Soul Of India
Day –1 Arrival transfer from International airport to Hotel.
You’ll arrive in Delhi today, where your Trip Leader will meet you at the airport and escort you to your hotel. Here we’ll be joined by travelers who took our optional Bhutan: The Hidden Kingdom pre-trip extension.
Day –2 IN Delhi.
After breakfast, gather with your fellow travelers for a briefing by your Trip Leader.
We start our discoveries this afternoon in Delhi by visiting Old Delhi. Even when Bombay and Madras were mere trading posts and Calcutta a village of mud huts, Delhi had been the seat of an empire for 500 years. Through the centuries, eight cities have been built on this site by Hindu, Mughal, and British rulers—with each adding their own flavor.
In the old part of Delhi, we visit Raj Ghat, a beautifully serene monument. This is where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, and we will see an impressive shrine to India’s best-known statesman. Next, after visiting the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, we take a short ride by rickshaw through the crowded lanes of the Chandni Chowk bazaar. Tonight, enjoy a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.
Day – 3 New Delhi.
After breakfast, we head out to see the highlights of New Delhi.
The British laid out the broad, tree-lined avenues and neat street grid of New Delhi (in contrast to the narrow alleyways of the old part of the city). We’ll begin our explorations by visiting Qutab Minar, a spectacular example of Indo-Islamic architecture topped by a 234-foot-high tower. Begun in the twelfth century, this is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the symbol of New Delhi.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll continue our tour of the former “Imperial City” which continues to serve as the center of government for the world’s largest democracy. We’ll see the buildings of India’s Parliament and (from the outside) the residence of India’s president, a palatial building called Rashtrapati Bhavan. Nearby we see the India Gate, where a popular park surrounds a memorial to Indian soldiers who served Great Britain in World War I and the 19th-century war in Afghanistan.
You’ll have the latter part of the afternoon at leisure. This evening, enjoy dinner on your own.
Day –4 Delhi to Jaipur.
After breakfast, we’ll journey to Jaipur, called the “Pink City” for the rosy hue of its sandstone buildings. En route, we’ll stop for lunch at a local restaurant. When we arrive in Jaipur, we’ll check in to our hotel. Dinner tonight is on your own.
Day –5 In Jaipur city tour.
An optional hot air balloon ride may be offered this morning (weather permitting). Rise early to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of Jaipur and its surroundings. Float high above the fort, Jai Mahal Lake, or the countryside, going where the wind takes you. Don’t be surprised if you attract attention from the people below along the way!
This morning, we enjoy a sightseeing tour of Jaipur.
Next we see the Jantar Mantar, a remarkable astronomical and astrological observatory built in the 18th century. The giant sundials here are still accurate to two-tenths of a second. Then we go on to the City Palace Museum, filled with an array of textiles, arms, carpets, paintings, and manuscripts. You’ll complete your tour with an optional visit to a fabric block-printing center to learn more about the textiles that are so representative of this area. After lunch at a local restaurant, your afternoon is free.
Tonight we will gather for dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 6 – In Jaipur city tour.
We begin today’s discoveries with a view of the exterior of Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds). This is actually not a palace, but rather a façade of 956 delicate, honeycombed sandstone windows used by the ladies of the palace to watch the outside world without being seen.
Next, we’ll explore Jaipur’s Amber (pronounced “am-er,” with a silent “b”) Fort-Palace. The Fort is a stunning and well-preserved 16th-century structure, built on four levels.
Among its many splendors is the Sheesh Mahal, a small room whose ceiling, covered with tiny mirrors, looks like a sky filled with brilliant stars. Here, in Rajput times, a dancing girl held candles during a dance of love for her Maharaja. We make our way back down the hill and return to Jaipur.
After lunch on your own at the hotel, your afternoon is free. Then we are the guests of an Indian family for a Home-Hosted Dinner.
Day 7 – Jaipur to Ranthambore N.P.
After breakfast, we leave Jaipur and drive through the rural countryside and into the low Vindhya mountain range. The drive is about five hours in length along bumpy roads.
