Pongal Harvest Festival 2020

Come on a journey to discover the culture, people and festivals of South India on a trip co-hosted by pennie scott, The Bush Goddess and the India Unravelled Team.
Bengaluru – Mysuru – Thanjavur – Kochi – Kerala Backwaters

17 days / 16 nights

6 – 22 January 2020

AUD7875 per person twin share
AUD10,240 solo traveller with own room

  • all prices are in AUD
  • maximum of twelve travellers
  • prices quoted are based on twelve travellers
  • price does not include international airfares

Inclusions

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Accommodation

  • Bengaluru – 2 nights in a 5 star hotel
  • Mysuru – 5 nights in a 4 star heritage hotel
  • Thanjavur – 4 nights in a 4 star boutique hotel
  • Kochi – 3 nights in a 4 star heritage hotel
  • Kerala Backwaters – 1 night in a luxury houseboat
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Transport

  • Private air-conditioned vehicles
  • Auto rickshaws
  • Open-top jeeps
  • Domestic flights
  • Houseboat
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Meals

  • Breakfast daily
  • 8 lunches
  • 10 dinners
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Highlights

  • Block printing workshop
  • City tour by jeep
  • Market and street food tours
  • Cooking classes
  • Festival celebrations
  • Ancient temples

Itinerary

Namaste! Welcome to India

Monday 6 January 2020 

Arrive Bengaluru

This traditional greeting literally means “I bow to the divine in you”. It is a gesture of love and respect and is the way that you will be greeted throughout your time in India. When spoken, it is with our hands in the prayer position, held at the level of our heart chakra and can be accompanied with a slight bow.

Arrive at Bengaluru International Airport. Catherine, Varis and pennie will be there to meet you. After your long journey from Australia, you’ll be needing some rest so we are staying at The Taj Hotel just minutes from the airport.

Bengaluru (also known as Bangalore) is the capital of the state of Karnataka in South West India and is recognised as the IT capital. 

Overnight: Taj Bengaluru (Deluxe room)

Tuesday 7 January (B) (L) (D)

Today we are doing a textile block-printing workshop at Tharangini Studios, a wonderful hub of creativity set in beautiful grounds by a lake. Surrounded by trees, birds and squirrels, you would never know you are in a city of ten million people. Padmini and her expert printers will teach us how to use natural dyes and the basics of printing, enabling you to unleash your imagination on exquisite silks and hand-woven cotton.

Ravitej will join us today. He has a wonderful eye for colour and is very experienced with design so if you need a little help to get your creativity flowing he will be more than happy to assist.

A delicious vegetarian lunch and as much chai you can drink will be provided throughout the day. After this creative day, we’ll head to the Druid Garden for a drink and welcome dinner before returning to the Taj for the night.

Overnight: Taj Bengaluru

Wednesday 8 January (B) (D)

After breakfast and check-out, we are going clothes shopping! India is the most colourful country in the world and this is reflected in the beautiful and practical clothing which forms literally the national dress. Saris are usually worn by older women and to special events. There is a real art to folding 6-8 metres of cloth around the body!

A practical combination is the kurta, a longer length straight tunic for women and men with or without sleeves, worn over long trousers such as palazzos or tights. A matching dupatta (long scarf) can be used as protection for your head and neck, and really compliments this outfit.

There are no rules as to colour combinations, however, there are a multitude of colours and patterns from which to choose – unleash your creativity and feel fabulous dressing like a local, a gesture which is sincerely appreciated by the Indian people.

After lunch, we are off to Mysuru (also known as Mysore) in a private air-conditioned vehicle. On the 3 – 4 hour journey to what is regarded the cultural capital of South India, there is ample opportunity to observe the incredible traffic as we travel through smaller towns, each known for a local speciality. We’ll arrive in Mysuru around 7pm and you can enjoy dinner and a drink in the grandeur of The Metropole Hotel’s courtyard while check-in is handled for you.

Overnight: Royal Orchid Metropole (Royal room)

Thursday 9 January (B) (L)

If you wish to start your day with yoga, free classes are held at 7am from Monday to Saturday at The Metropole. Mats are provided and everyone from beginners to advanced are welcome.

Today is devoted to creativity with many types of workshops to choose from including textile block-printing for those who wish to explore this wonderful craft further, silver jewellery making, wooden inlay work, stone carving, basket weaving and more. Prior to arriving, we will have discussed your preferences so your places at the workshops are already confirmed.

Our lunch will be delivered in a tiffin, the ubiquitous container featured in the movie The Lunch Box. Having a tiffin delivered is like having a picnic Indian-style filled with delicious local foods.

