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Essence of India

17 Nights / 18 Days

Places Covered: Delhi, Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur, Amber Fort, Nimaj Bagh, Udaipur, Lake Pichola, Chennai, Madurai, Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve, Kerala Backwaters Cruise, Kochi, Fort Cochin
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Taj Mahal AgraThis is a comprehensive journey that covers the best of India - from north to south. The Mughal cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur pay testament to a glorious past with their magnificent palaces, majestic forts and elegant gardens. Rajasthan is such an evocative place that it is not hard for visitors to feel as if they have been transported back to a time of pomp and ceremony, as befitting the opulence of the rule of the maharajas. The south of India offers the perfect contrast to all this. The colour of the region and the more relaxed pace of life are reflected in the markets, small villages and intricate waterways. Periyar National Park is a haven for wildlife and a timeless refuge from the modern world. A cruise on a rice barge through the backwaters of Kerala is yet another such experience that enable travellers to sit back, relax and reflect on the all-encompassing nature of travelling through a place as culturally rich and diverse as India.

Cultural Adventure -
With focus on local cultures and historic sites, these trips have the perfect mix of discovery, exploration, comfort and relaxation. Some trips may include a little walking or a night or two 'roughing' it. Check the itinerary for details.

Wildlife & Wilderness -
With a particular emphasis on wildlife and the environment, these adventures visit some of the world's greatest game reserves and wildlife regions.


Day 1 - Delhi

Route MapUpon arrival we are met at the airport and transferred to our hotel. Our airport representative will be waiting for us in the arrival hall, located after passing out of the customs area and beyond the travel desks and exchange counters. Look out for the note on the hotel signboard. The drive from the airport to the hotel is around 45 minutes. Most flights arrive in Delhi in the late evening, so there is nothing arranged for this day. If you have arrived early, you will be briefed with sightseeing options.

Day 2 - Agra
(Train journey: approx 3 hours) After breakfast we are transferred to the railway station where we catch the morning Shatabdi train to Agra. After arriving there late morning we are transferred to our hotel, where there is a briefing to outline our holiday itinerary and also cover many aspects of travelling in India. Please bring your passport and travel insurance documents to this meeting. After our briefing we head off and visit India's most famous sight - the majestic Taj Mahal. This amazing 17th century marble mausoleum was built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his second wife, who died giving birth. Started in 1631 the project was completed in 1648 and employed a workforce of over 20,000 people. Construction materials were brought from all over India with the marble from Rajasthan transported by over 1000 elephants. We also visit the nearby Agra Fort - a huge complex built of red sandstone by Akbar in 1565 and partially converted into a palace during the time of Shah Jahan.

Day 3-4 - Jaipur
(Driving time: approx 6 hours) From Agra we make our first stop at the deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri. This magnificent ghost town was capital of the Mughal Empire between 1571 and 1585. Built during the reign of Emperor Akbhar it was abandoned shortly after his death due to a lack of available water. We continue by road to Jaipur, the colourful capital of the state of Rajasthan as well as a vibrant and exciting town. Here, traditionally dressed Rajput men wearing colourful turbans and sporting magnificent moustaches make their way through crowded streets packed with cars, camel carts, rickshaws, trucks and bicycles. On our second day in Jaipur we travel 11 kilometres out to the stunning medieval Amber Fort. This fort was built in 1592 by Maharajah Man Singh and is a superb example of Rajput architecture. Several hours are needed to explore this huge fortification. Our guide will also take us to the Old Bazaar and Hawa Mahal, better known as The Palace of the Wind. This five-storey façade with its pink, honeycombed sandstone windows is one of Jaipur's best-known landmarks. In the evening we can dine at one of the many fine restaurants in the city.

Day 5 - Nimaj
(Driving time: approx 6 hours) The journey continues through rural Rajasthan to the village of Nimaj, which is surrounded by millet fields, wheat fields and mud plastered houses linked by narrow pathways. Nimaj is a fascinating little village that sees very few tourists. Our visit here is sure to be one of the highlights of our trip, as we stay overnight in a historic heritage-listed property that is full of Old World charm. Nimaj Bagh consists of a series of country retreats set amidst orchards that belong to the nobles of the village of Nimaj, who have converted their farm houses into guest houses. Perched on the fringe of the Thar Desert, this mixed landscape is home to various tribes such as the Gurjars, who are primarily shepherds. In Nimaj we can explore the narrow lanes of the village and observe close-up how the local people live. There is also an option to explore the local countryside as well as visit a nearby lake. Those not so adventurous can just relax in our heritage palace-hotel and enjoy the charms of a bygone era.

Day 6-7 - Udaipur
(Driving time: approx 6 hours) From Nimaj we head south towards Udaipur. The city of Udaipur is built around the shores of Lake Pichola with a wealth of fascinating temples, ornate palaces and impressive havelis (merchant homes). The charming setting of the Lake Palace on Jagwinas Island is unforgettable. During our stay we visit the Jagdish Temple, an Indo-Aryan temple containing a black stone image of Vishnu as Jagannath, Lord of the Universe. We also visit the City Palace, surmounted by balconies, towers and cupolas, where there are excellent views of the city and lakeside from the upper terraces. We have kept the afternoon free do our own exploration of Udaipur. Our leader can assist with further sightseeing options or you may wish to relax around the hotel or explore the many shopping opportunities on offer. Rajasthan is famous for miniature paintings, textiles, clothing and handicrafts.

