Arrive in Delhi at any time, pickup and transfer to your hotel included. 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 or ask reception where and what time the group meeting will be held.
Visit old Delhi including Jama Masjid Mosque, Chandni Chowk local market and Gurduwara Sikh Temple. Afternoon drive to the city of Agra. Dive into the heart of India’s capital to explore Old and New Delhi. 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 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. Estimated travel time (5 hours)
Visit the highlights of Agra including the Taj Mahal, Baby Taj and Agra Fort. The walled city of Agra 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. 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 Mumtz Mahal. Mumtz 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.
Drive to Jaipur, visiting Fathpur Sikri and the Abhaneri stepwells (tank gardens) en route. En route to Jaipur we stop for an hour at the deserted Mughal city of Fatehpur Sikri. Built by Mughal ruler Akbar, the great, this fort truly exemplifies the Indian essence of religious diversity but cultural semblance of the different faith in a variety of monuments like the Diwan- E-Khas, Panch Mahal, the astrologers seat, different palaces of the queens and the holy shrine of Sufi Saint with its massive entrance - Buland Darwaza. We also stop at the village of Abhaneri which has one of India's deepest and largest step wells (tank gardens). Step wells are fairly unique to India and they were commonly used as cool places to rest, as pools for ritual cleansing prior to a temple visit and as a water supply and for irrigation during dry weather. Arrive at Jaipur by the evening. 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. Approx. drive time: 5 hours
Explore the 'Pink City' of Jaipur including the Amber Fort, City Palace and Hawa Mahal. Option to visit local markets and catch a Bollywood film. 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, and there is even the option of an elephant ride from the town up to the palace courtyard. 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. On the evening of day 5 you might want to treat yourself to a night at the cinema. Going to see a Bollywood film in India 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.
Drive to the rural village of Sawarda where we stay in a heritage home. Exploring this traditional village is like stepping back in time. Enjoy a walk in the village and join a family prayer session. The village is about 60 Kms from Jaipur and has a very interesting tone to it. It has beautiful temples dedicated to different religions and also has a unique sikh temple here. The residents of the village are still involved in age old commercial activities. You can see Bulls being used for taking out oil, potters on potter wheel, old gold and silver smiths, cobblers, very traditional huts visit old temples, small stepwells etc. Activities can include a tractor safari, Jeep safari or walk in the village with the owners son. You can also join the family in the Aarti (Evening prayer with the family), sundowners on the sunset terrace or at their ochard and dine in the restored dining hall. Our accommodation is a 17th century rural fort restored. Amongst other things this family run place also provides drinking water at nominal cost to the villagers and is a big relief during famines. With frescoed rooms, and a series of terraces and courtyards, it has ample amount of areas to relax, unwind and take the heritage character of the place in.
Drive back to Delhi for our final evening.
Transfer to the airport and fly to Kochi. This evening, we have a welcome meeting where we meet any new travellers joining our adventure, then enjoy a kathakali show, which combines literature, music, painting, acting and dance. **Note - your CEO may be different in the south than in the north, in which case you will be transferred to the airport in Delhi and take your flight (on your own or with other travellers who are continuing onto the south tour). Your day is at leisure until the welcome meeting). After the meeting, we attend the popular classical dance-drama of Kerala "Kathakali". This dramatized presentation of a play usually based on the Hindu epics of Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas, has a unique combination of literature, music, painting, acting and dance. This dance drama is famous for amazing costumes, very extensive makeup, and explosive body movement and is performed exclusively by men. 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), Jewish 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.
After breakfast we explore the old part of Fort Cochin and Mattancherry. Here you visit Dutch Palace which was built by the Portuguese and presented to the Cochin King in the 16th century and the St. Francis Church, the oldest European church in India, Santa Cruz Basilica - built by Portuguese in the 16th century, the fishing market and the famous Chinese fishing net - believed having been brought by trader from Kubla Khan's court in China. We then travel to Kumarakom, set in the backdrop of the Vembanad Lake which is the largest freshwater lake in the state of Kerala.
This morning we travel to Allepey, a golden streak of land surrounded by rivers, lakes, lagoons and canals and 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. On arrival we board our private House boat that takes us through the backwaters of canals, lakes and coves. You can sunbathe on the deck and enjoy the scenery. Daily life takes place here on the water, people sail, fish, swim and bathe here. They are so adapted to the water that you can see people talking for an hour, while they are up to their necks in water. Peddlers take care of the supplies and all public transport is by water. The trip goes through a wonderful area full of water birds, palm trees, rice fields and floating water plants that surround the boat like emerald Green Island.
Disembark from the houseboat and drive to Marari Beach in Kerala, considered to be one of the most charming fishing Villages on the whole Indian subcontinent. Life in Marari goes on as it did hundreds of years ago, unperturbed by the worldly commotion and it offers endless miles of beaches kissed by the sun and fanned by swaying palms.
Travel back to Kochi for our final evening.
Depart at any time.