A 16-day photography trip exploring Southern India, featuring the exotic dances and costumes of the Theyyam Festival

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Join international adventure travel guide and photographer Jock Montgomery and graphic artist Annie Miniscloux on a photographic tour of Southern India, a smorgasbord of ornate festivals, delicious food, classical arts, exotic architecture, and unique religious practices.

The cultural diversity began two millennia ago when Roman traders exchanged large quantities of gold and silver in exchange for spices. Later, Buddhists carved stunning rock shrines to honor the visitation of Gautama Buddha. Hindus built colorful and ornate temples. Arab traders brought Islam and Middle-Eastern architecture. Christians founded the Indian Orthodox Church. During the age of colonialism, the Portuguese established the first European colony, followed by the Dutch, British, and French.

As modern adventurers and photographers, we have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in this diversity and find unique was of capturing this complex history. We have carefully planned this trip to coincide with Theyyam, one of India’s most unique festivals.

Southern India, Tamil Nadu State


All levels of photographer from beginners to full-time pros are welcome, as well as non-photographing spouses.

There will be ample opportunities to work with Jock and Annie in the field so you can rapidly improve during the trip. They will help you work effectively in different lighting conditions, create compelling content and refine your personal style of photography. They will show you how to respectfully work with locals to create meaningful photographs.

Typically, during the harsh midday light or in the evenings, we make time for you to edit your work. Every other day, using a projector, we meet to critique your work in a friendly group setting. When it comes to organizing and editing your files, Jock and Annie can give you expert instruction and tips in Photo Mechanic, Lightroom, Photoshop and other Adobe products.

Most importantly, Jock and Annie can lead you to places with colorful human activities that call out to be captured as a memory.

Southern India, at a coconut hush factory, near Cochin (Kochi)


  • Receive personal guidance from adventure travel photographer Jock Montgomery and graphic designer Annie Miniscloux
  • Witness the Theyyam Festival and the exuberant dances of hundreds of deities
  • Visit the Kalamdalam dance school, a renowned and important cultural icon
  • Experience the grandeur and pageantry of the Palakkad elephant festival
  • Explore the life-filled backwaters of Kerala aboard a luxury houseboat
  • Visit the ancient monuments of Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Photograph the traditional Chinese Fishing Nets of Cochin
  • Visit the colorful mansions of Chettinad
  • Explore the Rangarajan market and the Maharaja’s Palace in Mysore

Gallery View a slideshow of Jock’s photographs from a past tour. 

Tuition Notes: Tuition varies based upon number of enrollments as per above.  Additional direct cost of $212 domestic flights MAA-TRZ and IXM-BLR-COK  sectors

Single Supplement $1150

At the time of registration, the non-refundable deposit of $1500 will be collected.  At that point you will be transferred to Compass Rose Expeditions for all further correspondence and financial business.


Being flexible and open to new opportunities is the cornerstone to seeking out and shooting compelling photographs. We make every effort to keep our plans flexible so we can take full advantage of photographic opportunities as they arise.

Please note: three meals a day are included in the cost except for first and last days as noted in the itinerary.

Day 1, 12/1: Arrive Chennai

Upon arrival in Chennai, a representative of Compass Rose Expedition’s will greet you and assist with transferring to the hotel. Rooms will be available after 2pm on this day.

Chennai, India’s fourth largest city, is an economic and cultural center. This popular city is known for its educational and economic opportunities as well as historic sites including ancient forts, Hindu temples, and diverse churches. Half the visitors come to partake in various aspects of health tourism. The city also is noted for its 6-kilometer long beach, one of the longest in the world.

In the evening, there will be an orientation meeting with Jock and Annie and a welcome dinner at our hotel, the Radisson Blu.

Day 2, 12/2: Mahabalipuram

In the morning, we visit a local Hindu temple that hosts a constant stream of devotees. This temple and nearby streets offer an excellent opportunity for photography.

We travel to the old port city of Mahabalipuram, UNESCO World Heritage site famous for its temples. From the 8th to the 11th century, the Pallava dynasty conducted a thriving maritime trade with the Far East. Although worn by time, the magnificent Shore Temple still reflects the glorious past of these intrepid merchants. The temple known as Arjuna’s Penance is famous for its bas-relief filled with detailed carvings. The structures known as the Five Rathas are an interesting collection of stone elephants and temples. Around sunset, we photograph fisherman as they prepare to disembark for the nightly catch.

We stay at the Grande Bay Resort, and Spa, which was designed by an award-winning, Indian, production designer and art director.

Day 3, 12/3: Mahabalipuram

In the early morning, we visit another local fishing village. We have the opportunity to view boats arriving with their catch, fishermen unloading their cargo and dealers preparing for the local auction.

Later we travel to Kancheepuram, the city of a thousand temples and one of the seven most sacred pilgrimage sites for Hindus. The city was the capital of the early Cholas in the 2nd century BC and a Pallava capital between the 6th and 8th century. The Ekambareswarar Temple complex covers over 25 acres and contains numerous shrines and temples. We have the opportunity to photograph devotees attending services.

