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Essential India


- Culture & History

15

From the intricate saris of Rajasthan to the beautiful symmetry of the Taj Mahal, this compact journey is a photographer's delight and the perfect introduction to India. You'll walk along the ghats on the River Ganges to encounter the spiritual heart of Hinduism in Varanasi and get off the beaten path exploring carved stepwells and quaint temples in rural villages. With the perfect combination of included activities and free time to explore the nation's rich heritage, you're sure to be caught up in India's incredible tapestry of life.
  • Day 1 Delhi

    Arrive in Delhi at any time. There are no planned activities, so check into to the hotel (check-in time is 12.00 midday) and enjoy the city. In the evening you will meet your fellow group members to go over the details of your trip. Check the notice board to see what time and where the group meeting will be held.

  • Day 2 Delhi

    In the morning enjoy a city tour by local streetkids, a Planeterra-supported project. It is estimated that 400,000 children live and work on the streets of Delhi. In most cases, their families are too poor to provide for them, they have run away from abusive home environments or they are orphans. Planeterra’s New Delhi Streetkids Project supports over 5,000 of these street children through strategically placed contact points, shelters and a health post set up by a local partner organization. These youth centers provide clothing, food, healthcare, education, counseling, recreational activities, job skills training and job placements. Through Planeterra’s partnership with Salaam Baalak Trust, scholarships are made available to young people who once lived and worked on the streets of Delhi. By funding vocational training in trade schools and universities, and making job-placements based on each child’s individual interest, we can help break the cycle of poverty and give these youth the opportunity to create a brighter future. Many of these adolescents have been fully-trained as tour guides and lead exciting tours through the enchanting inner city streets of Paharganj, the New Delhi railway station, and The Old City. This tour is a unique way for travelers to engage in these children’s lives and the guiding provides an opportunity for them to improve their communication and speaking skills. Visit Delhi’s famous Jama Masjid (Great Mosque) and climb the minaret for a bird’s eye view of the old city. Walk through Chandni Chowk, one of India’s oldest and busiest markets, and learn the history of the Sikh religion at the important Gurduwara, (Sikh place of worship) Gurdwara SisGanj. Stop for photos at the colourful spice market before finishing at the Victorian Connaught Place, one of the most prominent architectural remnants of British rule. The Masjid-i-Jahan Numa, commonly known as the Jama or Jarna Masjid (Great Mosque) of Delhi is the principal mosque of Old Delhi in India. Masjid-i-Jahan Numa means "mosque commanding a view of the world, " whereas the name Jama Masjid is a reference to the weekly congregation observed on Friday (the yaum al-jum`a) at the mosque. Commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and completed in the year 1656 AD, the Jarna Masjid is the best-known and largest mosque in India; its courtyard can hold up to twenty-five thousand worshippers. The mosque houses several relics in a niche in the north gate, including a priceless copy of the Qur'an written on deer skin. The Sikh holy site of Gurdwara SisGanj stands at the site where the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was beheaded in 1675 on the orders of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb for refusing to accept Islam. During a time when the emperor was waging a war against Hindus, Guru Tegh Bahadur argued for freedom of worship and was executed as a result. Before his body could be quartered and exposed to public view, it was stolen under cover of darkness by one of his disciples, Lakhi Shah Vanjara, who then burnt his house to cremate the Guru's body. The severed head (Sis) of Guru Tegh Bahadur was recovered by Bhai Jaita, another disciple of the Guru, and cremated by the Guru's son, Gobind Rai, later to become Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last Sikh Guru. The giant circle of New Delhi’s Connaught Place, sitting at the centre of any map of Delhi, radiates with roads like spokes from a wheel. The circle’s obviously Victorian architecture was modeled after the Royal Crescent in Bath, England.

  • Days 3-4 Jaipur

    Estimate Travel Time: 5 - 6 Hours An early morning Bus journey to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. 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 (present day population approximately 3 million) 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 Hawa Mahal, "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. After breakfast on Day 4 we visit 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. During our time in Jaipur you may also wish to include a visit to the Jantar Mantar, or Royal Observatory. The term Jantar Mantar actually refers to a collection of architectural astronomical instruments built between 1727 and 1733 by Maharaja Jai Singh II at his then-new capital of Jaipur. It is modelled after the one that he had built for him at the then Mughal capital of Delhi. He had constructed a total of five such observatories at different locations, including the ones at Delhi and Jaipur; the Jaipur observatory is the largest of these. Another great option is to see a Bollywood film in India it is much, much more than what we are accustomed to in the west. The atmosphere, energy and pure fun (not to mention volume!) has to be experienced to be believed. The Raj Mandir Movie Theatre is widely acclaimed as the largest cinema hall in Rajasthan, and one of the best in the country. The exterior is adorned with asymmetrical curves and shapes with stars, illuminated by hidden lights at night. The reception has a number of glittering chandeliers hanging in domes from the ceiling. The auditorium is spectacularly decorated with indirect lighting of changing colors hidden behind the plaster troughs of walls and ceilings. Even if you do not understand the language of the film screened, you will be entertained anyway by the emotions involved in the movie and of course the crowd..

