We arrive either early in the morning or late in the night in India’s capital Delhi. You will go through the procedures for customs and immigration and on completion our representatives will greet you and transport you safely and in comfort to your hotel.
Delhi is a hustle and bustle city spanning the Yamuna River banks and typifies everything Indian. It has a very ancient history and as a result many thoughts about the original civilization are more mythical than documented. There have been a number of civilized societies along with eight different cities that have prospered here for over 3000 years. Today, Delhi is a city that is filled with a plethora of social, religious, cultural and historical differences; in the day, the temples abound with devoted worshipers and at nights the entertainment venues are crowded with affluent revelers.
On day two of our tour to Rajasthan, after we have had our fill of the buffet breakfast at the hotel, we will take off for an exploration of Old and New Delhi.
Initially called Shahjahanabad, Old Delhi dated back to 1639 is now a city with old crumbling walls, quite in contrast to the city centuries ago that brandished extravagant mansions and lovely gardens. The ancient dwellers would be astonished at what Delhi is like now, with its numerous bazaars, food stalls and crowded streets. However, if you really want to feel the beat of the city, life in the streets and experience the bustle of India then Old Delhi is the place to be. Take a ride on the bicycle rickshaw as it travels along Chandni Chowk; if you like an Adrenalin rush then take a trek through the city on foot. You will discover temples, wholesale markets with everything from A-Z on sale; electronics, things for weddings and several other products. As you move along you will also see decorative havelis placed in the narrow lanes. As you drive along in the rickshaw you will pass the Red Fort and head toward the Jama Masjid, where the beautiful red stone and marble mosque is located. It took some 5000 workers and six years to complete in 1656 and is categorized as one of the world’s most attractive places of worship. And, if you fell like catching an amazing view over Old Delhi then climb one of the towers.
Proceed to Raj Ghat to an emotional and serene memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi a peace advocate and Father of the Nation of India. It was here that he was cremated after he was assassinated in 1948 and now on that said spot is a platform made of black marble with an eternal flame that stands in honor of him. “He Ram” which means “Oh God” which is said to be the last words that he said are inscribed on it.Look forward to an afternoon trip to New Delhi. You will immediately recognize the remnants of the British and the stunning differences between the New and Old Delhi. The old city has an abundance of traditions, while the New Delhi is developing and making great strides to stay abreast of 21st century trends and standards.
The India Gate is a structure that is 42 meters in height and serves as a remembrance for the Indian soldiers who died in the Afghan War and World War I. Sir Edwin Lutyens, designed this structure which has a close resemblance to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. You will also see the Amar Jawan Jyoti which is a flame that burns beneath the arch and is also known as the flame of the immortal warrior. Rastrapathi Bhawan the President’s residence and the parliament buildings are also important sites to note.
There are many aspects of Delhi to make you wonder, particularly the Mughal architecture with a double dome and char bagh (garden divided into quadrants). The Humayun’s tomb built in the middle of the 16th century by Mirak Mirza Ghiyas brought along with it a more Persian style but also presents a combination of the Mughal and Hindu cultures along with Hindu themes as decorations. The building of this tomb was ordered by Haji Begum, wife of Humayan who was born in Persia. One hundred years after being constructed, its style and designs are thought to have been replicated in the glorious Taj Mahal.
Our tour of Delhi ends as we visit the more recent Laxmi Narayan Temple which is also known as the Birla Temple after the accomplished industrialist family who built it. This temple enshrines the preserver of the Hindu Trinity, Lord Vishnu. After Mahatma Gandhi incorporated the entry of Harijans into the temple as one of the conditions for dedicating the temple, Laxmi Narayan became one of the first major Hindu places of worship that permitted the lower caste Harijans (untouchables) inside. Overnight stay in New Delhi!
It’s off to the religious center of Hindu India as we head to the airport and fly out on our Rajasthan Varanasi tour.