This small town is also known for its thriving handloom industry. The Silk Weavers of Kanchi settled here more than 400 years ago, and have given it a reputation as the producer of the best silk sarees in the country. We have the opportunity to explore the homes of local weavers and photograph them as they work their trade.

We return to the Grande Bay Resort, and Spa.

Day 4, 12/4: Chettinad

In the morning, you have the option of relaxing at the hotel or photographing a quaint fishing village.

Late morning, we fly to Trichy and photograph the mansions of Chettinad. These unique and colorful mansions are decorated with intricate and elaborate designs and date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Day 5, 12/5: Madurai

In the morning, we explore then fortress-like, Heritage Homes of Chettinad and Chettiar Dynasty Temples. The Chettias were a prosperous merchant community whose legacy can be seen in their ornate mansions and shrines. The city also offers extensive antique shopping, village markets, craftsmen working with wood and metal, silversmiths and goldsmiths, attractive textiles and exciting cuisine. See also this recent article in Conde Nast Traveler Magazine.

In the afternoon, we drive to Madurai and later explore Meenakshi Temple covered with brightly painted carvings of dancing gods and goddess. This temple, a significant symbol for the Tamil people, was first mentioned in the 6th century BCE. The current temple dates from the 17th century. Only cell phone photographs are allowed inside the temple.

Day 6, 12/6: Madurai

In the morning, we photograph the Flower Markets of Madurai, which exports exotic flowers across India, and Palamedu Village, a typical Tamil village with local people make terracotta statues. Madurai, built on the banks of the Vaigai River, was an ancient metropolis that once traded with Romans. From the 7th to 13th century CE, Madurai was the capital of the Pandya dynasty. Now, Madurai is known as Temple City and as one of India’s most sacred pilgrimage sites.

In the afternoon, we photograph colorful bazaars. In the late evening, we witness the temple ceremony known as pattabishekam that celebrates the coronation of the Goddess Meenakshi as well and her wedding with Lord Sundareswarar.

Day 7, 12/7: Cochin

This morning we transfer to Madurai Airport and board the flight to Cochin via Bangalore.

Cochin is a major port in the state of Kerala as well as an ancient town used for trade since the time of the Romans. It is now split into two main parts. The modern industrial city of Ernakulam situated on the mainland and considered the commercial capital of Kerala. The old town of Fort Cochin, situated on the peninsula, has a flavor of the ancient past with winding alleyways, merchant houses, and spice markets.

If time allows this afternoon we can stroll the through the alleyways of Fort Cochin. We then take a sunset boat ride to photograph the cities’ the emblematic Chinese fishing nets, a spider-like contraption which has changed little since they were introduced by the Chinese in the 12th century.

We stay at the Crown Plaza Hotel.

Day, 8, 12/8: Cochin

We take a pre-dawn boat ride out to photograph the fishermen plying their nets in the harbor and another chance to photograph the Chinese fishing nets. We return to our hotel for breakfast.

Later today we visit the old town of Fort Cochin and explore the alleyways and the spice market. For those who are interested, we can visit the Dutch Palace a portrait gallery of the Cochin Rajas notable for its mythological Indian murals and the Vasco da Gama Church, one of the oldest churches in India and the one-time burial place of the famous Portuguese explorer.

Late afternoon, we visit the Kathakali Center to photograph the artists as they prepare for a traditional dance performance and then photograph and enjoy them performing. Kathakali is a major form of classical Indian dance known for colorful make-up and costumes.

We return to the Crown Plaza Hotel for dinner.

Day 9-10, 12/9-10: Backwaters of Kerala

In the morning, we drive to the Alleppey Jetty and after lunch board a traditional but comfortable boat with private, air-conditioned sleeping rooms with attached toilets. We cruise the backwaters of Kerala and have the opportunity to de-board and photograph local villages. We also hire local fishermen to take us out in their canoes to see village life in the smaller canals.

The Kerala backwaters are a labyrinth of canals and lakes that parallel the Malabar Coast for over 60 kilometers. From the vastness of Lake Vembanad to the quiet streams just large enough for a canoe, the Backwaters from the arteries through which rural daily life calmly flows – children splashing in the water, women washing clothes at the water’s edge, fishermen up to their necks in water, rice barges transporting coconuts and rice, and above all an overriding sense of peace and tranquility that permeates every aspect of this stunning region.

Day 11, 12/11: Palakkad

After a morning cruise on the water, we leave our boat and drive to Palakkad.

In the afternoon, we photograph the colorful Palakkad Elephant Festival held on the grounds of an ancient temple. There are half a dozen elaborately decorated elephants accompanied by drummers, chariots and many exuberant local celebrants and worshipers.

We stay at the Kairali Ayurveda Resort, which is part of a well-known Ayurvedic healing village.