  • Day 5 Tordi Sagar village

    Estimate Travel Time: 2-3 Hours (80 kms)  This morning we travel to the rural village of Tordi Sagar. Walk with a native through the markets, potters, ironsmiths ,temples and farms and understand the complexity of rural India. Optionally, go on a camel cart ride to the dunes or take a Jeep safari in the surrounding region visiting hamlets around the village of local tribals, ancient stepwells and a stunning sunset on the reservoir. An early morning hike to the old fortress is also a great option.

  • Days 6-7 Abhaneri/Agra

    Day 6, Estimate Travel Time: 6-7 Hours (160kms)  In the morning, visit Abhaneri, which is known for its beautiful baoris (step wells) and the famous Harshat Mata temple, Abhaneri is supposed to have been established by Raja Chand. Many believe that Raja Chand was in fact Raja Bhoja, a celebrated king who ruled over the Gurjar Kingdom in the 9th century. Abhaneri was earlier known as Abha Nagri or the city of brightness. Today, this ancient village is in ruins but yet attracts many tourists from all across the world. The Harshat Mata Temple dates to the 9th century and today only portions of this ancient shrine remain, like the sanctuary walls, terrace and sections of the columned mandapa (fore chamber). The sanctum, shorn of its superstructure, is enclosed in an ambulatory and is pancharatha (with five offsets) in structure. The walls have carved nichés in which are images of other deities. These images indicate that the temple was originally dedicated to Vishnu, the Creator of the Hindu trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer. The architectural details of the terrace basement is more or less complete, showing friezes of geometric ornament and miniature nichés with sculptures of seated deities and amorous couples. The columns and walls are adorned with scenes of dance, music, sport and love. Some of the better panels have been shifted to the Archaeological Museum, Amber and the Central Museum, Jaipur. The sanctum now enshrines an image of the four-armed deity Harasiddhi, locally called Harshat Mata. Many images of Hindu deities have been found around the place which are being preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India. A mela (fair) is held near the temple in the month of Chaitra (March-April) every year. Also, visit Fatehpur Sikri, the now deserted former capital of the Mughals.  The political capital of India's Mughal Empire under the reign of Akbar the Great (1571-1585), Fatehpur Sikri was eventually abandoned due to lack of water. Considered the crowning architectural legacy of Akbar (who also built the Agra Fort) and still almost perfectly preserved, today the site is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The building material predominantly used is red sandstone, quarried from the same rocky outcrop on which it is situated. In its day, Fatehpur Sikri shared its imperial duties as a capital city with Agra, where a bulk of the arsenal, treasure hoards, and other reserves were kept at its Agra Fort for security. During a crisis, the court, harem, and treasury could be removed to Agra, only 26 miles away, less than a day's march. Then onto the Muslim city of Agra a city that is best known as the site of India’s most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal. This afternoon we visit I’timad-ud-Daulah, also known as the ‘Baby Taj'. It was built before the Taj Mahal by Nur Jahan, Queen of Jehangir, for her parents. The first Mughal building to be faced with white marble and where ‘pietra dura’, (precious stones inlaid into marble) was first used.  On Day 7 we visit the great icon of Mughal architecture the Taj Mahal either in the early morning or late afternoon for the best light. Be sure to have plenty memory in your camera! We also ride one of the cycle-rickshaws to visit the Agra Fort. 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 Mumt?z Mahal. Mumt?z 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 city of Agra 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 8 Orchha

