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If there was an all-star collection of destinations on the subcontinent, this comprehensive India adventure would hit virtually all of them. The “Golden Triangle” of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Timeless Varanasi, India's spiritual centerpiece. Brilliant Udaipur, the royal city on Lake Pichola where you’ll stay in an island palace used by the maharana (and featured in a James Bond movie!) Eclectic Cochin, a city of myriad influences. The lush Kerala backwaters — which you’ll experience on one of the region’s famous houseboats — and the beating heart of India: Mumbai. Throughout your journey, you’ll have many opportunities to interact with the local people and get to know their way of life — whether riding a rickshaw, joining a family for dinner in their home, visiting local markets and bazaars, or interacting with them in your free time. You’ll make the most of your time in India with 16 Included features and 13 Cultural Discoveries, as well as six UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
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.
Please note: Arrive to your destination or home rested and refreshed! Convenient gateway city stopover options mean you can break up longer flights easily — just ask our Flight Experts for assistance.
Arrival in Delhi
We arrive in Delhi after an overnight flight, or after enjoying our Kathmandu extension. After clearing immigration and customs, you'll be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of the evening is at leisure, and dinner is on your own.
Rickshaw ride through an Old Delhi market, and a stop at the Raj Ghat memorial
We begin our exploration of this enigmatic country with an excursion into Old Delhi. 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. Savor the flavors of Old Delhi on a culinary walk through this area. This half-day tour will include a leisurely walk through a bazaar, where you’ll sample some foods if you choose, and visit a local home for a private, interactive cooking demonstration.
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 lunch in a local restaurant, we visit a local carpet workshop. Return to the hotel and get better acquainted with your fellow travelers over a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.
New Delhi, and a visit to the ancient mosque of Qutub Minar
Today we take in the other side of Delhi — New Delhi — including a drive 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 for an evening at leisure and dinner on your own.
Fly to sacred Varanasi and 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. After lunch at your hotel, we’ll visit the museum here to gain perspective on what happened here, and see some of the fascinating antiquities that are on display. After you return, there will be an enlightening lecture on Hinduism & Buddhism given by local professor.
Take an optional sunrise boat tour of the Ganges, then witness an aarti ceremony
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. After a morning at leisure and lunch on your own, we’ll head to a music school near the ghats. Here we’ll not only learn about Indian music, we’ll get a chance to listen to its most important classical instruments, including the sitar. This adds get another perspective on the culture here, and a chance to interact with the locals.
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. Exchange insights and photographs with your travel companions over dinner back at the hotel.
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. We’ll 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, return to the hotel for an evening at leisure, with dinner at the hotel.
Touring the magnificent Taj Mahal in the morning and evening
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’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before an afternoon at leisure. Late this afternoon, we’ll embark on the “Taj at Sunset” tour.
The tour starts with a visit to Itmad-ud-daulah (sometimes called the Baby Taj) — the first mausoleam in Mughal India constructed from 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. Enjoy high tea during your tour! Dinner is on your own tonight.
Exploring Jaipur and an exclusive culinary experience with the royal family
We drive to UNESCO-listed Jaipur and check in to our hotel in the “Pink City.” In an effort to impress the Prince of Wales during his visit in 1876, Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh had the city painted in the color of hospitality: pink. The city has been called the Pink City ever since, and its unique hue is only one of its charms. We begin exploring the capital of the state of Rajasthan, visiting the Museum of Jaipur and the famed City Palace. Built in the 1730s by Sawai Jai Singh II, the founder of Jaipur, the City Place combined Rajput, Mughal, and European styles of architecture. It is now a museum that illuminates the captivating history of the city, but the royal family does still live in part of the palace. Keep an eye out for a flag raised over the Chandra Mahal section — if it is flying, it means the maharaja is in the residence!
A true treat awaits you at the Diggi Palace this evening. Here, members of the royal family in Jaipur will join our group to talk about the local cuisine and share traditional family recipes.
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. 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
Today you’ll fly to one of India’s most picturesque and romantic cities: Udaipur. You’ll not only visit the former palace of the maharaja — set in the middle of beautiful Lake Pichola — but you’ll stay there. Your accommodations will be at the Taj Lake Palace, a remarkable property in glittering white in the center of the lake. Dinner is at the hotel this evening.
Sightseeing boat cruise, Udaipur’s City Palace, a tuk tuk ride through the spice market
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. This is a great chance to compare and contrast Udaipur’s palace with Jaipur’s.
After exploring this impressive testament to the might of the Mewar dynasty, the rich tapestry of life in Rajasthan continues to unfold for us as we hop on tuk tuks and visit local markets. This is true immersion in the daily life of this city: the air is redolent with spices, your eyes take in the colorful vegetables for sale as you listen to the din of the crowd and feel the pulse of everyday commerce in Udaipur. Seeing it from a tuk tuk only enhances the experience.
Leave north India behind and venture to colorful Cochin in the south
The morning starts with breakfast, followed by a tour of Udaipur including the Rajasthan Art School of Miniature Painting. Then we leave Udaipur behind and begin our adventures in south India as we fly to Cochin. A city scattered across promontories and islands, Cochin’s history stretches all the way back to the 14th century. As a safe port on the trade route between Europe and China, the city drew an intriguingly diverse population that created a truly unique culture. You’ll have the evening at leisure here, with dinner on your own.
Morning tour of Cochin, Indian cooking demo, 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.
We’ll enjoy a cooking demonstration during lunch at a local restaurant in Cochin. The aromas, the flavors, and the cooking style will be noticeably different than in the north, making it all the more interesting (and appetizing!). In the evening, a special treat awaits: an enchanting sunset cruise on the Arabian Sea. Looking out over the Chinese fishing nets as the setting sun’s rays glint off the water is an image that will likely remain in your memory long after you leave Cochin. As you admire the scenery, your Adventure Leader will share more on South India's colorful culture.
Returning to shore, we’ll take in a Kathakali dance performance — this storytelling style of dance is colorful, captivating, and thoroughly unique. Then, enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.
Experience luxury at Kumarakom Lake Resort, and cruising the backwaters of Old Alleppey
The Kerala backwaters are practically de rigueur for any adventure in southern India, and we’ll experience them in true Vantage style at Kumarakom Lake Resort. We’ll take a coach to this famous resort, taking in the scenery that’s so much different from what we experienced in the north.
Kumarakom Lake Resort is an upscale escape that 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.
In the afternoon, yet another memorable experience awaits: 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. Juxtaposed with our memories of life in the north, it will be all the more intriguing for us. 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.
Village walking tour and relaxing at the resort
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). Return to the hotel for lunch and an afternoon at leisure.
Fly to Mumbai, the beating heart of India
Today, we catch a flight to Mumbai, known as India’s “Maximum City.” This is a city of dreams — a teeming, cosmopolitan metropolis and the beating heart of this nation. The city is the epicenter of India’s entertainment industry, home to Bollywood and at the forefront of India’s growing economy. 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 tonight is at a local restaurant.
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.