Arrive in Delhi at any time. There are no planned activities, so check into to the hotel and enjoy the city. In the late afternoon you will meet your fellow group members to go over the details of your trip. Check the notice board (or ask reception) to see the exact time and location of this group meeting. If you arrive early wander through the heart of India's capital city and explore Old and New Delhi. Travel by the new metro or auto rickshaws and visit the famous Jama Masjid (Great Mosque) where you could climb the minaret for a bird's eye view of the old city. Explore Chandni Chowk, one of India's oldest and busiest markets or head to the colorful spice market a great photo opportunity. From Old Delhi it's easy to get to Connaught Place, more commonly known as CP, one of the most prominent architectural remnants of British rule, by the metro (station at CP is called Rajiv Chowk). In CP wander the markets and shops or visit the Gandhi museum, built on the site of his assassination. If people watching is your thing head down to India Gate and relax on the lawns, or enjoy a stroll through the peaceful Lodi Gardens in nearby upmarket South Delhi. Other options include the ruins of Qutab Minar, the fabulous architecture of Humayun's Tomb, the beautifully lotus shaped Bahai Temple (closed Monday), or the stunning Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple carved out of pink sandstone and white marble. The amazing Craft Museum or the huge and rambling National Museum are also worth a visit. (Note many museums are closed on Monday). There are so many options for dining, from age-old eateries in the by lanes of the Old Walled City to glitzy, specialty restaurants in five-star hotels, Delhi is a movable feast. Restaurants and bars cater to all tastes and budgets. A delightful outlet offering a range of Indian cuisines are the food stalls at Dilli Haat. Here, the cuisine of different states is made available. Set in the midst of a spacious crafts bazaar these cafes are a very pleasant place to enjoy food.
Estimated Travel Time: 2 Hours Travel by early morning train to the Muslim city of Agra. Indian Railways, the world’s largest employer with 1.6 million employees, can certainly be counted as one of the marvels of modern India, and no visit is complete without at least one train trip. Agra is best known as the site of India’s most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal. Visit this icon of Mughal architecture either in the morning or late afternoon for the best light, and be sure to bring lots of film! Ride one of the ubiquitous cycle rickshaws to visit the Lal Qila or Red Fort, the Taj’s less famous—but no less impressive—sister monument. Constructed between 1631 and 1654 by a workforce of 22 000, the Taj Mahal was built by the Muslim Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favourite wife, Arjumand Bano Begum, better known as Mumtaz Mahal. Mumtaz had already borne the emperor fourteen children when she died in childbirth, and it is the romantic origin of the Taj as much as its architectural splendour that has led to its fame worldwide. Actually an integrated complex of many structures, the Taj Mahal is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, itself a combination of Islamic, Hindu, Persian and Turkish elements. The walled palatial city of Lal Qila, or the Red Fort, was first taken over by the Moghuls, at that time led by Akbar the Great, in the late 16th century. Akbar liked to build from red sandstone, often inlaid with white marble and intricate decorations, and it was during his reign that the fort began changing into more of a royal estate. However, it was only during the reign of Akbar's grandson, Shah Jahan (who would eventually build the Taj Mahal) that the site finally took on its current state. Unlike his grandfather, Shah Jahan preferred buildings made from white marble, often inlaid with gold or semi-precious gems, and he destroyed some earlier buildings inside the fort in order to build others in his own style. At the end of his life Shah Jahan was imprisoned in the fort by his son, Aurangzeb. It is said that Shah Jahan died in Muasamman Burj, a tower with a marble balcony with an excellent view of the Taj Mahal. The fort was also a site of one of the most important battles of the Indian rebellion of 1857, which caused the end of the British East India Company's rule in India, leading to a century of direct rule of India by Britain.
