India offers a truly remarkable scope of insider experiences. Its history is as old as almost any nation on earth, and showcases many of the world’s great religions. Discover a land of vibrant colours, scenes and local cultures.

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Tour TypeTrip NameNo. DaysBookingsPrices per person
Independent TourClassic North India15
Independent TourClassic East India15
Independent TourClassic South India19

Classic North India

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 tour’s conclusion in Mumbai leaves you with an insight into the possible future of urban India.

Day 1: Arrive Delhi

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.

Day 2: Delhi

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.

Day 15: Depart Mumbai

This morning you will be collected from you hotel and transferred to the airport for your flight home.

Meals: 14 breakfasts
Transport:Airport transfers & private air-conditioned vehicle
Flights: Flight Ticket: Delhi - Varanasi - Khajuraho / Udaipur - Mumbai
Rail: Taj Express Ticket: Jhansi - Agra
Accommodation:14 nights
Guide:Local English Speaking Guide
Entrance Fees & Touring: Entrance fees & activities as per itinerary

Classic East India

This itinerary is an ideal introduction to West Bengal, Sikkim and Assam, offering spectacular Himalayan views, a taste of the rich Bengali culture and a tea plantation stay. This itinerary’s mix of lively cities, historic hill stations and scenic beauty make it ideal for first time visitors who want to cover the region’s highlights, or as a general introduction to India with a difference. The culture of Kolkata, the stunning Himalayan range and the aesthetic appeal of Assam tea plantations are some of the most rewarding sights and experiences that India has to offer.

Day 1: Arrive Kolkata

You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel. Kolkata, located on the east bank of the Hooghly River, is the capital of the state of West Bengal and India’s second largest city. It is the principal commercial, cultural, and educational centre of East India. A religiously and ethnically diverse centre of culture, Kolkata has established local traditions in drama, art, film, theatre, and literature that have gained wide audiences. It was, for example, home to the Nobel Prize laureate, Rabindranath Tagore and Oscar award winning film director, Satyajit Ray.

Day 2: Kolkata

Spend today sightseeing with a local guide. A few of the sights and experiences that you might like to cover include: the edifice in marble which is the Victoria Memorial – commissioned for the British Queen’s 1901 diamond jubilee and completed some 20 years later; Park Street Cemetery, which is a warren of grand mausoleums amid heavy undergrowth; the Marble Palace, which somehow manages to make all of Kolkata’s other grand structures seem staid and under-stated; the Jain Temples in North Kolkata, which combine marble inlay work, mirrored hallways, statues and a constant stream of worshippers; and the temples dedicated to Kali (patron goddess of Kolkata) on the banks of the Hooghly River – your guide will be able to advise whether there are likely to be goat sacrifices taking place at the time of your visit. The choice of where to be when this ‘act of devotion’ takes place is then up to you!

Day 3: Sunderbans

Early this morning transfer to Sonakhali Jetty, a 2-hour drive through beautiful countryside and rural bazaars, with stops at a local teashop and fishermen’s villages. Upon arrival you’ll board a boat, where a local guide / naturalist will brief you over a welcome drink before you commence a spectacular 2 hour cruise through the rivers Hogol, Gomor, Durgaduani and Gumdi. You may make an optional stopover at Gosaba – one of the earliest human settlements of the Sunderbans – to visit the house of Sir Daniel Hamilton, a Scottish banker who introduced agriculture and initiated the first co-operative movement of India. Arrive at Bali Island and check into the jungle camp where you will be served lunch, followed by a 3 hour birding and game cruise through creeks and canals to Sudhanyakhali watchtower (most sightings of tigers are from this tower). Return to the camp early evening.

Day 4: Sunderbans

The Sundarbans National Park is bestowed with abundance of flora and fauna. After an early breakfast commence a full day game cruise and birding tour to the Netidhopani and Dobanki watchtowers. The tiger watchtower and the ruins of a 400-year-old temple are the main attractions of Netidhopani. If you are lucky you may see Bengal tigers from this watchtower. The Dobanki WatchTower is famous for its Canopy Walk. This more than half kilometre long walkway, at a height of 6 metres from the ground, is covered in grill and strong net in the form of a canopy to protect from the wildlife. It takes you deep into the forest where you could find yourself walking alongside any number of mammals, including tigers – a very thrilling experience. Lunch will be served on board your boat. Return to camp early evening.

Day 5: New Jalpaiguri

After breakfast take a guided village walk in which you are able to interact with the local villagers and explore their local crafts and cuisines, as well as learn about their farming methods. Later take a cruise by a manually oared country boat before returning to the camp for lunch. This afternoon depart for Sonakhali Jetty where you will be met by a driver for the 2-hour transfer to Kolkata by car. In the evening board an overnight train to New Jalpaiguri.

