Traversing a wide swath of North India, this lively 15 day tour covers many of the North’s highlights, making it an ideal introduction to the country. We have designed this tour as a showcase of the most interesting sights and engaging experiences that North India has to offer. It includes many of the region’s famous draw-cards – the Taj Mahal, Khajuraho, Varanasi and Udaipur – but also incorporates several rural stops such as Orchha and Jojawar, where you can enjoy some gentle activities like local train rides and village walks. Time in the countryside balances up the pace and the urban versus rural ledger (the fact remains that the majority of Indians live in rural India, despite its numerous big cities, so a well-balanced tour should include time in both). The tour’s conclusion in Mumbai – a city striving for ‘world-city’ status even as it struggles to provide basic necessities to its residents – leaves you with an insight into the possible future of urban India.
Delhi, with its Old and New parts — each with its specific charm and glory — makes a very interesting city for its sustenance of medieval and modern cultures. Old Delhi, built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century, still retains its medieval character to a great extent and reminds one of the crowded old towns of the Middle East; while New Delhi – with the exception of the area around the parliament and presidential house, (ie the part designed by Edwin Lutyens) is like any other modern city with tall buildings and large shopping complexes.
This morning visit the medieval Jama Mosque followed by a walking tour of Old Delhi, exploring centuries old arts and crafts with artisans belonging to the sixth or seventh generation of the families who first started them. Visit a marvellous old-fashioned shop where you can test Indian perfume (attar) from cut-glass bottles; stroll through the main bridal street of Old Delhi, Kinari Bazaar, with its dazzling display of embroidered silk wedding sarees, beautiful bangles and colourful turbans for the bridegroom. The Khari Baoli is all about spices – here, rice and dal, dry fruits, nuts and saffron dealers have traded for more than 150 years. The smell of the spices will remain with you even after you have left the market. During this walk, if you are lucky you will also be introduced to the art of pigeon flying by a kabootar baz (pigeon fancier).
Later in the afternoon explore New Delhi – including Humayun’s Tomb and Qutab Minar and drive past Lutyens’ Delhi.
Humayun’s Tomb, another magnificent Mughal building is set in a square enclosed garden. This finely proportioned structure in red sandstone and marble served later as a model for the Taj Mahal.
Dominating the ruins of the earliest existing settlement of Delhi is another famous landmark – the Qutab Minar. This imposing victory tower has five storeys, each marked by intricately carved projections or balconies. Elaborately carved pillars embellish the courtyard of a nearby mosque. At the centre of the courtyard is the amazing Iron Pillar (4th-5th century), which has not rusted through the centuries.
The interesting buildings of Lutyens’ Delhi are the India Gate, the Rashtrapati Bhawan (President’s House) and Parliament House.
Day 3: Varanasi
Transfer to the airport for your flight to Varanasi. You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel.
The Ganges is India’s most sacred river. Hindus believe that its waters have flown eternally, for its source is said to be the summit of Mount Meru, the mythical mountain at the centre of the universe and the abode of the gods. The river is worshipped as the goddess Ganga and the city of Varanasi on its banks is thus one of the most important pilgrimage sites in India. Also known as Kashi, “City of Light”, Varanasi’s ninety or so riverside ghats – lined with temples and shrines – define this ancient city’s life and identity.
Day 4: Varanasi
Early this morning you will be taken to the ghats to enjoy a boat ride on the river while watching a spectacular sunrise – a most memorable experience. The riverfront, as seen from a boat at sunrise, is a spiritually uplifting sight. Hinduism, deep and mystical, is everywhere – in a decorated doorway, in a glimpse of a glittering temple, in the sound of a sacred bell and in the chants of the priests.
After the boat ride take a brief walking tour of the old town – the lanes and by-lanes are fascinating and the essence of the city. Shops sell rich brocade silks, brassware and also all the articles essential for worship at numerous little shrines. Return to the hotel for breakfast and the rest of the morning is at leisure.