When we get to Varanasi, we check into the hotel. The documented history of Skanda Purana and the Mahabharata talk about Varanasi as having existed over 3000 years and appears to be the oldest city in India to have been inhabited and indeed one of the most ancient cities on earth. Varanasi is an elegant city located on the west side of the Holy Ganges. Here, the bathing ghats are very lively at any time of the day. Being a deeply religious place, thousands of devoted pilgrims journey to Varanasi every year to worship; it is also a preferred retirement choice for Hindus to live.
We drive to Sarnath a little later in the afternoon. It is a popular place for Buddhists pilgrimage and is situated north of Varanasi. Throughout the 6th century BC, Siddarth Gautama the person who we now know as Buddha or the “Awakened One” presented his first message to his five disciples Kaundinya, Bashpa, Bhadrika, Mahanama and Ashvajit here. There is a deer park complex on this site which has a huge Dhamek Stupa, built by the Emperor Ashoka in 249 BC as a memorial of his pilgrimage. The belief is that this Stupa is positioned on the precise spot where Buddha gave his first sermon. Besides that you will also find a number of other ancient Buddhist structures in the park, as well as the Sarnath Archaeological Museum which is home to a fine collection of artifacts, edifices and sculptures mainly of Buddha and Bodhisattva, as well as other medieval relics. The highlights here are the famous Ashokan lion capital, which became the National Emblem of India and a lovely sculpture of the Buddha with his legs crossed, a halo around his head and in deep meditation. This sculpture is dated back to the 5th century. There are also monasteries and temples of a variety of schools of Buddhism from Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Burma and China which you can visit, along with stupas.
The evening will be one where we make our way on bicycle rickshaw through the lively, bustling and colorful market area to get to the banks of the Ganges River. Gathered on the banks are worshipers for the Ganga Aarti ceremony (river worship ceremony). It will be an amazing and magical scene as the massive crowd and bearded pundits clothed in robes of saffron much like the scenes from Bollywood rather than Sanskrit scholars, swing their lanterns of fire in rhythm with the hymn singing and cymbal clanging; the profuse smell of incense, burning sandalwood and hundreds of little lamps floating out onto the Ganges River as offerings. It’s an every- evening ritual giving thanks to the River Ganges for its kindness to India’s northern plains.
Afterwards we go back to the hotel for the night!
It’s the fourth day of our tour of Rajasthan. At dawn, sip on your preferred beverage, perhaps a cup of tea or coffee as you prepare to leave for a memorable private cruise on the river Ganges. As the sun rises you will witness the worshipers as they immerse themselves into the holy waters of the Ganges River and hear the ringing sounds of the bells of the temple. It’s all about the Hindu pilgrims carrying out their rites according to centuries old customs and beliefs that the dead in Varanasi or those whose remains are submerged in the holy Ganges, in the next birth will be incarnated to human life.
When our boat ride is complete, your personal guide will escort you on one of the highlights of your India tour as you walk along the ghats of Ganges and see its lively river-fronts early in the morning. You get the opportunity to intermingle with the wonderful blend of people who use the river Ganges every day for washing clothes, offering blessings, selling flowers, doing yoga, getting a massage, washing their buffaloes, giving to beggars to improve their karma and even playing cricket.
We go back to the hotel for a buffet breakfast. Coming up later in the morning will be a visit to the city of Varanasi by coach. Of course, included in our tour will be the Vishwanath Temple, the most holy shrine in Varanasi; it is dedicated to Lord Shiva. There is also the Banares Hindu University (BHU) which is thought to be Asia’s largest live-in university and houses two notable attractions within: Vishwanath Temple and Bharat Kala Kendra (Museum).
In the afternoon we take a short flight to the great temple Khajuraho, built during the times of the Chandela Empire whose rulers claimed to be descendants of the union between a Moon God who fell in love with a human being Hemavati. This temple complex was constructed sometime between 950 and 1050 A.D. Khajuraho was one of the few temples that escaped destruction from the Muslim invaders. It is believed that it still stands today because of its out of the way location and covering by the thick forest.