Day 3 - Estimated Travel Time: 6 Hours Today we travel by local bus to the capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur, former capital of a princely state of the same name. Clothed in pink stucco (in imitation of sandstone), wide-avenued Jaipur is one of the most important heritage cities in India, and home to India’s second most visited site, the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds. Here follow in the footsteps of the royal harem, or ride an elephant to Amber Fort Palace, one of the most spectacular forts in India. Founded in 1728, Jaipur, or “The Pink City” as it is often called, is unlike any other pre-modern Indian city, in that the entire town was planned according to the principles of Hindu architectural theory. The city is in fact built in the form of a nine-part mandala known as the Pithapada, which combined with wide streets makes for an unusually airy, orderly atmosphere. That the results of this urban planning have so endured to this day is nothing short of miraculous. Enter the heart of the mandala (on foot or by cycle rickshaw) and you are in the central palace quarter, with its sprawling Hawa Mahal palace complex, formal gardens and a small lake. Built in 1799, the "Palace of Winds" was part of the City Palace, an extension of the Zenana or chambers of the harem. Its original intention was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen. Constructed of red and pink sandstone highlighted with white lime, the five-storied facade is peppered with 953 small windows. The breeze (hawa) that comes through the windows keeps it cool even in hot months, and gives the palace its name. Just 15 km from central Jaipur is the ruined city of Amber, former capital of Jaipur state. Founded by the Meenas, Amber was a flourishing settlement as far back as 967 AD. Overlooking the artificial lake south of Amber town stands the Amber Fort/Palace complex, famous for its mixture of Hindu and Muslim architecture. At the bottom of a hill sits Amber Fort, initially a Palace Complex within the Fort of Amber on top of the hill (today known as Jaigarh fort). The two forts are connected through well-guarded passages, and there is even the option of an elephant ride from the town up to the palace courtyard.
Day 5 - Estimated Travel Time: 4 Hours This morning travel to Ajmer and change to a local bus for the 14 km drive over Snake Mountain to Pushkar. Site of the world’s only temple to the Hindu god of creation Brahma, Pushkar is often called "Tirth Raj," the Raj (king) of pilgrim centres. No pilgrimage of Hindu places is considered complete until the pilgrim bathes in sacred waters of Pushkar Lake; indeed, the city is so sacred that no meat, alcohol or eggs are allowed within the city. However, most travellers know Pushkar for a different reason: the annual Pushkar Fair, it is the world's largest camel fair, complete with both livestock and craft markets, camel races, concerts and exhibitions. It is celebrated on the day of Kartik Purnima (night of the full moon - sometime in October or November). This is the day, according to legend, which the Hindu god Brahma sprung up the lake. The fair and livestock market now actually go for 8 days with the final day the night of the full moon. After settling into our accommodation, we will have an orientation walk around Pushkar, including the Lake and ghats and also the the 14th century Brahama temple. Before dawn on Day 6 we climb to the hilltop Savitri temple to watch the sunrise over this holy place. You can even get a chai up there but after that morning walk there is nothing better than spending time at one of the many cafes in town. All fed and rested you might be ready to follow local traditions, and jump on a camel and head out for a sunset camel ride in the desert. Rajasthan is rightfully famous for its textiles, jewellery and handicrafts, and few places in the country are better for shopping than the bazaars of Pushkar. Wander around the markets of this sacred city - you won't be disappointed.
Day 7 - Estimated Travel Time: 7-8 Hours Continuing southwards to the Udaipur, famous worldwide for its plethora of breathtaking lakes and Raj-era palaces, it certainly lives up to its reputation as India's most romantic city. Most famous of these palaces, and certainly the most photographed, is the Lake Palace, an island-palace where the white marble buildings (now a hotel) entirely cover a small island in Pichola Lake. Originally known as the Jag Niwas, the palace took three years to build and was inaugurated in 1746. The city’s lakes—Pichola Lake, Fateh Sagar, Udai Sagar and Swaroop Sagar—are considered among the most beautiful in Rajasthan. An island in Fateh Sagar is even home to the Udaipur Solar Observatory, one of six stations participating in the international Global Oscillations Network Group (GONG), which studies the physical properties of the solar interior. If you can pull yourself away from the shopping, there many points of interest, such as the Jagdish Temple, Saheliyon-ki-Bari (the Garden of Maidens) and City Palace with its museums, crystal gallery and wealth of royal treasures to explore. Alternatively Udaipur's famous Lake Pichola is a serene place to enjoy a boat ride and if you are gastronomically inclined, there is plenty of time to learn the art of Indian cooking at Spice Box. Maybe visit a craft village and a folk museum or take in a fantastic cultural show at the Bagore-ki-Haveli - you might even get up and join in the dancing! Journey out to the hilltop Monsoon Palace for sunset or you can spend lazy afternoons just taking in the views from the rooftop cafes over hot, sweet chai. For the really adventurous head out to the nearby temple town of Nathdwara (approx 50kms) which enshrines Shrinathji - an image of Krishna, which was originally enshrined at the Vraja Bhoomi at Mount Govardhana near Mathura. The name Nathdwara means 'Gate of the Lord'. Or hire a car and head to Kumbhal Garh Fort built in the 15th century and the nearby Jain Temples at Ranakpur.