After lunch, we are visiting Odanadi, a local NGO which has been operating for 26 years in Mysuru. This institution has been rescuing children from human trafficking and gives them a new start in life, providing a safe environment to learn and grow, receive education and some training for the older ones to give them skills to earn a living. After meeting the team and taking a guided tour, we’re off to the beauty parlour to be given a traditional Mehendi (henna) application by the girls. They enjoy the opportunity to practice their skills and interact with us. The language of laughter and smiles is all we need to enjoy this time with the girls.

Tonight, we will take a city tour in open jeeps driving past some of Mysuru’s most beautiful monuments and buildings and winding our way up Chamundi Hills to look out over the city. You will feel a part of the hustle and bustle of the early evening as people wave to you in the back of the open top jeep. Great opportunities for some fun photos during this adventure.

During the day we will decide where to have dinner.

Overnight: Royal Orchid Metropole

Friday 10 January (B) (D)

This morning we will do a half-day workshop where you can try your hand at making flower garlands, creating a traditional rangoli (design created using chalk or rice flour), basket weaving and more. Anyone who started a project yesterday can continue today if they wish.

Everyone is free to do as they please for lunch today and then we’ll meet again mid-afternoon to go on a walking tour. You can choose from an artisan workshop tour through the back streets of the city meeting local craftsmen, a visit inside the palace to see the opulence of the Maharajas of yesteryear, or a temple tour visiting inside numerous of the beautiful temples around the city.

We’ll then head back to the hotel to freshen up, then meet for drinks to relax and compare notes before going to dinner at the beautiful Lalitha Mahal Palace. Dining in the grand ballroom, you’ll find yourself wondering about the guests and dignitaries who dined and danced here in the early 1900s when the palace was built by the then Maharajah of Mysuru.

Overnight: Royal Orchid Metropole

Saturday 11 January (B) (L)

Today we are off on a day trip into the countryside where you will get a glimpse of life in rural India as we drive 2 hours to visit Amrita Bhoomi.

Along the way, we will pass through small villages and stop for a chai. We will be driving through agricultural areas where you will see bullock carts, farmers tending to their crops and villagers going about their daily lives carrying water, herding goats and cows, carrying all kinds of loads on their heads. It is a feast for the eyes and heart.

This organisation has an heirloom seed bank, teaches local farmers organic methods of farming and has an amazing array of indigenous breeds of cattle. They also have a garden of medicinal plants that are currently facing extinction.

We will be met by Chukki and Luca who run the organisation that Chuki’s parents started in the 1990s. Her father was a leading advocate for Indian farmers’ rights. We will learn about the wonderful work they are doing to help the local farming community and take a walk around their property located at the foothills of the pristine Biligiri Hills, surrounded by three national parks.

Following in her parents footsteps, Chukki is an activist on the world stage as a member of La Via Campesina, advocating for peasant farmers to maintain their land from threats of corporate land-grabs, and resist the powerful influences of agri-technical companies attempting to spread the use of genetically engineered (GE) seeds, and crops throughout India. GE Cotton has been the major crop grown which has caused widespread financial hardships for thousands of small-scale farmers and ecological disasters for landscapes and ecologies.

We will share a delicious lunch made from vegetables, herbs and spices grown in their gardens before we make our way back to Mysuru.

On the way home, we will stop in the town of Nanjangud to visit the Srikanteshwara Temple devoted to Nanjundeshwara, a form of Lord Shiva. This town is an important pilgrimage town for Hindus who come in their thousands for different festivals throughout the year.

We will be back in Mysuru in time for dinner. We have many suggestions of places to eat, or perhaps after a long day, everyone will prefer to have dinner at our hotel.

Overnight: Royal Orchid Metropole

Sunday 12 January (B) (L) (D)

This morning we head straight to Mysuru’s oldest market, Devaraja, to explore the narrow rows of fruit, vegetable and flower sellers. There are also stallholders selling kitchenware, incense and oils, essentials for performing pujas (rituals) at home, bags made from recycled rice sacks and so much more. The stallholders are even more interesting than the wares they grow, make and sell, and Catherine has been known to be ‘lost’ for hours in the rows of flowers taking in the perfumes, the vendors calls and the riot of colours. Varis can be found chatting to the men who make rustic and beautiful tools from recycled woods and metals; in India, everything is repurposed.

Later this morning we are invited to a local home where our host, Anu, will teach us how to combine spices to create the amazing flavours of India in this cooking class so we can eat what we prepared – a meal to remember! After lunch, there is time for a rest at the hotel before the evening activities begin.

Every evening from around 5pm, the streets come to life as this is the most popular shopping time. We’ll take a walking tour through the old city, sampling some of the street foods. We know the best vendors from whom to buy their specialties. Then we will head to a rooftop restaurant for a drink before proceeding to the Mysuru Palace for the weekly illumination.

The visual of 97,000 incandescent light bulbs outlining these ornate buildings against the dark night-sky is breathtaking and there is a collective and audible intake of breath expressing wonderment when the lights come on.

