SILK and SPICE: South India February - March 2014

revision 01aug11


Net fishing: Kanchipuram
net fishing

We run only a few tours each year. We have many repeat clients and our trips often sell out quickly by word of mouth. Our south India tours for 2006 , 2007 and 2010 were quickly sold out.
Because we have other commitments, we shall not run this Silk and Spice tour again until 2014. It may seem daft to consider a tour so far into the future. But... Feb 2014 will come around more quickly than what we might expect and we already have people express interest in this tour.

spaces available at present - 01 August 2011

For many years we have take tours to the north of India. These tours focused on the history and architecture with a special emphasis on crafts and textiles.

Over time we established relationships with particular craftspeople so that to return every two years was like re-visiting old friends.
Coir worker: Alappuzha

Coir Worker


Many clients who travelled with us in the north requested that we develop a similar tour to the Indian south. The Silk and Spice tour is our response. It explores the South Indian states of Andhara Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It is a tour of the most interesting textiles and crafts, the most entertaining sights and the best hotels to lay our heads. Silk and Spice captures the feel and flavour of this very different region.

We run only a few tours each year. In order to maintain the quality of the experience, the numbers on each tour are limited. Because they are different, the tours frequently sell by word of mouth. That's great as friends are always the best travelling companions. As of this date there are only limited spaces available for this tour. If you are interested, please email your request. for a place.



From Auckland we fly with Thai International to Bangkok. for an overnight stay. Next morning we fly on to Chennai - which is no longer known as Madras - except by most of the people who live there! It's a two hour drive to Mamammalapuram on the Malabar coast. There is time to visit Dakshina Chitra, a village complex displaying the building styles of different southern regions, also (a departure from the usual 'Footprints experience') a visit to the largest snake-farm in the world!
Pancha Pandava Ratha: Mammalapuram
Pancha Pandava Rathas
c650 CE Mammalapuram

Here they make vaccines for use throughout SE Asia and breed crocodiles for restoration to the wild.
Turukalikundram weaver
Cotton weaver


We have two nights in the Mammalapuram area. The town is justly famous for wall-sized carvings which celebrate the Pallava kings of Kanchipuram. During the 5th to 8th centuries Mammalapuram was the port and temple town for this Tamil dynasty. At the nearby town of Tirukalikundram we experience our first working-temple and visit the town's cotton weavers. Their checkered pattern lungis are prized throughout the south.

From Chennai we fly to Hyderabad, India's sixth largest city. Situated in the middle of the stony Deccan plateau it was host to some of the world's wealthiest rulers. Successive Nizams indulged their taste in pearls to make this the 'only' city in India for modern barons to buy some extra strings. You will have a chance to join them! In former times, it was home to some of the world's greatest diamonds which came from the the great mines of Golconda. The Weaver Service Centre and store, support and display traditional offerings from the looms of Andhra Pradesh.

The Residency: Hyderabad
The Residency, Hyderabad
James Achilles Kirkpatrick
James Achilles Kirkpatrick


Stylish and innovative creations are on show at the workshop of Bina Rao, one of India's leading designers. We pay a visit of homage to The Residency. Now a 'Ladies College' it was constructed in the 18th century home as the residence of James Archilles Kirkpatrick. The first Resident of the East India Company, his life, home and extraordinary marriage are the focus of William Dalrymple's 'White Mughals' - a great read!

Shaivite family: Kalahasthi
Shaivite family
Sri Kalahasthi

Hyderabad is a teeming city, not noted for its charm. For fun, and to be better located, shall spend two nights at the Ramoji Film Studio. Set in the countryside outside the city it is the south's answer to Bollywood and the biggest producer of Telugu speaking movies in the world. There is a great hotel where we spend two nights. Ramoji is close to a scattering of weaving villages that we shall visit. Working with either silk or cotton, using complex Jacquard-type looms they produce glorious fabrics.