For some 700 years this temple remained hidden and it was only after an officer from the British army on a hunting expedition stumbled upon the caves in 1839 that it was found. It’s a fantastic UNESCO World Heritage Site to visit, with an impressive collection of temples well-known for their detailed carvings of some of the most sensual and erotic acts, living up to its nickname as “The temple of love.” The carvings blend well with the theme that hails women with their many moods and emotions. You will see the curved bodies of fairies applying make-up, playing games, washing hair and tying and untying their girdles, broad-hipped women with lots of decorations and big-busted and shapely women (apsara) all over the walls.
Legend has it that the reason for such sensual carvings on this Central Indian temple at Khajuraho, was to stop Indra the god of rain from striking the sacred place with lightning in error. It is felt that Indra was a keen observer and would have hesitated to destroy such a pleasing structure. Like the rain gods, thousands of visitors also enjoy the pleasure of these sensual carvings that cover the walls of the Khajuraho temple. Overnight stay in Khajuraho!
After breakfast we drive by car to the scenic Orchha which is positioned on a curve around the River Betwa. It’s a lovely ancient city with stone temples and palaces that were built throughout the 16th and 17th centuries during the reign of the Bundela rulers and has still been able to maintain primeval perfection even after hundreds of years. Admire the beauty of the Jehangir Mahal, constructed as a memorial of the visit in the 17th century of Emperor Jehangir and the Raj Mahal, a building constructed earlier and decorated by very colorful murals. Along with that there is a network of stairways with several towers that will capture your attention.
We will head towards the Jhansi Railway Station after our Orchha visit and travel on the 6:00 PM Shatabdi Express – air-conditioned and fast – for Agra. It is here that the mighty Mughal leaders and several builders constructed the most magnificent architectural marvels of their time. In Agra you will come across some of the most impressive monuments including the charming Agra Fort, the Itimad-ud-daulah’s tomb, and the outstanding capital of Fatehpur Sikri. However, the Taj Mahal is the icing on the cake, a world famous structure that is a prized testimony of Mughal architecture. Once in Agra and we head to our hotel that is centrally located and check-in.
Overnight stay in Agra!
On the seventh day of our trip to Rajasthan we get up early in the morning and head to the glorious white marbled wonder that you have been eagerly waiting to see; the Taj Mahal. We go to this fantastic mausoleum at dawn which is the ideal time to view both the sunrise and the Taj Mahal. You will be impressed with this building with its magnificent marble mosaic work that took some 22 years and over 20,000 men to construct. A really interesting point to note about its construction and one that makes you marvel, is the fact that the white marble that accentuates its beauty was mined some 200 miles away. How did they get such a massive amount of marble transported in the 17th century? Well, think elephants; as many as 1000 carried it from the quarries to the Taj Mahal site. Amazing! It is one of the greatest stories of love from ancient times; Shah Jahan the Mughal Emperor built this mausoleum for his favorite wife Mumtaz, who died during childbirth. Take your time and immerse yourself in the beauty and tranquility of this treasure at sunrise.
After viewing Taj Mahal at sunrise, we go back to the hotel for a buffet breakfast. Then we go to Agra Fort which was the heart and fortress of the Mughal Empire and another stunning display of the Mughal architecture. Mughal Emperor Akbar said to be one of the greatest rulers of the Mughal Empires in India is credited with building the gates, walls and first red sandstone buildings on the Yamuna River’s eastern banks. Other emperors continued to add to the fort throughout generations to make it as massive as it is. Amongst them were Aurangzeb who added the exterior walls and Shah Jehan constructed the marble quarters and the mosque. The Hall of Public Audience and Royal Pavilions are also must-sees.
In the afternoon explore the marble and leather markets. Here you should definitely think about bargaining for the leather wallets, belts, shoes and also the marble products. If you are looking for one of India’s most beautiful marble mosaics then it is a must that you visit the “Pietra Dura Workshop.” Watch these skillful artisans at work bringing to life the same techniques used to build the Taj Mahal as they make some excellent marble mosaic pieces.
In the afternoon, we will head to the Itimad-ud-daula Tomb or as you may know it, the Baby Taj built between 1622 and 1628. This tomb is a perfect representation of the evolution between Mughal architecture with red sandstone decorated with marble, for example Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi and the phase of the building of the Tāj Mahal where white marble was used. It will be a WOW moment when you step inside and see the amazing display of gorgeous work in the ceilings that is absolutely unbelievable. Such an exhibition of superior craftsmanship and work in marble will definitely leave a great impression.
