India - Rajasthan Encompassed


India - Rajasthan Encompassed

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 16 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers

Dossier

India – Rajasthan Encompassed

This journey to the land of the Maharajas starts with a visit to the unmissable Taj Mahal in Agra, one of the most celebrated and spectacular buildings in the world. Track the iconic Tiger in atmospheric Ranthambore National Park in the shadow of its dramatic fortress.  Travel through Rajasthan’s most enchanting cities, such as Jaipur and Udaipur. In the walled desert city of Jaisalmer you have ample time to explore its traffic-free streets, flanked by exquisite architecture. There is also time to relax and recharge in the laid-back, sacred oasis town of Pushkar and visit the fantastic Meherangarh Fort in Jodhpur, one of the most impressive in India. We also journey into some of the lesser visited areas of rural Rajasthan such as Chandelao, where we can spend time observing traditional customs. We finish in surely Rajasthan’s most picturesque city, Udaipur, set against the backdrop of idyllic Lake Pichola. The tour offers the quintessential highlights of the region, whilst also taking in some of the more singular, extraordinary and relatively undiscovered locations. Rajasthan is often said to be India’s most colourful state – travel with us to experience its full vibrancy and diversity for yourself!

Tour Rating

Fitness ●●●○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●○○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●●○ | Wildlife ●●●●○

Tour Pace

Busy

Tour Highlights

  • Explore the enchanting cities of Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer
  • Visit the religious sites at Pushkar oasis and the incomparable Taj Mahal
  • Discover the magnificent Amber and Meherangarh Forts
  • Interact with the local community in their homes at rural Chandelao
  • Enjoy a camel ride in the Thar desert
  • Search for tigers in atmospheric Ranthambore National Park in the shadow of the imposing fort
  • A comprehensive journey through India’s most colourful state

Tour Itinerary Notes

While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.

Tour Guide

Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not merely passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies, it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK: we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip, but on occasions it may be advantageous to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.

Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrive Delhi
Arrive in Delhi, the capital of India, and transfer to the hotel. Overnight Taj Princess Hotel or similar. No meals.

Note – For those that arrive early or are having pre-tour accommodation we can provide numerous sightseeing options in Delhi on request. A heritage walk around Old Delhi is particularly recommended.

Old Delhi
Old Delhi was the capital of Moghul India between the 12th and the 19th centuries. You will find here many mosques, monuments and forts of the Moghul period of India's history. The medieval atmosphere of the bazaars of Old Delhi contrasts sharply with the open, spacious streets of New Delhi, the imperial city created as the capital of India by the British.

Day 2 – Delhi – Agra by train 
Take the early morning express train to Agra, home to arguably the most celebrated and beautiful building in the world: the Taj Mahal, built in the 17th century by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb and memorial for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Along the River Yamuna is the impressive Red Fort which we will visit with fantastic and photogenic views of the Taj Mahal. The Red Fort was the capital of the golden age of the Moghul Empire and thus of India during the 16th and 17th centuries. Overnight at the Hotel Taj Resorts or similar. (B)

Agra

Although Agra was a lesser fortified town for much of its history, it was besieged in 1080 and from then on was a centre of minor territorial scuffles. It was in 1506, however, that its heyday began: Sultan Sikander of Delhi moved his capital here and when it fell to the Muhgal lords in 1526 it became the administrative centre of India’s second largest ever Empire. The opulence and building programmes that followed had their flowering in the construction of the Taj Mahal: one of Shah Jahan’s wives had died after childbirth – their fourteenth child, indicating just why she was so dear to him – and the mausoleum is a dazzling tribute to his favourite partner.  Described by the Bengali poet Tagore as “a teardrop on the face of eternity”, the edifice was completed 22 years after her death and is constructed from Rajasthan marble and precious metals and jewels from the four corners of Asia.

Day 3 – Agra (Taj Mahal visit) – Karauli (Overall approximate driving time: 4 hours) 
Early this morning visit the magnificent Taj Mahal and early is the best time to appreciate this truly impressive structure in detail. Continue to Karauli, midway between Agra and Ranthambore. The town boasts the magnificent Old City Palace, built in 1635, which is a treasure trove of architecture, stone carvings, gorgeous jali work and classic paintings. Karauli also has a captivating bazaar full of exclusive items of handicraft, stone carvings and colourful bangles. Just outside Karauli is the renowned Bhanwar Vilas Palace, the residence of the Maharaja, and is now a beautiful heritage hotel, where you stay for the night. (BL)

Day 4 – Karauli – Ranthambore National Park (Overall approximate driving time: 2 hours)
Continue to Sawai Madhopur, your base for visiting the beautiful Ranthambore National Park, one of the best opportunities in India in which to see a tiger in the wild. You take an afternoon safari by purpose built vehicles for up to 20 people to explore the expanses of the famous park. The varied landscapes, flora and fauna within the park are compelling and the wildlife safari is an intriguing experience even if tigers prove elusive. Overnight Ranthambhore Bagh or similar. (BLD)