On the principle that no Indian visit is complete without a train trip, we shall take an overnight train from Hyderabad to the southern edge of Andhara Pradesh and the tiny town of Sri Kalahasthi. In 05 and againe in 06 we will be the largest-ever European groups to arrive in this charming town by train. We have come to visit its notable Shiva temple and the nearby masters of kalamkari painting. This art was developed to serve the needs of temples and of royalty. Using a charred stick, the designs are painted directly onto cotton. Traded into Europe, its Tamil name cheeti, gave origin to the term chintz -European printed cloth. An hour's drive north is the cotton weaving village of Venkatagiri. Their fame is the production of superfine cotton saris with a zari border. Zari is gold or silver coated thread. Woven into the border, or sometimes the body of a piece it can be glitzy or stunning!up

Silk yarn drying: Venkatagiri
Silk yarn drying
Kalamkari worker: Sri Kalahasthi
Kalamkari painter
Sri Kalahasthi

Tirupati, where we stop for the night, is the world's busiest pilgrimage town. Far more come here in search of spiritual communion than to Mecca, Rome or Jerusalem combined! And, in a nation of religious excess, the main temple, on a high ridge twenty kilometers out of town, boasts the single most expensive object in the world - a diamond crown on its principal lingam. As non-Hindus we are not permitted to view this wonder but two small temples in the town give a flavour of the pilgrim's way. At both Tirchanur-Padmavati and Kapilesvaraswami pearls, diamonds and rubies are abundant! There are fine images and much, much smaller crowds.

It's a pretty drive through steep, red-cliffed hills to Kanchipuram.

Silk dealer: Kanchipuram
Mr M Ponnusamy
mechanical engineer
turned silk dealer

By universal acknowledgement this town produces the finest silk 'wedding saris' in India. Their designers and weavers have been doing this for centuries - to justifiable acclaim. Outside our hotel, on Mettu street, are a string of comfortable emporia where matrons and daughters flock from all over India to compare, to feel and to buy. We visit the village of Pillayar Pallayam and the homes of weavers who create this glory. Their forefathers are remembered at the museum of folk art, a four hundred year old house with a wonderful collection of old saris. The grand Ekambareshvara temple commemorates the wedding of Parvati and Shiva, who celebrated their nuptials here 3,500 years ago, under a still-present mangoe tree. The high stone colonnades of this 16th century temple are shaded, cool and a pleasant place to wander. Nine hundred years earlier the Pallava dynasty built the much simpler, but in many ways more impressive, Kailasnatha temple. The sandstone carvings here graceful, human. And, like so much in south Indian art they display a degree of sensuality that so offended the Victorian English.

musicians: Sterling Swamimalai
Sterling Swamimalai

For hundreds of kilometers, a watery expanse of paddy-field and coconut palms underpin the historical wealth of this region - a wealth which attracted conquerors and traders throughout the centuries. At Pondicherry you will be reminded of French colonial times by the red topees, still worn by local cops and the charming old stone buildings. There are excellent restaurants, quality antique shops and the cool courtyards of the 250 year old Hotel d'Pondicherry. The nearby community of Auroville was founded by the late 20th century mystic Sri Aurobindo. Today the community runs some of the finest craft workshops in all South India.

The great fertility of the Kaveri valley and the skill of its farmers contributed to the fortunes of many southern dynasties. Chidambaram is one of the holiest towns in India. The great cosmic dance of Lord Shiva - Shiva Natraj - was celebrated here in stone by the Chola dynasty. It was here, from the 9th to 11th centuries that the huge temple of Sabhanayaka Natraja arose, and was decorated with superb carvings. Nearby at Swamimalai, the bronze statues which celebrate Lord Shiva's dance are still being crafted, poured and hammered into life. A thousand year heritage.

Shiva Natraj: Chola period , GAngaikondacholapuram

Shiva Natraj
Chola period ca 700 CE

We shall see other examples of great Chola work in the temple of Gangaikondacholapuram, and the sensuous temple maidens of Nageshwara Swami Shiva are guaranteed to capture your heart. These statues are without peer. Truely "..the finest surviving pieces of stone sculpture in South India".

Chola maiden: ca 900CE, Kumbakonam
Chola maiden
Nageshwara Swami Shiva t.
ca 900 CE Kumbakonam
When the Cholas controlled most of South India their capital was Thanjavur. Here they built another great temple, one of the few with World Heritage status. Brihadishwara used to have four hundred devadasi (temple dancers). The only ones which remain are in stone.


