Start in New Delhi and end in Mumbai! With the in-depth cultural tour Essential India , you have a 17 day tour package taking you through New Delhi, India and 12 other destinations in India. Essential India includes accommodation as well as an expert guide, meals, transport.
Arrive in Delhi and transfer to our hotel. Overnight in Delhi.
Today we have a full-day tour of Delhi. We start with a drive north into Old Delhi, passing along the Rajpath (Kings Way) and stopping for photos at the India Gate. The 42m high India Gate, an "Arc de Triomphe"- like archway in the middle of a crossroad, commemorates the Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Army during WWI. This landmark also bears the names of British and Indian soldiers killed in the Northwestern frontier in the Afghan War of 1919. Next we will make a visit to the Jamma Mosque. Located in the heart of Old Delhi, the largest mosque in India can accommodate as many as twenty-thousand worshippers. This imposing architectural monument, with its three gateways and two minarets, took fourteen years to complete (1644-58). Time permitting we will enter to have a brief look inside. From here we board our cycle rickshaws for a tour of Chandni Chowk (Silver Street). Here we are given a glimpse into an old world lifestyle slowly fading from Delhi. The hustle and bustle of everyday life can be felt in the Chandi Chowks narrow lanes. Our rickshaw ride takes us past the Red Fort (photo stop), and we disembark at the Raj Ghat, set within a beautiful park. This national monument is where the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, was cremated. After a stop for lunch we will continue with our sightseeing this afternoon. We will visit Humayans Tomb, an excellent example of Mughal architecture, predating the Taj Mahal by almost 100 years. Persian in style, this is a beautiful red sandstone building inlaid with black and white marble. We will finish our day with a visit to the Qutub Minar. Few other monuments are as closely identified with Delhi as the Qutub Minar, this first monument of Muslim rule in India. It heralded the beginning of a new style of art and architecture which came to be know as the Indo-Islamic. Overnight in Delhi.
In and around SarnathThis morning we fly to Varanasi. After a break at our hotel we embark on our afternoon sightseeing programme. With more than 2,000 temples and shrines Varanasi has been the religious capital of the Hindu faith since its beginning. No one knows how old it really is -- when Buddha came here in 550 BC it was already a flourishing ancient settlement. The town is a maze of small streets and alleyways, hiding no fewer than 2,000 temples and shrines. Domes, pinnacles, towers and derelict 18th century palaces dominate the left bank of the Ganges River. The antiquity of Varanasi can be traced back to at least the middle of first millennium BC. Since time immemorial, it has served not merely as holy center of pilgrimage, but also as a great seat of traditional Hindu learning and culture. This afternoon we take a short journey to the buried city of Sarnath. After attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya the Buddha went to Sarnath; and it was here that he preached his first discourse in the deer park to set in motion the Wheel of the Dharma. It is one of the most holy sites as it was from here that the stream of the Buddhas teaching first flowed. The Dhamekh Stupa, Dharmararjika Stupa (the Main shrine where the Buddha sat in meditation), the sacred promenade from where he preached, and the Ashoka Pillar are monuments that still stand today. Overnight in Varanasi.
In and around KhajurahoEarly this morning we take a boat ride on the sacred Ganges. Hindus regard the Ganges as the elixir of life bringing purity to the living and salvation to the dead. At dawn, thousands stand waist-deep in water praying to the rising sun. At dusk, hymns and prayers are uttered by the faithful in the light of hundreds of lighted lamps. The bathing ghats, over three miles in length, lead down from a steep bank to the river. Manikarnika burning ghat is the chief cremation centre of Varanasi. We will have a walk through the narrow streets of Varanasi before returning to our hotel. Later this morning, we fly to Khajuraho, renowned the world over for its fine temples. Built between AD 950 and 1050, these temples are among the most creative examples of Indian architecture, of which only 22 of the original 85 temples survive. We visit the western group of temples, contained within a fenced enclosure and maintained as a park. The Lakshmana Temple is dedicated to Vishnu and is one of the earliest, dating from AD 930-950. It is also one of the best preserved, with a full five-part floor plan and four subsidiary shrines. We also visit the eastern group of temples. These can be subdivided into two groups: a complex of Jain temples in the walled enclosure, and a group of four temples scattered through the small village of Khajuraho. Parsvanath is the largest of the Jain temples and also the finest in Khajuraho, noted for the exceptional skill and precision of its construction and for the beauty of its sculptures. The Adinath Temple has fine carvings on its three bands of sculptures. The Shanti Nath Temple is a relatively modern one, built about a century ago, but it contains many components from older temples around Khajuraho. Khajuraho has achieved fame for the sensual appeal of the erotic sculptures, but these form only a small part of the wealth of the site. Taken in totality, the sculptures of Khajuraho depict the everyday life of the people and the court in the 10th and 11th centuries. Overnight in Khajuraho.
