Arrive in Kathmandu at any time, there are no planned activities till the late afternoon, so check into to the hotel (check-in time is 12.00 midday) and enjoy the city. At 16.00pm we will have a group meeting where you will meet your fellow group members, go over the details of your trip. Check the notice board to see where the group meeting will be held. After our group meeting we will have a short orientation walk. Highlights in Kathmandu include world-famous Durbar Square, the King’s Palace, the burning ghats at Pashupatinath and Boudhanath Stupa. But more than almost any city in the world, Kathmandu is fascinating at every turn, and some travellers prefer to just wander, seeing where chance, fate or the city may lead them. Kathmandu. For many, simply the name alone is sufficient to conjure up images of temple pagodas, long-haired saddhus in clouds of hashish smoke and the ever-present Himalayas. Kathmandu is all this and more. Sitting in a bowl-like valley surrounded on all sides by some of the highest mountains on earth, Kathmandu has been a crossroads of cultures since hundreds of years before Christ, a tradition very much alive today. MOUNTAIN FLIGHTS Regular flights are conducted daily from Kathmandu towards the Himalayan Range in the North and East of Kathmandu. The flight generally takes off in the morning and lasts for one full hour. This is the quickest way to get a close look at Mt. Everest, the highest mountains in the world. Other mountains that can be viewed at close range are Nuptse (7879 M), Lhotse (8501 M), Cho Oyu (8000M), Makalu (8475 M) and Kanchenjunga (8584 M).
Today we leave the hustle and bustle of kathmandu and drive to Pokhara (approx 5 hours). Nestled in a tranquil valley at an altitude of 827m, Pokhara is a place of natural beauty. The serenity of Phewa Lake and the magnificence of the fish-tailed summit of Machhapuchhre (6977m) rising behind it create an ambiance of peace and tranquility. Pokhara lies on a once vibrant trade route extending between India and Tibet. To this day, mule trains can be seen camped on the outskirts of the town, bringing goods to trade from remote regions of the Himalaya. The enchanting city has several beautiful lakes and offers stunning panoramic views of Himalayan peaks - creating the ambience that has made it such a popular place to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature. Relax in a café, hire a boat and float around the lake, or shop for Nepali and Tibetan souvenirs in the endless stalls and shops. Clearly the most stunning of Pokhara's sights is the spectacular panorama of the Annapurna range. We travel out to Sarangkot (1592m) only 5 kms north east of Pokhara for a spectacular sunrise of the surrounding mountains (weather permitting). The walk back down to Pokhara is wonderful and takes between 2-2 1/2 hours.
Leaving Pokhara we travel to the UNESCO World Heritage Chitwan National Park (approx 5 -6 hrs). Known as the Terai Tarai ("moist land"), the landscape you travel through today is a belt of marshy grasslands, savannas, and forests at the base of the Himalayas. The Terai zone is composed of alternate layers of clay and sand, with a high water table that creates many springs and wetlands; the zone is inundated yearly by the monsoon-swollen rivers of the Himalaya. The Terai-Duar savanna and grasslands form an eco-region that stretches across the middle of the Terai belt. They are a mosaic of tall grasslands, savannas and evergreen and deciduous forests; the grasslands are among the tallest in the world, fed by silt deposited by the yearly monsoon floods. It is this eco-region that is home to the endangered Indian Rhinoceros, as well as elephants, Bengal tigers, bears, leopards and other wild animals. Much of the region has been converted to farmland, although both Royal Chitwan National Park and Royal Bardia National Park preserve significant sections of habitat, and are home to some of the greatest concentrations of rhinoceros and tiger remaining in South Asia. Royal Chitwan National Park (RCNP), the oldest national park in Nepal. Established in 1973, it became a World Heritage Site in 1984. Within its area of 932km², the Royal Chitwan National Park is home to at least 43 species of mammals, 450 species of birds, and 45 species of amphibians and reptiles including sambars, chitals, rhesus monkeys, and langurs. Until 1950 the Chitwan Valley was a hunting reserve for big game. Happily, today tourists come only to spot wildlife, rather than shoot it, and the park offers some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in Asia. We explore the national park by jeep safari before we are accompanied by our local guide for a half day walk inside the park. There will also be free time to go on a canoe ride or to enjoy a spot of bird watching.
This morning we travel to the great Buddhist pilgrimage center and birthplace of the Buddha, Lumbini.(Driving Time approx 4 - 5 hrs) Lumbini (Sanskrit for "the lovely") is the historical birthplace of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, who lived between approximately 563 and 483 BCE. Lumbini, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is located 25kms east of the municipality of Kapilavastu, the place where the Buddha grew up and lived up to the age of 29.
