Cultural Tours of India


Trip Summary
Rajasthan is one of India's most captivating states, famed for its Rajput forts and palaces, desert villages, spice markets and the warmth of its people. This is a handpicked itinerary by India expert, Gordon Janow, to give on a unique vision of India's deserts, places and local village, as we spend one week of our tour traveling by bike (moderate, fairly level terrain).

For those who know the joys of cycling, this is an excellent opportunity to visits some of India's most famed site and get an eye level view of village life. After traveling by train to the great desert town of Jaiselmer (think tales of the Arabian Nights) embark on back road discovery through barren deserts, lush oasis and traditional Rajasthani villages.

The exact back-country route we take between Jodhpur and Udaipur is a closely guarded secret, but distances covered are between 30km and 80km a day, and the route progresses from the flatlands south of Jodhpur, climbing up to the Araveli Hills towards the end of the journey. Along the way we take rest stops at the principal attractions as well as at a few places where you’ll have the chance to experience rural Rajasthan firsthand. Indeed you may well find that the highlight of your tour is a chance encounter with pink turbaned man miles from anywhere, or maybe a shared Rajasthani family meal. That's the beauty of this trip!

This trip does not require prior mountain bike experience, though we have some 5 + cycling days, all is at a moderate pace and open to all with an interest in exploring India. There is a support vehicle for those who choose not to ride on some or all of the biking days.

Detailed Daily Itinerary
Day 1: Depart home country

Day 2: In Transit

Day 3, Arrive in Delhi: You will be met by our representative at the international airport and transferred to the hotel in Delhi. Those arriving early can join our guide and visit a few of his favorite places before the "official tour" starts on Jan 23.

Day 4, Full Day of sightseeing in Delhi: In the morning, we'll check out from the hotel. Our guide will collect us from the hotel for the sightseeing tour of Old and New Delhi. As the capital of five empires, Delhi's sights are vast. In Old Delhi, we'll visit major architectural achievements including Lal Qila (The Red Fort) and the Jami Masjid (Friday mosque) while wandering the bustling market streets with a possible rickshaw ride through the old spice market. Our tour will start with a visit to the parliament area and a discussion of India's government and history.

Old Delhi sights: The Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque, built of red sandstone and white marble in the middle of the 17th century. Then stroll around Chadni Chowk (Silver Street), once the Imperial Avenue down which Shah Jehan rode at the head of lavish cavalcades. There are also endless little alleyways, bustling with silversmiths' ateliers and shops and stalls selling almost everything!

New Delhi sights: Humayan's Tomb and the shrine of Nizam-ud-din. Humayan's tomb is one of the oldest examples of Moghul architecture, precursor to the Taj Mahal. It's a building filled with raw energy, topped by giant domes and surrounded by linear gardens. We may then visit the neighborhood of Nizam-ud-din, the birthplace of Quawali music.

We may also visit the Jantar Mantar (built in 1725), a lunar and solar observatory which looks like a postmodern playground. The Jantar also has instruments used in predicting eclipses. Should time permit, we will visit the Modern Art Museum, Hauz Khas Village, and the Lodhi tombs and gardens.

Later, we'll take the express train to Jaiselmer, and overnight on the train.

Day 5, arrive in Jaiselmer: Taken straight from Tales of the Arabian Nights, this walled city of gold is truly the "stuff dreams are made of." We'll wander the narrow streets of the old city and peer across the desert high up on the ramparts. Much of the day can be spent relaxing; we'll overnight in a hotel.

Day 6, Jaiselmer. The city lies in the western extremity of Rajasthan, in the heart of the Thar Desert. The ancient city, which stands on a low range of hills and is surrounded by a stone wall three miles around, was founded in 1156 A.D. Within its walls lie temples, forts and palaces, all built of yellow sandstone. The Jain Temples in the fort are decked with deities and dancing figures in mythological settings. The library attached to these places of worship contains some of the most ancient manuscripts in India, some dating back to the 12th century, written on palm-leaf in black ink with hand-painted wooden covers. Down in the city are the renowned Havelis, or mansions of Salim Singh, Nathmalji and the Patwas, with every house boasting superb latticework in innumerable and intricate designs.

