Impossible, of course – but by its structured focus on the ancient cultures and divisions of northern India’s tumultuous past our tour will build for you a clear picture of the infinitely diverse strands that have shaped the exotic fabric of this vast country. Carefully planned visits to many world-famous sites, monuments and leading museums bring a comprehensive understanding of the intricate cultural synthesis that has evolved between the country’s primary religious civilizations – Jain, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim.
Highlights as we travel from Delhi through Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Agra and Rajasthan’s ‘Land of Kings’ include Sanchi’s fabulous stupa, the monastic excavations at Sarnath and the elaborately carved temples at Ranakpur – all illustrating the vigor of Buddhist and Jain offshoots from early Hinduism. Fascinating facets of later Hindu civilization are on display amid Khajuraho’s elaborate temples, the teeming pilgrimage center at Varanasi and, most beautiful of all, the Rajput’s fortified palaces of Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaipur, in striking counterpoint to Agra’s legendary Mughal masterpiece, the Taj Mahal.
- Discover no fewer than 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the majestic Taj Mahal and Jaipur’s Amber Palace
- Enjoy an early morning boat trip along the sacred ‘ghats’ of the Ganges at Varanasi
- Marvel at a dazzling array of Buddhist art at Sanchi
- Explore the great palaces and fortresses of the ancient Rajasthani cities of Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaipur
- View Khajuraho’s amazing sculptures some of the world’s finest temple carvings
- Stay at the magical Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur, originally built as the pleasure palace of Maharajah Jagat Singh II
WHAT TO EXPECT
Dec 6 – 23 with Dr Mehreen Chida-Razvi
Friday, December 6: ARRIVE IN DELHI
We arrive in Delhi and transfer to our hotel. We take the rest of the day to relax after our flight, before enjoying our first dinner as a group.
Saturday, December 7: DELHI
After a relaxing morning to recover from our flight, we will begin our touring with Delhi’s major Mughal sites including the exquisitely carved minaret of Qutb Minar, built by Aibak in 1199 and Humayun’s Tomb, the first tomb of the great Mughals.
Sunday, December 8: DELHI
Today’s touring continues at the lovely Jama-i Masjid, decorated with polychrome stonework, and the recently restored water system, as well as the grand Lal Qila, known as the Red Fort, and Birla House, a museum dedicated to Gandi. We will spend the afternoon at the National Museum. Rich with archaeological artifacts and art from the last 5,000 years, the museum also houses Sir Aurel Stein’s collection from his travels along the Silk Road.
Monday, December 9: VARANASI
We fly to Varanasi and begin our touring at the remains of the monastic center at Sarnath. It was here, around 528 BCE, that Buddha preached his first sermon after he had received enlightenment. We will also explore the site and its small museum, which houses India’s official symbol, the Ashoka pillar, carved with back-to-back lions.
Tuesday, December 10: KHAJURAHO
Our day begins with an early morning boat trip on the Ganges as Hindu pilgrims flock to the ghats to perform their ablutions. After completing our touring, we fly to Khajuraho, where we will spend the next two nights. The temples of this region celebrate the joy of life and love, portraying women in all their sensuality, and are considered to be the epitome of Hindu sculpture. Of the original 85 temples, 22 have survived. We will spend the remainder of this day at the Southern Temple Group, ending at the Archaeological Museum.
Wednesday, December 11: KHAJURAHO
We continue our touring to the Eastern Temple group, including the architectural masterpiece Parsvanatha Jain temple. Its charming sculptures include a scene of a woman applying eye makeup and another removing a thorn from her foot, giving us the sense of being present at an intimate moment in their lives. After visiting the Western Temple Group, we will have an afternoon at leisure to revisit our favorite sites or relax at the swimming pool.
Thursday, December 12: ORCHHA
This morning we make our way to Orchha, which was founded in the 16th century by the Bundela king, Rudhra Pratap. Located on the banks of the Betwa River, this medieval city is frozen in time and space, existing even today as it must have done in the 16th and 17th centuries when it was built. The countryside undulates gently between riverine plains and rolling forest-clad hills and the landscape is dotted with palaces and temples, a fortress and cenotaphs.
In the afternoon, we visit the Jehangir Mahal, the most grandiose structure in Orcha; the Raja Mahal, another monument of historical importance and the Rai Praveen Mahal. With their rich historical background, these places hold great value for the legacy of Orchha. The architecture is a synthesis of traditional Hindu, hybrid Indo-Saracenic and ornate Mughal. One of the finest sights is the view of the cenotaphs from across the Betwa River.
Friday, December 13: GWALIOR
After breakfast, we head to Gwalior, visiting Bir Singh Palace in Datia en route. This palace is one of the finest examples of domestic architecture in India. It is built purely of stone and bricks with no trace either of wood or iron. It is built in the form of a square, the monotony being relieved by four octagonal towers, one at each corner, and string courses of stone lattice work defining the five storeys. The summit is ornamented by numerous chhatris crowned with ribbed domes, while many of the ceilings in its chambers are finely carved.
After the visit, we continue to Gwalior, established in the 8th century and named after Saint Gwalipa. Formally the capital of Madhya Bharat (Central India) it was ruled by Tomar kings, the Mughals and the Marathas.
