Start in Amritsar and end in Kochi (Cochin)! With the train & rail tour Indian Rail Odyssey, you have a 21 day tour package taking you through Amritsar, India and 14 other destinations in India. Indian Rail Odyssey includes accommodation in a hotel as well as an expert guide, meals, transport and more.
In and around AmritsarArrive in Amritsar; a city at the spiritual heart of the Sikh religion, its magnificent Golden Temple providing a serene centrepiece to this most holy of cities. This evening you may wish to take the opportunity to visit the temple itself, to watch the reflective light of the moon playing across the tranquil waters that surround the main shrine, the Harmandir. The temple is home to the revered texts of the Sikh Holy Scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, and its gilded dome is covered in over 700kg of pure gold. A sumptuous fusion of Hindu and Islamic influences, the temple was the scene of the massacre of hundreds of Sikh protesters in 1984, when the Indian army, acting on the orders of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, evicted extremists from the temple, an act that led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi by Sikh bodyguards later that same year. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 3pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Amritsar at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, youll need to arrive into Amritsars Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee International Airport (ATQ), which is 30 minutes from the airport. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to visit Amritsars fabulous Golden Temple or the Hall Bazaar, where small, colourful shops offer all manner of goods from intricately embroidered clothing to jewellery and Chinese lanterns.Start point Hotel Ritz Plaza, Hotel reception, 45, The Mall, Amritsar, Punjab 143001, India 15:00
This morning we will pay a visit to the Jalianwala Bagh, site of the notorious massacre under General Dyer in 1919, which led to 379 Sikhs being shot from point blank range by British troops. This wholly unprovoked attack on a peaceful demonstration led to Gandhis programme of civil disobedience and helped to galvanise Indias burgeoning independence movement. We also visit the Golden Temple, where we need to make sure that we remove our shoes, cover heads and wash our feet before entering. The temple itself is a surprisingly small building surrounded almost entirely by tanks of holy water in which the Sikh pilgrims bathe (the name of the town itself comes from the Amrit Sarovar - the Pool of Nectar). The atmosphere is one of incredible calm, with devotees taking their turn to pass through the main shrine, where there is a continuous and melodic recital (known as the Akhand Path) from the Guru Granth Sahib. This afternoon there will be an excursion to Wagah Border to see the Flag Down ceremony before we catch the overnight train, the Golden Temple Mail to Delhi.
This morning we arrive in Delhi and transfer to our hotel. Late morning we will take a tour of Old Delhi by metro and cycle rickshaw. The former capital of the 17th century Mughal emperor Shan Jahan, the old city is a magnificent fusion of grandiose architecture and vibrant chaos, centred around the Chandni Chowk Bazaar, an eclectic cacophony of noise, colour and deafening barter that is so essentially Indian. Our sightseeing takes in the spectacular Jama Masjid Mosque, the largest in India and Shah Jahans magnificent swansong. Taking 14 years to complete, the mosque is a majestic structure, featuring four towers, three gateways and two towering minarets that stand some 40m high. Built from sandstone and marble its vast courtyard can hold upwards of 25,000 worshippers and from the top of the southern minaret you can get a clear view of the colonial designs of Edward Lutyens across the city. After our tour we have left the rest of the day free, so anyone who wishes to continue exploring may do so at their own pace, taking in the vibrant atmosphere of this most Indian of cities before making their way back to the hotel.
The Indian capital has long been a phoenix, rising again and again out of its own ruins and is essentially a city divided in two: a magnificent living monument to the grandiose designs of the Moghals and the British. New Delhi, the setting for this mornings tour, was the creation of the British Raj of the 1930s and its streets are filled with a rich collection of the architectural creations of Edward Lutyens. Following the broad expanse of the Rajpath (Kingsway), we will view the towering memorial arch of India Gate, a testament to the 90,000 Indian troops who lost their lives during WWI and the fighting along the Northwest Frontier during the early years of the 20th century. We will also view the imposing buildings of the Indian Parliament, as well as the Moghal majesty of Humayuns Tomb, a 16th century mausoleum commissioned by the emperors Persian born wife and considered by many to be one of the best examples of Moghal architecture in the country. Our final visit of the day will be to the towering Qutub Minar, a spectacular 13th century edifice made of sandstone and marble that towers some 73m above the city and heralded the final demise of the Hindu kings and the arrival of the Muslim sultans. From here we will then drive straight to the citys Nizamuddin Station for the afternoon train on to Agra.
