This tour combines stunning palaces and imposing hilltop forts with exquisite ancient temples, the colonial heritage of British India, rich and varied wildlife, and the unspoiled peace and natural beauty of the countryside.
We begin in Mumbai, the old East India Company trading station of Bombay, before flying up to Udaipur, an elegant city of lakes and antique regal grandeur. We travel to Shahpura Bagh, an intimate, stylish and luxurious country retreat for two nights where we are given an intimate experience of the local village and farm life.
After two nights in Bundi, a charming fortified town of narrow lanes and ancient havelis on the rarely visited eastern edge of Rajasthan, we arrive at Gwalior, home to one of the most impressive and least visited forts in India, approached through a canyon of mysterious giant rock sculptures of naked Jain deities.
Our next stop is one of India’s best kept secrets – Orchha, a remote collection of majestic abandoned cenotaphs, a palace and a fort stunningly located on an island in the boulder-strewn Betwa River. Finally we arrive at the Sarai at Toria, an idyllic property located on the edge of Panna Tiger Reserve and overlooking the beautiful River Ken where you will have the chance to visit the extraordinary World Heritage temples at Khujuraho. Emulating the travelling house parties of old, this is a very special tour.
Day 1 – London / Mumbai
Evening departure from London Heathrow on a British Airways flight to Mumbai.
Day 2 – Mumbai
On arrival, transfer to the Leela Hotel, a peaceful retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the vibrant city, where one night is spent.
Lunch under own arrangements. Afternoon introductory city tour of Mumbai. Dinner at the hotel.
Day 3 – Mumbai / Udaipur
Transfer to Mumbai Airport for a domestic flight to Udaipur, the ‘city of dreams’, which is considered one of the most romantic cities in India. In contrast to some of its desert neighbours, it presents an enchanting image of white marble palaces, placid blue lakes and green hills that keep the wilderness at bay. It is an oasis of colour in a stark and arid region. On arrival, transfer to Amet Haveli, situated on the Western Banks of Lake Pichola, where two nights are spent. The hotel offers a unique panoramic of the old city, lake Pichola, Ghanghaur Ghat, Mohan Mandir, Lake Palace, Jagmandir and the beautiful Aravali ranges.
Lunch at the hotel. Afternoon at leisure. Evening cruise on Lake Pichola.
Day 4 – Udaipur
Morning visit to the superb 17th century Jagdish Temple noted for its imposing 25-metre pagoda covered with bas-relief of horsemen, dancers, musicians and elephants, along with black stone images of Vishnu as Jagannath. Continue to the grand City Palace Complex which towers over Lake Pichola, started in 1567 by Maharana Udai Singh with carefully integrated subsequent additions. Within are a series of courtyards, corridors and gardens, along with a fascinating collection of museums.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Explore the lively local market and shops. Dinner at the hotel.
Udaipur / Shahpura Bagh
Depart for Shahpura Bagh, a wonderful garden estate where two nights are spent. Formerly the summer home of the rulers of Shahpura, the hotel is set in 45 acres of garden and pasture and surrounded by two lakes. Shahpura Bagh is very much a mixture of Rajasthani meets colonial, with a quiet, understated yet elegant air.
Lunch at the hotel on arrival. Afternoon tour of the local village and estate. The working farm estate, resplendent with trees of Neem, Ashoka, Peepal and Mango, is a serene oasis where Holstein Cows graze languidly in peaceful co-existence with peacocks, an entire menagerie of birds fill the Bagh (garden) with birdsong and the occasional blue bull and jackal flit silently amongst the woods. Dinner at the hotel.
Full day spent exploring the area. There is the opportunity to visit Ram Dwara, the revered ancient temple with its mixture of Rajput and Mughal traditional architecture or trek to a famous tribal temple on top of a wooded hill where every Saturday and Sunday, tribal communities come from around 50 miles to congregate and worship their tribal deities. Legend has it, that all wishes made at the temple on top of the hill will come true and so fervent is the devotion, that many make this trek barefoot.
Before lunch, there will be a cooking demonstration showing you how to cook traditional local Rajasthani dishes. Explore the local town and markets or with over 250 small lakes containing over 180 species of birds, Shahpura is a bird watching paradise. End the day watching the sunset at the Dhikhola Fort with its extensive views over the countryside. Dinner at the hotel.
Shahpura Bagh / Bundi
Morning departure for the quiet and quaint town of Bundi in southern Rajasthan. Check-in to Braj Bhushanjee, a 150 year old family run Haveli (town house), where two nights are spent. The four storeyed Haveli offers open spaces, courtyards and terraces with magnificent views of the Taragarh Fort, the Palace and this medieval city. All the rooms have been renovated without much disturbance to the original architecture and all are traditionally decorated with wonderful Bundi murals.
Lunch at the hotel. Visit the recently discovered Mesolithic caves and sites as well as the ancient tribal villages which surround the city. Return to Bundi stopping en route at the Jait Sagar Lake where Rudyard Kipling wrote the book Kim. Dinner at the hotel.
