Popularly known as the Golden Triangle, this tour takes in the most popular sights of the country and is a true introduction to India. Start…
Focusing on Rajasthan’s royal heritage, including the Taj Mahal and other great monuments of the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’, this popular two-week tour follows a classic route around northwest India’s more regal and opulent locations: from the Mughal wonders and packed bazaars of Delhi to Akbar’s ghost city at Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur (the ‘Pink City’), Khimsar Fort and the fairy-tale desert citadel of Jaisalmer. From there, you head back across the sand flats of the Thar to Jodhpur, known as the ‘Blue City’ via Dechu, before dropping south to end the trip in high romantic style, with a spell beside the shimmering waters of Lake Pichola at Udaipur. Along the way, you’ll get to spend time in some rural locations as well as cities, staying in elegant period palaces that give a flavour of the lifestyles enjoyed by India’s Maharajas before Independence.
Greeted on arrival in Delhi and transferred to the Suryaa Hotel or similar for two nights. The remainder of the day is at leisure. There will be a welcome dinner at a local restaurant.
Explore Delhi on a full day sightseeing tour. Start with a tour of Old Delhi in the morning: enjoy a cycle rickshaw ride in the bustling lanes of Chandni Chowk followed by a visit to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, and the Raj Ghat, a memorial built for Mahatma Gandhi, a prominent figure in India’s struggle for freedom. Drive through Lutyen’s New Delhi in the afternoon. Visit the tomb of Humayun and the lofty Qutb Minar, an early Mughal structure made of red sandstone and white marble.
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.
A drive to Agra this morning for an overnight stay at the ITC Mughal hotel or similar. Having checked in, the group will visit Agra Fort, on the banks of the Yamuna River, followed by the ornate Itamud-ud-Daula tomb. End the day with a heritage walk of Agra (Jan-Apr 2020 departures will visit the Taj Mahal at sunset instead of the heritage walk of Agra).
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.
Visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise (Oct 2020-Mar 2021 departures). After breakfast back at your hotel continue to the Rajasthani capital, Jaipur, via the deserted red sandstone city of Fatehpur Sikri, former capital of Mughal emperor Akbar, and the 9th century Chand Boari stepwell. Stay at Narain Niwas (Jan-Apr 2020 Shahpura House) 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 moved to Lahore. Today, the finely carved, dark-red sandstone 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 carved 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 carved steps provide a fine photo opportunity, and welcome chance to stretch your legs!
A full day’s sightseeing in Jaipur today takes up the sixth leg of your tour, beginning with a trip out to Amber Fort, followed by the Hawa Mahal and 18th century Jantar Mantar Observatory.
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.
Leave the Pink City straight after breakfast for the five-hour drive to Khimsar Fort, a beautiful 16th century palace on the fringes of the Thar Desert, where you’ll spend a night. The afternoon will be at leisure to relax by the hotel pool or visit the village.
One of our favourite heritage properties in Rajasthan, Khimsar is a richly decorated, authentic Rajput fortress-palace set in 11 acres of lawns, walled courtyards and orchards to the southwest of Nagaur. Guests have the option of sleeping in the main wing, or out in the nearby dunes, in specially constructed thatch-roofed chalets. Village visits (usually conducted by camel cart), cycle rides out into the surrounding desert, and black buck safaris are optional extras as well as a sunny doze beside the hotel’s gorgeous open-air pool.
A long drive west to the desert city of Jaisalmer takes up the first half of the day. After lunch, you’ll be at leisure to enjoy the hotel’s facilities or venture up to the old walled citadel for sunset, when troupes of Mangaiyar Gypsy musicians perform in local rooftop cafés – a perfect accompaniment to the expansive views. Stay at the Desert Tulip Hotel or similar for two nights.
Jaisalmer is the undisputed jewel of the Thar - a honey-coloured fortress town surrounded a huge expanse of parched scrub and sand. It lies a long journey west of Rajasthan’s main transport hubs, but once the iconic bastions have appeared on the horizon, you’ll know the effort has been worthwhile. For centuries an important stop for merchants’ caravans crossing the desert, the citadel and its surrounding streets hold a unique collection of beautifully carved, ochre-hued havelis and palaces, whose intricate stonework turns a striking molten colour in the light of late-afternoon. Its handicraft boutiques are particularly good for puppets and traditional textiles.
Explore the narrow alleyways, walled havelis and medieval Jain temples of Jaisalmer Fort on a guided walking tour after breakfast. Spend the remainder of the day souvenir shopping, or enjoying the warm desert sunshine back at your hotel.
Begin your tour of Jaisalmer with a wander around the narrow, stone-paved alleyways of the citadel, which wind through a series of small squares to elaborately carved temples and fortified gateways, eventually converging on the main Chowk, where the Palace of the Maharawal is adorned with some of the finest carved stonework in the region. More painstakingly sculpted jarokha balconies and windows line the streets of the town below, where some of Jaisalmer’s wealthiest merchant families erected their havelis (courtyard mansions). A scattering of exquisite domed pavilions and shrines surround the Gadisar Tank, which used to be the area’s only source of water.