This morning we have an early start as we head for the magnificence of one of the most universally recognised buildings on earth, and surely the greatest testament to love ever constructed. Built by the emperor Shah Jahan to honour the memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz, the building took some 22 years to complete and was once described by Rudyard Kipling as ?the embodiment of all things pure. Built of marble and decorated with the most exquisite inlay work, the Taj Mahal required the labours of 20,000 men and is estimated to have cost something in the region of 3 million rupees (at todays prices that equates to around $70 million). After driving back to the hotel for breakfast, we then pay a visit to the sumptuous grandeur of Agra Fort. Once the capital of the mighty Moghal Empire, the city is littered with some of the countrys most opulent and iconic buildings and the sandstone majesty of its imposing fort is no exception. Built by Emperor Akbar and then embellished by his grandson, Shah Jahan, the fort was once a great city, with palaces, mosques and halls all lying behind the protective embrace of 20m high walls. Once the home of the fabulous bejewelled Peacock Throne (until its removal to Delhi by Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughal emperors) the forts grandeur and importance has seen it inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. After our visit there will be some free time to wander the city, perhaps taking in the rich elegance of the exquisite Itimad-ud-Daulah, a 17th century tomb built for the Emperor Jehangirs chief minister that mirrors the marble majesty of the more famous Taj Mahal (hence its rather apt title of Baby Taj). There is also a possibility of returning to the Taj Mahal, to watch the setting rays of the sun casting a golden glow across its marble splendour (optional).
Departing the city this morning we first head to the nearby abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri, lying to the west of Agra and, for a brief time, the capital of the Moghals under Akbar the Great. Founded in 1569 it was deserted just 16 years later following the emperors death and today it remains a ghostly testament to the majesty and power of 16th century Moghal India. Visiting the site with a local guide we take in the splendour of its perfectly preserved imperial court and the grandeur of the 5-storey Panch Mahal. We will also see the courtyard and pachisi board, where the emperor played an Indian equivalent of chess, using slave girls as pieces. Perhaps the finest of all the citys monuments though is the lotus shaped carved central pillar of the Diwan-i- Khas (Hall of Private Audience), a magnificent column of matchless proportions that supports the vaulted roof of Akbars old debating room. From here we drive onto the Pink City of Jaipur, a city steeped in the rich heritage of the Rajput princes. The capital of the state of Rajasthan, Jaipur was Indias first planned city and is considered by many to be one of the finest planned cities anywhere, the usual Indian urban chaos being replaced by wide streets and formal gardens
With a full day to explore the delights of this majestic city we will enjoy a guided tour this morning of the highlights of one of Indias most important cultural treasures. We will start by viewing the exterior of the Hawa Mahal, the famous Palace of the Winds, whose extraordinary fa?ade of red and pink sandstone towers some 5 storeys above the city streets. Built at the end of the 18th century its 935 windows were designed to allow the women of the harem to gaze out on the city scene below without themselves being seen, the openings affording the added bonus of creating a refreshing breeze (hawa), which kept the palace cool even in the hot summer months. This morning we will also visit the once mighty Rajput capital of Amber and its magnificent fortress. Lying at the mouth of a rocky mountain gorge, overlooking Maotha Lake, the fort is a stunning creation of white marble and red sandstone that contains a dazzling mix of Hindu and Muslim ornamentation, including the breathtaking mirrored halls of the Sheesh Mahal. It was from these towering walls that the Kachchawahas ruled over their kingdom for some 7 centuries, until its importance was eclipsed by nearby Jaipur. Today it presents visitors with a staggering insight into the opulence and grandeur of the Rajput rulers. This afternoon we will visit the remarkable observatory of Jantar Mantar, the fascinating creation of Maharajah Jai Singh II, which houses a collection of astronomical instruments that are capable of measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking the stars and ascertaining the declination of the planets and also includes the largest sundial in the world, believed to be capable of keeping time to an accuracy of two seconds. Begun in 1728, the incredible collection represents the largest and best preserved of the 5 observatories that Jai Singh had constructed during his reign. Our other visit is to the opulent splendour of the City Palace, a stunning complex of gardens and courtyards that presents a rich fusion of Moghal and Rajasthani design and houses an armoury and a museum that is home to a dazzling array of costumes, manuscripts and inlaid grandeur.
This morning we have some free time to explore the markets and winding streets of Jaipur before driving to the train station to board the overnight express to Mumbai, Indias commercial powerhouse on the western coast.