Day 12, 12/12: Kannur

In the morning drive to Kalamandalam and visit the Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School, a University of art and culture founded in 1930. The school focuses on teaching classical dance, theater, and instruments. Students and teachers live at the university to create a unique system of tutelage. We have private access to the dancers learning in classroom settings, while they prepare for a performance and while they practice as various informal dance troupes.

After an early lunch, we drive to Kannur

In the evening and late into the night we attend the Theyyam Festival, a four-day event known as the Dance of the Gods. Each theyyam, or dance, is a personification of a deity each with a distinctive costume made of face paint, jewelry, breastplate, skirt, and headdress–some of which are more than twenty feet tall. The dancer takes on the identity of a specific theyyam and dances exuberantly to a driving drumbeats.

We stay at the Chera Rock Beach House, a charming and quiet hotel set beside the sea.

Day 13, 12/13: Kannur

After a late night at the theyyam, you probably want to sleep in! We spend the rest of the morning relaxing on the beach or we can return to the Theyyam festival for some daytime photography. This afternoon we might also choose to visit some nearby fishing villages.

After dinner, we head back to the festival to photograph more rituals and dance ceremonies.

We return to the Chera Rock Beach House,

Day 14, 12/14: Mysore

After a leisurely breakfast, drive to Mysore. Like all Indian cities, Mysore is a busy somewhat crazy place, but it is well known for beautiful silk, its royal palaces, attractive parks, and wide shady avenues. It is the former capital of this princely state and is Karnataka’s second largest city. Mysore is dominated by the spectacular Maharaja’s Palace around which the boulevards of the city radiate and we will be sure to visit the nearby colorful markets.

In the evening visit the ancient Rangaraja market which was built by Tipu Sultan to encourage local trade.

Day 15  12/15: Mysore

Early morning walk for one hour to Chamunda Devi hill for a panoramic view of the palace, the city, and the surrounding countryside. (You can drive up if you choose to).  On the way stop at one of the biggest Nandi bull statues of India. Later visit Mysore Palace built in 1857 in Indo-Saracenic style.

After an early lunch, visit the exquisitely carved temple at Somnathpur. It is one of the finest examples of Hoysala architecture. The temple was built by Soma, a Dandanayaka in 1268 C.E. under Hoysala king Narasimha III, when the Hoysala Empire was the major power in South India.

In the evening, if folks are interested we can revisit the ancient Rangaraja market. Later, we head out to Gitanjali homestay for a cooking class followed by a dinner. The Dollu Kunitha dance performance of Karnataka can also be organized here.

Day 16, 12/16: Banglore and home

After breakfast, we visit Srirangapatanam. The Daria Daulat Palace, of Tippu Sultan in is a beautiful mansion built mainly of teakwood. The walls of the palace are covered with colorful frescoes that represent the reign of Tippu Sultan and the different battles that he fought. Tippu built the Masjid-e-Ala and the Juma Majid at Srirangapatna as well. This mosque has tall lofty minarets that dominate the skyline of Srirangapatna.

Late afternoon, we arrive at Bangalore and transfer to the Bangalore International Airport where you can board flights for your onward journey.

used for Southern India: Land of Diversity

Trip Dates

December 1 – December 16, 2019, a 16-day tour

Prices (in US$)

  • $13,985 with 2-3 participants
  • $10,550 with 4-5 participants
  • $9885 with 6-7 participants
  • $8840 with 8 participants
  • $212 domestic flights MAA-TRZ and IXM-BLR-COK  sectors
  • $1150 single supplement

Payment Schedule

  • Deposit $1,500 (non-refundable)
  • Balance Due: 90 days prior to departure

Cancellation Fees

  • 61-90 days prior to departure 50% of trip cost
  • 60 days or less prior to departure 100% of trip cost



  • All ground transportation inside our destination(s)
  • All entrance and photography fees
  • All meals except first and last day as noted in itinerary
  • Bottled water
  • Accommodation as specified and porter tips

Not included

  • International airfare and visas
  • Customary and optional tips for local guides
  • Personal expenses including laundry, snacks, drinks, alcohol, etcetera
  • Overweight luggage charges
  • Any expenses caused by factors beyond our control like flight cancellation, roadblocks, vehicle malfunction etc.

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Instructor: Jock Montgomery

In 1983, Jock moved to Nepal to train raft guides and lead river expeditions and treks across much of the Himalayas. He was based in Kathmandu for twelve years and…

Instructor: Annie Miniscloux

Annie is one of Compass Rose Expedition's most enthusiastic and engaged trip leaders, especially on photography tours. As a creative director at a Bangkok design agency, she has significant experience in critiquing the quality and usefulness of images, photographs, and design concepts. She has designed more than a dozen coffee table books. Annie is originally from a small island along the Atlantic coast of France. She moved to Bangkok from Hong Kong in 1992 to continue her career in graphic design. Her work includes designing books for well- known writers and photographers. She takes a leading role in developing all the design elements for Compass Rose Expeditions, including web development, videos, photography selection, and clothing design.