South Asia hold a peerless place on any world traveler's agenda. With a history that stretches back millennia, India and Sri Lanka are a sensory meld of cultures, colors, sounds and aromas. Their temples and palaces are legendary, and their cities among the most fascinating on the planet. Ancient traditions weave within the pulse of contemporary life to create a layered montage of human experience unlike any place else on earth. And, in vivid contrast, to the south of the Subcontinent lie the fabled Maldives, a scattering of low-lying islands with pristine white sand beaches, graced with swaying palms an idyllic finale to our diverse odyssey along the western edge of South Asia. From Goa's Portuguese heritage to the plantation tapestry of Mangalore, from the languid canals of Cochin to the Buddhist treasures of Kandy, and beyond to the tropical nirvana of the Maldives, this adventure cruise is a full immersion in a most extraordinary part of the world.
Board your independent flight to India and travel overnight to Mumbai.
Arrive in Mumbai and transfer to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel for a morning at leisure. This afternoon enjoy an orientation tour of this bustling city once known as Bombay. In the former British fort area, see elegant colonial buildings such as the Gothic Victoria Terminus railway station and the Prince of Wales Museum. Drive along famed Marine Drive, passing Chowpatty Beach, to Malabar Hill with its superb views, parks, and Hanging Gardens. Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight.
Mumbai / Embark Island Sky
This morning, board local boats at the doorstep of the Gateway of India triumphal arch monument for a ride across the bay to visit Elephanta Island. This World Heritage Site has caves with elaborately carved depictions of the Hindu god Shiva in various manifestations as destroyer, creator and preserver. From here, views of Mumbai's skyline from the bay are excellent. Embark the Island Sky this afternoon.
Goa's Portuguese heritage commenced with the establishment of a trading colony in 1510, led by explorer and later viceroy, Vasco da Gama. The successful spice-trading colony endured for centuries, and today its colonial remnants still convey an atmosphere of European charm - cobblestone lanes, whitewashed Catholic churches, and tile-roofed homes with balconies. Explore the distinctive churches, museum, and convent of Old Goa. Visit a traditional Goan home for a cooking demonstration and enjoy a lunch of delectable local cuisine. We'll also have leisure time to wander through the old Portuguese district of Fontainhas in the small capital of Panjim.
This morning we drive through the countryside surrounding Mangalore, a bucolic landscape of rolling hills dotted with tea, coffee, and cashew nut plantations. Visit Karkala's monolithic Gomasteshwara Statue, dedicated to a Jain saint. Then tour a cashew processing plant followed by a lunch of local specialties at a rural pineapple farm.
A leisurely two-day exploration of Cochin reveals this delightful city's melange of international influences. A major seaport, Cochin was the center of India's spice trade on the Arabian Sea coast from the 14th century. Occupied by the Portuguese in 1503, Cochin was the first European colony in India. It remained the capital of Portuguese India until 1530, when it was replaced by Goa. The city was later occupied by the Dutch and the British. Its multicultural heritage is reflected in its amalgam of architectural styles and culinary heritage, a true melting pot of ethnicities and nations. We'll see Portuguese houses, the Dutch Palace (Mattancherry), the Anglican St. Francis Church, Cochin's ancient Jewish neighborhood, and cantilevered Chinese fishing nets on the beaches. To better explore the maze of islands and waterways, we board local houseboats for a cruise through Cochin's backwaters to observe daily life along these languid canals. We'll also attend an evening performance of classical Kathakali dance.
Located near India's southern tip, Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala, is a pedestrian-friendly town spread out over seven hills. Visit the village of Pongumoode and its surrounding rubber plantations to observe the various stages of rubber processing. Then attend a Kalari Payattu demonstration, a traditional Keralan dance form based on martial arts.
Colombo, Sri Lanka / Kandy
Today we disembark in Sri Lanka's capital of Colombo for an excursion into the highlands, passing through a variegated tapestry of lush, rolling countryside and tea plantations. In Kandy, explore the stunning Temple of the Tooth which houses the tooth of the Buddha. This World Heritage Site was originally part of the Royal Palace complex of the Kandyan Kingdom and is one of the holiest places of worship and pilgrimage for Buddhists from around the world. We'll also visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and, time permitting, the Botanical Gardens.
Galle's historic district is one of the best preserved examples of a European-built fortified city in South Asia, reflecting both colonial and South Asian architectural styles. After breakfast on board ship, we enjoy a tour of this charming city, visiting the Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Art Museum and Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built by the Dutch in the 16th century. As we drive along the coast, keep an eye out for the famous fishermen of Koggala, perched precariously on stilts in the surf. Return to the Island Sky for lunch and set sail for the Maldives.
Spend a relaxing day at sea as shipboard experts present lectures on the cultural heritage and natural splendors of the magical Maldives.
Uligamu, Maldives / Baa Atoll / Olhahali Island
Due to the expeditionary nature of this voyage, daily weather and tide conditions will dictate our stops in the Maldives. We plan to step ashore on uninhabited islands for nature walks and beachcombing, meet with hospitable locals in traditional villages, and snorkel in warm, transparent Indian Ocean waters. Over the next three days, we'll include special stops in lesser-visited places in the atolls of the northern Maldives. Uligamu, the northernmost island in the archipelago, offers superb snorkeling. The underwater topography of the region is a dramatic landscape of thilas, pinnacles and submerged coral structures covered in brilliant corals and sea fans, and kandus - deep channels that run between atolls and coral-terraced reefs. Baa Atoll, comprised of some 50 islands, is rich in biodiversity including extensive mangroves and unique ring-shaped reef forms known as faru. Recently designated as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the atoll is home to large numbers of manta rays, hawksbill turtles and frigatebirds. Olhahali Island is covered in lush vegetation and ringed with broad, white sand beaches, with one of the finest large lagoons in the region.
Disembark the Island Sky this morning for a sightseeing tour of our final port, Male. Then, check into day rooms at our hotel and enjoy lunch. The remainder of the day and evening are at your leisure. After dinner at our hotel, transfer to the airport for your independent overnight flight.