CULINARY JOURNEY OF KERALA & NORTH INDIA WITH CHEF JOE THOTTUNGAL

Culinary cultural tour of India

Joe Thottungal

Join Joe Thottungal, Executive Chef at Ottawa’s popular Coconut Lagoon restaurant and silver medal winner at the 2017 Canadian Culinary Championships, on an intimate small group tour through the culinary secrets of India.

The 6th edition of this regularly sold-out tour introduces a tantalizing combination of both South and North India. Spend 19 days first exploring the cultural and culinary practices of Chef Joe’s home state, Kerala, before diving into the age-old cooking traditions and world-famous monuments of North India’s Rajasthan. For the first time ever, this edition of the tour also includes an intimate visit to Mumbai and the Leela Hotel, where Chef Joe began his cooking career.

Throughout the journey, Chef Joe will personally escort his guests in sampling and cooking up local specialties, touring fragrant spice plantations, demonstrating bargaining at local markets and introducing us to some of the country’s top chefs. Joe will be accompanied by a English speaking tour guide who will help us explore India’s most stunning and cultural gems. This unique tour is interactive and intimate every step of the way, with hands-on cooking demonstrations from award-winning instructors, lessons in bargaining with fish mongers to buy the catch of the day, and a once-in-a-lifetime family experience as Joe’s in-laws invite us into their home and welcome us in traditional Indian style.

Other highlights include cruising through the scenic backwaters of Kerala, tiger spotting in Periyar National Park, taking in the majestic Taj Mahal monument and an elephant walk-along and opulent farewell dinner at Dera Amer.

Tour Information
Tour Duration : 19 days
Min. Tour Size : 15 persons
Max. Tour Size : 24 persons
Includes international air
Tour Price (from) : US$
Day 01: Feb 29, 2020: Arrive Mumbai
 
Day 02: Mar 01, 2020: Mumbai
(B, L, HT) 
Day 03: Mar 02, 2020: Mumbai/Cochin (Flight)
(B, D)
Day 04: Mar 03, 2020: Cochin
(B, D)
Day 05: Mar 04, 2020: Cochin/Kothamanglam/Munnar (Drive)
(B, L, D)
Day 06: Mar 05, 2020: Munnar
(B, D)
Day 07: Mar 06, 2020: Munnar/Thekkady (Drive)
(B, D)
Day 08: Mar 07, 2020: Thekkady
(B, L, D)
Day 09: Mar 08, 2020: Thekkady/Kumarakom (Drive)
(B, D)
Day 10: Mar 09, 2020: Kumarakom
(B, L, D)
Day 11: Mar 10, 2020: Kumarakom/Cochin (Drive) /Delhi (Flight)
(B, D)
Day 12: Mar 11, 2020: Delhi
(B, L, D)
Day 13: Mar 12, 2020: Delhi
(B, Sn, D)
Day 14: Mar 13, 2020: Delhi/Agra (Drive)
(B, D)
Day 15: Mar 14, 2020: Agra/Ramathra (Drive)
(B, D)
Day 16: Mar 15, 2020: Ramathra
(B, L, D)
Day 17: Mar 16, 2020: Ramathra/Jaipur (Drive)
(B, D)
Day 18: Mar 17, 2020: Jaipur
(B, D)
Day 19: Mar 18, 2020: Jaipur/Delhi (Drive) /Depart Delhi
(B, D)
B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, Sn=Snacks, HT=High Tea, D=Dinner

Day 01: February 29, 2020: Arrive Mumbai

Namaste! We are welcomed to Mumbai in the traditional Indian way with hands clapped together. After clearing immigration, baggage collection and customs, we are warmly greeted by Bestway Tours ground staff and transferred to our hotel.

Overnight: The Leela, Mumbai (5-star Deluxe) (2 nights)

Day 02: March 01, 2020: Mumbai

After breakfast, we tour the Leela Hotel. Here, many moons back, Chef Joe started his cooking career, leading to his passion for showcasing India’s cultural identity through food. Now a renowned chef, Joe started out showcasing his skills in The Leela’s kitchen. He will take us back to these early days as we savour some of the restaurant’s delectable cuisine. This brief session will be followed by a tour of Mumbai – one of the world’s largest and most diverse cities.

Our first stop is Mani Bhawan, where Mahatma Gandhi stayed during the freedom struggle. The house is now converted into a museum. We then visit the Jain Temple and Hanging Gardens, the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence, and bustling Crawford Market, driving past the Sufi, Haji Ali’s colourful tomb and a place of pilgrimage for many Mumbai walas. Our tour ends at the Dhobi Ghat, the world's largest outdoor laundry, famous for accurately collecting, cleaning and delivering thousands of pieces of clothing from across the city.