Day 10 - Estimated Travel Time: 3 Hours The Jain Temples at Ranakpur were created in the 15th century A.D. during the reign of Rana Kumbha. These beautiful buildings with their distinctly carved halls and pillars are regarded as amongst the finest of their kind in India. Located in a valley of the Aravalli Mountains, the city is one of the five holiest places of the Jain religion. Although already over 500 years old, the temples here are in almost perfect condition. The Chaumukha temple, with its three floors, possesses the most complex and from most filed architecture. To make a pilgrimage to this place is extremely important for the people of Jain religion. The temples design is such that the light, as much as possible, reaches into the inner rooms. The Jain people believe that this helps the believers or worshippers to find the enlightenment and clarity of their own consciousness. In the afternoon we head to the local train station for our overnight train to Mumbai.
Estimated Travel Time of overnight train: 15 Hours Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, forms the world's fifth most populous metropolitan area when combined with its suburbs, a total population of about 20 million. The city has a deep natural harbour and the port handles over half of India's passenger traffic and a significant amount of cargo. Mumbai is the commercial and entertainment capital of India, and home to the world-famous Hindi-language film industry, Bollywood. Rise at dawn to watch the morning ritual at the Sassoon Docks, South Mumbai’s main fish loading and trading centre. Shoot a picture of the Gateway to India, facing westward out to sea, and stop in for a cup of tea at the famous Taj hotel next door. From here boats leave for Elephanta Island (also called Gharapuri Island or place of caves), famous for is cave temples carved straight from the rock. People-watch on Chowpatty Beach or visit Crawford Market, one of South Mumbai's most famous markets. Try some of the many local specialties at one of Mumbai’s many top-notch restaurants, or go out on the town and sample the city’s famed nightlife firsthand.
Arriving about midday and transfer to our beach accommodation. Portuguese merchants first landed in Goa in the 15th century, and annexed it soon after. The Portuguese ‘overseas territory’ (not technically a colony) existed for about 450 years, until it was captured by India in 1961. Internationally renowned for its beaches, Goa is visited by hundreds of thousands of foreign and domestic tourists each year, and has become one of the most popular holiday destinations for European travellers. Goan cuisine is unique and recognised throughout India and the world for its fiery punch and strong coastal and Portuguese influences Relax on a beach, visit the many Portuguese-built monuments, wander around the Old Churches of Old Goa (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and Panjim the capital. And eat as much of the incredible Goan food as you can—it’s your last chance!
Fly Goa to Kochi As this is a combination trip and additional group members may be joining you today there are no planned activities aside from a group meeting in the evening.Check the notice board to see what time and where the group meeting will be held. Check into to the hotel (check-in time is 12.00 midday) and enjoy the city. There are plenty of things to do in Kochi, this seaside Indian city with its Portuguese and Dutch history, architecture and style. Kochi is renowned for its exquisite gold designer jewellery and is also home to the Dutch Palace (Mattancherry), Jew Town with its synagogue and the Fort itself. The oldest church in India, the Anglican St. Francis Church, sits near mosques and synagogues, and Portuguese housing sits side by side with English manor homes. Vasco de Gama's tombstone is still here, even if his remains are back in Lisbon, and the Dutch cemetery is worth a quick look. Watch the sunset from the tip of Fort Kochi where you ill spot the old cantilevered fishing nets, common here in Kerala. Originally brought from China, in Malayalam they're called 'cheena vala', and used mainly at high tide. An important stop on the spice trading route due to its strategic location near the tip of the Indian subcontinent, Kochi (Cochin) has been a melting pot of influences since the 14th century. The city’s history stretches back much farther: by 1102, Kochi was already the seat of an eponymous princely state that traced its lineages to the Kulasekhara empire. Ancient travellers and tradesmen made references to Kochi in their writings, and in 1503 Kochi became the first European colonial settlement in India when it was occupied by the Portuguese. Also of interest is the fact that Vasco da Gama, the first European explorer to set sail for India, was initially buried in Kochi’s St. Francis Church until his remains were returned to Portugal in 1539. Later, both the Dutch and British occupied Kochi, resulting in the variety of architecture, food and other influences typical of today’s Kochi. Today Kochi is the commercial hub of Kerala state, and a growing centre of information technology, tourism and international trade. However, like other large cities in the developing world, Kochi continues to struggle with urbanisation problems like poor sanitation and traffic congestion.
