This all-encompassing journey through India gives you the lot! Bustling cities, a pilgrimage to Varanasi - the spiritual heart of India, the colourful splendour of the temples and palaces of Rajasthan, remote village lifestyle, peaceful southern backwaters, amazing wildlife sanctuaries and beautiful beaches.
This incredible journey really has India covered!
Today is an arrival day and no activities are planned, so you may arrive at any time. If you are arriving early, please check the noticeboard in the foyer of the hotel for suggestions of things to see and do in Delhi. A pre-departure meeting takes place this evening at the hotel. Please also check the noticeboard for details of this meeting and for any other messages from your tour leader. Please also bring your passport and travel insurance documents to the meeting. Afterwards we have the opportunity to go out for an optional group dinner.
Delhi - overnight train
Our tour leader takes us into the old city's market area known as Chandni Chowk, as well as Connaught Place - the commercial heart of New Delhi. The rest of the day is free for relaxing or doing some further sightseeing on our own. Red Fort and the impressive Jama Masjid (Great Mosque) are two of the city's most notable landmarks, whilst Raj Ghat is a monument that marks the spot where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. In the evening we catch our overnight sleeper train bound for Varanasi.
Varanasi - overnight train
Regarded as the spiritual heart of India, Varanasi is the city of Shiva built on the banks of the sacred Ganges River. Thousands of pilgrims flock to the great ghats to bathe in the holy waters - a ritual that is believed to wash away all sins. The city claims to be one of the oldest in the world and it’s a magical place where we are able to witness the rituals of life and death on the ghats, on an early morning boat ride. Our tour leader also takes us for a walk through the back lanes and crowded alleyways of this timeless city. After our time in Varanasi we board another overnight sleeper train and head back westward to Agra.
Agra is home to India’s most famous site - the majestic Taj Mahal. After settling in we visit this amazing 17th century marble mausoleum, built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his second wife who died giving birth. Started in 1631 the project was completed in 1648 and employed a workforce of over 20,000 people. Construction materials were brought from all over India with the marble from Rajasthan transported by over 1000 elephants. Our tour leader can also help us arrange an optional visit to Agra Fort.
One of the features of a Imaginative Traveller’s trip through Rajasthan is visits to small, out of the way villages. Tordi Garh is a small town that we have identified is a true ‘off the beaten track’ experience. After a 4 hour bus trip from Agra, we are met by jeeps and drive a couple of hours through beautiful countryside to Tordi. Very few travelers have even heard of Tordi and even fewer visit it, because it’s hard to get to on your own. We explore the village, meeting potters, visiting an old village temple, walking though markets and meeting families on the way. Ruined temples and a fortress lie further afield and we enjoy a visit to these sites.
Our host is the owner of the palace at Tordi. He is a direct descendant of the feudal lord who built the palace in the 16th century. The accommodation has unforgettable ambience and charm and really makes the visit to Tordi a special highlight.
This morning we travel by jeep to Jaipur - the vibrant and colourful capital of Rajasthan. Here, traditionally dressed Rajput men wearing colourful turbans and sporting magnificent moustaches make their way through crowded streets packed with cars, camel carts, rickshaws, trucks and bicycles. On our second day in Jaipur we travel 11 kilometres out to the stunning medieval Amber Fort. This fort was built in 1592 by Maharaja Man Singh and is a superb example of Rajput architecture. Several hours are needed to explore this huge fortification and we include the services of a local guide for our tour. Our tour leader also takes us to an area known as the Old Bazaar where the Hawa Mahal, better known as The Palace of the Winds, is situated. This five-storey façade with its pink, honeycombed sandstone windows is one of Jaipur's best-known landmarks. We also have ample free time in Jaipur and there are many interesting things to see and do; our tour leader will be happy to assist us with getting to some of these places.
Early this morning we take a five-hour local bus ride to the village of Nimaj, arriving there in the afternoon. We stay at the Nimaj Bagh, an orchard run by the erstwhile nobles of Nimaj. Our leader will take us around in the surrounding villages where we meet the local Gujjars (cattle breeders) and other communities. The village of Nimaj is where we will get closest to the locals and have ample opportunities to interact with them and learn about their way of life.
This morning we take the three-hour ride on a private air-conditioned coach to Jodhpur and arrive there around midday. This city lies at the edge of the Thar Desert and is dominated by the imposing Meherangarh Fort, which sits atop a sheer rocky ridge in the middle of town. We visit the fort, which is run by the current Maharaja of Jodhpur, as well as the bustling Sardar Market. It’s a great place to explore with several alleyways leading off to various bazaars selling fruits, vegetables, spices, textiles and handicrafts.
