India on a Shoestring
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 Chief Experience Officer (CEO) and 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. At the meeting your CEO will ask to sight your travel insurance, After your meeting you may head out for an optional group dinner. Our hotel is located in the commercial centre of Karol Bagh, about 10 minutes Metro ride from the city centre and 20 minutes from Old Delhi.
Day 2 Delhi
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. Afterwards, an orientation walk takes you through Chandni Chowk, one of India’s oldest and busiest markets, or explore the history of the Sikh religion at the important Gurduwara, (Sikh place of worship), Gurdwara SisGanj. Stop for photos at the colourful spice market or visit the Victorian Connaught Place, one of the most prominent architectural remnants of British rule. The afternoon is free to wander on your own, take a cycle rickshaw trip or visit the Gandhi museum, built on the site of his assassination, to learn more about one of India’s most famous sons. Other options include the ruins of Qutb Minar and Purana Qila, a crafts museum and the Indira Gandhi Museum or perhaps you would like to get a bird's eye view of Delhi’s from the Minaret of the famous Jama Masjid. 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 (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. 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. Late in the evening of Day 2 transfer to the train station for overnight sleeper train to Bikaner. Approx travel time: Overnight Train ride 8 hours.
Day 3-4 Bikaner (1B,1L,1D)
We arrive early in the morning and reach our hotel. We have a couple of rooms to freshen up and change and you can have your breakfast before we leave for our desert adventure. Bikaner is a semi arid part of the Thar desert with sandy dunes and scatterred villages. In recent years due to Canal network the topography of the region has changed quite a bit, but you can still see the harsh realities of the desert here. We drive down in local jeeps to a village called Raisar from where we take our camels and ride into the desert We ride for a couple of hours through villages and fields to our lunch point at a shady area. After lunch, rest as the sun would be a little strong. Later take your camels again and ride for another 2-3 hours till you reach a point over the dunes. After witnessing a stunning sunset we climb down to where our tents are being pitched. You can pitch in with the cameleers and local villagers in pitching your tents, collecting dry twigs and organising yourselves. Relish your evening with a simple but delicious meal. Your accomodation would be alpine safari tents with bedding. On the 4th morning you could walk up the dunes again for the sunrise. After breakfast ride camel carts back to the road head. Bikaner is a 500 years old principality founded by Rao Bika. The place is still a very laid back town and devoid of tourist vibes. The city is known as the city of camels and you can find this mode of transport in abundance, primarily used for carrying goods here. You can visit the e National Research Centre for Camels if you want to learn it more. Junagarh Fort is the focal point of the city. Built by the 5th ruler Raja Rai Singh in 16th century, the fort served as residential palace for most of the rulers. The walled city with beautiful havelis in red sand stone and some very interesting temples and bye lanes where time still stands still. Your CEO will give you an orientation of the Old City and the markets. Approx travel time: 30 minutes to start point Camel safari: 6-7 hours with rests in between.
Day 5-6 Jaisalmer
Arrive into Jaisalmer around midday (although remember, this is Indian Time!), with the last leg of the journey travelling through the stark landscape of the Thar Desert. Transfer to our hotel and then the balance of the day is free to rest after the long journey or explore the city at your leisure. Jaisalmer, known as The Golden City, stands on a ridge of yellowish sandstone, in the heart of the Thar Desert. Crowned by a fort containing the palace and several ornate Jain temples, Jaisalmer was positioned strategically and was a halting point along a traditional trade route traversed by the camel caravans of Indian and Asian merchants. The route linked India to Central Asia, Egypt, Arabia, Persia, Africa and the West. The fortified city is best explored on your own. Just wander through the lanes of the walled city and the town inside the fort. Houses, temples, Havelis, each reflect a very characteristic very different from other regions of the state. Do not forget to watch the setting sun's reflection on the fort from any of the vantage points. Our accommodation here is next to the walled city. Rooms are double or twin-share with air-conditioning and ensuite bathroom. Approx travel time: By train 5 hours 30 minutes. It is a local day train which cuts accross the desert landscape so be prepared for lots of dust!
Day 7 Jodhpur
Travel eastwards to the centrally located metropolis of Jodhpur, the second largest city in Rajasthan, and formerly the seat of a princely state of the same name. A large and varied city, Jodhpur is sometimes called “Sun City” for its consistently bright, sunny climate. 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 centre: Nagauri, Merati, Sojati, Jalori and Siwanchi gates, plus Chand pol. Overlooking it all stands the imposing shadow of Meherangarh Fort You can make the short climb to the top of a 125m high hill on the outskirts of the city and you arrive at the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort (Jodhpur ka kila), 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!) in the ancient 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. You also have the option of Joining a local guide for a trip to the outlying Bishnoi tribal villages to experience village life firsthand, and make sure to try a Makhaniya Lassi before you leave Jodhpur—a delicious local treat. And yes, jodhpurs actually do come from Jodhpur. Our hotel here is a small guest house run by a local family. All rooms are double or twin share with air-conditioning and ensuite bathroom. Approx travel time Jaisalmer to Jodhpur is 6 hours by public bus. The bus will stop for a break enroute. These buses are used by local people and can get croweded at times but we will have our seats pre reserved.