Palace courtyard: Chettinad
Palace Courtyard

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the menfolk of Chettinad district became the bankers and moneylenders to the subjects of British Burma. It was profitable trade as they returned home with shiploads of teak and sufficient cash to create several score of stylish palaces. The Bangala at Karikodi is a delightful Heritage property run by Meenakshi Meyyapan, a descendent of one banking family. We shall have two nights to enjoy her company, visit homes and a variety of local craft-workshops. In the region are distinctive weavers, coppersmiths, goldsmiths and - for a change of pace - quite, quite lovely concrete tiles!

When seen from a distance, the huge granite outcrops around Madurai, resemble browsing dinosaurs. We shall stop at one granite quarry to speculate on how many years it will take to make level. Strabo, the Roman geographer, complained that the silks, spices and pearls of Madurai were draining the Empire's resources. For a thousand years, without interruption, it was capital of the Pandyan empire, and undoubtedly an important place. Now, on an average day, more than 15,000 people come to pay homage at the impressive Meenakshi-Sundareshwara temple.

Palace courtyard: Chettinad

When raided by the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century the booty consisted of "..six hundred and twelve elephants, ninety-six mans of gold, several boxes of jewels and pearls and twenty thousand horses". Estimates as to the size of 'man' in those times vary. So it is difficult to gauge the quantity of gold. However, one authority suggests that at that time a 'man' was about 25 pounds - about 2400kg for this raid alone! [thanks to Peter Win for the opinion about size of a 'man'. ] Suffice to say that Madurai and other temples of the south were very, very rich - and a lot less so after the visit of Malik Kafur from Delhi! Our visit will contribute only slightly to temple coffers!




Southern style
Southern style
Cocoa pods: Thekkady

Cocoa pods

For two thousand kilometers the western edge of the Indian peninsula is tipped steeply skywards. These mountains, the Western Ghats, or steps, separate the dry central plateau from a narrow, well-watered coastal strip. We pass through the Cardamom hills, leaving the state of Tamil Nadu for Kerala. These highlands have long been a major source of highly prized spices -pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, allspice, turmeric and nutmeg. In Periyar we stay at the aptly named Spice Village Hotel and take time to visit a commercial spice garden and a tea estate. The damp tropical rainforest of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is home to wild gaur, deer and elephant.

With luck we shall see all of these on a day tour into the park.

St Thomas church: Pallai
St Thomas church

Kerala is the most Christian state in India. From very early in the Christian era successive groups of Christian denominations have made their mark here.

Sister x  : St Thomas' convent, Pallai
Sister Elizabeth
at Brunton Boatyard Hotel

At Pallai is a charming 16th century Syrian-Christian church with restrained European style frescoes of high quality and an exuberant altar surround that speaks more of India. The local convent crafts high quality needle-work onto the finest of white cotton. Frescoe painting in Kerala has an exhuberant and unique style. Ettumanur temple has vigorous examples of Lord Shiva in a less-than-happy mode!

Along small waterways, near our Kumarakom Lake Resort, you can view village life, and the home of Arundhati Roy, whose 'God of Small Things' is based on life hereabouts. From the hotel lake we set out for an overnight kettu vallum cruise. These comfortable bamboo-thatched craft provide a comfortable and enchanting mode of travel across Vembanad lake to Alappuzha. Under its former name, Alleppey, this was one of the most important ports on the Malabar coast. It is also the center of Kerala's coir industry. The rough fibre of the coconut is combed, woven, thumped and pressed into an astonishing range of products.

Kathakali dancer: Fort Cochin
Kathakali Dancer
Fort Cochin

The greatest of all trading ports was Cochin, modern-day Kochi. A succession of Portuguese, Dutch and British masters competed to control the port and its lucrative spice trade. At Fort Cochin they left an architectural heritage that makes today's town a delight. Its a photogenic place. Our modern hotel, and our most grand, The Brunton Boatyard celebrates the Dutch colonial style. We visit local sites, and take time at a Kathakali theatre to view the dancers both in performance and during their intricate makeup routine. We head out of town to visit the bronze casters of Nadavambaram and the cotton mushru- weavers of Chandamanglam.