A six-hour hour local bus journey takes us to Udaipur. Sometimes known as the 'Venice of the East', this beautiful city built around the shores of Lake Pichola is full of fascinating temples, ornate palaces and impressive 'havelis'. The charming setting of the Lake Palace on Jagwinas Island is unforgettable. During our stay we visit the Jagdish Temple, an Indo-Aryan temple containing a black stone image of Vishnu as Jagannath, Lord of the Universe. We also visit the City Palace, surmounted by balconies, towers and cupolas, where there are excellent views of the city and lakeside from the upper terraces. There are many other options available for sightseeing and our tour leader will be happy to assist in arranging these.
We are transferred to the airport where our tour leader bids us farewell. We will be unescorted for the flight and met on arrival in Kochi (Cochin) by our specialist south India tour leader who will escort us for the remainder of our journey. You will need to change planes in Mumbai, but your baggage will be checked directly through to Kochi. On arrival the rest of the day is free to relax or explore the area around our hotel in Fort Cochin. As southern India is quite different from northern India, there is a short meeting with our new tour leader where we are briefed on what to expect for this next section of our trip. We may also be meeting up with other travellers of ours who are just joining on for this part of the tour.
Kochi is set on a cluster of peninsulas and islands in the Indian Ocean and is a fascinating blend of cultures. From time immemorial it has been the favourite destination of globe-trotters and explorers. Blessed by one of the finest natural harbours in the world, Kochi has been eulogised as the 'Queen of the Arabian Sea'. We include a tour of the Fort Kochi peninsula where we discover the Dutch Palace, which was restored by the Dutch and presented as a gift to the King of Kochi, and St Francis Church - the oldest Christian church in India, built by Portuguese Franciscan monks in 1503. The church itself is testament to the history of historic Cochin, having been used at various stages by Roman Catholics, Dutch Protestants and Anglicans. We also visit the famous Mattancherry Jewish Synagogue, originally built of wood in 1568. The area surrounding the synagogue is full of spice shops selling cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and a host of other spices. We also take a look at the unique Chinese fishing nets, which are set up close to our hotel.
Vaikom - Kochi
This morning we drive to Vaikom for a day visit, where we include a boat ride through the small waterways and visit various local industries such as like coir making, toddy tapping, spice producing, mat weaving and pot making. We visit a riverine village and meet the families living in this stunningly unique environment. The backwaters of Kerala have become the lifeline of the state, with a number of towns like Allapuzha, Kumarakom, Kollam, Kuttinad located amidst the maze of waterways. Late in the afternoon we drive back to Kochi for our overnight stay.
Backwater Cruise - Alleppey
Today we catch a bus to the small market town of Alleppey (Alappuzha) that is built on a network of canals and surrounded by coconut palms. Upon arrival we board our houseboat, converted from a Kettavallum, or traditional rice barge, and sail the beautiful backwaters of Kerala. This large aquatic area is a vast network of lagoons, lakes, rivers and canals, and the people who live in this region have created their own distinct lifestyles. From our comfortable houseboats we witness the peaceful way of life on these amazing waterways. After watching the sun go down over the backwaters we return to dock at Alleppey and transfer to our nearby backwater hotel.
Periyar National Park Wildlife Sanctuary
Today we catch the local bus to Thekkady, on the edge of one of India’s most popular wildlife reserves. Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary surrounds an artificial lake that was built by the British in 1895. It is home to gaur, wild boar, sambar deer, langur monkey, wild elephant, various antelopes and a wide variety of birds. We include an early morning cruise on the lake, which is a great way to start the day. The rest of the time is free to explore the area and perhaps take an optional jungle walk with a local guide or visit a nearby plantation.
We spend the next three days at Varkala - a beautiful beach town on the Arabian Sea about an hour's drive from the capital of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum). The main beach here is Papanasham Beach, which is long and golden with a backdrop of red laterite cliffs from which mineral water springs forth. It is a chill-out place and in the mornings and evenings we can witness fishermen pulling up their nets from the sea. Our tour leader is able to take us to various beaches in the surrounding areas and advise us on various optional activities such as witnessing an evening Kathakali or Kalaripayatt show. It is also a town famous for Ayurvedic massage centres - ideal for rejuvenation!
We take a morning day train back to Kochi and arrive back there by noon. We have a final free afternoon in Kochi, which offers a great opportunity to do some final shopping for souvenirs to take home. Our trip ends the following morning.
While the information presented here details our planned itinerary, including routes taken, activities included, accommodation and meeting times, please accept that unforseen changes may occur. We are constantly on the lookout to improve our program and further enhance your experience. Naturally, we will keep you up to date with any last minute amendments to your tour.
Key: (B) = Breakfast, (L) = Lunch, (D) = Dinner