Provider: Wildland Adventures
Length: 12 days
Price: from $2,250
On Wildland Adventures' 12-day Southern India trip, you can stay in former palaces, participate in a 2,000-year-old Hindu ritual set in one of the subcontinent's grandest temples, ride elephants from village to village in the tropical countryside, and perhaps even spot a tiger in the wild, all without having to pay a Maharaja's ransom. There are numerous options for India tours, but this award-winning ecotourism company's emphasis on in-depth cultural encounters and creature comforts make it an appealing option for travelers not up for roughing it but eager to experience the real India.
"Our mission is to create 'authentic' experiences for the traveler; to meet on an equal footing [Indian] people just like us," says Adrian Chalker, Wildland's in-house India expert. "We make a serious effort to create situations and environments that promote insightful contact."
Focusing on the two states that make up India's southern tip, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, you'll visit sacred temples in Tiruchirappalli and Madurai, explore a national reserve by boat to view elephants, and perhaps even a tiger, stay on a working spice plantation, and see Cochin, an ancient port city with ties to Portuguese explorers, early Christians, and one of the world's oldest Jewish communities.
"The temples of South India are truly outstanding in every way," says Dave Hofeditz of Seattle, who recently went on the trip, about his three favorite trip experiences. "It was truly a privilege to take part in the evening procession at Shree Meenakshi Temple in Madurai—the 'closing ceremony' where an image of the god Shiva is carried in procession to Parvati's bedroom where it remains until [being] ceremonially escorted back the next morning.
"Periyer National Park was also outstanding. There were ruined temples and lush cultivated villages, hundreds of wading water birds and palm trees. It was a magical place that seemed to have been deliberately left to go back to its natural state.
"And, of course, the overnight in a spice plantation, the elephant ride, and talking to the spice workers and plantation staff about their lives. The peculiar artistry and craftsmanship of just being alive that was so evident amongst these people gave me a sense of serenity, of touching something larger than myself."
Departures are scheduled for December 22, 2008, and January 2 and February 9, 2009. Prices include airport transfers, accommodations, ground transportation, drivers and guides, entrance fees and some activities, and daily breakfast and some lunches and dinners. Optional activities, some meals, and airfare are extra. Open-jaw tickets from Newark to the trip start point in Chennai, India, and from the trip end point in Cochin, India, back to Newark start at $1,353, including taxes and fees, through CheapTickets.