India is a land of many faiths, a myriad of colours, smells & sounds, a cocktail of tastes and a melting pot of beautiful people...it is in Central North India you will find all these aspects of India in abundance.
Some of India's most ancient and famous historical sites are found in Agra, Varanasi and Khajuraho - on this tour you will see the famous Taj Mahal, the sacred bathing ghats of Varanasi and the world-renowned erotic temple carvings of Khajuraho.
Day 1: On arrival in Delhi you will be met and transferred to your hotel. We suggest staying in the Carol Bagh district of Delhi which is home to some of the most vibrant and colourful markets anywhere in India’s vast and bustling capital city. Overnight in Delhi.
Day 2: A full day to explore the highlights of old and new Delhi including Raj Ghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, Jama Masjid- India’s largest mosque, the grand colonial architecture of New Delhi and, perhaps the highlight for many people, a cycle rickshaw ride around the mazelike lanes and alleys of Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi’s busiest market area. Overnight in Delhi.
Day 3: After breakfast, leave Delhi and drive to Agra. The sprawl of India’s capital is extensive and you may feel that you’ve already encountered a good percentage of Delhi’s 15 million population by the time you reach the outskirts of the city. The drive to Agra takes around 4 hours. On arrival, check into your hotel and have lunch, before meeting up with your guide and visiting the Taj Mahal for an extended tour.
India’s most famous monument is one of those places which still delights and exceeds expectations no matter how many time you have seen pictures or images of it. (Indeed, one visit is often not sufficient so you will have time for a return visit the next morning)
A knowledgeable local guide will explain some of the history of the Taj and describe the incredible level of craftsmanship which was required to create this remarkable building. You will also have ample time to explore on your own- the Taj cannot be summed up in words and really needs to be experienced at your own pace. The Taj and grounds are closed at sunset. Return to your hotel and overnight in Agra.
Day 4: Optional dawn visit to the Taj Mahal (depending on the time of year and weather conditions, a sunrise at the Taj can be utterly spellbinding) and later depart from Agra and drive two hours to Gwailior. This historic town sits at the foot of a small hill and in the shadow of the 3 kilometre long Gwailior Fort which is perched atop the hill. Many aspects of the fort are remarkable- not least the mural of ducks and crocodiles which adorns the towers of Man Singh Palace at the fort’s northern end. Also impressive in a more ‘traditional’ sense are the Jain statues on the roadside as you approach from the west, and the small and intricate Vishnu and Shiva temples from the 11th and 9th centuries respectively which over the old city of Gwailior below. After lunch, depart from Gwailior and drive a further 3 hours to Orchha, at the heart of the Bundela region which was once the political and military heart of central India. Orchha is one of those delightful places which can be explored on foot with little concern for crowds or traffic- it is compact, laidback and rather photogenic. Overnight in Orchha.
Day 5: The historic town of Orchha is situated on an island in the middle of the Betwa River (although the channel to the west is normally dry) and has many interesting historic buildings as well as a friendly, inviting central market area surrounded by temples. Among the sites you can visit today are the riverside cenotaphs of the local royals from centuries past, the hilltop palace complex and the Lakshmi Narayan temple which offers commanding views of the countryside from its central tower. Most of all Orchha is an excellent place to experience a small Indian town as well as offering a chance to relax in the confines of your hotel. Overnight in Orchha.
Day 6: After breakfast, depart for Khajuraho- a drive of around 4 hours- and check into your hotel on arrival. The temples of Khajuraho with their famously erotic carved embellishments are now one of India’s most famous and iconic tourist destinations- it is hard to believe that the entire complex of temples lay neglected and covered by encroaching jungle for several centuries until it was ‘rediscovered’ in the 1830s. In the afternoon, tour the eastern group of temples and in the evening attend the stunning Sound and Light show at the main (western) group of temples. Overnight in Khajuraho.
Day 7: After breakfast, tour the main group of temples with a guide. This group houses the most spectacular of all the temples of Khajuraho including Kandariya Mahadev, considered by many to be the finest temple in north India. There are dozens of temples in the area and many people appreciate a return afternoon visit to wonder around and explore at their own pace or to simply sit and absorb the brilliance of the surroundings. Alternatives for the afternoon include an excursion to the nearby Ranch Fall or an afternoon safari in Panna National Park which while it is somewhat short of tigers does house an exciting variety of other animals and birds. In the evening you have the option of attending a cultural performance featuring music and dance from many difference regions of India. Overnight in Khajuraho (If you want to experience train travel in India, the overnight Bundelkhand Express is an alternative means of reaching Varanasi. This train departs Jhansi nightly for Varanasi and means a departure from Khajuraho around 6pm and overnight on the train).
Day 8 : A relaxing morning and then check out of your hotel and transfer to the airport for early afternoon flight to Varanasi. On arrival in Varanasi you will be met and transferred into the heart of the ‘old city’ alongside the banks of the holy Ganges River. The ghats (steps) which line the western bank of the Ganges are awash with people from the pre-dawn hours until well into the night and Varanasi is one of the most important centres of pilgrimage in all of Hinduism. The nightly Aarti ceremony, when thousands of tiny oil lamps are set alight to a soundtrack of myriad clanging bells and gongs, chants, poetry and general mayhem and then cast onto the waters of the Ganges, is one of India’s most celebrated rituals.Despite its reputation as one of the most chaotic cities in India,Varanasi is a friendly and welcoming place and youwill be most welcome to sit and absorb the events going on around you. Overnight in Varanasi.
Day 9: Arise before dawn and meet your guide for a boat ride on the Ganges. This is another ‘must do’ while in Varanasi and cannot be adequately described in words. A total overload for all the senses and a photographer’s dream, the ancient dawn rituals of Varanasi are essentially unchanged in modern times and retain a primal quality which makes them truly compelling. After an hour or so on the water where you will see the burning ghats, crumbling old buildings and an incredible parade of humanity cramming every inch of the river’s edge, disembark the boat and take a walking tour of the ‘old city’ of Varanasi, returning to your hotel for breakfast. In the afternoon, visit the important Buddhist centre, Sarnath, with its ancient sites, modern temples and a great museum. Varanasi is a place which is very intense and immediate but it does reveal more and more of its charms over time. Your stay here can easily be extended by a day or two if you wish. Overnight in Varanasi.
Day 10: A quiet morning (something of a misnomer in Varanasi) and later transfer to the airport for afternoon flight to Delhi for international connection or to continue your travels with a trip to another part of India.