At your arrival you will be met by your personal tour guide who will accompany you to the hotel and present you with all the necessary documentation regarding your trip, including the itinerary, train and flight tickets, hotel vouchers, etc. Overnight in Delhi.
Breakfast is enjoyed in the hotel, after which we set out to explore the capital. Our first port of call is the tranquil Raj Ghat, an elegant historic monument and shrine to Mahatma Gandhi, the world famous Indian statesman and pacifist. It was also the site of his cremation in 1948. We proceed to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in the country. The sheer scale of the complex is astounding. On board a cycle rickshaw, maneuvering through the teeming, busy streets of Chandni Chowk, Delhi’s famous old bazaar, we transfer to the Red Fort with its massive red sandstone walls. It is a World Heritage Site and stands proud as a symbol of the nation’s capital.
We have breakfast in the hotel and then take the road to Jaipur, the famous Pink City with its buildings of rose colored sandstone. Along the way we stop at the enchanting Samode Village to amble along its streets and marvel at the Samode Palace, the scene of numeral films. The palace buildings have been converted into heritage hotels and this is where we will have lunch before we drive the short remaining distance to Jaipur.
Tip: A sunset visit to the Nahargarh Fort Complex, or Tiger Fort, is not to be missed. The drive to the fort in the Aravalli Hills overlooking Jaipur, is pleasant and the fort itself, with its extended walls is a place of grandeur. From the ramparts Jaipur down below resembles a fairy city. There is much to see, including beautiful frescoes in the king’s consorts’ quarters, intricate carvings on pillars and doors, and a sculpture garden. Rest your feet in the café on the summit while you enjoy some refreshments.
We spend the night in Jaipur, in one of its splendid heritage hotel.
The entire day is spent exploring beautiful Jaipur, Rajasthan State’s capital and largest city. Founded in 1727, it was planned with wide avenues in straight lines and sandstone buildings. These were later painted in hues of pink to give the city its charming rosy color. Jaipur is famous for its fabulous handicrafts like woven rugs and carpets, blue pottery, marble sculptures, hand-printed fabrics, leather items, gems and jewelry, etc. In the heart of the city is the impressive City Palace, previously the Maharaja residence, but now an outstanding museum exhibiting paintings, rare manuscripts, weapons and royal garments. Not far from the palace we visit one of India’s most curious and mesmerizing sites. In a large peaceful garden, a number of colossal brass and marble astronomical instruments are set, all part of Jai Singh’s ambitious observatory project. Hawa Mahal, also known as Palace of Winds, another landmark in the city has a splendid intricately carved façade in pink and red sandstone from where royal ladies once looked down on the crowds below. We also pay a visit to Amber Fort, picturesquely situated on a mountain ridge, overlooking Lake Maota. Entry to the fort is through the grand Ganesh Gate after a pleasant walk uphill. The opulent palace has four levels, each with its own large courtyard. The interior is breathtakingly beautiful with mosaics, sculptures, panels inlaid with alabaster, a Hall of Mirrors and much more.
The evening is free to enjoy as you wish. We spend another night in Jaipur.
During our four-hour drive, we pass various rural villages until we reach our hotel just outside Ranthambore National Park. Our first game drive is scheduled for the afternoon and we will keep our eyes peeled for the elusive Bengal tiger. Their numbers have dwindled drastically due to poaching, but after Project Tiger, a tiger preservation program was initiated in 1973, we have a bigger chance of spotting one of these amazing creatures. However, there are many other species to see, including spotted deer, Indian elephant and leopard, crocodile and birds like kingfishers, purple herons, parakeets, waders, cormorants and lots more.
Important note: The Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and Park is closed to the public due to heavy rain starting July until the end of September.
According to the latest census conducted in 2018, India’s tiger population has increased by nearly 33 percent in the last four years from 2226 to 2967 – good news indeed and a triumph for species conservation.
