Places Visited: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Mumbai, Cochin, Periyar National Park, Alleppey, Kovalam
One of the questions we’re most frequently asked by clients contemplating their first trip to India is ‘whether to go north or south’? This two-week group tour neatly sidesteps the dilemma by combining the highlights of both. Beginning with a whistle-stop round of the Golden Triangle and Rajasthan’s monuments – including the Taj Mahal, Delhi’s Jama Masjid and “Pink City” of Jaipur – it uses Mumbai’s ultra-efficient flight connections as a stepping stone to the far southern state of Kerala, whose lush, tropical backwaters and tea plantations provide the perfect counterpoint to the Mughal grandeur and desert vistas of the previous week. As ever with our Group Tours, accommodation is luxurious and reflective of the variety of different landscapes and cultures you’ll experience on this trip of a lifetime through India’s top sights.
- Group Size 4-16 people
- Internal Travel Arrival & departure transfers. Internal travel by road and rail
- Accompanying Guide English-speaking guides. Accompanying tour escort when minimum group size achieved
- Accommodation 13 nights
- Meal Plan Breakfast daily. Lunch on days 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 11. Dinner on days 1, 11
Itinerary for Golden Triangle and Kerala Backwaters
On arrival in Delhi, you’ll be met by your TransIndus team and transferred to the Suryaa hotel or similar, where you’ll be staying for two nights. Spend the remainder of the day recovering from your journey with a leisurely swim in the hotel pool, and perhaps a stroll around the local neighbourhood later. In the evening there will be a welcome dinner at a local restaurant.
Explore Delhi today starting with Old Delhi in the morning: enjoy a cycle rickshaw ride in the bustling lanes of Chandni Chowk followed by the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, and the Raj Ghat, a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. In the afternoon, drive past Lutyen’s New Delhi and visit the tomb of Humayun and the Qutb Minar.
Cycle-rickshaws are a relaxing, and eco-friendly, way to explore the lanes of Old Delhi. Different streets are to be given over to different trades in this atmospheric district, which formed the hub of the former Mughal city. Dominating its skyline is the massive white dome of the Jama Masjid mosque, the next stop on your tour. After admiring the extraordinary view from its minarets, enjoy lunch at one of the famous kebab restaurants below, before driving past the Raj-era capital to Humayun’s Tomb, one of the India’s greatest early Mughal buildings. Older still is the iconic Qutb Minar victory tower on Delhi’s southern outskirts, the day’s final stop.
As an optional excursion to the cycle-rickshaw tour in the morning, we offer the popular Salaam Baalak Walk around some of the more off-beat and interesting corners of Old Delhi. Your guides will be former street children who, in additional to showing visitors around the historic houses and backstreets, also give a vivid account of what life is like for disadvantaged youngsters in the area. Income from the scheme helps the NGO fund its shelter and outreach programme, and provides a living wage and much needed boost to the self esteem of the enthusiastic young guides.
Drive to Agra (4-5 hours) for an overnight stay in the ITC Mughal hotel or similar. In the afternoon, visit the impressive Agra Fort, a mix of Hindu and Islamic architecture followed by a visit to the ornate tomb of Itamud-ud-Daula. Enjoy a visit to the Taj Mahal at sunset.
Agra’s great Mughal Fort, on the banks of the Yamuna River, was where Emperor Shah Jahan, creator of the Taj Mahal, was imprisoned at the end of his life by his rather fanatical son, Aurangzeb – the old man is said to have wiled away his days gazing at the tomb through the windows of a gilded rooftop pavilion. On the opposite bank, the exquisitely decorated Itimad-ud Daulah tomb provides the next stop on today’s tour. The mausoleum’s inlay work foreshadowed that of the Taj, which you’ll visit towards the end of the afternoon, when the changing light transforms the marble surfaces from a pale ochre to orange and crimson.
Drive to Jaipur (6-7 hours) visiting Fatehpur Sikri enroute. Closer to Jaipur we stop at the impressive 9th century step well at Abhaneri. Stay at The Lalit hotel or similar for two nights.
Fatehpur Sikri, the former capital of Emperor Akbar, was built at lavish expense at end of the 16th century but only occupied for sixteen years, when the court decamped to Lahore. Today, the finely carved, dark-red buildings remain in fine condition and vividly evoke the opulence of the Mughal era. Among many highlights are the Diwan-i-Khas audience hall, with its richly sculpted throne pillar, the beautiful Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti (a revered Sufi mystic) and Buland Darwaza gateway.
Today’s other sightseeing stop, the famous Chand Baori stepwell, lies just off the main Agra–Jaipur highway at Abhaneri. Its ornately modelled steps provide a fine photo opportunity, and a welcome chance to stretch your legs!
