The group flight will arrive into Delhi in the morning and we will transfer to our hotel. Those who have made their own flight arrangements will join us at the hotel during the day (rooms may not be available until noon but it is often earlier than this). The rest of the day is free to relax or explore Delhi.
Today we have a morning sightseeing in Old Delhi including the Jamia Masjid (India's largest mosque); in New Delhi we see the fine colonial buildings, built by the British Raj in the early years of the 20th century and set in spacious treelined boulevards, these now house various Indian governmental departments. Later in the afternoon we visit Bangla Sahib the most prominent Sikh gurdwara, or Sikh house of worship, in Delhi.
In the morning we catch a flight to Varanasi, we arrive in the afternoon and transfer to our hotel. Varanasi, situated 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 leaders and casual visitors. It is a city to get immersed in by exploring its maze of narrow lanes, the many temples and watch the Hindu ceremonies that occur around the clock. Your leader can organise various optional sightseeing trips for the group 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 afternoon is then free to explore this incredible city and its winding streets, ghats and mystical temples or visit the nearby Sarnath Temple, where the Buddha gave his first sermon (optional). In the evening we catch our overnight train to Jhansi. Overnight train
We arrive in Jhansi in the morning and drive to Khajuraho (approx. 4 hrs). Home to India's famous temples, which contain beautiful intricate erotic sculptures they are now a world Heritage Site which we have ample time to visit. These temples were built between 950 AD and 1050 AD and were once lost for centuries and then rediscovered in 1839 by a British engineer. The 20 remaining temples are amongst the finest examples of this type of architecture left in India.
A peaceful town on the banks of the Betwa River, Orchha is the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of India's cities. Once the centre of a mighty kingdom, the ancient town contains many reminders of its important past. We spend the afternoon exploring the now-deserted 17th century fort-palace, which sits on an island and contains well-preserved paintings and beautiful architectural details. Its derelict air adds to its mystery, and the ghosts of past rulers seem to fill the empty rooms and courtyards. There is free time in the evening to wander through the town and to discover its temples and the ornate chhatris (pavilions) which are dotted along the riverbank.
The morning is free to explore Orchha further. In the afternoon we transfer to Jhansi and catch an express train to Agra. Arriving in the evening we transfer to our hotel.
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
Today we leave Agra for Ranthambore N.P. stopping at Fatehpur Sikri en route, 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. Today's driving is approximately 330Km in total (7-8 hours).
Today we have two game drives. The first game drive will be in the morning. Ranthambore is one of India's tiger reserves under Project Tiger. Sadly, after initial success, the tiger population has been drastically reduced by poaching, but many Exodus groups over the last few years have seen wild tigers. There is other wildlife, such as several species of monkey, deer, crocodiles, birdlife, and together with the scenery, make the visit well worth it. The tiger spotting is from a large open truck called a 'Canter'.
Today we drive to the world famous city of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, with one or two stops en route. The Pink City of Jaipur is one of the most attractive and colourful cities in India. 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.
In the centre of Jaipur is the City Palace, formerly the residence of the Maharaja. 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 splendid Amber Palace, rising above a lake. The imposing hilltop fort contains large courtyards and interiors with fine decorations including inlaid alabaster panels and a Chamber of Mirrors. The evening is free.
Leaving Jaipur we drive away to the Shekhawati region of eastern Rajasthan, home to some of India's most prosperous merchants many years ago. As the town attracted wealthy merchants they built fine mansions, called havelis, commissioning artists and stonemasons to execute workmanship befitting their importance and wealth.
Today we have the chance to experience the atmosphere of the Shekhawati region where the clusters of havelis are connected by bitumen roads. Our full tour will start from Nawalgarh which is a mixture of nostalgia and modernity; a region rich in legends, tradition, chivalry and songs. Founded in 1737 by Thakur Nawal Singh, a warrior statesman, the town exudes an old charm with its colourful bazaar and painted havelis. We explore the havelis by bicycle, concentrating on the Shekhawati district where vibrant murals decorate the havelis both inside and out. The paintings may depict Krishna legends, religious themes and other bold folk-art subjects. Historical events are painted with humour and images of birds and animals are juxtaposed with sedate scenes heavily influenced by European art.