Made up of seven islands on the eastern edge of the Arabian Sea, Mumbai draws people from all over the country to its booming streets. As well as being Indias largest city and commercial centre this is also the home of Bollywood, an industry that produces more films per year than any other city in the world. Its natural harbour made Mumbai an attractive prospect for the ruling British and it became a major centre of maritime trade upon the opening of the Suez Canal in 1870 and today it accounts for over 40% of Indias sea going trade. After a chance to freshen up we will take a sightseeing tour of the city this morning, viewing the honey-coloured Gateway of India arch and the macabre Towers of Silence. Built by the Parsis fleeing persecution in Persia during the 17th century, the Towers were a mortuary for the dead. Being Zoroastrians the Parsis were not allowed to bury or cremate their dead, so instead they were deposited in these towers to allow nature to dispose of them. We also visit the municipal dhobi ghats and the Prince of Wales Museum, which has an excellent collection of Indian miniatures from the Moghal and Rajasthan schools, whilst at the Mahatma Gandhi Museum well learn a little of the great mans life and ideas, through an impressive collection of books, photographs and letters.
Departing the city early this morning we travel by train to Goa, following the Konkan Railway to the station at Thivim. Journeying along this line affords us an opportunity to truly appreciate some of the most spectacular scenery offered by any of the Indian rail networks as we pass through the staggering scenery of the Western Ghats. The palmfringed shores of Goa were colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century, who captured the original Arab trade settlement and began building a city on the Arabian Sea strewn with houses, gardens monasteries and churches, many of which unfortunately no longer remain. Goa eventually became the commercial centre for East and West, where merchants could buy pearls, coral, rubies, golden jewellery, silks, China porcelain, lacquered furniture, ambergris and exotic spices. The Portuguese influence is still very much apparent - the main religion is still Roman Catholic and siestas are still widely practised in the hot afternoons. Like most areas in India, Goa also has its own food specialities, the most popular being pork vindaloo! You may also want to sample the locally brewed spirit feni - a spine-tingling drink made from coconut or cashew apples.
In and around PanjimWe have a relaxed start to the day with the morning free before we meet in the afternoon and take a walk around the city of Panjim. Whilst Goa is mainly known for the beaches that tempt tourists throughout the year, the wide streets of Panjim are worth exploring. The buildings are distinctly European in style with shutters, balconies and red tiled roofs although they are mixed in with more traditional temples to create a rather unusual style. If you wish to spend some time on the beach it is just a short taxi ride away.
In and around BangaloreAfter breakfast this morning we will drive to a local spice plantation, to learn a little of the spices and plants that grow amongst these fertile landscapes. This part of India has long been famed for its abundant array of spices; indeed Christopher Columbus was en route to the spice rich Malabar Coast when he bumped into America by mistake. A tour of the gardens with a local guide will reveal the vast wealth of Goas aromatic treasures, including pepper and nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon. This afternoon we will transfer to the station for the overnight train to Bangalore, travelling across the historically rich province of Karnataka to its south-eastern border with Tamil Nadu. Founded in the early years of the 16th century Bangalore went on to become an administrative centre under the British during the 1830s and today can boast one of Indias most vibrant economies, having taken on the title of the countrys science and technological centre.
In and around MysoreArriving in the city early this morning we will take time to freshen up after the train journey and take breakfast. We then continue by road to Mysore, a city which today is famed for its silk and sandalwood. Transferring to the hotel on arrival, we will have some time to relax this afternoon.
Today we visit the sumptuous grandeur of the Maharajahs Palace and the enormous monolithic sculpture of the sacred bull, Nandi. Originally built in the 14th century, the palace has undergone two subsequent re-buildings, the most recent being in 1912 when the palace was redesigned by the English architect Henry Irwin, and is today an opulent mixture of Hindu and British architecture. Filled with stained glass, mirrored halls and an eclectic array of ornate furnishings and vibrant colours, the palaces interiors are a fascinating mix of the elegant and the gaudy, with beautifully carved doors and mosaic floors sharing space with vividly painted pillars and overly ornate furniture. The Chamundi Hills overlooking the city are home to the towering Sri Chamundeswari Temple and the 5m high representation of Shivas sacred bull, Nandi, which was carved from a single piece of rock in the 17th century and is one of the largest in the country. The afternoon is free for personal exploration.
After a free morning to relax we take the short drive to Bandipur National Park. The park was established in 1974 as a tiger reserve under Project Tiger, once a private hunting reserve the park is now known for its diverse wildlife. This evening there will be a short lecture at our jungle lodge on the wildlife in the park.
An early start this morning as we take our first game drive in search of the mighty Bengal tiger. We will also take an afternoon game drive to increase our chances of a sighting. The park is known for having a significant tiger population and along with neighbouring parks cover an enourous area in southern India. As well as tigers you can hope to spot herds of wild elephants, gaur and wild boar as well as an impressive array of birdlife.