Our last stop will be the “Moon Light Garden” or Mehtab Bagh. Here you will enjoy a lovely and romantic view of the Taj Mahal in its glory at sunset. Perfectly positioned across the Yamuna River, it is considered as the ideal place to watch the Taj Mahal without having to compete with the crowds, so as the sun sets you get to admire the “wonder of wonders” and also rest in the peace and tranquility of the gardens. High Tea is the plan for this evening. It is an extra special occasion where you get to socialize with an Indian family and experience their way of life. You will learn about how they carry out their daily chores, their lifestyle and perhaps have a cooking demonstration if you wish. Overnight stay in Agra!
When breakfast is completed at the hotel take a drive to Jaipur the “Pink City”. On our way there, we will visit the Fatehpur Sikri a city built by one of the greatest Mughal Emperors, Akbar. In the 16th century it was his palace and capital but was soon deserted because of a lack of water and dried up wells which look quite the same way today as they did 300 years ago. Replete with mosque and palaces this city that was bigger than London is now a desolate relic for exploration by visitors, with the red sandstone buildings still unbelievably in place.
We proceed to Jaipur which is the state of Rajasthan’s capital. It’s a city of impressive forts and lovely gardens, palaces, sand dunes and a lake. Besides the hustle and bustle with the buses, cars and bicycles Jaipur has not changed much. Your stay in a hotel that is ideally located will make it easier for you to shop, walk around and sight-see.
Take a walk through the lively colorful bazaars and streets. Admire the attire of both the men and women; the men’s turbans and the women’s dresses. Watch the skilled artisans create Zardozi embroidery, silver work, semi -precious and precious stonework, block printing and Gota work right before your very eyes. Overnight stay in Agra!
Visit what was the previous capital of Amber for an exploration of Amber Fort. Of course, on our way there we cannot ignore the beautiful site of the Palace of Winds, the Hawa Mahal which is well known for its structure that looks like a beehive. The exterior is a mixture of pink and red sandstone with white borders. It is from here that the royal ladies watched the parades and other happenings in the streets below without being noticed.
After our stop at the Palace of Winds, we continue our journey to Amber Fort which was constructed by the most victorious General of Mughal Emperor Akbar, Rajput Warrior Mansingh in the 17 th century. Protected by walls and looking over the Moat Lake the relics extend all the way over the hills of Aravalli.
Amber was once the center of power before the City Palace was built. We will go up to the fort either using the jeep or elephant to have a much closer view of this elaborate complex with halls and courtyards that display fantastic wall paintings, mosaics done with precious stones as well as mirrors. The room known as the Sheesh Mahal – Hall of Mirrors is completely lighted by one candle reflecting on several mirrors and creates a really amazing effect.
In the afternoon we make our way back to the city of Jaipur. The main thing to see on this afternoon’s tour is the City Palace, an awesome complex of attractive palaces, courtyards, gardens, carved doorways and decorative art. Visit the museum and see a fantastic collection of costumes from Rajasthan, manuscripts and miniature paintings from the times of Mughal reign, weaponry and armory from Mughal and Rajput, along with a variety of swords with decorated handles, some mosaicked with jewels, enamel and sheathed in fantastic cases.
Not far away is the Jantar Mantar (Astronomical Solar Observatory). Here you will find an unbelievable collection of architectural astronomical instruments. This solar observatory was constructed by Maharaja Jai Singh II sometime between the period 1727 and 1733. Take a look at the ancient instruments used to accurately measure time, predict eclipses and other astronomical events and wonder how without modern technology they were able to do so. For example, take a look at the Samrat Yantra, a sundial which was used to tell precise time; out only by a mere two seconds.
You have the rest of the day to yourself; perhaps you may want to do some shopping in the local markets for some wonderful handicrafts or silver jewelry. Along the roadside you will see the mehndiwala (henna painters) who decorate ladies’ hands with traditional paintings. If you are not in the mood for shopping just yet, then why not take in a view of the sun setting while sipping on your favorite beverage in the café on the top of Nahargarh Fort. From its location on the rocky, rugged Aravalli Hills, this Fort provides an outstanding panoramic view of Jaipur. Overnight stay in Jaipur!