In the afternoon you will be driven a short distance outside Varanasi to visit Sarnath, an important centre for Buddhist pilgrims. Having achieved enlightenment at Bodhgaya, the Buddha came to Sarnath and gave his first sermon. Later, Ashoka, the great Buddhist Emperor, erected magnificent ‘stupas’ and monasteries here in the 3rd century BC. Sarnath was at its peak when the Chinese traveller Fa Xien visited early in the 5th century AD. In 640 AD, when another Chinese traveller Huien Tsang visited, Sarnath had more than 1500 priests. It was later reduced to insignificance and left in ruins. It was not until 1836, when British archaeologists started excavations, that Sarnath regained some of its past glory.
Day 5: Khajuraho
Transfer to the airport for your flight to Khajuraho. You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel.
This afternoon tour Khajuraho’s magnificent temples. The extraordinary sculptures in these temples show many aspects of Indian life a thousand years ago — gods and goddesses, warriors and musicians, real and mythological animals. However the overwhelming motif of the temples is sexuality, and it’s this fact that makes them so unique.
Day 6: Agra
After an early breakfast begin the 4 hour drive to Orchha, a small town dominated by a series of magnificent 16th and 17th century palaces and temples and one of India’s most marvellous Mughal sites. The deserted royal citadel of Raja Rudra Pratap was the capital of the Bundela kings until 1738. Take a short tour of the palace complex, temples and the fourteen graceful chhatris (cenotaphs) commemorating the Orchha rulers.
Afterwards, you will be transferred to the railway station at Jhansi (about a half hour drive) to board the train to Agra. You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel.
Built in the early 16th century and the capital of mighty Mughals, Agra is famous for its beautiful medieval monuments. It was pampered by the Mughals for more than two centuries — evidence of which is spread all over the city in the form of various structures constructed during their reigns. However, with the fall of the Mughals, Agra became a victim of rebels’ assertion of power and the city suffered a series of plunders by the unruly rebellious forces.
Day 7: Jaipur
This morning you will be taken to visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise. The Taj Mahal has been described as a ‘tear on the face of eternity’ and as an enduring monument of love. Its unique beauty is blended with grandeur and its massive over-all design is matched with immaculately intricate execution. Built by Mughal Emperor Shan Jahan in memory of his beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal, the complex took twenty-two years to complete and is today counted among the Seven Wonders of the World. It is particularly stunning at the time of sunrise. Return to the hotel for breakfast.
After breakfast, check-out of the hotel and visit the famous Agra Fort. Many of the events that led to the construction of the Taj took place here. Begun by Emperor Akbar in 1565, additions continued to be made until the time of his grandson Shah Jahan. The magnificent palaces, towers, bastions, ramparts and gateways symbolise the power of the mighty Mughals. Built mostly of red sandstone it is strikingly similar to the Red Fort in Delhi.
Following this visit, depart for Jaipur with a stop en route at Fatehpur Sikri.
Fatehpur Sikri was built by the great Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 16th century to serve as the capital of his vast empire. Although Akbar had many wives, he did not have an heir, which led him to many holy men and finally to the renowned Sufi Saint Sheikh Salim Chisti, who lived in an isolated cave near Sikri. The saint blessed Akbar and soon a son was born to him. The grateful emperor named his son Salim after the saint, erected the grand Jami Mosque near the saint’s dwelling and vowed to build a great city on that site. Thus emerged the city of Fatehpur Sikri – a citadel of grand courts, palaces, mosques and gardens that rivalled the splendours of Delhi and Agra. However, destiny had other things in store for the city. Shortage of water and un-rest in the north-west forced Akbar to abandon the city only thirteen years later. Today, even after the passage of 400 years, the magnificence of this royal city has not faded and it remains immaculately preserved. After a short tour continue on to Jaipur.
The capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur is known as the ‘pink city’ because of the pink paint applied to the buildings in its old walled town. Steeped in history and culture, the past comes alive here in magnificent forts and palaces, once the homes of maharajas. Jaipur has been widely regarded as the first modern planned city in the world. Even though it was founded and built in the 18th century, it amazes many modern town planners and architects for the brilliance of its planning and the beauty of its architecture.
Day 8: Jaipur
Begin the day with a visit to the milk market where large quantities of milk are procured from individual sellers and then resold to wholesale buyers. Observe the interesting ways by which the buyers judge the purity of milk and negotiate the prices.
Afterwards visit Amber Fort; the ancient capital of the erstwhile Jaipur state, this is one of the more fascinating Indian forts. Its construction began in 16th century and it was subsequently added on to by successive rulers. Inside the fort, the places worth visiting are the Palace of Mirrors, inlaid with thousands of tiny glistening mirrors, the hall of Public Audience and the beautiful manicured gardens.
Continue on to visit the City Palace, Jantar Mantar (medieval observatory) and drive past Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds).
The City Palace is situated in the heart of the city. The whole complex is wonderfully laid out with large courtyards, balconies, cupolas, arched entrances and gardens, which are a combination of Rajput and Mughal architecture. The museum here displays the rich heritage of the Jaipur royal family in miniature paintings, textiles, garments, books and manuscripts, carpets, palanquins and weapons dating back to the 15th century.
Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II had a passion for astronomy, which led him to build five astronomical observatories in India at Jaipur, Ujjain, Varanasi, Mathura and Delhi. The observatory at Jaipur, built in 1728, is the largest and best preserved of them. It has a curious collection of sculptures which enable the calculation of many astronomical and astrological events such as eclipses, etc.
Built in 1799 the Hawa Mahal or Palace of Winds is one of the landmarks of Jaipur, although it is little more than a façade. A five-storey structure in pink, it was built to enable the women of the harem to see the activities of the outside world without themselves being seen.
End the day with a short walking tour of Old Jaipur. The bazaars between the Badi (Large) and Chhoti (Small) Chaupar (Square) offer some of most lively scenes that the city has to offer. You will be taken through the labyrinth of colourful alleys where artisans make puppets, bangles, and other local handicrafts. You will also visit the jewellery market or Johari Bazaar, explore architecturally interesting havelis (mansions), and stop by bangle shops in Maniharon ka Rasta and at the flower sellers market near Choti Chaupar.
Day 9: Jojawa
Depart early this morning for the 6-hour drive to Rawla Jojawar. Situated at the foothills of the Aravalli Range, Rawla Jojawar, which was originally a fort, has been converted to a heritage hotel with sprawling lawns and courtyards.
In the late afternoon take a Jeep Safari; undertaken in a classic vintage vehicle, it covers varying landscapes, with the picturesque Aravalli Hills in the east, and broken rocky hills interspersed with farms and scrub forests all around. It also takes you to the homesteads of the Rabaris, an ethnic camel herding group, and into farms and through villages where time seems to have stood still.
Day 10: Udaipur
Take a Train Safari this morning. A popular excursion, this daily train service takes you from the station at the start of the hill section to the highest station in the Aravallis – the Kambli Ghat station. The one hour ride, through beautiful forests and hills, enables you to interact with the locals, who’ll readily share their seats and make conversation with you. On the drive back from the station take a break for tea and cucumber sandwiches at a tiny Forest Rest House.
Afterwards depart Jojawar for the approximately 4-hour drive to Udaipur. Though the entire state of Rajasthan is replete with fantastic hilltop fortresses, exotic fairy tale palaces and gripping legends of medieval chivalry and heroism, no city is quite as romantic as Udaipur. ‘The City of Lakes’, as it is called, has three huge lakes within its limits and a large number of palaces and other monuments worth visiting. It is surrounded by the ancient Aravalli Mountains where wildlife still abounds.
Day 11: Udaipur
This morning you will be taken for a guided city tour of Udaipur city – including the City Palace, Jagdish Temple and Sahelion-ki-bari.