We have another go at spotting tigers during our morning safari and then we take to the road. We are heading for Agra, but pause our journey at the ghost town of Fatehpur Sikri. It took Emperor Akbar 15 years, from 1570 to 1585 to construct this citadel which is an accumulation of his philosophy of the highest standards in architecture, religion and art. In 1571, when a local Muslim holy man’s prediction of a long awaited son and heir came true, he made Fatehpur his capital. In due course his son Emperor Jahangir succeeded him to the throne. All the buildings are of red sandstone and decorated with painstaking care; the mosque where 10,000 worshippers can assemble, the palaces, audience halls, and residences. Unfortunately, Akbar enjoyed his beautiful citadel for a mere fourteen years before problems in the outlying territories of Punjab forced him to abandon it. And in that well preserved condition we can admire it today. It is located on a rocky ridge with wonderful views of modern Sikri village below. The special atmosphere, the outstanding architecture, and the unbelievable preservation of the original structures give us a good taste of the lives of its former royals.
After a remarkable and day full of discoveries we drive to Agra where we overnight.
The marble wonder of the Taj Mahal never fails to astound, and seeing it in the rays of the rising sun is even more amazing. So, our morning starts early. This immense white mausoleum was Shah Jahan, the Moghul emperor’s tribute to the love of his life namely Mumtaz Mahal, his cherished wife. Its serene beauty leaves no-one untouched, and subsequent visits during the course of the day reveals its many faces as the sun changes the color of the exterior. The interior space is a masterpiece in detail and beauty.
In stark contrast is the nearby Red Fort, dating back to the 16th century. Imposing red sandstone walls hide the gorgeous white Pearl Mosque made entirely of marble, and numerous other marble structures. Akbar, his son Jahangir and grandson Shah Jahan who succeeded him all in time built magnificent palaces, courtyards, fountains and Audience halls. Unfortunately for the latter, the Red Fort became his jail; he spent the last years of his life imprisoned here by his son, Aurangzeb.
The afternoon is free to enjoy at your leisure.
Late afternoon is the perfect time to visit Itimad-ud-Daulah, lies beautifully on the bank of river Yamuna. It was the first Mughal building done entirely in marble and is the seventeenth century burial place of Mirza Ghiyas Beg, a notable of Mughal court, erected by his daughter Mughal Empress Noorjahan. It is sometimes referred to as Baby Taj because of its intricate detailed architecture and fine carvings. Sturdy octagonal minarets sit on each of the four corners of the roof pavilion, and detailed inlay work covers every inch of the structure. Inside exquisite latticework covers the walls of the tomb. The roof is gilded and painted, and the yellow marble tombs resembles wood. The whole area is wonderfully quiet and peaceful.
An interesting excursion is to go on a walk conducted by one of the local guides through the Kachhpura Village. The village sits on the other side of the River Yamuna and the Taj Mahal. The tours form part of a development program for the local community, and a guide will introduce you to the sites of the village, tell you what life in such a rural village is like and even help you to meet some of the locals. The tour ends up at the Mehtab Bagh, the perfect spot to admire the great Taj Mahal on the opposite bank of the river at sunset. Kachhpura is also in close proximity to other ancient sites like Humayun Mosque and Gyarah Sidi.
We spend a second night in Agra, home to the Taj Mahal.
Early morning finds us at the station, in time for our 2-hour train journey to Jhansi, center of the former Bundela civilization. From Jhansi we travel for about twenty minutes by road, through peaceful rural landscapes to beautiful Orchha. Hugging the River Betwa, this 16th century town has not seen much change over time. It may be small in size, but there is no lack of beautiful palaces and temples built by its ruling Bundela family. First an introductory walk takes us to meet some friendly locals in their untouched surroundings. Then we will look around the temples and cenotaphs littering the river banks and attend the prayer ceremony, or puja at the Ram Raja Temple Shrine located in the center of Orchha.
We enjoy lunch in a nearby restaurant.
In the afternoon we are off to the Orchha Palace, a huge palace fort built for the Mughal king Jahangir by his friend Bir Sing Deo. Interesting are the grandiose domes, or iwans, built large enough to allow war elephants to easily pass underneath.
We have another three-hour trip to reach Khajuraho where we will overnight. Today this is a quiet, remote region but during the 900’s, it was the very center of the prosperous Chandela civilization. Hidden by dense jungle for ages, the Khajuraho Monument Group was only revealed to the outside world when locals guided a British surveyor to the site in 1838. Today the temple group is considered one of the finest examples of sculptured art in India, and is a World Heritage Site. There are intricately carved sculptures covering many aspects of human life, some of it of an erotic nature.