In and around JhansiWe continue by road to Jhansi, visiting the palace at Orchha, the former capital of the Bundela Dynasty. From Jhansi we catch the 18:00 train to Agra, arriving at approximately 20:00. Agra continues to be medieval in structure: narrow, crowded streets and lanes, full of colourful shops sell that all kind of goods, especially local handicrafts, including gold and silver embroidery, imitation Mughal inlay on marble, and fine leather goods. Agra Fort lies on the bend of the River Yamuna, almost in the heart of the town. It was built by Akbar as his citadel over the years 1565 to 1573 in the finest architectural style. It has imposing gates and walls of red sandstone and a moat. The fort was successively occupied by three great Mughals--Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jehan, each of whom made significant structural contributions to this complex. Overnight in Agra.
Today we tour the city and visit its main attraction: The Taj Mahal, one of the worlds most beautiful buildings. Called "A dream in marble," the Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jehan as a memorial to his queen Mumtaz Mahal. Shah Jehan built the Taj to enshrine the body of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal (elect of the palace), who died shortly after giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. Construction by a work force of 20,000 men from all over Asia commenced in1632 and the tomb was completed in 1653. Marble was brought from Makrana, near Jodhpur, and precious stones of onyx, amethyst, malachite, lapis lazuli, turquoise, jade, crystal and mother of pearl were carried to Agra from Persia, Russia, Afghanistan, Tibet, China and the Indian Ocean. The Taj is remarkable for its perfect proportions and rich pietra dura, with minute details executed with great skill. The building marks the most developed stage of Mughal architecture. The designer of this grand sepulchre is believed to be Ustad Ahmad Lahori, a master architect of the age. The calligraphic ornamentation on the Taj was authored by Amanat Khan Shirazi, a great writer of the 17th century. The balance of our day will be spent visiting some of Agras other remarkable monuments such as the Agra Fort, as rugged as the Taj Mahal is ethereal where we will have a chance to view the perfectly-proportioned Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) and have a visit to the Itimad-ud-daulah Mausoleum on the other side of the Yamuna River. Overnight in Agra.
Before leaving Agra we will visit Fatehpur Sikri, an ancient capital of the Moghul Empire built by Emperor Akbar the Great between 1569 and 1585. It was later abandoned due to the lack of a dependable water supply, but remains one of the most perfectly preserved examples of a Moghul city. Now deserted, it is almost perfectly preserved, a masterpiece in sandstone glowing in subtly changing shades of pink and red as the day progresses and the light fades. The very embodiment of Akbars unorthodox court, the city fuses Hindu and Muslim artistic traditions. Jaipur has been dubbed the "Pink City" because of the many buildings inside the old city walls that are painted pink. Scattered throughout the northeast section of the town are palaces and temples designed in a variety of styles; the city lies snugly on a bed of a long-dry lake. Overnight in Jaipur.
Today our tour takes us to the Amer Fort (aka Amber Palace), once the ancient state capital but now deserted. Located on the crest of a rocky hill behind Maota Lake, 11 km (7 miles) north of Jaipur, the Rajput stronghold was the capital of the Kuchhawa Rajputs from 1037 until 1728. Rising on the slopes of a steep hill is the Amer Fortress with its imposing facade. The interior presents a galaxy of art including the worlds best Chamber of Mirrors. In the afternoon we have a tour of Jaipur, one of the best-planned cities in India, built of rose-pink sandstone by the great astronomer-king Jai Singh II in 1727. Wer stop at the City Palace in the centre of the city, part of which is still the Maharajas residence. The complex has been developed into a museum containing rare manuscripts, fine specimens of Rajput and Mughal paintings, royal apparel, and an armoury. We pass by the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds), the landmark of Jaipur, a curious building, elaborate and fanciful, built of pink sandstone with a delicate honeycomb design. Rising five storeys high, it is composed of semi-octagonal overhanging windows, each with its perforated screen, which allowed the ladies of the court to look onto the main street without being seen. While in Japur, well have a guided walk through the local market -- a busy, noisy, colourful place with a lot going on, and an intriguing look into local life. Overnight in Jaipur.
Today we travel to Udaipur. On arrival we have a city tour of Udaipur. We see the lakeside City Palace, made up of eleven constituent mahals (palaces) constructed by successive Maharajahs over 300 years. Together they comprise the largest royal complex in Rajasthan. The palace, iridescent with tile and mirror inlays, includes the impressively carved Jagdish Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Overnight in Udaipur.
In and around RanakpurTodays day trip takes us to the Jain temples at Ranakpur, tucked away in a remote and quiet valley of the Aravalli Range, 90 km / 56 mi from Udaipur. This is one of the most important pilgrim sites among the five of Jainism. It is perhaps the most massive of Jain temples in India, about 40,000 square feet. The most dazzling highlight of this temple is the countless, forty feet high pillars, every one of which is individually carved with its own design. The complex also contains several smaller temples, also fantastically carved. All of these temples are in daily operation as religious buildings, so youll need to leave shoes and leather objects outside. Return to Udaipur. Overnight in Udaipur.
