and beauty and has been the focus of trade and commerce from time immemorial, and it was here that traders from across the seven seas came in search of black gold and souvenirs. The place is famous for its 'snake boat' (chundan vallam) races and has some old trading houses still in use. It is also home to Kuttanad, the rice bowl of Kerala, one of the very few places in the world where farming is done below sea level. You could sleep in a homestay in the backwaters as this offers you the opportunity of talking and interacting with the local families, learning about life in the islands and dining on traditional cuisine. Accommodation is on a multi-share basis and all the families live within a few hundred metres of each other, with at least one person in the family speaking English.   You can continue your explorations by boat along winding backwaters seeing Keralan life in all its colour, and get entertained by the boatmen singing in their excited voices as the stunning sun goes down!  Cruising in house boats, originally called kettuvaloms and used for carrying tons of rice and spices, which have been reworked into huge and slow moving barges used for leisure trips, complete with all amenities for a resident stay including a cook, a bearer and a driver and   captivating enough to dazzle the tourists, moving through these emerald waters! Every now and then, moor  your boat and hop out to watch a boat being built, coir ropes woven, or coconut oil extracted or just join in whatever fun is going on, as the whole spread is laid out almost like some live anthropological museum!

The `Sand and Land’ Holiday Package familiarizes you to Kerala’s   Ayurveda resorts, renowned as a happy mix of beautiful locations and beneficial treatment that do credit to both Ayurveda and tourism. Most of these offer packages for de-stressing or to rid you of arthritis, sinus, slipped discs, sciatica, rheumatism, high blood pressure……. you name the problem, and the remedy is there, and such centres located on the backwaters in Alleppey are suitable for a wellness sojourn!

Get on to Kumarakom, home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, and a Bird Sanctuary, where many species of migratory birds visit and if luck favours the tourists may chance upon a Siberian Crane, a special visitor during the migratory season.Also take a quick visit to the Vembanad Lake, the largest backwater in Kerala, which is habitat for many marine and freshwater fish species.

Land in Kochi, and there are plenty of things to do in this seaside Indian city with its Portuguese and Dutch history, architecture and style. This place is renowned for its exquisite gold designer jewellery and is also home to the Dutch Palace (Mattancherry), Jew Town with its synagogue and the Fort itself. The oldest Church in India, the Anglican St. Francis Church, sits near mosques and Jewish buildings, and Portuguese housing rests side by side with English manor homes. Vasco de Gama's tombstone is still here, even if his remains are back in Lisbon, and the Dutch cemetery is worth a quick look. Watch the sunset from the tip of Fort Kochi where you would spot the old cantilevered fishing nets, common here in Kerala. Originally brought from China, in Malayalam they are called 'cheena vala', and used mainly at high tide. An important stop on the spice trading route due to its strategic location near the tip of the Indian subcontinent, resulting in the variety of architecture, food and other influences typical of today’s Kochi. Today Kochi is the commercial hub of Kerala state, and a growing centre of information technology, tourism and international trade, with a variety of Dutch and British influenced architecture, style and food!

Destination Chennai, which is Tamilnadu’s capital and a portal to the State’s rich culture, which is quintessential in character as there are favourite kanchivaram saris, the beloved veshti, the fragrance of mallipu in every street and corner, as much as carnatic music and dance gatherings which are an integral part of urban life in a way no other city can claim! Coconut chutney and filter kapi, though kapi connoisseurs may indulge at  the thriving coffee pubs and larger-than-life cutouts of politicos jostling for space besides kitschy film posters……….for this is Tamil Nadu, a blend of urbanization and ethnicity as you open your eyes on the `Sand and Land’ Holiday Package!

You could start by visiting the Kapaleeswarar Koil, a Shiva temple, which is an important landmark having beautiful bronze idols and Madras houses. Proceed to Fort St. George which holds the Fort Museum, enclosing a large number of colonial antiquities and paintings, followed by St. George’s Cathedral, a splendid example of classical architecture. Take some time for leisure and pleasure at the Marina Beach which has an Italian-style promenade and is one of the longest urban beaches in the world, as you splash  those bubbles of water, reaching far and wide, with the sound of slow or fast waves embracing your persona and soothing your nerves! You may then move on to Tirumala’s Sri Venkateshwara Temple, the second richest and most visited temple in India. The climb from Tirupati to Tirumala is along a picturesque, well-maintained forest road with hairpin bends. There are several shrines in Tirumala but the darshan of Lord Venkatehswara is the main concern, the black stone idol wearing a divine smile, wherein the deity has been adorned with the world’s largest emerald encrusted with twenty-eight diamonds. You may take a boat ride for the RK Beach which holds a fish aquarium that has fascinating sea creatures from all over the world including moray eels, puffer fish and piranha. What a fantastic treat!