Day 8 - Delhi
(Flight time: approx 2½ hours) Today we say goodbye to our tour leader and the rest of our party who are doing an extended tour of Rajasthan. This is an early start as we are transferred to Udaipur Airport for our flight to Delhi (please note that we will be unescorted on this flight). Upon arrival in Delhi, we are met by another representative who will look after us for the rest of our time in Delhi. We enjoy an orientation drive around the city that takes us to India Gate and past the President's House (Rashtrapati Bhavan) and Parliament House (Sansad Bhavan), before heading off to do some last-minute shopping at colourful Janpath Bazaar. We then have the chance to enjoy pre dinner drinks before heading out to one of Delhi's great restaurants for an group dinner.

Day 9 - Chennai
Today we say goodbye to our Delhi guide and are transferred to Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport to catch our flight to Chennai (Madras). Please note that we may be unescorted on this flight. Upon arrival at Chennai's Anna International Airport (next to the international terminal is the Kamaraj domestic terminal) we are met at the airport by our south Indian tour leader and transferred to our hotel in town. Chennai is the 4th largest city in India. Situated on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal, the city has a diversity of attractions and is also a place of interest for shoppers, augmented by a choice of the finest hand-woven textiles in silk and cotton. Home to spicy south Indian cuisine and strong filter coffee, Chennai is a historic city that is increasingly becoming cosmopolitan.

Day 10 - Chennai - overnight train
(Train journey: approx 9 hours) A city tour takes us to some of the major sights including Valluvar Kottam - a memorial to a famous poet-saint, the 13th century Sri Kapaleeshwarar Temple - an ancient Siva temple and a delightful introduction to Dravidian temple sculpture and architecture, San Thome (St Thomas) Mount - a cathedral built in 1523 by the Portuguese on a hilltop where St Thomas the Apostle (the original 'Doubting Thomas'!) was said to have been martyred, and the famous 12 kilometre-long Marina Beach - supposedly the second longest beach in the world. In the evening we board an overnight train bound for Madurai.

Day 11 - Madurai
Our destination is Madurai, one of the oldest and holiest cities in southern India. Its origins can be traced back to the 4th century BC and it supposedly traded with the Ancient Greeks and later the Romans. This rich cultural heritage that blossomed during the great Tamil era, more than 2500 years ago. It was an important cultural and commercial centre even as early as 550 AD and was the capital city for the great Pandya kings. In the afternoon we travel to the banks of the Vaigai River and visit Sri Meenakshi Temple, an elaborate Dravidian-style structure that was designed in 1560 and built between the years 1630 to 1650, during the Nayak Era. However, a temple complex has existed on this site for over 2000 years. Key features are its distinctive towers and stone carvings. It is also a place of frenzied activity with small shops crammed with the confines of the temple, making it a place of commerce as well as a place of worship.

Day 12-13 - Thekkady - Periyar National Park
(Driving time: approx 5 hours) After breakfast we continue our journey by road and cross from one state to another, as we travel from Tamil Nadu to Kerala. Our journey is on a hilly and winding road and our destination is Thekkady, which is set amidst beautiful countryside and is the visitors centre and gateway to Periyar National Park - a renowned wildlife sanctuary and tiger reserve. After arriving we get to relax before making an evening visit to a spice plantation. The next morning, we drive into the park and take a ferry ride on picturesque Lake Periyar, an artificial lake that was built by the British in 1895. Periyar National Park is home to gaur, wild boar, sambar deer, langur, wild elephant, various antelopes and a wide variety of birds. There are also around 36 tigers in the reserve and they are generally quite elusive, but if we are lucky we may even spot one! As well as our included boat excursion, we also have the option of going on a guided nature walk though the beautiful forest.

Day 14 - Kumarakom
(Driving time: approx 3 hours) From Periyar we head towards Kumarakom, which is renowned for its backwaters and the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary. This sanctuary is rich with a number of noteworthy species. Kumarakom itself is a beautiful town situated in the hills and is surrounded by some of the most beautiful and lush scenery in the state, with serene palm-fringed backwaters on the west and the Western Ghats on the east.

Day 15 - Kerala Backwater Cruise
From Kumarakom we board our houseboat, converted from a Kettavallum, or traditional rice barge, and sail the beautiful backwaters of Kerala - a breathtakingly stimulating experience. This large aquatic area is a vast network of lagoons, lakes, rivers and canals, and the people who live in this region have created their own distinct lifestyles. While sailing down the maze of canals one sees simultaneously different scenes - villages, paddy fields, coconut palms, fishermen and everyday local life. From our comfortable houseboats we witness the peaceful way of life on these amazing waterways and get to watch the sun go down over the backwaters. Our overnight stay on board our boat is sure to be a real highlight of our trip and the cool breeze from the lake always helps us to sleep better, after we moor up for the night.

Day 16 - Kochi
(Driving time: approx 1½ hours) We finish our cruise at the small market town of Alappuzha (Alleppey), which is built on a network of canals and surrounded by coconut palms. Our drive to Kochi (Cochin) takes us past some of the numerous villages that line the intricate waterways, where there are various local industries such as like coir making, toddy tapping, spice producing, mat weaving and pot making. The backwaters of Kerala have literally become the lifeline of the state.

Day 17 - Kochi
Kochi is set on a cluster of peninsulas and islands on the Indian Ocean. On a city tour we explore Fort Cochin and also St Francis Church. Built by Portuguese Franciscan monks in 1503, this is said to be the oldest church in India. The structure itself is testament to the evolving history of Cochin, having been used at various times by Roman Catholics, Dutch Protestants and Anglicans. We also visit the famous Mattancherry Jewish Synagogue, which was originally built of wood in 1568. The area surrounding the synagogue is full of spice shops selling cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and a host of other spices. We also take a look at the unique Chinese fishing nets, which are set up close to our hotel.

Day 18 - Kochi
Your trip ends in Kochi this morning after breakfast. Check out time is 12 noon. If your flight leaves in the evening you may wish to book additional accommodation so you have a room until departure. Your leader will be on hand to assist with transfers to the airport.

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