Visit the 17th century hilltop fort of Amber and the sparkling Mirror Palace. In the afternoon visit the City Palace complex including its museum and the 18th century Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory. Drive through the busy bazaars for a photo stop at the Hawa Mahal Palace, one of Jaipur iconic locations.
Perched on the rim of a dramatic escarpment, Amber Fort retains some of the finest interiors surviving from the 16th and 17th centuries in India, notably a glittering ‘Hall of Mirrors’, or ‘Sheesh Mahal’, lined with intricate mirror mosaics where the Maharaja and his consorts would enjoy music and poetry recitals. Anyone interested in traditional Rajasthani textiles will also enjoy a visit to the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing, located in a beautifully restored haveli in Amber village.
Jaipur itself is a swirl of life and colour, and its numerous monuments and markets provide the focus for the rest of the day. You’ll begin at the famous City Palace complex, which includes the much photographed ‘Hawa Mahal’, or ‘Palace of Winds’, a five-storey façade of elaborately screened windows from where the women of the royal household used to watch processions in the streets below.
Take an early morning flight to Mumbai and transfer to the hotel Trident Nariman Point or similar for an overnight stay. This afternoon visit the Gateway of India. Drive past Mumbai High Court and the ornate Victoria Terminus. Drive along the Marine drive and visit the Hanging Gardens, offering a splendid view of the city.
The logical place to start any round of Mumbai’s sights is the Gateway of India, the city’s own Arc de Triomphe. Designed in the hybrid, typically colonial ‘Indo-Sarcenic’ style, it was conceived as a ceremonial arrival point for royalty, viceroys and VIPs newly alighted at the nearby steamer jetty, though is today – ironically – best remembered for being where the last British troops garrisoned in the country slow-marched home to Blighty in 1947. The Taj Mahal Hotel still stands proudly nearby, as emblematic of the city now as it was in Victorian times. Wind up your tour with a drive around Back Bay to the Hanging Gardens of Malabar Hill for a splendid view over Marine Drive.
Take a morning flight to Cochin. Transfer to Killians Boutique Hotel or similar for two nights. Later, visit the Dutch Palace, with its murals of the Ramayana, and the Jewish Synagogue (time permitting).
Your guided tour of the city’s chief landmarks will begin at the beautiful Dutch Palace in Matancherry, famed for its traditional Keralan murals, followed by a visit to the old Synagogue in nearby Jew Town. This district holds several huge, and very well stocked, antiques emporia that are well worth a browse. Next, the group will be driven up to Fort Cochin for a sunset cruise around the harbour, where you’ll see the iconic Chinese fishing nets in action, along with a variety of craft, both large and small, from dugout fishing canoes to giant container ships.
Visit the Kumbalangi village in the morning, where you will have the chance to interact with fishermen as they demonstrate local techniques used to harvest prawns, crabs, oysters and small fish. In the evening, enjoy a sunset cruise on the harbour, a signature Kerala experience, for views of the landmark Chinese fishing nets, which provide a spectacular photo opportunity at dusk.
Having driven to the city limits, you’ll transfer to a punted boat for the 20-minute crossing to Kumbalangi – an award-winning community tourism project on Kallancherry Island, a de facto suburb of Kochi, but in all respects a world away from the metropolis. You’ll be shown around a crab farm, a workshop where coconut husk is processed into coir, a spice plantation and palm-leaf weaving factory, and see how a large Chinese fishing net works. The visit concludes with a delightful buffet lunch at a shady spot under the palms overlooking the Kumbalangi canal.
Cochin, Periyar National Park
Drive along meandering roads through lush, green countryside ascending into the ‘Western Ghats’ at Periyar (5 hours). Enjoy lunch at a rubber plantation. Stay at the Cardamom County Resort or similar for two nights. In the evening attend a Kathakali performance, a traditional dance drama in which the dancers wear elaborate costumes and make up.
The mountains of inland Kerala, which run the entire length of the state, are one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Tea, coffee and spice plantations dominate many areas, but abundant forest also survives, and the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary encompasses one of the most readily accessible of these. Centred on a flooded valley system, the park is among the largest in India, famous first and foremost for its herds of wild elephant, which congregate in the dry season around the shores of Periyar Lake.
Periyar National Park
In the morning, take a walk in Periyar Nature Reserve with tribal trackers, in search of wildlife. In the afternoon visit a spice plantation which offers an interesting insight into how various spices such as cardamom, cloves and cinnamon are grown, cultivated and processed.
Boat safaris on Periyar Lake are fun, but too noisy for serious wildlife spotting. A better option is to take to the footpaths in the company of a local guide, who can track and identify the many creatures who live in this well-preserved tract of forest. Malabar giant squirrels, palm civets and sambar deer are commonly encountered, as are hornbills and other spectacular birds. Elephants may be sighted around the water’s edge and are best viewed from the safety of a boat or safari raft.