Kanchipuram remains one of India’s seven mokshapuris, or sacred cities that guarantee salvation where each temple has a story, and each lane, bylane and street has atleast one temple. The temple to Kamakshi, with eyes full of love, is the most important. These temples showcase Dravidian architecture an amalgam of styles used by city’s various rulers over the centuries, with stunning sculptures, even gold plated! After the Kamakshi Amman Temple, you could move on to the Kailasanath Temple which is intriguing for its quietude and lack of ostentation, and the Ekambranathar Temple, the Sri Varadaraja Perumal Temple which has a mandapam carved out of a single rock with sculptures of yashis, riders on horses and amazing chains of rock, and finally Adi Sankaracharya and the Mutt, associated with the teachings of the philosopher, Adi Sankaracharya. The legendary kachivaram saris have kept the city’s name glowing like the shimmer of silk.  Indulge on yourself on the `Sand and Land’ Holiday Package!

Thanjavur is the most important and biggest town of the Cauvery Delta, rich in harvests, a lush countryside and a full river to give people the spare time and inclination for the finer aspects of life that is culture, religion, architecture and literature. You may visit the awesome Brihadeesvara Temple with the shrines adorned by exquisite stone frescoes. At the entrance, the temple elephants will bless you moistly on your head moistly on your head!

Rameshwaram is another important Hindu pilgrimage centre and the main Ramanathaswamy Temple is a grand edifice, and physically and metaphorically the centre of this town. The ocean here is alluringly gentle stretching away into the horizon as if it were a particularly large lake. It is the salt in the air and the fishing boats by the sea that would remind of a fantastic location, on and off shore. Besides the spirituality, the emerald-blue sea, the delightful scenery and the drive to Dhanushkodi, a punyatirtham of holy waters where the oceans meet, are other reasons to head out this far. A jolting ride through desolate sands will help you reach Land’s End, where on the one hand is a magnificently fierce Gulf of Mannar and on the other, is the deep, gleaming blue of the unbelievably gentle Bay of Bengal. In fact, visitors always thought that Dhanushkodi felt as if such a landscape could not exist on earth! 

Continue towards the Kamarajar Valley which is ringed by the Kannivadi and Palani Hills. Surrounded by coffee, pepper and cardamom estates and home to a lake watered by sprightly hill streams, the home stays are all located on the northern banks of the Kamarajar Lake. This is an artificial lake created by the Kallalar and Kodavan rivers, which are basically a run-off from the steep hills that form a huge arc to the west and north.  The Sadayandi Cave Temple is a small shrine at the dam, cut into the monolith, hiking on the path of mango groves and through forests to a beautiful waterfall. Secretive mountain paths mist and bramble, hedges full of wildflowers, gardens full of roses, placid lakes are like a balm to those introduced to this region!

Further on, the `Sand and Land’ Holiday Package orients you to the Palani Hills which welcomes tourists with  forest-covered slopes, as the Palani town in these hills, is home to the holiest shrines of Murugan, the patron deity of Tamil Nadu. Literally, the most well-known face of these hills houses countless species of flora along with the mighty Indian bison and the almost-extinct Nilgiri tahr, the only wild mountain goat found in Southern India. The Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple is a famous hill temple holding a very unique idol made by a combination of nine minerals. There are steps which lead you to the temple or you have the alternative to take a rope car or a winch. It is from here that you get a spectacular view of the Idumban and Kodai hills, paddy fields, rivers and Palani town! There is another beautiful rock temple called Thiruavinankudi Temple with a remarkable main altar and a magnificent six-tiered rajagopuram with colourful stucco sculptures and a large temple tank. The Shola Forests hold the promise of fresh air, the sounds of nature, thick jungles, interesting hikes, a serene lake, wildlife and birds. The Elephant Valley, described as cradled hills is at the edge of a reserve forest and offers much more than elephants……. crisp, clean air,  birds, than you can count  and plenty of trees than the eye can scan. This eco lodge is like a cup of manna for the jaded traveller.

Shopping:

Shops in Karnataka are full of clothes, shoes, electronics, books, souvenirs, handicrafts in wood, metal, bronze, copper, brass, silver and gold-polished items, and shawls.  You could pick up designer clothes, bags and jewellery from the high end malls. The swish set towering complex of UB City has all international brands from Louis Vuitton to Jimmy Choo and a piazza-style food court to spend an afternoon swooning about the ambience.  Exquisite fabric in silk, georgette, crepe and chiffon is available, besides some outstanding bed linen, cushion covers, table covers, coasters and bolster covers. Packets of coffee, as well as richly fragrant spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, star anise and cloves make famous specialities!

