Arrive in Delhi at any time, pickup and transfer to your hotel included. 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 or ask reception where and what time the group meeting will be held.
Estimated travel time (5 hours) Dive into the heart of India’s capital to explore Old and New Delhi. Visit Delhi’s famous Jama Masjid (Great Mosque) and climb the minaret for a bird’s eye view of the old city. Walk through Chandni Chowk, one of India’s oldest and busiest markets, and learn the history of the Sikh religion at Gurduwara, (Sikh place of worship). Stop for photos at the colourful spice market before finishing at Connaught Place, one of the most prominent architectural remnants of British rule. The Masjid-i-Jahan Numa, commonly known as the Jama or Jarna 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 people. 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. 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 of Guru Tegh Bahadur was recovered by Bhai Jaita, another disciple, 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. In the afternoon of Day 2 we drive to the city of Agra, best known as the site of India’s most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal. We visit this icon of Mughal architecture at sunrise of day 3. The walled city of Agra 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
At Sunrise get ready for a renzdevous with theTaj. 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. After breakfast we visit the fort before heading for Jaipur. En route to Jaipur we stop for an hour at the deserted Mughal city of Fatehpur Sikri. Built by Mughal ruler Akbar, the great, this fort truly exemplifies the Indian essence of religious diversity but cultural semblance of the different faith in a variety of monuments like the Diwan- E-Khas, Panch Mahal, the astrologers seat, different palaces of the queens and the holy shrine of Sufi Saint with its massive entrance - Buland Darwaza. Arrive at Jaipur by the evening. 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.
On Day 4 we 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. 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. On the evening of day 4 you might want to treat yourself to a night at the cinema. Going to see a Bollywood film in India 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.
Estimated travel time 7 hour (399 kms) Drive to Udaipur. Visit Chittorgarh Fort en route. Chittorgarh is one of the most fascinating of all the forts of Rajasthan. Perched on a hill top, this fort although in ruins reflects memoirs of battles, sieges, sacrifices, regal conspiracies and leaves every visitor spellbound with its magical history.
Udaipur is 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 Lake Pichola. Originally known as the Jag Niwas, the palace took three years to build and was inaugurated in 1746. The city’s lakes—Pichola, 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. We will visit Udaipur's City Palace which stands on the east bank of Lake Pichola, a massive series of palaces built at different times from 1559. The balconies of the palace provide panoramic views of "Jag Niwas" (the Lake Palace Hotel), Jag Mandir on one side and on the other the city of Udaipur. Its main entrance is through the triple-arched gate - the Tripolia, built in 1725. The way now leads to a series of courtyards, overlapping parations, terraces, corridors and gardens. There is a Suraj Gokhda, where the maharanas of Mewar presented themselves in the times of trouble to the people to restore confidence. The Mor-chowk (Peacock courtyard), gets its name from the mosaics in glass decorating its walls. The chini chitrashala is noteworthy while a series of wall paintings of Krishna are on display in Bhim Vilas. There are numerous other palaces such as Dilkhush mahal, Sheesh mahal, Moti mahal and Krishna vilas - in memory of a princess of striking beauty who poisoned herself to avert a bloody battle for her hand by rival princes. Now the palace contains many antique articles, paintings, decorative furniture and utensils and attracts thousands of visitors every day. The former guesthouse of the city palace, Shiv Niwas and the Fateh Prakash Palace have been converted into heritage hotels. During our time in the "City of the lakes" you have many options why not 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).
Ahmedabad, the city of Ahmed Shah (Medieval ruler of Gujarat), is known for its rich past and its association with the Mahatma (Great Soul), also known as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The city offers the traveler a unique style of architecture, which is a blend of Hindu and Islamic styles (Indo-Saracenic style of architecture). The monuments of Ahmedabad mainly date back to the 15th century. Ahmedabad has been known for its industry since medieval times. Presently it is famous for its textile mills and is often referred to as the 'Manchester of the East'. Here we take a tour of the Gandhi Ashram, the stunning Akshardham Temple and the Adlaj Stepwells. Gandhi Ashram was not only a living abode of Mahatama Gandhi, the father of Indian nation, but was also the place from where he initiated non-violent movements, a rejuvenation of hand woven clothes and experiments with ways of living. Akshardham temple, built by Swaminarayan sect is an architecture marvel exemplifying the ancient Indian architecure with only bricks, mortar and stones built by 900 craftsmen using their wide range of sculpting, carving and masonry skills. Adlaj stepwells, the five storyed well, was built in the 15th century and served not only as a water reserve but also as a Serai (Inn) for all the travellers and businessmen.