Sari border detail: Ponchampalli

Sari border detail

It takes an hour to fly to Chennai. This old city sprawls along a gravel beach which functioned as 'port' for the East India Company. For 350 years it was the economic and administrative capital of the south. We have two nights here. More than enough time for a city tour; to visit the Government Museum -with its stunning collection of marble sculptures from Amaravati; to explore some classy shops; and to take afternoon tea at the Taj Connemara. - a stylish relic of the Raj. One at a time, and only one at a time (!) we shall experience one of the world's most remarkable bookshops, 'Giggles'!

A late night departure takes us to Bangkok for a day-sleep, then on to New Zealand.

'Chinese' fishing nets:  Fort Cochin
Chinese fishing nets
Fort Cochin


All our hotels are selected for the best combination of character, location and price. Many are charming. A few have an eccentric edge, like Tara Ramoji.
Set amidst the rocky hills of a huge outdoor film studio it boasts four star accommodation and some wonderful examples of Indian brassy kitsch!
Kettu Vallam: Kumarakom

Kettu Vallam

Brunton Boatyard: Fort Cochin
Brunton Boatyard
Fort Cochin

In contrast, the Hotel d'Pondicherry in Pondicherry has the restrained grace of an older lady, with Gallic style. Sterling Swamimalai has the feel of a rural south, an Indian family home, with a series of bungalows grouped around interlinking courtyards. The Bangala is more English, another family home charmingly intimate, with superb food. Kumarakom Lake Resort is a collection of old Keralan homes reborn as a very stylish modern resort. Spice Village by contrast, is a group of well appointed thatched bungalows surrounded by the gardens which explains its name. Its modern, planned and impressive. Each kettu vallam has two en-suite bedrooms and a 'planters' lounge.
Kumarakom Lake Resort
Kumarkom Lake Resort

Definitely the most romantic way to cruise the waterways of Kerala. Brunton Boatyard is big and grand, a 'Queen Mary' by comparison. Built on the site of an old boatyard it has a spare, Dutch style and real class.



line and the FOOD

Fish market: Fort Cochin

Fish market
Fort Cochin

Southern food is quite wonderful. The gastronomic delights of this tour happen on a daily basis - almost without planning - and are indeed one of the trips special features. 'Unplanned' in the sense that really 'great' food is very much the everyday experience in this part of the world. Southern food has a reputation of being fiercesomly 'hot', but this is simply not true. In general meat dishes are quite hot-spicy but the vegetarian fare, for which the region is noted, is mild.

Cooking demonstration: Spice Village, Periyar
Cooking demonstration
Spice Village Hotel

The South is indeed vegetarian heaven. Because Hinduism is so all pervasive here, the religion's admonitions towards the vegetarian way are generally accepted. For several millenia the region's chefs have taken the plenitude of this rich earth to craft great vegetarian dishes. Even the most rabid enthusiast for the T-bone-way will find their palate stimulated and, there are always plenty of meat and fish dishes for those who wish.

For those who enjoy creating food, Spice Village arranges a cooking demonstration each evening. And their 'Celebration of Spices' cookbook is a must-buy.



Karaikodi cottons
cotton sarees

ince the third milleneum BCE the peoples of India have been producing brightly coloured, naturally dyed fabrics that were fade-resistant. In the beginning, it was patronage from wealthy rulers and temples which enabled particular regions to develop their crafts. The development of regional and international trade enhanced this business, enabling many to flourish.

With textiles, Indian cloth became much coveted by the early Persians, Greeks and other Europeans because of its brilliant colours. It was not until the 17th century that the knowledge of how to produce such colours was understood in the west. Hence, a flourishing trade developed that for centuries ran in favour of India.
Weaver : Putta Pakka

Putta Pakka


It was this transfer of funds that contributed to the fabulous wealth of Indian merchants and rulers in the south and west. Despite enormous distances and difficulties of communication a system developed that allowed village crafts-people to produce specific wares to satisfy the tastes of foreign clients thousands of miles away. It was this flexibility associated, almost pradoxically, with strong craft and caste traditions that enabled them to survive the near death-blow development of aniline dyes and mechanised looms in the west and to retain a reputation which persists to this day. That, and the rise of a discerning Indian middle class has led to demand for hand-crafted product.


