Arrive in Delhi and transfer to the hotel. There will be a notice informing of the time of the introductory group meeting this evening. Here we'll meet our Tour Leader and fellow traveling companions and go over the logistics of the upcoming adventure. Following the meeting we will have our first Indian feast.
In the morning, we will have an orientation walk of Old Delhi, visiting Delhi’s famous Jama Masjid (Great Mosque). We also walk through Chandni Chowk, one of India’s oldest and busiest local markets with is narrow laneways and colorful people it is a reflection of another time and world. We also learn the history of the Sikh religion at the important Gurduwara, which is a Sikh place of worship. In the afternoon we catch the flight to Varanasi. the quintessential Indian holy city, where millions of Hindus travel for pilgrimage, to worship, to mourn or to die. in the afternoon, we take boats out onto the sacred Ganges River at sunset, enjoying a candle and flower ceremony accompanied by sitar and tabla playing, and observe an evening Arti ceremony.
In the morning, we take a sunrise boat trip along the Ganges river. 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 we float past the famous ghats of the Ganges. Sitting on the banks of the River Ganges, we 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 and its religious importance. The city has been a cultural and religious center in northern India for thousands of years. During the day, we visit Sarnath where Lord Buddha preached his first sermon. Nearby we stop at the magnificent Stupas built in the third century by emperor Ashoka and visit the Museum.
Late in the morning we catch our flight to Khajuraho. In the afternoon visit the Western Temples, and take a yoga class. In the evening, enjoy a local Kandariya Dance Show. One of the most popular destinations in India, Khajuraho is home to India’s largest group of medieval Hindu temples. These are famous for their erotic sculptures depicting scenes from the Kama Sutra. Only discovered in the 20th century after being reclaimed by jungle, the Khajuraho group of monuments is today protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Khajuraho was once the religious capital of the Chandela Rajputs, a Hindu dynasty that ruled this part of India from the 10th to the 12th centuries. The Khajuraho temples were built over a span of a hundred years, from 950 to 1050, with the whole area enclosed by a wall with eight gates, each flanked by two golden palm trees. There were originally over 80 Hindu temples, of which only 22 now stand in a reasonable state of preservation, scattered over an area of about 8 sq miles (21 km²). Learn the history of these world-famous temples on a guided tour and enjoy a taste of a little erotica from the Middle Ages. Optional activities include a nearby seasonal waterfall, and a sound and light show within the temple complex itself.
Today we travel by train to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. Traveling by train in India is truly a local experience, a great chance to meet locals and to view the countryside as it unfolds in front of you. The rail network is extensive and relatively inexpensive way for people to travel long distances. Indian Railways has the largest rail network in Asia and the world's second largest under one management, transporting 20 million passengers and more than 2 million tonnes of freight daily. Our train journey terminates in Agra one of the most strategic city of the Mughal Empire. Akbar chose this city on the bank of River Yamuna as his capital and proceeded to build a strong citadel for the purpose.
This morning we visit the Taj Mahal and also the great Red Fort. In the afternoon we proceed onwards to Ranthambore. The Muslim city of Agra is best known as the site of India’s most famous landmark, and testament to love, the Taj Mahal. 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. 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 favorite 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 splendor 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 Red Fort is one of the largest of the fortified residences built at various strategic points of Mughal Empire; it had over five hundred buildings. Most of the buildings added later use marble as the chief construction material. At the time of Akbar, River Yamuna touched the fort and thus, a number of ghats were built here. Some of these ghats were meant to load and unload goods transported through river and other covered passages were for use by the harem inmates only. Shahjahan who was responsible for the building of the Taj was kept captive by his own son Aurangzeb in the Red Fort. He did give his father a room with a view of the Taj Mahal, built by him. In the evening we arrive at Ranthambore, with its 1000 year old fort overlooking the park you will have time to relax and take in your surrondings before heading out on safari on day 7.
We enjoy two safari drives into the park exploring its lakes and scrublands in search of wildlife which can include deer, birds and monkeys. If we are lucky, we may even see one of the resident tigers. We also visit the ruined fort and Ganesh temple, which is frequented by many local people to make an offering. Ranthambore was once the private hunting grounds of the Maharaja of Jaipur and its rich heritage manisfests itself in its many Chatris, forts and and hunting lodges that survive this era and give the park its heritage status. It is one of Rajasthan's last remaining sizeable areas of forest and savannah, that were once part of the great jungles covering central India. The park has a magnificent diversity of flora and fauna, with over 250 species of birds, 30 species of mammals including the majestic Royal Bengal tiger and 12 species of reptiles. In the park there are 36 Tigers and during our safaris in the sanctuary we will be on the look out for these beautiful but aloof creatures. Apart from the tiger, you can also observe Sloth Bear, Wild Boar, Chinkara, Porcupines and Jackals, Leopard, Jungle Cat, Marsh Crocodile, Sambhar, Chital, Nilgai, Gazzelle, Boars, Mongoose, Indian Hare, Monitor Lizards and a large number of birds. Most of these wild animals can be spotted near the lakes and water holes during the evening.
Today after a leisurely breakfast we travel to India's Pink City of Jaipur. Founded in 1728, Jaipur, or The Pink City as it is often called, is unlike any other pre-modern Indian city. 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. The results of this urban planning have so endured to this day, present day population approximately 3 million, is nothing short of miraculous.
Today we explore the city of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, with visits to the City Palace, Palace of the Winds and impressive Amber Fort. Enter the heart of the mandala, on foot or by cycle-rickshaw, and we 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. We also 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.
This morning we drive to the village of Jojawar where we check into our historic, heritage hotel. The hotel was built in the 18th century and has played host to many elite people during the British Raj. 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. Our stay here offers an opportunity to meet with locals provides fascinating insight into rural village life in India, get into the wilderness of the countryside and also take a chance of taking an exciting local train safari through the Aravali Hill ranges.
We continue on to Udaipur, famous for its lakes and Raj-era palaces. Most famous of these, and certainly the most photographed, is the Lake Palace. The Lake Palace is 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 do a city walk during which we include a visit to the City Palace There are plenty of options for our free time, such as a 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 viewing. The city’s lakes — Pichola, Fateh Sagar, Udai Sagar and Swaroop Sagar — are considered among the most beautiful in Rajasthan. A boat ride on lake Pichola is a great way to spend a lazy afternoon.
Today we tour the amazing City Palace, one of the largest royal palaces in India, full of unbelievable treasures. We also visit Jagdish Temple, built in 1651 AD, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the universe.
We take an afternoon flight back to Delhi where our only obligation is to relax over a final delicious meal.