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India North & South: From the Golden Triangle to the Kerala Backwaters - 2019

Delhi • Varanasi • Agra • Jaipur • Udaipur • Cochin • Kumarakom • Mumbai
  • STAY AT UDAIPUR’S LAKE PALACE, FORMER ISLAND HOME OF THE MAHARANA
  • IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE LOCAL CULTURE DURING AN AARTI CEREMONY IN VARANASI
  • VISIT THE ANCIENT MOSQUE COMPLEX, A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
  • STAY AT THE FAMED KUMARAKOM ISLAND RESORT ON THE SHORES OF VEMBANAD LAKE
  • SHARE A DELICIOUS MEAL IN THE HOME OF A LOCAL FAMILY IN JAIPUR
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India is, quite simply, mesmerizing. It is a country of contrasts and contradictions: both ancient and modern, stimulating and serene, raw and resplendent. Each part of this country has its own history, culture, and personality, and perhaps no parts of India are as alluringly disparate as the southern and northern parts of the country.

This grand India tour is your opportunity to travel them both, and to understand what makes each so unique. You’ll enjoy 17 Included Features — including four UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Qutub Minar, Agra Fort, Amber Fort, Taj Mahal) as well as 12 special Cultural Discoveries on this comprehensive tour of India. Venture to Delhi, the bustling capital of India and the link to its imperial past. Explore Jaipur, the famed Pink City. Experience the spiritual power of Varanasi, wander romantic and regal Udaipur in the Aravali Hills, and gaze upon Agra's breathtaking Taj Mahal. Then venture south to discover colonial Cochin, explore the Kerala backwaters — that verdant labyrinth of canals and lagoons that meanders past captivating local villages — and feel the pulse of legendary Mumbai.

Throughout your journey, you have numerous opportunities to interact with the local people and get to know their way of life. As you travel across India, you'll ride a rickshaw, join a family for dinner in their home, visit local markets and bazaars, and much more. Witness the magic and majesty of the subcontinent on this North and South India adventure.

What memories will you bring home on this adventure? Check out our photography page for inspiration, tips and tricks, and more. Explore now!

Delhi to Mumbai


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DAY 1:

Depart home for Delhi, India

Your Indian adventure begins with an overnight flight to Delhi.

DAY 2:

Arrival in Delhi

We arrive in Delhi after an overnight flight, or after enjoying our Kathmandu extension. After clearing immigration and customs, you are met at the airport and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of the evening is at leisure, and dinner is on your own.

DAY 3:

Rickshaw ride through an Old Delhi market, and a stop at the Raj Ghat memorial

Unforgettable Moment: Today we take in the other side of Delhi — Old Delhi — on a fascinating excursion. We will see Raj Ghat, the memorial to peaceful crusader Mahatma Gandhi and the huge Jama Masjid mosque whose courtyard can hold 25,000 worshippers. After, we make a photo stop at the Red Fort, a sprawling vision of red sandstone. Lunch will be at a local restaurant.

Cultural Discovery: We’ll then hop aboard a rickshaw for a ride among the colorful wares, fragrant spice-lined lanes, and narrow alleys of Chandni Chowk, the city’s oldest and busiest market. After our Old Delhi tour, we return to the hotel and get better acquainted at a Welcome Dinner at the hotel.

Included Meals:

Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner

DAY 4:

New Delhi, and a visit to the ancient mosque of Qutub Minar

We begin our exploration of this enigmatic country with an excursion into New Delhi, driving past the grand President's Palace and the ancient and imposing India Gate. After lunch at a local restaurant, we visit Qutub Minar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At 240 feet, it is India’s second-tallest minaret and oldest mosque, a magnificent blend of red sandstone and marble. After admiring the towering treasure, we return to the hotel and get better acquainted at a Welcome Dinner at the hotel. You’ll also get a chance to visit a local carpet workshop. Return to the hotel for an evening at leisure and dinner on your own.

Included Meals:

Breakfast  & Lunch

DAY 5:

Fly to sacred Varanasi, tour fabled Sarnath

Today, we'll fly to Varanasi. This sacred Hindu city on the banks of the Ganges is the city of the Hindu god Shiva and one of India’s holiest cities. Pilgrims flock here for a ritual bath in the Ganges to wash away their sins. We then travel to one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Buddhism: Sarnath, which is believed to be where Siddhartha Gautama gave his first sermon after reaching enlightenment. Standing in such a sacred place is powerful, and it’s just the first of many such experiences in India. We’ll also visit the museum here to gain perspective on what happened here, and see some of the fascinating antiquities that are on display.

Cultural Discovery: While you are there, you’ll enjoy an enlightening lecture on Hinduism & Buddhism.

Included Meals:

Breakfast  & Lunch

DAY 6:

You’re invited to a traditional aarti ceremony at the Ghats of Varanasi

Early this morning you can take an optional sunrise boat tour on the Ganges to watch the sunrise and observe the morning rituals of the Hindu worshippers. Cultural Discovery: Visit a local music school to get a perspective on this part of the local culture.

