If you are passionate about living life deeply and authentically, if your soul is craving to be lit up and you desire an experience that will leave you deliciously connected, inspired and ready to experience the present like never before, join us and an amazing group of travelers for a 2 week yoga-inspired journey in South India.
January 10 – 21, 2019
A journey for yogis and non-yogis seeking to reconnect to the beauty of life.
Is it time to wake up to a fresh perspective? Are you ready to fill up with inspiration?
Do you desire a truly replenishing vacation where you sit back and soak in each experience to the fullest all because everything has been delightfully planned for you?
Imagine the sound of sweet bells chiming, oil lamp torches lighting the darkness, the lingering smell of incense in the air. As the melodic chanting continues, you can viscerally feel the vibration of your cells responding. You are at the nightly ritual at one of the most spectacular temples in southern India. Your inner vibration rises and your heart fills with gratitude to be a part of this soul-awakening experience. As you take a moment to sit with your positive flood of emotions, you realize that this ceremony takes place every evening!
In this devotion-filled land, rich in cultural heritage, you are graciously invited into a local home. You leave your shoes at the door and offer a namaste to your hosts. On this first day of Pongal festival, a thanksgiving and celebration of the harvest, you join the family for a special blessing ceremony.
Your time on this journey will be filled with authentic, intimate, local experiences that captivate you in the present moment. Time and distance seem to fade. You can’t quite describe the amount of joy and gratitude that you feel.
Each day will bring a new opportunity to brighten your spirit. Wake up to an early morning yoga practice and breakfast at an ashram. Wander through the fruit and vegetable market to soak in the feast of colors and beautiful faces. Experience the pulse of daily life in the cities, towns and the peaceful shoreline villages along the Arabian Sea.
My committment to you
On this journey to India you will have opportunities to:
- Practice yoga and meditation in the birthplace of yoga itself
- Open yourself up to moments of perfect harmony and reignite your sense of awe
- Inspire your light from within by experiencing first hand holy rituals that will exhilarate, ground and connect you
- Develop close friendships within a community of marvelous travelers with common interests
- Unwind and experience travel simply as you leave the logistics to your knowledgeable guides and experienced leaders
TOP 7 REASONS TO JOIN US ON THIS RETREAT
Pongal – the Harvest Festival
Pongal is one of the most special festivals in India and we will be in Tamil Nadu to celebrate it like a local! This holiday is a celebration of the harvest. The first day is celebrated in honor of Lord Indra, “the God of Clouds and Rains”, worshiped for the abundance of harvest. Women create floor art at their doorsteps with white rice. The festivities continue for three more days including puja (a special blessing ceremony, in this case of the sun and the earth), bonfires, decorated bulls and cows, dancing, singing and Indian delicacies. We’ll take in portions of it, including a special morning with a local family at their home.
Yoga & Meditation – On and Off the Mat
Balance in a world of extremes – give your mind, body and spirit what it needs. You have the option of practicing yoga throughout the trip with your travel host, as well as experiencing ashram life and practicing with the local guru. We will have an asana practice and ashram breakfast in Madurai at the Sivananda ashram. Also, we will spend time in Auroville, an international, meditation-focused ashram-like village with organic farming, renewable energy projects and their own schools. Every moment in India is a practice in feeling peace and wonder in the present moment, expecting the unexpected and acceptance of the light and the dark. You will refuel your soul, come into balance and shine a lot brighter on this journey.
Uncover the secrets of Southern Indian cooking.
Are you tired of thinking about what to make for dinner? When in India, you will eat Indian food, of course! Flavor-rich, spiced with the most delicious local spices, with a variety of vegetables, fish and meats. Our dining experiences will include a cooking demo in a mansion where we will prepare famous Chettinad cuisine, served on a banana leaf. Yet, it won’t all be Indian food! In the diverse city of Kochi, we will visit a Hindu-Syrian family for a hand-on Syrian cuisine cooking demonstration. You will come home with some new recipes to try in your own kitchen. Your taste buds will be delighted!
Authentic learning experiences and cultural exploration.