In Kerala, the shopping culture gets reflected in a a variety of souvenir items that spell out its origin, history, art and socio-religious aspects.  These articles come in a wide range of attractive and unique handmade items. Among them are the popular ones like the Aranmula Kannadi (Metal mirror), handicraft products made from coconut shells, wood, clay and cane, mural paintings and handloom products like Kasavu sari (sari with golden brocade).  Visitors can buy gifts from the Culture Shoppe, the official agency to promote Kerala Souvenirs for the Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala. At Culture Shoppe, visitors could choose gifts and mementos like the Uruli (wok), Para (brass miniature of a traditional measuring vessel) Kettuvallom (rice barge) Aranmula Kannadi (metal mirror), Nettipattam (caparison for elephants), Nettoor petti (traditional jewellery box) and other varieties.  Textiles and fabrics, particularly silk, are universal phenomena throughout the Southern region!

In Tamil Nadu, shell, granite and soapstone carvings of horses, gods and goddesses and nature’s usual souvenirs are tempting enough to make that hole in your pockets! Kanchivaram silk saris are preserved as precious heirlooms and the traditional designs such as the annapakshi, a mythical bird, yashi, a fierce ornate lion, the mango, the elephant and the temple gopuram are eternal favourites. There is the stunning vaira oosi or diamond needles used to make a sari that is part colour and part gold. The Ekambaranathan sari and the Avudaiyar sari are inspired by the sculptures in the temples.  Temple and costume jewellery, art galleries, terrific bookstores, antiques, gorgeous silk fabrics, linen, home furnishings and saris may be bought from different places!

Thanjavur paintings, bronzes, beautiful veenas, and the colourful thalayatti bommais, head nodding doll may also be purchased as collectives! Handcrafted Pondicherry pottery in exquisite glazes and colours, handmade paper products, candles, incense sticks, jams and pickles could lead to an extravagant indulgence!

Cuisine:

Around the Karnataka region, they have a way with pork (pandi curry), fowl (koli curry), prawn curry and mango and rice. Their akki rotis and kadumputtus are a treat. Besides this, you would find biryani stalls, mutton rolls and a variety of Indian, both North and South and International cuisine!  Also, a vegetarian Kannada meal thali and bajjis are available in pilgrim spots and around town! The cities and towns would be abuzz with international chains serving Italian, Greek, Chinese, Japanese and Continental food, in addition to fast food centres selling pizzas, pastas, steaks, sandwiches, croissants, burgers, Danish and cakes, pastries, sundaes and delectable desserts!

Cuisine in Kerala has roots in the history, geography and culture of the land. These can be classified under the two standard headings - vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. While the non-vegetarian dishes are heavily spiced, the vegetarian repertoire is mildly spiced and feels especially easier on the non-native tongue. Sadhya, Ada Pradhaman,Avial, Erissery,non-vegetarian chicken curry, chicken thoran, dry prawns with cabbgae, egg koottu, fish mappas, Appam and Chicken Stew are mostly relished by residents and tourists!

In Tamil Nadu, Indian fare is delectable regular banana leaf plates with a vegetarian meal, along with eateries serving garlic fish fry with a thick, white dosa, masala fish fry and tiger prawns, vegetarians with yummy South Indian food, thali, and multi-cuisine. Mysore pauk is a scrumptious sweet, and there are melt-in-the- mouth udupi thalis, along with Tamil vegetarian thalis and biryani!

Climate:

Karnataka is recommended for a visit all year round as there is enough recreation for indoor and outdoor areas. The winters are pleasantly cool and summers may get a little humid or warm.  Showers are unpredictable and may drizzle or pour throughout the year!

With plenty of rainy days per year, Kerala has a wet and maritime tropical climate influenced by the seasonal heavy rains of the southwest summer monsoon. In eastern Kerala, a drier tropical wet and dry climate prevails!

Tamil Nadu is recommended for a visit throughout the year, even in hot and humid summers as every site is a tempting treat for the eyes which helps to ignore thunder, rain, sunshine or snow, an impossible occurrence!

Return back with scintillating memories that include those innumerable cascading waterfalls and picnic spots, the boastful  legacy sites,  therapeutic spas, yoga and the ayurvedic treatment to cure the mind, body, heart, soul and tired nerves, on this not once-in-a-lifetime but to-be-repeated-several times in the future, `Sand and Land’ Holiday Package! 


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