Flights usually depart London in the evening.
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. You are free today to explore Delhi and rest after your flight; rooms may not be available until noon but it is often earlier than this.
After breakfast we will have a tour of the capital. In Old Delhi we visit Jama Masjid (India's largest mosque) and in New Delhi we see the fine colonial buildings. Built by the British Raj in the early years of this century and set in spacious tree-lined boulevards these now house various Indian governmental departments. We then visit the tomb of Humayun, one of the earlier Moghul Emperors. In the afternoon we drive to the Pink City of Jaipur: this drive will take approximately 5 to 6 hours.
Today we have a full day to explore Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan and one of the most attractive and colourful cities in India. Built in the late 18th century, it 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 it is 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 splendid Amber Palace, rising above a lake where elephants bathe. The imposing hilltop fort contains large courtyards and interiors with fine decorations including inlaid alabaster panels and a Chamber of Mirrors. We can walk up the hill through the massive gateway to the courtyard. Jaipur is a centre of many handicrafts, such as durries (woven rugs), carpets, printed cloth, semi-precious stones, leatherwear etc.
We begin the day by driving to Agra via the deserted ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri. Formally the capital of the Mughal Empire, this wonderfully preserved 'ghost town' was constructed by Emperor Akbar between 1570 and 1585 and reflects his ideals in art, religion and architecture. 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 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. The site is one of the most atmospheric in northern India and its position on a ridge overlooking the modern village below, and its wonderful state of preservation provide us with a taste of this city's majestic past.
A very early start to see the incredible spectacle of the sunrise over the Taj. The Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631, built the beautiful white marble Taj Mahal. 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. Agra also offers a wide variety of handicrafts including jewellery, inlaid and carved marble, carpets and clothes and there should be time for some shopping. In the late afternoon we transfer to Tundla, 35km from Agra, where we board the overnight train to Varanasi.
We arrive in Varanasi in the morning and transfer to the hotel (rooms may not be available until noon however efforts are made to make it earlier than this). 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).
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. 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 of the holy Ganges. Later we drive to the impressive sandstone Fort at Chunar overlooking the Ganges, after short visit to fort we take a cruise boat down on Ganges back towards the city of Varanasi.
We board our private bus and make an early departure for Nepal. It's a spectacular drive across the northern plains, passing through a few towns and lots of pretty Indian villages. At the Indian border we leave our bus and walk across through customs and immigration to Nepal (approx 500 metres). Once in Nepal, we enter the Terai, the narrow plain running along the southern breadth of the country. We have a short drive (approx 1hour) to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, where we spend the night.
Day 10 - 11
Early this morning there is a short, optional rickshaw ride around the Lumbini gardens. Buddha was born here and the area is being developed into a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists from all over the world. Travelling east and parallel to the mountains, we reach Chitwan (approximately 4 hour drive), where we spend two nights. The park, with its jungle and thick forest, was the former royal hunting ground and was set-aside as a conservation area in 1973. The park and the surrounding forest covers an area of 540 square kilometres of the terai and affords excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Among the larger animals, you have an excellent chance of seeing the Indian one horned rhino, sambar and chital deer, guar, langur and rhesus monkeys, mongoose, jackal, otter and crocodile. The more elusive animals include tiger, leopard, leopard cat, sloth bear and Indian bison. Over 300 species of birds have been recorded in this area. Wildlife activities are managed and escorted by experienced naturalists and shikharis; they include elephant-back safaris, nature walks, dug out canoe excursions, village tours and birdwatching outings; some or all of which can be organised depending on individual interests.
Today, our journey to Pokhara is only 140 km but will take 4 - 5 hours. We follow the gorge of the Narayani River and soon we are in the foothills of the Himalaya. The scenery changes dramatically from the forests and farmlands of the Terai to steep terraced hills, and as we get closer to Pokhara we begin to see the formidable Annapurna Range. Set at only 1,000 m. amongst semi-tropical plants and with a delightfully warm climate, it is actually much closer to the main Himalayan peaks than Kathmandu. Machhapuchhare, the 'Fishtail Peak', dominates the skyline especially in the clear morning air. We stay in a simple hotel near to Lake Phewa, with a wide choice of restaurants and other facilities close by.
We can either relax by or on the beautiful lake in Pokhara, or the more energetic can hike into the surrounding hills for even better views of the peaks. There are many wonderful day walks in and around the Pokhara valley, one of the best being to drive up to the remains of a fort at Sarankot, the hill directly overlooking the lake and then walk back to Pokhara. An early morning start is required to guarantee the clearest view, but once there, the whole Annapurna range can be seen with virtually no intervening hills. This is one of the best of all viewpoints for Machhapuchhare, most people's favourite mountain in the region. For many though, Pokhara is a place to relax by either renting a rowboat or bicycle for a few hours and exploring the lake and its shoreline at a leisurely pace.
We leave early for the long drive to Kathmandu, along the Chinese-built road running parallel to the main Himalayan range. The distance is only 200km but it is a slow climb through the mountains and the journey will take most of the day (7 - 8 hours). The views, however, are stunning as we follow the Marsyangdi and Trisuli rivers, passing numerous villages and terraces stretching thousands of feet up the hillside. We arrive in Kathmandu in the late afternoon and check into our centrally located hotel.
We have today to explore Kathmandu and the valley. There will be a half-day sightseeing tour visiting Pashupatinath, the most important Hindu temple in the valley, and Bodnath, one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world. The rest of the time is free for individual exploration of Kathmandu. You may like to visit the Durbar Square of Kathmandu with its old Royal Palace and intricately carved temples, or Swayambhunath, the 'monkey temple', set on a hill overlooking the city. Kathmandu also offers the most wonderful and varied opportunities for souvenir shopping: clothes, trinkets, Tibetan and Nepalese handicrafts and superb bookshops. It also has a wide variety of restaurants serving some of the best food from the sub-continent and you can also find wonderful pizzas and apple pies.
If you are travelling on Land Only arrangements then your trip will finish after breakfast today. If you are travelling on the group flight we will transfer to the airport after breakfast. After a flight transfer in Delhi we arrive in the UK in the late afternoon.