Silk warp throwing: Venkatagiri
Creating silk warp

Villages that supplied the great kingdoms of South India a thousand years ago, still craft their traditional work. Skilled craftspeople were, and still are, highly valued so that any visit to India is enriched by exploring the crafts available. Down narrow lanes in every village craftsmen and women still practice ancient arts handed down from generation to generation

Silk weaver: Kanchipuram
Silk weaver

We take a personal delight in the region's crafts and on this trip will explore further the villages and craftspeople who make this magic possible.We have researched the best local guides, the most appropriate villages and which museums and crafts people to visit. The focus is on the regions textiles but we shall not neglect other crafts and sights.

Coir weaver: Alappuzha
Coir weaver

What's listed here is only a tiny sample of the myriad gems awaiting the discerning traveller.

And, if your heart desires a two metre statue of Lord Shiva we shall find just the right place for you to shop!



Emkambareshvara t. : Kanchipuram
Snappy-dressing from the middle class
Ekambareshvara Temple

WOVEN CLOTHS: Throughout India more than ten million people are dependent for their livelihood on the handloom industry. The skills of these village communities have been enhanced by the establishment of Weaver Service Centres which provide professional marketing, dying and design techniques. We shall visit one centre in Hyderabad. It is however the adaptability of those village dyers and weavers that has enabled them to respond to the demands of a world market and a burgeoning Indian middle class.

Street scene: Choutappal
Street scene

SILKS: On this tour there are two major regions noted for their silks - around Hyderabad and around Kanchipuram. Pure silk sarees are in demand across all strata of Indian society. Traditionally for Brahmin women they were regarded as essential, since silk is the only material regarded as pure and hence suitable to wear during the daily puja to the household deity and for the preparation of food. .

Hyderabad region: We shall be visiting four villages east of Hyderabad. They are small and friendly, with almost every home involved in the textile business. Side streets are draped with long bands of warp as part of the loom setup process. Kids play, cows wander and dyeing vats bubble. It is very photogenic. At Ponchampalli they produce fine silk sarees as well as cotton ikat (tie-dye).to  Warp and Weft options

Jacquard loom : Choutappal
Jacquard loom


At Choutappal the silk sarees have complex borders created with Jacquard looms. While the looms of Putta Pakka deal with single ikat silk-yardage and silk dupattas. Many weavers in Putta Pakka work for a single trader in Hyderabad, Mr G. Govardhana. At his Hyderabad shop we shall see how he has adapted local designs for Western and Japanese markets. Within the village differing styles are presented at the emporium of Mr Gajam Ramesh and we hope to visit the home of a National Award winning weaver Mr Gajam Anjaiah.


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Silk saree border: Kanchipuram
Silk Saree border
Kanchipuram region: Since ancient times Kanchipuram has been an important religious and political centre. Weaving skills here matured at a very early date as numerous literary texts attest. In the 20th century the weavers of Kanchipuram achieved national fame for their production of silk saris notable for their rich appearance, drape and durability.

The main production is of brocaded silk saris, often with the palav (endpiece) and borders in a contrasting colour to the main body of the garment. The natural silk comes from the Bangalore area which has ideal conditions for rearing mulberry silk worms and the zari (gold or silver wrapped thread) from Surat in Gujerat.

Silk weaver: Pillayar Pallayam
Silk weaver
Pillayar Pallayam
[note the finger-nail]

The village of Pillayar Pallayam has numerous silk weaving workshops. The weavers sit at groud level using their pit looms and throw shuttles to create the most sumptuous fabrics. Often, to save space, two looms are mounted one above the other in the same room creating a three dimensional presentation of their art.

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Cotton ikat: Putta Pakka
Cotton Ikat
Putta Pakka

COTTONS: Throughout the south, woven cottons are in more widespread production than silk. From the start of our tour in the small town of Tirukalikundram; through the Andhra Pradesh villages around Hyderabad; to the pretty town of Venkatagiri; and the Keralan village of Chandamangalam we shall be enveloped with stunning cottons. We will visit the creators of this glory.

Cotton lungi: Koyyalagudem
Cotton lungi

The variety of texture and design is extraordinary.
In texture
- from the heavy ikat bedspreads of Putta Pakka to the most sheer '120/120' muslins of Kerala's karalkudi sarees.
In colour - from the bright checks of Karaikkuti and the moonbeam whites of Kerala to the broad stripes of Chandamangalam mushru. It is all overwhelmingly extraordinary!

