Cultural Tour of India Itinerary
Gordon – Your deft guidance and deep knowledge of India made our experience unforgettably outstanding. All five of our senses were continually stimulated – to the max. Also the unusual bonding of the group was gratifying. We care about one another. Roy
Day 1 Depart USA
Day 2 Transit or arrival
Team members can arrive on this day (hotel included) or arrive very early morning next day.
Day 3 New Delhi
Early arrival from international destination and hotel check-in. Most flights arrive in the early morning, and we plan to start our tour at 9am.
Handpicked ½ day tour of Delhi exposing travelers to the 5 great empires that held Delhi as their capital. Sights to include 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, surrounded by linear gardens. We then visit the neighborhood of Nizam-ud-din, the birthplace Quawali music. After lunch we will walk the ruins of the Lodhi Dynasty in Lodhi gardens. In late afternoon we head to our overnight 1st Class Train to Jaiselmer.
Day 4 Jaiselmer
Jaiselmer arrival: Taken straight from Tales of the Arabian Nights, this walled city of gold is truly a magical desert place.” Much time will be spent wandering the narrow streets of the old city and peering across the desert, from high up on the ramparts.
Day 5 Jaiselmer
Formal Tour Jaiselmer: Jaiselmer 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, surrounded by a stone wall three miles round, was founded in 1156 AD. 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, 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, every house boasting superb latticework in innumerable and intricate designs.
Day 6 Manwar Desert Camp and tour by Camel
Travel two hours to desert camp. This is a beautifully staged “resort” style lodging in a remote area of the Thar desert. He we partake in a 3-hour camel safari traveling across swaths of deserts between sand dunes. As this area is lesser traveled by tourists, one easily harkens back to the era of camel crossings and caravansaries, as the methodical rhythm of the camel helps us transcend time. Following camel trek, we return to our desert camp.
Day 7 Jodphur
Drive to Jodphur (5-6 hours): Depart in the early morning for Jodhpur. Afternoon proceed for the city tour of Jodhpur. 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. 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.
Day 8 Udaipur
Drive Udaipur: After breakfast a 6 hour drive takes you to Udaipur. In route we visit Ranakpur, famous for Jain temples which lie buried in a shady glen and cover a vast area. The central temple is called Chaumukha (four-faced) and is the most complex and extensive of Jain temples in India, covering an area of over 40,000 sq. feet (3,600 sq. meters). 1,444 pillars, none of which are alike, support its 29 halls. A subsidiary shrine in the shape of side alters throng around in all directions, including a temple dedicated to the Sun God which displays erotic carvings. Continue your drive to Udaipur. Hotel Lodging.
Day 9 Udaipur
After breakfast depart for sightseeing of Udaipur city and 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, which afford a wide panorama below. Sahelion-ki-Bari (Garden of the Handmaidens) is a good example of the Hindu art of landscaping on a princely scale. Ornamental pools with finely sculptured cenotaphs of 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 walks.
In the evening take a boat ride on Lake Pichola. The steel blue waters of the lake, artificially created in the 14th century, reflect the white phantom Jag Nivas Palace, now the Lake Palace hotel which was built in 1746 as the summer residence of the rulers, and Jag Mandir said to be built by Maharana Karan Singh for his friend Prince Khurram, who was later to become emperor Shah Jehan. Huge seamless stone slabs of translucent thinness where used. The rooms were embellished with inlaid stones – onyx, jade, carnelian, jasper and agate.
Day 10 Mandav (Mandu)
Drive to ancient fort city of Mandav. (8 hrs).
Each of Mandu’s structures is an architectural gem; some are outstanding like the massive Jami Masjid and Hoshang Shah’s tomb, which provided inspiration to the master builders of the Taj Mahal centuries later. Upon arrival we can walk the nearby bazaar before dinner.
Day 11 Mandav
After breakfast we will visit The Tomb of Hoshang Shah, the first marble monument of India. Here we see some of the the finest example of Afghan architecture. It has a well-proportioned dome, porticoed courts, towers and intricate marble latticework.
Jami Masjid is not far away from the tomb. The construction of the Masjid was started by Hoshang Shah and was completed by Mahmud I. It is considered Mandu’s most majestic building as it is modeled on the great Omayyad Mosque in Damascus.
Delhi Gate, the main entrance to the fort, was built in the years 1405-7. It has got a steep path with a sharp bend into the gateway and with low steps for elephant’s movement.
Ashrafi Mahal, famous as The Palace of Gold Coins, is located opposite Jami Masjid. It was built by Mahmud Shah Khilji as a school of Islamic study. The cells made for the resident students are still well preserved in the complex. Jahaz Mahal – It is one of the most popular monuments in Mandu, this ship-like structure was erected by Ghiyas-ud-din, son of Mohammed Shah, for his harem. According to the legends, this harem was home to 15,000 maidens. There are two lakes on the east and west side of the palace that create a perfect illusion of a ship with its rectangular shape. After lunch we walk or travel by vehicle to Rapamatis Pavilion, a beautiful sandstone structure overlooking the entire Nimar Valley.
Day 12 Maheshwar
Maheshwar is a town of great antiquity, situated on the banks of the sacred Narmada River, in the Khargone district of the Indian State of Madhya Pradesh. The history of Maheshwar goes back some 4000 years, making Maheshwar of the same antiquity as the Indus Valley civilization. In classical Indian History, Maheshwar was known as Mahishmati, and is mentioned in the Vedas and later in Kautilya’s Arthashastra. The city came under Akbar’s rule in 1601, who built the present fort. In 1741, the Mughal rule came to an end, and in 1766, Maharani Ahilya Bai, the queen of the Holkar dynasty, made Maheshwar her capital. She ruled from Maheshwar for over 30 years, and was famous throughout India for her ability as a ruler. Her state was peaceful and prosperous during a turbulent period of Indian history. Ahilya Bai is known and revered throughout India for her work in rebuilding many important Hindu temples which were destroyed during the reign of the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb.