It’s the tenth day on our Rajasthan tour itinerary and we say goodbye to Jaipur after breakfast and proceed north heading into the depth of Rajasthan’s rural interior. On our way there we will bypass several villages and towns before we get to the Shekhawati region and the Alsisar village. Once a part of India’s Silk Road, the merchants there became very wealthy and prosperous and as a show of that, they built several lavish mansions which today are mostly deserted. However, the local king’s mansion has been beautifully restored and transformed into a magnificent Heritage hotel called the Alsisar Mahal; it is here that we will spend the night. It’s a wonderful hotel with a swimming pool, shaded courtyards, a web of corridors and arched colonnades. What is also intriguing about this hotel is that all the rooms are exclusive and different; they are charming, spacious, furnished with four-poster double beds and air-conditioned, with bath and shower. When you are all rested from your previous journey you can be part of a guided stroll through the village to discover some of the magnificent havelis that are located just on the outside of the walls of the Alsisar hotel. Hedged in by large walls and courtyards the havelis (palaces) provided privacy, security and shade. The paintings consist of several floral designs with a fusion of Mughal inspiration, Hindu mythological images and European scenes like bicycles, trains and cars and they aptly depict the evolution of India during the years of the 19th century.
A walk through the village of Alsisar will show you beautiful and colorful saris worn by women, as your guide explains that the reason for such vibrant colors is to provide happiness and hope no matter what the circumstances. These women go about their business cleaning the sidewalks and men travel along on carts being pulled by cows. You will hear the sounds of the music of Bollywood booming from the tiny houses. Overnight stay in Alsisar Haveli!
After breakfast we leave Alsisar for Bikaner in the morning. This city has much of the ancient zest and traditions and is located along the old caravan route that connected North India and Central Asia with the seaports of Gujarat. It is named after Rao BikajiIt the 6th son of Rathore Rajput – Prince Rao Jodha, the founder of Jodhpur. It was here that Bhika established his independent kingdom in 1488. There are beautiful red stone havelis (mansions) which are somewhat dissimilar to the ones in Jaisalmer that are made of golden sandstone. In this wall surrounded city, there is still evidence of a laid back lifestyle which remains eminent.
There is a sightseeing tour of Bikaner in the afternoon.
Junagarh Fort is one of the most attractive Rajput monuments. The interior consists of ceiling paintings, marble lattices and wooden mosaics. There are amazingly decorated rooms with scenes that tell the stories of the elaborate lifestyles of the wealthy Maharajas at the time. The exterior displays courtyards that are paved and terraces and thin staircases connect all the pavilions, temples and palaces inside this Rathor stronghold.
You will find in the Karan Mahal a wonderful representation of Mughal architecture and as the public audience hall Anoop Mahal. This room brandishes some spectacular gold mosaic work that is also sprinkled with authentic gems like rubies and emeralds.There is the hollow Durbar Hall that houses an 1,100-year-old ceremonial sandalwood throne and Phool Mahal with its flower themes embedded in the stucco work and glass mosaic work is the oldest section of this palace complex .Of particular mention are the designs in the ceilings of each room either done with painted copper plates or wood . It’s pretty breathtaking as you enter these rooms plastered with blue clouds and sprinkled with lightning themes.
Also housed in the Junagarh Fort is the Pracheena, a museum that exhibits modern arts and crafts, antique period furniture, ceremonial crafts, miniatures, costumes used by the royal family, royal photographs, textiles and even framed menus, cutlery and crockery. It’s an absolute pleasure to the eyes being at this museum and you get to reflect on the lives of the royals in the past.