Kerala is noted for sheer, fine, white cotton saris with a narrow plain-coloured border without decoration. Around Chandamanagalam though, an hour's drive from Kochi, a group of Moslem weavers create attractive checked patterns of cotton yardage and a type of mushru in cotton and satin (silk-cotton combination thread).


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Telia Rumal: Putta Pakka
'Telia Rumal' ikat
Putta Pakka
Telia Rumal is a square double-ikat head or loin cloth first developed in Andhra Pradesh about a hundred years ago. ('Telia' refers to the oily smell left after the use of alizarin dyes and 'Rumal' means square or kerchief.) As head cloths they were once very popular in Bangaldesh, Pakistan and north Africa. Today the market is entirely domestic.
Ikat look: Weaver Server Centre, Hyderabad
Telia Rumal loom
Weaver Service Centre

Once learned the tie-dye techiques were applied to weaving of saris, dupattas (scarf) and yardage. This recent diversification from sari to yardage production and the development of international markets has completely transformed the design perspective. Freed from traditional rumal or sari requirements weavers and designers have combined to create items with wide appeal to international and urban consumers. We shall see these designs and techiques in Ponchampalli and at Putta Pakka, as well as a wide range at the Murali Saree Emporium, the shop of Mr G Govardhana.

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Traditional kalamkari: Sri Kalahasthi
Traditional kalamkari
Sri Kalahasthi

PAINTED CLOTH: Painting cotton with luminous permanent dyes was probably first developed in Southern India. Court and temple patrons commissioned artists to paint designs using a wooden stylus, or kalam. In a complex process, using a succession of mordants, dyes and wax-resist they created what we would now call works of art. Kalamkari 'pen-work' in its purest form is now carried on only at Kalahasthi, where the cotton is decorated entirely by the freehand use of the kalam.

Tree of LIfe - Kalamkari: Sri Kalahasthi
Tree of Life -
Contemporary kalamkari
Sri Kalahasthi

Long before European traders intruded, in the 15th and 16th centuries, the main market for these painted textiles of the Coramandal coast was the spice region of South East Asia - now known as Malayasia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Portuguese and Dutch spice traders quickly discovered that these people wanted Indian textiles rather than the precious metals they had hoped to exchange for spices. Consequently the Europeans used their gold and silver to purchase textiles from the Indian south-east to exchange for spices. Although printed and painted Indian cottons were known in Europe from about 1000CE the development of sea routes in search of spice let to a vastly enhanced trade in Indian textiles.

By the 17th and 18th centuries painted and printed cloths, known in the trade as chintz, (from the Hindi word for 'variegated' ) were produced in their thousands. The most popular design for European export was the 'tree of life', a unique amalgam of Indian, Chinese and European influences. Mechanical looms dealt a severe blow to the European trade and with development of block printing the freehand techique of kalamkari almost died out in the 20th century.

In the 1950s the All India Handicrafts Board rejuvenated the techique in Kalahasthi where it gently hangs on. At Kalahasthi today, the designs are mostly figurative - religious works which appeal to the accustomed eye. However they continue to paint life's great tree and there remain a few masters and workshops who say that business is improving. I hope our visit helps.

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Lord Ganesh: from Mammalpuram
Something for your garden!
Lord Ganesh
from Mammalapuram

STONE CARVING: There is a long tradition of stone sculpture in the south. The Buddhist cave temples of the 4th-3rd centuries BCE culminated in the sublime sculptures of Amaravati. (now in the Chennai museum) When Buddhism was supplanted, these passed-on skills were used to decorate the great temples of the Pallava and Chola dynasties. We will experience this stonecarving skill and industry in the thriving beachside workshops of Mammalapuram. Accomplished as their forefathers, they ship all over the world and can work from a photo. So... if you'd like a bust of Jesus, or your favourite spouse, this is the place to come!