Upon arrival check in at Hotel Ahilya Fort.
The 250 year old Ahilya Fort has what is possibly the most dramatic, unique and glorious setting of any Indian hotel. Perched on the edge of a cliff, enclosed within the massive walls of the fort, Ahilya fort has staggering views over the sacred Narmada River and the Ghats immediately below. Within the fort there are pretty courtyards and verandahs on different levels and linked by stone walkways. There’s a large garden, plenty of hidden terraces and turrets, a swimming pool and it’s a huge place to wander around. It is an extraordinary and unusual place where you really can get away from it all and experience a very different side of India, all the while being looked after in true style by your genial host, Richard Holkar (should he be in residence), whose family the fort belongs to.
Overnight at Hotel Ahilya Fort.
Day 13 Mahehswar
After breakfast go for city sightseeing, i.e., walks around the walled city of Maheshwar and the Ghats, visits to the local handloom houses, visits to local schools, walks around the farm and vegetable garden. You can also swim in the river at the Thousand Waterfalls.
Overnight at Hotel Ahilya Fort.
Day 14 Aurangabad (Ajanta area):
Long day travel to Aurangabad visiting the holy town of Omkareshwar during the drive. (8 hr drive)
As the name suggests, Aurangabad has a strong Muslim flavor, dating back from the time of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. From ancient times Aurangabad has been a place of great importance due to its location on the famous “Silk Route” that traversed across the breadth of Asia to reach Europe. Textiles, embroidered finery and various kinds of beads made in nearby Paithan, were exported to the markets of Greece, Rome and Egypt. Aurangabad enjoys the rare distinction of being the only city, apart from Delhi to have served as the capital of India.
Day 15 Visit Ellora and Ajanta
Ajanta is located 60 miles (100 km) from Aurangabad. The 30 caves not only contain sculptures, but remarkably preserved frescos as well. The Ajanta caves are in a secluded site; because of this they were virtually forgotten and were discovered accidentally only in the 19th century. The frescos and sculptures are startling in the voluptuousness of much of the imagery, for Buddhism was a religion of denial. The Buddha forbade the worshipping of idols and the wearing of colorful clothing or any ornamentation which might excite desire.
After the Buddha’s death, its preachers began to tell stories of Buddha’s earlier incarnations. Thus began the process of Buddhism acquiring some of the sensuousness of Hinduism. The most important caves are those numbered 1, 2, 9, 10, 16, 17, 19, 21 and 26.
Visit Ellora, 15 miles (25 km) from Aurangabad. It has 34 rock-cut temples representing the Buddhist, Jain and Hindu Brahmanic faiths. All the cave temples are man-made. The artists who flocked to these remote areas from vast distances literally hammered monuments out of rock, working usually from the top of the temple and moving downwards, to eliminate the need of scaffolding. The centerpiece at Ellora is the Kailash Temple. In its galleries are recreated various scenes from Shiva myths. Although the carvings are of three religions, the structures are often similar. However, differences are visible – the Jain carvings are ascetic, while the Buddhist caves, inspired by Buddhism’s attempt at populism, show an austere richness.
Daulatabad is situated 13 km from Aurangabad. The fort stands on a pyramid shaped hill. It was previously known as Devgiri. Bhillama, the King of the Yadav dynasty built it in the 12th century. It was Mohammed Bin Tughlaq who gave it the name Daulatabad, which means city of fortune. The fort of the city is built on top of a high hill. It is surrounded by thick walls and has transfixed gates. Steep slip ways and a deep ditch can also be seen. Curled networks of secret, teasing and underground transitions can also be seen in the fort.
The monument Bibi Ka Maqbara was built in 1679 AD by Aurangzeb’s son. He built it in memory of his mother Rabia. Ata Ullah was the architect and he based the design on the Taj Mahal. The memorial is built of sandstone with plastered walls and has a marble dome. It has a flowery wall around with an entrance which provides the best view of the memorial. The enclosure of the tomb is made of marble and is octagonal.
Overnight at Hotel Taj Residency in Aurangabad.
Day 16 Mumbai
After breakfast, drive to Airport to catch flight morning flight to Mumbai. As flights leave very late (early morning) we will have a full day to tour sites of the city with a particular focus on art and architecture. Details will be provided based on current art and museum calendar. After some fine dining we will travel to the airport to meet flights. For convenience we will have a hotel arranged for the evening. Climbers can depart late night on this day or morning time next day.
Day 17 Early morning departure to home country.
Truly, the trip was absolutely wonderful. It infiltrates my thoughts night and day and I’ve not yet grown tired of looking at pictures. The way you orchestrated everything – time, places, food, experiences was great – just enough guidance and information. For example the way you eased us from elegant Raj boulevards gradually to the cacophony of Varanasi’s thoroughfares seemed masterful! I couldn’t have asked for more. Laura I.
In addition to the recent recognition in Travel & Leisure and National Geographic Adventure, our Kilimanjaro expedition was selected as “The Millennium Climb” by Men’s Journal and has been highlighted in the New York Times, MSNBC.com, Business Week and Blue Magazine.