Tailor-made Tour 12 days from £3640 per person
Places Visited: Aurangabad, Ajanta & Ellora Caves, Maheshwar, Mandu, Indore, Bhopal, Sanchi, Mumbai
A brace of six UNESCO World Heritage sites feature on this journey from Mumbai into the heart of the central India. The region is among the longest continually inhabited places in the world, with Buddhist monuments dating back 2,400 years, and prehistoric cave paintings to the very dawn of human settlement in Asia. Every day of the trip features at least one archaeological wonder, whether the ancient murals of Ajanta, the awesome cave temples of Ellora or the Afghan tombs of medieval Mandu. You also get to stay in a functioning royal palace on the Narmada River, watch silk weavers at work in a 17th century mansion, and experience the intensity of three Indian cities with great historical pedigrees: Mumbai, Indore and Bhopal.
Cultural Holidays Family Holidays
Fly overnight from the UK to Mumbai.
On arrival in the morning, transfer to the domestic terminal for your onward flight to Aurangabad. Spend the rest of the day recovering from your journey, perhaps venturing out to see the Bibi-ka-Makbara tomb before it closes at sunset time.
Aurangabad takes its name from the last great Mughal, Aurangzeb, who made this his capital at the end of the 18th century. The latter years of Aurangzeb’s rule were dominated by conflict with the Maratha warlords further south, and the town, which he expanded and fortified with imposing battlements, made a better forward base from which to command his armies.
Aurangzeb’s son, Prince Azam Shah, was responsible for the grand tomb on the outskirts, dedicated to his mother, Begum Rabi’a Daurani. Originally intended to rival the Taj Mahal but lacking the graceful proportions of its predecessor, it ended up becoming a poor cousin. For all that, the Bibi-ka-Makbara and its Persian-style gardens offer a glorious place for a stroll in the late afternoon light, and a perfect primer for the historic and architectural wonders that lie in store over the coming days.
Aurangabad, Ellora Caves
Visit the Ellora Caves today, pausing at Daulatabad Fort en route.
Crowning a sheer-sided outcrop of basalt overlooking an ancient caravan route, Daulatabad Fort dates from the 14th century, when it briefly became the capital of the Tuqluq Dynasty under Muhammed bin Tuqluq, who forcibly relocated the entire population of Delhi here for two years before water shortages led to the citadel being abandoned.
UNESCO-listed Ellora is the largest rock-cut religious complex in the world, with over a hundred cave temples spanning from the 6th to the 11th century AD. The largest of them, the Kailasa Temple, is the biggest of its kind in India.
Ajanta Caves, Maheshwar
An early start is required today as you drive northeast to visit the Ajanta Cave complex, then continue on to Maheshwar, on the Narmada River, for a two-night stay.
The onward journey takes you over the wild, mountainous fringes of the Deccan Plateau to the Ajanta Caves complex, one of the greatest surviving wonders from ancient India.
Cut from the flanks of a horseshoe-shaped ravine, the caves are renowned above all for their murals. The tempura paintings, created between 150 BC and 650 AD, depict a rich cross-section of life in the ancient world, from court scenes to processions, markets, great rituals, battles and boudoirs.
Today's ultimate destination is Maheshwar, on the sacred Narmada River. The town outstanding monument, Ahilya Fort, presides in stately fashion over the waterfront ghats and temples at the bottom of town, forming an ethereal spectacle in the warm light of late afternoon. Guest rooms in the fort provide the area’s most luxurious accommodation. For those on more of a budget, the government-run
Narmada Retreat nearby offers an acceptable alternative. Spend the remaining time before supper enjoying the unique atmosphere of the riverfront, which looks magnificent around sunset time.
Spend the day exploring the numerous temples and wonderful handloom workshop for which Maheshwar is famous.
Traces of human settlement have been unearthed in Maheshwar dating back thousands of years, but the town’s heyday was in the 17th century, when it became the capital of Rajmata Devi Ahilya Holkar, whose descendants still live in the palace. The Holkars were the driving force behind the weavers co-operative which today forms the backbone of the local economy. Located in a historic building, it is run as a charitable foundation called REHWA, whose profits are ploughed into welfare programmes to benefit the female workforce and their families. A factory shop sells sarees, scarves and shawls made of cotton and silk in gorgeous, earthy colours.
Either spend the day relaxing in Ahilya Fort, or make an excursion to the sacred city of Ujjain, or the temple town of Omkareshwar.
Ujjain, on the Kshipra River, has been continuously inhabited for over 2,500 years. As one of the four main sites of the Kumbh Mela, it ranks among India’s most sacred cities, and even outside festival times its riverside ghats and temples, painted pretty salmon and ochre colours, throng with pilgrims.
