Tailor-made Tour 14 days from £4165 per person
Places Visited: Delhi, Agra, Gwalior, Orchha, Khajuraho, Varanasi, Lucknow
This is one of our all-time favourite trips designed to dazzle and inspire at every turn. If you want to experience the country’s finest historic monuments and some of the grandest forts, palaces and temples, then Classical Splendour is the itinerary for you. It starts in Delhi and progresses southeast across Rajasthan and the Gangetic Plains to the sacred city of Varanasi, via a non-stop parade of wonders, including some you’re unlikely ever to have heard of. Live the India of your imagination on this once-in-a-lifetime journey.
Fly overnight from UK to Delhi
On arrival at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, you’ll be met by your TransIndus guide and driver, and transferred to your hotel, 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 grounds or neighbourhood around the hotel.
A full day’s sightseeing in the capital gets your tour underway, starting with a cycle-rickshaw ride through the lanes of Old Delhi, followed by a visit to the Jama Masjid mosque, Lutyen’s imperial capital, the National Museum and Rose Garden, and Humayun’s Tomb.
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 Mughal city. Dominating its skyline is the massive white dome of the Jama Masjid mosque, your next stop. After admiring the extraordinary views from its minarets, enjoy lunch at one of the famous kebab restaurants in the streets below, before driving past the Raj-era capital to the National Museum, with its world-class collection of Indian antiquities. Keen gardeners may wish to call at the nearby Rose Garden en route to Humayun’s Tomb, one of the India’s greatest early Mughal buildings. A visit to the hip shopping enclave of Haus Khaz, set amid ruined Afghan tombs and madrassas, rounds the day off in style.
Take the morning express train to Bharatpur, and after a tour of the Keoladeo Ghana National Park, continue to Agra, calling at Akbar’s deserted capital, Fatehpur Sikri, en route.
Day four of your trip begins with a train ride from Delhi to India’s UNESCO-listed bird reserve at Keoladeo near Bharatpur. Home to a thriving avian population, the reserve centres on an area of wetlands that use to serve as a hunting ground for the local Maharaja. Signature species include man-sized Saras cranes, spoonbills and white-bellied sea eagles. You’ll also see huge nilgai bulls, porcupines and pythons writing through the shallows.
Fatehpur Sikri provides for the focus the afternoon’s sightseeing. Built at lavish expense at end of the 16th century, Emperor Akbar’s beautiful sandstone palace complex was only occupied for sixteen years, but its buildings remain in fine condition and vividly evoke the opulence of the Mughal era.
A full day’s sightseeing in Agra starts with a sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal, followed by Agra Fort, the Itimad-ud Daulah tomb. Drive to Gwalior in the afternoon.
Dawn, when the delicate sunrise light bathes the white marble in warm hues of peach and crimson, is arguably the most atmospheric time to the visit the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan, creator of the great tomb, was imprisoned at the end of his life by his son, Aurangzeb, in Agra Fort, just upriver, and is believed to have spent the last years of his life gazing at his wife’s tomb from a domed pavilion overlooking the Yamuna. On the opposite bank, the exquisitely decorated Itimad-ud Daulah tomb provides the final stop on your tour of Agra’s monuments.
Visit Gwalior’s spectacular fort, with its richly carved palaces and temples, before a guided tour of the city’s opulent Jai Vilas Palace, seat of the Scindia Dynasty.
A phalanx of Jain colossi, carved from the cliffs below Gwalior Fort, herald your arrival at one of India’s most impressive citadels, whose walls enclose a wonderful array of monuments dating mostly from the 15th century. Among the display of priceless antiquities on display in the Gujari Mahal palace is the famous Salabhanjika – a curvaceous celestial nymph dubbed ‘India’s Mona Lisa’ for her enigmatic expression.
Of more recent vintage, the 19th century Jai Vilas showcases the extravagant lifestyle enjoyed by the Scindia Maharajas during the British era.
Today you’ll drive south from Gwalior across the Sindh River Basin to Orchha, pausing at the town of Datia to visit its magnificent deserted palace.
Rising from a rocky plateau on the edge of a small market town, Datia’s palace was built by Maharaja Bir Singh Deo in the 17th century and, with its abundance domed cupolas, collonaded walkways and hidden courtyards, is a marvellous example of Mughal-Rajput fusion architecture – one that’s all the more interesting for lying deserted and largely forgotten.
Orchha, too, has somehow escaped the ravages of over-development. Staying overnight in the village, you’ll be able to experience the essential tranquillity of its empty palaces and riverside cenotaphs in the morning, before the daytrippers arrive.
Today you’ll drive across a remote tract of northern Madhya Pradesh to the UNESCO-World-Heritage site of Khajuraho, architectural masterpiece of the Chandella Dynasty and quite simply one of India’s greatest archaeological treasures.
