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 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.
In the early morning we dive into the heart of India’s capital to explore both Old Delhi with a walk through the city with a young adult from the Planeterra-supported New Delhi Streetkids Project. Visit the famous Jama Masjid and climb the minaret for a bird’s eye view of the old city. Watch (and smell) the activity at the spice market, walk through Chandni Chowk, one of India’s oldest and busiest markets, and learn the history of the Sikh religion at the important Gurudwara. Travel by the swish new metro, (Delhi and India's proud jump into the 21st century transportation network) into Connaught Place, the centre of New Delhi, one of the most prominent architectural remnants of British rule. 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. In mid afternoon we head to the train station to board our overnight train. The Masjid-i-Jahan Numa, commonly known as the Jama Masjid (Great Mosque) 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 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 Qur'an written on deer skin. The Sikh holy site of Gurudwara 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.
Day 2/3: Overnight train Estimated Travel time: 14 Hours Day 3 : Drive from Katni We arrive at Katni Railway station early in the morning and drive to Bandhavgarh National Park Here we enter the realm of one of India’s most enduring symbols, the tiger. One of the few habitats remaining for wild tigers in India (and indeed, the world), Bandhavgarh was created in 1955 as part of Project Tiger, a wildlife conservation project designed to protect Royal Bengal Tigers from extinction. Spending two days in and around Bandhavgarh, we will have opportunities to enter the park by jeep. Bandhavgarh is home to 22 species of mammals and 300 species of birds. Although the tigers are notoriously elusive, more commonly observed mammals include the Common Grey Langur, Wild Boar, Chital, Chousingha, Sambar and Barasingha or Swamp Deer. Barasingha are severely endangered, and live only here in Bandhavgarh; there are only 1200 surviving in the wild, a number that dipped as low as 60 before measures were taken to prevent extinction. By comparison, the latest estimates of the tiger population hover around 130. Other animals living in the park include leopards, the Sloth Bear, Indian wild dog, and the very rare Indian wolf. We will have two Safari drives inside the park. Additional Safaris are available to enhance your experience. On Day 5 we take the overnight train to Ranthambore National Park.
Day 5/6 Overnight train Estimated Travel time: 12 hours 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.
Estimated Travel time: 3 hours This morning we drive to the heart of Rajasthan, a small village with rich natural surroundings and culture. With a ruined fortress atop a hill, simple but elegant temples in the village and the surroundings, dunes, an irrigation water reserve. Your stay here is in a 150 years old residence of former nobles. The present family runs its heritagehome. 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. 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.
Early morning you can walk up the hillock for a sunrise. Later we take a walking tour of the village with the hosts before driving to Jaipur (2 hours). 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 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. During our time in Jaipur you may also wish to include a visit to the Jantar Mantar, or Royal Observatory. The term Jantar Mantar actually refers to a collection of architectural astronomical instruments built between 1727 and 1733 by Maharaja Jai Singh II at his then-new capital of Jaipur. It is modelled after the one that he had built for him at the then Mughal capital of Delhi. He had constructed a total of five such observatories at different locations, including the ones at Delhi and Jaipur; the Jaipur observatory is the largest of these. Another great option is to see a Bollywood film in India it is much, much more than what we are accustomed to in the west. The atmosphere, energy and pure fun (not to mention volume!) has to be experienced to be believed. The Raj Mandir Movie Theatre is widely acclaimed as the largest cinema hall in Rajasthan, and one of the best in the country. The exterior is adorned with asymmetrical curves and shapes with stars, illuminated by hidden lights at night. The reception has a number of glittering chandeliers hanging in domes from the ceiling. The auditorium is spectacularly decorated with indirect lighting of changing colors hidden behind the plaster troughs of walls and ceilings. Even if you do not understand the language of the film screened, you will be entertained anyway by the emotions involved in the movie and of course the crowd..
Estimated travel time: 4 Hours Our journey takes us today to Bharatpur, home to the World Heritage Keoladeo Ghana National Park, world-famous as a bird paradise. Originally used by the Maharajah of Bharatpur and his guests for duck shooting, the Sanctuary now has more than 400 species of local and migratory birds in this small park of only 29 sq kms. Cycle-rickshaws ridden by local amateur ornithologists take us into the peace and quiet of the park. Keoladeo, actually gets its name from an ancient Hindu temple, devoted to Lord Shiva, which stands at the centre of the park. Between October and February wintering wildfowl assemble in thousands on the lakes. Other birds spotted include heron, egret, stork, and spoonbill. Many migratory birds arrive every year and the most sought after are the almost extinct Siberian Cranes. Over the past couple of years, the monsoon rains have not been good and the number of migratory birds visiting has reduced.
Estimated travel time: 2 hours 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.
Day 13: Estimated travel time 6 hours by bus Catch the Taj Mahal at Sunrise. You are free to explore the town today, you could visit the Baby Taj or Etmad Ud Daulah, the first monument where Peitra Dura was used. The day ends with a bus ride to Delhi.
Today is the final day of the trip, check-out of our hotel is at noon. Feel free to explore some hidden monuments of Delhi before you head home!