We start in Amritsar and transfer to our hotel, Mrs Bhandari's Guest House, with its fascinating Art Deco interior. The afternoon is at leisure to explore or just recover from the flight. Those on Land Only arrangements will meet us at the hotel during the day. In the evening we pay our first visit to the Golden Temple to experience the impressive evening ceremony.
This morning we head for the fabled Golden Temple that stands in the heart of this ancient city. The temple was built in the late sixteenth century and is as sacred to Sikhs as Mecca is to Muslims. Heavily gilded and beautifully decorated, the famous Hari Mandir is surrounded by a sacred pool and reached by a white marble causeway. We spend time enjoying the beauty and serenity of this very welcoming temple. We pay a quick visit to the old area of the bazaar where we can see traditional wholesalers in their shops as they have been for hundreds of years. We then set off by road to the heritage village of Pragpur. The village is set on the southern edge of the Kangra Valley and is a wonderful place to explore and sample local rural life, while staying in the comfort of the Judges Court Hotel.
Today we have a full day to relax and explore the fascinating village of Pragpur with its history and architecture, people and local crafts. In the evening we can go down to a remarkable Hindu temple by the river to watch the sunset.
This morning we set out by road, climbing steadily through sub tropical vegetation and terraced fields, towards pine covered mountains and the small town of McLeod Ganj. On the way we will stop to view the Pong Dam wetland wild bird sanctuary and picnic at the ancient rock temple of Masroor. Just before reaching McLeod Ganj, we drop in at the historic church of St John in the Wilderness. We will then have a quick orientation walk, leaving time to explore this lively market village in the evening.
We spend the morning exploring the main Tibetan settlement of McLeod Ganj. The Dalai Lama settled here in 1960 after fleeing Tibet. Since then a Government in Exile has been created, schools, craft workshops and many monasteries have been built in and around the town. For those who wish, in the afternoon we can take a walk up out of the village, taking in the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts on the way, through the forest, enjoying stunning views of the mountain range, to the Tibetan Children's Village School, which is home to over 2,000 refugee children.
Today we visit, and spend the night by the Norbulingka Institute of Tibetan Culture, a registered trust dedicated to preserving Tibetan literary and artistic culture. We can watch thangka painting, statue making and wood carving taking place in the Institute's workshops, and we can learn something of Tibetan Buddhism through the wall paintings in the beautiful temple. In the afternoon we take a short walk up the hill to visit Dolma Ling Nunnery in its beautiful rural setting.
Leaving Norbulingka this morning we head east following the mountain range, through the tea gardens to Andretta a small village tucked away in the folds of the hills, far from the tourist trail. Andretta is a tranquil place famous as a settlement of artists and craftspeople. Here we will visit the pottery set up by Sadar Gurcharan Singh, the first studio potter in India. Those who wish can even try their hand at the wheel. Following a leisurely lunch, we take a short drive to Palampur, famous for its tea gardens.
Travelling by road, we head out through picturesque countryside towards the little visited town of Mandi. Situated on the Beas River at the foot of the beautiful Kulu Valley, this unusual town was once a halting point on the salt route to Tibet. Overlooked by most visitors, Mandi is a fascinating place with over 80 temples and shrines including some impressive sixteenth century Nagari style temples. After a short walk through the town and lunch at the Raja's palace we drive up above the town to visit Rewalsar, where a charming hilltop lake is revered by Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists, who have each built their temples on its banks. We return to Mandi for the night.
We continue our journey to Shimla, India's largest and most famous hill station. Set deep in the foothills of the Himalaya, the route climbs steadily past steep river valleys, pine forests, terraced fields and orchards. At an altitude of 2159m, the Shimla ridge is a cool airy place offering an impressive vista across the countryside to the snowy peaks of the Great Himalaya. We spend the afternoon exploring the main areas of the town including The Mall, Christ Church, the Gaiety Theatre and Scandal Point.
A full day to enjoy this historic town, the summer capital of British India. We start the day by walking the length of the Mall to Shimla's most impressive monument, the former Viceregal Lodge. This one time seat of imperial power was also the location for crucial talks prior to Independence. From its location on Observatory Hill, we have fine views across the region. Next we visit the excellent State Museum nearby, housed in a colonial mansion. The museum has a varied and well-displayed collection of contemporary and ancient art. Of prime interests are the Pahari (or Hill) miniatures, fine examples of the last Hindu art form to flourish in North India. There are also examples of local wood carvings, ancient sculptures, deity masks from Kulu and temple bronzes. After lunch we are free to explore the warren of bazaars that cling to the hillside, where Shimla is at its most vibrant.
We leave Shimla by a different route - the Viceroy's Toy Train. Completed in 1897 under the instruction of Lord Curzon, this 96km line with 103 tunnels and 24 bridges was a massive undertaking created to ease the previously arduous journey. The journey is truly memorable as the train steadily rattles its way through the stunning scenery. Although it is not the quickest option it is undoubtedly the most romantic. We leave the train at Kalka and take the short drive to Pinjore where we spend the night.
An early start this morning with a train journey to Delhi, followed by the drive to Agra. Once the capital of Mughal India, Agra is well known for its architecture, most famously the exquisite Taj Mahal. Since arrangements to visit the Taj have recently changed we will save it until last for a special viewing early on our final morning. As we enter Agra we will visit Sikandra, the emperor Akbar's mausoleum and, if time, the Itimad-ud-Daulah. These are both early Mughal monuments that allow us to see the developing skills and techniques that eventually produced the incomparable Taj.
A day of Mughal history. In the morning we visit the abandoned city of Fatehpur Sikri, built on a rock ridge between 1569 and 1585 by the great Mughal emperor, Akbar. It has lain empty for 400 years, deserted in 1600CE when Akbar's attention was diverted to Lahore. It is perfectly preserved and highlights this extraordinary Emperor's unorthodox architectural traditions and religious interests. After lunch we return to visit the impressive Agra Fort, another of Akbar's creations that dominates the Yamuna River and gives us our first magical glimpse of the Taj at sunset. Built in the shape of a half moon, the fort became the seat of the Mughal Empire for successive generations.
Rising early, we will finally make our long awaited visit to the Taj, undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of the Mughal dynasty. The Taj was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial to enshrine the body of his favourite wife, Mumtaz. Seen in the gentle early morning light it is at its best, and the gardens are quiet and free of the crowds who will arrive later in the day. After breakfast we travel either by road or rail to New Delhi where we will have some free time for picking up those last minute souvenirs.
Those on the flight inclusive package will depart for London this morning for the daytime flight back to London; Land Only arrangements will finish after check-out from the hotel.