Spirit-filled, light-drenched, colorful, enchanted India. This is not your typical India tour with the usual tourist stops. Yes, we will of course swoon at incredibly constructed temples, World Heritage-listed shrines and monuments. Beyond that, we will meander through local villages, meet children in the hills, experience cultural practices firsthand and see a side of India beyond the tourist attractions. You will connect to the local people in close-up and authentic ways. Through all of these encounters, you will be guided by an English-speaking, knowledgeable and professional guide at each stop.
Lush, tropical mountains and rolling landscapes.
A good view is nice, but even better — getting out into it! We will be hiking in the beautiful hill station of Munnar to take in this peaceful tea region of South India. We will also explore a tea plantation and learn about the organic pratices in the Kolukkumalai Hills.
The backwaters of Kerala.
Let me explain… Kerala is the Indian coastal state in South West India. The backwaters are the peaceful and picturesque palm-lined network of lagoons, lakes, rivers and canals that run inland from the coast of Kerala. Kettuvallams are Kerala houseboats, traditionally used as grain barges to transport the rice harvested in the fertile fields alongside the backwaters and more currently converted to floating cottages to boost the tourist industry.
Cruising on a kettuvallam through the backwaters is the quintessential way to see life moving along at its sweet, slow pace in this network of canals in Kerala. Eat a home cooked lunch, sip a sweet masala chai, experience the moment as it is – Perfect.
Mixing history, culture, beautiful scenery and…some pampering.
This inspired journey to India is made up of deep experiences daily. Your senses are fully stimulated. Your awareness is heightened to soak up every moment. You will also want to take some time to pamper yourself. What better opportunity to indulge in an Ayurvedic massage than at a South Indian beach resort on the Arabian Sea? You will be staying in a beach village with coconut groves, lily ponds, fruit trees, a large organic farm and top notch Ayurvedic therapies… yes, please!
I really can’t express accurately what the trip meant for me and how it impacted me. Every time I try to sit down to write about it I end up getting teary and emotional. It felt like a long-needed spiritual stretch and awakening.
This being my first trip out of the country, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Admittedly, I was winging it. I packed lightly and headed to the airport. And that was all the planning I had to do! The next 12 days were blissfully free of decision-making and travel logistics. I was able to devote all of my time and energy on soaking up the culture and experience of India. My days were packed with the smiles and curious stares of local people, the ancient beauty of world heritage sites, the smells and sensations of regional cuisine, and the camaraderie and kindness of my traveling companions. What I experienced was so much more than a vacation – it was discovery of myself through exploration.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! The value of this trip was priceless for me. I feel like you gave me so much more than I paid for. It’s difficult to imagine a future trip measuring up to this one, but I’ll go with Inspired Exploration around the world to try.Rachel Hernandez
Click on the days to view the details.
Day 1: Chennai (January 10, 2019)
We are met at the Chennai International Airport and brought back to our hotel to a traditional Indian welcome. We’ll have the evening to get settled in.
One of the largest cultural, economic and educational centers in South India, Chennai (formerly Madras) sits on the Bay of Bengal and is the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. This southern region was protected by three powerful dynasties for hundreds of years. With these stable governments, Indian cultural customs, language, art and architecture thrived, not only in the big cities, but well beyond into the small towns, villages, seaside ports and mountainous regions. The temples and sacred sites will astound you, as will the traditions, the rituals and the warm, welcoming people!
While Chennai is a big metropolis, there is much to see beyond the chaotic pace of the city. We will maximize our time in India by spending one night here.
Day 2: Chennai Market, Temples and World Heritage Site (January 11, 2019)
After a delicious breakfast at our hotel, we begin our explorations at the Koyambedu flower, fruit and vegetable market – one of the largest markets in all of Asia. Wandering together through the market is a great way to jump right into day-to-day life. The festival of color, flavor, scents and sounds will certainly begin right here!
Our next stop for today is the spectacular Kapaleeshwarar temple complex. This important Shiva temple in the old town of Mylapore “town of peacocks”, depicts many colorful stories in the sculptures that cover the outside of the temples and shrines. Legend has it that Lord Shiva turned his consort, Parvati, into a peacock in a fit of anger. The pillared mandapas, or pavilions, and the stately spires called gopurum will give you a taste of the southern style of temple architecture. Our local guide will fill in the details for us on the fascinating myths and history.