Estimated Travel Time: 1.5 Hours This morning we travel to Allepey, a golden streak of land woven with rivers, lakes, lagoons and canals, Alappuzha or Alleppy is labelled as the Venice of the East. Alappuzha, meaning the land between the sea and a network of rivers falling into it, evokes a sense of romance and beauty. Alappuzha has been the focus of trade and commerce from time immemorial, infact it is also known as the "Venice of the East", as it was here that traders from across the seven seas came in search of black gold and souvenirs. As early as the 1st century a.d., Christianity had gained a foothold in this district when St. Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ, landed at Maliankara, present day Cranganore. Alappuzha Famous for its 'snake boat' (chundan vallam) races and has some old trading houses still in use. It is also home to Kuttanad, The rice bowl of kerala, one of the very few places in the world where farming is done below sea level. Tonight we will sleep in a homestay in the backwaters this offers you the opportunity of talking and interacting with the local families, learning about life in the islands and dining on traditional local cuisine. Accommodation is on a multi-share basis and all the families live within a few hundred metres of each other, with at least one person in the family speaking a reasonable standard of English. In the afternoon, we explore the island with a local English-speaking guide and learn about the local way of life. We will continue our explorations by boat along winding backwaters seeing Keralan life in all its colour, and as the sun goes down we will be entertained by the boatmen singing traditional songs.
Day 17 - Estimated Travel Time: 4.5 Hours We drive to Periyar and its acclaimed wildlife sanctuary. One of the few habitats remaining for wild tigers in India (and indeed, the world) Periyar is part of Project Tiger, a wildlife conservation project designed to protect Royal Bengal Tigers from extinction. Set high in the mountains of the Western Ghats, this protected area covers some 777 km², out of which a 350km² fors part of the core zone known as the Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve. Famous for its picturesque (though artificial) lake and of course the tiger (which number about 40), the park is also home to 62 different kinds of mammal. The most well known of these are the park’s famous herds of wild Asiatic elephants, which often come to bathe in Periyar lake. Other mammals found here include gaur, sambar (horse deer), barking deer, mouse deer, Dholes (Indian wild dogs), mongoose and leopards and Indian Bison. For ornithologists it has over 330 species of birds including the majestic Great Hornbill. We join a naturalist-led walk in search of wildlife and to get a better understanding of the surroundings. Many of the guides are in fact former poachers. You can also take a boat ride around the lake for a more relaxing view of the park and more wildlife spotting. In the afternoon we head out to a spice plantation to learn amongst other things, how cardamom and pepper grow
Day 19 - Estimated Travel Time: 6 Hours Varkala, a temple town, is also known for its landscape. A high rocky cliff ends abruptly and a stretch of clear sand extends down to the sea. The High cliffs with mineral springs rise majestically from the coastline giving the visitors a spectacular view. The best time to visit the beach is when the beach extends up to the very cliff face giving an additional 500 meters of serene beach space. The contrast between the cliffs, sand and sea makes Varkala Beach a striking sight. The sunset at Varakala Beach is truly breathtaking with the sun sinking into the sky like a ball of molten gold as the sun and sea are tinged with crimson and vermilion. The quiet and isolated Varkala beach is a sandy expanse where one can enjoy a relaxing moment without the crowds and bustle of other beaches in Kerala. Spend time wandering the peaceful gardens of an ashram devoted to Kerala's most eminent spiritual and social reformer and the mystical Janardhana Swamy Temple, or just head to the beach to relax and watch the Arabian Sea. The legend behind the name of this scenic town is that a group of devout pilgrims approached Narada, a saint of ancient times and confessed to having sinned. Narada threw his valkalam (cloth made out of the bark of a tree) and it landed at a place near the seashore. Thisplace was thus given the name 'varkala'. Narada directed his devotees to offer prayers at the beach where the valkalam landed. This place then came to be known as 'Papanasam' meaning redemption from sins.
Estimated Travel Time: 3.5 Hours This morning we take train from Varkala to Cochin where the trip ends upon arrival. If you are booking onward travel today we recommend that you don't book your flight until 4pm or later.