Discover Northern India’s man-made beauties – from Jaipur’s ‘Palace of the Winds’ and Royal City Palace to Agra’s Red Fort and iconic Taj Mahal.. The Taj Mahal may be one of the most recognisable buildings in the world, but do you know its poetic history? A local expert will fill you in.. See pilgrims praying and bathing along the ghats of the sacred Ganges River during an unforgettable sunrise cruise in Varanasi – one of India’s holiest cities.. Take a nature walk in the acclaimed Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, looking out for tiger tracks with your local village guides.
Experience the real India on this comfortable introduction to the cultures of the north and the natural beauty of the south. Travelling from Delhi to Kovalam, see what that India has to offer on a 21-day enigmatic adventure. The country’s highlights and hidden jewels are revealed against a backdrop of green through the Western Ghats and in the vibrant towns of Rajasthan. Visit India’s lively cities contrasted with the quiet repose of tiny fishing villages, along with tea gardens, tribal homes and colonial enclaves. This wonderful introduction to the magic of India includes lavish palaces, vibrant bazaars, Bollywood blockbusters, and the incomparable Taj Mahal, so take time to discover its beating heart.
Welcome to India. Arrive in Delhi and take your complimentary airport transfer to the hotel. Your 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 the Essential Trip Information). 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 to reminisce about your travels.
Today, take a flight from Delhi to Chennai to join the second stage of your trip. This flight is included in the cost of the trip, and your group leader will provide you all the details, plus where to meet a representative in Chennai to be transferred to your accommodation. Chennai – previously known as Madras – was the site of the first major settlement of the East India Company in 1639, and is now the fourth largest city in India. It's true that it is busy, noisy, and often extremely hot, but in many ways, it is a surprisingly efficient and orderly place by Indian standards. The Government Museum is worth a visit if you're interested in the history of the city, and for motorcycle enthusiasts, the Enfield Factory tour is a must – though it only runs on certain days of the week, so check days and times before you make the journey. You might prefer to just wander the streets and soak up the atmosphere, exploring the many temples and bustling local markets. Keep in mind that there’s another meeting scheduled at 6 pm, where you’ll meet your new travel crew.
Mamallapuram – Puducherry
From Chennai, drive along the scenic East Coast Road to the fishing village of Mamallapuram. Take a guided tour around the town’s laidback beaches and temples, keeping an eye out for the sculptures and carvings dotted around the place. Visit the incredible 8th-century Shore Temple and its mandapams (carved pillars) to pay your respects to the deity Shiva. Continue onto Puducherry (Pondicherry) in the late afternoon where your evening is then free. Today's drive should take around three hours in total.
Explore Puducherry, which was under French rule until 1954, and the European style of the town extends from beautiful colonial architecture right down to the uniforms of the police. Enjoy a walking tour to see local temples, the French Quarter, and the spiritual community of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The rest of the day and evening is free.
Drive to Karaikudi today (approximately 6 hours). Take a walk around the village after checking in and get a taste of village life. Visit some havelis (mansions), whose grandiose architecture will no doubt impress. Be sure to sample some spicy Chettinad cuisine while you're here.