Cultural Discovery: Then, one of the true highlights of your visit: an evening aarti ceremony at the Ghats of Varanasi. This devotional ritual is carried out as an offering to Maa Ganga, the goddess of the Ganges, and we will witness it on boats in the river itself. The sound of bells and chimes fill the air, flames bathe the night in a warm glow, and throngs of devotees chant and sing as Hindu priests perform a timeless ceremony . . . this ritual unfailingly leaves travelers awestruck and is one of many highlights on this riveting journey.

Included Meals:

Breakfast  & Lunch
Optional Tour: Sunrise Boat Tour on the Ganges

Sunrise Boat Tour on the Ganges

  • Approximate Cost: $39 USD per person
  • Approximate Time: 2 hours
  • Location: Varanasi, India
  • When: Early morning tour

Discover the soul of India during your visit to Varanasi, the city of Lord Shiva, one of the most sacred cities in Hindu India. Here, temples line the sacred River Ganges, with broad ghats — or steps — leading down to the water’s edge. You will follow these steps to the river’s edge in the pre-dawn light to board a boat for the ride into the broad river. As you venture out into the morning mists, you’ll find yourself transported to a different world. Then, as the sun rises and illuminates the temples along the river, you’ll see the devout coming down to the river for a ritual washing away of sins. Others will be doing exercises and priests will be performing sunrise rituals. Whether you treat this as one of India’s best “photo ops,” or an experience to silently absorb, this is an experience no traveler to India should miss.


DAY 7:

Fly to Agra and explore the UNESCO site of Agra Fort

Today we fly from Varanasi to Agra, home to the inimitable Taj Mahal.  We head out to explore Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is more of a walled city than a fortress. Its vast walls embody the power and wealth of the Mughal leaders who built it. After a tour of its interior, we return to the hotel and a dinner will be arranged at the hotel.

Included Meals:

Breakfast & Dinner

DAY 8:

Touring the magnificent Taj Mahal

Oh, what a day awaits at one of the world’s most beloved buildings.

Unforgettable Moment: This morning, we visit India’s most iconic landmark, the magnificent Taj Mahal. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, a splendid marble wonder, was built by Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. After time to take it all in, transfer to a local restaurant for your lunch, we’ll embark on the "Taj at Sunset" tour.

The tour starts with a visit to Itmad-ud-daulah (sometimes called the Baby Taj). it was the first in Mughal India to be constructed of pure marble rather than sandstone and to feature the pietra dura inlay later used on the Taj walls.  At sunset, we move on to Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden), on the flood plains across the Yamuna River from the Taj. Once surrounded by sandstone-clad walls, crisscrossed by white stone walkways, and planted with fruit trees and narcissus, the bagh was nearly ruined by floods and neglect, but is today being restored, including replanting to match the original Mughal horticulture. Some of these plants produce bright flowers that shine in the moonlight. In these splendid surroundings, as you feast your eyes on the golden hues washing the Taj across the river, perhaps you, too, will feel Shah Jahan’s pride and undying love for his queen.

Included Meals:

Breakfast  & Lunch

DAY 9:

Explore Jaipur with the City Palace and Royal Museum

We drive to Jaipur, India’s “Pink City,” and check in to our hotel. We begin exploring the capital of the state of Rajasthan, visiting the famed City Palace as well as the Museum of Jaipur.

Included Meals:

Breakfast  & Lunch

DAY 10:

Take a Jeep ride to Amber Fort, then visit a Jaipur bazaar

After breakfast, we set out for the Amber Fort, stopping to view the remarkable Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) along the way. Its filigreed façade of hundreds of windows provided tiny windows through which women of the harem could watch the world go by without being seen. We enjoy a jeep ride to the Amber Fort, and then embark on a tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cultural Discoveries: Afterwards, in order to continue our immersion into local culture, we’ll visit a bazaar and go for a walk through the old quarter of Jaipur.
This evening, prepare for a special dinner out as we are the guests of a local family in their home. Our visit affords the unique opportunity to meet an Indian family in the comfort of their home and share insights about our lives with them.

Included Meals:

Breakfast & Dinner

DAY 11:

Fly to romantic Udaipur, and settle into the Maharaja’s former estate

For those who are interested, we will wake early this morning to set off on an optional hot-air balloon excursion. Soaring over this legendary city is an experience beyond compare. Later, we’ll fly to one of India’s most picturesque and romantic cities: Udaipur. We will not only visit the former palace of the Maharaja — set in the middle of beautiful Lake Pichola — we will stay there. Our accommodations will be at the Lake Palace Hotel, a remarkable property in glittering white in the center of the lake. Dinner is at the hotel this evening. 

Included Meals:

Breakfast & Dinner
Optional Tour: Sunrise Balloon Over Jaipur

Sunrise Balloon Over Jaipur

  • Approximate Cost: $245 USD per person
  • Approximate Time: 1-2 hours
  • Location: Jaipur, India
  • When: Early morning

Rise early and join us on this thrilling excursion that shows you from the air why Jaipur is called the “Pink City.” You’ll rise before dawn for an early-morning pick-up at your hotel, then proceed to the launch site. As you float into the pre-dawn air, you’ll have a spectacular view of Jaipur and its surroundings. You’ll silently drift high above Man Sagar Lake and its beautiful water palace that seemingly floats on its surface. Gaze down upon the countryside as it awakens from its slumber and get a true sense of India from the air as its teeming streets spring to life far below. The cost of this optional tour includes roundtrip transfers from the hotel, a pre-flight briefing, and a flight of approximately one hour. After your magnificent balloon excursion, you’ll return to your hotel in time for breakfast.


