Arrive for your overnight flight direct to Delhi.
On arrival in Delhi, we stay for one night at the five-star Hyatt Regency Hotel. We drive through the city’s wide, tree-lined avenues designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and tour the best sights of New Delhi, including the Qutub Minaret and poignant reminders of the British Raj, before an evening at leisure.
This morning we are immersed in Old Delhi, starting with an exciting rickshaw ride through the bustling streets. See the vast Red Fort, Chandni Chowk market, the memorial to Gandhi and Humayun’s Tomb. After lunch we continue by road to Agra and the Taj Mahal, arriving in the late afternoon. We stay for one night at the centrally located, four-star Taj Gateway Hotel. Dinner is included tonight.
In the soft morning light, as the mist rises from the Yamuna River, the Taj Mahal seems to float, miragelike, above the surrounding landscape. A combination of extraordinary beauty, symmetry and history makes this wonder of the world one of the planet’s most amazing monuments and you have plenty of time to admire it from all angles. Then, in stunning contrast, you visit the vast red sandstone 16thcentury Agra Fort, once the headquarters of the vast Moghul Empire. This afternoon we continue to Jaipur, staying for two nights at the four-star Holiday Inn Jaipur.
Jaipur is a fascinating place, its pink-coloured buildings contrasting beautifully with the kaleidoscope of striking reds, saffron and deep violets of hundreds of traditional saris whose countless sequins reflect the midday sun. Welcome to Rajasthan, India’s most colourful state! Our first stop is the Amber Fort, located in an amazingly scenic location in the nearby hills. Our tour includes sections reserved for the Maharaja’s wives and concubines and the amazing hall of mirrors. We have a photo stop outside the pink sandstone Palace of the Winds, an incredible honeycomb of windows from which the royal household’s ladies watched the street life and processions below. Next, we visit the City Palace, home to the present Maharaja of Jaipur, viewing the superb collection of formal robes, intricate carpets, fine paintings and an impressive armoury. Finally we see the outstanding 18th-century Jantar Mantar open-air observatory, a collection of early yet extremely accurate astronomical instruments.
This morning we leave Jaipur and experience one of India’s greatest institutions, the iconic railway system. We board the comfortable ‘chair-class’ carriages of the Shatabdi Express, travelling to Ajmer. From here we drive to Pushkar, the sacred Hindu town, home to the world’s largest camel fair. A gathering of as many as 160,000 dealers and coinciding with the full-moon in November, business often takes a back seat to musicians, snake-charmers and dancers on hot coals. After checking in to the family-run three-star superior Pushkar Resort, it’s time to explore the town. We visit its rare Brahma temple, the only place in the world where it is permitted to worship the creator-God of the Hindu religion, continuing through the small market to visit the sacred lake and bathing ghats at the town’s heart. A buffet dinner at your hotel is included tonight.
Leaving Pushkar, we continue towards Nagaur Fort, a little-known fort-cum-palace complex displaying a unique merging of Rajput and Moghul architecture. With its 800-year history and careful restoration, it well deserves its UNESCO recognition. Driving through pleasant country roads, through an arid landscape of sand dunes, we are off the beaten track, surrounded by the rural India of ox carts and small villages before seeing the astonishing Khimsar Fort, where we stay for two nights. Nothing prepares you for the sight of this grand, 16th century edifice of towers, domes and ramparts, in the same family for 21 generations, now a charming heritage hotel. The rooms are all different and spread out within the walls. There’s a bar, restaurant, tea room and spa, plus a lovely pool. Dinner is included tonight, either set out within the picturesque ruins of one of the buildings or along the battlements.
Today we have a free day enjoying our peaceful surroundings, with the option of a jeep drive into the local ‘bush’ hopefully spotting blackbuck and bluebuck, two of the local antelope species, then a walk experiencing colourful village life. There’s plenty of time to relax or explore and enjoy this delightful hotel. Marvel at its extensive ramparts, stroll through the lush green gardens watching peacocks, before taking tea on the veranda. This afternoon perhaps enjoy a drive to the dunes and a short camel cart ride before halting at the desert’s edge to experience that magical moment when the sun sinks slowly in a fiery glow. This evening, there’s a delightful Kalbelia dance troupe, a typical Rajasthani puppet show and traditional musicians.