Today we drive to Bikaner, approx 4-5 hours. The the afternoon and evening will be free to explore the city.
This morning we visit Junagarh Fort in Bikaner, an impressive fort built by a Rajput ruler in 1587. A fort that has never been conquered though it has been attacked many times, Junagarh is an impressive monument, with huge towers and battlements for defence. It contains 37 palaces and many temples and pavilions. Many of the inner rooms of the palaces are beautifully decorated and painted in traditional style; we then continue on to Jaisalmer, approx 7-8 hours.
Today is spent at the beautiful town of Jaisalmer. The whole effect of the town is stunning; there is nothing quite like it in the whole of India, shimmering like a mirage in the desert haze. Jaisalmer is a town straight out of the Arabian Nights, with its golden sandstone walls that seem to grow out of the desert. The cluster of temples, forts and palaces dotted along the narrow street give it a mediaeval feel. Founded by Rawal Jaisal in 1156, it became a major trading post on the camel silk route with Central Asia, and the associated wealth allowed the building of the beautifully carved wooden and sandstone houses seen all over the city today. In the morning we tour the city walls and the Jaisal fort, inside which is the palace of the Maharawal, several ornate Jain temples and a library containing old manuscripts written on palm leaves. In the afternoon we drive (approx 1hr drive) to Sam Sand Dunes for a short camel ride (optional) at sunset; later we return back to hotel.
Today we travel to Jodhpur, a dramatic journey through a barren landscape, it may be possible to see some wildlife such as gazelles and bustards. Jodhpur was founded by the Rajput chief Roa Jodha and was formerly the capital of the State of Marwar. The city is surrounded by an immense wall almost ten kilometres in circumference and is dominated by the massive fort that stands on a rocky hill commanding the surrounding desert. In the afternoon we visit the magnificent Meherangarh Fort from where we have a great view of the blue houses, painted to distinguish them as those of Brahmins. The fort itself looks massive from the outside but inside there is an impressive collection of finely carved sandstone screens and lattice windows, and the palaces themselves are very finely decorated.
In the morning we begin our drive to Udaipur and leave the arid desert behind us as we start to climb into the Aravalli hills, which separate the desert from the cultivated parts of Rajasthan. We stop before lunch to visit the stunning 15th Century Jain Temple at Ranakpur. The main temple, beautifully carved from marble, is dedicated to Adinath. It has 29 halls supported by 1444 pillars, each delicately carved with a different design. Following the scenic road we leave the desert lands behind and drive to the beautiful lakeside town of Udaipur (approx 7-8 hours).
Known as 'The Pearl of Rajasthan', the 'City of Sunrise' and 'Venice of the East', Udaipur is a beautiful place regarded by both Indians and travellers as the most romantic city in India. Situated on the east side of Lake Pichola, the main palace commands an unsurpassed view across the shimmering lake to the dusty Aravalli Hills with the luxurious Lake Palace hotel adding to the scene. Lake Pichola has two islands, each with a palace to rival that on the mainland; Jag Mandir and Jag Nivas (the latter is now the luxurious Lake Palace Hotel) rise out of their own reflections in the waters of the lake. Udaipur is surrounded by a massive bastion with five gates and dominating the town is the City Palace of the Maharana. The sumptuous apartments are decorated with multi-coloured mosaics, elaborate mirror work and inlaid tiles, half of these can be visited as the current Maharaja still occupies the rest of the palace. We spend the morning visiting the City Palace and Jagdish Temple, with a huge black stone image of Jagannath, an aspect of Lord Vishnu. If time allows it may be possible to visit the gardens of Gulab Bagh or take a boat trip on the lake. The afternoon is free to enjoy this evocative city.
If you are travelling on Land Only arrangements then your trip will finish after checkout. If you are travelling on the group flight we transfer to the airport early in the morning for our flight back to London.