We’ll then drive on to the shores of Mahabalipuram and the UNESCO world Heritage site made up of a collection of 40 ancient temples and shrines. This small seaside town keeps alive a stone-carving tradition that began in the Pallava dynasty, between the fifth and ninth centuries. Each of the spectacular ancient monuments here are named after the heroes in the Hindu epic Mahabharata.
After taking time with our guide to learn their history and significance, towards the end of the day we’ll drive a final two hours south. Arriving in the town of Pondicherry, we will check into our hotel and kick our feet up after a full, stimulating day of exploring.
Day 3: Pondicherry and Auroville (January 12, 2019)
When you wake up this morning, you will realize that last night, in your post-exploration-bliss, we checked in to the Dune Eco Village. Today you will be treated to an early morning yoga class in this Deepak Chopra healing beachside spa. Then we will enjoy breakfast at this eco-friendly beach resort, surrounded by 35 acres of rich gardens and nature.
Following a sumptuous breakfast, we visit Auroville, “the city of dawn,” and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a vibrant center of spiritual living and study. Auroville is a living experiment in human unity founded in 1968, where 2,400 people from more than 56 countries live together (approximately 50% of the population is Indian). We will walk through the town, experience this living ashram and possibly even join in for a group meditation.
Later in the day, a rickshaw ride will lead us through the French Quarter of Pondicherry (also called “Pondy”) to enjoy the French Colonial architecture of this charming seaside town, once the capital of French India. Our guide will fill us in on the interesting mix of Tamil and French culture and history and we’ll experience firsthand the laid-back lifestyle in Pondy.
This evening will be at your leisure. Schedule an authentic Ayurvedic treatment at the Dune spa or savor a quiet night under the stars as you enjoy your air-conditioned bungalow!
Day 4: Train to Madurai and Evening Ceremony (January 13, 2019)
After another delicious breakfast (this will be easy to get used to!), we begin our day’s travel to Madurai, the heart and soul of Tamil Nadu and one of the oldest cities in India.
Taking a train at least once in India is a must for the ultimate Indian experience. There is no better way to make friends with the local people and see the spectacular and diverse Indian countryside than by train. Our overall travel time today will be approximately 7 hours, with about 4.5 on the train. Sit back and enjoy the fun.
In Madurai, we will arrive in time for a memorable evening – the night ceremony at the Meenakshi Amman Temple. Conch shells, bells, incense, drums, fire and ancient ritual will light the way as Lord Shiva is carried in a procession by the Hindu priests. You will undoubtedly head back to our hotel tonight feeling lifted, with every cell in your body resonating at a higher vibration.
Day 5: Madurai and the Harvest Festival (January 14, 2019)
This morning we will be welcomed into a local home in Madurai and invited to participate in the celebration and ritual of Pongal, the harvest festival. Indian festivals are abundantly practiced throughout the year and vary from region to region – Pongal is widely celebrated in South India. Traditionally on day one of the four-day festival, family gathers in the garden to cook rice pudding (Pongal). Joining them, we will give thanks to be invited to be a part of their family ritual – appropriate for a festival of thanksgiving!
Later, a walking tour of Madurai will include Tirumal Nayak Palace, the local fruit and vegetable market and a full exploration of the Meenakshi Amman temple.
Dedicated to the goddess Meenakshi—the incarnation of the Hindu goddess Parvati—this temple is one of the few religious monuments in India devoted to a female deity. Known as the fish-eyed goddess because of her perfectly shaped eyes, Meenakshi represents fertility and love. The color, size and energy of this temple are dramatic: scores of pilgrims visit for solo meditation, to join prayers led by resident Brahmin priests and to bathe in the pond with golden lotus flowers. This will be a special morning and afternoon for your heart and for your memories.
Interesting Note: The days of Hindu holy festivals are decided upon each year by priests who determine the date based on the position of the sun, the moon, the planets, etc. As we get closer to our travels, we may need to swap Day 5 and Day 6 activities, if Pongal starts on the 15th in 2019! Stay flexible and open; everything will work out exactly as it should. 🙂
Day 6: Chettinad (January 15, 2019)
Today we drive to Karaikudi (approximately 2 hours) to explore the Chettinad mansions and experience specialty cuisine.
