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Help w/ 20 Days in South India & Sri Lanka

Help w/ 20 Days in South India & Sri Lanka

Old Dec 12th, 2016, 04:51 PM
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Help w/ 20 Days in South India & Sri Lanka

Hi, we're doing a last minute trip to South India and Sri Lanka starting around Christmas. We're holding award flights: Flying into Chennai at midnight on Day 0, and leaving from Colombo on Day 21. So that gives us 20 full days.

We're trying to figure out how to allocate our time in South India vs. Sri Lanka. We're thinking of doing a Tamil Nadu and Kerala trip in South India (Chennai, Pondicherry, etc. etc. Maduri, Periyar, Aleppy, Cochin), and then flying from Cochin to Colombo and doing a circle around Sri Lanka.

Our main interests are culture, history, and nature. We're seeking a trip with a variety of experiences -- not just seeing every single temple. We're not interested in beaches and want to avoid fake tourist traps as much as possible.

In South India, we're aiming to have a good driver who speaks decent English. In Sri Lanka, we're not really sure.

My question: How would you break up these 20 days? We were thinking ~2 weeks in South India and 1 week in Sri Lanka. And any recommendations for a detailed plan would be great, too!
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Old Dec 12th, 2016, 05:11 PM
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One week isn't really enough time to see much of Sri Lanka. You will want a driver in Sri Lanka. And one doesn't really do a circle around Sri Lanka, even though on a map that looks like a reasonable idea. Indeed, two weeks isn't really enough to visit all of the places you list in South India. Have you looked at any guidebooks yet? Do look at an agency in Sri Lanka to set up a driver for you (you want an agency to arrange your driver so that you have backup if something goes wrong - they will trade out the driver or the car as needed). We used Boutique Sri Lanka and highly recommend them. They have an excellent website that can help with your planning.

Frankly, I'd suggest you choose one or the other - you don't have enough time for both.
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Old Dec 12th, 2016, 07:26 PM
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Hi LAX.
Two weeks for your proposed destinations in southern Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, is quite do-able, unless your travel style is such that you must have three nights in each place. In that case, you could cut the number of destinations.

Never having been to Sri Lanka I can't say if a week there is sufficient, but Kathie's idea of choosing one or the other country certainly sounds more relaxing,

As you noted, you're traveling at the last minute, and as it's peak travel season in Southern India, some popular accommodation places may be fully booked . Be prepared for this as you research where to stay.

Good luck with your holiday trip planning!
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Old Dec 12th, 2016, 11:32 PM
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Thanks to both for the replies. We're fine with a car and driver throughout Sri Lanka if that makes more sense than DIY.

Regarding South India, I don't think we want to see every temple in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and it seems like 2 weeks would be more than enough time for us. Plus, correct me if I'm missing something, but from my research, Periyar National Park seems like a dud (little wildlife to see). Also, the houseboats in Alleppey seem like tourist traps for the overnights, even though they're beautiful.

Kathie, regarding one week not being enough in Sri Lanka, the tour companies generally seem to offer a standard itinerary of 6-8 days covering the cultural triangle and Kandy. What are they skipping that you think is worth seeing if you had more time?

Regarding Adams Peak, do you know if it's doable as a daytime hike? We're young and very active, but the idea of getting up at 2am and dealing with with tons of crowds seems rather unpleasant.

Re: traveling this time of year, I figured that South India is less crowded than Sri Lanka and chose do South India during Christmas to New Year's time, and do Sri Lanka at the end of the trip. I could try to switch the order if that doesn't make sense.
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Old Dec 13th, 2016, 01:10 AM
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We'll be on a similar trip through Tamil Nadu and Kerala starting January 14.

Periyar is included for us only to break up what would be a 7+ hour drive from Madurai to Alleppey.

On advice, we've nixed the houseboat idea in favour of three nights at a backwaters place with access to waterways and local villages. Could change that to a town location yet.

Please report back LAX_Esq, you'll be three weeks ahead of us with very fresh information.
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Old Dec 13th, 2016, 08:16 AM
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Well, it depends on what you want to see. If you just want to see the cultural Triangle and Kandy, yes, that is do-able in a week. IMO, you need 4 nights in the cultural triangle area (so you have 3 full days) and add another day if you want to go to Anuradhapura from there. (we couldn't go there as we were there during the war) You would want at least two nights in Kandy. Also, consider what other historical sites you want to see - more Buddhist sites, colonial history (Galle), tea plantations.