Day 6: Darjeeling

Arrive at New Jaipalguri this morning and transfer to the famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also known as the ‘Toy Train’ for the all day journey to Darjeeling. Built between 1879 and 1881, the railway is about 78 kilometres long. Its elevation level varies from about 100 metres at New Jalpaiguri to about 2,200 metres at Darjeeling. A popular tourist destination, Darjeeling was established by the British in the mid-19th century, with the setting up of a sanatorium and a military depot; it subsequently became Bengal’s summer capital. Much of its Raj era splendour is still to be seen – in contrast to its Tibetan, Nepali and Bengali character.

Day 7: Darjeeling

Take a sightseeing tour this morning. Places of interest include: the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute which contains a contour model of the Himalayan peaks; the Zoological Gardens home to a vast collection of Himalayan flora, including hundreds of species of orchids; and the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre, where you can visit the craft workshops which produce carpets, woodcarvings, leatherwork and woollen items. Darjeeling has acquired a global reputation for its teas, so no visit here is complete without a wander through a tea plantation. Spend the afternoon exploring the town. The Mall and Chowrasta (crossroads) in upper Darjeeling are good for leisurely strolls, tea drinking and souvenir shopping.

Day 8: Gangtok

Depart Darjeeling this morning for the 3-hour drive to Gangtok, the capital of the Himalayan state of Sikkim. A bustling, friendly hill station, with a diverse population of indigenous Sikkimese and people of Nepalese and Tibetan ancestry, Gangtok is famed for its spectacular mountain vistas. Check in to your hotel on arrival and remainder of the day at leisure. The town’s main street, MG Marg, is pedestrianized and a pleasant place for a wander, and the winding side alleys hide some unexpected gems.

Day 9: Gangtok

Gangtok is renowned for its scenery – there are beautiful views of the surrounding hills from the town itself, but the best views – dominated by Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain – are from Ganesh Tok, high above the town. Rise early this morning to view sunrise over the Kanchenjunga range from this point. Return to your hotel for breakfast, and afterwards take in the sights. Visit the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology which houses an excellent collection of Tibetan, Sanskrit, and Lepcha manuscripts, as well as Buddhist icons, masks, musical instruments, jewellery and thangkas (painted or embroidered tapestry wall hangings). Also visit the serene monastery at Rumtek; the region’s top attraction – its design is said to replicate that of the original Kagyu headquarters in Tibet. Regarded as the richest Buddhist monastic centre in India, Rumtek contains a number of rare and unique religious artefacts.

Day 10: Kalimpong

Leaving Sikkim, make the 2-hour journey to Kalimpong, known for its spectacular views and its horticulture (particularly its wide array of orchids and gladioli). Check in to your hotel on arrival and afterwards take in some of the town’s sights, including the Dello Hills, Dr Graham’s Home, a small factory making paper by traditional methods, and flower nurseries. Dello Hill, at a height of 1,914 metres and only 6 kilometres away from Kalimpong, is a pleasant drive through lovely landscapes and offers a splendid view of Kanchenjunga. Dr Graham’s Home, spreads over an area of 200 hectares; it includes cottages, a school, hospital, workshop, farm, and bakery – all looking after the needs of more than 1,500 students. The campus is noted as a “miniature town” and is self-sufficient enough to produce and provide its own food, clothing and lodging.

Day 11: Kaziranga

Depart Kalimpong this morning for 2-hour drive to Bagdogra for your flight to Guwahati. You will be met on arrival and transferred to Kaziranga – about a 5-hour drive. Established by Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, in 1908, Assam’s magnificent Kaziranga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 430 sq km park is a vast expanse of tall elephant grass, marshland, and dense tropical broadleaf forests, crisscrossed by four major rivers, including the Brahmaputra, and the park includes numerous small water bodies.

Day 12: Kaziranga

Kaziranga National Park contains the vast majority of the world population of the Indian one-horned rhinoceroses, as well as large populations of elephant, water buffalo, swamp deer, hog deer, sambar, wild boar, Hoolock gibbons, pythons and around 300 species of birds, including the rare Bengal florican. It also boasts the highest density of tigers in India (however the dense vegetation here can make them hard to spot). Take a guided safari into the park this morning by jeep or by elephant (the best way to get close to the rhinos is atop an elephant).

