Arrive at Delhi airport and transfer to our hotel. Those who have made their own flight arrangements will join us at the hotel in the morning. After lunch we will have a guided sightseeing tour of Old Delhi, starting with the dramatic Red Fort (if you arrive in Delhi on a Monday you will visit an alternative site as the Red Fort is closed). It is here where we begin to learn about the Mughal Empire. The fort is named for its mighty enclosing walls made of red sandstone and was built as a palace for the fifth Mughal Emperor of India, Shah Jahan, between 1638 and 1648. Unfortunately, he didn't live here because his disloyal son, Aurangzeb, imprisoned him in Agra Fort (which we'll visit tomorrow) when he seized power. The fort underwent change during the British rule when the British military cleared out most of the buildings to use them as barrack blocks for the colonial army. After the Red Fort, we then visit the mind-blowing Jama Masjid (India's largest mosque), also built during the time of Shah Jahan. The central open courtyard is said to hold thousands of people. You can also climb one of the minarets for a fantastic view of Delhi. Today the mosque is still a major meeting place for Delhi's Muslim population and it offers a unique insight into Indian culture and daily life in Delhi. *Comfortable Hotel*
Today we have our first train ride on the famous Indian railway! No trip here would be complete without this experience. The trains are often busy and people are always eager to strike up a conversation. This is a fantastic experience for the whole family and a fantastic opportunity to meet friendly locals. We leave Delhi in the morning and take the early train to Agra (journey time approx. 2 hrs, departing at approx. 06:00 hrs), where we visit some of the most famous sites in the world. We first visit the imposing Red Fort of Emperor Akbar, where Shah Jahan was imprisoned for 8 years by his son. Within the mighty sandstone walls is a beautiful white marble Pearl Mosque and the palaces of his successors; his son Jehangir and grandson Shah Jahan. The fort is mind-boggling for children to look at; courtyards, fountains, double fortified walls, pavilions, cupolas and crenellations. This fort was originally built for military purposes, but Shah Jahan later transformed it into a beautiful palace. There will be free time after to look at the variety of local handicrafts on offer, including jewellery, inlaid and carved marble, carpets and clothes. *Comfortable Hotel*
A very early start to see the incredible spectacle of the sunrise over the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan built this beautiful monument in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631. The Taj is serenely beautiful and never fails to amaze both adults and children; the white marble exterior changes colour according to the position of the sun throughout the day. After our visit, it's time to leave Agra and drive to Bharatpur via the deserted ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri (approx. 3 hours driving in total). This is a great place to have fun and explore. Formally the capital of the Mughal Empire, this wonderfully preserved 'ghost town' was constructed by Emperor Akbar between 1570 and 1585. This impressive and well-preserved citadel became his capital in 1571, but this only lasted 14 years. In 1584, Akbar left Fatehpur Sikri to secure his outlying territories, leaving this city much as we see it today. The site is one of the most atmospheric in northern India. It's positioned on a ridge overlooking a modern village below and the wonderful state of preservation provide us with a taste of this city's majestic past. We then continue to Bharatpur for lunch, where we sample the traditional Rajasthani cuisine in a local home. We'll also have a cooking demonstration to learn how the food is prepared. *Comfortable Hotel*
An early start to catch the best of the bird life that inhabits the park. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the bird sanctuary at Keoladeo Ghana National Park is a truly relaxing experience and a world away from the bustling cities that we have just visited. This region was originally semi arid only filling with water during the monsoon season. The Maharaja of Bharatpur diverted water from a nearby irrigation canal and it was converted into a bird sanctuary in 1956. There are now over 360 species of birds to be found there including an array of egrets, ducks, coots, storks, kingfishers, owls, eagles and harriers. We spend our time exploring the park by cycle rickshaw, a traditional form of transport in India, unlike anything we use at home! Leaving Bharatpur behind we then drive to Ranthambore National Park (approx. 4-5 hrs). Formally a hunting reserve, the area is now a part of Project Tiger and home to a number of wild tigers. At Ranthambore, we stay in the forest, not far from the park entrance, with all the basic facilities, a swimming pool and a lovely garden. Roaring campfires can be enjoyed in the evening, as well as a puppet show and folk dancing. *Standard Hotel*