Estimated travel time 6 1/2 hours We continue our journey to one of the most beautiful towns of Gujarat - Bhuj. Bhuj is an ancient walled city. Rich in heritage and culture, this city was devastated in a recent Earthquake. Historically it used be a trading hub from travellers from different civilizations of the world. You can easily see the remnants of various stages of Indian history in its architecture, from the Indus Valley Civilization to the Britus Raj. You can easily get lost for hours in this intricate maze of streets and alleyways dotted with beautiful palaces, carved wooden pavilions and beautifully decorated Hindu Temples. In a walk of Bhuj, we visit the stunning Aina Mahal (Hall of Mirrors). We also do a textile tour of hamlets. Here we visit in the hamlets some interesting government supported community centres and see some very unique crafts like the Rogan Art which came from Persia and is practiced by members of a small number of families in this region. The other craft-style is single stitch or Ikkat or single stitch weaving and this embroidery is unique to this region. Option to visit the Aina Mahal; built in the 18th century by a master craftsmen. He is said to have personally crafted the various intricate objects, the fountains, mirrors, a pendulum clock depicting Hindu calendar and doors inlaid with ivory and gold. The Prag Mahal was a later addition and you can see the extraordinary french influence in its architecture. Inside the palace you can visit the palatial durbar hall and climb the staircase of the 45 Mt. Bell tower.
Estimated Travel time 6 hours Little Rann of Kutch is a very unique geographical feature in the world; a salt marsh which is located near the Great Rann of Kutch in Kutch district, Gujarat, India. A variety of avian migrate to this region and it is home to the rare Indian wild ass who find refuge in the area which has been declared a wildlife sanctuary. There are aaprox 107 village around the Sanctuary where villagers survive on salt panning, weaving and embroidery and animal husbandry. The aridness of the region brings the contrasting colours to these villages and their inhabitants and this is evident in their unique dress, ornaments, turbans, food and festivals. Here we take a safari into the wild ass sanctuary in search of the rare Indian wild ass. We also may see other wildlife including the Indian blackbuck and other antelopes, gazelles, the endangered Indian wolf, foxes, jackals, desert and jungle cats, hyenas, hares and hedgehogs. It is also a great place to meet local villagers, better understanding their culture and unique lifestyle. Most of the tribal hamlets of Rabbaris, Bharwada, Jats and other communities are involved in embroidery, tie dye, block printing, and pottery which are a hot ticket item in the tourism hubs in north India. During our 2 nights here our accommodation at Rann of Kutch is at a desert resort/camp with unique cottages in the form of traditional Kooba huts made of local stones and grass. Inside they have been made quite comfortable with air conditioning and ensuite bathroom.
Estimated drive time 3 hours We drive to Ahmedabad Airport from where we take a connecting flight to Aurangabad via Mumbai. The gateway to the World Heritage Sites of Ajanta and Ellora, Aurangabad is named after the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb. Lying along the right bank of the Kham River, the city is the district headquarters of the region. On Day 12 we visit the UNESCO World Heritage monument - The Ellora Caves. With its sequence of monuments dating from 600 AD to 1000 AD, Ellora Caves bring the ancient Indian Civilization to life. There are 34 caves carved with monasteries and temples dedicated to Buddhist, Hindu and Jain religions. With pillars, halls, wall carvings and intricate detailing; each one tells a different story, extending more than 2 Km on a high basalt cliff. Some of the more prominent caves are the Vishwakarma with its 3.3 m high seated Buddha in a teaching posture; the Kailasnath caves dedicated to Lord Shiva and various mythological stories about him and the Indra Sabha which belongs to the Digambara sect of Jain religion. There are imposing images of deities of the Jain religion, telling stories from the life and times of Neminath and Mahavira. In the afternoon we visit the Bibi ka Maqbara, a mousoleum of the wife of the strongest Mughal Emperor - Auranzeb and the Bani Begaum Gardens.
This morning we fly to Mumbai; home of Bollywood, the world-famous Hindi-language film industry. Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, forms the world's fifth most populous metropolitan area when combined with its suburbs, with a total population of about 20 million. The city has a deep natural harbor and the port handles over half of India's passenger traffic and a significant amount of cargo. On our journey from the airport we will visit Dhoby Ghat and Marine Drive. Mumbai is the most happening cosmopolitan city of India. Here you can find people of every religion, from every part of world. This city is lively, young and it never sleeps. It is also know as the the Manhattan of India due to the the large number of skyscrapers located by the Arabian Sea. Like all large cities Mumbai has a variety of food to suit all tastes and budgets. A number of famous people (Bollywood stars and cricketers) have established restaurants. And in Mumbai you won’t have to look far for a quintessential snack; try the vada pav (leavened wheat bread split in half, with fried dumplings as filling), panipuri (deep fried crêpe with tamarind and lentil sauce), or pav bhaji (leavened wheat bread accompanied with fried vegetables). In the afternoon we will have an orientation tour of Mumbai, including a visit to The Gateway of India, the ceremonial arch was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary. If time permits you might like to visit Town hall and Haji Ali Mosque and Victoria Train station. You also have the option to visit Elephanta Island, located 10 Kms across the harbor. This small island contains a fine cluster of 6th-8th century rock cut caves. The sculptures are beautifully executed and the most outstanding of these is the Mahesmurthy or Trimurthi, a five metre (18 ft) high three headed bust carved from a single rock. This bust represents the three aspects of Shiva; The Creator - The Preserver and The Destroyer. This is a World Heritage site.
Trip ends this morning after breakfast.