Periyar National Park, Alleppey
Drive down through the hills and plantations towards the backwaters to board a rice boat for an overnight cruise through Lake Vembanad. This is a region that not only shelters some unique animal and bird life, but also lush paddy fields. This is one of the few places in the world where farming is done below sea level.
Up until the 1980s, large barges made of oiled jackwood and canopies of plaited palm leaves were used throughout the Kuttinad region to transport rice and other produce through the backwaters. Now, trucks do the haulage work, but the boats – known as kettu vallam in Malayali – take visitors on cruises around the canals, rivers and lagoons of this fascinating region, where most of the population still live in island villages. A far cry from the oily craft of old, kettu vallam are today fitted with comfortable en-suite, air-con bedrooms, galleys, and viewing decks from which you’ll be able to watch the watery world slip past. Four-course meals of delicious Keralan curries are served by liveried staff in the evening.
Drive to the southern extremity of Kerala today for a two-night stay at the beautiful Travancore Heritage Hotel, near the resort of Kovalam. The hotel overlooks its own secluded cove, providing the perfect place to unwind at the end of your tour.
An elegant, 150-year-old royal palace forms the centrepiece of the Travancore Heritage, one of our favourite hotels in this region. Smothered in coconut and areca palms, the complex spills down the side of a laterite cliff to a cove of pure, golden sand and churning surf. Accommodation is in traditional nalukettu houses made of carved wood and terracotta, each with their own en-suite bathrooms and sea-facing pillared verandahs; some also have small plunge pools. Behind the main reception building, a large, kidney-shaped swimming pool offers a sunny space to relax, with the breaking waves, cawing of crows and rustle of palm fronds in the sea breeze as a blissful soundtrack.
On this penultimate day of the tour, you’ll be free to enjoy the beach and hotel facilities at your own pace – though a number of optional excursions are on offer should the lure of the ocean start to wane.
Anyone with an interest in South Asian art or architecture should not miss the chance to visit nearby Padmanabhapuram Palace, where the local rulers lived in great pomp in the 16th and 17th centuries. Framed by a backdrop of jungle-draped mountains, the complex is crowned by typically Keralan, sloping tiled roofs with projecting gables. Inside, the sunlight filters through stained-mica windows and slatted screens made of teak and jackwood to apartments filled with gorgeous antiques. Alternatively, head north to the capital, Thiruvananthapuram, where the main attractions are a splendid Vishnu temple, grandiloquent 18th century royal palace and lively market area heaped with authentic Keralan souvenirs.
Time to bid farewell to India as you transfer to the airport for your onward journey.
Group Tour 14 days from £1895 per person
✓ 13 nights accommodation
✓ Arrival & departure transfers. Internal travel by road and rail
✓ English-speaking guides. Accompanying tour escort when minimum group size achieved
✓ Breakfast daily. Lunch on days 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 11. Dinner on days 1, 11
✓ Entrance fees at monuments. Escorted walks in Periyar
Holiday Extensions for this tour
Golden Triangle and Kerala Backwaters - Kovalam Beach Stay
4 days, 3 nights from £235 per person
Single supplement £ 150 per personview itinerary
Stay for an additional three nights at the Travancore Heritage Hotel.
Transfer to Trivandrum airport for your onward flight.
Places and Experiences in this tour
Delhi, India’s capital, is home to an estimated 20 million people. A compelling hotch-potch of ancient and modern, it holds the vestiges of at least seven great urban centres: Afg...
Jama Masjid (Delhi)
Between twenty and thirty thousand worshippers mass in the courtyard of Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid each week for Friday prayers – a scene little changed since the mosque was inaugura...
The forts of Delhi and Agra may have lost much of their former lustre, but it’s not hard to envisage the lavish lifestyle led by the royal inhabitants of Akbar’s court, thanks to ...
The city of Agra makes up one-third of India's 'golden triangle', along with Delhi and Jaipur, three of northern India's most popular destinations for tourists. Agra’s heart-stop...
The capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur, has a markedly different feel from the other two corners of the ‘Golden Triangle’. The traffic is no less intense, but the architecture of its wa...
Mumbai has been India’s busiest port and industrial centre since the opening of the Suez Canal in 1969. As famous today for its traffic jams as its record-breaking movie industry,...
Periyar National Park
High in the hills of inland Kerala, the famous Periyar National Park hugs the border with Tamil Nadu. Its focal point is a convoluted reservoir on whose muddy shores herds of elep...
Kovalam is a beach town in Kerala which has picture-postcard scenery - ideal for photographers and for those who like to venture to more secluded places. Besides golden sands and ...
Up until the 1980s, large barges made of oiled jackwood and canopies of plaited palm leaves were used throughout the Kuttinad region of Kerala to transport rice and other produce ...
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