Today we have 2 game drives into the park, our first will be in the morning when we travel in a large open truck (called a canter) from which we have unobstructed views of the park and the animals. We have a break during the heat of the day before our second drive in the late afternoon/evening. If we're lucky, we might spot a tiger! Other wildlife includes several species of monkey, deer, crocodiles, the Baloo-style sloth bear and birdlife, which together with the scenery, reminds you of Kipling's 'The Jungle Book'. *Standard Hotel*
Leaving the park behind we drive to the capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur (approx. 3-4 hrs). Rajah Jai Singh decided to abandon his nearby fortress and palace at Amber in 1727 and laid out a planned city of broad avenues, built of sandstone and painted pink at a later stage. The 'Pink City of Jaipur' is one of the most attractive and colourful cities in India, and children will be fascinated by the camels, cows, bullock-carts and monkeys that can be seen roaming the streets. In the afternoon you are free to explore independently or take advantage of the hotel's swimming pool. *Comfortable Hotel*
Today we explore Jaipur, returning to the hotel after lunch. In the centre of Jaipur is one of the most intriguing sights of India, the observatory of Jai Singh. This is an assembly of immense astronomical instruments, including the world's largest sundial at 27m tall and just two seconds out! Others are made of marble and brass and all provide some fantastic photo opportunities. A few miles from the main city is the splendid Amber Palace, rising above a lake. The imposing hilltop fort contains large courtyards and interiors with fine decoration. The rest of the day is free for relaxing, exploring or shopping. Jaipur is a centre of many handicrafts, such as wooden and cloth puppets, carved wooden camels, silver trinkets, durries (woven rugs), carpets, printed cloth, semi-precious stones, leatherwear etc.; it will be difficult to leave a workshop without buying anything! Brightly coloured Indian clothing, bangles and bindis can be found at the markets, as well as turbans for boys (people will happily show you how to put one on!) There is also the option to visit Chokhi Dhani later in the afternoon; a purpose-built village that captures the vibrant spirit of Rajasthan, with folk music, dancing, puppet shows, fire acts, magic shows, camel rides and a traditional Rajasthani dinner. With play areas for the younger children, there is plenty to do here to keep the whole family entertained. *Comfortable Hotel*
This morning we travel to Pushkar (approx. 3-4 hours), a Hindu pilgrimage town and home to the annual Pushkar Camel Fair. The town is steeped in mysticism and we can take a late afternoon camel cart ride (optional), passing through traditional villages as the sun goes down. For something different, kite flying is a fun alternative. Many of the shops in Pushkar sell these, should you wish to give it a go. *Standard Hotel*
The morning we visit Brahma temple and the holy lake of Pushkar so that we can really soak up the unique atmosphere of this religious town. We then drive to the nearest train station at Ajmer and travel by train for approx. 7 hrs to Delhi, arriving in the evening at approx. 22:40 hrs. Although this is a long journey, travelling by train in India is an exciting way to experience the country and is often an integral part of your trip. You'll most likely meet Indian families on board too. *Comfortable Hotel*
We depart Delhi in the morning for the daytime flight back to London. The arrangements for those not flying with the group ends after check out.
* 9 nights hotels with swimming pools * Group normally 4 to 24, plus local leader. Min. age 8 yrs * Travel by private minibus and train
All breakfasts, 2 lunches and 3 dinners included. Where meals are not supplied, our group leaders always encourage people to try local restaurants and street food vendors. They can make recommendations which will help boost small businesses and celebrate local specialities. In Jaipur, Agra and Delhi, we can even see how the food is made, for example, masala chai (tea), samosa (mashed potato snacks), jalebe (Indian doughnuts), lassi (yoghurt drink). You should allow at least £12 (US$20) per person per day for lunch and dinner. You can eat out very cheaply in India, but if you go to the more expensive restaurants, you will spend more than the suggested amount. In most towns, there is a good variety of restaurants and a choice between Indian and basic Western style food. If you are a vegetarian India is probably one of the best destinations to travel to with a wide range of dishes on offer. Tea and soft drinks are very cheap. A (large!) bottle of beer is approximately £3 (US$5). Mineral water is provided in 20 ltr containers in the vehicle, so please bring water bottles with you to refill. Please note that service in restaurants can be quite slow.
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