Our destination is Ranthambore National Park. Located near the town of Sawai Madhopur, the park is one of the eleven sites chosen for Project Tiger, India’s national tiger conservation program, the largest such effort in the world. The park is comprised of more than a hundred square miles of deciduous forest and several large lakes, and until 1970 it was a hunting preserve of the Maharajas. We’ll arrive at the hotel in time for lunch.
Also Please note: As Ranthambore National Park is closed in August and September, we will visit the Sawai Mansingh Animal Sanctuary instead during those months.
In the afternoon, you can join an optional tour to the Ranthambore Fort, a spectacular fortress built more than 1,000 years ago on a rocky outcrop with stunning views. Today it sits in the middle of the Ranthambore sanctuary. You’ll ride in an open four-wheel drive vehicle (known locally as a canter), and then hike to the fort, a huge structure with a fascinating history and fine craftsmanship in its interiors.
Dinner is included at our hotel this evening, along with a presentation on the local wildlife we’ll see tomorrow.
Day 8 – Ranthambore N.P Game Drive.
In the early morning, when nocturnal animals may still be active, we head out for game-viewing before breakfast. Once again, our mode of transportation is a canter, a safari truck. We may see all the great Indian species: sambar, nilgai, the shy chinkara and chital, and the always cunning Langur monkey.
We return to our hotel for breakfast and the rest of the morning at leisure. Following an included lunch in the hotel, we regroup for a second safari expedition. Though it is rare, we may see the Royal Bengal tiger, usually sleeping by day in the tall grass. A recent census showed 26 tigers in the reserve. We also see lakes that hold crocodiles, and a wide variety of water birds in season. More than 450 bird species frequent this area, from crested serpent eagles to painted storks.
Dinner is included at our hotel this evening.
Day –9 Ranthambore to Camp
A Day in the Life
After breakfast, we’ll stroll into a local village to visit with the students at a primary school (when in session)
Then we’ll continue our A Day in the Life of this village by visiting a local family and learning about their way of life. Next we visit a cooperative where women are trained to make handcrafts. We’ll learn about this enterprise from one of the women involved, with the opportunity to purchase its products.
After lunch at the cooperative, we begin our drive (totaling approximately five hours on a bumpy road) to our beautiful village camp retreat. You’ll check in upon arrival.
Our campsite is nestled among small plots of land used by local farmers to grow a rich diversity of crops. Often, villagers will stop by to pay us a visit, or farmers will take a break from their work to share a laugh. Especially enchanting are the mustard blooms, which, in season, resemble thousands of buttercups waving in the breeze.
Join your travel companions this evening in the relaxed environment of the campsite to enjoy an authentic Indian dinner. Dinner is prepared especially for you by our camp cook, who uses the freshest locally grown organic ingredients.
After dinner we’ll relax around the campfire and enjoy being entertained by local dancers who proudly perform cultural Indian dances for us.
Day –10 Camp to Agra in rout visit Abhaneri .
Today, we’ll visit Abhaneri to view an ancient baolis, essentially a step-well or waterway built to provide a constant water supply to local inhabitants.
Then, we’ll depart for Agra, driving through the vast rural countryside. We’ll break up the long journey by stopping for lunch en route. As we drive, our Trip Leader entertains us with a discussion of the history of the Mughals.
When we arrive in Agra in the late afternoon, we’ll check into our hotel and enjoy time at leisure. Dinner tonight is on your own.
Day – 11 Agra
Today we rise early to view a sight unlike any other in the entire world: early morning at the Taj Mahal.Please note: If this day falls on a Friday, we visit the Taj Mahal on the evening of Day 10 instead.
This grand edifice, built by Shah Jahan from 1631 to 1653 to enshrine the remains of his Queen Mumtaz Mahal, took 20,000 workers to build. We walk into the inner chambers of this renowned “Monument to Love,” and seek out several vantage points to see the magnificent play of light. The semi-translucent white marble is inlaid with thousands of semi-precious stones in beautiful patterns and the building has four identical facades, a perfect exercise in symmetry. It’s truly a wonder of the world!
Later in the morning we visit the sprawling Agra Fort on the bank of the Yamuna River. This immense fort and palace were the seat of power for four generations of Mughal emperors; they ruled all of northern India from the early 16th century until the consolidation by British colonial rule in the early 1800s. Agra Fort’s architecture is an almost perfect fusion between military might and lavish beauty.