We were amazed by the history - they have over 2000 years of recorded history that we in the west are unaware of.
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Old Dec 13th, 2016, 09:41 AM
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Thanks again to everyone.

Looking at a lot of the sample itineraries in detail, we feel that there is a void of cultural experiences. We're looking for more variety in the trip than running around seeing seeing sites (which are mostly temples) for three weeks.

By "cultural experiences," we're thinking of any way of seeing and experiencing the locals -- festivals, markets, interesting villages, getting invited to a wedding, etc. To give some perspective, I thought Varanasi was the highlight of my North India trip. Just being there and taking in the place was far more memorable than seeing a parade of minor sites in other cities.

We've spoken to a few tour companies, and it's hard to get this info out of them. We aren't finding them to really customize an itinerary based on our interests. Rather, they seem to just be modifying pre-fabbed itineraries here and there. I suppose most tourists are "check the box" tourists and it's easier that way.

Could anyone offer any tips about how to experience authentic culture in either South India or Sri Lanka?
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Old Dec 13th, 2016, 10:00 AM
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Go there, be open, and you will experience authentic culture. The "canned" cultural offerings IMO are worse than none at all.

There are markets everywhere. Interesting villages are all over. Would you invite a random tourist to your wedding? I wouldn't. And the times it has happened to me in a foreign country felt awkward and intrusive to me.

The tour companies who promise you these kinds of experiences feel cheesy to me. I want to come and see and experience but not intrude.

There are often local festivals that you would be welcomed at. Visit those. Visit places the locals go to. For instance, we visited a botanical garden in northern Burma where there were lots of locals doing the things they do every day and no other foreign visitors. But no one arranged it for us.
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Old Dec 13th, 2016, 08:47 PM
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I agree with your time decision, as said in first reply: two weeks should be sufficient for what you want in South India.
I totally understand: for me, it's every bit as or more enjoyable and memorable to meet people at the local market or grocery shop, as to see yet another temple. (That said, do see the synagogue in Ft Cochin. It's a well-known site in a "touristy" area, but very interesting and touching local history.)
For "local" experience, do as you probably did in Varanasi: take off on your own, have a wander, follow your noses(literally and figuratively!). This is possible anywhere in India short of staying at a resort place, which might be self-enclosed, or at a posh hotel where the focus may be more on what they think you want as a tourists. Even so, YOU decide what you want and where to go once you set out each day. Note--there are local groups that run walking tours in some of your destinations.
Kerala has numerous homestays where you can walk to and in the nearest village, or along the backwaters, where you can take a local small boat. Or take the local backwaters ferry--or local bus on towns, even for a short ride. This is certainly not exclusive of hiring a car and driver to get you safely and efficiently around--particularly important with trip time limits.

Travel agencies vary, and travel planners within them vary, but virtually every person who enquires will say they want similar things, including "cultural experiences." If you use an agent, there are several recommended here on the forum for South India, and Kathie has said who she recommends for Sri Lanka.

Continued enjoyment as you plan!
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Old Dec 13th, 2016, 09:42 PM
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It sounds good, hope you will enjoy your trip
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Old Dec 14th, 2016, 02:31 AM
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Pretty easy to tailor you tour together yourself.Will give you a sample route plan and you can work around it. Do-it-yourself.

Chennai overnight, a day trip to Kancheepuram and then on to Mahabalipuram. Either stay overnight or proceed to Pondicherry (aka Puducheri).Spend a day or two. Auroville, french quarter and a couple of temples,Proceed to Tanjore, then to Trichy, Chettinad Dindigul and finally Madurai.Take a flight back to Chennai.

Another internal flight from Chennai to Cochin ( Kochi ).Plan Kerala with Kochi as a base or travel all the way down the Malabar coast to Trivandrum ( Thiruvananthapuram , hope I've got the tongue twister right ) and fly out to Colombo.

If this basic plan looks good to you we can get down to fine tuning as to what to do and see where,for how long, and places to stay.

Regarding your interests

Festivals - Its all about timing. Pongal is the only grand festival in Tamilnadu and its on 14th Jan '17. Onam in Kerala is around October every year.

