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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 16 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.
Begin your travels with a journey to historic Kathmandu, Nepal’s lively capital. On this pre-trip adventure, you'll fly from Delhi to the capital of "The Mountain Kingdom," a busy, lively crossroads where the streets teem with Buddhist monks in bright robes, outdoor bazaars, mountain trekkers preparing for expeditions, and Tibetans going about their everyday lives. Visit breathtaking Buddhist stupas (including Boudhanath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site); stroll side streets and squares; explore Patan, a richly historic city designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and have ample free time to explore on your own. You might also fly over the top of the world on an unforgettable optional "Mountain Flight" to view the high Himalayas, including Mount Everest itself.
Depart home for Delhi, India
Your Indian adventure begins with an overnight flight to Delhi.
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.
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.
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.
Fly to sacred Varanasi, tour fabled Sarnath, and witness an aarti ceremony
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: After you return, there will be a enlightening lecture on Hinduism & Buddhism given by local professor.
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.
Take an optional sunrise boat tour of the Ganges, then visit a local music school
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.
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.
Fly to Agra and explore the UNESCO site of Agra Fort
Today we fly from Varanasi to Agra, home to the inimitable Taj Mahal. After lunch at a local restaurant, 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 for an evening at leisure and dinner on your own.
Touring the magnificent Taj Mahal
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, we return to our hotel for lunch on your own and an afternoon at leisure. Late this afternoon, you can join an optional "Taj at Sunset" tour. Dinner is at the hotel tonight.
The tour starts with a visit to Itmad-ud-daulah, the tomb of Mirza Ghiyas Beg, an important official of the Mughal empire and grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, for whom the Taj Mahal was built. When Ghiyas Beg’s daughter Nur Jahan commissioned her father’s tomb, 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. It is thus often called the “Baby Taj.”
At sunset, we move on to Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden), on the flood plains across the Yamuna River from the Taj. Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who created both the Taj Mahal and the garden, felt that the best view of his wife’s mausoleum was from here. 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.
Exploring Jaipur with a home-hosted dinner
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. Cultural Discovery: 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.
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. Return to the hotel for an evening at leisure with dinner on your own.
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.
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.
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.
Colorful Cochin, and a classical Indian dance performance
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. We’ll settle into our hotel here, and then listen to a lecture on South India's colorful culture given by our adventure leader. Dinner is at a local restaurant. Cultural Discovery: After dinner, we’ll enjoy a captivating Kathakali dance performance.
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.
Experiencing luxury at Kumarakom Island Resort
The Kerala backwaters are practically de rigueur for any adventure in southern India, and we’ll experience it in true Vantage style at 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.
Village walking tour, and cruising the backwaters of Old Alleppey
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).
Yet another memorable experience awaits us as well: cruising through the backwaters of the Alleppey region. We’ll take in the peaceful scenery as we float aboard a houseboat built to ply these waters, and see what life is like on the rice farms and villages of the region on a shore excursion. We’ll then drive back to the resort, where we’ll savor a delicious dinner and perhaps discuss our favorite moments from the day’s adventures.
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.
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.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home.
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.