Pearls of South India 12 - 26 August 2018

The Cultural Gems of South India - 15 Days

12 - 26 August 2018   Email us with your expressions of interest now>

This exceptional and exclusive 15-day tour has been designed and conceived by Marieke Brugman who will lead this exciting Tour. Obscure doors are opened to you, enabling you to experience the rarefied elegance and traditions of a by-gone, opulent colonial lifestyle, the hospitality of special families, traditional rural villages, a cornucopia of festivals, including the special Onam celebrations, art, craft, textiles and cuisine.

Shielded from the maddening aspects of solo travelling in India, guests can immerse themselves in the richness and myriad contrasts of the Malabar to Coromandel Coasts, from the Western Ghats, with verdant tropical scenery, impressive tea and coffee plantations, lush spice groves, captivating wildlife sanctuaries, to the magical Kerala "backwaters" network of rivers, lagoons, canals and traditional village life. The cuisines, dominated by vegetarianism and proximity to marvellous fish and seafood, are regionally diverse and extraordinarily delicious and you will relish the fragrance, perfumes, and spiciness of wonderful food.



Enjoy diverse cultures as we cross three States (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Pondicherry), each with distinctive cultural traditions, exquisite architectural jewels, and rich, delicately scented cuisine headily fragrant, and an endlessly spiced varying feast for the senses.

From the Dravidian past, through various religious and political dynasties, the Chinese fishing and trade routes, the remnants of the Dutch, Portuguese and British colonial past to Syrian Christian and Jewish settlements and modern day advancements in health and education, there is much to absorb the adventurous traveller. The landscape you journey through is gorgeous.

Starting in Chennai (Madras) there will be Special excursions, and events that include the charming colonial outpost of Pondicherry with remnant French influences, the vibrant Temples of  Madurai and  Tirichurappali, exceptional cuisine and fascinating architecture in Chettinad, the gorgeous scenery and spice plantations of Periyar, a romantic night on converted rice-barges beguilingly poled and decked out in white calico and fresh jasmine, cooking demonstrations, Ayurvedic treatments, , and special banquets and performances.

Tamil Nadu, Tiruchirappli + Chettinad


Tamil Nadu is one of the most prominent Hindu states of India, whose notable temples include those of Meenakshi and Tiruchirapalli also known as Trichy. Also on the banks of river Cauvery is the spectacular Ranganathaswamy, a big center of Hindu vashnav belief. Near Tanjore are Chidambaram temple an important Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva as Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, also the Chola Dynasty (11th- and 12th-century) Brihadisvara Temple representing the outstanding creative achievement in the architectural conception of the pure form of the dravida type of temple.

The Chettinad region is renowned for its numerous villages of wonderful mansions built by prosperous Chettiar traders who followed the expansion of the British Empire into SE Asia. Great entrepreneurs, they brought back Burma teak, rosewood, European tiles and decoration, and incorporated colonnaded courtyards with a wealth of wood sculpting.
 Happily, the culinary pleasure here lasts from daybreak through dinner. Although the Chettiars are well known for their delicious vegetarian preparations, their repertoire of food items, unusually for Hindus, is famous and includes all manner of fish and fowl and meats, as well as delicate noodle-like dishes and carefully preserved sun-dried legumes and berries.
(photo Stephanie Wood)



Kerala is a mere frond of a state, long and narrow, green and fertile — 15,000 palm-sheltered square miles in southwest India, rimmed by mountains called the Western Ghats, washed by the Arabian Sea and laced by an idyllic tangle of lakes and streams known as the Backwaters.
 Its people, known as Malayalees, call it "God's own country" or "the blessed land," not least because of its irresistible food.
 For centuries, long before the steamship, long before the jet plane, venturesome traders rode the trade winds to Kerala. Romans, Phoenicians, Chinese, Arabs, Portuguese, Frenchmen, Dutchmen and Britons all came here, and so did Jewish merchants from Venice. St. Thomas the Apostle is said to have landed along this coast in A.D. 52, and Christopher Columbus was headed west in search of Kerala's fabled spices when he stumbled upon America.



Pondicherry, located south of Madras on the Bay of Bengal, a French colony since the 17th C was returned to the Central Indian Government in 1954. Today it retains much of its early colonial charm with well preserved mellow grey and white mansions, tropical gardens, ornate Hindu temples, and French cafés.

