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Welcome to India's bustling and colourful capital city, Delhi. At once peaceful and chaotic, ancient and modern, Delhi is unlike anywhere you've likely ever been before. Where else in the world can you find ancient relics of multiple bygone eras rubbing shoulders with gleaming new shopping malls, whilst hawkers, cows, monkeys, rickshaws and tourists all compete for space in the narrow lanes of Old Delhi? Arriving today you'll transfer to your hotel before meeting up with your Travel Director to learn the lay of the land. Briefing complete, you'll then be treated to your first taste of Delhi's delicious foodie scene at a welcome dinner.
The winding streets and bustling bazaars of Old Delhi await you this morning as you head out on a sightseeing tour. Embrace it all as you experience this real slice of India, then breathe a sigh of relief as you see the imposing Red Fort, which was built by Emperor Shah Jahan during his Mughal reign and served as the residence of emperors for 200 years. From here it's on to the magnificent red sandstone carved Jama Mosque, another pocket of calm and Delhi's biggest mosque. Take your time exploring here before hopping on a cycle rickshaw to weave you through the lanes of Old Delhi, then head on to New Delhi to experience a different side of the city. Drive past grand government buildings before finishing up at Humayun's Tomb, another relic of the Mughal reign. Likely exhausted from a busy day, this evening is then yours to enjoy as you please.
Today gives you the chance to unearth Delhi at your own pace. Those seeking a nature reprieve could head to the beautifully manicured Lodi Gardens, whilst foodies will likely be keen to join our Optional food tour of Old Delhi, where you'll get to wander through the maze of the old spice market, taste exotic pickles and sample edible silver before enjoying lunch with a local family at their haveli. Keen to dive deeper into Delhi's rich history? Why not join our optional trip to Nizamuddin, a former 14th century village that developed around the shrine of a Sufi saint. Known for its narrow lanes, tombs, cuisine and spiritual music, you'll learn more about the area with the help of a local guide from the Hope Project, visiting the stepwell and tomb of 'India's Shakespeare' Mirza Ghalib, before finishing up at the Dargah of Sufi saint, Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya.
Leaving Delhi behind this morning you'll venture on the state of maharajas, Rajasthan. A firm favourite amongst visitors for its rich culture, glorious cities and shopping opportunities, don't be surprised to see camels pulling wooden carts slowly plodding alongside your window as you enter the 'Pink City' of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. Settle in to your hotel then head out to explore for yourself, perhaps making a beeline for the City Palace. Nestled in the heart of the Old City, this lavish complex of courtyards, gardens and buildings blends Rajasthani and Mughal architecture, the crowing glory of which are the four ornately painted doors of the Pitam Niwas Chowk, which represent the four seasons. Keen to get your hands on Jaipur's famous gems, textiles and handicrafts? The bustling Old City chowks are the place to go.
Early risers will have the chance to witness a morning ritual of the Hindu community today, with an optional visit to one of the country's most important Krishna temples to watch as worshippers offer their prayers to Lord Krishna. Back at the hotel and after breakfast you'll then head out to visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed Amber Fort. Set atop a hill and once the residence of Rajput rulers, this extensive palace of glistening white marble and yellow and pink sandstone is a true gem of Rajasthan. From here it will then be on to the icon of Jaipur, the Hawa Mahal. Known as the Wind Palace, this distinctive 5 storied building of pretty latticed windows was built as a way of allowing the ladies of the royal household to watch the antics of the city below. With the rest of the day then free, perhaps opt to join our heritage walking tour for a deeper insight into the culture and community of the Old City, visiting flower markets, silver bazaars and jewellery makers along the way.
Leaving Jaipur behind, this morning your journey will take you to Ranthambore National Park. Claiming 1334 square kilometres of wild jungle, Ranthambore is the best place in Rajasthan for spotting the majestic Bengal Tiger, especially as numbers are now on the up. Once a maharaja hunting ground, there are now around 67 tigers that roam the park, although sightings are never guaranteed. After settling in to your hotel, you'll head out on the first of three game drives. Travelling through the park with a local ranger, also keep your eyes peeled for wild boars, sloth bears, hyenas, leopards, monkeys, deer and around 300 species of bird. Whether you spot a tiger or not, be sure to enjoy this magical experience before heading back to your hotel for dinner.
