Your trip begins with a guided orientation tour of New Delhi including a drive through of Vijay Chowk, with views of the Secretariat buildings, Parliament House, the Presidential Palace and the India Gate, commemorating Indian and British soldiers. Next, stop at the Gandhi Smriti Museum, paying tribute to the inspiring leader, Mahatma Gandhi, who forced change through non-violent protest, leading to an independent India in the late 1940s. You'll have much to discuss this evening at the welcome cocktail reception and dinner.
Day 2: Back in Time in New Delhi
You'll tour two UNESCO World Heritage Sites today as you explore the centuries-old history and culture of Old Delhi and environs. The first, which you'll visit in the morning, is Humayun's Tomb, constructed for the Mughal Emperor Humayan and other members of his family in the 1570s, and set within beautiful gardens. The first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent and the first large structure of its kind built of red sandstone, this Mughal creation popularized Persian-influenced architecture in India, and was an inspiration for the Taj Mahal in Agra. After an orientation tour of Old Delhi followed by lunch, visit the five-story sandstone Qutb Minar Victory Tower, an imposing minaret built over eight centuries ago, part of one of the earliest surviving mosque complexes in India. Return to your hotel in New Delhi and spend the rest of the afternoon and evening as you please.
Day 3: Rituals on the River Ganges in Varanasi
Fly to the ancient city of Varanasi, built on the banks of the sacred River Ganges. Since the 6th century BC, this city has been a key destination for pilgrims who seek blessing and purification in the river's holy waters. A sightseeing tour visits Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon. Tonight, take a journey by boat along the River Ganges to witness ceremonies "putting the river to sleep."
The Taj Mahal at sunrise
Day 4: Ganges cruise & off to Agra & the Taj Mahal
Awaken early for a cruise on the River Ganges to view the Varanasi sunrise ceremonies, then fly Delhi before transferring to Agra for a two-night stay and tomorrow's visit to one of the world's most famous and recognizable buildings, the Taj Mahal. An incredible domed mausoleum complex of white marble, built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to memorialize and house the tomb of his beloved third wife and completed in 1653, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered to be the greatest architectural achievement in the whole range of Indo-Islamic architecture – and yes, you'll have a view of it from your room in your award-winning luxury hotel.
Day 5: Wonders in Agra – the Taj Mahal & Agra Fort
Guests who wish may visit the Taj Mahal in time for sunrise – the gates open at sunrise. Those not going quite so early will join a tour guide a little later than sunrise (but still early morning) for a guided visit to the spectacular Taj Mahal, which reveals the love story behind the white marble wonder and UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its unique design and relief work in marble and inlay with precious and semi precious stones; your visit also includes time to explore on your own and take photographs. A guided tour of the massive red sandstone Agra Fort, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, follows. Inside, you'll get a very good look at medieval lifestyles of 16th- and 17th-century Mughal emperors. Following an afternoon spent at leisure, dine as you please this evening from among a selection of your hotel's fine restaurants.
The City Palace Museum in Jaipur
Day 6: Enjoy the royal treatment in Jaipur
Travel to Jaipur for a two-night stay reflecting the gracious lifestyles of India's legendary Rajput princes. A sightseeing tour of Jaipur includes the City Palace Museum and the Jantar Mantar Observatory – a collection of architectural astronomical instruments for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking stars in their orbits, figuring out the declinations of planets and determining the celestial altitudes – all built by Maharajah Jai Singh II in the 18th century. Attend a special evening fit for Maharajah royalty tonight, celebrating India's cultural traditions, music, dance and cuisine.
Day 7: Jaipur's glittering palaces & Amber Fort
Today's sightseeing includes the many gems of Jaipur, from the massive gateways and pillared pavilions inside Amber Fort to a tour of Amber Palace, with its magnificent domes, massive ramparts and glittering hall of mirrors. After a thali style lunch preceded by a puppet show, enjoy an afternoon at leisure in Jaipur, pursuing what interests you most.
The Leela Palace in Udaipur
Day 8: Jaipur & on to Udaipur
This morning, fly from Jaipur to Udaipur for a three-night stay at your luxury hotel in Udaipur – nestled along the banks of Lake Pichola and spread over fifty acres, which includes a twenty-acre wildlife sanctuary with deer and wild boar. Udaipur is a destination experience unrivaled anywhere – while Udaipur itself is a Rajasthan city of palaces and lakes, often called the "Venice of the East" and the "Most Romantic City in India." This afternoon brings you for a visit to the Nagda Temples, a pair of 10th-century Hindu Temples dedicated to one of the principal deities of Hinduism, Vishnu. This evening, enjoy a sunset boat cruise on Lake Pichola.
