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 late afternoon (approx 17.00) 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. After the meeting we will be heading out for a meal in a nearby local restaurant (optional). Delhi, India's capital is an exciting, busy, sometimes chaotic city and one of the most interesting. With historical sites from different eras, museums and galleries, shops and endless bazaars, there is more to see and do than we can possibly fit in during our short time here. ** Read the Delhi information sheet at reception for some suggestions, but remember we will visit Old Delhi (Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk and Gurudwara SisGanj) on a walking tour on the morning of Day 2. New Delhi 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. But on the other hand, New Delhi is a modern city designed by Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker. Tree covered wide streets with many roundabouts and wonderful gardens are notable in New Delhi. New Delhi is also 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. There are a number of outstanding museums worth visiting including the Craft Museum, National Gallery, 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 of 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!! Or a meal at Lodi Restaurant inside Lodi Gardens is also very enjoyable. And at the other end of the scale there are the many popular roadside eateries where tandoori, naan and rotis (indian breads) or dosas (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.
Early this morning we dive into the heart of India's capital city and explore Old Delhi. We will travel by local bus, metro, cycle or auto rickshaws - whatever is available - this is part of the fun. We visit the famous Jama Masjid (Great Mosque) where you could climb the minaret for a bird's eye view of the old city. We walk through Chandni Chowk, one of India's oldest and busiest markets, and explore the history of the Sikh religion at the important Sikh Gurduwara SisGanj. We will also wander in to the colorful spice market a great photo opportunity before we catch the metro into CP. The Victorian Connaught Place, more commonly known as CP, is one of the most prominent architectural remnants of British rule. After this the day is free to wander on your own, explore the markets and shops of CP 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 upmarket South Delhi. Other options include the ruins of Qutab Minar or the fabulous architecture of Humayun's Tomb, the amazing Craft Museum or huge and rambling National Museum. The Masjid-i-Jahan Numa, commonly known as the Jama 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. Commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and completed in the year 1656 AD, the Jama 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 Quoran 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. Whilst wandering through the lanes of Chandni Chowk we may stop at Paranthewali Gali, a street lined with stalls selling several different types of paranthas (stuffed Indian bread) straight off the tawa (frying pan). Besides the traditional aloo (potato) parantha, there is the unique kaju badam (cashew and almond) parantha. Accompanied by a variety of chutneys and pickles this is certainly going to be a memorable food experience. The spice bazaar in Old Delhi is the biggest spice market in Asia and it teems from dawn till dusk, with shoppers, traders, rickshaws and porters wielding barrowloads of nuts, spices and seeds. Its shops are full of spices, teas, pickles, chutneys, dried fruit and nuts. The giant circle of New Delhi's Connaught Place, more commonly called CP, sitting at the center 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. The market on Janpath came into being when refugees from Pakistan began peddling their wares along this road after Partition. Several decades later, it remains one of Delhi's most colorful markets. In the early evening of Day 2 we transfer to the railway station for our overnight train to Jodhpur (approx 11-12 hrs).
Day 2/3, Overnight train, Estimate Travel Time: 12 Hours Arriving early in the morning, Jodhpur, the second largest city in Rajasthan, is also formerly the seat of a princely state of the same name. A large and varied city, Jodhpur is sometimes called the “Blue City” for its large number of houses painted with this color. At Jodhpur, stark desert landscapes meet a riot of palaces, forts and temples, all enclosed within imposing city walls. Six enormous gates provide entry to the city center and overlooking it all stands the imposing shadow of Meherangarh Fort. We take the short climb to the top of a 125m high hill on the outskirts of the city and arrive at the magnificent Meherangarh Fort, one of the largest forts in India. Originally started around 1459 by Rao Jodha, founder of Jodhpur, most of the extant fort dates from the period of Jaswant Singh (1638-78). The walls of the fort are enormous—up to 36m high and 21m wide. Admire the breathtaking view of the city from the ramparts, saving some time to check out the fort museum, which houses an exquisite collection of palanquins, howdahs, royal cradles, miniatures, musical instruments, costumes and furniture. Experience firsthand the famed gentle nature of the Jodhpur people (well, so they say!) as we wander in and around the Old City with its Clock Tower and Sadar Bazaar, one of the oldest markets in India. Handicrafts and tourism are Jodhpur’s two biggest industries, in that order, so it will come as no surprise that the shopping is superb. Glass bangles, cutlery, carpets and marble products are some of the most popular items; Jodhpur is also famous for its antiques. By some estimates, the furniture export segment is a USD200 million industry, directly or indirectly employing as many as 200,000 people. In the afternoon why not join a local guide for a trip to the outlying Bishnoi tribal villages to experience village life firsthand. Bishnois are followers of a 15th Century sage Jambeshwar, whose creed is contained in 29 (bis noi) principles. They are known for their reverence for wildlife and respect of the environment. Make sure to try a Makhaniya Lassi before you leave Jodhpur — a delicious local treat. And yes, jodhpurs actually do come from Jodhpur.
