Great forts standing on forbidding cliffs. Fantastical royal palaces glittering in the sun. Spiralling temples covered in intricate carvings of strange deities. This is the India of your dreams, and the reality will be before your eyes on this tour.
You’ll begin in the old and new city of Delhi – home to Moghul and British imperial architecture – and progress to Agra with its great fort and, of course, the Taj Mahal. Then comes Jaipur, Kumbhalgarh, Udaipur, Narlai and Jodhpur – a parade of Indian extravagance.
From Delhi airport around midday, you’ll be taken to your hotel set in a quiet residential area, but with easy access to both the old and new parts of this sprawling city full of unmissable sightseeing opportunities. On your first full day in Delhi you’ll see the Red Fort – epitome of Moghul power – and India’s largest, the mosque Jama Masjid, and the beautiful park of Raj Ghat where Gandhi was cremated. Next comes hectic Chandni Chowk market; a complete contrast to the broad avenues, stately homes and landscaped gardens created by British architects like Sir Edwin Lutyens. The pomp and circumstance continue with a drive past Humayun’s Tomb – said to be the inspiration for the Taj Mahal – the Qutab Minar and along Raj Path. The imposing India Gate, the Parliament building, Rashtrapati Bhavan and the President’s residence complete your formal tour of Delhi old and new.
Stay: Two nights in a deluxe room at Zaza Stay.
Agra and Bharatpur
Today the new expressway whisks you to the high point of any trip to Rajasthan: Agra and the Taj Mahal. You’ll see it at its best, its white marble sparkling in the morning light. Agra was India’s capital in the 16th and 17th centuries and represents the zenith of the art and architecture of the Mughals. So it offers wonder after wonder; the imposing Agra Fort, the white apartments of the Emperor Shah Jehan and the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, or ‘Baby Taj’, acknowledged as the forerunner of the Taj Mahal.
Stay: One night in a deluxe room at The Bagh.
Today the early bird gets to visit Keoladeo National Park, regarded as one of the finest bird sanctuaries in India with over 360 species including eagles, water birds, kites and kingfishers. It’s a great start to a day that will take you to the City of Victory. But before you reach Jaipur you’ll stop at Fatephur Sikri, a city built by the Moghuls in the late 16th century but deserted after only 15 years when its wells ran dry. Then come the rose coloured terra cotta buildings that give Jaipur its nickname of the Pink City. Here you’ll find streets lined with bazaars and teeming with people, camels, horses and vehicles, magnificent palaces and ancient mansions. You’ll walk in wonder through the Palace of the Winds and Amber, where you can ride an elephant through towering gateways to the main Palace and up the hill to a fort giving splendid views over the city. In the afternoon you can visit Maharaja’s City Palace, the Observatory, the Albert Hall Museum and the tranquil Ram Niwas Gardens.
Stay: Two nights in a suite at Dera Mandawa.
On the seventh day of your dream tour you’ll be sleeping in the Abode of the Gods. Your hotel was once a magnificent, rambling hill top fort that dominated the surrounding towns of the rugged Aravali Hills. Today it focusses on luxury and you’ll be welcomed in the traditional Mewari manner and shown to a room individually decorated in the classic Rajput style.
Stay: One night in a deluxe room at Deogarh Mahal.
Now you set off for Udaipur, but before you reach the City of Dreams you’ll call in at the massive 15th century fort at Kumbalgarh. One of the most impressive in the ancient Kingdom of Mewar, this vast building has temples and palaces within its walls and a wildlife sanctuary with wolves, leopards and flying squirrels on the outside. After Kumbalgarh comes Udaipur. Regarded as India’s most romantic city, Udaipur is a symphony of white marble palaces, placid blue lakes and green hills – a colourful contrast to the stark and arid countryside. From your hotel overlooking the city you’ll be able to visit the Jagdish Temple – noted for its elephant motif carvings – and the 1567 grand City Palace that stands on the banks of Lake Pichola. Within its crenulated walls and triple arched gate are four major palaces and several smaller royal residences connected by delightful courtyards, corridors and gardens. The Crystal Gallery at the Fateh Prakash Hotel offers a rare collection of Osler’s crystal – ordered from England by the current Maharana in 1877 and including chandeliers, chairs, dressing tables and a bed – all made from crystal. In the afternoon a boat ride across the lake provides yet another photo opportunity.
Stay: Two nights in a lakeside room at Amet Haveli.
On your tenth day the dream continues as you drive through the rugged-yet-beautiful Aravalli Hills to the Jain Temples of Ranakpur. You pause here to soak up the magnitude of the 15th century Chaumukha Temple, dedicated to Adinath and comprising 29 halls supported by 1444 marble pillars, each one individually carved. Then it’s time to journey on to Rawla Narlai. Set in a small, 17th century village, this is the perfect place to appreciate the surrounding countryside with its richly forested hills and dramatic rocky outcrops. You’ll gain an insight into Rajasthan that few of today’s visitors have the privilege of seeing. It is one of the most beautiful parts of the state; the sort of place in which to relax, feed monkeys as they come down the hill, as prayer offering to Lord Hanuman, go on jeep safaris and visit an ancient step-well.
Stay: One night in a grand heritage room at Rawla Narlai.
Take an early morning walk around Narlai before saying goodbye to the village and embarking on a three hour drive to a spectacular city seemingly growing out of the sands of the Great Thar Desert. Founded in 1459 AD as the showpiece of the wealthy Kingdom of Marwar, Jodhpur is a mecca for dedicated sightseers. Palace follows fort follows temple and your tour will take in the very best. The Mehrangarh Fort, for example, is a five kilometre complex dominating the city’s near-perpendicular hills. It features an intricately decorated red sandstone palace with a museum featuring palanquins, howdahs, royal cradles, miniature paintings of various schools, folk music instruments, costumes and impressive armour. You can take a quick tour by zip wire, or pause to photograph the roofs and buildings below that have given Jodhpur its Blue City nickname.
Stay: Two nights in a superior room at Ratan Villas.
Jodhpur – Delhi
After a morning relaxing, you’ll fly back to Delhi for a final evening at leisure.
Stay: One night in a deluxe room at Zaza Stay.
Delhi – London
You’ll fly out of Delhi in the early afternoon, landing back in London just after teatime.