Later, enjoy high tea like a Maharaja at the famous Taj Mahal Palace & Tower. If we’re lucky, we may even glimpse some Bollywood stars! (B, L, HT)

Day 03: March 02, 2020: Mumbai/Cochin (Flight # SG 167; Dep: 09:25 hrs/Arr: 11:30 hrs)

Adieu to Mumbai as we take our short flight to Cochin (Kochi) – a whole different world. This city is rich with European architecture, picturesquely located on several islands between the Arabian Sea and the Kerala backwaters. Reflecting the maritime history of Kochi, the old buildings are a blend of Dutch, Portuguese and British architecture.

Evening, we are welcomed at the home of local culinary icon Mrs. Nimmy Paul (http://www.nimmypaul.com). Nimmy is recognized for her authentic and healthy recipes, as well as her knowledge of the medicinal properties of spices and herbs used in everyday cooking. She has been widely featured in many international publications, including Saveur and New York Magazine. Nimmy will tell us about the nuances of traditional Kerala recipes as she prepares four dishes in front of the group. The dinner that follows will be a “Sadhya”, a traditional banana leaf lunch consisting of vegetarian preparations and payasam (sweets) along with favorite Kerala condiments. Chef Joe will teach and encourage you to try eating the traditional Indian way - with your fingers!

Overnight: Vivanta by Taj Malabar, Cochin (5-star Deluxe) (2 nights) (B, D)

Day 04: March 03, 2020: Cochin

Today we explore this waterfront gem, starting with a visit to St. Francis Church, the oldest European church in India. The remains of Vasco De Gama, the first European to find India by sea, were buried here before being taken back to Portugal. Next we visit the Roman Catholic Santa Cruz Cathedral, built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and the stunning harbour, where we see the famous Chinese fishing nets in action. We wander the old districts of Mattancherry and Fort Kochi, admiring merchant houses, old warehouses, narrow streets and the beautiful waterfront. We end our tour with visits to the 16th century Dutch Palace, which boasts colourful murals, and the Pardesi Synagogue in Jew Town. After the tour, we return to our hotel for lunch. Post lunch, we stop at the local fish market, where Joe will teach us how to recognize and bargain for the fresh catch of the day and fresh prawns. After careful selection and much haggling, a variety of local fish and other seafood will be purchased for our dinner, which will be prepared by Chef Joe and the executive chefs of our hotel. Later in the evening, we cruise on a chartered boat to enjoy the sunset. On this excursion, we explore Bolghatty Palace and observe the fascinating Chinese fishing nets in action, a sight coveted by photographers internationally. After the boat cruise, we attend a Kathakali show where the epic Ramayana comes to life. Classical dancers use larger than life gestures to tell the story, while wearing unique costumes and elaborate make up. The day ends with a memorable and mouth-watering dinner put together jointly by Joe and the hotel chefs. (B, D)

Day 05: March 04, 2020: Cochin/Kothamanglam/Munnar (Drive)

After breakfast, we drive to Munnar. En route, we stop at Kothamanagalam for another intimate and welcoming experience, this time with Chef Joe’s in-laws Peter and Pushpamma Jose. They will be our guides as we explore their beautiful rubber and coconut plantation. After lunch, we take a scenic drive to Munnar, a hill station located 1600 meters above sea level. Once the summer resort of South India’s British administration, it retains its colonial charm. Munnar is famous for its spectacular scenery, full of emerald tea plantations, sprawling estates, sparkling waterfalls and picture perfect postcard hamlets. Balance of the day is at leisure to explore Munnar’s relaxed ambiance and stunning panoramas.

Overnight: KTDC Tea County, Munnar (4-star) (2 nights) (B, L, D)

Day 06: March 05, 2020: Munnar

We start the day with a visit to the Tea Museum and take a short trip to Mattupetty Dam, located 13 kilometers from Munnar town. This imposing dam has created a beautiful lake where wildlife flourishes. Boat rides are available, allowing one to enjoy an amazing view of the surrounding green hills and plantations from on top of the pristine water. After enjoying a walk through the enchanting tea estates, the rest of the day is spent at leisure and to enjoy the tranquil surroundings and indulge in an Ayurvedic massage (at own expense) before dinner. (B, D)

Day 07: March 06, 2020: Munnar/Thekkady (Drive)

Our day begins with a scenic drive, this time to Thekkady, also known as Periyar after a dam of the same name constructed by the British in 1895. This tropical region is a wildlife reserve, offering an ideal spot to track wild elephants, bison, deer and numerous varieties of birds.