    Day 8, Estimate Travel Time: 4 hours Today we travel by train from Agra to Jhansi before jumping in a tempo, a large type of auto rickshaw to the picturesque town of Orchha. We spend our time here enjoying the peaceful rural charm of this riverside town. Sitting on the banks of the Betwa River, Orchha is the perfect antidote to the chaos of India’s cities. Experience a piece of the ‘real’ India, one that will likely change your image of this diverse country. While here, opt to visit a local family for a cooking class and lunch. A typical, small Indian town, Orchha owes its popularity to an architectural heritage bequeathed it, by its history as the oldest and highest in rank of all the Bundela states. Orchha dates back to the 16th century when it was founded by the Bundela chief Rudra Pratap. In the early 17th century, Raja Jujhar Singh rebelled against the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, whose armies devastated the state and occupied Orchha from 1635 to 1641. Orchha was the only Bundela state not subjugated by the Marathas in the 18th century. Hamir Singh, who ruled from 1848 to 1874, was elevated to Maharaja in 1865. Maharaja Pratap Singh (born 1854, died 1930), who succeeded to the throne in 1874, devoted himself entirely to the development of his state, himself designing most of the engineering and irrigation works executed during his reign. In 1901, the state had an area of over 2000 sq. mi, and population of over 300 000, warranted a 15-gun salute, and its Maharajas bore the hereditary title of First of the Princes of Bundelkhand, all hard to believe as you wander the sleepy town as it appears today. Eventually, Vir Singh, Pratap Singh's successor, merged his state with the Union of India on January 1, 1950. With our local guide, we explore some of the many temples and palaces spread along the river and surrounding countryside, including the town’s imposing 17th century fort, Chaturbhuj temple built on a vast platform of stone, and the numerous cenotaphs that dot the landscape. Remember to make time for the evening puja ceremony between 7pm and 8pm - at the Ram Raja Temple. We also visit Tarragram, a unique paper making plant, set up to assist tribal women from the area. All the paper is made from recycled clothing and wood pulp.

  • Days 9-11 Alipura/Khajuraho

    Day 9, Estimate Travel Time: 2.5 Hours (96kms) Day 10, Estimate Travel Time: 3 Hours (184kms) Day 11, Estimate Travel Time: 2 Hours Leaving early we travel today from Orcha along typically rough Indian roads to Alipura a friendly village which will be our base for two days, here you will stay in a heritage property and have time to wander the town and interact with locals. On Day 10 we have a day trip to Khajuraho, one of the most popular tourist destinations in India, Khajuraho is home to India’s largest group of medieval Hindu temples, famous for their erotic sculptures depicting scenes from the Kama Sutra. Only discovered in the 20th century after being reclaimed by jungle, the Khajuraho group of monuments is today protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Khajuraho was once the religious capital of the Chandela Rajputs, a Hindu dynasty that ruled this part of India from the 10th to the 12th centuries. The Khajuraho temples were built over a span of a hundred years, from 950 to 1050, with the whole area enclosed by a wall with eight gates, each flanked by two golden palm trees. There were originally over 80 Hindu temples, of which only 22 now stand in a reasonable state of preservation, scattered over an area of about 21 km² (8 square miles). Learn the history of these world-famous temples on a guided tour and enjoy a taste of a little erotica from the Middle Ages. Optional activities include a nearby seasonal waterfall, evening dance performances and a sound and light show within the temple complex itself. On day 11 we have free time until our drive to the train station where we board our overnight train to Varanasi.

  • Days 12-13 Varanasi

    Day 11 and 12, Overnight train, Estimate Travel Time: 12 Hours This morning we arrive in legendary Varanasi, the quintessential Indian holy city where millions of Hindu travel to for pilgrimage, to worship, to mourn or to die. Walk the narrow twisting alleys, poke around some of the literally thousands of temples and shrines, and experience the energy of the dawn rituals of bathing and burial as you float past the famous ghats of the Ganges. Sitting on the banks of the River Ganges, you can contemplate what it means to be in Varanasi, the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, dating back thousands of years. The culture of Varanasi is deeply associated with the river Ganges and its religious importance; the city has been a cultural and religious centre in northern India for thousands of years. Or wander through the Old City with its maze of narrow alleyways full of small shops and stalls. Perhaps you could visit the monasteries and ruins of nearby Sarnath, the site of Buddha's first sermon. We take boats out onto the sacred Ganges River, both for sunrise and sunset. For the evening boat journey we enjoy a candle flower ceremony. During our stay in Varanasi you will have time to shop, wander and absorb the atmosphere of this unique city, while optional activities include the monasteries and ruins of nearby Sarnath, site of the Buddha's first sermon.

  • Day 14 Varanasi/Delhi

    Free morning in Varanasi to wander the ghats and do some last minute shopping before returning to the colour, noise and excitement of Delhi on an afternoon flight.

  • Day 15 Delhi

    You may depart at any time today.

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