Day 7, Drive to Jodhpur, sightseeing: We'll depart early via bus. After lunch, we'll proceed for the city tour with our guide. Jodhpur is the land of the valiant Rathore kings, whose courage was a match for the tyranny of the Thar Desert. A bleak scarp rears up 120 meters from the desert valley. Straddling the rocky crevices is the massive Jodhpur Fort, its sheer walls reflecting the strength of its warrior builders. The fort is entered through seven gates, each a formidable barrier. The museum within the fort is one of the finest in Rajasthan and displays royal apparel, ancient paintings and manuscripts, fabled treasures of the royal household and an armory. An interesting section displays folk musical instruments from different regions of Rajasthan. Delicately latticed windows and pierced screens worked in sandstone form the dominant motif within the rugged casket of the fort and the palaces are exquisitely decorated.

On the road down from the fort, the splash of blinding white marble on the left is Jaswant Thada, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II's cenotaph, built in 1899 (all previous rulers have their cenotaphs at Mandore). As with the Taj Mahal in Agra, the marble is from Makrana. The town below has many more fine buildings and temples and is interesting to walk through, particularly the market near the clock tower. We'll overnight in a hotel.

Day 8. 40 km bicycle ride to Rohet Garh: We'll gently begin our journey across Rajasthan. Rohet Garh, a warm fortified home still alive with traditions of old, is a 16th-century stronghold of the Champavats. It lies an hour away from Jodhpur. There is time to visit the family cenotaphs, wander around the village picking up bargains in leatherware, fabrics, metalware and silver jewelry.

In the late afternoon, we'll visit the Bishnoi villages. The Bishnois are a fascinating community which follows the 29 tenets laid down by the 15th-century Guru, Jambeshwar. They fervently believe in the sanctity of animal and plant life, so all animals live near their villages without fear.When a Bishnoi dies, he is sometimes buried in the sitting position and often placed at the threshold of the house or adjoining cattle shed. A Bishnoi believes that he will later be reincarnated as a deer, hence the herds of blackbuck often seen near their villages. We'll overnight at the hotel at Rohet Garh Palace.

Day 9, 60 km ride to Sardar Samand: This ride east through small villages brings us to Sardar Samand, a hunting lodge for the Maharaja (king) of Jodhpur. The lodge is perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking a watering hole frequented by countless bird species.
Sardar Samand Lake is beautiful. In the area of the lake, we can visit several villages inhabited by the Bishnois. The Bishnoi women wear colorful dresses. Blackbucks roam freely in the area, because the Bishnoi protect them. They also protect the Khejri (prosopis sinreria) tree because the blackbucks eat only the leaves of this tree. In 1787, 300 Bishnois sacrificed themselves to protect these trees when the men of the maharaja came to chop them down. In Bishnoi villages, you can see thatched houses, kitchen designs, and how the villagers apply cow dung to their walls and floors to disinfect their houses. Upon arrival, we'll check in to the hotel, with the evening free for leisure. We'll overnight in a hotel in Sardar Samand.

Day 10, 50 km ride to Dera Kherwa: A 30 km hop to the small village of Dera Kherwa. Dera Khairwa is a 15th-century fort-palace located in the village of Khairwa in the Pali District. The rulers of Dera Khairwa belong to the noble clan of Jodha-Rathores, and are related to the founders of the city of Jodhpur. In the afternoon we explore the village and its surroundings. We'll overnight in a local hotel.

Day 11, 40 km ride to Jojawar: After breakfast, we'll leave for Jojawar today, riding through the dry plains of Marwar and passing through some picturesque Rebari villages which gives us a window into the hard rural life of the desert. Jojawar is situated in the foothills of Aravali Hills, which is famous for its tribes in all over the world. Aravali Hills are the world's oldest hill portrait created by nature. Jojawar offers an amazing insight into the village life and its surroundings. The village boasts of a high camel population bred by the fascinating Rebaris. Here you can find the Garasiya, Sahriya and Bhil tribes. Jojawar is also known for Rabari villages. Rabaris (shepherd) are famous for the their rituals and culture. The region is covered by the forest or by hills, which creates a silver-moon scenario for the visitor's eye. The vivid colors of the turbans and the dresses of villagers are a treat for the ever-seeking traveler's eye. Upon arrival, we'll check into the hotel Rawla Jojawar. After some rest and perhaps a swim, you might like to explore neighboring tribal and Rabari settlements with high tea.