DAY 12:

Sightseeing boat cruise, Udaipur’s City Palace, a rickshaw ride through the spice market

Unforgettable Moment: Today, we take a boat out for a sightseeing cruise on Lake Pichola and visit the Garden of the Ladies.  In the afternoon, we visit the City Palace, a grand architectural feat built over 400 years ago.

Cultural Discovery: After exploring this impressive testament to the might of the Mewar dynasty, we’ll hop on tuk tuk and go to local spice and vegetable markets.

Included Meals:

Breakfast  & Lunch

DAY 13:

City tour of Udaipur

The morning starts with breakfast, followed by a tour of Udaipur including the Rajastan Art School of Miniature Painting. Then we leave Udaipur behind and begin our adventures in south India — starting with Cochin.

Included Meals:

Breakfast

DAY 14:

Morning tour of eclectic Cochin and enjoy an Arabian Sea sunset cruise

Today, we begin our discoveries of southern India. Cochin has a long history as a spice trading hub and so it immediately drew the attention of colonial powers. In fact, this was the heart of the Portuguese empire in India at the beginning of the 16th century, and it was subsequently conquered by the Dutch and British. Today, remnants of these empires remain, but Cochin still has a character all its own. We’ll discover this character on a morning city tour, which will take us to the famed St. Francis Church as well as the Chinese Fishing Nets in Cochin Harbor. Then, we’ll enjoy lunch at the home of a local family, including a cooking demonstration that allows us to learn more about the cuisine here. Your afternoon will be at leisure, after which you’ll set off on a sunset cruise – not to mention a enjoying a traditional Kathakali traditional dance performance. Dinner is included this evening.

Included Meals:

Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner

DAY 15:

Cruise the backwaters of Old Alleppey

The Kerala backwaters are practically de rigueur for any adventure in southern India, and we’ll understand why as we begin our discoveries today. We travel today to Alleppey region, where we’ll board one of Kerala’s world-famous houseboats. We’ll take in the peaceful scenery as we float aboard this vessel built to ply these waters, as well as seeing what life is like on the rice farms and villages of the region on a shore excursion. This is such a unique part of the world – our discoveries here will no doubt leave us with some unforgettable moments. Later, we will then drive to Kumarakom Island resort. This upscale escape has drawn luminaries such as Prince Charles (who spent his 65th birthday at the resort), and it doesn’t take long to realize why. With luxurious accommodations designed to mimic the 16th-century traditional homesteads of this region, this resort helps to immerse you in the feel of Kerala while pampering you at the same time. Whether relaxing in your room, delighting your palate at the on-site restaurants, or indulging in Ayurvedic treatments at the spa, you’ll realize why this resort has received so many accolades. We’ll settle into our environs here with an afternoon and evening at leisure.


Included Meals:

Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner

DAY 16:

Embark on a walking tour of a local village

Today, we’ll embark on a walking tour of Old Alleppey village, getting a firsthand look at the culture here (and contrasting it with what we’ve seen in the north). This is an opportunity not only to gain insights about the local culture, but to connect directly with villagers – travelers often mention this is a highlight of the journey. We’ll then drive back to the resort, where we’ll savor a delicious lunch and perhaps discuss our favorite moments from the morning’s adventures. The afternoon is at leisure, giving you the chance to take advantage of the myriad amenities available at the resort.

Included Meals:

Breakfast  & Lunch

DAY 17:

Mumbai, the beating heart of India

We’re off to Mumbai today, known as India’s “Maximum City.” This is a city of dreams — a teeming, cosmopolitan metropolis that is the beating heart of this nation. After some time to settle in here, we’ll go for an orientation walk to the Gateway of India. Built to commemorate the visit of Queen Mary and King George in 1911, this grand arch on the Arabian Sea is a symbol of the colonial era here. Interestingly, the last of the British ships set sail from here after Indian independence. Dinner is back at the hotel this evening.

Included Meals:

Breakfast & Dinner

DAY 18:

Highlights of Mumbai, and a Farewell Dinner at the hotel

Today we explore Mumbai in depth, including visits to several of the city’s most prominent sights. See the Hanging Gardens and the famed Dhobi Ghats, and drive past Marine Drive and Malabar Hill. You’ll also visit the Gandhi Museum, where you’ll learn about the life and death of the man Indians call “Mahatma” (meaning great soul). Our afternoon is at leisure, giving you time to discover more of Mumbai’s treasures on your own. This evening, enjoy a Farewell Dinner at the hotel.

Included Meals:

Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner

DAY 19:

Fly home

After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home. 

Included Meals:

Breakfast

Important Notice: The above day-by-day itineraries are preliminary and therefore subject to change. If changes occur while on tour, you will be notified by your Vantage Adventure Leader or regional expert.

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