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Evaneos Travel Tales: discovering South India

By Evaneos, on

In early 2020, we organized a first-of-its-kind trip to India as part of the Evaneos Travel Tales project, a collaboration with nine bloggers and Instagrammers spanning seven nationalities. We wanted to allow each of them to bring their own unique perspective to an adventure around South India, organized by our local experts in the region
Instagrammer sacando una foto desde el housebout en KeralaInstagrammer sacando una foto desde el housebout en KeralaInstagrammer sacando una foto desde el housebout en KeralaInstagrammer sacando una foto desde el housebout en Kerala

Our adventurous crew came from all over: Eric joined us from the US, Léa and Hugo from France, Erea from Spain, Gianluca from Italy, Valeria and Adi from Switzerland, Beatrice from Germany, and Roos from the Netherlands. They were accompanied by Aurélie, our Head of Public Relations.

Here, she shares a behind-the-scenes look at the trip. 

Welcome to South India

We touched down in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, the state that stretches across the southern tip of India. We were welcomed at the airport by our local agents, Charles and Prithvi, who whisked us straight off to Mamallapuram. The town is dotted with UNESCO-listed monuments and we were quickly transported back to the time of the Pallava Dynasty.

Highlights included exploring temples and other holy buildings, including the Pancha Rathas monument complex dating from the 17th century and 1300-year-old Shore Temple, which was completed in 728 AD.

Posing at Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu, IndiaPosing at Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu, IndiaPosing at Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu, IndiaPosing at Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu, India

At lunch, we fuelled up with a traditional South Indian meal served on a banana leaf. With our stomachs full and taste-buds zinging, we split into two different groups for the next two days.

Route 1: Spiritual immersion in Tamil Nadu

Marion, our Head of Communications, accompanied the first group. Here’s her account of their journey.

We headed for the inland region of Tiruvannamalai to visit the famous Arunachaleswara Temple, known as the largest dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu god of the making and destruction of the universe. 

Normally non-Hindus are not able to enter the heart of the temple, but we were granted special access thanks to our local guide. His friend, a priest in the temple, led us into a small, sauna-like room and pronounced blessings on each of us, a moving experience that left us feeling renewed and energized.

The spiritual theme continued as we traveled on to the wonderfully tranquil Sri Ramana Ashram, where visitors and locals alike practice yoga and meditation throughout the day. In the evening, the town came together for full moon celebrations. We looked on as crowds gathered around festive floats and local music filled the air.

Detail on a temple at Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, IndiaDetail on a temple at Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, IndiaDetail on a temple at Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, IndiaDetail on a temple at Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu, India

After an eventful day, we enjoyed a restful night’s sleep followed by an early-morning yoga class—the perfect way to relax and reconnect with nature. The next stop was Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram, where we were hosted by Usha. We were enthralled not only by the sumptuous décor of the interiors but also by our guide’s passion and knowledge

We rounded off the day’s activities with dinner outdoors alongside the river, accompanied by the melodic sounds of a local orchestra. As we ate, our agent Charles explained the nuances of the famous Indian headshake which, depending on the context, can mean ‘no’' or ‘yes’.”

Route 2: From Auroville to Tamil Nadu

Back in our group, we headed for Auroville, about six miles north of Puducherry.

Auroville was created in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa, famously the partner of Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo, and widely referred to within her community as “the Mother”. According to its founder, the commune was created to “be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics, and all nationalities.” Fifty years later, Auroville divides opinion; for some it’s a little utopia and for others something closer to a cult. 

Our local agent Prithvi set up a tour with Jacky, one of the inhabitants. For him, Auroville is open and progressive, and he was proud to show us around. 

Léa asked him a few questions in order to give her followers the chance to form their own opinion on the community; you can watch the interview by swiping to the second photo below.

Next, a 20-minute car ride took us to former French colony Puducherry, a town on the Indian Ocean coast. We spent a memorable three hours in the French Quarter, soaking in the town’s atmosphere and colors.

From there, we made our way into the Tamil Nadu countryside around Kumbakonam, where we were met by staggeringly green vistas: miles of rice fields hemmed in by lush palm trees.

Meeting Jacky in Auroville really gave me a fresh perspective on the town and the people who live there

Eric

Street scenes in Puducherry, South IndiaStreet scenes in Puducherry, South IndiaStreet scenes in Puducherry, South IndiaStreet scenes in Puducherry, South India

The following morning we woke to the sound of birdsong and the immersion in Tamil culture continued in Darasuram, where we had the opportunity to meet artisan bronze workers and to visit a traditional silk-making workshop.  