At the heart of the old town is Sri Aurobindo Ashram, established by the guru whose life as a Nationalist political activist in the early 20thC transmuted into a philosophy espousing the birth of a new spirit and race of people living with peace and purpose. This gave birth in 1973 to the renowned “intentional Community” of Auroville (the “City of Dawn”) in 1968, some kilometres out of town. Based on a utopian concept of human unity and social integration, Auroville’s 8000 hectares houses over 2000 people from some 30+ nationalities.

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What Guests Have Said:

Dear Marieke

Thank you for changing my expectations of India. We were lucky, thanks to you and your knowledge of India, in two weeks, to have a variety of wonderful experiences and to leave having a better understanding of Southern India’s history, culture, society, geography, and geology. We were also lucky to have the stylish, regal, knowledgable Durga-Ji to inspire our thinking, perceptions and knowledge of India. I enjoyed the places that we visited and the fact that most were not part of tourist trails. We saw ancient temples, the way of life in villages and towns, rural life, tea plantations, spice farms, ghats, harbour life and fishermen, colonial and Indian mansions both preserved and dilapidated, cooking exhibitions and we stayed in wonderful top class hotels, some that were renovated mansions, that were eco friendly and proud to be Indian. We also explored the Kerala Backwaters and stayed over night on houseboats that looked like huge water bugs. You and Durga pointed our examples of how Indians are using more renewable sources of energy when they can and are trying to rectify the overwhelming rubbish created from modern uses of packaging than Indians traditionally would have used. We ate and learned about the delicious Southern Indian food and met well known Indian cooks. We also spent time at Auroville, an international community working together harmoniously. Having Fort Cochi on the Arabian Sea as our last port of call was a genius move because in a way it summed up so much we were learning about India and its extraordinary past.  Last but not least we had opportunities to learn about Indian crafts and the people who weave, create tiles, print on fabric, create bronze statues and then we were able to buys their wares!
Love Sally (Sydney) August 2016

Dearest Marieke,
Now back after another wonderful trip filled with endless colour and beauty, things I love, as simple as smiles on faces so ready to share, a temple glowingly yellow, an elephant engaged in blessing all and sundry, a plate of deliciously fresh organic food, lovingly prepared and served on a banana leaf from the grounds of the hosts plantation. Thank you for making all of this and much much more possible. Not the least of which was cruising the Venice of India in Kerala. India is at its least exciting, it is full of promise, spirituality and offers much that the rest of the world could sit up and take notice of. I am thankful for the way in which you, with the erudite Durga by your side, present it and let it gently unfold, with a surprise here and there. The memories and photographs are what is left over now. Thankfully neither will fade away. What you do is an art and involves detailed planning. I am appreciative of being able to take part in both.
With my love,
 V. (Sydney) September 2011

Hi Marieke,
Thank you so much.
I know that I have been blessed to be the recipient of your many years of experience in the subcontinent. It showed in everything we did, from the delicious food and gorgeous hotels, the highly polished itinerary, the hospitality and friendship of everyone we met and of course, the ace up your sleeve in India, Durga. As I am usually the one organising everything on our trips, it was great not to have to think about anything else except enjoying the sights in front of me and knowing what time the next meal was! It is truly a holiday when you have no idea what day it is, and you don’t care to know either...
 India is certainly a land of contrasts, and you were right in saying that as soon as the initial shock wears off, you are then free to experience the rest of what the country has to offer. I am glad that we chose the soft landing in the south. Thank you for converting a non-believer.
 We can’t wait to try out the recipes on our friends while going through the photos and reliving the trip. I know our paths will cross again.
 With love,
 Karen v A (Sydney) September 2011

Hello Marieke

hope the rest of your stay in India was fruitful,

God it's hard to be back! I had the most fantastic trip and I just wanted to thank you again for organising such a memorable tour. I really feel we were so privileged compared to the average tourist and that's all due to yours and Durga's huge efforts.

My only concession to being back in reality is having such great memories to dwell on.
Maybe you better stick me on a list.... I find the best way to recover from holiday comedown is plan the next one!
Hope all is well.
Speak soon

Amanda Pike September 2009

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