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India’s Golden Triangle plus the incredible city of Varanasi
Northern India conjures up memorable and colourful images including turbans, saris, great food and rickshaws. We visit the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur, home to the wonderful former Maharaja’s Palace and the splendid hilltop Amber Fort. Agra and the serene Taj Mahal are not to be missed and fully live up to expectations. Varanasi is often the city that lingers longest in the memory; located on the River Ganges it is one of the most sacred in India.
NOTE:- All the itineraries can be customized to suit your own special interests, preferences, abilities, extension and reduction of numbers of days.
Those who are on the group flights will land in Delhi in the morning. Those not on the group flights will need to be at the start hotel by 9am (or at the airport when the group land). A local representative will meet Land Only clients at the start hotel and provide a transfer to the airport where we meet clients arriving on the group flight; once everyone has arrived we will then transfer to Sariska National Park.
This reserve was declared a sanctuary in 1955 and is home to nilgai, wild boar, jackals, hyenas and chowsingha (four-horned antelope). The game drive will be in the buffer zone of this national park mainly on sealed roads (there will not be an opportunity to see tiger during these summer months). Although these departures operate during the rainy season the crowds are reduced and those with an interest in bird life will find an abundance in Sariska. In the afternoon we drive to Jaipur and transfer to our hotel.
Built in the late 18th century, Jaipur is a planned city of broad avenues built of sandstone and painted pink at a later stage. We visit the City Palace in the centre of Jaipur, formerly the residence of the Maharaja, now a fine museum containing rare manuscripts, paintings, royal garments and weapons. Close to the palace is one of the most intriguing sights of India, the observatory of Jai Singh. This is an assembly of immense astronomical instruments made of marble and brass set in a pleasant garden. We will also see Jaipur’s impressive landmark, the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds. We then see the impressive and splendid Amber Fort, a few miles from the main city, rising above a lake where elephants bathe. Jaipur is a centre of many handicrafts, such as durries (woven rugs), carpets, printed cloth, semi-precious stones, leatherwear etc. It will be difficult to leave a workshop without buying anything!
Today we drive to Agra via Fatehpur Sikri. Fatehpur Sikri is the Emperor Akbar’s deserted royal city. This impressive and well-preserved citadel became his capital in 1571, after the blessing of a local Moslem holy man correctly predicted the birth of a longed-for son, his successor the Emperor Jehangir. The mosque, designed to hold ten thousand worshippers, the palaces, residences and halls of audience are all made of decorative red sandstone. But this magnificence only lasted 14 years, as in 1584 Akbar left Fatehpur Sikri to secure his outlying territories, leaving this city much as we see it today – in perfect condition. This is another very full but rewarding day.
Today we will rise early to visit the beautiful white marble Taj Mahal at sunrise; built by the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631. The Taj is serenely beautiful and never fails to amaze a first time visitor; the white marble exterior changes colour according to the position of the sun during the day and is matched by the rich interior detail. Within striking distance is the imposing Red Fort of Akbar, third of the Moghul Emperors, whose mighty sandstone walls enclose the beautiful white marble Pearl Mosque and the palaces, halls, courtyards and fountains of his sons and successors, Jehangir and Shah Jahan. It is here that the latter spent his last years, imprisoned by his own son Aurangzeb. Later in the day we will transfer to Agra train station and join the overnight sleeper train to Varanasi.
We arrive in Varanasi during the morning and transfer to our hotel. Varanasi, located on the river Ganges, is one of the most holy cities in India and stands at the centre of the Hindu Universe. As such, the city lives and breathes Hinduism: there are thousands of pilgrims, wandering holy men (Sadhus), religious elders and casual visitors. It is a city to get immersed in by exploring its maze of narrow lanes and the many temples, and watching the Hindu ceremonies that take place around the clock. There is time to explore the emporiums specialising in silks and brocades or maybe take a massage by the banks of the Ganges. Your leader can organise various optional sightseeing trips during your 2 days here.