Today enjoy a sightseeing tour of the picturesque town of Bundi, spreading out from the narrow valley of Bandoo. Visit the Garh Palace which was described by Rudyard Kipling as being ‘built more by goblins than by man’.
Lunch at the hotel. See the Taragarh Fort with its lavish traditional murals and frescoes. Bundi is known for having over 50 stepwells which were the only source of water for the town until a piped water system was introduced. Dinner at the hotel.
Bundi / Gwalior
This morning there is a long journey as you leave Rajasthan and head east to Madya Pradesh. On arrival in Gwalior, check-in to the Taj Usha Kiran Palace Hotel where two nights are spent. Set amidst 9 acres of beautifully landscaped lawns, the Usha Kiran Palace was originally built 120 years ago as the Royal Guesthouse and has played host to the King of England.
Picnic lunch. Afternoon at leisure. Dinner at the hotel.
Visit Gwalior Fort which was described by Cunningham as the ‘noblest specimen of Hindu architecture in North India.’ The fort was built in the 8th century by the Rajputs and was later contested by the Tomars, Barbur, the Maratha and the British. You approach the fort from the south-west, passing the colossal Jain statues and walls which are 10 metres high and thick. Inside the fort is Man Singh’s palace which is embellished with lapis tiles of ducks, elephants and palms, brackets of stone peacocks and beasts. The palace has a natural air-conditioning system and the dark cool basements are in layers below the waiting room where the women would watch the flag for victory or defeat during battles. You also see the Karan, Shah Jahan and Jehangir palaces, the two 11th century Sasbahu temples and the 9th century Teli-ka-Mandir, a marriage temple.
Lunch at the hotel. Visit the Jai Vilas Palace; part of the Palace is the present Maharaja’s residence and some 35 rooms house the Scindia Museum, an idiosyncratic collection of royal possessions and memorabilia. Designed by Lt Col Sir Michael Filose the building resembles an Italian palazzo using painted sandstone to imitate marble. Inside the extraordinary Durbar Hall hang two of the world’s largest chandeliers each weighing 3 ½ tons and it is alleged that the strength of the roof was tested with the weight of 10 elephants. Visit the local markets before returning to the hotel for dinner.
Gwalior / Orchha
Morning departure for Orchha. Highly picturesque, in the middle of nowhere and somewhat neglected and abandoned on an island in the Betwa River, Orchha, literally meaning ‘Hidden’, was founded by the Bundela chief Raja Rudra Pratap in the 16th century. Check-in to the Amar Mahal Palace Hotel, overlooking the magnificent cenotaphs and the River Betwa, where two nights are spent. Remainder of the afternoon at leisure before a sunset walk round the local temples. Dinner at the hotel.
Spend the morning exploring the gardens, gateways, pavilions, temples and frescoed walls which lie within the turreted walls of Orchha Fort. Visit Ram Mandir where a path leads through the Muoghal-style Phool Bagh ornamental garden to Hardaul ka Baithak, a grand pavilion where Bir Singh Deo’s second son, Hardaul, once held court.
Lunch at the hotel. Visit the Royal Chattris which lie along the River Betwa. Visit the pink and gold domed hindu Ram Raja Temple, the only temple in India where Rama is worshipped as a king. End the afternoon with a visit to the Jehangir Mahal Temple, a beautiful example of Mughal architecture. Return to the hotel for dinner.
Orchha / Panna
Depart for Panna stopping on route at the town of Maheba in the Etawah District.
Lunch at the hotel on arrival. Check into the Sarai at Toria Lodge, a uniquely designed lodge situated on a beautiful riverside site, close to Khajuraho and Panna National Park. The Sarai at Toria is the vision of a husband and wife partnership with a passion for wildlife and conversation. Their aim is to manage the Sarai at Toria in an environmentally and socially responsible manner, providing comfort and indulgence while protecting the natural and the cultural environment. Afternoon at leisure. Dinner at the hotel.
Early morning jeep safari in Panna National Park. Return to the hotel for breakfast.
Lunch at the hotel. Afternoon at leisure to relax or try a boat ride or fishing on the pristine Ken river, walk through the crop fields of the surrounding countryside or go birding in the nearby forest and wetland areas. Dinner at the lodge.
Panna / Khajuraho / Delhi
Morning tour of Khajuraho, famous for its magnificent World Heritage temples. Built during the Chandela Dynasty (10th – 11th centuries), the temples are beautiful examples of Indo Aryan architecture, featuring exquisite carvings, many of them erotic. Dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and a Jain Thirthankar (spiritual guide), the temples showcase the art and architecture of medieval India.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Transfer to Khajuraho Airport for a domestic flight to Delhi Airport. On arrival, transfer to the Trident Gurgaon Hotel, where one night is spent. Conveniently located for the airport, the Trident hotel offers a tranquil setting with 7 acres of stunning landscaped gardens, walkways, courtyards, pools and fountains. Farewell dinner at the hotel.
Delhi / London
Early morning transfer to Delhi International Airport for a British Airways morning flight to London arriving in the early afternoon.