Namaste! Welcome to India. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. India's capital is an exciting, busy, and often chaotic city but it's also one of the most interesting in the world with historical sites from different eras, museums and galleries, shops and endless bazaars! There are plenty of things to see and do in free time. Visit the World Heritage-listed Mughal masterpiece of Humayun's Tomb. This was the first garden tomb in India, built way back in 1570. Wonder at the tall brick minaret of Qutub Minar, which was started back in the 1100s. Explore the mighty Red Fort of Delhi. Part palace and part fort, it plays an integral part in the history of the city with former residents ranging from royal families to British soldiers.
Join your group leader on an excursion into the sights and sounds of Old Delhi! Set off on the city's modern metro system, then get a taste of India's famed public transport with an option for a cycle rickshaw ride through chaotic streets, such as the famous Chandni Chowk. Make a visit to the Jama Masjid, Delhi's oldest mosque and one of its most impressive buildings, then visit the Sheeshganj Gurudwara (Sikh Temple) to learn about the Sikh religion. This afternoon is free for further exploration or jump on an Urban Adventure.
Leave Delhi early to catch the Shatabi Express to Agra (departs approx 6am - 3 hrs). This comfortable train is one of India's fastest. Visit the Taj Mahal - a masterpiece of shimmering white marble set amid beautiful formal gardens. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife Mumtaz, this 'teardrop on the face of eternity' (as it was described by writer Rabindranath Tagore) lives up to all expectations. Built in 1565 by Emperor Akbar, Agra Fort was originally designed to be a military structure. It was converted to a palace in Emperor Shah Jahan's time with mighty sandstone walls enclosing the beautiful white marble pearl mosque, palaces, halls, courtyards and fountains. The fort eventually became the emperor's prison after he lost power in 1658.
Catch a morning train from Agra to Lalitpur (approx. 4 hours) followed by private jeeps from Lalitpur to Chanderi (approx. 2 hours). Chanderi is a small medieval town - home to Muslims, Hindus and Jains. Still off the beaten track, Chanderi is a place where you can experience the life of a movie star - the moment you stroll into town, you instantly become the centre of attention. Enjoy dinner in at the home of our local guide, a great chance to meet his large family.
Visit Chanderi Museum which boasts objects dating from the 10th to 12th centuries. Join our guide for a look around Chanderi's temples and mosques, and walk out to ruins beautifully situated in the fields. Enjoy a picnic lunch together and spend the rest of the day as you wish.
Drive to Orchha (approx 5 hours/173 km). Situated on the banks of the Betwa River, Orchha has changed little over the centuries. Originally a hunting area, it became the capital of the Bundela rajas and, as a result, Orchha has more temples and palaces than any town of this size deserves. Experience an evening puja ceremony at the Ram Raja Temple.
See the stunning Orchha Palace, built by Bir Sing Deo for his friend Jehangir, the great Mughal ruler. Visit Taragram, one of Intrepid's Responsible Tourism projects. This unique papermaking plant was set up to give tribal women from the area a chance to work outside the traditional areas normally afforded to them. All the paper is made from recycled clothing and wood pulp. Take the chance to experience the local flavours at a cooking demonstration by our local friends.
We depart Orchha around 9am for a 3 hour drive to Alipura. We arrive around midday and after checking in and a freshen up its time for a guided village walk. This evening we enjoy a group dinner at Alipura Palace.
Drive to Khajuraho (approx. 3 hours). Far from any major population centres, modern or historical, Khajuraho's remote location saved its stunning 1,000-year-old temples - infamous for their explicit carvings depicting the entire Kama Sutra - from destruction by foreign invaders. Khajuraho's 'Kama Sutra' Temples were all built during the Chandela Dynasty 1,000 years ago, most within a 100 to 150-year time frame. These temples have baffled foreigners and Indians alike since their rediscovery by the British in the late 19th century. What they were built for and what the delicate and erotic carvings mean is open to wide interpretation. Some believe that these intricate designs, all located on the exterior of the temple, were meant to symbolise the leaving of sexual desires before entering the holy sanctuary within. Others argue that these carvings were a way of teaching young boys in the hermitage about life outside of religion. We take a tour of the western temple complex. Visit a local Hindu family for a home-cooked vegetarian meal and gain an insight into the life of middle-class Indians. There's the chance to view a classical dance performance tonight.
An early start this morning for the drive to Panna National Park (approx. 90 mins). Panna Tiger Reserve is one India's success stories in reintroducing tigers to the wild. In 2009 there were no tigers left in the region due to poaching. Currently there are thought to be around 35 tigers roaming the park. There is also a chance of seeing sloth bears, spotted deer, mongoose, leopards and jungle cats. Keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready as we head out on an evening safari.
Another early morning, but this time to head back into the National Park on a jeep safari to search out more wildlife. Afterwards drive to Satna (approx 2 hours.) This evening we board our overnight train for the 10 hour journey to Varanasi. Your tour leader will help you purchase snacks at the station and ensure you stock up on water for the trip ahead.
We arrive around 5am this morning (barring train delays - more common in the winter months of Jan-Feb). We have day use rooms available to freshen up, shower and get ready to head out for the day. The ultimate destination for all Hindu pilgrims, Varanasi is full of temples, shrines and devotees. It is truly one of the world's most amazing cities. Perhaps visit the Ram Nagar Fort which lies about 14 km from Varanasi on the opposite bank of River Ganga. Built by Maharaja Balwant Singh in the 18th century, it's the ancestral home of the Maharaja of Banaras. Spend the evening soaking up the magical atmosphere of a candle flower ceremony, serenaded by traditional musicians on a Ganges river cruise as the sun sets.
