“Elephants & Houseboats in India”

Kerala, Allepy, Periyar, Cochin, Taj and Spas!

Sept 2-11, 2017

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Namaste! India isn't just a journey, it's an experience and I think this may be my best vacation creation ever. Why would we return? Because it’s playfully unpredictable and our past group loved it. India is deeply addictive. There’s food, glorious food, luscious landscapes, soul stirring spirituality and always a place to expect the unexpected. Who wouldn’t love the Taj, tigers, elephants, bazaars, rickshaws, yoga, luxury houseboats, Aurveyda Spas and 5-star hotels? It’s so affordable, so exotic. The fascinating world of Southern India is like discovering another planet. Locals say “Atithi Deva Bhavo,” meaning “our guest is god” and this is truly God’s heaven. Enjoy the silent sleepy pace amid emerald waterways, ancient temples, stunning backwaters, temples, tropical jungles, sun-kissed beaches, wildlife reserves and colorful villages.

Overview

We begin with a few days touring Delhi with its exciting sensory overload and then visit the incomparable Taj Mahal in Agra. But the true soul of India is found in the south.
The paradise of Kerala is a laid back land where the 5,000-year-old practice of natural healing called Ayurveda began. Locals and visitors alike flock here for treatments and our hotel spas offer numerous opportunities. We fly to the mystical town of Cochin (Kochi) where centuries of history unfold before our eyes.  Enjoy rikshaw rides, lake cruises, fishing villages, cooking classes and enticing bazaars.  In Periyar, we visit a spice plantation, ride elephants and trek through a wildlife sanctuary!
 
The highlight of this journey is our “floating homes” in Allepey. Two days on your private houseboat with your own chef and captain! Floating through Venice-like canals is the best way to intimately soak up local life. We drift through the quiet backwaters and channels where traditionally dressed villagers are seen harvesting rice, washing their laundry or praying on shore. 
The mirror smooth backwaters spread in a labyrinth of rivers and lagoons 1500km long.  The best way to enjoy it is in boats hand-woven of bamboo and coconut fibers.  Fitted with fine cabins, their ancient construction reminds us time has no dictates here.  The banks are a constant bustle of colorful locals.  Cruising provides an oasis of life in the midst of aquatic immensity.   It’s total cultural enrichment.

We end in the intensely beautiful land of enchanting Kumarakom. Our deluxe 5-star resort is set on a crystal blue lake lined with coconut palms, rice paddies, water lilies and lotus blossoms. It’s a spectacular bird sanctuary and you’ll be so pampered, it will be hard to leave this property.

 Stretch your travel horizons to the exotic for one of our most memorable AFS trips of all. Come discover India at her finest. It is written, “Here is where the gods unwind.” It’s an extraordinary adventure that won’t be forgotten.  Come to India, find what you seek!

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Our Glorious Itinerary

Sept 2 – Fly USA to Dehli

(Air details later)


Sept 3 – Welcome to Dehli

Did you know India is the world’s largest democracy with 5000 years of history dating back to 3000BC?  Arrive at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport - Terminal 03. Our representative along with your English speaking tour guide will meet you outside the customs gate and escort you to your air-conditioned Bus at the nearest airport parking.

On arrival at the hotel, a traditional Indian welcome of aarti-tikka, garland and beverages provided.

Check into 5 Star Le-Meridian, located in the heart of the city, the iconic glass building of Le Meridien New Delhi has been recognised as one of the 100 Icons of Delhi. The hotel is located close to the institutions of both power and pleasure.  The hotel towers over the historic landscape of Lutyen's Delhi surrounded by the President Palace - Rashtrapati Bhawan , Parliament House, Ministries, Government Institutions and the notable landmark- India Gate. The main shopping hub Connaught place and the shoppers delight Janpath market, is within walking distance from the hotel. The Three Graces by Amatrra Spa revitalizes the spa experience. Where ancient Indian Ayurveda therapies unify with Astroscience to achieve a balance in an individual’s energy. The therapies that stem from the blend of contemporary technology with time-tested remedies a wholly rejuvenating spa experience.

There are six restaurants, fitness center with swimming pool and WiFi.

Welcome dinner tonight to get to know fellow travelers.

Overnight: Le-Meridien         D


Sept 4 - Full Day exploring Delhi

After a fabulous buffet breakfast, proceed for full day sightseeing of Old and New Delhi.

“Begin your exploration visit Imperial Delhi. During this offsite you will learn about the hand that drew the blueprint of this impressive city, retracing the plans that were drawn when King George V announced the transfer of India's capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911. You will get to know Lutyens and Baker, the king's architects, and how they set about designing and constructing the "Imperial City" of palatial buildings and broad tree-lined avenues punctuated by Mughal-style gardens, complete with fountains and shallow pools. Drive through central Delhi along the ceremonial Rajpath, past the imposing Rashtrapati Bhavan, the India Gate and the Parliament House will unveil the brilliance of Lutyen's art. Enjoy a brief photo-stop for clicking one of the most photographed part of the city.