As we drive the main roads, passing small, simple villages along the way, you will be surprised as we enter into the Chettinad region. The streets are lined with opulent mansions built in the 1800 – 1900’s by prominent merchants-turned-bankers.
Now in various states of repair, the beautiful painted manors, the history of the families who own them and the spectacular temples will be the focus of our guided heritage walk. We’ll be invited in to one of the mansions for a cooking lesson on the famous spicy local dishes.
Chettinad cuisine has a culinary tradition unlike any other and flavors that are complex and well-balanced. “With every dish being a culinary masterpiece in its own right, this spirited cuisine offers an unforgettable gastronomic experience for a gourmet traveler.” (TheBetterIndia.com)
At the end of our full and delicious day, we will head back to Madurai.
Day 7: Ashram and Drive to Munnar (January 16, 2019)
With an early morning wake-up call, we start today with a yoga session at the renowned Sivananda Meenakshi Ashram followed by breakfast. This sacred place attracts devotees from all over the world.
From the ashram we will continue our journey on to Munnar (approximately 5-6 hours) through stunning scenery as we travel through the lush tea hills. We arrive in time for a cup of organic tea and a visit to the tea museum.
Finally, we check in to our hotel, the Spice Tree, from where we will have more beautiful views come sunrise.
Day 8: Hike and Tea Plantation in Munnar (January 17, 2019)
After breakfast this morning we venture out into this magnificent landscape in the state of Kerala and start hiking. We’ll take half the day to walk, explore, enjoy the tranquility (with a packed lunch with us). Planter families from the lower elevations in Kerala would come to the hill station of Munnar to escape the summer heat. Our weather in January should be a perfectly lovely time to hike!
Although tea has been consumed in India for medicinal purposes for centuries, it was an Englishman during the British Raj who started growing tea in Munnar. In the afternoon we all hop into jeeps, allowing us to get deeper into an exploration of the Kulokhumalai Hills. Our local guide will take us around the fields of a tea estate – we’ll see expert women tea-pickers snap the teashoots between thumb and forefinger and flick them into the bags tied around their necks.
This evening we head back to our Spice Tree hotel and have the night at leisure.
Day 9: The Backwaters of Kerala (January 18, 2019)
Waking early this morning, we start our drive to Alappuzha, our launching point for the backwaters of Kerala (approximate 5 hour drive). Alappuzha is a small chaotic town, but getting close to the Arabian Sea, we board our houseboat for the afternoon. Floating down the tranquil canals and lagoons between the Arabian Sea and the mainland is the best way to see locals engaged in their daily lives – in the paddy fields and coconut groves, school children in uniform running along the banks and women in bright saris washing clothing on the steps to the water. Traditional life goes on as it has for the past 50 years.
After a homemade lunch and chai onboard the houseboat, we’ll drive to the temperate Mararikulam Beach Resort on the Arabian Sea, with sandy shores, palm trees and the distinction of being a nature lover’s paradise.
Day 10: Marari and Kochi (January 19, 2019)
Our eco-friendly, nature-infused Marari Beach Resort is on a quiet fisherman’s beach on the Arabian Sea (also called the Malabar Coast) and an easy drive to the port city of Kochi. Today we wake up to a scrumptious breakfast and then head for an exploration of Kochi. Exotic spice markets, a Jewish synogogue, Portuguese palace and Chinese fishing nets – all in one Indian city – give you a sense of the rich diversity and complex history of the town.
What better way to explore this diversity than on motorbikes! The tour with our local guide will include Fort Kochi, steeped in the history of its many European occupants over the ages. We will also motor over to the Jewish quarter, a mystical district known for its antique shops, Ayurvedic herbs and spices. The old synagogue here traces its roots back to the 13th century.
Our day will include a Syrian-Christian style lunch, starting with a cooking demonstration, at the home of a local family where the Christian wife and Hindu husband are another representation of India’s cultural diversity. After lunch we will have free time to wander back through the ages of the Dutch, Portuguese, Jewish and British heritages that have left their stamp on the area. Kochi is known for its unique fishing techniques, so meandering over to the shoreline is a must.