Saturday, December 14: AGRA
After breakfast, we proceed with a city tour of Gwalior. The city is dominated by its hill-top fort, one of the most redoubtable in the world. Rajput valour and chivalry are redolent in the very stones of the 15th century Palace of Raja Mansigh located in the citadel. The fort also houses the Teli-ka-Mandir, an ancient temple. Gujari Mahal at the foot of the fort has one of the finest museums of sculpture in India.
After lunch we board an afternoon train to Agra, the quintessence of the grand Mughal era, reigns to this day in the public mind as the embodiment of royal grace, imposing architecture and power. Agra is globally renowned as the city of the Taj Mahal, but this royal Mughal city has, in addition to the legendary Taj, many monuments that epitomize the high point of Mughal architecture. No tour to India can be complete without paying a visit to this former capital of the Mughals. With its laidback lifestyle and its immense wealth of architecture, handicrafts and jewelry, Agra is amongst the most remarkable cities in the world.
Sunday, December 15: AGRA
Referred to as one of the wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal is the epitome of tourism in India and is celebrated for its architectural magnificence and aesthetic beauty. A symphony in white marble, a tribute to eternal love, it was built by the Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. There are tombs of Mumtaz and Shahjahan within the mausoleum. Done in white marble, it took 22 years and over 20,000 workers and craftsmen to complete this rhapsody in stone (1630-52 AD). The main structure is set amidst landscaped gardens.
Today’s touring also includes a visit to the Red Fort, the elegant garden mausoleum of Itimad-ud-Daulah as well as other buildings of interest for their Mughal architecture.
Monday, December 16: JAIPUR
En route to Jaipur we stop to visit Fatehpur Sikri, the deserted red sandstone city built by Emperor Akbar as his capital in the late 16th century to commemorate the birth of his son. After using 10,000 artisans to create this Hindu-Persian masterpiece, Akbar utilized the city as his principal capital for only 15 years and eventually moved to Lahore.
Tuesday, December 17: JAIPUR
A short drive brings us to Amber and the magnificent fort-palace that nestles on the rocky hill rising above Maota Lake. We will spend the morning visiting its jeweled interior, whose rooms become more lavish as we travel deeper into the building. To enhance the interior walls, powdered marble, egg shells and even pearls were added to the plaster. We then return to Jaipur. Our city touring begins with the intricately carved marble Old City Palace built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in 1728, with later additions by subsequent rulers. Within the palace is the Textiles and Costumes Museum, housing lovely examples of Rajput dress, and in the coronation hall wonderful cultural and family artifacts from the maharajas who have lived here. We will also visit the Jantar Mantar (Observatory), the largest of five built by Jai Singh II, and the Palace of the Winds, renowned for its delicate lattice screens.
Wednesday, December 18: JODHPUR
Today we drive to Jodhpur, a sandy, colorful town lying at the edge of the Thar Desert. Jodhpur is known as the “Sun City” for the bright, sunny weather it enjoys all the year round. It is also referred to as the “Blue City” due to the vivid blue-painted houses around the Mehrangarh Fort. The old city circles the
fort and is bounded by a wall with several gates. However, the city has expanded greatly outside the wall over the past several decades. Jodhpur lies near the geographic centre of Rajasthan state, which makes it a convenient base for travel in a region much frequented by tourists. In the evening enjoy a walking tour of the bustling market of Old Jodhpur.
Thursday, December 19: JODHPUR
Today we will explore some of the very colorful villages inhabited by the Bishnoi people. These interesting people are potters and weavers and are followers of a 15th-century sage whose creed focused on protecting every living thing.
After lunch, we proceed with a city tour visiting Mehrangarh Fort and Jaswant Thada. Mehrangarh Fort, is set on a 37m sandstone hill built by Rao Jodha in 1459. From the top of the fort, one can get a bird’s eye view of the old city to the Jaswant Thada, an imposing marble cenotaph built in 1899 for Maharajah Jaswant Singh II, and smaller memorials to other Maharajahs of Jodhpur.
Friday, December 20: UDAIPUR
A fascinating drive brings us to the exquisite temples of Ranakpur. which lie buried in a shady glen and cover a vast area. The central temple is called Chaumukha (four-faced) and is the most complex and extensive of Jain temples in India, covering an area of over 40,000 sq. feet (3,600 sq. meters). Its 29 halls are supported by 1,444 pillars, none of which are alike. Subsidiary shrines in the shape of side altars throng around in all directions, including a temple dedicated to the Sun God which displays erotic carvings. We continue to the romantic city of Udaipur for a two-night stay.
Saturday, December 21: UDAIPUR
We complete our touring this morning with an excursion to Nagda to visit the exquisitely carved 10th-century Hindu temples and Eklingji, a complex of 108 living temples dedicated to Shiva, patron deity of the Udaipur royal house. We then return to Udaipur to visit the palace of the Maharana Udai Singh, Jagdish Temple, heavily carved with figures of Vishnu. The remainder of the day will be at leisure. This evening we will meet for our farewell dinner.
Sunday, December 22: DELHI
After a morning at leisure, we transfer to a hotel for our final dinner. Later, we transfer to Delhi airport.
Saturday, December 23: DEPART FROM DELHI
We embark on our individual flights home or onward travel.