Our next stop at Sikh temple Gurdwara Bangla Sahib you’ll experience the amazing hospitality and tranquility of the Sikh faith. Inside, devotees kneel facing a small pavilion in the centre that holds the Granth Sahib (Sikh scriptures). Hymns from the holy book are sung continuously from well before sunrise into the evening, and you are welcome to sit and listen. We will also visit the community kitchen.

Our tour will end with a visit to the spectacular site of Qutab Minar, (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), a perfect example of the intricate flowing forms of the Hindu style of architecture transforming into the grandeur of geometric precision of Muslim builders.”

As you enter the Qutab complex, you will feel as if you are stepping back to the 11th century. This fort of Delhi’s first Muslim rulers is built on the site of the first of nine cities of Delhi - Qila Rai Pithora, and was demolished by Delhi’s first Muslim rulers to create much of what stands in the Qutab Complex today. Most experts believe that the Qutab Minar was probably a victory tower, marking the arrival of the Muslim conquerors. These buildings represent some of the earliest examples of Muslim architecture in India. The Quwwat - ul - Islam mosque and other buildings in the complex display an amazing synthesis of the architectural styles (and actual material) from demolished Hindu and Jain temples, and the influence of the domes and minarets of Samarkand, Baghdad and Damascus.

New Delhi is the capital of India with a fascinating history and a stimulating present. Delhi has been the seat of power in a number of dynasties - the Rajputs, the Afghans, the Turks and the Moghuls, who continued their imperial line until the British reign. In the morning, we visit Old Delhi with its dramatic remnants of the Moghul Empire. Drive past the Red Fort and visit the Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque, both built by Emperor Shahjahan. Visit Rajghat, the site of Mahatma Gandhi's Cremation.

Next stop at a Sikh temple to experience the amazing hospitality and tranquility of the Sikh faith and help feed the desperate.

After lunch, we make our way along the majestic boulevards of New Delhi designed by the British architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1920. Lutyens' Delhi includes the grand government buildings and Parliament House, the India Gate and "Rashtrapati Bhawan" - the presidential palace. Also explore the 234-foot high Qutab Minar and Humayun's tomb, built in the 16th century by the second Mughal emperor. An example of early Mughal architecture, it is truly amazing.

Your evening is free to explore Delhi.

Overnight: Le-Meridien       B


Sept 5 – Free Day

Whole day free to relax or opt for a full day tour in Agra at the Taj Mahal and Fort Agra.   We are taking the fast train, around 2 hours there and a private coach back.

Private AFS Optional Tour:  Taj Mahal and Agra Fort - Train departs 8:10 returns 7:30 PM (Optional $75).

Perhaps the most photographed monument in the world. Nothing can truly prepare you for the beauty you are about to experience. Witnessing it for the first time after walking through the gates is like having the air sucked from the room. It will leave you breathless. We explore both the manicured grounds and the spectacular monument.

Agra - Two Great Mughal monarchs, Akbar and Shah Jahan, transformed the little village of Agra into a befitting second capital of the Mughal Empire - giving it the name Dar-ul-Khilafat {Seat of the Emperor}. Today, a visitor to Agra is caught up in a world of contrasting edifices of red sandstone and white marble, narrow lanes and quaint buggies, and that irresistible charm that this favorite city of the Mughals still retains.  On arrival proceed to visit Agra Fort - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An imposing structure with walls of red sandstone, almost two miles long and contains palaces, audience halls and mosques. The fort presents a good sampling of Islamic and Hindu architectural styles. It was built by the third Mughal Emperor, Akbar.

Then visit the mesmerizing Taj Mahal - a UNESCO World Heritage SIte. A sunset visit to the fabled Taj Mahal to witness the magical effects caused by the reflections of the changing colors of the Sun on this brilliant white marble building! Enjoy a romantic ride to the monument of the love on decorated Tongas ‘horse driven carriages’.

The 17th century Taj Mahal is often called a poem in stone. If so, the mausoleum is a love poem - created by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal. It took 22 years to be completed and was designed and planned by a Persian architect Ustad Isa. Apart from its stunning design balance and perfect symmetry, the Taj is also noted for its elegant domes, intricately carved screens and some of the best inlay work ever seen.

Arrive back to Dehli around 7:00 PM.

Overnight: Le-Meridien            B


Sept 6 - Travel to Cochin

(Also called Kochi) was a city of the world before the world was fully known, an ancient hub for Romans, Phoenicians, Chinese and Arabs who came to buy pearls, pepper, silk, ginger and indigo.  Eternally multicultural, today the city is a haven of tolerance where 4 religions in harmony.  Luxury hotels blend in with its colonial past.  So much to do here.