We return to our hotel for dinner.
The Chandela civilization is famous for their wonderful architecture and stone art, manifested in the temples built during their reign between 900 and 1100 AD. Among the sculptures are exquisite erotic carvings in stone. These represent the importance of the Hindu prana energy and love. Today the group consists of around twenty temples, both Jain and Hindu, although it is generally believed that they counted up to 85 originally. It is well worth a trip to view these ancient 3-dimensional stone artworks.
The flight to Varanasi takes 40 minutes. We arrive during the course of the afternoon and immediately book into our hotel. This is where the very heart and soul of Hinduism reside. No wonder Varanasi is considered one of India’s holiest cities; it even spreads along on the holy Mother Ganga. Here the Hindu religion reigns and one sees 1000’s of visiting pilgrims, religious elders, wandering Sadhus or holy men, as well scores of casual visitors. The city is a visitor’s paradise; wander through the labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys, explore some of the 100’s of temples, and watch Hindu rituals that fill every hour of the day.
At the close of the day we make our way to the ghats on the Ganges. The temples on the river bank, as well as the shores of the holy river is filled with people who come to bathe and pray. We watch the Aarti, the sacred ceremony of lights performed every day at sunset on the riverbank, just like it has been done since ancient times. Here time seems to stand still as we watch religious history repeating itself from a cruise boat on the Ganges. There are photo opportunities aplenty, the breath-taking beauty of the temples, the crowded colorful ghats. Just be aware the it is not permitted to photograph a burning ghat.
After the magical puja experience, we head back to the hotel where we will overnight.
At dawn we make our way to the Ganges waterfront. Century old religious dwellings called matts, and palaces line the river banks. According to Hindu belief, the Ganges washes away the sins of all who bathes in her, so throughout the day you will observe people dipping into the water. Bright colored saris color the banks of the river as they dry out in the sun. Priests pray to Mother Ganges, meditate and perform their morning yoga rituals on the banks. The yellow flames of many funeral pyres sparkle in the calm dark water of the river. After the peaceful, serene experience, we head back to the hotel where breakfast is served.
The afternoon sees us returning to Varanasi, also widely known as Benares for more sightseeing adventures. As one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities, it has been a center of cultural exchange and learning for centuries. We pay a visit to Benares Hindu University, an ancient establishment where students study medicine, engineering, liberal arts, philosophy and languages. We proceed to the Bharat Mata, a temple dedicated to Mother India where people pay tribute to India’s struggle for independence from British rule, personified in a large marble map of India. The last night of the Indian leg of our tour is spent in Kashi, a holy city.
During the day there will be time for a massage on the Ganges shore or to visit some of the silk and brocade emporiums.
We will also pay a visit to the Sarnath Temple Complex, a sacred site for Buddhists. Pilgrims from all over the world flock here to visit the Dhamekh Stupa, location of Buddha’s first sermon, according to belief.
Overnight stay in Varanasi!
As we will spend some time on the road today, we depart early. Our journey takes us past small towns and many interesting villages on the northern Indian plains. Arriving at the border, we walk the 500m/1640ft into Nepal, going through immigration and customs. Now our journey is only one hour through the narrow Terai lowland to Lumbini, Buddha’s place of birth. This is also where we will spend our first night in Nepal.
There is the option to take an early morning rickshaw ride in the Lumbini Park. This is where the Buddha’s mother had her home and where he was born. It is a popular pilgrimage site for Buddhists who flock here from far and wide.
We take to the road for a four-hour drive, heading east all along the mountains. Our destination is Chitwan where we will spend the next two nights.
There is nothing that compares to immersing yourself in nature. Chitwan National Park, the first in Nepal, offers the visitor life-changing encounters with nature in all its diversity and beauty. The park is home to more than 700 species of wildlife like wild boar, Bengal tigers, rhino, leopards, Bengal foxes and sloth bears.
On arrival in Chitwan, transfer to your Jungle Lodge.
After lunch, head out for Tharu on an ox cart. The fascination thing about Tharu women is that they are skilled in turning the exterior of buildings into masterpieces of artwork. As the visitor enters the village and marvel at their creativity, he/she is greeted by the locals, and furnished with interesting snippets of information regarding the lives and homes of the people. Then it is time to retire to the lodge.