Day 8-9 Udaipur
Continue your journey southeast to Udaipur, famous worldwide for its plethora of breathtaking 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 Pichola Lake. Originally known as the Jag Niwas, the palace took three years to build and was inaugurated in 1746. The city’s lakes—Pichola Lake, Fateh Sagar, Udai Sagar and Swaroop Sagar—are considered among the most beautiful in Rajasthan. An island in Fateh Sagar is even home to the Udaipur Solar Observatory, one of six stations participating in the international Global Oscillations Network Group (GONG), which studies the physical properties of the solar interior. Relive life as royalty at Sajjangarh Fort, also known as Monsoon Palace, summer resort of the Maharajas. Sitting atop a hill with a panoramic view of the city’s lakes, the palace was equipped with an ingenious rainwater collection system, essential in the dry desert conditions of the region. Indeed, recent drought has sadly put an end to the once popular boat rides on Lake Pichola. Other options include a visit to the Jagdish Temple, the Bharatiya Lok Kala Mandir folk museum, Saheliyon-ki-Bari (the Garden of Maidens) and the City Palace and Museum. Our hotel is located inside the walled city and barely 15-20 minutes walk from the city centre. The hotel has air-conditioned double or twin rooms with ensuite washrooms. Approx travel time: Jodhpur to Udaipur by public bus takes about 7 hours. The bus is a public bus and can get crowded at times.
Day 10-11 Pushkar
This morning travel to Ajmer and change to a local bus for the 14 km drive over Snake Mountain to Pushkar. Site of the world’s only temple to the Hindu god of creation Brahma, Pushkar is often called "Tirth Raj," the Raj (king) of pilgrim centres. 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 Camel Fair. The Pushkar Fair, or Pushkar ka Mela, 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 Kartik Purnima (night of the full moon), the day, according to legend, which the Hindu god Brahma sprung up the lake. Follow local traditions and try out a camel ride in the desert, or wander the markets of this holy Hindu centre on foot or by bicycle. Climb to hilltop Savitri temple at dawn. Immerse yourself in the holy side of this sacred city and visit the 14th century Brahama temple and holy Lake Pushkar. Or, pick a more secular pleasure and take a cooking class or visit the market. 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. Our hotel is walking distance from the Bramha sarover and the temple and is a basic resort with swimming pool. The rooms are air-conditioned with ensuite bathroom. Approx Travel time: Udaipur to Ajmer train takes about 7 hours. We change buses at Ajmer. From Ajmer to Pushkar is a half an hour local bus drive.
Day 12-13 Jaipur
Travel to the capital of Rajasthan and, like Jodhpur, also 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 sandstone and marble Jaigarh fort, one of the most spectacular forts 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 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 "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. Enjoy an included guided tour of the Amber Fort. 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. There are elephants ferrying tourists up and down but we do nor recommend this mode of transport as they are treated very shoddily and work in extreme conditions. Our hotel in Jaipur is a quaint guest house run by a local family who love hosting and spending time with their guests. It is about 5 minutes tuk tuk ride and about 15 minutes cycle rickshaw ride from city centre. Approx travel time: Pushkar to Ajmer is half an hour ride. Ajmer to Jaipur is about 130 kms/ and 3 hours in a public bus.
Day 14-15 Agra
Continue this morning to the Muslim city of Agra. Agra is best known as the site of India’s most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal. Enjoy a guided visit to 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, the Taj’s less famous—but no less impressive—sister monument. 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 palatial 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. Our hotel in Agra is a simple hotel with proximity to Taj and Fort. All rooms are double or twin share with ensuite bathroom. Late in the evening we transfer to Agra Station or Tundla Station (about 25 kms from Agra) for overnight train to Varanasi. Approx travel time: Jaipur to Agra, the journey is about 5 hours. and Agra to varanasi - 13 hours overnight train ride.
Day 16-18 Varanasi
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 Ganges River, Varanasi is 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. Our days here allow you the freedom 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. Or spend an evening, floating along the ghats, soaking up the magical atmosphere of a candle flower ceremony as you watch the sun set to a delicate melody of traditional live sitar and tabla playing. 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. In the afternoon on Day 18 we travel to the railway station for our final journey - our return to Delhi by overnight train. Indian Railways, the world’s largest employer with 1.6 million employees, can certainly be counted as one of the marvels of modern India, and there is no better way to finish this trip than. Our last chance to experience this most Indian of transport, a microcosm of India itself. Our hotel in Varanasi is located in the city centre. Rooms are airconditioned on double or twin share basis with ensuite washrooms. Approx travel time: Varanasi - Delhi overnight train is about 12 hours. It is not uncommon for trains in India to get delayed, especially in winters.
Day 19 Delhi
Day 18/19 - Overnight train, Estimate Travel Time: 13 Hours Arrive back in the capital of India. The day is yours to explore the temples, markets and museums in this fast-paced amazing city.
Day 20 Delhi
Depart at any time