Those who are on the group flights will land in Delhi in the morning. Those not on the group flights will need to be at the start hotel by 9am (or at the airport when the group land). A local representative will meet Land Only clients at the start hotel and provide a transfer to the airport where we meet clients arriving on the group flight; once everyone has arrived we will then depart on the 5 hour drive to Jaipur.
Built in the late 18th century, Jaipur is a planned city of broad avenues built of sandstone and painted pink at a later stage. In the centre of Jaipur is the City Palace, formerly the residence of the Maharaja, now a fine museum containing rare manuscripts, paintings, royal garments and weapons. Close to the palace is one of the most intriguing sights of India, the observatory of Jai Singh. This is an assembly of immense astronomical instruments made of marble and brass set in a pleasant garden. We will also see Jaipur's impressive landmark, the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds. A few miles from the main city is the impressive and splendid Amber Fort, rising above a lake where elephants bathe. Jaipur is a centre of many handicrafts, such as durries (woven rugs), carpets, printed cloth, semi-precious stones, leatherwear etc. It will be difficult to leave a workshop without buying anything!
We wind our way through the villages of rural India to Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (approx. 5 hr drive); we stay in a hotel not far from the park entrance and make 2 game drives into the park, one in the late afternoon and one in the morning. Ranthambore is one of India's tiger reserves under Project Tiger. After initial success, poaching has drastically reduced the tiger population and the chance of spotting a tiger is small, but many Exodus groups have seen tiger over the last few years. There is other wildlife such as several species of deer, crocodiles and bird life including purple heron, kingfishers, cormorants, parakeets, jacanda, waders and partridges.
In the morning we take our second game drive, trying to find that elusive tiger, before we start our journey to Agra via Fatehpur Sikri. Fatehpur Sikri is the emperor Akbar's deserted royal city. This impressive and well-preserved citadel became his capital in 1571, after the blessing of a local Moslem holy man correctly predicted the birth of a longed-for son, his successor the Emperor Jehangir. The mosque, designed to hold ten thousand worshippers, the palaces, residences and halls of audience are all made of decorative red sandstone. But this magnificence only lasted 14 years, as in 1584 Akbar left Fatehpur Sikri to secure his outlying territories, leaving this city much as we see it today - in perfect condition. This is another very full but rewarding day.
Today we will rise early to visit the beautiful white marble Taj Mahal at sunrise; built by the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631. The Taj is serenely beautiful and never fails to amaze a first time visitor; the white marble exterior changes colour according to the position of the sun during the day and is matched by the rich interior detail. Within striking distance is the imposing Red Fort of Akbar, third of the Moghul Emperors, whose mighty sandstone walls enclose the beautiful white marble Pearl Mosque and the palaces, halls, courtyards and fountains of his sons and successors, Jehangir and Shah Jahan. It is here that the latter spent his last years, imprisoned by his own son Aurangzeb. Later in the day we will transfer to Agra train station and join the overnight sleeper train to Varanasi.
We arrive in Varanasi during the morning and transfer to our hotel. Varanasi, located on the river Ganges, is one of the most holy cities in India and stands at the centre of the Hindu Universe. As such, the city lives and breathes Hinduism: there are thousands of pilgrims, wandering holy men (Sadhus), religious elders and casual visitors. It is a city to get immersed in by exploring its maze of narrow lanes and the many temples, and watching the Hindu ceremonies that occur around the clock. There is time to explore the emporiums specialising in silks and brocades or maybe take a massage by the banks of the Ganges. Your leader can organise various optional sighteeing trips during your 2 days in Varanasi.
Just before dawn, we take a boat out on the Ganges to witness the extraordinary spectacle on the ghats, the steps leading down to the river. Every day thousands of Hindu pilgrims come to these three miles of riverbank to immerse themselves in the waters. The rest of the day is free to continue exploring the city, relax at the hotel or go on optional sightseeing excursions. In the late afternoon we board the overnight train back to Delhi.
We arrive in Delhi during the morning where we will transfer to our hotel. Today you are free to relax, explore the sites of New and Old Delhi (an optional sightseeing trip will be organised if you wish) or you can do some last minute shopping!
Those on the flight inclusive package will depart for the airport this morning for the daytime flight back to London; Land Only arrangements will finish after check-out from the hotel.