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JEWELLERY - Diamonds: Sometime around 1653, the greatest of all diamonds, the Koh i Noor, was taken from the Kollur mine near Hyderabad. The Golconda region had been producing most of India's diamonds for centuries. This fecundity generated great wealth and a host of diamond cutters, goldsmiths and merchants. These Golconda mines were the sole suppliers of diamonds to the world till the beginning of the 18th century, when diamonds were discovered for the first time in Brazil. Successive rulers of Hyderabad added to the palace collection, making the last Nizam, reputedly the richest man in the world. Nowadays the mines are exhausted but the Indian diamond business continues to thrive: nine out of every ten of the world's diamonds are processed in India, often Gujerat; diamonds are India's single biggest export (really re-export); about a million people are employed in the trade! Given this history, it is not unusual that the skills of

Emerald & Diamond turban piece
Emerald & Diamond
turban clip
Nizam of Hyderabad

Hyderabad jewellers make it a preferred destination to browse for those glassy baubles.
& Pearls: All jewels were desirable to the Nizam. Initially pearls were brought from the Arabian Gulf. The skills and trade which sprung up were fueled by the purchasing power of the Moghul emperors to the north. And this demand has continued to be flamed by the modern barons of Indian industry. So, despite being far from the coast, it is still a great place to shop for pearls.
& Emeralds: If you want to add a bit of colour, and contemplate turning your wealth to stone, consider the emerald! Although India imported emeralds from Cleopatra's mine in Egypt for thousands of years and the fabulous gems in the collections of the Maharajahs mostly come from the mines of Colombia via Spain, there are carats of more modern ones in the jewel bazaars.
& Gold: Indians are only matched by Chinese in their lust for the yellow metal. The smallest villages have a goldsmith who will be delighted to discuss the latest fashion and the current price of gold.

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Shiva Natraj: wax carving, Nadavambaram
Shiva Natraj
wax model before casting

METALWORK: Two and a half thousand years before Christ there were highly developed skills of bronze casting in India. In the south the demand by temples for portable images led to some of the most glorious of all India art - the Chola bronzes.

Emerald & Chola bronze ca1000 CE: Government museum, Chennai
Chola bronze ca1000 CE
Government museum

The Chola dynasty from 9th to 11th centuries was noted for the quality of their bronze work. We shall see examples of these statues in temples and museums. At Swamimalai and Nadavambaram, in palm-thatched huts, they maintain the laborious technique of  'lost-wax'. Exquisite bronze statues are on sale and brass and bronze items of more western appeal. Lamps, bowls and chains are of great value and can be readily shipped home.
If your taste runs to copper-ware, the craftsmen of Karikkuti or Thanjavur are likely to appeal.


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Paper stars: Kerala
Paper stars

PAPER STARS: We knew nothing of this art form until we went first to the south. Kerala, has a large Christian population and a tradition of religious tolerance. In general, Indians love celebration and decoration. These celebratory circumstances have come together in the production of paper lanterns for the Christmas festive season. The lanterns are great for tourists as they fold flat, look great and cost little.




Shiva & Parvati: Chola bronzes ca1000CE
Lord Shiva & Parvati
dressed for life
Chola bronzes ca1000 CE


SILK and SPICE, Land only group
hose who wish to travel elsewhere in Asia or travel on to Europe may prefer this option.
Note: this option starts and ends in Chennai (Madras).

Silk and Spice 2014      

Land Only
join & leave in Chennai

08Feb - 08 Mar 2014       
28day trip
12 nights in Heritage-type hotels
first class hotels elsewhere
28 days touring in A/C bus through: Andhara Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
admissions & camera fees to all mounuments and museums
all breakfasts
5 lunches and 4 dinners not provided
land & air transportation as detailed
The final price for SS10 was NZ$ 13,404 note New Zealand dollars
a final price for 2014 tour will not be available until around September 2013.

Please note: The price listed is for SS10. Final prices for the 2014 tour will not be posted until around September 2014. I reserve the right to make changes should major movements occur in currency or airfares. N.B. If you choose the land-only option please organise your air travel early. Flights to and from Asia are very heavily booked. I am happy to help with suggestions and flight bookings if you wish.