In the morning, we head to the airport and fly to Cochin, in the early afternoon. There is an hour drive to our luxury hotel for a briefing and walking tour. Kochi- its beautiful setting on a cluster of islands and narrow peninsulas, the fascinating city of Kochi perfectly reflects the eclecticism of Kerala. Boasts of one of the finest natural harbors on the Arabian Sea coast and has been a port of call for foreign traders from very early times. Its cosmopolitan character is reflected in the many buildings and structures, which bear testimony to the different influences that the city has acquired from the world over. At the entrance of Kochi harbor, the Chinese fishing nets add a wistful aura to the surroundings. These nets are the only remaining evidence of the Chinese contacts of ancient times.

In the evening, you can see the epic Hindi tale of Ramayana comes to life at a Kathakali performance, traditional Keralan dance, where the characters use larger than life gestures, wear outrageous costumes and dramatic make up. It’s pretty cool.

Overnight: Crown Plaza,    B


Sept 7 – Full-Day Cochin and the Waterways of Alleppey

This morning, meander through the old districts of Mattancherry and Fort Cochin by Tuk Tuk. It’s so much fun to tour in these wheeled scooters!  We’ll see the various European influences in the merchant houses and old warehouses cramming the waterfront and narrow streets. Great shopping. Take in the Synagogue, St Francis Church, the oldest European church in India, and the Santa Cruz Basilica. We browse the colorful, pungent spice markets before moving on to the much-photographed Chinese nets that line the shore of Fort Cochin.

This afternoon we will arrive in Alleppey and embark on our private house boat for a journey through the backwaters, a splendid area full of canals, lakes and coves! Through a wonderful area full of palm trees, rice fields, and floating water plants that surround the boat like emerald Green Island. With your private chef, you will indulge in the freshest cuisine ever.

Kerala backwaters cover a chain of canals 1500kms along 44 lakes, rivers and lagoons.  Our traditional wooden boats are called Kettuvallom.  Their languid grace provides a fabulous way to explore. the beauty of the waters.  We’ll have about 10 boats for 4-6 per boat.  Bedrooms have 2 twin beds, attached small bathroom, sundeck and full kitchen where your chef prepares awesome food.  

Overnight: Houseboat         B, L, D


Sept 8 - Alleppey – Periyar, Spice Plantation, Elephant Rides

This morning we disembark from the comforts of your House Boat and drive to Periyar approx 4 hrs. The heart of God's own country! Periyar or Thekkady is located in Idukki district. The very sound of the name conjures up images of elephants, unending chains of hills and spice scented plantations. Beautiful small villages, tea estates, and rubber plantations await as we spend the morning on a scenic drive to Periyar.

After checking into our hotel in the afternoon, we visit a Spice Plantation where you will be enticed by not only the aroma of spices like cinnamon, cardamom, pepper and nutmeg but we will also get to know how they are grown, harvested, and processed before they reach the supermarket. There is no better way to take in the stunning landscape than from the back of an elephant as we see the plantation from high above our pachyderm! 

Evening free at our luxury accommodations.

Overnight:  Greenwoods Resort         B


Sept 9 - Wildlife Sanctuary & Kumakoron

The Periyar Wild Life Sanctuary is one of the 16 Project Tiger Reserves in India and is among the most picturesque wild life sanctuaries in the world despite the tragic loss of the richly vegetated valley due to the dam and the 21 sq. mile reservoir. Enjoy an early morning guided nature walk in the national park for a chance to view elephants, bison, monkeys, deer and several species of birds. Return to the hotel for breakfast.

Learn some great Indian recipes at our private cooking session at the hotel.

Optional AFS Kerala Fashion Show ($10)
Enjoy an interesting local Kerala style dress (for men - Mundu and shirt and for women - Saree, underskirt and blouse ). Special staff will be available to help the guests wear these nice colorful outfits. Exclusive arrangements will be done for photo-session. An interesting and amazing experience!

This evening experience the Exclusive Kalaipayattu Show. This is perhaps the most ancient martial art in the world. Religions have incorporated Kalaripayattu into their realm yet its origin is still in the midst of obscurity. Traditional Kalari masters attribute mythological stories and legends to the origin of the art. (included)

Overnight: Greenwoods Resort         B, L


Sept 10 - Kumarakom!

The enchanting backwater destination, Kumarakom is located on the picturesque Vembanad Lake. The village of Kumarakom is a cluster of little islands that have been converted into a number of tourist resorts, and is part of the Kuttanad region. Kumarakom is an unbelievable beautiful paradise. The blue backwaters and the surface of Vembanad Lake reflect the azure sky. The amazing shades of green of the vegetation that include mangroves, coconut palms, and paddy fields cover the verdant countryside.