Go to the only Camel Breeding Farm of this type in all of Asia. It is a breeding and research center located in Bikaner and extends over some 2000 acres. Camels are very important to the people living in this dry and arid region of Rajasthan; they serve not only as a vital and inexpensive means of transportation but also as companion, guide and friend. A must see on this tour is the return of the camels from a day in the jungle. It is time for us to get something to eat and perhaps we can take a bite at the in-house shop serving dairy products that are made of camel’s milk; tea, coffee and ice cream. The average camel produces 2-3 liters of milk on a daily basis. Just imagine how much milk is produced for the shop! But that’s not all you can do at the Camel Breeding Farm; there are also the relics and items made from the hair, bone, teeth and skin of the camels. Don’t be alarmed, these parts are only used from animals when they have died naturally. Overnight in Bikaner!
We will leave Bikaner after breakfast and go to Jaisalmer making a stop at one of the most unusual attractions anywhere; the Rat Temple at Deshnok. It is the temple of Karni Mata who lived in the 14th century and is said to have performed several miracles throughout her life. Apparently when her youngest son, Lakhan died by drowning, Karni Mata commissioned the god of death Yarma to resurrect him. But, his answer was that he could not. However, he told Kami Mata that she could do it as she was a manifestation of Durga. She did and pronounced that no member of her family would die but would personify kabas meaning rats and members of her family would return as such. In the region of Deshnok there are some 600 families who consider themselves descendants of Kami Mata and that they too will come back as rats and be reincarnated as Kabas. Going here is not for the faint-hearted and those afraid of rodents because the long tailed animals living here are revered as holy and are thought to be the personifications of the story tellers who have died. They are all over the temple and you are considered to be fortunate if one runs over your feet.
Thousands of rats live here and are cooked for, fed and worshiped; it is also their burial ground though involuntarily.Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.-Richard Dawkins
Afterwards we proceed to Jaisalmer, enjoying the scenery of arid deserts, fields of sheep and women adorned in the lovely bright colored saris skillfully balancing water pitchers on their heads. Jaisalmer was established by Prince Jaisal in 1156 and played a very important role along the trade route between India and the West crossing the rough terrain of the Tahr Desert. Jaisalmer is also known as the Sonar Quila or Golden Fort because of its yellow sandstone walls and its change to a honey gold color at sunset. Its complete section for living is inside the massive fortress walls.
When we get to Jaisalmer we check into the hotel and spend the night!
We take off for a half-day tour of Jaisalmer in the morning to visit the 12th century fort there. This fort is different because it is the only one in Rajasthan that people still inhabit. It is located at the highest position above the market place, which is about some 100 meters up. The valleys in the fort are small and winding and have Jain temples, heritage hotels, markets, decoratively carved out houses as well as a Folklore Museum. As you walk along the streets you will be astonished by the splendid array of perfectly embroidered blankets, rugs and bedspreads as well as distinctive mirror work. It’s a good time to shop and bargain! Your trip to Jaisalmer would not be complete without a visit to the 12th – 15th century Jain Temples which are in the fort complex. In some of the temples you will come across fantastic figures of the Jain saints made from red and black stone as well as marble. There are also spectacular images of gods and goddesses, signifying that their seemed to be a high level of open-mindedness about religion.
The elegant exteriors of the yellow sandstone mansions or havelis showcase the brilliance and skills of the Jaisalmer’s stone carvers. See the elaborately carved mansions built by the wealthy merchants. A particular spectacle is the biggest and most extravagant of all the havelis in Jaisalmer; the Patwon ki Haveli. The Patwas were merchants trading in sequins and ribbons, rich fabrics and gold and silver embroidery. Over time the family expanded their business and invested in banking, revenue collecting and opium. A short stop at the manmade lake Gadhi Sagar in the middle of the Thar Desert is a must.
Spend the night at the hotel!
If you want to, you can go on a camel adventure with a ride on the camels back over the sand dunes and pass the night away under the stars in the lovely Thar Desert. We meet our guides at the camel camp after being driven there by jeep and ride for three hours through the desert to our camping spot. When we arrive we set up a camp fire to cook dinner. It will be a night under the vast open starry sky with the normal comforts of your pillows, mattresses, sheets and blankets. Next morning, wake up early and experience a spectacular desert sunrise then have breakfast. Ride back on our camels for about 90 minutes, when we reach our drop off point we return to the city by jeep.