Later in the afternoon, we board a small boat and cruise the lake at the heart of Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. From our tranquil spot on the lake, we enjoy the lush scenery surrounding us and look out for animals coming to the edge of the water for a drink. Here we can often spy herds of elephants, scurrying wild boars and magnificent Sambar deer.

In the evening, we enjoy a cooking session followed by an informal feast at Spice Village. The dishes will be chosen by Chef Joe and specially prepared by a team of master chefs brought in from various parts of the region. Chefs at Spice Village specialize in popular regional cuisines, and each chef will cook delicacies from their region, treating us to an incredible variety of authentic flavours.

Overnight: Spice Village, Thekkady (4-star) (2 nights) (B, D)

Day 08: March 07, 2020: Thekkady

Early morning, we embark on a unique adventure with a guided jungle walk through Periyar Tiger Reserve and National Park. This three-hour easy to moderate walk will give us a chance to see wildlife at close range. If we are lucky, we may even spot the rarely sighted leopards and tigers. Afterwards, we will return to our hotel for breakfast.

In the afternoon, we visit a native family home and spice plantation, which grows both common as well as unusual spices and herbs for culinary and medicinal purposes. This plantation is entirely organic and uses only natural forms of pest control. The owner and his family are very knowledgeable about their produce, and are keen to show us the various spices and herbs, encouraging us to smell and taste many different clipping. Our visit to the family-owned spice plantation includes a demonstration of home-cooked meal using the spices grown here, after which we are invited to stay for lunch with the family!

Evening, we attend a KALARIPAYATTU SHOW, which is the oldest form of martial arts and is celebrated as the mother of all martial arts. Legend says this 3000-year-old art form began with sage Parasurama, known as the master and guru of all martial art forms. Kung-Fu traces its ancestry to Bodhi Dharma, an Indian Buddhist monk and Kalaripayattu master. (B, L, D)

Day 09: March 08, 2020: Thekkady/Kumarakom (Drive)

Following breakfast, take a scenic ride to our next destination, Kumarakom, a beautiful paradise of mangrove forests, emerald green paddies and coconut groves interspersed with enchanting waterways and white-lily filled canals. Upon arrival, we check in to our hotel. The remainder of the day is free.

Overnight: Coconut Lagoon, Kumarakom (Heritage Hotel) (2 nights) (B, D)

Day 10: March 09, 2020: Kumarakom

Morning is free for personal activities. In the afternoon, we board our private Lakes & Lagoon houseboat and take a four-hour cruise along the famous backwaters of Kerala from Kumarakom to Alleppey. Lunch is on board our houseboat. Our journey begins through the picturesque backwaters and small lakes relaxing in the tranquility of Kerala's beautiful scenery. As we cruise, we come across many boats, canoes and other crafts, observing the traditional way of life and activities of the local people. After enjoying the cruise, we are transferred to our hotel. (B, L, D)

Day 11: March 10, 2020: Kumarakom/Cochin (Drive) /Delhi (Flight)

After breakfast, we drive to Cochin airport, where we take our flight to New Delhi, the capital of India. On arrival in Delhi, we are met and transferred to our hotel. The food of North India is quite different from that of South India, and Delhi has much to offer foodies. For example, in the South, coconut is used in the majority of curry bases, while in the North, curries use tomatoes and butter oil. Our very first interaction with North Indian cuisine happens this evening, when we enjoy dinner at one of the most famous restaurants in the city, Bukhara at ITC Maurya. A beacon of culinary excellence across the globe and the undisputed pride of India, Bukhara has won innumerable accolades over the years, making it the globally recognized Indian restaurant and the preferred dining destination of gourmets and dignitaries for nearly 40 years. Bukhara recreates the charm of the traditional clay oven or tandoor with its delicious menu of succulent tandoor-cooked kebabs, vegetables and breads. Once a rustic cuisine, it was enjoyed in the harsh, rugged terrain of the North West Frontier, bringing comfort to diners with its warm, robust flavours.

Overnight: ITC Maurya, Delhi (5-star Deluxe) (3 nights) (B, D)

Day 12: March 11, 2020: Delhi

Our culinary tour of Delhi kicks off with an intimate visit to the home of Mrs. Jyoti Agarwal, an award-winning chef. Jyoti will introduce us to North India’s world-famous cuisine through a cooking demonstration and explain to us the important role of food in Indian culture. After being welcomed into her home, we will join her family for lunch, providing a fascinating firsthand look at how food connects families in Indian culture.