Day 12, 65 km ride to Ranakpur: An 80km day of riding brings us to Ranakpur, home to the famed Jain Temples, which are nestled in a lovely wooded valley. We'll be free to explore the intricate Jain Temple complex, take a horse ride, or just relax by the pool.
We'll check in to the Ranakpur Hill Resort and visit Ranakpur Jain Temple, which is famous for its excellent sculptures and architecture. Surrounded by the Aravali Hills and located on the banks of Magai River, this grand and gigantic four-facet structure was erected in the 14th century. The Temple is three-storied, 102 feet high, and spread over 48,000 square feet. The present structure of the Temple came into being after the hard works of 50 years by various artisans and sculptors. The Temple land is situated at the foot hill of Madri Hills, and was gifted by Maharana Kumbha of Mewar. Along with this temple a small town also came into existence. This town got its name from Rana and was named Ranpur, which later came to be known as Ranakpur. The temple is dedicated to the first Jain Teerthkar, Lord Adinath. it is built on a high platform, with about nine basements. It has 84 idols of gods and demi gods, 1,444 pillars elaborately and beautifully decorated, and four Megh Mandaps. Surrounding the main temple are small shrines of Lord Parshwanath, Neminath and Surya Narayan.

Day 13, 80 km ride to Kumbalgarh: Although it's only a 50 km ride, the route from Ranakpur up into the Araveli Hills is one of our most challenging. The terrain here is completely different from the rest of our ride and we'll pass small hill villages and see traditional ox-drawn wells. Later, we'll visit the incredible hilltop fortress of Kumbalgarh.

The fort of Kumbhalgarh, accessible only by jeep, lies off a difficult rutted road. Its very inaccessibility ensured its security as a refuge for Mewar's rulers in times of strife. Built by the scholarly Rana Kumbha in the mid-15th century, the fort stands on the site of a more ancient fortress said to have been built by Samprati, a Jain prince, in the second century A.D. Within its crenellated ramparts, spreading over eight miles, are palaces, temples, humble dwellings, fields, water sources, farms and kitchen gardens — everything needed to withstand a long siege. Kumbhalgarh fell only once in its history, when the armies of Emperor Akbar, combined with those of the Rajas of Amber and Marwar, contaminated the water supply of the fort.

Day 14, 50 km ride to Udaipur (final cycling day): There's a chance for a morning jeep safari through Kumbalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary. The 80km ride today takes us down from the green heights of the Araveli Hills, down through desert lowlands until we reach the fabled lake city of Udaipur. There, you can enjoy a free day to explore the manifold wonders of the white city.
After checking into our hotel, we'll enjoy a boat ride on Lake Pichola. The name derives from Pichola Village, which was submerged. Maharana Udai Singh enlarged the lake after he founded the city. He built a masonry dam known as Badipol, and the lake is now 4 km long and 3 km wide. This picturesque lake encloses the Jag Niwas Island, and the Jag Mandir and the City Palace extends along its eastern banks. Our evenings will be free for leisure, and we'll overnight at a local hotel.

Day 15, Sightseeing Udaipur, board train to Jaipur: Our guide will take us around Udaipur city. We'll visit the City Palace, which stands on the crest of a ridge overlooking Lake Pichola. The largest palace in Rajasthan, it was built at various periods but still preserves the harmony of design, enhanced by massive octagonal towers surmounted by cupolas. Now a museum, it is a labyrinth of courtyards richly decorated with inlaid mirror-work, galleries covered with frescos, temples and roof gardens that afford a wide panorama below. Sahelion-ki-Bari (Garden of the Handmaidens) is a good example of the Hindu art of landscape gardening on a princely scale. Ornamental pools with finely sculptured cenotaphs of soft black stone are surrounded by a profusion of fountains. The Jagdish Temple in the old town was built in the mid-17th century and has a remarkable bronze statue of Garuda, the mythical bird, facing his revered master Lord Vishnu. The shops and craftsmen's ateliers in the narrow streets of the bazaar justify endless walking.
After we return to the hotel, we'll check out and overnight on the train to Jaipur.