What shall we tell you? Tales, marvellous tales,
Of ships and stars and isles where good men rest,
Where nevermore the rose of sunset pales,
And winds and shadows fall toward the west.
The Golden Journey to Samarkand
James Elroy Flecker

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line spacer SILK and SPICE, MAIN GROUP ex New Zealand

Silk and Spice 2014
Main Group ex NZ 07 Feb - 10 Mar 2014
32 day trip
1.5 nights in Bangkok
12 nights in Heritage-type hotels
first class hotels elsewhere
28 days touring in A/C bus through: Andhara Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
admissions & camera fees to all monuments and museums
all breakfasts
5 lunches and 4 dinners not provided
land & air transportation as detailed
The final price for SS10 was NZ$16,235
a final price for 2014 tour will not be available until around September 2014.
ex Auckland
Different prices apply for travel from other centres

Please note: The price listed is for SS10. Final prices for the 2014 tour will not be posted until around September 2014. I reserve the right to make changes should major movements occur in currency or airfares.
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   What do you get...and, what you don't get?

Ekambareshvara temple: Kanchipuram
Ekambareshvara temple
16th century

For all groups
A personal introduction to some new places and interesting people with me! · Return economy airfare from Auckland or Wellington to India· Twin-share accommodation in all cities · Breakfasts everyday · most lunches and dinners · A celebratory group dinner in ...I'm not sure, but somewhere nice!· Airport transfers and departure taxes throughout · all admission and camera fees to museums and mounuments.

   What you don't get

NZ departure tax · dinner, unless mentioned · personal insurance and medical expenses · excess baggage charges and items of a personal nature · 5 lunches and 4 dinners. (I shall make suggestions for these) to Warp and Weft of India options

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his is a personalised tour emphasising the textiles and crafts of South India. It has been researched to provide a very special experience. It traverses a wide swathe of country, visiting the most important tourist sights and staying in many unique hotels. Appropriately, for a 'spice' tour, it enables you to savour the glories of the south's past and present. It is deliberately not rushed.

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he minimum client numbers for this tour is ten, the maximum eighteen.
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Shiva Natraj: Chola ca950 CE, Chennai
Shiva Natraj
Chola ca950 CE
Government Museum
Shiva Ardashana: Chola ca930 CE:
Shiva Ardashana
Chola ca930 CE
Nageshwara Swami Shiva t.
Meenakshi-Sundareshwara temple: Madura
Meenakshi-Sudareshwara t.


More than any place I know India demands attention.
Coming with the privileges of affluence and education, and from a sheltered land I rarely confront the polarities of life. In India, such confrontation is daily, almost minute by minute. Here, in India, is great wealth amidst appalling poverty; here, women of grace and beauty walk through pig-swill in garments of such vivid hue that I gasp with delight; here, vultures feast while in the same frame trees, camels and people affirm life. And that is it for me. India affirms life. Affirms it with an intensity that confronts my every sense. Here life and death is immediate, revealed....demanding heed.
My favourite Indian statue is that of Lord Shiva....Shiva Natraj...Shiva Lord of the Dance. He stands on one foot, arms outstretched, surrounded by a halo of fire. The fire is the fire of life. Shiva invites me, and all of us, to the dance of life. How vigorously I dance is up to me, it is a matter of choice. For me, India increases the tempo of life’s dance. India presents to me a vivid focus on the human condition; a triumph in fact, of such cultural and spiritual achievement that Lord Shiva’s flames singe me to awake. That’s my India.

John McKinnon


This tour is crafted to offer experiences which are very special.

.....if this one day in the lifetime of a hundred years is lost, will you ever get your hands on it again?
Eihei Dogen (1200-1253)

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After registration I shall send information including; detailed information about what you need to prepare and bring for this tour; a suggested reading list; information relating to health issues and vaccinations. And later, a detailed daily tour itinerary.
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image map to top of page to site map contact us

Living Gandhi: Kanchipuram
a living Gandhi

Our tour in 2012 will be our sixth to South India. Those who have travelled with us in the past know the quality of the 'Footprints experience'. If you want to come on this tour please complete the form in the 'Print' version of this page (see at the top) or, register your interest.

If the timing of this trip does not suit, and you would like us to arrange a tour to India for your own independent group check out what we offer.

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Last updated: 01aug11


Footprints Tours, Ltd.
Box 7027, Nelson, New Zealand
Phone: 64 3 548 0145 Fax: 64 3 546 6179