Estimate Travel Time: 5 Hours (170kms) Travel to the outstanding Jain Temples at Ranakpur. Made of white marble quarried from Makrana, which provided the marble for the Taj Mahal, these temples are architectural marvels. En route stop at the village of Salwas, which is the center of weaving dhurries. Roopraj Dhurry Ydyog is a coop through which all of the profits go to the artisans and we will spend time with some of the artisans to learn about their weaving. Ranakpur is tucked away in a remote valley in the Aravali range and is one of the five most important pilgrimage sites of Jainism. The Temple was built in the 15th Century, during the reign of the liberal and gifted Rajput monarch Rana Kumbha, after whom they get their name. Dharna Sah, a Jain businessman, approached Rana Kumbha when he had the vision of his great temple to ask for the land for its construction. There are four subsidiary shrines, twenty-four pillared halls and domes supported by over four hundred columns. The total number of columns is 1,444 all of which are intricately carved with no two being alike. Two temples dedicated to the Jain saints, Parasnath and Neminath have beautiful erotic carvings. And truly worth visiting is the much earlier, probably 6th century, Sun Temple close by, which has polygonal walls richly embellished with warriors, horses, and booted solar deities driving splendid chariots.
Continuing on to Udaipur, we visit Kumbhalgarh, a stunning fortress built by Rana Kumbha in 15th century. The fort has perimeter walls that extend 36 kilometres in length. Claimed to be the longest in the world after "The Great Wall of China". Over 360 temples are within the fort, 300 ancient Jain and the rest Hindu. The vista from the palace top typically extends tens of kilometers into the Aravalli Range. Udaipur is famous for its lakes and Raj-era palaces. Most famous of these, 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 Lake Pichola. Originally known as the Jag Niwas, the palace took three years to build and was inaugurated in 1746. We will have an orientation walk which will include a visit to the Jagdish Temple, Lake Pichola and the amazing City Palace, one of the largest royal palaces in India, full of unbelievable treasures. One night we attend a Radjasthani Cultural show - at the Bagore-ki-Haveli Folk Museum on Gangaur Ghat. There are plenty of options for your free time, you might want to journey out to the hilltop Monsoon Palace, summer resort of the Maharajas. Sitting atop a hill with a panoramic view of the city’s lakes, it a great place for sunset. The city’s lakes — Pichola, Fateh Sagar, Udai Sagar and Swaroop Sagar — are considered among the most beautiful in Rajasthan. And a boat ride on lake Pichola is a great way to spend a lazy afternoon. If you are interested in learning some of the finer points to Indian cooking and how to the use all of their wonderful spices, why not join in at one of the many cooking demonstrations. Highly recommended is Spice Box, a deliciously fun option.
Estimate Travel Time: 4 Hours (150kms) Set amidst the Aravalli hills, this little garrison fort was once a major principality of the Royal house of Marwar. Bestowed with the title of Rao, the nobles looked after this little fiefdom for about two centuries after its construction in the 18th century. This is rural Rajasthan at its best...undiscovered by most tourists and we explore this small village by foot and get an insight into the life of the people in rural India. Perhaps we will have an impromptu game of cricket with the local children - cricket is the one thing that connects the country! Just outside of Udaipur on the road to Jojawar we stop off at the Eklingji Temple, one of the prime pilgrimage destinations in Rajasthan. This ancient temple is mainly dedicated to Lord Shiva, yet other deities are worshipped here as well. Within the walls of the Eklingji Temple, there are 108 shrines built of marble and sandstone. The main shrine has a double storeyed covered platform, a hall with a number of pillars and a flat pyramidal roof with circular knobs. In this main shrine is a four faced black marble statue of Lord Eklingji with Brahma facing west, Vishnu facing north, Shiva facing south and Surya facing east.