Today we say goodbye to Nepal and a great big hello to India. India is 15 minutes behind Nepal ! We arrive in the late afternoon into Varanasi (9 - 10 hours driving), the quintessential Indian holy city where millions of Hindu travel, for pilgrimage, to worship, to mourn or to die. Walk the narrow twisting alleys, poke around some of the literally hundreds of temples and shrines, and experience the energy of the dawn rituals of bathing and burnings as you float past the numerous ghats of the River Ganges. The legends, myths and aura surrounding Varanasi led Mark Twain to famously remark. "Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together". 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, its reigning deity Lord Shiva and its religious importance; the city has been a cultural and religious center 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. During our stay 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.
Our overnight train brings us to Jansi (13 hours); we will then transfer by auto rickshaw (tuk tuk) to Orchha (1 hour). We spend our time in Orchha 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. Then you will have free time to hire a bicycle and head out into the countryside, a great opportunity to meet some locals. Or simply relax and stroll along the banks of the river, which is clean enough to swim in (something not to be taken for granted in India!)
Today we travel by train (approx 4 hours) to the Muslim city of Agra, site of India’s most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal. Visit this icon of Mughal architecture either early in the morning or late afternoon for the best light. We ride one of the ubiquitous cycle rickshaws to visit Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. The Taj Mahal was 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 the 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. Time permitting, 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 and was the first Mughal building to be faced with white marble and where ‘pietra dura’, (precious stones inlaid into marble) was first used.
Travel by private van to Jaipur, known as the Pink City (approx 5 hrs). It was first painted terracotta pink by Maharajah Sawai Ram Singh in 1853, to celebrate the visit of Prince Albert. During our stay in Jaipur we visit the Amber Fort clinging to the surrounding hills. We also visit the amazing City Palace with its fine collection of textiles and costumes as well as the Hawa Mahal or Palace of the Winds. This famous building is in fact only an elaborately carved facade built to enable the purdah ladies in the zenana to watch the goings-on in the street below without being seen. There are so many things to do in Jaipur you will enjoy some free time. You may want to head out to the nearby village of Sanganer to see blue pottery, hand made paper or hand block printing. Or you may want to discover more of the wisdom and history of the Mughals by wandering around the Jantar Mantar, an observatory built in the 1700's. Or you may just want to sip a cocktail in any of the luxuriously converted palaces, now operating as 5 star hotels. And of course a visit to a Bollywood film is a must and there is no better place than the spectacular Art Decco film house - the Raj Mandir. Jaipur is one of the most important centers in the world for gems and jewellery and cutting of small diamonds and also a great place to buy block printed textiles, blue pottery and hand made paper. There are many shops selling these items and some wonderful markets in the Old City selling more traditional items such as mojari, Rajathani slippers. If buying gems or jewellery please take caution as there have been several instances of scams where fake jewellery has been passed off as real.
Travel by private van to the nation's historic capital New Delhi (approx 6 hours), the capital of India is one of the most historic capitals in the world and three of its monuments- the Qutab Minar, Red Fort and Humayun's Tomb - have been declared World Heritage Sites. It offers a multitude of interesting places and attractions to the visitor, so much so that it becomes difficult to decide from where to begin exploring the city. In Old Delhi, there are attractions like mosques, forts, markets and other monuments depicting India's Muslim history. New Delhi, on the other hand, is a modern city designed by Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker. Tree covered wide streets with many roundabouts are notable in New Delhi. Home to many government buildings and embassies, as well as Rashtrapati Bhawan, the one-time imperial residence of the British viceroys; India Gate, a memorial raised in honor of the Indian soldiers martyred during the Afghan war. Further out in the southern suburbs you will discover more history including Humayun's Tomb, said to be the forerunner of the Taj Mahal at Agra; the Purana Quila, built by Humayun, with later-day modifications by Sher Shah Suri; Qutab Minar, built by Qutb-ud-din Aybak of the Slave Dynasty; and the incredible lotus-shaped Bahá'í House of Worship. There are a number of outstanding museums worth visiting including the Craft Museum, National Gallery and Birla House (Ghandi Smirti) and Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum. (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. The best of Mughlai cuisine can be enjoyed at Karims, (both in Jama Masjid and Nizamuddin) where recipes, dating from the times o the Mughals have been the closely guarded secret of generations of chefs. The finest Frontier cuisine is available at the Bukhara, recently voted as the best Indian restaurant in the world!! And at the other end of the scale there are the many popular roadside eateries where kebabs, naan and rotis (Indian breads) and dosa (South Indian pancakes) are the order of the day. 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. On day 15 our journey comes to an end and you are free to depart at anytime.