We return to our hotel to enjoy the afternoon at leisure, and then gather for an included dinner this evening.
Day – 12 Agra to Jhansi and drive to Khajuraho.
To enjoy and make the most of this very long, overland, travel day, you’ll need to approach it with curiosity, an adventurous spirit, and a healthy sense of humor.
We begin our journey early this morning, as we board a train for an approximately two-hour ride to Jhansi, a center of Bundela civilization. Upon arriving at the railway station in Jhansi, we will continue our long (five-hour) drive to Khajuraho, stopping for lunch at a local restaurant.
Although remote and very quiet today, in the tenth century Khajuraho was the center of the thriving civilization of the Chandelas. The magnificent group of temples (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was built between the ninth and tenth centuries by the Chandela Dynasty, which dominated Central India at the time.
We’ll check in, and enjoy dinner at our hotel in the evening.
Day –13 Khajuraho to Varanasi
India: Varanasi and Bangalore Follow the Grannies on Safari through two of India’s most fascinating cities.
After breakfast at our hotel, we visit the east and west temple complexes that the Chandelas constructed. The erotic stone carvings here have come to symbolize the important role of love and prana energy in Hindu thought. British archaeologists excavated these intricate stone carvings during colonial times, when they scandalized post-Victorian English sensibilities.
We have time for lunch before transferring to the airport for our 40-minute flight to Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu cities. Known as Benares during British times, Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, with a written history dating back more than 4,000 years. It has an intense, almost palpable atmosphere of spiritual devotion, a feeling of an unending religious festival. Hundreds of temples propitiate the thousands of deities in the Hindu pantheon. Pilgrims from every part of this vast nation crowd the narrow streets and the riverside ghats.
As the day comes to a close, we’ll travel to the bathing ghats located alongside the sacred River Ganges. People flock in large numbers every day to bathe and worship in the temples built beside the riverbank. Feel the timelessness of Varanasi as the sun sets and as the temple priests perform aarti, the sacred light ceremony, on the banks of Mother Ganga. The aarti performance is best viewed while having a boat ride on the river. We can photograph riverside temples and bathing ghats; however, photography of the cremation ghats is not permitted.
After the puja ceremony is completed, dinner will be on your own this evening.
Day –14 In Varanasi
Early this morning, we board our small boat for a cruise on the Ganges. From our boat we are witness to the everyday life in the holiest of cities, as the people arrive at the ghats to take a ritual dip, perform yogaasanas, wash clothes and offer flowers and incense to the river. We’ll see devotees performing their daily religious rites. At stone steps on the river’s edge, we join our hosts in a pilgrimage: for them, the heart of their faith, for us, a superlative cultural experience. We then continue our guided walking tour of the local temples before returning to our hotel for breakfast.
After breakfast, drive to the nearby ancient Buddhist learning center of Sarnath. Here, Gautama Buddha preached his first sermon to his disciples, as portrayed in Bernardo Bertolucci’s film Little Buddha. We then visit the Sarnath Museum, (except on Fridays, when the museum is closed) which houses some of the great treasures of Indian Buddhist art, including Ashoka’s Lion Capital—the National Emblem of India—and the beautiful Teaching Buddha, among the most beautiful sculptures in the world. We can explore and photograph excavated Buddhist stupas and pillars unearthed during the British archaeological explorations in 1836. We also have the opportunity to visit a silk-weaving workshop.
This evening, enjoy a Farewell Dinner with your traveling companions.
Day –15 In Varanasi to Delhi
This morning we have the chance to begin the day with a relaxing yoga and meditation class before breakfast at our hotel. Learn basic yoga exercises and breathing techniques from a local expert.
After lunch on your own, you will be transferred to the airport to board a flight to Delhi, where you’ll stay tonight.
Or, if you’re continuing on the post-trip extension to Kathmandu, Nepal, you will fly to Kathmandu instead.
Enjoy an included dinner at your hotel this evening.
Day – 16 Fly Back with sweet memories.
If you’re continuing on a post-trip extension to The South of India: Kerala & Cochin, board your flight this morning. Otherwise, transfer to the airport very early this morning for your return flight to the Home town.