After breakfast drive for 5 hours across the desert to Dechu, where you’ll spend the night in a beautiful, luxurious Samsara Tented Camp – a great place to enjoy the starry skies and remote feel of the Thar Desert.
Passing through a string of small market towns and villages, the drive to Dechu from Jaisalmer yields a vivid impression of life in the Thar Desert. You’ll see herds of camels at the roadsides, tended by luxuriantly moustachioed men in voluminous turbans, and groups of women dressed in vibrant saris carrying water and firewood on their heads.
Set amid a cosy depression in the dunes, Samsara consists of 21 individual Rajasthani hunting tents, each with their own en-suite bathroom and tiled verandah. The interiors are fitted with gorgeous block-printed textiles in traditional Indian hues, offering great luxury for such a wonderfully far flung location. Dinner will be served under the stars, with dozens of lanterns lighting the surrounding sand and a troupe of local folk musicians and dancers to add ambience.
Turning eastwards, the morning’s drive brings us to ‘The Blue City’ of Jodhpur, where we’ll pause to visit the implacable Mehrangarh Fort before continuing on to the village of Narlai, where we’ll spend two nights in an exquisite ancestral walled mansion - the Rawla Narlai.
Capital of the former Kingdom of Marwar, Jodhpur owes its prominence to the trade route that once passed its gates, connecting the ports of Gujarat with the cities of the northern plains. The resulting wealth enabled the Marwari rulers to construct one of India’s most fabulous forts – Mehrangarh – on top of a near-vertical escarpment. The cuboid houses of the old town sprawling from its base are painted a hundred shades of blue – a practise said to denote the homes of local Brahmins (but which actually derives from attempts to discourage termites by adding copper sulphate to limewash). Also visible, to the south, is the enormous bulk of Umaid Bhavan, a palace built in 1929 by the local Maharaja.
You’ll be free today to explore the temple and towering boulder hills, at your own pace. Optional extras that might tempt you include a jeep safari, or an atmospheric candle-lit dinner on the edge of an ancient stepwell.
A Maharaja’s former hunting retreat, Rawla Narlai offers an all-encompassing, magical experience of rural Rajasthan. It lies in a small village where you can be sure of leaving the tour circuit well behind. The backdrop is the strikingly domed “Elephant Hill”, which guests are invited to climb for tea and sunset views over a serene boulder landscape. Signature experiences here include dining inside a 1000-year old baori stepwell, its layers lit by flickering oil lamps, and riding Merwari thoroughbred horses through the enchanting countryside beyond the village. Alternatively, simply relax in the hotel’s heavenly walled courtyard, against a backdrop of pink bougainvillea and medieval stonework.
After breakfast we’ll set off for the scenic drive over the Plains of Marwar to Ranakpur, where we’ll pause to visit a complex of sumptuously carved white marble temples before continuing on to Udaipur where you will spend two nights at the Lalit -Laxmi Vilas Palace or similar.
The first half of the day’s journey takes us across a vast, dusty plain studded with giant boulder hills and old-fashioned market towns populated by semi-nomadic Rabari herders and other traditional Rajasthani castes. In the west, the shadowy wall of the Aravalli Mountains gradually grows more distinct. Before climbing into the range, you’ll pause at Ranakpur to visit a cluster of richly sculpted Jain temples. From there, the road ascends steeply then follows an undulating course through a rural hinterland inhabited mostly by Bhil farmers. Having checked into your hotel in Udaipur, you should have time to wander down to the lakeside to see the city’s great Rajput palaces in the sunset light.
Tours of the city’s royal palaces, the old city and the Jagdish Temple take up most of today. In the afternoon, you’ll be at leisure to relax back at your hotel or shop for souvenirs in the lakeside boutiques.
Udaipur’s City Palace, seat of the Sisodia Dynasty, holds a feast of Rajput architecture and yields magnificent views over Pichola Lake to the Aravallis. After visiting its palaces, wander down to the Jagdish Temple nearby before heading into the old city to explore the markets. Late afternoon is the time to be at the water’s edge, soaking up the sunset colours and unique atmosphere of this romantic city. Enjoy a sunset high tea cruise on the lake in the evening.
Fly back to Delhi for overnight at an airport hotel.
Today you will be transferred to Delhi International airport for your onward flight.
✓ 13 nights accommodation
✓ Arrival & departure transfers. Internal travel by road and rail
✓ English-speaking accompanying guide throughout
✓ Breakfast daily. Lunch on days 2, 4, 5, 10, 12. Dinner on days 1, 9
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Take a set of flights via Mumbai to Goa, arriving mid afternoon. Transfer to the Holiday Inn or similar (upgrades available) for three nights.
Transfer to the airport for your onward flight.
|DEPARTURE DATE||PRICE PER PERSON||SINGLE ROOM supplement||AVAILABILITY|
|Sun 18 Oct 2020||£2095||£925||Good|
|Mon 02 Nov 2020||£2175||£925||Good|
|Sun 24 Jan 2021||£2095||£925||Good|
|Sun 07 Feb 2021||£2095||£925||Good|
|Sun 21 Feb 2021||£2095||£925||Good|
|Fri 19 Mar 2021||£2175||£925||Good|
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