As Nepal became a popular travel destination, the need arose to protect the jungle and keep visitors’ ventures authentic and sustainable. Hence the Royal Chitwan National Park was established. During a pleasant, early evening venture out with a naturalist (ecologist), the visitor will be informed about what he/she can expect to experience the next day, including some background, history and details about the environment (fauna and flora of the park). The day comes to an end with a delightful dinner while reflecting on a perfect day.
Overnight in Chitwan.
The safari starts at the crack of dawn when the early morning chorus of sounds begins to spread over the park. Your guide will point out camouflaged wild life you might miss. After breakfast back at the hotel, you set out for the river to watch a herd of elephants taking their mud baths. Lunch is next on the menu and then we will set out on a walk, followed by a canoe ride through the jungle. Our accompanying ecologist will point out the indigenous fauna and flora of the Chitwan buffer zone, while we continue our search for endangered birds like the black stork and Bengal florican. The return journey is made on foot all along the banks of the river.
Rest of the time at leisure.
Overnight in Chitwan.
Today we only cover a distance of 140km/87miles, but it will take us four to five hours to complete. Starting off in the farmlands and forests of the Terai Plains, we soon move into steep terraced terrain. We drive along the Narayani River gorge until the mighty Annapurna Mountains come into view. Pokhara at just 1000m/3281ft above sea level, and the climate is pleasantly warm, with semi-tropical vegetation. Surprisingly this town is actually closer to the major peaks of the Himalayas than Kathmandu. On a cloudless morning, one can see the so-called Fishtail Peak, Machhapuchhre, commanding the sky-scape. Our hotel is simple but comfortable and is situated near Lake Phewa. There is a variety of restaurants to choose from nearby.
We enjoy a delicious Nepalese lunch before departing for the impressive Shanti Stupa, one of two peace pagodas in Nepal. This Buddhist temple was conceived by Nichidatsu Fujii and constructed by the Japanese with the help of locals in 1980. There are various ways to reach the monument. You can take a boat across Lake Phewa and then follow a moderately easy 20 to 25-minute hike through a few villages, or you can drive or cycle to the foot of the pagoda and climb up the ±400 steps to reach the top. Whatever route you decide on, the views of the surrounding landscape and the lake are spectacular. Many shops on the hike offer a refreshing tea-break opportunity to catch your breath.
The air at the top of the stupa is wonderfully cool, and you can feast your eyes on the beauty of the peaks of the Annapurna Mountains. Looking down is equally breath-taking, with the green valley landscape, the peaceful water of Lake Phewa and Pokhara city. The rewards for climbing up all those steps are certainly worth their while. Four golden Buddha statues are found on the second tier of the pagoda and nearby, in the Dhamma Hall is a huge meditation Buddha statue. The entire Pokhara valley can be seen from four different sides of the temple.
The reminder of the day is yours to spend as you choose
You may choose to simply relax and enjoy the breath-taking views from a boat on the lake, or on its shore. For those with more energy there are numerous options. Pokhara has many day walks around the valley or into the mountains. A good option is to drive to what remains of the fort up at Sarangkot. Make an early start to take advantage of the spectacular views of the uninterrupted Annapurna peaks and the city and lake from the fort. This location is considered one of choicest viewpoints of Machhapuchhare, the region’s favorite peak. Then hike down back to Pokhara. Many visitors enjoy renting a bicycle or row boat to explore the shoreline and Lake Phewa at their own relaxed pace.
The reminder of the day is yours to spend as you choose.
A visit to the IMM, or International Mountain Museum is a must for all enthusiastic mountaineers and climbers. This organization strives to aid and assist the Himalayan people, and endeavors to bring this majestic natural wonder to the attention of people all over the world. The museum has exhibits of the local wildlife, an historic display of the local Nepalese people, as well as an exhibition covering the very first and subsequent major Everest expeditions. Also on view are the equipment these brave early mountaineers used; all and all a very informative and interesting museum to visit.
So, make the most of your day, whether you decide to relax next to the pool and enjoy the beautiful scenery, or take a colorful paddle boat on Lake Phewa, you cannot go wrong. Succumb to this exotic land’s spiritual rhythm and re-energize yourself. And of course there is always paragliding to soar with the clouds, for those of you who cannot get enough of this remarkable region.