Markets : Dime a dozen, need to pick and chose. Local help would be required.A guide a is a good bet.

Interesting villages: Almost each one of them, a laid-back rural feel.Life on slow mode.Opt for a village home stay if very keen,should have the nerve to experience it, very basic amenities, if any.

Wedding : Plenty happening on a daily basis.More often than not in temples too,where the source of information would be the priest.Often in wedding halls,practically in every town.When and where?A local guide is the answer. An invite would be difficult arrange.If you do manage one, get your self an Indian attire and enjoy the experience.

Happy planning
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Old Dec 14th, 2016, 07:20 PM
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Great info, Inquest. But I wouldn't fly from Madurai to Cochin.--too much to see from the road that you'd o/w miss, even if it did require an extra overnight somewhere .
Also, even in the rural areas, Kerala homestays are far more comfortable and "modern" than what's implied by writing "should have the nerve to experience it, very basic amenities, if any." (Now homestays in VN...that's another story!)
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Old Dec 15th, 2016, 03:26 AM
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You will need a car with a driver guide to travel comparably around Sri Lanka in a week. Let me know if you need help finding one.
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Old Dec 15th, 2016, 10:57 PM
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First thing its a great idea of exploring South India but 2 weeks are not enough to travel South India.there are so many things and historical place to travel..as your main interests are culture, history, and nature..so you had chosen the best option to travel because India is the complete package of historical places..South India is famous for culture and traditions..so you will surely love it..Have a wonderful trip..Enjoy!!!
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Old Dec 16th, 2016, 12:35 AM
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I'm not usually a slow travel type person, but I'm inclined to agree that a week isn't much to "see Sri Lanka". But IF you were going to spend only a week, then you might get by without a driver - if you stuck very specifically to places along one train line. Like you could visit Kandy and maybe do a bit of hiking in the tea growing areas (picking up local transport) but it might be too much to try to reach Polonnaruwa or Galle as well.
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Old Dec 16th, 2016, 12:58 AM
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Reading down and seeing your question about cultural experiences and how you .

We had a driver in Sri Lanka we really liked. (the agency that employed him on the other hand wasn't one I'd recommend) But, like similar cases throughout the world, it's very hard to convey the desire to have a "cultural experience", because it usually triggers some programmed response. They usually know just the right spice garden, or native village or craft maker... because they've brought a thousand people there before you.

I agree with Kathie. Just put yourself somewhere, particularly someplace a little bit off the usual, and interaction usually comes to you. If anything, I find having a guide adds more information, but sometimes dissuades people from approaching. Try to have some free time on your own.

Examples in SL were chats with a nice man in Galle about his son in Australia, wading and chatting (charades mostly) with a local family at Talalla beach, streaming through with pilgrims at the Temple in Kandy and having tea workers offer to share their lunch fruit on a little dirt road where I was walking near Nawalapitiya. Trying to explain to a driver or guide that's what you enjoy doing just fails to register, I find.
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Old Dec 16th, 2016, 07:35 AM
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CC says: "If anything, I find having a guide adds more information, but sometimes dissuades people from approaching. Try to have some free time on your own. "

I agree. It's hard to get to lots of places in Sri Lanka without a driver, but a driver is not a guide. And making sure you have time to wander alone will help you make contact with locals. I don't think you can get the kind of "authentic" experience planned by a travel agency or a guide.
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Old Jan 18th, 2017, 07:15 PM
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Hi all. Just an update since nobody likes hit-and-run OPs. We ended up scrapping the South India / Sri Lanka trip because we didn't feel like we had enough time to make good decisions about how to allocate our time and to be able to vet a great driver. The advice we received from everyone here was really helpful, and made us realize that this isn't the sort of trip that's amenable to a "standard tourist trail" itinerary and really requires some solid research. We ended up doing a different last-minute trip (Patagonia), so all is well. Thanks again, everyone!
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Old Jan 19th, 2017, 09:22 AM
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Thanks for letting us know. Hope you had a fine time in Patagonia.

I do agree that a good trip to Sri Lanka requires some time and research.
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Old Jan 19th, 2017, 07:08 PM
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Thank you, LAX. Hit-and-run OP---Good one! LOL.
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