India: The Spectacular South

A photography tour with Michael Yamashita and Jock Montgomery

  • October 25 – November 6, 2017: A 13-day trip exploring the waterways and spice roads of Tamil Nadu and Kerala


Professional photographers, instructors and workshop leaders Michael Yamashita and Jock Montgomery

Join renowned National Geographic photographer Michael Yamashita and international adventure travel guide and photographer Jock Montgomery on a photographic tour of Southern India; a smorgasbord of ornate festivals, delicious food, classical arts, exotic architecture, unique religious practices, and cultural diversity that has been intermixing and dichotomizing for over two millennia.

The syncretic blend of life is everywhere. Roman traders exchanged large quantities of gold and silver in exchange for spices. Buddhists carved stunning shrines into granite rock to honor the visitation of Gautama Buddha. Hindus of Dravidian culture built some of the most colorful and ornate temples in India. Arab traders brought Islam and Middle-Eastern architecture. Christians would eventually form a sect known as Indian Orthodox. The Portuguese would found the first European colony, followed by the Dutch and British. French colonialists would bring their unique aesthetic and influence to art and architecture.

As modern adventurers and photographers, you will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in this human exhibition and find your own way of viewing and interpreting the complexity of Southern India. We have carefully planned this trip to coincide with two renowned elephant festivals, as well as have behind the scenes visits with some of the country’s most important schools of traditional performance art.

Mike and I look forward to sharing this exceptional experience with you.

Documentary about Michael Yamashita’s work: Art of the Photographer


This photography tour concentrates first and foremost on helping you see and shoot in new and exciting ways. Michael Yamashita and Jock Montgomery will personally help you define your composition, create compelling content, and help you see the light. As you work towards nurturing your shooting style, you will learn how to personalize breathtaking moments that range from sweeping natural scenery to colorful human activities.

Every other day, we will gather to review each other’s work. Michael and Jock will personally critique your photos and provide expert advice for improvement and growth. Upon conclusion of the trip, each participant will receive a certificate of completion signed by Michael and Jock.


  • Receive personal guidance from National Geographic photographer Michael Yamashita and adventure travel photographer Jock Montgomery
  • Visit the renowned Kalamdalam dance school. Photograph performers backstage as they prepare for a show
  • Visit the spectacular Kathakali dancers. Another opportunity photograph performers as they prepare for a show and refine your photographic narrative
  • Experience the grandeur and pageantry of two elephant festivals connected with the Indian Orthodox church
  • Explore the life-filled backwaters of Kerala aboard a luxury houseboat
  • Visit the ancient monuments of Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Visit Kancheepuram, the city of a thousand temples, a sacred pilgrimage site
  • Photograph the emblematic Chinese fishing nets of Cochin

Workers at a coconut husk factory

Fishermen paddling out through large breakers

Sewing carpets made of jute in southern India

Sewing carpets made of jute in southern India

Recommended Reading

Snakes and Ladders (Highly recommended by Jock)


Compass Rose Expeditions’ Reading Lists


Kathakali dancer

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.

Map of our Journey

Day 1, 10/25: Arrive Chennai

Upon arrival in Chennai, you will be greeted by a Compass Rose Expedition’s representative who will assist you in transferring to the hotel.

Chennai is India’s fourth largest city and a large economic and cultural center known for its education and economic opportunities. It is also one of India’s most visited cities. 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 and a welcome dinner at the hotel, the Fortune Select Palms.

Day 2, 10/26: 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.

Later we will drive to the monuments of Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO World Heritage site and check into our hotel, Ideal Beach Resort.  While the midday light is hot and harsh will take time at our hotel to edit our work and compare our initial results with the group.

Mahabalipuram was an ancient port city known for its famous granite-carved 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.

At sunset, we will also go down to the fishing village and photograph the fishing boats as they prepare to leave the land.

Day 3, 10/27: Mahabalipuram

In the early morning, we visit a 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, known as 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 is spread over 25 acres and contains numerous shrines and temples. We will have the opportunity to photograph devotees attending services.

Apart from temples, 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.

Day 4, 10/28: Madurai

In the morning, we fly to Madurai and check into our hotel, the luxurious five-star Heritage Madurai is known for its unique Olympic-sized plunge pool and unique architecture.

In the afternoon, we visit the Meenakshi temple, a significant symbol for the Tamil people. This structure was first mentioned in literature from the 6th century BCE. The current temple dates from the 17th century. Only cell phone photographs are allowed inside the temple. Later we visit nearby markets.

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

Day 5, 10/29: Madurai

In the morning, we photograph the flower markets of Madurai and later Palamedu village, a typical Tamil village with local people making terracotta statues.

Madurai, built on the banks of the Vaigai River, was an ancient metropolis that once traded with Romans. It is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu and was once the capital of the Pandya dynasty from the 7th to 13th century CE. Known as the Temple City, Madurai is one of India’s most sacred pilgrimage centers. The Great Temple’s towering gopurams are covered bright paint show gods and goddess cavorting and dancing.

In the afternoon. we will photograph the colorful bazaars. Later Jock and Mike will offer critiques and comments on your photographs.

Day 6, 10/30: Munnar

We drive to Munnar en route stopping at various vantage points to photograph the great expanse of rolling hills of tea. On arrival, we check in at The Tall Trees, a unique property of 66 acres that has preserved much of the natural setting.