It's an early start this morning as you head back into the park for your second game drive. Sunrise is arguably the best time of the day for tiger spotting, so keep your fingers crossed! Heading back to the hotel for breakfast and some down time by the pool, you'll then venture back into the wilderness for your third and final drive. As well as wildlife this ancient park is also a wealth of history, the centre piece of which is the 10th Century Ranthambore Fort. Nestled right in the centre of the park it's a real sight to behold, not to mention the crumbling forts, mosques and hunting pavilions peppered throughout the territory.
From tigers to the Taj, today's journey will take you one step closer to the undisputed icon of India. Stopping for lunch at the royal city of Bharathpur, known for its abundance of forts, palaces and lush parks, you'll arrive into Agra with a free afternoon to explore. Take a wander around the bustling chowks to sample Indian sweets and shop for marble goods, head to a rooftop bar to sip a cold one or opt to join our visit to the UNESCO listed Agra Fort. Another fine example of Mughal craftsmanship, the vibrantly red sandstone Fort dates back to 1565 and comes complete with fairy tale palaces, beautiful gardens and views of the Taj in the distance. This evening and as a way of saying goodbye to those who are not continuing on to Varanasi tomorrow, choose to join our optional farewell dinner for a feast of Indian delicacies.
Today's the day! Heading out at dawn you'll make your way to the Taj Mahal for one of the best sunrises of your life. A thousand times more impressive in real life, watch as the rising sun paints the glistening white marble shades of pink and gold. Described by Rudyard Kipling as 'the embodiment of all things pure', the Taj was built by Shah Jahan in 1632 as a testament to the love he held for his third wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in child birth. Head inside the mausoleum to visit the tombs of Jahan and Mumtaz, then perhaps snap a photograph on the famous 'Diana seat' before heading back to your hotel for a well-deserved breakfast. Still feeling distinctly in awe you'll travel to Delhi International Airport this afternoon to catch your flight to the holy city of Varanasi.
Waking up in one of the oldest cities on earth, prepare yourself for an unforgettable two days. A cacophony of colour, sights and smells, Varanasi is one of the rare places on earth where life and death co-exist as daily rituals. Rising early for a sunrise boat ride along the banks of the River Ganges, you'll experience the fascinating routines that take place daily along the ghats. Watch people offering their morning prayers to Mother Ganga, men bathing their buffalo and locals practising their yoga moves as you drift along. After breakfast at your hotel, we'll head out on a sightseeing tour of the city, starting off with the courtyards of the Bharat Mata Temple, otherwise known as the Mother India temple, where a vast map of undivided India is carved in marble. Next up visit the most famous temples in Varanasi, Durga Mandir and Kashi Vishvanath Temple. This evening experience the rich spiritual culture of India at a traditional Aarti ceremony. Taking place on the banks of the Ganges, truly a pinch yourself moment as offerings of candles and flowers are floated down the river.
It's the final day of your Indian adventure today so be sure to make the most of it. With most of the day yours to explore your way, you could start out by paying a visit to Assi Ghat, one of the largest and busiest of the ghats. From here stroll along the river and take in the comings and goings of daily life, including the famous burning ghat where bodies from all over India are cremated, a ritual said to send the deceased straight to heaven. Weave through the tiny maze of streets that make up the Old Town and fuel up on delicious lassis served out of clay pots. This afternoon perhaps choose to join our optional trip to Sarnath. Located on the outskirts of Varanasi and one of the most revered pilgrimage destinations for Buddhists from all over the world, Sarnath is said to be the spot where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. Later today, you'll then catch your flight back to Delhi for the last night of your trip.
With memories of glistening mausoleums, sacred rituals and tiger tracks still fresh in your mind, your trip will come to an end today. Transferring to Delhi International Airport for your onward flight, we hope you're leaving with big smiles and hearts filled with kind Indian hospitality!
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