We’ll be back at The Metropole by 8pm where you can have another drink in the courtyard or have an early night.

Overnight: Royal Orchid Metropole

Monday 13 January (B) (L)

After breakfast today we are travelling back to Bengaluru. We’ll ask that you pack an overnight bag as we will have just the one night back at The Taj Hotel, but we think that’s better than getting up at 4.30am and being exhausted all day tomorrow.

On the way, we will visit Srirangapatna on the Cauvery River, a town of deep religious, cultural and historical significance. The ghats (steps) on the river bank are the centre of many village practices including bathing, washing clothes, worshipping their deities and making offerings. Pilgrims from all over India travel to visit this holy place.

Srirangapatna is a town built on an island in the middle of the river and once the fort and summer home of Tipu Sultan, who fought four battles against the British forces here. If you’re interested in the history of the British Raj you’ll be fascinated by the stories you will hear. Nearby is the ancient Vishnu Temple, consecrated in 984CE. The scale and vastness of this structure are humbling, and it is fascinating to ponder how many millions of bare feet have trodden the large, smooth flagstones through the temple. Lunch is at a secluded riverside restaurant before we continue onto Bengaluru.

We’ll decide on the day what everyone would like to do for dinner, as we don’t know exactly what time we will arrive in Bengaluru.

Overnight: Taj Bengaluru (Deluxe room)

Tuesday 14 January (B) (D)

This morning we will fly to Tiruchirappalli, also known as Trichy, 1.5 hours from Bengaluru. Upon arrival, we will transfer to Thanjavur which is just over an hours’ drive away.

Thanjavur (previously known as Tanjore) is another centre of art and culture in South Eastern India, in the state of Tamil Nadu. Home to the Brihadishvara Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is one of the most amazing places to experience the Pongal Festival.

We’ll have time to check-in and have some lunch before we head to Naanjikottai, a town of around 35,000 people, which in India is rather small! Here we will enjoy this afternoon’s festival activities including watching the women cooking pongal on the streets, dance and music performances.

Later we will return to our hotel for dinner.

Overnight: Svatma (Millennium Deluxe room)

Wednesday 15 January (B) (D)

Pongolo Pongal!

The word Pongal translates to overflowing abundance and is represented in the overflowing milk and rice dishes that are prepared for the festival. The days before the festival, people clean, decorate and often paint their homes in preparation for the coming days.

Today we will enjoy the Pongal festivities in the villages surrounding Thanjavur. You will hear the happy cries of “Pongolo Pongal!” as the local people, wearing new clothes stand outside their homes that are decorated with flowers, rangoli and sugar cane arrangements. Pongal is one of the most awaited festivals in Tamil Nadu and is a celebration of the harvest. Today, thanks are offered to the Sun God, Surya, and other higher powers for the food on the table and the prosperity that comes with a good harvest.

After an amazing day in the local villages, we will return to our hotel for dinner.

Overnight: Svatma

Thursday 16 January (B) (D)

This morning we are visiting the Brihadeeshwara Temple which is dedicated to Lord Shiva to watch the special puja (ritual) and celebrations. Today marks the third day of the festival known as Mattu Pongal which honours the farmer’s best friend, the cattle. They are bathed, decorated, worshipped and fed their favourite dishes before being taken to the temple for a special puja in their honour.

The whole area is exploding with colour and the people are in a festive mood wherever you go. There is a friendly competition among the women as they create colourful and elaborate rangoli outside their homes.

Today the practice of Jallikattu takes place known as India’s version of running with the bulls! The bulls are released and participants chase them trying to grab them by their horns or hump. It is a dangerous practice, and not for the faint-hearted, so we will decide as a group whether we wish to attend or not and make the appropriate arrangements on the day.

We will enjoy a delicious dinner back at our hotel, and those who wish can enjoy a drink afterwards in the rooftop bar under the stars.

Overnight: Svatma

Friday 17 January (B) (D)

Excursion to Narthamalai and Tiruchirappalli 

This morning we will drive to Narthamalai to visit the cave temples which date as far as the early medieval era. Marvel at six skillfully carved statues of Lord Vishnu in the central hall plus a life-size portrait of this revered Hindu God which will leave you breathless.

We also will visit the Srirangathaswami Temple in Srirangam, the most important pilgrim centre in the region. Like Srirangapatna near Mysuru, it also is located on an island surrounded by the waters where the Cauvery River and the Kollidam River meet. Srirangam is a 600-acre island town enclosed within the seven walls of the gigantic Srirangathaswami Temple, built between the 14th and 17th centuries and dedicated to Lord Vishnu. A visit to this temple will leave you speechless as you watch the worship and prayers of the devotees and behold the complexity of the carvings.

