India’s vast array of cultures and religions have coexisted for several millennia, each expressing its traditions through magnificent artistic and architectural achievements.
The subcontinent is positively strewn with UNESCO World Heritage sites: preserved palaces, fortresses, temples and even whole cities that have endured the elements and make for wondrous explorations.
Urban areas buzz with frenetic energy and a burgeoning middle class, while rural India retains the grace of a slower pace of life. It is only through embracing the contrasts, the vastness and the contradictions, that one truly discovers India.
Here, you will find Tamil Nadu and beyond. The various dynastic reigns that put India on the map begin on the southern coasts of Tamil Nadu. Walk through the history of a tropical haven rich in spice, silks and stone art. Trace the legacy of ancient kingdoms and empires of the Indian peninsula, succumb to the forces of trade and commerce and gain new insight into the identities of the colonies. The remnants of the waves of invasion that brought new industries, different economies and diverse people to the shores of this area are still evident today and bear testimony to the tides and times of an ever-changing country.
The Heritage of Chennai
Chennai was founded in 1639 by the British East India Company. It has since grown into the biggest industrial and commercial city of South India and is India’s fourth most populous city.
Discover the rich heritage built into Chennai’s temples, colonial architecture and dance forms. Walking tours of Mylapore lead to the exploration of fascinating history and culture hidden away in the mundane rituals of daily life.
Mylapore, a bustling neighborhood in the heart of Chennai, pre-dates the city by at least 2000 years, and has been kept alive in the many traditions and arts that Chennai are so well known for.
Feel the cultural pulse of Chennai on a Heritage Walk, as you wander through cobbled streets adorned by forts, cathedrals and temples.
Dakshinchitra Art Museum – A glimpse of South Indian art and architecture
Bharatnatyam Dance – Tales told through movement and subtle gestures
Kalakshetra – A visit to a school of arts and music
Peacock Trail – A walk through Mylapore’s folklore
Culinary Trail – An explanatory journey of South India’s cuisine
Mahabalipuram – Excursion to the sculpture rich ruins of the 7th century. The small seaside village of Mahabalipuram, 40 miles from Chennai, was once the main port of the Pallava dynasty from the 5th to the 9th centuries. Its exquisite rock-cut temples and carvings are some of the finest in India and have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
LEELA PALACE - A recommended stay
Life in Pondicherry
Glimpse Pondicherry’s unique French culture.
Pondicherry Heritage Trail – Colonial Tamil & French quarters, philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and faith
Street Shopping – Fashion, trinkets and fragrance
Art Galleries – Glimpse into the cultural landscape of Pondicherry
Design Studio – Weaving Aurobindo’s philosophy into fabrics
Rural Pondicherry and Fisherman’s Tales – The stories of inland fisherman and authentic village experiences
Culinary Experiences – Savor local cuisine on a foodie walk and share stories with a local family
PALAIS DE MAHE – A recommended stay
The Artisans of Tanjore
Learn about the traditions of Tanjore’s art, craft and paragon of Dravidian architecture, the Brihadeeshwara Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Bronze Casting and Gallery – Skilled craftsman fashion lovely artifacts
The Royal Maratha Palace – A stronghold of the Maratha empire that dominated the region
Culture Walk – Veena music instrument-making, Tanjore paintings, Bommai Kolu wooden dolls
Faith Set in Stone – Trail through the remarkable temples of Kumbakonam, Darasuram’s Airavatesvara Temple, Thiruvannamalai, Thirukkadayur and Tanjore Paintings
SVATMA – A recommended stay
The Traditions of Karaikudi
Retrace the history of Tamil Nadu’s merchants, their architecture and culinary secrets
Pour over the eclectic mix of Western and Tamil architecture that were the homes of the Nagarathar Chettiars
Chettiar Cuisine – Learn a recipe or savor a traditional meal
Take a Train Ride – From Chittinad to Karaikudi for the adventurous
Inside a Chettinad Home – Beautiful edifices, customs and traditions
Sights and Sounds of ‘Sandai’ – Weekly market exploration
Tile Making and More – Traditional handmade tile making and visit a women’s cooperative
VISALAM – A recommended stay
Once Upon a Madurai
A stronghold of culture, often referred to as the Athens of the East, Madurai is one of India’s oldest religious centers. Its temples and markets were described by Greek ambassadors 400 years before Christ; astonishingly, the scene appears to have changed little in two and a half millennia.
Sri Meenakshi Temple, like the ghats of Varanasi in the North, the classic, Dravidian-style Sri Meenakshi Temple is at the spiritual heart of South India, and a visit to this riotously colorful temple will put your finger on its pulse.
Tales of Kings and rules, the stories of temples and traditions told through the streets of Madurai.
Meenakshi Temple – Carved and painted halls, this magnificent temple has the tallest gopuram, or temple gateway, in the world. Be sure to see the eclectic night ceremony
Thirumalai Nayakar Palace – A 1636 built grand palace now showcases the power and wealth of the Nayakas
Gandhi Museum – A living memorial of the Father of the Nation
Vedic School – Visit to a learning center of traditional wisdom
HERITAGE HOTEL – A recommended stay
Hyderabad, a Melange of culture, cuisine and craft
A walk through the walled city is a deep dive into Hyderabad’s history of fortified walls, expansive pearl trade and path to diamond trading center. You’ll also learn more about the celebrated Kohinoor Diamond.
Heritage of Hyderabad – Palaces, tombs, iconic mosque and the old city
Qutab Shahi Tombs – Witness the evolution of a family’s acquisition of artwork and artifacts
Cuisine Walk – Hole-in-the-wall restaurants to gastronomic delights
Craft Trails – Bidri craft, weavers and textiles, paintings and tribal art
TAJ FALAKNUMA PALACE – A recommended stay
Mumbai. The City of Dreams
A veritable potpourri of economies, lifestyles, cultures, faiths and identities.
Mumbai by Dawn – Explore the city’s awakening at 3am with a visit to the fish market, newspaper stands and flower market, all before breakfast.
Museum of Mahatma Gandhi - Located in the Mumbai house where Gandhiji (as he is respectfully called locally) lived, kitsch dioramas explain the life experiences that led to his philosophy of satyagraha (non- violent resistance) that brought the British Empire to its knees.
Babu Amichand Panalal Adishwarji Jain Temple - Learn about the fascinating religion of Jainism with a visit to this vibrantly colorful temple located in the lush Malabar Hill area of the city.
Dhobi Ghats - At this massive outdoor laundry site, dhobi wallahs (laundry workers) beat, wring, iron and code millions of pieces of laundry daily.
Drive through Indo-Saracenic architecture of Mumbai, Malabar Hills - Visit Mani Bhawan at Mani Bhawan.