You should arrive at the airport to take your overnight direct flight to Delhi.
After our late morning arrival, we transfer to the five-star Hyatt Regency Hotel in the centre of the city for one night’s bed and breakfast. All rooms are stylishly furnished with air-conditioning, flat-screen TVs, personal safe, mini-bar and complimentary tea/coffee. In the afternoon we take a guided tour of New and Old Delhi. Bisected by wide tree-lined avenues, New Delhi was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1911 and clearly reflects the legacy of the British Raj. Surprisingly green and low-rise, at its centre we see the former Viceroy’s Palace, now the Presidential Palace and as we head down the imposing Rajpath, we reach India Gate and the Parliament buildings. We’ll also visit some of Delhi’s older monuments: the 12th-century Qutub Minaret is the tallest stone-built tower in India, whilst nearby is Humayun’s tomb, an outstanding example of Moghul architecture and the first mausoleum of its type, pre-dating the Taj Mahal by nearly a century.
This morning is at leisure for a much-needed lie-in and late breakfast. At around midday, we plunge into the bustling heart of Old Delhi for a tour with a difference! Travelling by cycle rickshaw, you’ll see the busy shopping streets and walk through the markets where the locals buy their food and spices, with several opportunities to taste what’s on offer. You’ll explore parts of the capital few tourists will get to see and finish in a typical ‘haveli’, a traditional mansion, where high tea and snacks will be beautifully laid out. Then, early in the evening we proceed to the Safdarjung Railway Terminal to join the train and start our wonderful journey aboard the Deccan Odyssey towards our first port of call, Ranthambore National Park.
This morning we visit Ranthambore National Park. Originally the private hunting preserve of Maharajas, its 400 square kilometres of rolling hills, valleys and lakes form an enchanting and unique ecosystem. India’s famous Tiger Project was created to protect the country’s tiger population and despite many difficulties, the tigers of Ranthambore have survived, numbers have stabilised and this remains the best place to spot tigers in the world. After an early start, we drive into the park for our morning safari in specially-built 20-person open-top, four-wheel drives known as ‘canters’. As part of its conservation efforts, Ranthambore strictly limits the number of daily visitors and the routes that can be followed within the park. But the park is not just about tigers – over 300 bird species have been counted, including impressive crested eagles, painted storks and wild peacocks. The reserve’s residents also include large numbers of sambars, the largest Asian antelope, as well as marsh crocodiles, wild boar, rare sloth bears and even leopards. Look out too for the playful troop of langur monkeys near the main gate. We return to the Indian Maharaja in the late morning, with time to relax before and after lunch on board. During the afternoon we set out to visit some of the local villages around the National Park. It’s a great way to gain an insight into the daily lives of the farmers and typical Indian village life. On our way back to the train, we stop for High Tea at what used to be the Maharaja’s hunting lodge, now the intimate Sawai Madhopur Lodge, with its shady colonnaded verandah overlooking the lawn and lush gardens.
In the morning we arrive in Agra, where we visit one of the world’s most iconic monuments – the Taj Mahal. Framed by the winding Yamuna River behind it, this absolute masterpiece seems to almost float like a mirage above the surrounding landscape. The combination of its extraordinary beauty, symmetry and history has made this one of the world’s most amazing monuments and we’ll have plenty of time to admire it from all angles. When you experience this amazing combination of natural and man-made beauty you will realise that everything you have ever heard about the Taj Mahal is true – it really is one of the most amazing creations on the planet. After a stop for lunch at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Agra, we visit the marble mausoleum built by Shah Jahan’s wife for her father, known as the ‘Baby Taj’ and a chance to see the marble inlay workshops for which Agra is famous. We return to the Indian Maharaja for our sumptuous dinner as we travel on towards Jaipur in Rajasthan.