After stopping for lunch in Trichy before we head back to Thanjavur. We are having a very special dinner tonight, so perhaps we’ll just grab something on the go and save our appetites for this evening’s degustation dinner.

On our way back to the hotel we will visit a couple of local workshops where families create beautiful bronze statues and Tanjore paintings. We are constantly inspired by these artisans who are keeping these traditional art forms alive.

Tonight we will dine at Svatma and enjoy their sumptuous degustation dinner, followed by a drink at the rooftop bar for those not quite ready for bed yet!

Overnight: Svatma

 Saturday 18 January (B) (L)

This morning after breakfast we will check-out and fly one-hour south-east to the port city of Kochi (also known as Cochin). It is where the Vembanad Lake forms a spectacular natural harbour and opens out into the Arabian Sea. Kochi is a cluster of islands in this beautiful lake. We have arrived in the wonderful state of Kerala.

Kochi is fondly known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea with its fascinating blend of cultures and influence from the foreign traders and merchants; note how the Arabs, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and British have all left their mark here.

Enjoy lunch at our hotel while the check-in formalities are taken care of. You will have time to go to your room, unpack and freshen up before we go out to be wowed by a traditional Kathakali dance performance. Kathakali, which literally means “story play,” was developed in the 17th century in Kerala as a courtly dance drama enacting mythic stories of the Hindu gods and goddesses.

This incredible dance drama is one of India’s most remarkable performing arts involving pantomime, abstract dancing, elaborate costumes and makeup. It is an operatic spectacle with singing and instrumental accompaniment that you will never forget!

We’ll decide what to do for dinner on the day.

Overnight: Brunton Boatyard Hotel (Standard Sea View room)

Sunday 19 January (B)

After breakfast at our hotel, we are off for a walk around Fort Kochi which includes a private tour of Kochi Biennale, a non-profit charitable trust, located in historic buildings engaged in promoting art, culture and educational activities in India.

We’ll have lunch in a local restaurant that takes our fancy. There are so many to choose from, and we’ll have a list of suggestions.

This afternoon we will see contemporary Kerala evident in the art cafes and designer boutiques. In contrast, we will sip spiced tea while biting into piping hot savouries at a road-side Gujarati sweet shop. We’ll wander through the spice market and explore Mattancherry, a centuries-old multicultural area.

We dine as we please tonight.

Overnight: Brunton Boatyard Hotel

Monday 20 January (B) (L) (D)

After a leisurely morning, we will visit Nimmy and Paul’s private home to enjoy an interactive cooking demonstration followed by a delicious lunch. First , we will visit their local market to buy the necessary fresh ingredients.

This afternoon we will take a city tour visiting some of the remarkable religious sites including the Jewish Synagogue (built in 1568) and the Church of St Francis (built in 1503) that form a part of the history of this city.

Toward sunset, we will visit the Chinese Fishing Nets. They are fixed on horizontal 20-metre bamboo and teak poles and are weighed down by large stones tied to ropes. They are 10 metres high and it takes six men to operate one. Their silhouette against the sky as the sun sets is breathtaking and a magnificent photographic opportunity.

We are getting close to the end of our trip now, so we will return to our hotel to freshen up before gathering for dinner at the Terrace Grill overlooking the harbour at our fabulous hotel.

Overnight: Brunton Boatyard Hotel

Tuesday 21 January (B) (L) (D)

This morning after breakfast we’ll drive to Alleppey, about one and a half hours away to board our traditional houseboats known as a “Kettuvallam”. Each houseboat has two rooms for up to four people. Our fascinating cruise through the picturesque backwaters, small lakes and lovely inland lagoons, relaxing in the tranquillity of Kerala’s beautiful scenery allows you time to unwind before heading home. Imagine yourself on the boats’ forward sundeck, comfortably ensconced in a rosewood-and-cane easy chair. Your boat moves towards the mouth of the Kavanar River at a scorching six miles an hour. It would be a fight to keep your eyelids from closing, except for a refreshingly soft breeze that angles in a westerly direction, off the Vembanad Lake. It carries the cries of distant birds, surprisingly loud over the waters.

Lunch and dinner will be served on board.

We think this is the perfect end to our South India adventure together.

We’ll ask you to pack a small bag for this little sojourn so that the bulk of your luggage can be stored at the hotel.

Overnight: CGH Spice Coast Cruises (Luxury Houseboat)

Wednesday 22 January (B) (L)

Backwaters – Kochi – Home 

After breakfast onboard, we will drive back to Kochi where we have day use of a room at the Taj Malabar Resort until you depart for the airport.

This afternoon is free to do some last minute shopping, relax, take a nap or try one of Kerala’s specialities, an Ayurvedic massage (pre-booking recommended).

It has been our pleasure and privilege to share this wonderful journey with you and we thank you for choosing us for your South Indian adventure.

Do you have a question?  Drop us a quick line.

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