Today we fly to Kochi (probably via Mumbai). The history of European involvement in Kochi, from the early sixteenth century onwards, is dominated by the aggression of, successively, the Portuguese, Dutch and British, competing in their desire to control the port and its lucrative spice trade. From 1800, the state of Cochin was part of the British Madras Presidency; from 1812 until Independence in 1947, its administration was made the responsibility of a series of diwans, or financial ministers. In the 1920s, the British expanded the port to make it suitable for modern ocean-going ships; extensive dredging created Willingdon Island, between Ernakulam and Fort Cochin. On arrival we have a tour of Kochi,* including: Chinese fishing Nets -- a legacy of one of the earliest visitor to the Malabar coast, these nets are unmistakable as one enters the harbour. Records show that they were first erected between AD 1350 and 1450. Constructed out of teak wood and bamboo poles, they work on the principle of balance. The best place to watch is from Vasco Da Gama square, a narrow promenade that parallels the beach with little stalls that serve fresh seafood, tender coconuts and so on. Santa Cruz Basilica: Built by the Portuguese, the church was elevated to a Cathedral by the Pope Paul IV in 1558. Spared by the Dutch conqueror of Cochin who destroyed many Catholic buildings in 1663, it later fell into the hands of the British who demolished it when they took over Cochin in 1795. For almost a 100 years there was no church on the site, until the Bishop Dom Gomez Vereira commissioned a new building in 1887. * Depending on the timing of todays flight, we may achieve Kochi sightseeing upon return from our houseboating excursion. Overnight in Kochi.
We continue by road to Alappuzha (Alleppey), known as the "Venice of the East", situated on Vembanad Lake, the longest in India. A maze of canals and a network of bridges give this busy commercial town its descriptive sobriquet. Alleppey is known for its coir, the retted fibre of the coconut husk and for black pepper. Today we board our houseboat for a very special Kerala delight -- a slow boat through its forests and palm-shaded canals. We take a leisurely cruise on the beautiful backwaters, enjoying the magnificent scenery along the waterways and stopping to admire what history and religion have left along the way. THE HOUSEBOAT will be approx 60 feet long and 13 feet wide in the middle. There are comfortable beds, and traditional lanterns, and air-conditioning. There will be a sundeck for daytime relaxation. The boats are made of local natural fibres that truly echo the villagers harmony with the natural surroundings. As your oarsman slowly and silently propels us along the backwaters, we will enjoy the magnificent scenery along the waterways. We will stop to view working villages and witness locals fishing, swimming, crafting, and bathing (most boats will have oarsman though some will be motorized with a silencer on the motor). NOTE: Single cabins are NOT available on the houseboat. Single supplements reflect sharing for this one night. Overnight houseboat cruise.
We return to Kochi and have the balance of the day at leisure. Overnight in Kochi.
Today we fly to the former Portuguese enclave of Goa. Goa achieved fame when Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama sailed down the Malabar Coast in 1498 in search of "Christians and spices." Although he found neither, Goa became a Portuguese colony separated from the rest of India by the jungle covered hills of the Western Ghats. Goas heartland and population is located in the alluvial strip inland from the beaches, a lush patchwork of paddy fields, coconut plantations, whitewashed churches and gently meandering rivers. On arrival we have a tour of old Goa, where we visit the Basilica of Bom Jesus, built in 1605 by the Jesuit fathers and still the most important church in Goa. Enshrined in a silver casket in one of its chapels, is the body of Saint Francis Xavier. Across the street is the Se Cathedral with an imposing vaulted roof, massive pillars and fourteen magnificent altars. Later we visit the Convent of St. Francis DAssisi and the Chapel of St. Catherine. Our hotel is not located on the beach in Goa. We prefer to stay inland in order to concentrate on the cultural heritage of the area. We will, however, have free time on the beach during our time here. Overnight in Goa.
Today is free to enjoy the charms of this laid-back place. Overnight in Goa.
Today we fly to Mumbai (Bombay) and transfer to our hotel. From humble obscure beginnings as a set of seven small islands, Mumbai has today risen to the eminence of Indias most important commercial and industrial centre. Haji Alis Tomb and mosque are devoted to a Muslim saint who drowned here. They are reached by a long causeway, usable only at low tide. The Mahalaxmi Temple is the oldest in Mumbai and dedicated to the three goddesses whose images are found in the sea. Overnight in Mumbai.
This morning we tour Mumbai, the business capital of India. Marine Drive is a long gracefully curving road along the buttressed seacoast. We visit the Bombay City Museum, one of the citys landmarks of cultural heritage. Visitors are struck by the life-like clay models on display, the artifact galleries with pottery, brass work, ivory, textiles and art miniatures. There is an exhaustive section on the citys historic growth and, the people who contributed to its development, including representations of the different communities who shaped the city. The city has several fine examples of colonial architecture including the Afghan Memorial Church, established in 1847 which has Gothic arches and stained glass windows; the Clock Tower, the School of Art, built in the late 1800s, where Rudyard Kipling was born; Crawford Market which has bas-reliefs designed by Kiplings father; and the massive Victoria Terminus, built of yellow sandstone and granite. Also of interest are the Hanging Gardens on Malabar Hill, from where we get a magnificent panoramic view of the metropolis and the Arabian Sea. Later we transfer to the airport for our flights homeward. PLEASE NOTE: Many flights from Indian cities depart after midnight, ie just into TOMORROW. If this is the case re your departure, you may consider booking an extra hotel night so that you will have a place to rest and freshen up prior to your flight tonight.