Munnar is known as a Hill Station, a term used by 19th century Europeans to denote towns that represented retreats from the city. Today, large sections of the hills are covered with cardamom plantations, pepper vines, coffee plants, and most prominently tea gardens. The surrounding hills are also home to a blue flower known as the Neelakurinji, which blooms approximately every 12 years–an event that might present itself for us.

We will have the opportunity to stop at a plantation to buy tea and potentially photograph the interesting and colorful process of tea picking. We may also visit Christ Church with its memorial plaques to past planters. In the evenings, we will edit our photographs and have another group review of our work.

Day 7 – 8, 10/31 – 11/1: 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 will cruise the backwaters of Kerala and have the opportunity to deboard and photograph local villages.

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.

In the evening we will have the opportunity to discuss and edit our photographs.

Day 9 – 10 11/2 – 11/3:  Cheruthuruthy

In the morning, we deboard and drive to Cheruthuruthy, a small town on the banks of the Nila River. We will stay at a heritage hotel, The River Retreat, which includes an Ayurvedic treatment center offering a variety of traditional body therapies.

We will have the opportunity to photograph two elephant festivals. The afternoon of the first day, we visit the St. Grigorious Church Kunnamkulam with 12 elaborately decorated elephants accompanied by drummers and chariots. The second day we will visit Katukambal St. Magnitous with 15 elephants. Having two festival on separate days allows us to return with a better understand of the kind of narrative we want to build and to fill in the missing pieces.

On our second day, we will also visit the Kerala Kalamandalam, 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 will have private access to the dancers while they prepare and when they are dancing.

Day 11, 11/4: Cochin

In the morning we drive to Cochin and check in to our hotel, the Crown Plaza, a luxury hotel with a large spa and treatment center. After lunch, if time allows we will arrange for another group review of our photography to date and then head into town by mid-afternoon for the good light.

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.

We will take a sunset boat ride to photograph the cities the emblematic Chinese fishing nets, a spider-like contraption that which have changed little since they were introduced by the Chinese in the 12th century.

In the evening, we will have a dinner hosted in the home of an Indian family.

Day 12, 11/5: Cochin

We will take an early morning cruise to photograph the fishermen in the harbor and have another chance to view the Chinese fishing nets. Later in the morning we visit the Dutch Palace–known for its impressive murals of the Ramayana, and the Vasco D’ Gama Church–a memorial to the discoverer of the sea route from Europe to India. Later we visit Fort Cochin, a large-scale, completely hand operated laundry facility that is uniquely Indian.

Late afternoon, we visit the Kathakali center to watch artists prepare for a traditional dance performance and then watch them perform. Kathakali is a major form of classical Indian dance known for colorful make-up and costumes.

In the late afternoon and evening, we will have time to review our photographs of the tour and prepare our final slideshow for the group.

Day 13, 11/6: Depart Cochin

In the morning, we will transfer you to the international airport in Cochin to continue your travels or return home.


Jock Montgomery

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 now makes his home in Bangkok, Thailand.

He has been leading trips in the United States since he was a teenager. He now leads river running, sea kayaking, trekking and mountain biking trips; as well as expeditions across the Himalayas and throughout Southeast Asia, North America, Greenland, Patagonia, Ecuador, and the Galapagos islands.

He is in demand as a commercial and editorial assignment photographer. He teaches and leads private photography workshops throughout Asia.

More about Jock Montgomery …

Michael Yamashita

Michael has been shooting for the National Geographic magazine for over three decades, combining his dual passions of photography and travel. His particular specialty is in retracing the paths of famous travelers, resulting in stories on Marco Polo, the Japanese poet Basho, and the Chinese explorer Zheng He.

Michael has been photographing this area since 1996 for National Geographic. Recently he has written and taken photographs for a book about this area entitled Shangri-La: Along the Tea Road to Lhasa

He has received numerous industry awards, including those from the Pictures of the Year, Photo District News, the New York Art Directors Club, and the Asian-American Journalists Association. Major exhibits of his work have opened throughout Asia, in Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Taipei, and Singapore, as well as in Rome, Venice, Frankfurt, and Perpignan, France. His work has been exhibited at galleries in Los Angeles and at the National Gallery in Washington, DC.

Michael has published nine books (most inspired by his thirty National Geographic stories): The Great Wall From Beginning to End; New York: Flying High, an aerial portrait of Manhattan; Zheng He: Tracing the Epic Voyages of China’s Greatest Explorer; Japan: The Soul of a Nation; Marco Polo, A Photographer’s Journey; Mekong: A Journey on the Mother of Waters; In the Japanese Garden; A Pictorial Tribute to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy; Lakes, Peaks and Prairies: Discovering the U.S. Canadian Border.

More about Michael Yamashita…

Trip Dates

October 25 – November 06, 2017

Prices (in US$)

  • $9350/person, 6-7 participants
  • $8580/person, 8-9 participants
  • $8360/person, 10-12 participants
  • $950 single supplement
  • $77 Domestic airfare (economy class)

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
  • Hotel porter tips
  • All meals except first and last day as noted in itinerary
  • Bottled water
  • Accommodation as specified

Not included

  • International airfare and visas
  • Customary and optional tips for local guides
  • Immunization
  • Personal expenses including laundry, snacks, drinks, alcohol, etcetera
  • Overweight luggage charges


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An invoice will be sent by email with instructions for payment. A non-refundable deposit is required to hold your place on a trip. If paying the full amount, an itemized invoice will be sent. (Same price for cash or credit.)

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