Day 9: Discovering Udaipur's treasures
An Udaipur sightseeing tour with your local guide includes a stop at the City Palace complex – a labyrinth of richly decorated courtyards, frescoed galleries, and marble temples overlooking a lake that was once the elegant home of the Maharajah of Udaipur – and, a short walk away, the Jagdish Mandir Temple, where music or chanting is heard throughout the day and a visit the 18th-century fountain gardens of Saheliyon Ki Bari. This evening, enjoy a a sari and turban demonstration followed by a memorable private dinner at Royal Repast, a restaurant owned by descendants of the Bedla clan who have played a significant role in the affairs of the Udaipur State – serving as Prime Ministers, valued advisors, commanders in chief of the armed forces and hosting all the dignitaries visiting Udaipur as state guests.
Leather Seller in a Udaipur Market
Day 10: Udaipur's markets & the city at leisure
Today's sightseeing begins in Udaipur with an auto-rickshaw ride around the city's bustling spice and vegetable markets, for an insightful glimpse into everyday life in Udaipur. In the vegetable markets, women in brightly colored saris sit amongst the stalls, surrounded by baskets brimming with their fresh and equally colorful produce, while burlap bags or metal pans entice with a kaleidoscopic array of curries and spices. The rest of the day is free to explore more of this "City of Lakes" as you wish. Due to its many picturesque locations, Udaipur has supplied scenic backdrops to many a film or television show over the years; portions of movies including Darjeeling Limited, Opening Night, Heat and Dust and Gandhi, plus the TV miniseries The Jewel in the Crown, were filmed here.
Day 11: Fly to Kochi (Cochin)
Fly via Bangalore to Kochi (known as Cochin during colonial times) in the state of Kerala, on the southern tip of India, home to coconut groves, paddy fields and wide beaches. Dinner tonight is at your hotel.
Day 12: Traditional cuisine & more in Kochi (Cochin)
Your day today starts off with a morning lecture on Cochin and Kerala followed by a cooking demonstration and lunch at a chef's private home. This afternoon, you'll have a chance to visit the many historical sites of Kochi including; Fort Kochi, the Mattancherry district, a guided exploration of the Dutch Palace and the 16th-century Paradesi Synagogue. This evening, enjoy a performance of the renowned Kathakali Dancers prior to dinner at the hotel.
Day 13: Kerala houseboat cruise & Mohiniattam dancers
Travel through the small villages of coastal Kerala as you make your way to the picturesque island of Kumarakom in Lake Vembanad to continue your India tour with a two-night lakeside stay. En route, board a thatched-roof rice boat that's been converted into a luxury houseboat for a cruise through Kerala's palm-fringed canals; this region is often referred to as another "Venice of the East." Tonight at your resort, you'll be treated to a program featuring dancers performing the classical Indian dance form known as Mohiniattam, dating to the 16th century.
Day 14: Kerala villages & Kumarakom resort leisure
After a morning walk in one of Kerala's villages, spend the entire afternoon enjoying the many activities and amenities offered by your beautiful lakefront resort. An unforgettable martial arts demonstration this evening is both educational and entertaining; there is no other ancient martial practice in the world that can compete with its training system and application techniques. Have dinner at your leisure at the resort.
Victoria Terminus in Mumbai
Day 15: Welcome to Mumbai (Bombay)
Fly to the "City of Gold," Mumbai (known in earlier times as Bombay), surrounded on three sides by the Arabian Sea. Upon arrival, an introductory sightseeing tour maps out the city and its landmark sites for you. Your accommodations for the next three nights are at The Oberoi, Mumbai; dine tonight at your choice of selected restaurants.
Day 16: Treasures of Mumbai & a Heritage Walk
This morning, a walking tour of landmarks includes the Gateway of India, a massive triumphal arch 87 feet high, built to welcome King George V and Queen Mary, who visited in 1911; actually, they were welcomed with a cardboard facsimile because the arch wasn't finished until 1924, but since then the Gateway has been an iconic symbol of the city, and its plaza an important site for public gatherings and ceremonies. You'll also visit the city's grand railroad terminal, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (formerly called Victoria Terminus), a jaw-dropping fusion of Indian and High Victorian Gothic architecture, elaborately decorated with arches, domes, turrets, statuary, and bas-reliefs, built in 1887. Amid the colorful bustle of the city, you're bound to see hordes of dabbawalas (men in white uniforms on bicycles delivering hot mid-day meals in "tiffin" cans), a traditional sight here since the 19th century. Enjoy your lunch at Souk, a restaurant at the elegant Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, then return to your hotel for an afternoon at leisure.
Day 17: Cruise to Elephanta Island
From the Gateway of India in Mumbai, take a boat cruise this morning to Elephanta Island (or Gharapuri, the "city of caves") with a local guide to explore the Elephanta Caves, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This series of rock-cut cave temples, most of which are dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, was hewn from solid basalt sometime between the fifth and seventh centuries AD. Return to your hotel and spend the rest of the afternoon as you please in Mumbai.
Day 18: Journey home
Tour ends in Mumbai. Fly home anytime. A transfer is included from your hotel in Bombay to Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
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