Day 8, Estimate Travel Time: 4-5 Hours (150kms) Travel to Pushkar via Ajmer and over Snake Mountain. Site of the world’s only temple to the Hindu god of creation Brahma, Pushkar is often called "Tirth Raj," the King (Raj) of pilgrim centers. 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. 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 9 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 will be ready to follow local traditions, jump on that camel and head out for our 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 10, Estimate Travel Time: 5-6 Hours (225kms) Travel to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan and the 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 the Amber Fort Palace, one of the most spectacular 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 (Indian!) atmosphere. We discover Jaipur as we walk around the Old City and markets. You may of course choose to explore the City Palace - a complex of buildings, courtyards and gardens. Inside the complex there are exhibitions of royal costumes, armory, miniature paintings and manuscripts. Early on Day 11 we stop to visit Hawa Mahal and then continue on to Amber Fort. Built in 1799, the Hawa Mahal or "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. After our tour of the fort you can visit, the Anokhi Museum which was established by the Anokhi Foundation to ensure the ancient traditions of this wonderful craft of hand printing are maintained. There are so many things to do here in Jaipur you will enjoy the afternoon free on Day 11. You may want to head out to the nearby village of Sanganer to see blue pottery, hand made paper or more 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.
Estimate Travel Time: 4 Hours (180kms) Today we leave Jaipur early in the morning and head out into rural Rajasthan to visit the ancient town of Abhaneri. Abhaneri is a small town village, situated at a distance of 95 km from Jaipur. The place is popular for the amazing 'Baoris' (step wells) and Harshat Mata Temple. The village of Abhaneri is believed to be established by the King Raja Chand. Originally Abhaneri was named as Abha Nagri, which means the city of brightness, but due to mispronunciation of the term, it is changed to the present name. Abhaneri is prominent for 'Baoris', which are the unique invention of the natives for harvesting rain water. Chand Baori is the most popular one. This colossal step well is located in front of the Harshat Mata Temple. Chand Baori is one of India's deepest and largest step wells. Step wells are the unique concept of India. These big tanks were used as cool places of resort and water reservoir in parched days. It was a ritual to wash hands and feet before visiting the temple. Adjoining the Chand Baori, there is a temple, dedicated to Harshat Mata. This temple serves as the other tourist attraction of Abhaneri. Raised during the 10th century, the wrecks of the temple still boast of the architectural and sculptural styles of ancient India. Harshat Mata is considered to be the goddess of joy and happiness. As per the beliefs, the goddess is always cheerful, who imparts her joy and happiness to the whole village. The temple is worth visiting for its amazing architecture and that too, which belongs to the medieval India. Abhaneri has a glorious past and this hoary magnetism of the place, attracts tourists to its threshold, from all over the world. In the afternoon we travel to Bharatpur for our overnight stay and early on morning 13 one can opt to take a rickshaw through the beautiful Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary (Keoladeo Ghana National Park) it is a reserve that offers protection to faunal species as well. Nesting indigenous water- birds as well as migratory water birds and waterside birds, this sanctuary is also inhabited by Sambar, Chital, Nilgai and Boar.
Estimate Travel Time: 2 Hours (60kms) Travelling to Agra we stop at the abandoned Mughal kingdom of Fatehpur Sikri. Walk the aisles of the Jama Masjid mosque, entered by way of the impressive Victory Gate, and lose yourself in the throngs of pilgrims at the tomb of the Sufi saint Salim Chisti, his white marble-encased tomb enclosed within the Jama mosque's central courtyard. 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, 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.
Estimate Travel Time: 5 Hours (210kms) Rising before sunrise (depending on season) to ensure we get the best light, we visit the site of India’s most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal, this white marble masterpiece. 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. We ride one of the ubiquitous cycle rickshaws to visit the Red Fort. This walled palatial city 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, Aurangazeb. 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. In the late morning or early afternoon we return to Delhi, via Sikandra (Akbar's Mausoleum), for one final opportunity to shop, explore or take photographs and share a farewell dinner (optional).
You are free to depart at any time on Day 15, though remember check out from the hotel is 12.00 midday.