Day 11: Marari and Vaikom (January 20, 2019)
Today offers you your choice to wander the beach, talk to the local fishermen, opt for an Ayurvedic treatment at our hotel or explore the nearby Vaikom, a quaint and authentic Indian village (or both!)
The villagers of Vaikom will offer a traditional welcome and a chance to witness their unhurried lifestyle. We’ll wander through the village to see small workshops and stop at the Khadi Weaving Centre where villagers produce hand-spun and hand-woven cloth out of cotton, silk and wool. In the village center, women weave coir ropes from dried coconut husks and others weave straw mats out of wild pineapple leaves. In this small center for commerce, a local potter creates clay pots and vases with ethnic designs. We’ll even have the opportunity to go into a local’s home for the full village home experience.
If you choose to, staying in Marari for some pampering is also an option today. Kerala is home to Ayurveda – an ancient system using diet, herbs, oils and massage for balance and harmony. A body massage or sirodhara (oil pouring on the third eye) is a must-do while here and you can indulge right at the Ayurvedic spa at our beach resort. Don’t miss out on a stroll along the Arabian coastline to see the fishermen at work too.
Day 12 Marari and Departure Day (January 21, 2019)
Soaking in our last day before we head to the airport, you have a final opportunity to enjoy an Ayurvedic treatment, meditate along the shoreline, take a yoga class or sit by the pool and contemplate your India exploration. While our trip will be ending, your spirit will be brimming over. Quiet time will provide an excellent opportunity to savor and digest this journey of a lifetime.
In the evening we will be taken to the airport to catch our return flights.
- Accommodations double or single occupancy for 11 nights in four and five star hotels
- Group transport from airport to hotel, if arriving within stated time frame
- Delicious breakfasts each day (except for arrival day)
- Four lunches, including the following
- Cooking lesson and lunch in a local mansion in Chettinad
- Packed lunch for half-day hike
- Houseboat cruise with lunch and masala chai
- Cooking lesson and lunch in home of a local family in Kochi
- Guided cycle rickshaw ride in Pondicherry
- Night ceremony at Meenakshi Amman Temple
- Pongal festival hosted by a local family in Madurai
- Half-day hike in Munnar
- Jeep “safari” into the organic tea estates of the Kolukkumalai Hills
- Motorbike guided tour in Kochi
- 2 local yoga sessions and 2 different ashram experiences
- Yoga sessions in addition, as set by trip leaders
- Your own bottled water daily
- All in-country train travel (air conditioned class), and air-conditioned car transportation with our own private driver between towns and cities listed, and all listed excursions
- Our personal, locally appointed English speaking guide in each town
- Entrance fees to all monuments, temples, etc. that are listed on itinerary
- Currently applicable government taxes, which are subject to change
What’s Not Included
- International airfare to and from home (arriving in Chennai, departing from Kochi)
- Ayurvedic treatments
- Meals not specified on the itinerary
- Other non-included items such as souvenir shopping, personal phone calls, laundry and tips for bell-boys/porters, guides and driver
- Personal, medical or trip cancellation insurance
- Camera fees (Many sites/monuments will charge a small extra fee to use your camera – generally less than a dollar – not a big deal, just want to give you an explanation of what this is!)
- Entry to museums or other excursions and that are NOT listed on the itinerary (ie: anything you travel to on your own)
Your Travel Hosts
The travel bug became embedded in me from a young age. My parents were skiers – lucky me! We lived in New York, but each winter, they would pick my sister and me up from school on Fridays and make the 5-hour drive to Vermont. We’d return in time for bed on Sunday night. Then I lived and studied in Paris for a year in college, using all of my vacations to travel throughout Western Europe. The train system made it so easy.
My love affair with India started in 2006 when a friend and I decided to use our frequent flyer miles to go as far away as we could with our FF credits. I was at a place in my life where I needed a shift. I was 38, single, a fundraiser at a small nonprofit organization, and a lot of my time was taken up playing Ultimate Frisbee. It doesn’t sound terrible at all, right? And “on paper” it wasn’t. Life was busy, I was fit, having fun, and my job had meaning in the community. Yet I was beginning to feel down, dull and disconnected. Lacking joy. Frustrated from another “failed” relationship. Something was out of alignment. I felt like I was just dredging along through each day, in spite of the fact that everything was “fine”
So I booked my flight. A few months later my friend and I arrived in Delhi, and then got on an overnight public bus, headed north. On day two of that trip, we were on a hillside in Dharamsala as the Pakistani/Indian earthquake shook the region. As it happens, it also shook the dullness and drudgery right out of my life! That was just the beginning of my incredible journey through North and Northeast India – and it only got better from there.
