Discover the man-made beauty that lies across the north of India – from Jaipur’s ‘Palace of the Winds’ and Royal City Palace, Agra’s Red Fort and iconic Taj Mahal, to the carved steps leading down to the river in Varanasi. The magical splendour of the Taj Mahal is a must-see on any North Indian odyssey. Enjoy a guided exploration of this immaculate icon. Here’s what you need to know before your visit: https://www.intrepidtravel.com/adventures/taj-mahal-travel-guide/. Be immersed in the spirituality of India – the Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi, the ghats of Varanasi, Kama Sutra carved temples and Buddhist pilgrimage sites; evening prayer ceremonies, ancient bathing rituals and candle flower ceremonies on the Ganges. Feel the magic of India that runs through everything, from a throbbing bazaar to a packed cinema showing a Bollywood blockbuster
Combine the best of India and Nepal in one superbly comfortable trip. Experience the colour and chaos of Delhi’s bazaars, visit erotic temple carvings in Khajuraho and witness intimate displays of faith on the burning ghats of Varanasi. Roam the grounds of the iconic Taj Mahal, head out on a jungle safari and listen for the whispering prayer flags of Kathmandu. Throw in temple towns and village visits, lakeside retreats and mountain hikes, spiritual moments and local interactions for an unforgettable tour bursting with incredible adventures.
Welcome to India. Arrive in Delhi and take your complimentary airport transfer to the hotel. You adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm where you'll meet your tour leader and fellow travellers. If you arrive early, make sure to get out and explore this exciting capital. Filled with historical sites from different eras, museums and galleries, shops and endless bazaars, there’s much to see and do.
After breakfast, your tour leader will take you to the city’s historic heart with a guided walking tour of Old Delhi. Set off on the city's modern metro system, then get a taste of India's famed public transport with an optional cycle rickshaw ride through chaotic streets, such as the famous Chandni Chowk. Make a visit to the Jama Masjid, Delhi's oldest mosque and one of its most impressive buildings, then visit the Sheeshganj Gurudwara (Sikh Temple) to learn about the Sikh religion. The rest of the day is free for further exploration or maybe to join an Urban Adventure (booked locally). Perhaps visit the World Heritage-listed Mughal masterpiece of Humayun's Tomb, the first garden tomb in India, built in 1570. Wonder at the tall brick minaret of Qutub Minar, which was started all the way back in the 12th-century, or explore the mighty Red Fort of Delhi. Part palace and part fort, it played an integral part in the history of the city with former residents ranging from royal families to British soldiers.
Farewell Delhi’s hypnotising chaos this morning and set off for Agra, home to one of the world’s most recognisable monuments. Get a taste of India’s rail system with an express train journey to Agra (approx 2 hours). The best way to uncover Agra is by cycle rickshaw, so after arriving you’ll be taken on a rickshaw tour of the city. You’ll visit the spectacular Taj Mahal. Best known as a monument to love and loss, the 17th-century Taj is a beautiful example of Mughal architecture, surrounded by trimmed English gardens. Agra is also home to one of the finest looking forts in India. Enter the dark red sandstone stronghold of Agra Fort – part fortress, part palace and part prison – and search through throne rooms and tiny but incredibly decorated mosques. The rest of the day is yours to spend as you please. A visit to Sheroes Cafe, which employs women who have been affected by acid attacks, is highly recommended.
Head to Jaipur, Rajasthan's capital, by private vehicle (approximately 6 hours). Get your first glimpse of the Pink City and its trademark building colour on a walking tour. Navigate crowded streets packed with cars, camel carts, rickshaws, trucks, and bicycles, past traditionally dressed Rajput men wearing colourful turbans and sporting magnificent moustaches, while observing the city’s intricate architecture. Visit a bazaar to browse handcrafted textiles, folk art, and the local specialty of semi-precious stones. Make a photo stop at India's most photographed building after the Taj Mahal, the Hawa Mahal or 'Palace of the Winds'. You have the option of also visiting Jantar Mantar, an observatory filled with instruments to track the stars, built by the founder of Jaipur, Maharaja Jai Singh. This evening, continue to indulge in the wonders of Indian culture by watching a Bollywood blockbuster Cinema – an elaborate combination of action romance, drama and music – at the spectacular Raj Mandir
An optional early morning hot air balloon experience won’t disappoint – wake early for a breathtaking overhead view of the Pink City bathed in early morning light. (For additional information about this optional excursion, please see the important notes section of your trip notes). Later, climb the twisting roads of the Aravalli Hills and round the final bend to see the massive Amber Fort loom into view. The legacy of a fallen empire, the opulent palace is a superb example of Rajput architecture and is packed with elaborate rooms of lavish murals, frescoed arches and delicate jali work. Don’t miss the sparkling Mirror Palace, covered floor-to-ceiling in thousands of reflective tiles, the hall becomes a dazzling fantasy with the light of a single match. The rest of the day is free to explore more of Jaipur that you might have missed yesterday.