Afternoon is spent exploring the cultural highlights of India’s vibrant capital city, including visits to the 13th century Qutb Minar, a red sandstone tower and World Heritage Site built over the course of 300 years, and Birla House, the last residence of Gandhi. We will also stop at Humayun’s Tomb. (B, L, D)

Day 13: March 12, 2020: Delhi

An exciting day ahead as we embark on a specially designed culinary tour of Delhi.  We start our exotic food experience at “Parathewali Gali”. The shops that line this street only sell Parathas, a special Indian flatbread stuffed with vegetables, cheeses, spices and everything else the chefs fancy! We get to taste some samplers of different kinds of breads and those adventurous enough may go for a full “Paratha” Afterwards, we visit Asia’s biggest wholesale spice market, “Khari Bowli”. Spices play an integral part in Indian cuisine. Under the guidance of Chef Joe and using the culinary knowledge gained from our class with Jyoti, we explore the many different spices on display. Here, one can find every variety of Indian ingredients under the sun. For spice hunters, this is also one of the best places to buy some spices to take home. We continue our tour of Delhi’s food markets at the famous Chandni Chowk bazaar, the oldest and most colorful markets in Delhi. Our next stop is Karim's Restaurant, internationally known for its mouthwatering kebabs. We sample some before continuing to the Red Fort*, a massive sandstone fort considered to be the zenith of Moghul creativity. Next, we stop at Moti Mahal restaurant, the birthplace of butter chicken. It was at this small restaurant where butter chicken was first introduced as a dish in the 1950s, going on to become an international sensation. We get to see the traditional art of making butter chicken and sample a few items on the menu. Afterwards, we stop at India Gate and drive through the House of Parliament and Connaught Palace before heading to our hotel. Dinner is enjoyed at a famous local restaurant. (B, Sn, D)

Day 14: March 13, 2020: Delhi/Agra (Drive)

After breakfast, we drive to Agra. Following some rest time at our hotel, we tour the imposing Agra Fort*. This powerful fortress of red sandstone encompasses the spectacular imperial city of the Moghul rulers. Explore fairy-tale palaces, audience halls and two very beautiful mosques. In the evening, a special cooking session is arranged at our hotel. Chef Joe will create a fusion of Kerala and North India cuisine, followed by a barbecue dinner.

Overnight: ITC Mughal, Agra (5-star Deluxe) (1 night) (B, D)

Day 15: March 14, 2020: Agra/Ramathra (Drive)

We start the day with a sunrise tour of one of the most well-known and majestic cultural heritage monuments in the world, the Taj Mahal*. An immense mausoleum of white marble built between 1631 and 1648 by Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, it is the jewel of Muslim architecture in India. After this incredible experience, we drive to Ramathra. This unique city honours Lord Rama, who is believed to have camped here while on his epic journey to Lanka. Here commercial traffic and food stalls are noticeably absent. Instead, every day at sundown, Bhajan-(devotional) songs are sung by the community. Among its numerous shrines, the Ganesh Mandir and Shiva Mandir give the best flavour of local religious life. Evening, as we enjoy an intimate dinner under starlit sky, Chef Joe will give us insight into spices and other ingredients secret to Indian cuisines.

Overnight: Ramathra Fort, Ramathra (Heritage) (2 nights) (B, D)

Day 16: March 15, 2020: Ramathra

A religious hub surrounded by scenic countryside, Ramathra Fort offers several interesting activities and excursions. Our morning is free to enjoy this spectacular spot. Take an optional boat ride out on the pristine Kalisil Lake to bird watch, enjoy an exciting jeep safari to surrounding rural villages or just sit back and relax. Afternoon, we join Chef Joe with our local hosts Ravi and Geetanjali, the owners of Ramathra, for an exclusive cooking session focused on Rajasthani cuisine. Evening, we visit a local vegetable organic farm and meet village folks. (B, L, D)

Day 17: March 16, 2020: Ramathra/Jaipur (Drive)

A leisurely drive through the colourful countryside of Rajasthan to Jaipur. In 1876, during the visit of Queen Victoria, Maharaja Ram Singh painted the city pink to welcome the royalty, leading to Jaipur being referred to as the Pink City. In the evening, we visit a local bazaar and explore some of the famous places of the Jaipur culinary scene. Visit the famous sweet shop of Rawat, where we try some mouth-watering local snacks very typical to the region of Rajasthan accompanied by the famous yogurt Lassi drink. Later, we return to our hotel for dinner.