Day 13: Dibrugarh

You have the option to take another safari this morning. Afterwards depart Kaziranga for the 6-hour drive to Dibrugarh. Your accommodation here, Mancotta Chang Bungalow, was built by British tea planters in 1849 and is situated on the banks of the River Brahmaputra in the middle of a working tea estate. Settle in on arrival and relax on the veranda with its views across lawns, flowerbeds and gravelled paths to some of Assam’s lush tea plantations.

Day 14: Dibrugarh

Day free on the plantation. There are a number of activities on offer here. An obvious choice is to take a tour of tea gardens, tea worker colonies, and tea processing factory, followed by a tea tasting session. If you are feeling energetic you may like to go kayaking or horseback riding. (The owners of the Bungalow have a stable of over a dozen superb thoroughbreds). Alternatively, you can visit the historical Ahom monuments at Sibsagar or the World War II cemetery at Digboi. Given the number of activities and the lovely setting of the accommodation, a three night stay here is well worthwhile.

Day 15: Kolkata

Transfer to the airport for your flight to Kolkata.

Meals: 14 breakfasts
Transport:Airport transfers & private air-conditioned vehicle
Flights: Flight Ticket: Bagdogra - Guwahati / Dibrugarh - Kolkata
Rail:Overnight Train: Kolkata - New Jalpaiguri
Accommodation:14 nights
Guide:Local English Speaking Guide
Entrance Fees & Touring:Entrance fees & activities as per itinerary

Classic South India

This lively paced tour delves into the full range of sights and experiences unique to South India. The diversity of South India is staggering. Every state speaks a distinct language and everywhere Hinduism manifests differently, in addition to vibrant Muslim and Christian communities. Physically, there are the extremes of the dry Deccan Plateau and the tropical Keralan backwaters. On this tour you’ll visit a number of South India’s deservedly popular cities such as Mysore, Cochin and Pondicherry, while taking in some less commonly visited spots such as Hampi (one of India’s truly remarkable historical sites), Kumbakonam and Bandipur National Park.

Day 1: Arrive Goa

Goa eases you into India. It has a laid back atmosphere, quiet beaches and delicious Portuguese-influenced cuisine. You will be met on arrival and transferred to your accommodation in south Goa, Vivenda dos Palhacos. A lovely one hundred year old restored villa, located in the village of Majorda, the hotel is run by an English duo who stay on the property. The front of the house is a modest Portuguese mansion, built in 1929; behind it the older Hindu house is made of thick-rammed earth walls. The evocatively named rooms (Konnager, Alipore, Ballygunge, Chummery, Chanpara, etc) are all different – and all have fans, air-conditioners and en-suite bathrooms. At the back of the house there is a swimming pool, set in a tropical garden with private sun bathing areas.

Day 2: Hampi

This morning board an air-conditioned train bound for Hospet. Sit back and enjoy a cup of chai as the countryside rolls by, including some beautiful views as the train climbs into the Western ghat mountain range. You will be met on arrival and transferred to your accommodation, Uramma Cottages, located in the historical settlement of Anegundi. Dating back to the 8th century, Anegundi is situated on the north shore of the majestic Tungabadra River directly across from the heart of the Hampi UNESCO World Heritage Site. A unique eco friendly homestay experience, Uramma comprises seven charming cottages built in the traditional local style with thatched roofs; they are spread across a landscaped garden and farm, ensuring a quiet and restful stay within the bustling village life of Anegundi.

Day 3: Hampi

Spend today visiting the ruins in and around Hampi. Walk and auto rickshaw around the remarkable ruins of the ancient city of Vijayanagar which some claim is the world’s largest archaeological site. On its way to increased visitor numbers but still relatively unknown, this is one of the great ancient marvels of the world, in pristine condition, populated by no more than a few backpackers and banana farmers.

Day 4: Bangalore

Only on your second day in Hampi will you start to appreciate the magnitude of this once thriving city. Spend today exploring the most well-preserved and impressive remains. Early this evening cross the river by coracle to have dinner in the Hampi Bazaar area, before driving to Hospet station to board an overnight train for Bangalore.

Day 5: Mysore

After arrival and breakfast in Bangalore drive 3 hours to Mysore. The former capital of the region, Mysore was once led by a forward thinking Maharaja who gave the city electricity, universities and one of the most kitsch palaces you will ever see (half of which you can visit, the other half his descendants still live in). The city’s tree-lined avenues give it a laid back feel, while its bustling markets and central shopping area are great fun to explore. If you are here on a Sunday, a visit to the palace in the evening is an absolute must: the 97,000 lights are switched on, which – along with the carnival atmosphere – make an awesomely illuminated scene.

