Arrive in Delhi at any time. There are no planned activities, so check into to the hotel and enjoy the city. In the late afternoon 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. If you arrive early wander through the heart of India's capital city and explore Old and New Delhi. Travel by the new metro or auto rickshaws and visit the famous Jama Masjid (Great Mosque) where you could climb the minaret for a bird's eye view of the old city. Explore Chandni Chowk, one of India's oldest and busiest markets or head to the colorful spice market a great photo opportunity. From Old Delhi it's easy to get to Connaught Place, more commonly known as CP, one of the most prominent architectural remnants of British rule, by the metro (station at CP is called Rajiv Chowk). In CP wander the markets and shops 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 nearby upmarket South Delhi. Other options include the ruins of Qutab Minar, the fabulous architecture of Humayun's Tomb, the beautifully lotus shaped Bahai Temple (closed Monday), or the stunning Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple carved out of pink sandstone and white marble. The amazing Craft Museum or the huge and rambling National Museum are also worth a visit. (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. 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.
Estimated Travel Time: 2 Hours Travel by early morning train to the Muslim city of Agra. 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 no visit is complete without at least one train trip. 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 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 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 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.
Estimated Travel Time: 6 Hours Today we take a bus ride—always an adventure itself in India— to the capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur, 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 Amber Fort Palace, 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 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. 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.
Dive into rural life visiting potters, cobblers and markets. Take a camel cart ride to the dunes for sunset, head for a hike in the hills or make bangles and try henna paint with the local women.
Estimated Travel Time: 4 Hours 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 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. After settling into our accommodation, 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 7 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 might be ready to follow local traditions, and jump on a camel and head out for a 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.
Estimated Travel Time: 7-8 Hours Continuing southwards to the Udaipur, famous worldwide for its plethora of breathtaking lakes and Raj-era palaces, it certainly lives up to its reputation as India's most romantic city. Most famous of these palaces, 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. If you can pull yourself away from the shopping, there many points of interest, such as the Jagdish Temple, Saheliyon-ki-Bari (the Garden of Maidens) and City Palace with its museums, crystal gallery and wealth of royal treasures to explore. Alternatively Udaipur's famous Lake Pichola is a serene place to enjoy a boat ride and if you are gastronomically inclined, there is plenty of time to learn the art of Indian cooking at Spice Box. Maybe visit a craft village and a folk museum or take in a fantastic cultural show at the Bagore-ki-Haveli - you might even get up and join in the dancing! Journey out to the hilltop Monsoon Palace for sunset or you can spend lazy afternoons just taking in the views from the rooftop cafes over hot, sweet chai. For the really adventurous head out to the nearby temple town of Nathdwara (approx 50kms) which enshrines Shrinathji - an image of Krishna, which was originally enshrined at the Vraja Bhoomi at Mount Govardhana near Mathura. The name Nathdwara means 'Gate of the Lord'. Or hire a car and head to Kumbhal Garh Fort built in the 15th century and the nearby Jain Temples at Ranakpur.
Visit Mahatama Gandhi's ashram in Ahmedabad, national monument and site of a museum. Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, forms the world's fifth most populous metropolitan area when combined with its suburbs, a total population of about 20 million. The city has a deep natural harbour and the port handles over half of India's passenger traffic and a significant amount of cargo. Mumbai is the commercial and entertainment capital of India, and home to the world-famous Hindi-language film industry, Bollywood. Rise at dawn to watch the morning ritual at the Sassoon Docks, South Mumbai’s main fish loading and trading centre. Shoot a picture of the Gateway to India, facing westward out to sea, and stop in for a cup of tea at the famous Taj hotel next door. From here boats leave for Elephanta Island (also called Gharapuri Island or place of caves), famous for is cave temples caved straight from the rock. People-watch on Chowpatty Beach or visit Crawford Market, one of South Mumbai's most famous markets. Try some of the many local specialties at one of Mumbai’s many top-notch restaurants, or go out on the town and sample the city’s famed nightlife firsthand.
In the afternoon of Day 13 we fly from Mumbai to Goa, on arrival we transfer to our beach accommodation. Portuguese merchants first landed in Goa in the 15th century, and annexed it soon after. The Portuguese overseas territory (not technically a colony), existed for about 450 years, until it was captured by India in 1961. Goan cuisine is unique and recognized throughout India and the world for its fiery punch and strong coastal and Portuguese influences Relax on a beach, visit the many Portuguese-built monuments, wander around the old churches of Old Goa (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and discover Panjim, the capital. And eat as much of the incredible Goan food as you can - it's your last chance!
Depart at any time.