India is a fascinating melting pot of peoples, cultures and religions. The second most populous country after China, India is also the world’s largest democracy. Its civilisation stretches back over millennia, and it has given rise to four major world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, while Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam arrived in the first millennium A.D. and shaped the region’s diverse culture. As well as fascinating cultural and religious sites, India is also home to some of the world’s most charismatic wildlife, including the Royal Bengal tiger and Asian elephant. Our itinerary takes us to some of the highlights of Indian culture, including the breath-taking Taj Mahal and the temples of Khajuraho, and also to the best places on Earth to see tigers: the spectacular National Parks of Bandhavgarh and Kanha set in the heart of India on the Deccan Plateau.
This itinerary can be taken on its own, or back-to-back with the Bhutan itinerary.
Day 01, February 28th
We arrive in Delhi, and transfer to our hotel. Overnight Taj Mahal Hotel.
Day 02, March 1st
After breakfast we start a full-day tour of Old and New Delhi. The city of Delhi is made up of at least eight former cities. In Old Delhi we visit the Raj Ghat, the memorial site where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, as well as the Jama Masjid, which is the largest mosque in India, and the Red Fort, once the most opulent fort and palace of the Mughal Empire. We then take an extensive sight-seeing tour of New Delhi, visiting Humayun’s Tomb, the Qutub Minar, and take a drive along the ceremonial avenue, the Rajpath, past the imposing India Gate, Parliament House, the President’s Residence and ending with a drive through the Diplomatic Enclave. Overnight at Taj Mahal Hotel.
Day 03, March 2nd
This morning we drive from Delhi to Bharatpur, home to Keoladeo National Park, previously known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. Located at the confluence of the Gambhir and Banganga rivers, and comprising 29 km² of shallow lakes and woodlands, Keoladeo National Park provides shelter to over 300 species of birds, particularly during winter when the resident numbers are increased several fold as a result of the arrival of migrants. The number of species, and sheer quantity of birds found here, make for an impressive spectacle, even for non-birders! Pintails, teals, mallards, pochards, geese, coots, storks, curlews and sandpipers can be seen in the lakes, while the heronry at Keoladeo National Park is one of the best in the world, with 14 species nesting and breeding in the Park.
Day 04; March 3rd
We spend this morning back in Keoladeo National Park, exploring the Park further by bicycle rickshaw and on foot. This afternoon we drive from Bharatpur to Agra visiting the spectacular palace of Fatehpur Sikri en route. Fatephur Sikri was built by Emperor Akbar as his capital and palace in the late 16th century, but was abandoned after only a few years due to lack of water. It was left intact, and has stood empty for the past 400 years. We then continue our journey to Agra, home of the World’s most famous monument to love: the Taj Mahal. The city of Agra was established by Badal Singh in 1475. Agra is mentioned in the Mahabharat text as Agraban. Later Sikandar Lodi made Agra his capital but Babur defeated the Lodis to capture not only Agra but to also lay the foundation of the Mughal Empire here. In the mid 16th century and early 17th century, Agra witnessed frenzied building activity and it was during this time when the Taj Mahal was built.
This afternoon we tour the city of Agra, visiting the Agra Fort and Mausoleum of Itmad-Ud-Ula. The Red Fort was built by Emperor Akbar in 1565, and additions were made up until the time of his grandson, Shah Jahan.
Day 05; March 4th
As dawn breaks this morning we visit the Taj Mahal and watch its white marble change colour as it is warmed by the rising sun. Built by Shah Jahan, the Taj is a memorial to his beautiful wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The monument took 22 years to be completed. It was designed and planned by Persian architect, Ustad Isa. Apart from its stunning design, balance and perfect symmetry, the Taj is also noted particularly for its elegant domes, intricately carved marble screens, and inlay work done with precious stones.
After marvelling at the perfection of the Taj Mahal from every angle, we head to the train station and board our train for the three hour journey to the town of Jhansi. Upon arrival we drive to the town of Orchha, which is home to spectacular palaces and temples built by its Bundela rulers in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Jahangir Mahal, a tiered palace crowned by graceful chhatri towers, has a spectacular view of soaring temple spires & cenotaphs, and across the rural Indian countryside.
Day 06; March 5th
This morning we drive across country to the famous temple complex of Khajuraho. We spend the afternoon exploring these spectacular temples. The world famous Khajuraho temples were built by the Chandela kings between 950 AD and 1050 AD. The Chandelas practiced Tantric Hinduism, and the temples are intricately carved with images of humans and animals, most depicting human sexuality. The carvers were so skilled that the figures are some of the most beautiful that you are likely to see anywhere.
The most important temples are the Chaunset Yogini temple which is dedicated to the goddess, Kali; the Kandariya Mahadev temple; and the Chitragupta temple which has a lovely image of 11 headed Vishnu. We also visit the Parasvanath Temple, which is the only Jain Temple surviving at Khajuraho and has excellent sculptures on the outer walls of the Sanctum.
Day 07; March 6th
Today we continue our journey through the lovely, rural scenery of the Deccan Plateau to the world-famous Bandhavgarh National Park. Bandhavgarh has become known over the past few years as one of the best places in India to see the Royal Bengal tiger, and our chances of sighting that mythical beast over the next few days are good. In addition to its feline residents, Bandhavgarh is also home to a variety of other mammals, including chital and sambar deer, sloth bear and wild boar. There are also spectacular birds to be seen, including Asian paradise-flycatcher, Indian peafowl, red junglefowl (the ancestor of modern chickens), and Malabar pied hornbill.
Days 08 & 09; March 7th & 8th
We have the next two days to explore the National Park by 4WD vehicle and on elephant back. For many, the opportunity to ride an Asian elephant into the forest in search of the elusive tiger is a highlight of the trip. The National Park itself was created in 1968 out of the ancient hunting preserve of the Maharajah of Rewa, and it is from here that the original white tiger was captured. There has been a fort in the area, set high on a rocky outcrop, for the past 2,000 years, and the existing fort is still owned by the present Maharajah of Rewa.
Day 10; March 9th
This morning we bid a sad farewell to Bandhavgarh, but have our next destination, Kanha National Park, to look forward to. It is believed that Rudyard Kipling based his Jungle Book on the Kanha area, and you can certainly imagine Shere Khan prowling its lush meadows or walking through the dappled light of its sal forests. Hopefully those imaginings will become reality, and we will encounter tigers in our three days here. The forest is home to a variety of wildlife, and we will be looking for many mammals and birds in addition to tigers during our time here. The magnificent gaur (Indian bison) and the rare barasingha (swamp deer) are among the mammalian attractions, as well as the incredibly rare dhole (Asian wild dog).
Days 11 & 12; March 10th & 11th
We have two full days to travel the length and breadth of the National Park, looking for tigers from our 4WD vehicles and from elephant back. The Park is a vast area, covering nearly 2,000 km², and was one of the first National Parks created in India back in 1955. In 1974 Kanha became the cornerstone of the Project Tiger reserves, which were created to save Bengal tigers from impending extinction.
Day 13; March 12th
This morning we enjoy a final safari in Kanha National Park, before driving to the town of Nagpur to catch our flight to Delhi. Day rooms at the Trident Hotel before we transfer to the airport for our flights home.