The Temples & Archaeology special
India presents a full and diverse culture and an intoxicatingly rich history.
India is a country that creates sensory overload with its copious smells of incense, cacophony of extraordinary sounds, succulent cuisine and drinks, and visual wealth of ancient architecture. The colorful and varied costumes, cornucopia of varied scenery, and profusion of convoluted cosmologies makes this country one of the most intricate and rewarding dramas unfolding on earth. Home to one-sixth of the world's population and the world's largest democracy, India presents a full and diverse culture and an intoxicatingly rich history.
- Day-1 : Fly from your home to New Delhi.
- Day-2 : Arrive India's capital city, Delhi is a captivating combination of ancient and modern. Overnight two nights in the historic city of Delhi.
- Day-3 : Today’s tour takes us to several important monuments. Visit the Red Fort, or Lal Quila, that once housed the legendary Peacock Throne and Koh-i-noor diamond later stolen by Persian forces. This immense fortress, built out of red sandstone by a Mughal emperor in 1648, contains elaborate gardens, the harem, and the palace. The Qtab Minar is a high tower engraved with verses from the Koran; it was built in the 13th century by the first Muslim sultan of Delhi to celebrate his victory over the Hindu kings. Spend the afternoon in the National Museum to gain an overview of Indian culture and history as we view the impressive artifacts housed within, including a carved Buddhist gateway from Sanchi.
- Day-4 : This morning, transfer to the airport for our flight to Aurangabad. The afternoon is free. Overnight for two nights.
- Day-5 : Leave for a full day excursion to Ajanta. Here, hewn from the near-vertical sides of a horseshoe-shaped ravine are caves carved from the rock containing spectacular artwork. Less than two centuries ago this remote spot was practically unknown. The shadowy entrances had been abandoned under a thick blanket of rainforest. In 1819 a small group of British troops were led to the spot, and upon closer inspection saw the façade of a cave protruding through the dense foliage.Ultimately a total of 28 cavern shrines were found, many with interiors adorned with a swirling profusion of vibrant multicolored murals – paintings that rank among India’s most beautiful treasures. These Buddhist caves predate Ellora and span a period of 800 years. Return to Aurangabad for dinner.
- Day-6 : Lying north of Aurangabad, the caves at Ellora are over ten centuries old and among the most important historical monuments in India. Here, thirty-four caves are carved out of the rock into the slope of a hill, many with intricately carved facades and containing a wealth of sculpture. Located on a busy caravan route, this spot became the focus of intense religious and artistic activity about the time that Ajanta was abandoned in the 6th century. Three religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jain – are represented here.The Buddhist caves, filled with rows of restrained Buddhas, gives way to Hindu cave-temples throbbing with vitality. Huge bas-reliefs line the walls, writhing with dynamic scenes from the scriptures. The Hindu cave architecture culminated in the 10th century with the magnificent Kailash Temple, Ellora’s masterpiece. Carved from the living rock to become completely freestanding, the temple is a giant replica of the Sacred Mountain and the divine axis between heaven and earth. Return to Aurangabad in time for our flight to Bombay, today called Mumbai, with dinner onboard. Upon arrival, transfer to the your Hotel and overnight for two nights.
- Day-7 : Travel by boat to the tranquil, forested island of Elephanta, one of the most atmospheric spots in India. We will enter a unique cave temple to view a massive Trimurti, or three-faced Shiva. A glorious example of Hindu architecture, the 8th century cave is reached by climbing more than one hundred steps to the top of the hill.Inside, walk past massive columns carved from solid rock to inspect several extraordinary carved panels covered with scenes depicting Hindu sagas. Upon our return to Mumbai, enjoy a short city tour. Dinner this evening will be in one of Mumbai’s specialty restaurants.
- Day-8 : This morning’s flight takes us to Varanasi. Upon arrival drive to Sarnath. In a quiet grove here in the sixth century BC Siddhartha Gautama gave his first sermon that put into motion the Wheel of Law, the Dharmachakra. Siddhartha ultimately became known as the Buddha, the Awakened One, and he and his followers continued to return to Sarnath to rest from their rounds of teaching. Over the centuries, this became a place of pilgrimage, and the richness of the monasteries, temples, and shrines bear witness to the holiness of the site. Most impressive is the Dhamekh Stupa, composed of a cylindrical tower ornamented with decorative bas-reliefs. Overnight for two nights at your Hotel in Varnasi.
- Day-9 : An early departure takes us to Chunar, a fort built high on a hillside guarding the surrounding countryside. Conquered by the emperor Humayun in 1537, there are fine Mughal tombs still visible in this stronghold. In the afternoon, return to Varanasi by boat down the Ganges River. This evening, we will ride rickshaws and walk to the Ganges to board a small vessel. The shores of the river come alive at sunset as worshippers join in lively ceremonies.
- Day-10 : The great city of Varanasi stretches along a crescent of the holy river Ganges, and is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Located next to a ford on an ancient trade route, Varanasi is among the holiest of all tirthas, or crossing places, and stands at the center of the Hindu universe. Early this morning, board a private boat to ride on the Ganges River to watch the sunrise over the city.The great river banks at Varnasi, built high with 18th- and 19th-century pavilions and palaces, temples and terraces, are lined with an endless chain of stone steps known as ghats, literally landings, where thousands of pilgrims and residents come for their daily ritual ablutions. Return to the hotel for breakfast before beginning our tour of the city. Walk down narrow winding alleys to see several ghats, temples, and shrines. In the afternoon, transfer to the airport for the flight to Khajuraho. Overnight at your hotel.
