This trip is North India at its best. Going beyond the \ Golden Triangle\ we search for Bengal Tigers in Ranthambore, take a boat trip down the Chambal River in search of endangered Gharial crocodiles and witness the spiritual evening aarti ceremony in Varanasi. Ranthambore National Park - Search for Bengal tigers and other wildlife in India's most iconic national park Bateshwar - Explore 40 Hindu temples that line the banks of the River Chambal Golden Triangle - Discover Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, North India's historical hub
Arrive in New Delhi, India's bustling capital which successfully combines the ancient with the modern. Amidst the tall and modern skyscrapers, there are still the remnants of a bygone time with numerous monuments and temples. For those arriving on time today our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 1.30pm for the welcome meeting and to take us on our afternoon city tour which will visit Qutab Minar, the tallest stone tower in India and Humayun's Tomb dating from the Mughal Dynasty. We also drive past the imposing India Gate (war memorial arch), the Parliament buildings and the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the President's residence. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International airport (airport code DEL), which is 18km, around 40 minutes from our hotel. Please note that if you wish to join the city tour today, you must arrive at the hotel by 1.30pm. If you are booking your own flights, we recommend giving yourself at least one hour to clear the airport. From the airport to the hotel is around 45 minutes drive, so therefore the latest your flight can arrive is 12.00pm. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
Compared to New Delhi, the Old City is much closer to the image conjured up by Rudyard Kipling. This morning, we will travel to Old Delhi by metro and walk around the narrow, packed lanes of this fascinating part of the city, culminating with a jamboree of sounds at Chandni Chowk Bazaar. A short cycle rickshaw ride then takes us to the Jama Masjid mosque, a sublime example of Mughal architecture built by emperor Shah Jahan and a bit of an oasis in the midst of the city. Whilst in Old Delhi we will get to try some of the capital's street food treats straight from the stall sellers including aloo chaat (fried potato and spice mix) or paneer tikka (cottage cheese marinated in spices) along with freshly cooked breads such as parathas and rotis. In the early afternoon we will drive to Jaipur by road, a journey which will take approximately five to six hours including comfort stops.
The capital of the state of Rajasthan, Jaipur was India's first planned city and is considered by many to be one of the finest planned cities anywhere, the usual Indian urban chaos being replaced by wide streets and formal gardens. This morning we will visit the once mighty Rajput capital of Amber (traditionally known as Amer) and its magnificent fortress. Lying at the mouth of a rocky mountain gorge, overlooking Maotha Lake, the fort is a stunning creation of white marble and red sandstone that contains a dazzling mix of Hindu and Muslim ornamentation, including the breathtaking mirrored halls of the Sheesh Mahal. It was from these towering walls that the Kachchawahas ruled over their kingdom for some 7 centuries, until its importance was eclipsed by nearby Jaipur. We will also take in the unique Hawa Mahal, the famous Palace of the Winds, whose extraordinary façade of red and pink sandstone towers some five storeys above the city streets. Built at the end of the 18th century its 935 windows were designed to allow the women of the harem to gaze out on the city scene below without themselves being seen, the openings also creating a refreshing breeze (hawa), which kept the palace cool even in the hot summer months. We will spend some time exploring the lavish and well-preserved City Palace. Here, we will find a fine collection of textiles, costumes and armoury. Later this afternoon, we will visit the extraordinary Jantar Mantar - a star-gazing observatory built by Jai Singh, the great Maharajah-astronomer.
This morning has been left free to explore Jaipur in your own time. You may choose to visit one of the many bazaars which are bursting with delights, from marble statues to antique textiles; traditional print blocks to local musical instruments. In the early afternoon we drive to Pushkar, known for its camel trading fair which happens each year in November. The town is also an attraction for many Hindus as its lake is believed to be the site where a lotus thrown by the creator god of Hinduism Brahma landed. On arrival we will take a short orientation tour around Pushkar lake and its waterside ghats (steps leading to a river or lake).
This morning we travel by camel through the market place and up to the camel fair grounds. Travelling by camel captures the traditional means of desert travel allowing us to experience something of the remote life of the tribesmen and their families. Riding camels can be quite relaxing and sitting high up enables us to appreciate the surroundings. Many people find that they prefer to combine riding with periods of walking, so ensure that you have appropriate footwear. If you do not wish to take part in the camel safari your local guide can arrange for you to take a walking tour of Pushkar. As the day starts drawing to an end we hike up into the nearby hills to visit the Savitri temple for sunset. Dedicated to Brahma's first wife, the temple lies at the end of a long series of steps that run behind the Brahma Temple and from its lofty vantage point the views out across the lake and the surrounding dunes offer a breathtaking setting from which to watch the sun setting over the city.
We start early this morning as our drive to Ranthambore will take about five hours. On arrival, we check in to our accommodation before setting off for an afternoon game drive, where we hope to have an opportunity to view tigers in the wild. Ranthambore National Park was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1957, although it was still used as a hunting reserve until the early 1970s. It became part of the Project Tiger scheme in 1974 and, today, is home to over 40 of the remarkable beasts. We hope to see tigers roaming among the woodlands and cooling off in the lakes. Aside from its more famous residents, the park is also home to sloth bear, langur, striped hyenas, marsh crocodiles, pythons and Ganga soft-shelled turtles. There is also the chance to spot a myriad of bird species, including crested hawk eagle, crested serpent eagle, jacana, parakeet and white-breasted kingfishers. Aside from its rich wildlife, the park's beauty is also noteworthy. Once part of the magnificent jungles of Central India, it comprises of rivers, lakes and forests that nestle among a surrounding girdle of steep cliffs and rocky outcrops.