Day 6: Mysore

Spend today sightseeing, beginning with a visit to the city’s most famous palace, the Maharajah’s Palace – an elaborate potpourri of Hindu, Islamic and Moorish styles. Afterwards join throngs of Hindu pilgrims at Chamundi Hill – stopping at the Shiva Temple where devotees circumambulate the statue in a clockwise direction – and explore some of the smaller hilltop temples before returning to the city. Of course, no trip to Mysore is complete without a wander through its lively Devaraja Market and a tour of its silk weaving and sandalwood oil centres.

Day 7: Bandipur

This morning drive approximately 3 hours through rolling fields punctuated with yellow sunflower patches, quaint village markets and forests, to Bandipur and your accommodation here, the secluded Windflower. An eco resort, located very close to the Bandipur Forest Reserve, it strives to maintain the sanctity of the jungle environment and thus does not provide televisions in rooms and cannot guarantee mobile phone or Internet connectivity. Bandipur, spread over an area of 874 square kilometres, is home to a wide range of wildlife, including the Four horned Antelope, Gaur, Asiatic Elephant, Leopard, Sloth bear, black napped hare, black leopard and a host of bird species such as the Barbet, Babbler, Warbler and the Indian Peafowl. It also has a small number of tigers – but don’t get your hopes up, sightings are rare. This afternoon enjoy a safari through the national park in an open 4×4 jeep or Canter vehicle, accompanied by an experienced and knowledgeable driver and guide.

Day 8: Bandipur

Rise early this morning and, after a pot of chai, take another unforgettable jeep safari through the mist-laden national park. Return to the resort for a buffet breakfast spread in the open-air restaurant. The afternoon is free to relax and enjoy your accommodation. Take a dip in the infinity pool, sit by the water’s edge at the Mangala reservoir, or indulge in an Ayurvedic treatment at the spa. If you’re feeling more energetic, you can trek to a tribal community near Mangala village, and get a taste of local village life. Spotting deer gathering at the reservoir at sundown makes for a lovely end to the day.

Day 9: Coonoor

After breakfast depart Bandipur for the 2 hour drive to Ooty, where you board the Nilgiri Mountain Train for the 19-kilometre ride to Coonoor, a small quiet town surrounded by hills and slopes of tea plantations. A slow, scenic journey, it passes over viaducts, through tunnels and across tall girder bridges in picturesque surroundings of rocky terrain, tea plantations, and forested hills. On arrival you will be met and transferred to your accommodation – Tea Nest, a lovely mansion built in the 1800s, surrounded by lush tea gardens. In this secluded and tranquil setting the house celebrates tea with its evocatively named rooms (Jasmine, Chamomile, Golden Tips, Lemon, etc); all are spacious and feature working fireplaces.

Day 10: Cochin

After breakfast begin the 6½-hour drive to Cochin and your accommodation in the historic Fort Kochi area of the city. Fort Kochi has been in the hands of the Dutch, British, Portuguese and Chinese, with each having influenced the history and appearance of the Fort area in subtle yet unmistakable ways. With virtually no traffic, it’s the perfect place to explore by foot, or just relax and enjoy your heritage accommodation.

Day 11: Cochin

Spend this morning sightseeing with a local guide, including visits to the Dutch Palace, St Francis Church (India’s oldest church, built by Portuguese traders in 1503) and the iconic Chinese fishing nets. This afternoon is free – the quiet streets around the Chinese fishing nets are filled with shops and restaurants, while a short auto-rickshaw ride away is Jewtown, which is full of antique shops and cafes. This evening attend a Kathakali dance performance. Depicting the world of Hindu gods and demons these plays are based on the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Bhagavata Purana. Heavily made-up and elaborately costumed men play both male and female roles. Pay a visit to the dressing room before the performance to watch the colourful masks and makeup being applied (a process of several hours).

Day 12: Alleppey

Depart Cochin this morning for the 2-hour drive to Alleppey and your nearby accommodation, Green Palms. Idyllically situated on an island surrounded by rivers and rice fields, Green Palms is a homestay that affords a unique experience of the picturesque backwaters as you stay with a family and share their daily experiences on their property and in the wider community. This afternoon enjoy a country boat trip through lovely palm-shaded canals and backwaters dotted with busy hamlets and lush green paddy fields. Stop off at the local pub where you can sample the local “toddy” drink with the villagers.