Just before dawn, we take a boat out on the Ganges to witness the extraordinary spectacle on the ghats, the steps leading down to the river. Every day thousands of Hindu pilgrims come to these three miles of riverbank to soak in the holy waters. This afternoon we fly back to Delhi.
Today you are free to relax or explore the sites of New and Old Delhi (an optional sightseeing trip will be organised if you wish). Recommended sites are the Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, India Gate, Jama Masjid (India’s largest mosque), Sheeshganj Gurudwara (Sikh Temple) and For last minute shopping, we recommend the market area of Chandni Chowk or Karol Bagh.
Those on the flight inclusive package will depart for the airport this morning for the daytime flight back to London; Land Only arrangements will finish after check-out from the hotel.
Air tickets, meals not noted in the itinerary, insurance, medical and evacuation, tipping to guides and local staff, visa fees, excess baggage charges, airport taxes, cost of medical immunizations, items of a personal nature, alcoholic beverages, cold drinks, laundry, etc.
Visas are required if you are British and for most other nationalities. For UK residents full details of the visa process can be found here. Other nationalities should check with their travel agent or the relevant embassies.
If your trip visits Ladakh, in the very north of India, or Sikkim in the northeast, do not mention this on your Indian visa application. This can sometimes slow down or even cause the embassy to reject your visa.
When you reach immigration, you are required to pick up an immigration form. If you have an e-visa, ensure you stand in the correct queue – please follow the signs to the e-visa booth (in Delhi this is at the back of the immigration hall). You will need to fill out an additional form at the booth – please make sure that you have the details of your start hotel ready (these details can be found on your Final Joining Instructions).
There are no mandatory vaccination requirements. Recommended vaccinations are: Polio, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Typhoid, Hepatitis A. The risk of malaria is slight but you may wish to consult your GP or travel health clinic for further advice. Dengue fever is a known risk in places visited. It is a tropical viral disease spread by daytime biting mosquitoes. There is currently no vaccine or prophylaxis available for Dengue, therefore the best form of prevention is to avoid being bitten. Some of our India trips spend time at altitude. In regions over approx. 2000m, there is low to no risk of mosquito-borne diseases. For trips going to altitudes of over 3000m there is a risk of being affected by Acute Mountain Sickness. Our itineraries are designed to enable everyone to acclimatise to these altitudes, but you should be aware that it is still possible for you to be affected. Please see the TRIP NOTES for further information.
Eating and Drinking
Dinner is included at the homestay, and we also include a dinner and cooking demonstration with a local family in Periyar. The houseboat is full board. You should allow at least £15 (approx. US$24) per day for lunch and dinner. You can eat out very cheaply in India, but if you go to the more expensive restaurants most of the time, you will spend more than the suggested amount. In most of the towns there is a good choice of restaurants and a choice between Indian and Western style food. If you are a vegetarian, India is probably one of the best destinations to travel to. Tea and soft drinks are very cheap. Please note that hotels (apart from 5-star hotels) and bars in Kerala are no longer allowed to sell alcohol, but it is still possible to buy alcohol in government shops. Mineral water is available in the bus in 20ltr containers so please bring a bottle with you to refill. Please note that service in restaurants can be quite slow.
The most important feature of the Indian climate is the ‘wet season’ or monsoon. The main monsoon strikes the coast of Kerala in late May and sweeps its way northward over the next month or so. The ideal time to visit is during the dry season from October to March. Days will be hot and the nights warm, the average range of maximum daytime temperatures being between 21ºC – 30ºC and from 6ºC – 20ºC at night. However, in the hills temperatures can be considerably cooler and you can expect temperatures to drop to a few degrees above zero at night. We ask you to note that frequent rainstorms can be expected throughout the tour on November departures. However, the storms are usually of quite short duration and the sun normally comes out fairly quickly afterwards. Please note that swimming in the sea at Kovalam is not always possible, depending on recent weather conditions, however the hotel we use in Kovalam will always have a pool.