This morning, an early start affords us more chances to spot tigers on our second game drive in Ranthambore. The tigers are usually most active early in the morning, before the heat of the day forces them to take shelter. After our safari we drive towards Agra and stop to visit the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri. Founded in 1569 and, for a brief time the capital of the Mughals under Akbar the Great, the city was deserted just 16 years later following the political unrest. Today it remains a ghostly testament to the power of 16th century Mughal India and is a perfectly preserved example of an imperial court. Amongst the many treasures left in the city are the five storey Panch Mahal, believed to have been a pleasure pavilion for the ladies of the harem, and the stunning lotus shaped carved central pillar of the Diwan-i- Khas (Hall of Private Audience). The city also features a central courtyard that contains a pachisi board, where the emperor played an Indian equivalent of chess, using real slave girls as pieces. Later we continue our drive towards Agra.
An early start this morning as we visit one of the most universally recognised buildings on earth. The Taj Mahal was built by the emperor Shah Jahan to honour the memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz, and was once described by Rudyard Kipling as '…the embodiment of all things pure'. Built of marble and decorated with the most exquisite inlay work, it required the labours of 20,000 men and is estimated to have cost something in the region of 3 million rupees (at today's prices around $70 million) We visit at sunrise to watch the colours of the building changing as the sun slowly rises in the sky. After returning to the hotel for breakfast we make our way to the imposing Agra Fort, whose grandeur and importance has seen it inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Built by Emperor Akbar and then embellished by his grandson, Shah Jahan, this was once a great city, with palaces, mosques and halls all lying behind the protective embrace of 20m high walls. We will also visit is the exquisite Itimad-ud-Daulah on the east bank of the river, a 17th century tomb built for the Emperor Jehangir's chief minister, also known as the Baby Taj.
Leaving Agra this morning we drive for approximately two hours (excluding stops) until we reach Chambal Safari Lodge, a beautiful eco-lodge that lies amongst acres of sprawling plantation and farmland in the heart of the Chambal Valley. The lodge accommodation is simple but with everything we need to enjoy the surroundings including an extensive library filled with books detailing the various species of birds and mammals we hope to spot over the next few days. After settling in to our rooms we head out on a nature walk. Starting off in the grounds of the lodge we keep our eyes peeled for hornbills, babblers and barbets and as the sun goes down we can look out for fruit bats and several species of owls. The Chambal Sanctuary is a wonderful natural location in an area rich with wildlife, but has very limited accommodation. For the majority of the year we will be staying in cottages at the Chambal Safari Lodge. However, there is a particularly busy period for the area around the time of the Bateshwar Festival which usually takes place at the end of October or early November. During this period the lodge supplements its rooms with tented accommodation. They have proper full sized beds, en suite facilities, hot and cold running water and carpeted floors. Please note that at this time of year we may be allocated this type of room.
Taking to the water this morning we board small motor boats and explore the River Chambal. The boatmen are skilled at spotting soft shell turtles, gharials and sarus cranes from a great distance and knowing when to cut the boats engine so we can enjoy the wildlife without disturbing it. Back on dry land we drive to Bateshwar, a collection of 40 Hindu Temples set on the banks of the River Chambal. Originally more than 170 temples lined the river banks but many have crumbled over the years. We spend some time wandering through the temples and the small market as well as sitting to watch people bathing and washing clothes in the river. We transfer back to our lodge for the evening.
Today there is chance to relax in the morning and make the most of the peaceful setting of the lodge, or if there is a chance to take another river safari. In the early afternoon we will drive to Agra where we board an overnight train to Varanasi. Indian sleeper trains are a fantastic experience and a great way to meet people as we travel. We make our bookings in second class air-conditioned sleepers, which have four beds in each compartment and all bedding provided. Whilst we try to ensure the group is all together, due to overwhelming demand and the system for booking train tickets in India, it may not always be possible to have everyone in the same carriage and some reservations may be in 3rd class. In such cases our Tour Leaders will help everyone to find their seats and ensure you get the most out of your journey. For overnight trains, each berth is separated by curtains and has 4/6 bunk beds. Bedding (sheet, blanket and pillow) is provided but you may wish to bring your own sleeping liner for added comfort. Train travel in India is safe and civilised but for added security whilst you sleep it may be a good idea to bring a bike lock for your bags. If you do not wish to carry one with you, your tour leader can help you to purchase one locally before your train journey.
Arriving in the early morning we take a short transfer to our hotel. Varanasi (Benares) has been the centre of Hinduism since the dawn of history; its age is contemporary with Babylon and Thebes. Often known as 'Kashi' (City of Light) by Hindus it attracts over a million pilgrims each year - many of whom come to spend their last years here in the holy city. After breakfast and a freshen up we take an orientation walk around the narrow winding streets of the city. In the evening we make our way to the ghats to witness the evening aarti ceremony when the River Ganges is venerated with a display of light and sound.
After breakfast we visit nearby Sarnath. Having gained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya the Buddha came to Sarnath to preach his first sermon. The city was at its peak in the 5th century, when it was a respected centre of religious activity, learning and art. Muslim invaders destroyed much of the city and today remains of several monasteries and stupas can be seen. In the afternoon time is free to enable you to explore the labyrinth of streets, bazaars and temples that line the banks of the river. In the early evening we take an overnight sleeper train back to Delhi.
After arriving in Delhi we transfer to our hotel and check in. After breakfast and time to freshen up the day is left free for you to explore the capital city.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Delhi. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Delhi at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International airport (airport code DEL), which is around 45 minutes from the hotel.
14 Break Fast(s) 3 Dinner(s)
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