Ranthambore and its tigers
The name Ranthambore is synonymous with tiger sighting, and for good reason: established as a national park in only 1980, it boasts an impressive total of around 60 which makes good reason for optimism when you step into a safari vehicle.  The origins of the area as a park have a darker past: it was a popular tiger hunting area for the gentry of Rajasthan and this continued well into the 20th century.  However, as the largely forested areas in northern India, perfect for the big cats’ territories, were progressively felled and shooting of tigers for trophies continued, it became apparent that the Bengal tiger’s very existence was in doubt. In response, the government first set up a reserve here in 1955 and, as poaching took its toll, widened the acreage of the reserve and poured funding into the area as a key sanctuary. As a result, since a low point of 26 tigers in 2005, the population has been rising.  The reserve status has also benefited sundry other species of mammal: your chances of seeing some anything from leopards, hyenas or deer, to jackals, bucks or civets are good; equally, bird watchers flock to the park to glimpse many of the 313 recorded species, including hornbills, babblers, vultures, pheasants, parakeet and the beautiful dusky eagle owl.

Day 5 – Ranthambore National Park – Fatehpur Sikri – Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary – Abhaneri - Jaipur (Overall approximate driving time: 3.5 hours)
For those that wish,a further safari is included this morning within Ranthambore National Park to try and observe more of the magnificent wildlife, and to take in the fine scenery in the early morning light. After breakfast, continue to Jaipur with stops en route to the abandoned former Mughal capital of Fatehpur Sikri; view some of the extraordinary array of colourful and rare birds at this former maharaja’s hunting lake sanctuary at Bharatpur; inspect the colossal 5th-century stepwell in the tiny village of Abhaneri. Jaipur is one of the most arresting cities in India with exuberant 18th and 19th century palaces and an exotic street life. Overnight at Madhuban Hotel, or similar. (BL)

Jaipur
The city famously forms one point of the ‘Golden Triangle’ yet was founded in relatively recent times in 1727; it takes its name from its founding father, Jai Singh.  The burgeoning metropolis is a fascinating insight into India’s vibrancy and vitality, yet at its core it retains the exquisite and opulent grandeur of its foundations in the Pink City. This historic centre is resplendent with palaces, bazaars and places of worship; just outside its southern and western walls the trend continues and the city is renowned for its beautiful carpets, enamelled ornaments, precious and semi-precious stones, brass ornaments and many other arts and crafts. Prior to Jaipur’s establishment, smaller kingdoms and strongholds dotted the region: predominant amongst these is the UNESCO world heritage site of Amber (or Amer) Fort which dates from the 11th century and sits spectacularly atop the natural defences of red sandstone cliffs and Maota Lake. Despite this, the citadel has fallen to invaders, notably on the occasion of the Diwali massacre of the Meena garrison.

Day 6 – Jaipur sightseeing
Today, after breakfast, enjoy a guided morning tour of Jaipur’s famous City Palace, the astonishing stone observatory of Jantar Mantar, and the Hawa Mahal (a pink sandstone facade of a palace with a profusion of windows and stone screens). In the afternoon your guided visit to the fabulous Amber Fort reveals a magnificent complex of palaces, halls, pavilions, gardens and temples. Overnight at Madhuban Hotel or similar. (BL)

Day 7 – Jaipur – Pushkar – (Approximate overall driving time: 3 hours)
This morning, drive to Pushkar, a desert oasis situated on a holy lake. The afternoon is at leisure to explore the lakeside with its compelling holy men, pilgrims and temples. Hundreds of small temples are built on the periphery of the lake with wide stone steps or `ghats' leading down to the lake. A magical quality of light hovers over the lake, bouncing off the surrounding white-washed temples and bathing ghats. At sunset Pushkar turns into one of the most exotic places on earth. Overnight at Pushkar Palace or similar. (B)

Pushkar
Legend has it that the sacred lakes of Pushkaraj Maharaj (‘Pushkar, King of Kings’) sprang up when Lord Brahma, the Hindu creator god, dropped three lotus petals into the desert.  The largest lake is surrounded by over 500 temples, dedicated to much of the Hindu pantheon, with the Brahma, Apteshwar and the loftily situated Savitri temples being particularly stunning examples. The latter afford you a unique view of the site, and will take a lusty hour for you to summit! The religious edifices generally date from the 12th century onwards, with regular renovations following periods of Muslim conquest in the region. The town draws thousands of Hindu and Sikh pilgrims, especially during the October full-moon phase, who seek the healing properties of its waters.