In and around OotyToday we head towards Tamil Nadu and the most famous of all South Indias glittering hillstations. Ooty (or Udhagamandalam to give it its full title) was established by the British in the 19th century, as a summer retreat for the Madras Government amongst the cooler climates of the Nilgiri Hills. We arrive amongst its forested landscapes in time to enjoy some free time this afternoon to take in something of its genteel charm. You may like to visit the Botanical Gardens, or perhaps enjoy a round of golf, visit the historic old church of St Stephens (the oldest in the Nilgiris), or maybe pay a visit to a local tea factory. Those looking to stretch their legs might like to consider a walk up to Dodabetta Peak for some spectacular views out across the countryside.
In and around CoonoorOoty lies along the mountain railway that connects the hillstations with Mettupalayam some 46kms away. Today we will take this historic railway down to Coonoor, a journey of just over an hour that takes us across a rocky and forested terrain and over girder bridges as we pass through tea estates and across rolling hills en route to our destination. Please note: The section of railway that this train route travels on has a very high gradient which means the train will be powered by diesel for the time we are on it. The blue and cream carriages hark back to a golden age of engineering, when seemingly no hurdle could halt the ever-expanding British Empire. The railway itself can boast an interesting array of statistics, including a gradient of 1 in 12, no fewer than 208 curves and an impressive 13 tunnels. Given the terrain over which it has to negotiate it is also probably the slowest train in the country, averaging just 10.5km an hour and covering the distance to Mettupalayam in a little over 4 hours. Disembarking in Coonoor we continue our journey by road to Coimbatore. At Coimbatore we join a train again and continue to Ernakulum. With a beautiful natural harbour that earned it the title of Queen of the Arabian Sea, Kochi, as you might expect, was founded on trade, originally with the arrival of Jewish and Arab spice traders in the first century AD. Its prosperity and importance increased even more with the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, to be closely followed by the Dutch and the English, an eclectic heritage that helped produce a fascinating mix of styles and influences. You can find both the oldest church and the oldest synagogue in India amongst its winding streets, whilst elsewhere Chinese fishing nets vie for space alongside Portuguese houses and Dutch palaces
Visiting Fort Kochi with a local guide this morning we get a better view of some of the citys rich fusion of divergent styles. Fort Kochi is the oldest European settlement in India (1500), with a mix of English, Dutch and Portuguese architecture. During our tour we will visit the Jewish Quarter and its surviving synagogue, the church of St. Francis where Vasco do Gama was buried for a while and the Basilica of Santa Cruz. The Mattancherry Palace was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, but extensive renovations by the Dutch some hundred years later earned it the name the Dutch Palace and today it houses some of the best murals in India, depicting scenes from the Ramayana and other great legends. There will also be time to wander through the fish market and see the interesting cantilevered Chinese Fishing nets before the chance to continue exploring on your own. There is the option of taking a ferry across to nearby Ernakulam, or perhaps visiting the sumptuous grandeur of the Tripunithura Hill Palace, the impressive former residence of the Maharajahs of Kochi. As well as being the oldest European settlement in India, Kochi is also home to the famous Kathakali dance, thought by some to be the very essence of the culture of Kerala, portraying as it does events from the great Indian epics of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Its origins may have come from traditional temple rituals and from an art form known as Koodiyattam. It is the face make up which makes this dancing so unique and dancers can take up to three hours painting their faces - the features are heavily emphasised as it is the facial expressions and co-ordinated eye movements which are important in the dance. This evening there may be an opportunity to view one of these remarkable performances for ourselves (optional).
After breakfast this morning we drive to Alleppey, to board a houseboat to enjoy some time exploring the labyrinth of canals and channels that make up this captivating region, the perfect way to observe the everyday life of the villages of the backwaters. Boat styles are very much adapted to their environment here and on the more open canals you can often see boats with large sails, their bows carved into the shape of stylised dragons. Boats are a vital lifeline for the villages and an integral part of the social structure of the region. They act as taxis and school buses, deliver the mail, and even collect the harvest. You may see great pyramids of coconuts or even the odd buffalo being carried along in this time honoured fashion! In days gone by these waterways were once the scene of post-harvest water wars, which have now evolved into great water pageants that take place on Lake Vembanad each year. A celebration of Keralas seafaring traditions, these snake boats, which reach over 30 metres in length, are crewed by up to 100 rowers, including teams made up exclusively of women. Along the narrow channels the industrious villagers survive on narrow spits of land, keeping cows, pigs, and chickens and cultivating vegetable gardens. Even the shells from the fresh water mussels are burnt to make building lime, and coir is used for just about everything it seems.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Kochin. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Kochin at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Cochin International Airport (COK), which is 40km/1.5 hours from the hotel.End point Hotel Casino, Hotel reception, KPK Menon Rd, Willingdon Island, Kochi, Kerala 682003, India 09:00