For those who are on the flight inclusive package we land in Delhi in the morning and transfer to the hotel where we will meet the other members of the group. In the afternoon we visit the walled city of Old Delhi; crowded, full of activities and still influenced by the great Mughals who once ruled from the ramparts of the majestic Red Fort. We visit Jama Mosque - built in 17th century and the largest mosque in India, Chandni Chowk - the typical Indian market always abuzz with activities, and Rajghat - the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi.
Today we drive to Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal. En route we visit the Wildlife SOS Bear Rescue Camp which was set up to stop the barbaric practice of dancing bears and has successfully rescued over 460 sloth bears from the dancing bear trade. These gentle, playful, intelligent and fascinating creatures now lead happy lives in large natural habitat at this rehabilitation centre. Later,we check in to our hotel in Agra
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 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.
We leave Agra and visit Fatehpur Sikri, emperor Akbar's deserted royal city. This impressive and well-preserved citadel became his capital in 1571, after the blessing of a local Muslim 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. 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. We then drive on to Jaipur - another very full but rewarding day.
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 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 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 something!
Today we drive to the holy city of Pushkar, a sacred town for the Hindus well-known for its annual camel fair. In the centre of town is holy Pushkar lake surrounded by a number of temples including the famous Bramha temple - said to be the only temple in the world dedicated to this deity. A dip in the waters of Pushkar lake and worship at Bramha temple ensure salvation. Late afternoon walk through Pushkar's lanes to see the local life and visit the Brahma temple. The evening culminates with an aarti ceremony on the ghats of the Pushkar lake.
In the morning visit a government-run primary school to understand the education system in rural areas of the country. The school is attended by children from nearby villages. Later drive on to Khimsar and stay at the historic Khimsar Fort.
Early morning jeep safari to the surrounding villages and to Black Buck reserve. We will visit the settlements of Gujars (shepherds) and Kalbelia (snake charmers) communities and experience the traditional, rural Rajasthani lifestyle, which still lays emphasis on harmony, conservation and complete utilization of natural resources. Age-old traditions are still practiced. The wildlife sanctuary is home to the beautiful but endangered Black Buck and some colourful birds. The afternoon is free to explore and see village life.
Morning drive to Jodhpur visiting the famous Mandore gardens en route. Jodhpur is a bustling desert city and the second largest in Rajasthan after Jaipur. Founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha, the leader of the Rathore clan, the city's gentle atmosphere belies a stormy yet glorious past. 393 feet above the flat surrounding plains soars a bold bluff on which was built the massive Meherangarh (Majestic) Fort. In the old city's maze are several palaces, havelis and temples. Visit the Sardar Bazar with its Clock Tower. Down the road from the Fort see Jaswant Thada, the blinding white marble cenotaph (chhatri) of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II.
Continue to Deogarh in the heart of Rajasthan. The afternoon is free for you to relax or explore.
Enjoy a train ride through the rural countryside of Rajasthan. Experience travelling with the local villagers in non-air-conditioned coaches on wooden berths: some coaches are from the 1930s. Return to the hotel by road. In the afternoon enjoy a bird watching tour to the nearby lakes to see a variety of local and some migratory birds.
Today we drive to Udaipur, the city of lakes. In the late afternoon enjoy a beautiful sunset boat ride on Lake Pichola, 4km long and 3km wide, surrounded by hills, palaces, temples, bathing ghats and embankments (Boat ride is subject to the water level in the lake).
Udaipur is one of the most charming cities of Rajasthan, nestled like a gem in a valley surrounded by the green Aravalli hills, and reflected smooth and white in the clear blue of Lake Pichola. Old dwellings, temples and palaces speak of an aristocratic past. Visit the City Palace, once the home of Mewar's rulers with its flawlessly integrated palaces overlooking the clear blue waters of Lake Pichola. Visit Sahelion-ki-bari - scene of royal parties. Drive around Fateh Sagar Lake. The afternoon is free to enjoy the city with possibilities of a stroll in the colourful local market.
In the morning we fly from Udaipur back to Delhi. During the afternoon you will see New Delhi. Drive past the Presidential Palace, Secretariat Buildings and down the impressive Rajpath to India Gate. Visit the Birla (Laxmi Narayan) Temple and the Qutub Minar, 72 metres high. See Delhi's most curious antique, the un-corroded Iron Pillar, which dates back to the 4th century AD.
Those on the flight inclusive package will depart this morning for the daytime flight back to London; those on land-only arrangements will leave us after check-out at the hotel.