Start early with a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges, passing the many ghats and temples along the river. This boat ride is one of the highlights of any trip to Varanasi. Watching the sun rise over the Ghats is a spectacular sight and one not to be missed. the rest of the day is free to wander the laneways and ghats. find a sunny spot and watch lifer and death along with cricket games, haircuts, religious lessons and the comings and goings of life along the Ganges.
Enjoy a free day in Varanasi. We will have shared day use rooms until our departure tonight. We depart Varanasi this evening around 7pm on the overnight train to Delhi. This is another long journey (approx. 12 hours). We travel in 3 AC class, where each bunk is made up with a sheet, blanket and pillow.
The train arrives early into New Delhi Station this morning. Say farewell to you fellow travellers who are finishing their journey here. Transfer to your hotel for a shower and quick rest before departing for Jaipur by private transfer (approx 6 hours) with any other group members who are continuing their travels in North India. Arrive into Jaipur late afternoon and meet your new leader and group.
For many travellers, a hot air balloon experience is one of the highlights of Jaipur. Ballooning can be done over the city on the morning from September and June. For additional information, please see the important notes section of the Essential Trip Information. Visit Jaipur's Royal City Palace and/or one of the five astronomical observatories built by Maharaja Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur. Later this afternoon, we’ll visit the Amber Fort. Set on a hilltop overlooking Maota Lake, the fort is a superb example of Rajput architecture. Entering the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors) is also a particularly memorable experience.
In the morning, head to Fatehpur by local bus (approximately 3.5 hours). We then travel further by private vehicle to Mandawa (2 hours) A remote town in the centre of the Shekhawati region, this was once a trading outpost on the ancient caravan routes from China and the Middle East. Enjoy a guided tour of Mandawa's ornate havelis (private residences), with some of them crumbling at the foundations and others well preserved. There’s plenty of time to explore this thriving market town and its surrounds before spending the night in a beautifully restored haveli.
Take the four-hour journey to Bikaner via a combination of private jeeps and buses. Once an important staging post on the great caravan routes, the city still contains many bazaars, palaces and a historic fort within its impressive walls. Visit Junagarh Fort, which was built by Raja Rai Singh, the sixth ruler of Bikaner (AD1571 to 1612). In the evening, there's the option to travel to a nearby farmhouse and enjoy an evening of traditional Rajasthani food, music and dance.
After an early morning walking tour of Bikaner, spend free time exploring bazaars before visiting the city’s famous ‘Rat Temple’. Travel out to the 600-year-old rat kingdom of Karni Mata Temple, which is believed to be home to the reincarnated followers of the Hindu goddess, Durga. Locals believe that it's particularly favourable if one of these rats takes a shine to you and scurries over your bare feet. For the squeamish, just stand still or view from afar.
Catch an early morning local train from Bikaner to Jaisalmer, which may take up to six hours. We travel in general class, where seating is unallocated and carriages are fan-cooled only. Stock up on plenty of food and water beforehand, as temperatures can get fairly warm on this long trip. The standard of the train is pretty basic, but it can be a fantastic way of meeting the locals and like-minded travellers. Once there perhaps explore the markets, ornately carved houses and museum before the sun goes down.
To get a taste of nomadic life, take a three-hour camel ride into the desert to watch the sunset behind sand dunes. While here we visit a Hindu Temple, a Jain temple, step wells, a small rural market and the sand dunes. In the evening local musicians will join us at the campsite for a performance. Dinner & breakfast are included during our stay here.
Head back into Jaisalmer by camel in the morning and enjoy a free day. The city is one of the oldest Rajasthan capitals and dates as far back as AD1156, so it’s teeming with history. Perhaps explore the Jain Temple, the Jaisalmer havelis or Folklore Museum. With imposing parapets and towers at every turn, the Old Town is full of intricate stonewalls that lead to the havelis. These private mansions once homed Jaisalmer’s nobility and resemble small palaces. Tonight we sleep in a haveli-converted hotel; a comfortable base after a long day.
In the morning, travel to Jodhpur byrail (approximately 6 hours). The city is known for its antique shops and the best lassi in India. Enjoy an orientation walking tour around the ‘Old City’ and visit Sadar Bazaar, one of the oldest markets in India. It’s built around a clock tower amid spice and vegetable markets, juice sellers and sari materials. This is a great place to test your haggling skills. The evening is then free to do as you wish.
This morning explore the colossal Mehrangarh Fort and take in the views from its ramparts, which dominate the city's skyline. Afterwards, possibly visit the nearby Bishnoi villages where you’ll find a welcoming, nature-loving community. Perhaps take a village safari tour, where you’ll come across wildlife and learn why the Bishnoi are so protective of their land. This evening, board an overnight train to Delhi for a comfortable trip of around 11 hours. Notes: Sleeper trains are clean and air-conditioned, and are a great way to travel long distances so maximum time can be spent in each place. Beds are padded berths and sheets, pillow and a blanket are provided, but you may prefer to bring your own sleeping sheet. Please be aware that you may be sharing with locals in a same gender/mixed gender situation.
Arrive at the Delhi train station early in the morning. There are no activities planned for today and you’re free to depart once we’ve arrived. Train delays can occur so please don’t be surprised if we’re late. Due to potential delays, we recommend booking any international flights for after 2 pm today.