Namaste. Welcome to India. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. We’ll be collecting insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so ensure you bring these details to provide to your leader. If you’re going to be late, please inform hotel reception. Perhaps visit the World Heritage-listed Humayun’s Tomb, Qutub Minar or Red Fort of Delhi if you have any spare time.
Join your group leader on an excursion through Old Delhi. Ride the city’s metro system, and then hop in a rickshaw to the once water-filled square of Chandni Chowk. Discover the Jama Masjid, Delhi’s oldest mosque, before learning about the history of the Sikh religion at the Sheeshganj Gurudwara.
Travel by private vehicle into Rajasthan and on to its capital, Jaipur (approximately five hours). A friendly, busy town crammed with palaces and bazaars full of jewellery, textiles and folk-based arts, Jaipur is a favourite for many travellers. Our suggestions are to stop by the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds), then head over to Jaipur’s Royal City Palace and explore its extravagant rooms and apartments. Later, discover one of the five astronomical observatories built by Maharaja Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur.
Choose to take an early morning hot air balloon experience, often a highlight of visiting Jaipur. Ballooning can be done over Jaipur on the morning of day four between September and June. Mid afternoon visit the Amber Fort. Set on a hilltop overlooking Maota Lake, the fort is an authentic example of Rajput architecture and the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors) is one of its more spectacular buildings.
Leave the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur behind and drive to Karauli (approximately 5-6 hours). This delightful town was founded in 1348 and is packed with rural ambience and traditional temples. Take a guided walk around the Old Quarter, interacting with friendly locals and learning about rural Indian life off the tourist trail. Be sure to visit the eclectic market stalls along the way and sample some seasonal local sweets made from Indian ingredients, including petha (pumpkin), jiggery (organic sugar), peanut brittle and gazak (sesame seeds). Stay in a restored heritage property tonight where dinner is included.
Fatehpur Sikri – Agra
On the journey to Agra, stop en route at the one-time capital of the Mughal empire, Fatehpur Sikri (approximately 4 hours). Its stunning mosque displays both Persian and Hindu design and is secured by a 54-metre high entrance. Once in Agra, there’s the option of visiting the marble tomb that was saved for the greatest of the Mughal Emperors, Akbar’s Mausoleum. The day then culminates in a visit to the Taj Mahal, built in the 1640s as a memorial to the wife of Emperor Shah Jahan.
In the morning, take a guided tour along the banks of the Yamuna River to the iconic Agra Fort. Originally designed by Emperor Akbar in 1565 to be a military structure, it was converted into a palace during Emperor Shah Jahan’s reign and later became his prison. In the early afternoon, take the 3-4 hour journey back to Delhi by private bus. Arrive back at the hotel with enough time to freshen up and decide whether to enjoy one final dinner with the group.
Today either join your new group for another walk around Delhi or explore further on your own.
Depart Delhi by train for the 4-5 hour journey across the state of Punjab to Kalka. From Kalka, board the World Heritage-listed ‘toy train’ and enjoy the six-hour climb through villages, tunnels and mountain passes. It’s a long day of travelling, but Shimla’s faded colonial charm will make up for it. On arrival in the evening, explore the town on an orientation walk.
Head out and explore Mall Road, Shimla’s most popular shopping stretch. A nearby viewpoint also offers fantastic views of the Himalayas. Visit the Viceregal Lodge to witness where the partition agreement that separated India from Pakistan and Bangladesh was drawn up. If you like, join the hoards of monkeys milling about Jakhu Temple or stock up on souvenirs and specialty wooden crafts at Lakkar Bazaar. Set among rolling hills, Shimla also offers an array of nature walks that range from gentle to challenging. In the evening, enjoy an optional trip to the cinema and bop along to a Bollywood blockbuster.
Travel by jeep to the small town of Mandi. Situated on the Beas River, Mandi has a rich cultural heritage of both historical and theological significance. Once part of the salt route to Tibet, today it’s the gateway to the Kullu Valley. Head into town for a walk and explore a huge sunken shopping centre – the only one like it in India and the focal point of entertainment in Mandi. You can also spend time at the bathing ghats along the river or hike to hilltop temples just outside of town. In the evening, enjoy and included dinner and stay in the simply restored former palace of the Raja of Mandi.
Dharamsala (McLeod Ganj)
The journey through the mountains today is an adventure in itself. Travel by private vehicle for the six-hour drive along bumpy, winding roads to Dharamsala, also known as McLeod Ganj. Strung with prayer flags and busy with robed monks strolling between monasteries, this hilltop retreat is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. Spend the afternoon wandering the peaceful streets, which are set to the backdrop of the Himalayas. There’s a lot to gain here from learning about the many facets of Tibetan Buddhism.
Dharamsala (McLeod Ganj)
Today visit the fascinating Norbulingka Institute, developed to train Tibetan refugees in skills needed to preserve the traditional arts and crafts of Tibet. Its grounds feature a beautiful temple and several workshops where you can witness woodcarving, painting and needlework in action. Then make your way to the Tsuglag Khang complex to see the Dalai Lama’s temple. You may also like to visit the Losel Doll Museum, which is a great way to learn about the daily lives and customs of people all over Tibet. Finally, treat yourself to a massage or try your hand at making traditional Tibetan momos (dumplings) in a cooking class.
Today travel down the mountains to Amritsar, situated in the heart of the fertile plain known as India’s ‘breadbasket’ and the centre of Sikhism in India. Tour the sights and weave your way through the rambling streets and bazaars of the Old City in a cycle rickshaw. Explore the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib), which sits in the middle of a sacred lake. Listen to the soothing sounds of the devout chanting verses from the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib.
Amritsar – Overnight train
Visit Jallianwala Bagh, the site of the tragic 1919 massacre that played a vital role in India’s independence. Then head out to the India-Pakistan border to witness the pomp and circumstance of the daily flag ceremony, a military practice that the security forces of India and Pakistan have followed since 1959. Tonight take an overnight sleeper train from Amritsar to Haridwar.
After pulling into Haridwar in the morning, there’s an hour drive to Rishikesh. Check in to your hotel before going on a walk with your leader. Aptly named the ‘Yoga Capital of the World’, Rishikesh is a great place to relax and seek a little enlightenment. In the evening, take a stroll along the holy Ganges River as temple bells ring and the nightly fire ritual of Ganga Aarti begins.
The morning is yours to roam around Rishikesh. Perhaps tuck into a masala dosa for breakfast before walking or riding it off on one of the trails along the Ganges. In the afternoon, reunite with your group for a walk through the jungle nearby. Tonight, experience sleeping under the stars just outside of Rishikesh, you’ll be staying in a fixed campsite with twin-shared tents and western-style toilets.
Bid farewell to Rishikesh and take the train back to Delhi (approx 7-9 hours). The train arrives back into Delhi around 11pm from where you’ll be transferred to your hotel on arrival.
There are no activities planned for today, so you’re free to depart the accommodation at any time. Don’t forget to check out the great range of Urban Adventures if you have extra time in Delhi.