The last stops on this mini-tour were Karaikudi and Chettinad, a region that gained a reputation in the 19th century as a prosperous hub for business and banking. The vestiges of this era can be seen in the incredible architecture; palatial buildings in a range of styles spanning Victorian, neo-Baroque, and Art Deco. It’s an Instagrammer’s heaven, and our group got some fabulous shots. 

Reunited in Madurai

The next day, the two groups came back together in Madurai, enjoying the opportunity to catch up and share what they had seen.

The town is known throughout India for being the home of Meenakshi Amman Temple, one of three sacred holy buildings that every Hindu must visit on a pilgrimage at least once in their life. The temple is dedicated to Shiva and his wife Meenakshi and is considered a masterpiece of Dravidian architecture.

Our group near the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Tamil NaduOur group near the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Tamil NaduOur group near the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Tamil NaduOur group near the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Tamil Nadu

Charles and Prithvi invited us to get to know Madurai by choosing an afternoon activity: a historical walk through the town, a street-food tour, or a trip in an auto-rickshaw. 

The street food tour was a hit. “It was really a unique experience," says Beatrice, "I had the chance to eat with locals, discovering new dishes and tasting fantastic flavors. I love South Indian food, and the approach to health that goes along with it is fascinating.”

I particularly loved the visit to the banana market. I was inspired by the colors and the atmosphere, as well as the people—it helped to reignite my passion for street photography.

Gianluca

Indian woman carrying young goatsIndian woman carrying young goatsIndian woman carrying young goatsIndian woman carrying young goats
Seller at a market in South IndiaSeller at a market in South IndiaSeller at a market in South IndiaSeller at a market in South India

The natural beauty of Kerala

The next day we were on the road again, heading west towards Kerala. We stopped in a town called Munnar, where we discovered yet another kind of landscape: rolling mountains dotted with tea plantations, which were originally established by the British in the 19th century.

On a mountain hike, we explored pepper, cardamom, and rubber plantations. In the evening, we traveled on to our hotel, a little gem hidden in the heart of the Indian jungle.

Tea plantations near Munnar in South IndiaTea plantations near Munnar in South IndiaTea plantations near Munnar in South IndiaTea plantations near Munnar in South India

The next day was all about discovering the famous Kerala backwaters. This vast network of canals, which flow parallel to the Arabian Sea, are one of the finest natural treasures of the region. We hopped aboard houseboats, converted from former commercial vessels.

At Alleppey, the group split, heading off on four different boats. As we cruised the canals, we had the chance to get up close and personal with the local fauna, including cormorants, herons, kingfishers, egrets, bats, and even eagles.

Houseboat on the Backwaters of Kerala, IndiaHouseboat on the Backwaters of Kerala, IndiaHouseboat on the Backwaters of Kerala, IndiaHouseboat on the Backwaters of Kerala, India

My favorite memory from the trip was listening to all the different birds, the rustling of the trees, and the sound of the water during an amazing pink sunset in Alleppey.

Roos

In the evening, we all came together on one houseboat for a fabulous night of festivities, centered around the theme “Bollywood Boat.”

Charles and Prithvi took the opportunity to teach us some dance moves, and I’m sure none of us will forget this special, fun-filled night anytime soon.

Farewells in Cochin

Cochin was the last stop on our road trip. We took a morning walk around the old quarters of Mattancherry and Fort Cochin, where various European colonial influences can still be seen in the grand merchant houses and port warehouses. 

For our last evening’s entertainment, Charles and Prithvi organized a wonderful sunset cruise around the town’s port and surrounding islands. We rounded off the night with a farewell dinner at the sumptuous Brunton Boatyard Hotel, accompanied by classical Indian music.

Sunset in Cochin, KeralaSunset in Cochin, KeralaSunset in Cochin, KeralaSunset in Cochin, Kerala

I’ll leave the final word on the trip to our guests: 

“Before coming to India, I had heard a lot of stories about the countrythat it was dirty, unfriendly, dangerous; I experienced none of these things. The biggest surprise was the genuine friendliness and joie de vivre of the locals. Every time I smiled at someone, they smiled back. Though some of the people we met have very little, they appreciate what they do have and know how to live in the momentsomething we could all learn a lot from!” – Roos

“I was so surprised by the friendliness of the people we met in India. I was expecting to meet nice people, but their kindness went far beyond my expectations!” – Gianluca

“The organization between Evaneos and the local agency was amazing. We didn’t wait at all for anything. Everything was perfect. The local agents were constantly looking to give us the best experience possible. They were so warm and friendly, and were always available to us whenever we needed anything. I whole-heartedly recommend this experience.” – Erea

This adventure was created by Prithvi, one of our local agents in South India. If you want to arrange your own unique trip around the region, browse our customizable itineraries.

Our group in IndiaOur group in IndiaOur group in IndiaOur group in India