Day 13: Alleppey

Green Palms organises eco-tourism activities that involve the local community. Three activities are organised for you today. Enjoy a leisurely walk along the river, canal banks and through the rice fields and learn about traditional methods of farming and harvesting. Also, take a slow bicycle ride along the smaller canal bank route that enables you to observe and experience village life. And, explore the nuances of traditional Keralan cuisine with a cooking class. All activities are optional and you might find that after reaching Green Palms and settling in, you would prefer to take it easy with a book or do your own thing for the day.

Day 14: Madurai

After breakfast begin the 4½-hour drive up the steep ‘ghat road’ to Thekkady, where you break for lunch. Afterwards you’ll have the opportunity to tour a spice plantation with a guide to see how well known spices such as cardamom, cloves, pepper and nutmeg grow, before resuming the journey to Madurai (a further 3½ hours drive). Your first sight of the city of Madurai is likely to be the fourteen gateway towers called gopurams of the Meenakshi Temple which range in height from 45 to 50 metres, the tallest being the southern tower at 52 metres. This temple – the heart of Madurai – is a significant symbol for the Tamil people and attracts tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims (as well as foreign tourists!).

Day 15: Madurai

This morning enjoy a 2-hour guided walk, ‘Vanakkam Madurai’. Created by local women to showcase the hidden charms of the city, it gives you an opportunity to hear about local life from a woman’s perspective and understand women’s roles in the family and community at large. Interact with local people, find out how their day dawns, what their livelihoods are and how they manage their families. Stroll through busy by-lanes, meet street vendors and observe how they do business; visit the flower and fruit markets, flanked by bananas, and gain an understanding of the challenges they face. Visit a pretty roadside salon and meet the local hairstylist. The tour includes a wander down the age old ‘10 Pillar Street’; made of granite, these pillars are believed to be a part of the original grand entrance to the Rangavilasm, a now demolished portion of the Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal. Today they stand tall amongst houses, huts, tea stalls, small shops, etc. Here you can soak in 5,000-year-old legends! Spend this afternoon sightseeing. Begin with a visit to the famous Meenakshi temple, probably the largest in India; its area, an approximate square, measures 245 by 228 metres and it contains a multitude of shrines, halls and colonnades – all teeming with colour, noise and people. Afterwards visit the 17th century Nayak Palace – although only a quarter survives, it is still evocative of the splendour of the Nayak rule in Madurai. You also have the option to visit the insightful Gandhi Museum, which gives an overview of the Mahatma’s life through a variety of memorabilia. You may like to spend some time at the bustling tailors’ market, which is great for sharpening your bargaining skills and stocking up on gifts for friends and family at home.

Day 16: Kumbakonam

In the morning drive 5 hours to Kumbakonam, making a stop en route at Tanjore. Tanjore is dominated by the UNESCO World Heritage listed Brihadeeswara temple, where an 80 tonne piece of granite crowns the 60 metre high central vimana or tower. Your guide will explain the complex system of ramps and wheels used to construct the temple more than a thousand years ago. After a short tour, continue on for one-hour to your resort-style hotel in Kumbakonam, which features traditional Tamil architecture. The food here is a standout, especially the traditional south India ‘thali’ meal, served on a banana leaf. The lovely pool and sitting areas make for a very pleasant and relaxing afternoon.

Day 17: Pondicherry

Drive 4 hours to Pondicherry this morning. Originally an 18th century French colony, this now bustling city – although very much Indian – represents the final bastion of French influence in India, particularly in the old quarters, with Rues and Boulevards lined with Mediterranean style houses and patisseries. Check in to your hotel on arrival and the afternoon is free to relax and stroll through the quiet streets around the French quarter.

Day 18: Pondicherry

After breakfast – perhaps of croissants and coffee – set out for a morning of sightseeing. Explore the heritage area and visit the Aurobindo Ashram – a peaceful place despite the thousands of visitors it attracts – and the Aurobindo Paper Factory, where you can observe the process of making handmade paper – and perhaps buy some last minute gifts. The afternoon is at leisure. You may like to indulge in some of the activities Pondicherry is known for – eating, drinking and shopping – and end the day with an evening stroll along the beachside promenade.

Day 19: Depart Chennai

After breakfast you have a short drive up the coast to Chennai, with a stop en route to visit the 7th century UNESCO World Heritage listed monuments at Mahabalipuram. Afterwards continue on to the airport for your flight home.

Meals: 18 breakfasts
Transport:Airport transfers & private air-conditioned vehicle
Rail:Train Ticket: Madgoan - Hospet - Bangalore
Nilgiri Train Ticket: Ooty - Coonoor
Accommodation:18 nights
Guide:Local English Speaking Guide
Entrance Fees & Touring:Entrance fees & activities as per itinerary
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