Arrive in Delhi at any time. There are no planned activities, so check into to the hotel 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.
First day on our bikes today as we cycle out South West of Delhi to the village of Mehrauli. Mehrauli is predominantly famous for the production of jaggery, or whole cane sugar. However, there is more to this area than just sugar, Mehrauli has been inhabited for more than a millennium. As Delhi has shifted and grown around it, Mehrauli retains some of the faded charm and history from when it was the home of kings. A journey here is the ideal way for us to begin our cycling adventure. Return to Delhi for overnight stop.
We have an early start today to get up and catch our flight across Rajasthan to the lakeside city of Udaipur. 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. Once we arrive the afternoon is free here for you to explore the city. 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.
We get back in the saddle today and follow the scenic road out of Udaipur to the oasis of Jhadol. This is a royal country retreat and the greenery and verdant land is a marked contrast to the surrounding desert. As we cycle along this route we pass villages and fields before we arrive at this green jewel in the desert. Around the lake here we can see a wide variety of birdlife and we might be able to spot these with the help of an expert, or we can just stop and enjoy a relaxing lunch in the shade, looking over the lake before we head back to Udaipur.
Today we drive to Jodpur. its quite a long journey from Udaipur, (approx 6 hours driving), but when we arrive, we have the rest of the day free to see what Jodpur has to offer. 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. Why not take a 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.
This morning we cycle into the countryside visiting tribal hamlets of Bishnois and Prajapats. Bishnois are a strong agrarian community who lives on 29 eco friendly comandments given by their founder. There have been stories where this community have made various sacrifices in saving flora and fauna of the region. Prajapats are weavers who weave small rugs of cotton and also live on animal husbandry. We then head into our first rural stay of Chandelaogarh. The nobles of Chandelaogarh are related to the principality of Jodhpur and have taken extreme steps in developing the village and its community. They started Sundar Rang which is a women cooperative where women of the village and surrounding hamlets are taught and supported in working on the local crafts which are then sold in the markets to get a regular income for these families. The village itself is a mirror of this state, with various communities living in harmony. You take a stroll in the village and its markets to go for a much closer local interaction.
After breakfast this morning we drive to the capital of the state of Rajasthan - Jaipur, a drive of approximately 5 hours. Jaipur is the most colourful of the cities. Known as the Pink city after the rusty colour that the walled city bears - Jaipur is a traveller's destination. With beautiful palaces, forts, gardens, temples and unending market streets. It has everything that the colourful state has to offer. This afternoon is free for you to relax, walk or cycle around the city. Why not stop at the Hawa Mahal (Palace of winds) and visit the City Palace Museum and Jantar Mantar Observatory in the walled city. Jantar Mantar is one of the series of observatory built by Emperor Jai Singh, who was a renowned student of Astrology. Even today astrologers gather here and work out the Hindu Calander every year. The masonry structures are pretty accurate in calculating time, and location of various planets and constellations at a point of time. Jaipur is also the shopping hub of India. Textiles, Gems, Jewellery, Blue Pottery, Carpets, hand made paper- You name it and this city sells it all. Johari Bazaar, Hawa Mahal area and MI Road are the main shopping hubs. Do not forget the thumb rule of shopping in India - Bargain!!!
Located 15km from the city of Jaipur, this morning we cycle out to the 15th century Amber Fort and palaces, which was the earlier capital of the region. Nested in the Aravali ranges, it had a series of forts, frontier, millitary and residential. The city had beaitiful homes of nobles and business families and temples all over. When Jaipur was founded, everybody migrated to the new modern capital. Today a lot has been restored by the Archeological Survey of India. The Mirror Palace and the Jaivilas or the victory palace are the jewels of this beautiful palace. Cycling here we follow the main road, where we will come across all manner of traffic, everything from cows to fully laden lorrys may cross our path, best to be careful!
Today is our next visit to the rural countryside of Rajasthan. Its a long day's ride today, so make sure you have packed a lot of water. We ride out of Jaipur to the village of Sawarda. The village here is very self sufficient, and most of what is provided for the people comes from the village itself. We stay tonight in Sawarda fort, which has been converted to become a homestay for guests. Riding today we will pass through many little villages, and along the way we may be very popular with the local chlldren, who will stop and say hello as we whizz past.
We continue on through the desert cycling between villages today along our cycling journey. Heading northwards, we are on the way to Tordi Garh. This road is usually only accessible by smaller vehicles, so taking this journey by bike is the ideal way to follow the route. Tordi Garh is another small, remote village where we stay in an old palace. We stay here is in a 150 years old residence of former nobles. The present family runs its heritage home. A 300 years old ruined stepwell gives you an input in age old systems of conserving water which have got affected due to massive commercial utilisation of natural resources.After cycling here, we will have time for a walk around this small area, populated by just 2000 people. The locals are very friendly, the children inquisitive, especially if you want to take a picture of them! The village is very pretty, a delightful place to stroll around this afternoon. Keep an eye out for hearts painted onto the doors with names written inside - this is the local custom for a marriage invitiation! The owner will take you around the village for a walk through various temples, residential areas of villagers, community areas, the general market. Evening you can go for sundowners on the dunes as you watch the sun setting over the wilderness.
We travel on to Ranthambore National Park, one of the original Project Tiger Reserves. We will travel through the park with its lakes, scrublands and ruined palaces, as well as abundant wildlife including deer, birds and monkeys. If we are lucky, we may even see one of the resident tigers. Ranthambore gets its name from the two hills, Ran and Thambor. The Park is set between the Aravalli and Vindhya ranges. The terrain is rugged and there are rocky ridges, hills and open valleys with lakes and pools. The park was once the hunting preserve for the Maharajas of Jaipur and many royal hunting parties were held here. The park was included as one of the original Project Tiger parks in 1973. The Park has seen its ups and downs, and there were times, not so long ago, when poachers were having a field day in the Park. The total area of the National Park is 1334 sq km, whilst the inner core of the park takes up nearly 400 sq km. There are at least four non-government organizations that work in and around Ranthambore to ensure the protection of the wildlife and the ecosystem. These are the WWF – India; Ranthambore Foundation; The Centre for Environment Education; and Tiger Watch.
Back on the bikes today as we cycle from Ranthambore to the city of Karauli. This holy city has been established since 1348, and the ruling lords of Karauli are supposed to have descended from Khrishna. As we arrive, we will see the red stone ramparts surrounded the walled city with bastions for security. Till date the city wall boasts of six gates and twelve posterns. The present city palace is the 17th century building with elaborated ornamented stucco work and frescoes.
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 early 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 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 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.
Catch the Taj Mahal at Sunrise before driving back to Delhi. The tour ends in Delhi, and you can depart at any time.