Another bustling pilgrimage destination, this time on the Narmada to the east of Maheshwar, is Omkareshwar, whose numerous temples are clustered on an island in the river. Sunset, as the temple drums and bells announce evening aarthi and pilgrims place flaming diya on the water, is the best time to be there.
Travel north to Indore today, stopping at the deserted city of Mandu en route.
Mandu’s evocative ruins are all that remains of a Muslim capital which flourished on a far-flung plateau above the Narmada Valley in the 14th and 15th centuries. The crop of cracked tombs, palaces, mosques and pleasure pavilions scattered across the rocky terrain barely hint at the extravagant lifestyles led by the Sultans who ruled from here. Its pièce de résistance, the white marble Tomb of Hoshang Shah, is said to have inspired the architect who designed the Taj Mahal.
Drive to Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh, in the morning. Excursion to the temple at Bhojpur (site of India’s largest Shivalingam ) and the prehistoric rock art site at Bhimbetkar in the afternoon.
Some of the paleolithic paintings at Bhimbetka, on the edge of the Vindhya range, are around 30,000 years, although evidence of human settlements in the same shelters dates back as far as 100,000 years. Hunting and stylized figures in yellow and red ochre predominate, some showing drinking, burial and dance scenes. The site has enjoyed UNESCO-World-Heritage status since 2003.
Just off the road to Bhimbetka from Bhopal stands the imposing Bhojeshwar Temple, whose central Shivalingam is the largest in India. Measuring 5.5m (15ft) in height, it was carved from a single block of rock. The monument formed part of a much more extensive capital complex featuring a large hilltop palace. Two dams in the nearby river date from the same period in the 11th century.
The ancient Buddhist site at Sanchi is the target for today’s daytrip. In the afternoon, visit the Chowk market area of Bhopal and giant Taj-ul Masjid.
Dating from the very dawn of Indian history in the third century BC, Sanchi was founded by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka in honour of his wife, who was born nearby. Over the centuries, the hilltop complex grew to a major pilgrimage centre. Surrounded by fragments of railings and gateway arches elaborately carved with some of the finest stonework surviving from the ancient world, the ruins of Ashoka’s Great Stupa form the pivotal point of the site.
Bhopal saw its golden age over 2000 years later, in the 19th century, when it was ruled by a succession of Begums, or ‘queens’. A grandiloquent monument to their rule is the massive Taj-ul Masjid, India’s largest mosque.
Transfer to the airport in the morning for the short flight to Mumbai, where you’ll spend two nights. City sightseeing in the afternoon.
Mumbai has been India’s busiest port and industrial centre since the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. As famous for its traffic jams as record-breaking movie industry, the Maharashtran capital is above all a place to gain a flavour of modern India. As an introduction, we recommend a visit to the Prince of Wales Museum and a walking tour of the bustling Kalagodha and Fort districts in the afternoon, winding up at the Asiatic Library on Horniman Circle – a building evocative of the Raj era. You’ll be staying at one of the city’s principal landmarks, the illustrious Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, overlooking the harbour.
A full day’s sightseeing and shopping take up the final day of your tour.
Stroll across the piazza of the Gateway of India first thing after breakfast to catch a launch across Bombay Harbour to Elephanta Island. Hollowed from a hill of brown-black basalt 13 centuries ago, the pillared shrines contain a series of awesome bas reliefs, the most iconic of them the three-headed ‘Trimurti’, representing the three aspects of the God Shiva.
After lunch, enjoy a spot of shopping in the crafts emporia around Colaba, or venture uptown to Crawford Market, the city’s principal source of fresh produce, calling at Victoria Terminus en route for a look at the largest railway station built in India by the British. For sunset, we recommend a stroll along Chowpatty Beach, with its iconic view over Back Bay and the skyscrapers of Malabar Hill.
Transfer to the airport for your return flight to the UK, which will arrive the same evening.
Tailor-made Tour 12 days from £3640 per person
✓ International flights from London
✓ 10 nights accommodation
✓ All internal transportation and transfers
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Places and Experiences in this tour
Ajanta & Ellora
Nowhere else in India does the distant past feel closer to the surface than the rock-cut complexes of Ellora and Ajanta, a day’s journey northeast of Mumbai. Carved from the mount...
Scattered across a high plateau overlooking the Narmada Valley are the ruins of a once great city dating from the earliest phase of Muslim expansion into central India. Echoes of ...
The capital of Madya Pradesh, Bhopal, is infamous for the appalling industrial disaster of 1984 when an American-built pesticide plant leaked poisonous gas into the city, causing ...
Less than an hour’s drive northeast of Bhopal lies one of the country’s most evocative archaeological sites, dating from the very dawn of Indian history in the third century BC, w...
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,...
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