15 days from £ 3745 per person
Places Visited: Delhi, Varanasi, Khajuraho, Orchha, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur
Experience India’s sacred and religious heritage on our tour of the north’s historic highlights. Spanning 2,500 years of monumental architecture, this route across the Gangetic Plains to southern Rajasthan weaves between India’s most iconic temples, palaces and forts, culminating with a stay in the dreamy lakeside city of Udaipur. In the course of a highly varied fortnight you’ll travel in the footsteps of the Buddha, experience the erotic intensity of Khajuraho’s Tantric stone carvings and watch sunrise over the Ganges at Varanasi, as well as seeing the Taj and many other fabulous medieval wonders, including a couple of rarely visited gems.
Fly overnight from London Heathrow to Delhi.
On arrival, you’ll be met by your driver and TransIndus guide and escorted to your hotel. Spend the rest of the day recovering from your flight, perhaps venturing out towards early evening to visit the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, near Connaught Circus.
Made of white marble and crowned by a gilded onion dome, the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib and shimmering pool inside it are places of great sanctity for Indian Sikhs, and offer the most atmospheric introduction possible to capital. The complex in its present form dates from the late 18th century and was constructed at a place associated with the eighth Sikh Guru, Guru Har Krishnan, who resided in a bungalow on the spot. At a Langar, or ‘canteen’ in the temple, pilgrims are fed nourishing, free meals of chapatis and black dal by volunteers. If you’re lucky, you may see groups of Akalis, members of a Sikh warrior sect, dressed in traditional ceremonial garb.
Full-day’s sightseeing, starting with a cycle-rickshaw ride through the lanes of Old Delhi, followed by a visit to the Jama Masjid mosque. In the afternoon, visit the Akshardham temple and Dargah of Sufi saint, Khwaja Nizamuddin.
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, the next stop on your tour. After admiring the view from its minarets, enjoy lunch at one of the famous kebab restaurants below, before driving across the Yamuna River for a taste of modern Hinduism in the form of the vast Akshardham Mandir, officially the world’s largest Hindu temple. Afterwards, visit the ancient Sufi shrine at Nizamuddin, guided by young residents of the local neighbourhood. Clients of a project designed to alleviate poverty in the area, your young guides will enthusiastically show you around the calligraphy shops and perfumeries, and maybe invite you back to their home for tea!
Today you fly across the Ganges Plains to Varanasi, the most revered Hindu pilgrimage location in the country.
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 of the river, believed to wash away the sins of past lifetimes. After exploring the ghats and temples with your guide, 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.
Take a boat trip on the Ganges in the morning, then join a walking tour of the old city with a specialist local guide. In the afternoon, visit the Buddhist pilgrimage site of Sarnath.
Sarnath was where the Buddha gave his first sermon in 530BC, revealing the ‘Eight-Fold Path’ to his five disciples. The exact spot is marked by the cylindrical Dhamekh Stupa, built in 500 AD on the remnants of a much older one commissioned by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka. The structure – the most impressive among a scattering of ancient vestiges on the site – takes pride of place in an immaculately kept park of well-tended lawns and flower beds. Mission temples representing countries from across the Buddhist world provide additional interest.
After an early morning boat ride on the Ganges, take an afternoon flight to Khajuraho for a night's stay near the famous temple complex.
Watching the pre-dawn rituals on the ghats of Varanasi is a must, and there’s no better vantage point than from a rowing boat on the water. When the sun rises, it bathes the sacred steps and people on them in a radiant light. Somewhat less uplifting, but an essential part of religious life in the city, are the cremation ghats, where bodies are burned on large pyres.
You should arrive at Khajuraho in time for a look at some of the main temples before supper. The sensuously carved stonework looks at its most ethereal in the late-evening light.
Spend the morning on a guided tour of the UNESCO-World-Heritage-listed temple complex at Khajuraho – one of the wonders of ancient India. Continue to Orchha in the afternoon where you stay for the night.
This extraordinary assemblage of shrines owes its survival to the remoteness of the location in central India. Even in the period between the 10th and 13th centuries when they were being built, the temples lay well of the beaten track and miraculously escaped the attention of the marauding Muslim armies that destroyed so much of India’s religious art in the medieval era. Famed above all for their erotica, the stone sculpture that adorns the Khajuraho shrines today appears astonishingly fresh.
Enjoy a leisurely tour of Orchha’s deserted palaces, temples, havelis and cenotaphs. In the evening, you’ll transfer to the station to catch the evening express train to Agra where you’ll be staying for two nights.
Orchha ranks among our favourite destinations in northern India, thanks to its tumbledown, sleepy feel and picturesque setting amid swaths of dhak forest on the banks of the Betwa. The monuments are deserted and in a generally poor state of repair, though all the more atmospheric for that. The most iconic are the 14 beautiful chhatris, or cenotaphs, rising from the river’s northern banks.
A full day’s sightseeing in Agra starts with a visit to the city’s imposing Mughal Fort, followed by the Itimad-ud Daulah tomb and Taj Mahal around sunset, when its richly decorated marble stonework glows an unearthly crimson colour.
Shah Jahan, creator of the Taj Mahal, was imprisoned at the end of his life by his son, Aurangzeb, in Agra Fort, and is believed to have spent the last years of his life gazing at his wife’s tomb from a domed pavilion overlooking the river. On the opposite bank of the Yamuna, the exquisitely decorated Itimad-ud Daulah tomb provides the next stop on your tour. The mausoleum’s inlay work foreshadowed that of the Taj, which you’ll visit towards the end of the afternoon.
The tour continues with a drive west to Jaipur, pausing at Fatehpur Sikri to explore the remains of Mughal Emperor Akbar’s palace and the impressive 9th century Chand Baori step well at Abhaneri.
Fatehpur Sikri, the former capital of Emperor Akbar, was built at the end of the 16th century but only occupied for sixteen years. 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 and the beautiful Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti (a revered Sufi mystic).
Just off the main Agra–Jaipur highway, the magnificent stepwell at Abhaneri is your second stop of the day. Comprising 3,500 carved steps spread over thirteen storeys, the well is the deepest of its kind in India.
A full day’s sightseeing in Jaipur take up day six, beginning with a trip out to Amber Fort, followed by the Hawa Mahal, Janta Mantar Observatory and City Palace museum.
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.
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.
Today involves a long drive southwest to Udaipur, stopping at Bijay Niwas Palace, on the banks of the Khari River for lunch. You could also opt to take a short flight instead.
You’ll arrive in Udaipur just before sunset, in time for a stroll around the lakeside.
Tours of the city’s 11 royal palaces, nearby temples, ghats and royal gardens take up most of today.
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 museums, apartments and courtyard gardens, 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. Soak up the sunset colours and unique atmosphere of this romantic city from the water on a boat trip across the lake to the ethereal Jag Mandir, or ‘floating palace’.
A day of low-key sightseeing, shopping and relaxing by the pool will fill the final day of your trip.
Countless shops around the lake offer a tempting array of Indian arts and crafts, ranging from carpets to miniature paintings, devotional sculpture and beautiful textiles. Hand-made paper, fashioned into notebooks and writing sets, is another local speciality.
Catch an early morning flight back to Delhi to pick your onward departure to the UK.
15 days from £ 3745 per person
✓ International flights from UK in economy
✓ 13 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
Delhi, India’s capital, is where most new arrivals alight – a megacity whose fast pace and jarring contrasts are guaranteed to induce a degree of wide-eyed amazement, no matter ho...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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-stopp...
‘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...
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 amid the chaos of its wall...
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