Arrive in the holy centre of Varanasi in the morning after a short flight from Jaipur. Varanasi is awash with shrines and temples, and the ultimate destination for Hindu pilgrims who travel from far and wide to experience this spiritual city. Take a walking tour of the old city, through narrow laneways packed with stalls and shops, past the dhobi wallahs, and the endless temples that echo with bells and the pungent aroma of incense. This evening soak up the unique atmosphere of a candle flower ceremony.
Today starts early with a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges, where you can watch the light gradually illuminate the many ghats and temples along the river as you pass. There is an option to take a trip to nearby Sarnath, one of the four main Buddhist pilgrimage destinations. The site is where Buddha preached his message of the path to enlightenment and features a number of stupas and museums to explore. Alternatively the day can be spent exploring the laneways and alleys behind the ghats, or picking up some examples of the excellent local silk industry. Perhaps witness pilgrims performing ancient bathing rituals and ceremonies as your time in this sacred city comes to an end.
Varanasi - Delhi
Use a free morning to delve further into the spiritual atmosphere of Varanasi, wander through the ghats or perhaps haggle with vendors in colourful bazaars. Return to Delhi by plane (about 1.5 hours) for a last chance to explore India's capital. Perhaps head to the legendary Connaught Place for some last-minute shopping. This evening, why not share a meal with your group and reminisce about your travels before the India portion of your trip come to an end.
After you check out of the hotel, you will say goodbye to your Indian tour leader at the airport and take a short flight to Kathmandu, Nepal.
Kathmandu is a mixture of ancient architecture and modern development and, with its rich artistic and cultural heritage, it remains the legendary destination it has been for decades. Crowded markets and bazaars are the centre of Nepali life and the narrow streets are home to holy men, monks, bicycles, incense, goats and sacred cows. As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change in Kathmandu. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary in the afternoon or evening of day 12 and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers.
Whether permitting, take a Mount Everest scenic flight this morning. This amazing experience will take you over Sagamartha National Park, through a crescendo of the highest peaks in the world, climaxing by getting up close to Mount Everest. Later in the morning you will explore Kathmandu on an organised sightseeing tour. You will visit Bodhnath Stupa, one of the biggest Buddhist shrines in the world, where you can observe Buddhist monks in prayer in the monasteries surrounding the stupa. You will also visit Pashupatinath, the most famous Hindu temple in the country, located on the banks of the holy Bagmati River. Here you will see Hindu holy men (sadhus) meditating, pilgrims bathing, and occasionally funeral pyres burning on the ghats. The rest of your afternoon in Kathmandu is free for further sightseeing and exploration. Perhaps head out into Durbar Square, in front of the old royal palace and home to numerous beautiful temples, and browse the stalls of merchant's wares.
Today you will have an early departure from the hotel for your transfer to the domestic terminal at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan Airport. From here you will fly to Pokhara, with a flight time of about 30 minutes. There are often spectacular views of the main Himalayan chain to the north on this flight. On arrival you will take a boat ride across the lake (Phewa Tal), which is the second largest in Nepal. Visit the Peace Pagoda, where spectacular views of the mountains await. You can see the Annapurnas from here, and the famous fishtail peak, Machhapuchhare, and back across to Pokhara. You will also visit the fascinating International Mountain Museum to learn some amazing tales of past climbing expeditions – some ending in triumph, some ending in tragedy.
Enjoy a free day for further exploration in the peaceful surroundings of Pokhara. Your leader can advise you of sightseeing opportunities. It is worth taking a boat for a row out on the lake, especially if the weather's fine. The lakeside area has great shopping opportunities and internet cafes. Pokhara has an interesting old area as well as an elaborate Hindu temple and a Buddhist monastery.