Today we have a six to seven-hour drive parallel to the Himalayas on a road built by the Chinese. We will only cover 200km/124 miles, but it is mostly uphill and the going is slow. However, you will enjoy every minute of the drive; we follow two rivers, Marsyangdi and Trisuli past many local villages with terraces reaching 1000’s of meters up the hill. When we enter Kathmandu later in the afternoon, we check into the hotel in the heart of the city.
After lunch, start your exploration on foot and walk through the busy streets to Kathmandu Durbar Square. This square was seriously damaged during the earthquake of 2015, but the numerous temples, courtyards and palaces all built in Newari architectural style are worth a visit. The square enjoys UNESCO status and is one amongst 3 royal palace plazas in this valley.
The bazaar is the gathering place of the people of the city and here you get a glimpse of the everyday life of the inhabitants; there are traders in fruit, spices and vegetables, potters spin their wheels and shape all kinds of household bowls, as well as containers for the temple offerings. In the narrow alleys of the bazaar rickshaw wallahs honk their horns to attract the attention of would-be passengers, and devotees visit their favorite small shrines and temples scattered around the area. Your path will definitely cross that of the many sacred cows that wander through all this hustle and bustle.
In evening, we will take a guided walk through Thamel. In Kathmandu, the majority of activities are connected with Thamel, a flourishing hiking district. The coiled pathways lead to historic Unesco-listed sites, busy markets, booming bazaars, and delightful restaurants that serve the widest variety of food you can think about. It is fantastic, stimulating, and worth every ounce of energy. Explore the many streets and meet some of the friendliest people alive.
Overnight stay in Kathmandu.
Not many people get to climb Mount Everest to admire its splendor first hand, but there is another option to see this magnificent mountain with your own eyes. You can take a flight in a sixteen seater airplane and fly over beautiful snow-covered peaks and valleys with clouds dipped in the golden glow of early morning. The flight lasts for 45 minutes which will give you ample time to admire the sheer immensity of Mount Everest. In fact, it is double the size of the Alps. You will get a panoramic view of the whole area and can take that award winning picture from the plane’s cockpit! The cost is 220 euro and includes airport transfers.
Your trip to Kathmandu will not be the same if you do not visit these three beautiful sites.
Nepal was once separated into three main kingdoms: Basantapur (Kathmandu), Bhaktapur and Patan. Each of these kingdoms consisted of a royal palace surrounded by squares in the Kathmandu Valley.
Today, Nepal is united and each Durbar Square has idols, statues, temples, open courts, and fountains, as well as other attractions. To see the ancient architecture of Nepal, Newari wood creations, and historic traditions, visit the Square. If you love people-watching, it’s the perfect place.
Patan stands out as the favourite, but they are all magnificent with outstanding architecture, good maintenance and an easy-going vibe.
The earthquake took its toll on these UNESCO World Heritage sites more than others in Kathmandu. Yet, their famous beauty has remained intact. Spend the day looking through these squares; you will love it. Also take a little tour of the places around the sites where you will find small pathways, temples, and religious monuments.
Patan, the City of Beauty, has a wealth of cultural history. Though it is said to have “stood still” with time, it is full of life. It is best to explore Patan by foot, walking the cobbled roads, viewing more than 600 temples including the ancient pagoda temples. Patan is still affectionately called by its original name, Lalitpur – the City of Beauty, and you will see why. It is the home of the living goddess Kumari whom you can pay a visit.
Bhaktapur is a traditional, medieval town and a World Heritage Site that is well worth a visit.
If you are looking for souvenirs, you have come to the right place. There are pashminas, the unique Nepalese musical instruments called singing bowls, traditional jewelry, trinkets, handicrafts from Nepal and Tibet, and well-stocked bookstores. These are also restaurants galore, serving a variety of the very best traditional cuisine from all over Asia. And of course you will find a fine pizza and tasty apple pie.
Overnight stay in Kathmandu.
Nepal is Bhudda’s birthplace and a place where spirituality is important. No wonder some of the most sacred temples are found in the Hindu and Buddhist areas.
