Southern India with OAT

By Norma Jenkins
This item appears on page 22 of the November 2021 issue.
Dancers in southern India. Photo by Norma Jenkins

For the tour “Soul of India,”* March 1-21, 2020, to be followed by a 3-day post-trip to Dubai, I left the US on Feb. 29, flying to Dubai and then Chennai, India.

All 14 of the travelers on this Overseas Adventure Travel, or OAT (Boston, MA; 800/955-1925,, trip had already visited northern India, the country’s more popular destination, with the Taj Mahal, Jaipur, etc.

Having arrived a day early in Chennai, I spent it exploring the city. There were motorized rickshaws everywhere and lots of motor scooters, some carrying families of two adults and three children!

I took a rickshaw to Fort St. George, which I hadn’t realized was a large government complex. After visiting its museum and St. Mary’s Church, both of which documented British-colonial times in the city, I watched many young government employees enjoying lunch outdoors.

I met the OAT tour group the next day, and we had lunch at the Writer’s CafĂ©, where we listened to a speaker talk about the status of women in India, including unfortunate instances of abuse. We then saw a wedding preparation (we saw many wedding celebrations during our time there), saw fishermen bringing in their catches at Marina Beach, and visited a local’s “low-cost housing” apartment.

The next day, a highlight was a trip on a very crowded train to Mylapore. To say this was a unique experience is an understatement.

After returning to Chennai, a friend and I took a rickshaw to a major shopping street, where we were the only non-Indians. Blond Lisa was a hit, and everyone wanted pictures of us, mostly with her, especially the young men. We wondered if they would tell their friends she was their girlfriend.

We spent the next 10 days in Tamil Nadu state, where the temperature was over 95 degrees every day. My general theory is that I can be hot at home in Florida for free, so I try to stay away from hot destinations. Didn’t work this time.

We visited numerous temples. At one in Madurai, we had to go in barefoot; not even socks were allowed. We also visited a “factory” where women made cotton towels.

Norma Jenkins <i>(right)</i> meeting locals in front of the Gateway of India in Mumbai.

Every OAT trip includes a visit to a village, and at the village we visited, the school was supported by the OAT-affiliated Grand Circle Foundation. Bouncing through the village in a bullock cart, we also got to see where the locals grow their rice.

Here I should mention that at the start of our trip, the COVID-19 virus was still primarily in China and just starting to appear in northern Italy. We all felt we’d be safe in southern India, but on the TVs in our hotel rooms, we could see what was happening around the world.

We then crossed a mountain to a lovely resort by a forest park in Kerala state. Waking up that first morning to cool weather was amazing! Due to the coronavirus, however, Kerala had closed the park and we couldn’t walk there, but we had a home-hosted lunch — always a treat.

After an Ayurvedic massage (during which I was sure I would slide off the table) and a visit to a spice plantation, we enjoyed a relaxed dinner in a restaurant.

That night at 10, the doorbell rang and our trip leader informed me that the state of Kerala had discovered a COVID case in a foreigner in the northern part of the state, so they had ordered all foreigners out. We would be leaving at 6 in the morning! Missing our visit to Kochi and a houseboat ride in the Kerala backwaters was a disappointment.

We headed back over the mountain to Madurai, spending the night before flying to Mumbai via Bangalore.

In Mumbai, we stayed at the Taj Mahal Tower, a newer section of the historic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel that had been built for tour groups. The hotel was across from the Gateway of India, and, it being a Sunday, many families were there on that lovely evening. We all took pictures, and I think there are pictures of us all over India!

Our trip leader then informed us that the company needed to get us back to the US as quickly as possible. We already knew the Dubai post trip had been canceled.

Mumbai was not allowing tour companies to take groups around the city, as COVID was becoming more alarming, but the Taj arranged for our entire group to tour the city by chauffeur-driven limousines. OAT also arranged for us to tour the original Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

I was one of four who left for London the night of March 16, and I continued to Ft. Lauderdale the following day.

I will never be able to commend our OAT staff adequately for doing all they could to make our visit memorable. They were amazing, since everything was changed daily.

Pompano Beach, FL

*Overseas Adventure Travel is not offering “Soul of India” in 2021, and, at press time, the tour had not been scheduled for 2022.