This morning we take the short drive to Jodhpur, the ‘Blue City’, so named after the colourwash of its ‘old city’ which is totally dominated by the imposing Mehrangarh Fort towering above. Few sights can match this for pure grandeur, a gigantic mass of stonework seemingly growing from the huge hill on which it stands. Its museum houses Emperor Akbar’s sword, plus numerous howdahs and antique belongings of the Maharajas. This afternoon we walk through Jodhpur’s fascinating open-air Clocktower Market, crammed with orange and red turbaned vendors selling absolutely everything and a real photo opportunity. Tonight we stay at the four-star WelcomHotel Jodhpur.
Today we leave Jodhpur and the plains of Rajasthan behind us, driving east to the Aravali Hills. Here the landscape changes to smooth bare hilltops interspersed with lush green narrow valleys, in one of which lies Ranakpur and arguably India’s finest Jain temple. Beautifully constructed entirely from white marble and completely covered by some of the world’s finest intricate carvings, no two of its 1,444 columns are identical. After lunch we continue to Udaipur, where we stay two nights at the four-star Oberoi Trident Hotel. You may also upgrade your stay to the utterly sumptuous five-star Taj Lake Palace, one of the world’s finest hotels and an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience. Also available are upgrades to the award-winning five-star Oberoi Udaivilas, renowned as one of the very best hotels on the Indian subcontinent.
Udaipur, the City of Lakes with its backdrop of green-covered hills, has a stunningly romantic setting which never fails to impress. The stage for countless Bollywood films and James Bond’s ‘Octopussy’, Udaipur’s most famous sight is the astonishing white marble Lake Palace, seemingly floating on the calm waters of Lake Pichola. Overlooking this is the vast complex of the City Palace, where we’ll see the Maharani’s amazingly decorated private apartments, courtyards, pleasure gardens and a host of miniature paintings, palanquins and armaments. We’ll also see the great Durbar Hall and the Crystal Gallery, lined with thousands of unique items of crystal, all produced in Birmingham in 1877. This afternoon you are free to explore as you wish.
Today we take a domestic flight to the Sikh holy city of Amritsar (via Delhi). Our hotel for the next two nights is the five-star Hyatt Amritsar. A buffet dinner is included tonight.
The Golden Temple is quite extraordinary, with this magical building alluringly reflected in its huge sacred pool, surrounded by marble colonnaded arcades. Once inside, the richly gilded inlay work is a revelation - wood panels decorated with gold and silver plus ivory carvings, all under a brilliant dome containing 100kg of pure gold. In accordance with Sikh custom anyone is offered sustenance free of charge, with the resultant kitchens capable of feeding 6,000 people per hour – we see their huge vats of dhal (lentils) and an ancient machine producing a constant stream of hot chapattis! We also see the site of the Amritsar Massacre, where in 1919 a nationalist demonstration of unarmed locals was fired upon by the British authorities, without warning. This pivotal event had a profound effect on Gandhi, who then initiated his ultimately successful ‘civil disobedience’ campaign. In the afternoon, we take the short drive to the nearby Bagh Border post with Pakistan to see the ‘Beating the Retreat’ ceremony. Over the years a lighthearted, rather bizarre competition has developed as to which country has the most flamboyant marching style and vociferous supporters, with thousands coming to see this event daily. It’s a typically Indian concoction, a blend of open-air theatre, party and military parade. Finally, both border gates are ceremoniously closed and the respective flags lowered for the night.
We fly back to Delhi for our final night at the Vivanta by Taj Dwarka Hotel, with dinner, located close to the airport.
Transfer to the airport for the return flight to London.