Day 16, Elephant ride on Amber Fort, and city tour of Jaipur: The Rose Pink City founded by Maharaja Jai Singh II (1693-1743), is the capital of Rajasthan. The Old City (known as the Pink City) is a great place to wander around. The whole city was painted pink by Maharaja Man Singh II when the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, visited Jaipur in 1876. Today, every home within the city is obliged by law to maintain its facade. It is a well-planned city laid out in a grid pattern and was designed by a young Bengali engineer and scholar, Vidyadhar Bhattacharya.

Jaipur got its name from its founder, Sawai Jai Singh (1693-1743), who had the vision to create a meticulously planned city as his capital. Jaipur was and remains the only city in the world, symbolizing the nine divisions of the universe, through nine rectangular sectors subdividing it. Jaipur is a royal city and this is its most noticeable aspect. Its small buildings and festivals testify it. Jaipur and its surroundings are like an endless museum. The city also offers an endless variety of crafts. Jewelers here still fashion beautiful enamel-on-gold pendants, studded on the reverse with precious stones or pearls and turquoise that one sees in miniature paintings. Jaipur's lacquer bangles are famous all over the world.

From the hotel, our guide will take you to the Amber Fort for the elephant ride. North of Jaipur, Amber Fort was the regional capital for six centuries before Jaipur was built. Rising majestically on the slopes of a hill, this 11th-century fort and palace complex is a blend of Hindu and Muslim styles. It may be possible (subject to availability) to enjoy an elephant ride up the ramparts of the fort. The earlier constructions in the inner apartments designed by the Hindu founder are austere, while later constructions abound in the rich flourishes characteristic of Muslim influence. The Diwani-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience) affords a view of the strategic location of Amber. The Jai Mandir (Hall of Victory) is the finest example of the artistic exuberance of the day, with panels of alabaster, fine inlay work, a shimmering Hall of Mirrors, renowned for its fine mirror work. The Sukh Nivas (Hall of Pleasure) has 17th-century air conditioning.

There will still be time to continue exploring Jaipur, Don't overlook the City Palace, which stands in the center of the city. Part of it is still the Maharaja's residence, while most of the complex has been developed into a museum containing rare manuscripts, fine specimens of Rajput and Mughal paintings, royal apparel and an armory.

Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) is the landmark of Jaipur. It stands on one of the main streets — a curious building, elaborate and fanciful, built of pink sandstone with a delicate honeycomb design. Five stories high, it is composed of semi-octagonal overhanging windows, each with its perforated screen, which allowed the ladies of the court to look onto the main street without being seen.

Jantar Mantar is the Royal observatory, built by the founder of Jaipur Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh. The huge stone instruments were devised to study the movements of the sun, moon and planets, and are incredibly accurate.

Day 17, Drive to Delhi: Enjoy a morning at leisure wandering through the colorful bazaars, a veritable collector's paradise where you can watch ancient craft forms. Meenakari or enameling delicate patterns of birds and flowers fired in glowing red, deep green, peacock blue and white; the gold jewel is then given further sparkle with emeralds, rubies, white sapphires and dangling pearls. In tiny ateliers, you can see the age-old tie-dye methods of cloth printing, with yard upon yard of vivid turquoise, ochre and crimson cloth unfolding

We will drive to Delhi after lunch, depending on your international flight schedule, so that we'll arrive in time for evening departures to your home country.

Suggested extensions:
Varanasi (Center of Hinduism/ Jerusalem of India - 3 days - travel by Plane)
Taj Mahal - (2 days - travel by train or bus)

Lead Guide: Gordon Janow
Gordon is a founding member of Alpine Ascents and is responsible for overseeing all operations and creating written materials, researching climbing and cultural histories. He scouts new locations such as India, Iran, Yemen and Mongolia to hand pick future itineraries. Gordon has traveled extensively for the past twenty years, with over a dozen visits to India/Pakistan. Gordon spends a fair amount of time writing and has had both fiction and travel works published in the U.S. and India. Gordon has served as an Indian subcontinent expert for numerous media sources such the New York Times and Outside Magazine and has appeared on CNN, MSNBC and the Nightly News. Gordon Leads private trips to India and also works closely with non-profit fund raising teams, private climbs and management training programs

Trip Cost: Contact us for pricing
This is a fully inclusive trips with meals bicycles, multiple guides included, based on scheduled trip dates

 Return to Top of Page