After arrival at this impeccable and exotic five-star resort, you will have time to take in a wide array of Ayurvedic and spa treatments or simply relax and rejuvenate in the incredible surroundings. It’s indescribable, Prince Charles vacations here. They say, “Here the gods come to unwind.”  For the past 3 years, the Maya Spa here was awarded “Best Spa in Southern India”. Enjoy the speedboats on the lake, lagoon pools, restaurants, shop and visit the nearby Bird Sanctuary. Also nearby is Kuttanadu farm where you can watch the harvest of coconut, vanilla, mango, tamarind, plantain and cocoa.

Tonight we toast each other goodbye over our group Farewell Dinner of Indian cuisine.

Overnight: Zuri Kumarakom Hotel Kerala & Spa          B, D


Sept 11 Kumakoran-Cochin-Delhi-USA

In the early morning, enjoy an energizing yoga session.  Our entire group enjoyed this.

After breakfast, we make the drive to Cochin International airport for your flights via Dehli to USA.


Sept 12 – Arrive USA

Arrive back in USA


Activity Level:

2. I have no trouble walking and if necessary, can walk for 3+ miles. Uneven surfaces are not a problem. I do not need a cane or walking device.

Pricing

This trip will fill quickly so don't delay. 

A $400 + 300 mid-pay ($700) deposit will secure your space on first come, first serve basis. 

Land price - $1395 + $235 for two internal domestic flights Delhi-Cochin-Delhi

Includes all services above in first class hotels, daily guided tours with entrance fees, meals as stated, A/C private coach, AFS trip leader. 

Not included – visa on arrival, gratuities & optional tours - $75 Taj tour.

International Group Air – This priced out higher so will ticket all together on individual booking to save you money.  After a month of research many carriers, schedules, long layovers and prices, Air India (AI) comes in best from NY!  Great price with perfect non-stop schedule to save you time.  

  • Sep 2 AI 102  JFK-DEL  325PM – 250PM next day
  • Sep 12  AI 101  DEL-JFK  130AM (check-in 11pm Sept 11)  - 730AM same day in JFK

Indiviual ticket price is around $895 + $164 taxes

Based on a minimum of 24 participants. 

Ayurveda!
"Liters of warm sesame oil are continuously poured in a thin stream over my body.  As he massages it in, my masseuse sings a blessing.  A moment of grace.  Then a brisk rubdown before I am lead to another table for a 4 handed massage.  This is followed by the scrub of milk, rice and papaya pulp.  My shin is incredibly soft…"
In Kerala, treatments reveal the true essence of Ayurveda, the 5,000 year old discipline of physical and spiritual harmony.  All our hotels have excellent choices with qa unique menu of fantastic massages in which to choose!
Kerala Backwaters and Houseboats - THE PARADISE OF KERALA
Kerala Backwaters are one of the unique attractions in Kerala, a chain of canals extending about 1500 kms, with a network of 44 rivers, lagoons and lakes. Most of the Kerala backwaters are naturally formed and some of the backwater canals are manmade. Canals are remade for continuous traffic of men and materials. Before the modern transport methods like road and air transport became popular, the main cargo transportation in Kerala was through backwaters by 'Kettuvalloms'.   They are 70 to 100 feet long and 15 to 20 feet wide.  Master craftsmen of these Houseboats of Kerala, is now numbering. Only a few have tremendous knowledge and experience. Without a scale model or drawing, they build these magnificent and beautiful Kettuvalloms.  Backwaters in Kerala form an inherent part of life in Kerala. Newspaper, mail and milk are delivered by boats, members of political parties and missionaries share the same boats along with fully made up brides and wedding party.

Options

Name
Description
Price
Gratuities

This 'option' is a required additional charge for this trip.

It is protocol to tip your drivers, porters and local guides - we have the absolute best. $13 pp per day should suffice as minimum and will be added to your final bill. We will give this to your GTL to disperse accordingly throughout. It’s easier this way. Tips are for local guides, drivers, group meals (except breakfast) and hotel porters that bring bags from bus to lobby.
$85.00
Optional Taj
Free day optional to Taj Mahal and Agra Fort
$75.00
Internal Air
We need everyone on these flights so group remains together.
$235.00
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Please review AFS Terms and Conditions as well as Heading Abroad with AFS. Group air - Airlines may add surcharges to offset fuel inflation or taxes. The total ticket cost is not final until we receive your final payment and are ticketed. If doing own air, airport transfer may or may not be included depending on your air schedule. Do not buy air until we either group air is set or we advise - dates can change! Itineraries are prepared often a year in advance. Though not likely, AFS and our suppliers reserve the right to change or modify such to meet local conditions. Although rare, hotels can change – all hotel rooms are run of the house. Our prices are based on current taxation structures. In case any revision in taxes, sudden fluctuation in currency levels, change in Visa fees or increase in fuel charges, we will amend our prices and inform you accordingly. Land price is based on minimum number of trip participants.