Overnight: ITC Rajputana, Jaipur (5-star Deluxe) (2 nights) (B, D)

Day 18: March 17, 2020: Jaipur

This morning, we visit the elegant Amber Fort, located in a picturesque valley among the Kalikho Hills. Known as the gem of Jaipur, this imposing fort dating from the late 16th century was never attacked or invaded. Built from a combination of yellow and pink sandstone and white marble, the fort includes distinguished halls, intricate carvings and ornate gardens. Next we return to Jaipur to visit the majestic City Palace, which houses a rare collection of Indian art. We also visit the stunning Hawa Mahal, or Palace of Winds, where the ladies of the royal harem used to watch the city from behind the intricately carved façade, and the Jantar Mantar, a historic astronomical observation site boasting instruments used to star-gaze with the naked eye. Jaipur is noted for its craftsmen, skilled in brass inlay, lacquer work and stone setting, and there is time here to shop at its one-of-a-kind bazaars. In the evening, we join Chef Joe for a special farewell dinner arranged at Dera Amer.

At this lovely celebration, we are welcomed by a military bagpiper band and a non-alcoholic drink. Afterwards, we embark on a magical elephant trek. Trek alongside the elephants through the original Aravali forests surrounding the camp and follow a route passing by hutments, agricultural fields, hills and ancient monuments. The birdlife in the thick forests is thriving. Antelopes and jackals can be seen in abundance, and hyena and wolf are occasionally spotted. If we are extra lucky, we may even see the elusive panther.

When we arrive, enjoy vibrant folk dances and a barbecue dinner, along with a special one-hour bar that will be set up for us, serving a selection of Indian wines and spirits, as well as marvellous cocktails. (B, D)

Day 19: March 18, 2020: Jaipur/Delhi (Drive) /Depart Delhi

After breakfast, we drive to Delhi. Upon arrival, we check in at our hotel for time to wash and change before our final dinner. Following our final meal with the group, we are transferred to the airport for our departure flight.

Day use: Vivanta by Taj Dwarka, New Delhi (5-star) for Wash & Change until 20:00 hrs (B, D)

B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, Sn=Snacks, HT=High Tea, D=Dinner

Departure Dates
English Speaking Departures (Please contact us for information on French, German, Italian and Spanish speaking departures).

2020

February 29

Tour Price

We accept payment in US $ (US Dollars), CA $ (Canadian Dollars) or equivalent EURO (for clients outside North America). Bestway Tours & Safaris offers conversion rate protection. Once full payment has been received, and no modification has been made to the tour itinerary, we will honour that rate. For complete payment procedures, please click here

Departure(s) Per Person on Twin Sharing Single Room Supplement
Feb 29, 2020 US$ 6919 • CA$ 8995 US$ 1765 • CA$ 2295


Notes

Deposits are:
- First installment of $750 per person at the time of booking
- Second installment of $2500 per person on April 10, 2019
- Balance amount due Nov. 30, 2019  



Inclusions


Tour Price Includes
  • International airfare Economy class ex Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto (for other cities and upgrades to Business Class please inquire). For US based passengers the airfare is based ex NYC.
  • Within India airfare: Mumbai/Cochin/Delhi (based on current fares)
  • Accommodation as mentioned or similar, including hotel taxes
  • 43 Meals as mentioned (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, Sn=Snacks HT=High Tea, D=Dinner)
  • All sightseeing and transfers by private transportation
  • Services of local English speaking guides
  • Entrance fees to museums and sites included in the itinerary
  • Cooking classes/demonstrations as mentioned in Mumbai, Cochin, Thekkady, Agra, Delhi & Ramathra
  • Cruises/boat rides in Thekkady, Cochin & Alleppey
  • Trek Safari with farewell dinner, including Indian spirits, wine and beer at Dera Amer - Jaipur
Not Included
  • Airport taxes and airline surcharges (currently at US$ 493 • CA$ 641 per person)
  • India visa fees
  • Travel Insurance (highly recommended - see here)
  • Tips and gratuities to guides and drivers

Estimated International Airfare
(International airfare is included in this tour)

CANADA(West Coast)
N/A

USA(West Coast)
N/A

CANADA(East Coast)
N/A

USA(East Coast)
N/A

Participants

This tour operates on a minimum of 15 and a maximum of 24 participants

Customised Itinerary

If you would like to have a tour on dates other than the above ones or with a customised itinerary, please contact us and we will be happy to work out an exclusive program for you.

Contact Info
You may e-mail us at bestway@bestway.com or call 1-604-264-7378. Residents of U.S.A./Canada may call us toll free at 1-800-663-0844.