Our tour of the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur sees all the major highlights, including the Hawa Mahal, the famous Palace of the Winds, subtly constructed so the ladies of the Palace could view the busy streets below without being seen. We continue to one of the highlights of the entire tour: the immense, 17th-century Amber Fort, crowning one of the many rugged hills surrounding Jaipur, and once the capital of the entire state. We see the royal apartments, the sections reserved for the Maharaja’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. We also explore the home of the present Maharaja; the City Palace with its collections of costumes, carpets, paintings and an impressive armoury, followed by one of Jaipur’s most famous sights, the 18th-century Astronomical Observatory. At first glance the oversized instruments look like geometric modernist sculptures, but each has a specific function and is remarkably accurate. It has been described as ‘cosmic architecture’ and our expert guide will explain their religious and scientific significance. After lunch at the Jai Mahal Palace, the afternoon is free to wander through Jaipur’s fascinating markets or perhaps enjoy an optional spa treatment at the Jai Mahal Palace, one of the city’s opulent luxury hotels.
This morning we arrive in the most beautiful city of Rajasthan, Udaipur, the City of Lakes. One of its most imposing buildings is the City Palace, majestically overlooking Lake Pichola, it’s entered through the famous triple arched gate, the Tripolia, where the Maharajas were famously weighed with the equivalent in gold and silver, subsequently distributed amongst their subjects. Inside this vast palace with its myriad pavilions, terraces, courtyards and gardens you appreciate the sense of overwhelming opulence of the royal court. Another of today’s highlights is a boat trip across the shimmering glass-like surface of the lake, with its glittering Lake Palace floating like a white marble ship at its centre. Our lunch is taken in the 17th-century Jagmandir Palace, known as the Lake Garden Palace, which occupies one of the islands on the lake and offers wonderful views of the city. In the afternoon you’ll enjoy a walking tour through Udaipur’s markets, known for their local handicrafts, including cloth lanterns, handmade paper, miniature paintings and pottery. This evening we continue our southward journey through the endlessly fascinating Indian countryside.
This morning we arrive in Vadodara, known as the cultural capital of the Gujarat. The city is the residence of the Maharajah of Baroda, whose royal residence, the Lakshmi Vilas Palace, dates from the 1890s and is said to be several times larger than Buckingham Palace. We visit the Maharaja Fateh Singh museum, located within the palace complex and originally built as school for the Maharaja’s children, it now houses a number of fascinating paintings of Indian royalty, as well as sculptures and an Oriental gallery. Vadodara is also known for its vast UNESCO-listed archaeological park which includes forts, palaces, mosques, temples, tombs, many monuments pre-dating the Moghul conquest. We finish our day with a sumptuous high tea in the Lakshmi Palace before returning to our train for dinner.
A slower paced day today as we wind into the state of Maharashtra. There’s time to relax and enjoy the train this morning as we head towards the city of Aurangabad after lunch. Our destination is the extraordinary complex of rock-carved temples known as the Ellora Caves, one of India’s most unusual UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Dating from around 600AD and incorporating Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples and monasteries, they are sited along a side of a gentle slope, which enabled their builders to cut down into the rock from above, much like the rock-carved temples of Petra in Jordan. The age, size and complexity of the carvings is unique in India and many of the temples are still in use today. We return for dinner and the final night on our train.
This morning, the Deccan Odyssey pulls into Mumbai’s magnificent Victoria Terminus, a masterpiece of Victorian Gothic architecture and one of the world’s busiest railway stations. After breakfast we say goodbye to our home for the past seven nights and enter the incredible 24-hour bustling metropolis of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital. Our tour of Mumbai includes the iconic Gateway of India, where British viceroys and governors would land on arrival in the country. Our hotel is the five-star Leela Mumbai on the outskirts of the city. The rest of the day is at leisure to relax around the hotel’s luxuriant gardens or shady free-form pool and enjoy its many facilities, savouring the sights you have seen, the experiences you have had and the people you have met on this unique journey of discovery.
After breakfast we depart for the airport and our daytime direct flight to the UK, arriving back later the same day. Note: reverse itineraries substitute the city of Jodhpur for the Ellora Caves and the order/timing of visits will be different.