- Day-11 : Spend this morning in magnificent Khajuraho, the religious and political capital of the Chandela dynasty during 9th- to 13th-century. The resplendent Hindu temples here are famed for the delicate sensuality and eroticism of their sculpture. Much of the ornate carving that adorns the walls of the sanctuaries is almost three-dimensional, with shades of pink in the stone imbuing the figures with gentle flesh-like tones. Every square inch of these temples is covered with incised human and divine forms in every aspect of life. In the afternoon, drive to Orchha and overnight.
- Day-12 : Much of Orccha’s beauty is due to the illustrious ruler, Raja Bir Singh Deo. During his 22-year rule, he erected a total of 52 forts and palaces across the region, including the citadel at Jhansi, the rambling Narsing Dev at Datia, and many of Orchha's finest buildings. Our explorations of the city will take us to several magnificent palaces, including the opulent 18th century Sheesh Mahal, originally intended as an exclusive country retreat. In the afternoon, drive to Jhansi to board a fast train to Agra. Overnight for two nights in the five-star Jaypee Palace.
- Day-13 : The magnificent tomb, Taj Mahal, built by Shah Jahan to enshrine the body of his favorite wife, Arjumand Bann Begum, who died in 1631 shortly after giving birth to her 14th child. 20,000 workmen took 22 years to complete the mausoleum, quite literally one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Continue to Agra Fort, the majestic 16th-century citadel that was the stronghold of the Moghul Empire for generations.The red-sandstone fortress guards a bend in the Yamuna River and is encircled by ramparts and entered through massive, decorated gates. Clustered around a high terrace overlooking the waterway, the royal pavilions were designed to catch the cool breeze. The fort also contains the royal palaces. We will also see Itmad-ud-daulah, the exquisite tomb of an important member of the royal court. Designed by a woman, the favorite queen of the Moghul King Jahangir, this charming two-story mausoleum was constructed of marble and is feminine in its proportions.
- Day-14 : Depart this morning for the World Heritage site of Fatehpur Sikri, capital of the Mughal Empire for ten years. Built during the second half of the 16th century by the Emperor Akbar, this magnificent red sandstone city contains elaborate palaces, formal courtyards, reflecting pools, harems, tombs and a great mosque. In the afternoon, continue to Jaipur and overnight for three nights in the Raj Palace, a haveli, or mansion, that has been lovingly restored and is now a Heritage Hotel. It was the first fully restored palace in Jaipur, and provides modern comfort with Old World charm and character. Each of its 38 suites is designed on a different theme.
- Day-15 : The pink city of Jaipur is the picturesque capital of Rajasthan and a colorful showcase of Rajashani architecture. Glorious palaces and temples are scattered throughout the town in an assortment of styles that span the centuries. After a stop at the ashwamedh, or horse-sacrifice pillar, begin the day at the Amber Fort, the former seat of the Rajput rulers of Jaipur. As royalty, we will ascend to the fortress seated on the back of an elephant.Fortified by natural hills and high ramparts, Amber’s magnificent palace is distinctly Rajput. The walls of the royal apartments are completely covered with intricate mosaics of mirrors and colored glasses. After our exploration of the fortress, return to Jaipur. Raja Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur, was no ordinary man. He was a scholar and an astronomer, and a formidable general who tempered power with wisdom.In building Jaipur, Jai Singh's vision took him beyond architectural beauty, for he gave India its first planned city. High walls enclose the old city, and the seven sections within are laid out in a planned pattern, as dictated by the Shilpa Shastra, an ancient architectural treatise. We will enter the open-air royal observatory, Jantar Mantar, with its gigantic, astronomical instruments; this is the largest of Jai Singh's five remarkable observatories.From here, enter the City Palace, an imposing blend of traditional Rajasthani and Mughal architecture. Now housing the Sawai Man Singh Museum, it is encircled by high walls and situated among lush gardens. The museum contains a select collection of various types of Rajasthani dresses, a fascinating armory of Mughal and Rajput weapons, and spectacular swords, some encrusted with jewels and encased in bold and magnificent scabbards.In the center of the compound with balconies and windows studding its seven-story façade, Chandra Mahal is still the residence of the royal family. Stop by Hawa Mahal, or Palace of Winds. It was built in 1799 to enable the women of the court to watch street processions while remaining in a strict state of purdah. Its five-story façade contains 593 finely screened windows and balconies.
- Day-16 : This morning we travel northeast of the city to Nahargarh, or Tiger Fort. Built by Jai Singh II in 1734 as a retreat for his wives, the royal dwelling contains identical apartments for the queens, arranged around the central courtyard in perfect symmetry and with breathtaking views. We will also explore Jaigarh Fort, overlooking the Moata Lake and dating back to the 11th century, to see the world’s biggest cannon.Visit Gaitor, the royal cremation ground to see the elegant chhatris and cenotaphs of various kings and queens. The white marble structure of Jai Singh II, with its intricately carved dome and supporting pillars, is the most beautiful. There will be time in the afternoon for independent explorations.
- Day-17 : Today’s drive takes us to Neemrana Fort, dominating a ridge in the Aravalli Range and now India's oldest heritage resort. Built in 1464 by Rao Rajdeo, Neemrana became the third capital of the descendants of Prighviraj Chauhan III. The ruined palace-fortress was restored in the 1980s to become a luxurious hotel. After lunch here, drive to Delhi and overnight in your hotel.
- Day-18 : Today is free to shop, rest, or for further explorations of this dynamic city before our long flight home. Lunch is on our own. After we check out of our hotel late this afternoon, we will gather in an elegant tandoori restaurant for our final dinner party. Transfer to the airport this evening to board your flight back home.