I am a seasoned yoga teacher and a grant writer for a nonprofit organization. Yet, nothing makes me happier than traveling and sharing the delights of India with others. After several explorations there, I started Inspired Exploration Travel, hosting two fantastic groups of travelers with me in 2016 and one in 2017. I am thrilled to accompany you on your 2019 journey, Festival of Color, Flavor and Spirit – Journey to South India.
Learn more about Sandy and her travel explorations on her blog.
Mindi Epstein is the owner and visionary of Peace through Yoga’s four studios in Central Indiana. She is committed to the studios’ mission: “we meet you where you are: physically, spiritually and geographically.” The studios are vibrant centers for what Mindi defines as “real life yoga.” Each location is a serene haven where students can find a safe space for personal growth and exploration.
Mindi came to her own practice of yoga as an avid runner and cyclist to improve her sports performance. What began as a quest for improved athletic performance led to the discovery of internal stillness Mindi didn’t know she had been seeking. Since that discovery well over a decade ago, she has been driven to share the transformational benefits of yoga with others.
Motivated by her passion, Mindi took a calculated leap of faith and became what she unabashedly calls “a corporate refugee.” She abandoned her successful career as a Senior Vice President of marketing and communications for a large not-for-profit organization and delved into the realms of entrepreneurship as a yoga studio owner. She steered Peace through Yoga’s rapid growth by developing studios in areas lacking dedicated space for yoga.
Mindi is a graduate of the University of Michigan, a published writer and somewhat surprisingly, a former archaeological conservator of frescoes and mosaics at sites in the Middle East. Her training with notable national and international yoga instructors forms the underpinning of Real Life Yoga Immersion, a certified yoga teacher training program under her direction.
In 2015 Mindi led a yoga retreat to a remote center near Puerto Vallarta and in 2016 she coordinated a yoga tour to Israel for the Peace Through Yoga community. As wonderful as those trips were, she is beyond thrilled to be heading to India with a fantastic group of travelers in 2019. Learn more about Mindi and Peace Through Yoga here.
Why Inspired Exploration Travel?
Engaged travel – is the most direct, succinct description of the philosophy of Inspired Exploration Travel. Taking loads of pictures is highly encouraged AND we want to see you get out from behind the lens of your camera as well. Inspired Exploration trips are designed to give you many opportunities to engage in your surroundings and the people of the region.
Each itinerary, retreat and/or travel exploration is mindfully created so you can feel confident that you will be more than just a tourist on your travels. Engaging with the locals, communing with nature, partaking in a cooking lesson or a meal in someones home, singing or dancing along in a local ritual. Meeting the people who weave silk into saris or getting your hands dirty in a pottery class in an off-the-beaten-path village. You get beyond the main tourist circuits and have an authentic, moving experience. This doesn’t just happen as the highlight of the trip – you will experience it day after day in this incredible country, with Inspired Exploration.
Engaged travel means that you have the chance to take part in the culture, not just observe it; learn and live the history of a place while you immerse yourself in the experience that is at your fingertips. Create a deeper context for your own life, have an adventure, connect to people and cultures that may at first seem worlds apart from your own, yet along the journey, that distance dissolves.
Book your flight to arrive in Chennai, India on January 10, 2019. We will have transportation from the airport to our hotel waiting. Most flights will arrive at least a day after your departure date with the time difference and most flights leave in the evening from the States. Your return flight should be out of Kochi, India in the evening January 21, 2019 for our return back to the US.
I will give you ALL the info you need to book your flight to ensure that you are where you need to be and when! Please hold off on booking your flight until I confirm that I’ve sent you the Flight Information email.
If you wish to add on to your trip, either at the beginning or at the end, I am happy to brainstorm some ideas with you and help you find the perfect add-on.