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Welcome to the picturesque bustle that is Delhi. A city with two distinct faces – that of the British Raj, alongside the extravagant architecture of the Mughals. In Old Delhi, your tour will take you to the Red Fort, Jama Masjid – the largest mosque in India – and Raj Ghat, the beautiful park where Gandhi was cremated. Then you’ll amble around the metropolis of broad avenues and colonial architecture characterised by Sir Edwin Lutyens in New Delhi, visiting Humayun’s Tomb and Qutab Minar, a 234-foot minaret built in the 13th century. You’ll also see sights like India Gate, Raj Path, the Parliament Building and Rashtrapati Bhavan, the president’s residence.
Stay: Two nights in a cabana room at Claridges, New Delhi
A short flight takes you from Delhi to Varanasi, India’s holiest Hindu city. It sits on the banks of the sacred river Ganges and is a hectic mix of worshippers and bathers, bazaars and markets, festivals, temples, mosques and palaces. You’ll visit Sarnath where Gautama Buddha preached his first sermon after attaining nirvana. You’ll browse the enlightening Archaeological Museum with its diversity of Buddhist relics and the Ashoka Pillar with its back-to-back lion carvings, before venturing off to the buried city ruins, stupa and temple. In the evening you’ll witness an Aarti Hindu ceremony.
Stay: One night in the Varura Burj room at BrijRama Palace
Today you will make your way to the Sarai at Toria where you will find yourself conveniently close to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Khajuraho. Prepare to be left breathless by the astounding decorated temples – no less than 22 of them – featuring exquisite Indo Aryan carvings dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Jain Thirthankar.
You’ll also be within easy reach of Panna National Park, one of India’s lesser-known but most picturesque parks. Game drives here offer you wonderful sightings of birds like the honey buzzard, Indian vulture and blossom-headed parakeet as well as sloth bears, sambar, chital, leopards and if you’re lucky, the elusive tiger.
Stay: Two nights at Sarai at Toria – full board
Today you travel to the beautiful town of Orchha – an atmospheric place that was built on an island in the 16th century. Today you’ll find a fortified palace with turreted walls embracing romantic gardens, grand gateways, pavilions, temples and walls covered in frescoes. The whole palace exudes an air of graceful neglect but is, nevertheless, breath-taking. In the afternoon you stop at Jhansi to board your express train to Agra.
Obviously, the highlight of your trip to Agra is a visit to the wonderful Taj Mahal, but you’ll also tour the famous Agra Fort, with its views of both the Taj Mahal and the inspiring ‘Baby Taj’ – the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah. Make sure your camera is fully charged – the glittering white marble of the Taj Mahal is supremely photogenic from any angle.
Stay: Two nights in a deluxe pool view room at Trident, Agra
From Agra you drive to Fatehpur Sikri, the astonishing red sandstone city and palace of Emperor Akbar. Built in the 16th century, it was subsequently abandoned when its wells ran dry – leaving perfectly preserved buildings for today’s sightseers. In the afternoon you take the express train from Bharatpur to Ranthambore.
At Ranthambore National Park you’ll have 400 square miles to explore. The park has a huge diversity of game, including tigers, and a large number of exotic bird species – many of which you’ll see on early morning and late afternoon safaris to catch the animals as they come down to numerous lakes and watering holes to drink. You’ll return again to watch one of the country’s most impressive sunsets.
Stay: Two nights in luxury cottage at Khem Vilas
You have time for another early morning game drive – you’ll see something different every day – before taking a four-hour drive through interesting countryside to the magnificent city of Jaipur. The City of Victory, also known as the Pink City because of its rosy toned stone, was founded in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. You’ll visit his previous court at Amber, riding around the deserted complex on an elephant and visiting the Hall of Victory, Jai Mahal and Temple of Kali.
In the afternoon you’ll return to Jaipur to tour the Palace of Winds and City Palace; an overwhelming collection of exquisite royal residences, gardens and courtyards, decorative art and carved doorways. Browse around the Palace Museum with its rare manuscripts, armour, costumes, carpets and miniature paintings before taking in the Astronomical Observatory, built in 1726 and still making accurate predictions to this day.
Stay: Two nights in a deluxe room at Samode Haveli
Your tour of Northern India culminates in the City of Dreams. Udaipur is possibly the most romantic city in India, an enchanting mixture of white marbled palaces, sparkling blue lakes and green hills. You’ll spend your days visiting the fabulous fort at Kumbhalgarh – one of the most impressive fortresses in the ancient Kingdom of Mewar. The massive walls encompass buildings, temples and palaces, and beyond them lies a wildlife sanctuary for wolves, leopards and flying squirrels. The Jain Temples of Ranakpur in the Aravalli Valley and the Chaumukha Temple with its 29 halls and 1444 marble pillars is next on your agenda.
The following day a tour takes you to see the elephant carvings at Jagdish Temple, the grand City Palace that is actually a collection of major and minor palaces connected by a single façade. At the Crystal Gallery in the Fateh Prakash Hotel you see a rare collection of English Osler’s crystal including chandeliers, chairs, dressing tables and even a bed.
Stay: Two nights in a cloisters room at Bujera Fort
Morning at leisure in Udaipur. In the afternoon you’ll fly to Mumbai to meet your international overnight flight back to the UK, arriving in London the following morning.
Alison was so helpful, patient & organised things beautifully. Very professional & knowledgable.- CC, USA