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Depart Heathrow on a Virgin Atlantic direct overnight flight to Delhi. From the airport, you’ll be taken to your hotel located on a leafy street in the affluent Defence Colony district.
On your first full day in Delhi you’ll see the Red Fort – the epitome of Moghul power – the 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 Colonel’s Retreat
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 naturally offers wonder after wonder; the imposing Agra Fort, the white apartments of 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 Fatehpur 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 magnificent palaces, ancient mansions and bazaars teeming with people, camels, horses and vehicles. 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 you’ll be sleeping in the Abode of the Gods. Your hotel was once a magnificent, rambling hilltop fort that dominated the surrounding towns of the rugged Aravalli Hills. Today it focuses 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 Kumbhalgarh. 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 Kumbhalgarh 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 you drive through the rugged-yet-beautiful Aravalli Hills to reach 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 1,444 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 a 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 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
After a morning relaxing, you’ll fly back to Delhi for a final evening at leisure.
Stay: One night in a standard room at Colonel’s Retreat
You’ll fly out of Delhi in the early afternoon, landing back in London just after teatime.
I instantly felt I was talking to a friend.- SH, Italy