PASHUPATINATH, LIFE, AND DEATH
Nepal is a vibrant society, always filled with the hustle and bustle of life. That being said, the holy Pashupatinath Hindu temple is a dim reminder that life ends at some point.
Here, Shiva, the Hindu god of change and destruction is honoured. This place is deemed so holy those who are not Hindus are banned from going in. On the holy Bagmati river banks followers are cremated on open air ghats. Their souls are taken to the hereafter and reincarnation, while their bodies go back to the dust of the earth, then into the waters of the holy river. In Nepal, life and death co-exist; Pashupatinath is the evidence of that.
The bright Shivalinga and large golden statue of Shiva’s Bull, Nandi are the main attractions. The colourful artwork is also quite captivating.
BOUDHANATH STUPA AND BUTTER CANDLES
Boudhanath stupa is the perfect place to experience Kathmandu’s spiritual side. Every day, thousands of devotees walk around the central dome, turning the wheels of prayer as they journey. Visitors take in all the activities, including the chants and prayers of the Tibetan monks in the monasteries.
Boudhanath is a huge circular Buddhist temple from the 14th century. This double stupa holds two titles: largest in Nepal and the most sacred Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet.
Experience the most authentic Boudhanath atmosphere when you visit in the late afternoon. It is then the locals carry on with their daily lifestyles and the areas around are not as busy.
The white-washed dome is adorned with Buddhist prayer flags, and you will be impressed by the all-seeing eyes of Bhuddha from the ground. But when you realize the aerial view changes the complex into a Mandala form and a tribute to Buddha’s path to enlightenment, you will be awe-struck.
When butter candles are lit and offered to Lord Buddha, pilgrims of several ethnicities and religions pass by the stupa, chanting and turning the 108 prayer wheels as they go.
SWAYAMBHUNATH’S ATTENTIVE EYES
Swayambhunath (or Monkey temple) is a place in Kathmandu you must visit for an unforgettable experience. Taking the 365 steps to reach Swayambhunath Stupa will be breathtaking (pun intended) as Bhuddha watches on.
Your reward is the stunning view of the valley, where you capture the busy Kathmandu lifestyle. It’s certainly worth the throbbing heart after the climb.
The temple represents both Buddhism and Hinduism, which is very interesting to see. The strong scent of incense and butter candles fill the air and there is the hum of the holy om mani padme hum where all of Buddha’s teachings are believed to be found.
The ideal visiting time to the stupa is in the evening when the worshippers pass by turning the prayer wheels and chanting as they walk through the clouds of incense in the air. The view from the hilltop gives you perfect shots of Kathmandu; sunset is a great time to get those pics.
Unfortunately, the 2015 earthquake caused much destruction to the top of the stupa. However, most of its structure is still intact.
Cultural and religious acceptance is evident at these three sacred sites. The tolerance for diversity reveals Nepal not only has beautiful landscape but also a lovely heart.
Take Time to Relax
Catching up with the hum drum of Kathmandu will exhaust you, but you can find rest and solace in the Garden of Dreams, a neo-classical historical garden. Found on the outskirts of Thamel, this splendid garden has several verandahs, pavilions, fountains, and an amphitheatre where you can sit back and relax on the pillows provided. And when you get hungry, try the Kaiser restaurant that whips up a delicious burger if you like!
Overnight stay in Kathmandu.
Transfer to Kathmandu International Airport for your onward flight
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New Delhi ➜ Agra ➜ Abhaneri Stepwell ➜ Ghost City Fatehpur Sikri ➜ (Taj Mahal & Red Fort) ➜ Varanasi (Ganges & Sarnath) ➜ Kathmandu ➜ Pokhara ➜ Kathmandu (Swayambhunath, Pashupatinath & Boudhanath)
New Delhi ➜ Mandawa – Khimsae (Heritage Fort Hotel) ➜ Jodhour ➜ Ranakpur ➜ Udaipur ➜ Chittorgarh Citadel ➜ Bundi ➜ Jaipur ➜ ➜ Abhaneri Stepwell ➜ Fatehpur Sikri ➜ Agra (Taj Mahal & Red Fort) ➜ Khajuraho ➜ Orchha ➜ Varanasi (Ganges & Sarnath) ➜ Kathmandu Lumbini ➜ Pokhara ➜ Chitwan National Park ➜ Kathmandu