Airport check-in for your overnight flight to Delhi.
On arrival, we transfer to the five-star Taj Palace Hotel. After a short rest we commence our guided tour of New Delhi. The city centre, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1911, is bisected by wide, tree-lined avenues, a hub which clearly reflects the Raj legacy and home to the former Viceroy’s Palace, now the Presidential Palace. Heading down the imposing Rajpath, we pass India Gate and the Parliament building. We’ll visit some of Delhi’s older monuments, including the Qutub Minaret, started in 1199, which is the tallest stone built tower in India. Nearby is Humayun’s tomb, an outstanding example of Moghul architecture and the first mausoleum of its type, pre-dating the more widely known Taj Mahal by nearly a century. Dinner is included tonight.
This morning we continue our city tour, first visiting Old Delhi, starting with the Raj Ghat, a fittingly simple memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. We continue past the imposing walls and battlements of the great Red Fort before visiting the Jama Masjid, one of Asia’s largest mosques. We leave Delhi in the afternoon for our drive to Agra, arriving at our four-star Oberoi Trident hotel, in the late afternoon.
We rise early to catch the sun rising over the Taj Mahal. In the soft morning light, as the mist rises from the Yamuna River behind it, the Taj Mahal seems to float, mirage-like, above the surrounding landscape. A combination of extraordinary beauty, symmetry and history makes this wonder of the world one of the most amazing monuments on the planet and you will have plenty of time to admire it from all angles. Moving on, we continue our tour with a visit to the vast red sandstone Agra Fort. Completed in 1573, it was the headquarters of the Moghul Empire, boasting vast size and opulence, its buildings make it more of a walled palace than a fort. In the evening you have the option of completing a wonderful day with another visit to the Taj Mahal, to witness the shrine at sunset.
Leaving Agra this morning we continue towards the ancient abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri, built in 1571, as Emperor Akbar’s imperial capital. Although it was mysteriously abandoned just 15 years later, it remains in a remarkable state of preservation, with numerus palaces, wide courtyards and beautiful carvings. Just 15 kilometres away is the Bagh Bharatpur, a luxury Heritage Hotel in Bharatpur where we stop for lunch (included) before going on to the railway station to catch the Shatabdi Express for our comfortable two and a half hour journey to Ranthambore National Park. Originally the private hunting preserve of Maharajahs, its 400 square kilometres of forested rolling hills, valleys and lakes form a unique ecosystem. Started in 1973, India’s famous Tiger Project was created to protect the country’s tiger population. Despite many difficulties, the tigers of Ranthambore have survived and numbers have stabilised. Our hotel for the next two nights is the comfortable family-run three-star Ranthambore Regency on full board basis.
An early start this morning is worth the sacrifice as we head out to the park for our safari using specially built, 20-person, open-top four wheel drive vehicles known as ‘canters’. After many years of conservation, Ranthambore is now the best place to spot tigers in India, but the reserve is about more than tigers – over 300 bird species have been counted including impressive crested eagles, painted stork and wild peacocks. The park’s residents also include large numbers of sambars, the largest Asian antelope, as well as marsh crocodiles, wild boar and rare sloth bears and leopards. Look out for the playful troop of black-faced langur monkeys near the main entrance gate. We return to our hotel in the late morning, with time to relax before and after lunch. In the afternoon we take our second trip into the park for another chance to spot the elusive tigers. Dinner is included this evening.
Leaving Ranthambore after breakfast we head north to the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur. Our afternoon tour will cover all the major highlights of this ancient city. The famous Hawa Mahal, known as the Palace of Winds, is one of our first stops before we continue to the Astronomical Observatory constructed in 1726 and on to the City Palace, still home to the present Maharajah of Jaipur, where we’ll view collections of costumes, carpets, paintings and the impressive armoury. Our hotel for the next two nights is the new four-star Hilton Jaipur.
This morning another highlight, on a tour of highlights. You’ll visit the immense Amber Fort, located in the hills just a short drive out of Jaipur. Sampling all the most fascinating sights, our guided tour includes the sections reserved for the Maharajah’s wives and concubines as well as the remarkable hall of mirrors, with tiny delicate convex mirrors embedded like a mosaic in the walls and ceilings.
After breakfast, we bid goodbye to Jaipur and head north, deeper into the interior of rural Rajasthan. We pass numerous small villages and towns on our way to the Sekhawati region of the state and the village of Alsisar. This was once part of India’s Silk Road and over the years the merchants here grew very rich, building a large number of luxurious mansions known as ‘havelis’, to display their wealth through the magnificence of their frescoed walls. Although most of these have now been abandoned, the imposing and luxurious residence of the local kings has been lovingly restored into an amazing Heritage hotel, the Alsisar Mahal, where we stay for the night. Dinner is included tonight.
After breakfast we head back to Delhi and spend one night at the Taj Palace Hotel. Dinner is included this evening.
We take the morning express train from Delhi for our four hour journey north to Kalka. Our train reservations are in ‘chair-class’ carriages, with comfortable seating, air-conditioning and large windows. At Kalka we change trains onto the Shimla narrow-gauge ‘toy’ train for the last part of our journey. Although the carriages are smaller and not air-conditioned, the compensation is the increasingly spectacular scenery en-route. Inaugurated by Viceroy Lord Curzon back in 1903, this amazing railway encounters no less than 800 bridges and 102 tunnels on its 96 kilometre journey to Shimla. A packed lunch is included today. We arrive in Shimla’s small station in the late afternoon from where we are transferred straight to the town’s haven of luxury, the Oberoi Cecil Hotel, where we stay for three nights, bed and breakfast. With its Burmese teak floors, magnificent atrium lobby, its excellent restaurant, indoor pool and Asian Spa, this is one of India’s best-known hotels. All the spacious rooms are air-conditioned, beautifully furnished and have views of the surrounding teak forests.
Today we explore the many reminders of British colonial life in Shimla. The most fascinating by far is the immense Viceregal Lodge and its beautiful botanical gardens, built in Scottish baronial style to house the Viceroy and his staff for the six months they were based in the town. Although some of the interior of the building is closed to the public, the areas that are open give an incredible glimpse into the not-so-distant past. Particularly touching is the large collection of photographs from the late Victorian era and the last years of the Raj. We also take a walk along the pedestrian-only Mall, from Scandal Point and Christ Church past the mock- Tudor Post Office, the Gaiety Theatre and the Town Hall. There are a huge number of shops and markets and Shimla is particularly known for the quality of its locally made pashmina shawls.
Enjoy a day at leisure in Shimla, relax at the hotel pool or spa, or maybe take another stroll along the mall and do some last minute bargain hunting in the markets. Alternatively, there are a number of short local ‘treks’ that can be arranged in the surrounding hills. A sumptuous buffet dinner is included this evening.
Today we say goodbye to Shimla and the Oberoi Hotel as we start our return journey to Delhi. This time we descend by car to Kalka from where we catch the train back to Delhi for our last night at the Taj Diplomatic Enclave Hotel (previously named the Taj Palace).
We depart Delhi in the early afternoon on our flight home to the UK, arriving back the same day.