The temples of Khajuraho owe their survival to their remote location, which ensured they escaped the attentions of the Muslim armies that ravaged the area in medieval times. Erected between the 1oth and 12th centuries, they are famous above all for their sensuous stone decoration, much of which is uncompromisingly erotic! The intricacy of the carving, with figures sporting delicate jewellery and elaborate hairstyles, is astonishing, while the pretty pink hue of the sandstone they’re carved from looks especially gorgeous in the hour before sunset.
Panna National Park
Spend the morning touring the temples in the company of your expert TransIndus guide. In the afternoon, depart for Panna National Park.
Set amid immaculate lawns, the shrines of Khajuraho are grouped into three distinct clusters. It would take literally days to visit all of them, but your guide will know which are the most worthwhile and help to provide some context for the art. No-one is exactly sure of the purpose of so much erotica. The most enduring theory is that the sculptures depict Tantric rituals performed inside the shrines themselves by priests and devadasis, female consorts who were attached to the temple and ritually “married” to the deities in them.
In the afternoon you’ll transfer to Panna National Park, an hour’s drive away, in time for an evening game drive in the reserve.
Drive to the airport in the morning to catch a short flight east to Varanasi, where you’ll spend two nights.
An expanse of mixed-deciduous forest broken by maidens of open grassland, Panna encompasses classic Jungle Book terrain. It is home to a small population of tigers, though you are less likely to see them as the herds of sambar deer, chital, chowsingha and nilgai on which the big cats prey. Even if you fail to sight any tigers, the park is a delightful place to unwind and boasts some exceptionally good hotels.
The short flight to Varanasi will get you to the city in time for a sunset visit to the bathing ghats – one of India’s defining spectacles.
Take an early morning boat trip on the river, followed by a tour of the city’s principal temples and bathing ghats. Evening aarthi ceremony brings the day to a memorable conclusion.
On the banks of the Ganges, Varanasi (‘Kashi’ or ‘Benares’ as it’s also known) is among the oldest continuously inhabited places on earth. Streams of Hindu worshippers still come here today to bathe in the sacred waters, believed to wash away the sins of past lifetimes. After watching worshippers perform rituals on the ghats leading to the water’s edge, you’ll return to Dashashwamedh Ghat to watch Ganga Aarthi, in which teams of young priests in splendid ceremonial dress wave blazing oil lamps next to the Ganges. Devotional hymns, chants, drumming, bell ringing and gongs combine to create an intense atmosphere.
Today you’ll continue by express train to Lucknow, former capital of the Nawabs of Avadh, whose grandiloquent monuments recall an era when this ranked among the most cultured and sophisticated cities in the Muslim world.
Although synonymous with the decadence of its former rulers, Lucknow’s most famous monument is the battle-scarred former British Residency, where in 1857 a handful of European soldiers and civilians survived two protracted sieges waged by mutinous Indian troops, lasting 87 and 61 days respectively. A small site museum houses images and artefacts relating to the events.
A tour of the city’s Islamic monuments accounts for the 13th day of your trip, followed by a fascinating walking tour of the market district.
The relics of the Nawabs of Avadh stand proud on the northwest edge of the city. They include the outrageously opulent Bara Imambara – one of the largest vaulted halls in the world – and the fairy tale Hussainabad Imambara, or ‘Palace of Lights’. Both would have hosted sumptuous banquets and performances of amorous Thumri poetry, music and Kathak dance, performed by courtesans in front of sumptuously attired audiences.
In the afternoon, join a heritage tour of the bazaars, where you’ll be able to sample the Nawabs’ culinary legacy at some of the city’s famous street food stalls and restaurants.
Take an early morning flight back to Delhi to catch your flight back to the UK.
Tailor-made Tour 14 days from £4165 per person
✓ International flights from UK in economy
✓ 12 nights accommodation
✓ Domestic flights in economy, trains in highest available class
✓ All road travel and transfers by private chauffeur-driven vehicles
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
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...
Keoladeo National Park
Glimpses of exotic birds are an everyday experience in India. Flocks of parakeets careen between the trees; Brahminy kites wheel overhead and electric-blue kingfishers flash acros...
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...
‘A teardrop on the face of Eternity’ is how the Bengali mystic poet, Rabindranath Tagore, famously described the Taj Mahal. Built in the mid-16th century by the Mughal emperor Sha...
Ancient inscriptions on shrines carved from the long, narrow, sheer-sided escarpment soaring above the city of Gwalior, 312km (194 miles) southwest of Delhi, show that the hill ha...
Orchha often turns out to be the unexpected highlight of tours across India’s northern plains. Now little more than a sleepy village, the site on the banks of the rocky Betwa Rive...
Erotic sculpture adorns many temples in the subcontinent. None, however, depict sexual ecstasy in so many forms and with such consummate skill as the sandstone shrines of Khajurah...
Varanasi, or ‘Benares’, is the holiest of Hinduism’s seven sacred cities. It stands on the banks of the Ganges, at a bend in the river where traces of human settlement have been u...
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