The huge City Palace, towering over the lake, is the largest palace complex in Rajasthan. It is a blend of stern Rajput military architecture on the exterior and lavish Mughal-inspired decorative art on the interior. Begun by Maharana Udai Singh, the city’s founder, it is made up of at least four separate interconnecting palaces built over a period of nearly three centuries by successive maharanas. The main part of the palace is now preserved as a museum which houses interesting artefacts from the days of the royalty.
Situated close to the City Palace is Jagdish temple; built in Indo-Aryan style, it enshrines a black stone image of Lord Vishnu as Jagannath, the creator of the universe.
Sahelion-Ki-Bari are beautiful gardens laid out in the mid-18th century for a retinue of forty-eight young ladies-in-waiting who were sent to Udaipur as part of a princess’s dowry. The gardens have beautiful lawns, lotus pools, marble pavilions and marble elephant-shaped fountains.
Day 12: Udaipur
Today is a more relaxed day with a number of activities to choose from: a cooking class; a walk in the countryside; or a miniature painting class.
The cooking class takes place in the informal setting of a family home. Firstly you’ll accompany your hosts to the local market place where fresh vegetables and supplies will be purchased, before returning to the family home to prepare lunch. Follow the instructions of your host carefully, as it is your own lunch you are preparing!
The Morwaniya to Badi Trek: A short drive out of the city brings you to the village of Morwaniya, from where the walk begins. Firstly, head towards the village of Varda, where you will meet with a few villagers, visit their homes and observe their lifestyle. Continue on via another village called Bhramano ka Varda, hiking for approximately an hour and a half through a blend of rugged terrain and hills and agricultural fields to arrive at your destination, Badi Lake. Located in the village of Badi, it was constructed by Maharana Raj Singh I (1652-1680) to counteract the devastating effects of a famine. The lake covers an area of 155 sq kms and has a large embankment, which is graced by three lovely chhatris (pavilions). During the drought of 1973, this lake supplied water to the people of Udaipur. From Badi return to Udaipur in time for lunch.
Take a miniature painting class at Painting House Art School, beautifully located just 5 kilometres from Udaipur in the village of Sisarma, on the banks of Lake Pichola. Classes are given by professional miniature painters and take place in the open air. The school teaches all types of paintings (portraits, love scenes, marriage processions, village scenes, tiger hunting scenes, court scenes, flowers and birds) on different types of surfaces such as silk, marble, hand-made paper and cotton, using natural stone colours and real gold and silver. Learn the basics of miniature painting before attempting one yourself – remember the artists here have trained and honed their skills over many years, so don’t expect to match them with your effort!
The afternoon is free to relax at the hotel, shop or explore the old part of Udaipur.
Day 13: Mumbai
Transfer to the airport for a flight to Mumbai. You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel.
Mumbai (previously known as Bombay) is the commercial hub of India and a vibrant, colourful and bustling metropolis. It is also an important centre of theatre, art, music, and dance. Although steeped in tradition and with a rich historical past, Mumbai is a city where traditional and modern business practices flourish simultaneously.
Day 14: Mumbai
Begin your tour of Mumbai this morning with a visit to the famous dhobi ghat (washermen colony). Continue on to explore some of the landmarks of the Raj era – visiting the elegant buildings of the Bombay High Court and Victoria Terminus. Afterwards visit the Prince of Wales Museum; a Mumbai landmark, this is one of the best museums in India. You can also visit the house where Gandhi spent much of his time when in Mumbai, which is now a museum, or wander some of the city’s amazing markets, such as Crawford Market and Zaveri (Jewellery) or Chor (Thieves) Bazaars.
It’s nice to end the day with a stroll along the spectacular Marine Drive, perhaps winding up at Chowpatty Beach at sunset, an ideal place to sample some of Mumbai’s famous snacks such as Bhel Puri. [Image: lotuspatch].
Day 15: Depart Mumbai
This morning you will be collected from you hotel and transferred to the airport for your flight home.