Day 8 – Pushkar – Chandelao (Overall approximate driving time: 3 hours)
After breakfast drive to the small and tranquil heritage hotel of Chandelao Garh. Here, with virtually no other tourists around, one can interact with the community and learn about the rich art, culture and heritage of Rajasthan. On an afternoon village tour by jeep, observe local craftsmen at work, and visit a Bishnoi tribal family in their traditional home. Observe local women in colourful traditional attire fetching water from the wells, and gain a fascinating and authentic insight into traditional Indian village life. Overnight at Chandelao Garh, or similar. (B)

The Bishnoi Tribe
In 1485, whilst the English were knocking chunks out of one another at Bosworth field, guru Jambeshwar Bhagavan was making huge ecological leaps of faith and progress in this tiny corner of Rajasthan. Sensing that the local drought was owing to deforestation, he formulated a series of 29 maxims for living in harmony with nature, including making killing animals and felling live trees a taboo.  This effectively makes the Bishnoi unique as a tribe united by dogma rather than ethnicity.  Indeed in 1730 their faith was put to the test and 363 Bishnoi were slaughtered as they protected the local trees from felling to make way for the maharaja’s palace.  The result was that the protection of animals and forestry became enshrined in law in the region. The hotel in which you stay to experience this serenity is equally soothing: sit in leafy, red sandstone courtyards, imbibing the trickle of bird-song around you.  The beautiful buildings date back to the 1740's and were the overlord’s residence at the centre of a robust feudal system, only abolished in 1952.

Day 9 – Chandelao – Jodhpur (Overall approximate driving time is 1.5 hours) Continue to the `Blue City' of Jodhpur. Standing at the edge of the vast, arid Thar Desert, Jodhpur is dominated by the massive Meherangarh Fort, which we visit in the afternoon. The fort houses an excellent museum and affords captivating views of the blue Brahmin houses of the old city. The clock tower is a popular landmark in the old city. After visiting the fort, wander down hill through atmospheric narrow alleys land through bazaars for textiles, silver and handicrafts. It's a fascinating jumble of winding streets of great interest to wander around. Overnight at Pal Haveli Hotel, or similar. (BL)

Jodhpur
Jodhpur and the territories it controlled have always retained a proud independence, striking deals with the two great Empires in its history – the Mughals and the British.  The city began life in 1459 as the newly contructed capital of the kingdom of Marwar.  Rao Jodha selected what he hoped was an impregnable site for the fortress of Meherangarh, and so it proved: the kingdom amassed great riches and even in modern times is a centre for trade, owing to its long-time stability.  The golden sandstone of the fort sublimely compliments the pastel blue washes of the cascades of old city dwellings within the walls and makes Jodhpur a photographer’s mecca.  The city boasts a thriving cottage industry of items such as glass bangles, metalwork and carpets and its spice markets are a kaleidoscope of vibrancy. Food is also a proudly held prowess of the Marwaris: amongst the dishes to not miss out on are spicy Mirchi bada and the wonderful array of local dishes if you order Rajasthani Thali.

Day 10 – Jodhpur – Jaisalmer (Approximate overall driving time: 5 hours)
An early start to cross the desert en route to the `Golden City' of Jaisalmer, looming magically out of the horizon. Within the fortress walls the cobbled streets are strewn with stunning palaces, beautiful mansions, and Jain temples that were built between the 12th and 15th centuries. On arrival the rest of the day is at leisure for you to relax or explore. Overnight at Nachana Haveli Hotel, or similar. (B)

Jaisalmer
Since the twelfth century, Jaisalmer has occupied a position which has dominated the east-west trade routes across the Thar desert. The outline of the dramatic fortress and the cornucopia of rich merchants’ ornate haveli (‘houses’) make this seem like a scene from The Arabian Nights.  Much of the city’s charm is owed to its inaccessibility and marginalisation after the establishment of the Indo-Pakistani border which effectively reduced it to a backwater, yet also protected its beauty from the population explosions that other Indian cities have experienced. Only the wars with Pakistan in the 1960's re-established it as of strategic importance and brought its diverse and beautiful sites back into the consciousness of travellers. The fortress and the walled city are a delight to explore, the former being unique as a ‘living’ fortress, bustling with traders, businesses, temples and museums.  As you inhale the heady blend of vitality and antique, it’s hard to imagine that the fortress itself three times witnessed acts of ‘johar’ – mass female suicide – as the city seemed destined to fall in the 1200's-1400's.   

Day 11 – Thar Desert – Camel Safari
The best way to experience the Thar Desert which surrounds Jaisalmer is on an overnight camel safari. After a morning at leisure, leave Jaisalmer in the mid-afternoon and enjoy a half hour jeep ride, and, avoiding the more crowded area around Sam, board camels for a ride lasting approximately 2 hours through a peaceful and unspoilt area of the Thar Desert, passing through a mix of scrub, bushes, and sand dunes as the light turns from gold to dusky pink. The camp is set up in a peaceful location close to sand dunes The tents are simple, but all bedding is supplied, and hot water is provided for washing. The camp staff prepare the dinner and breakfast, and the highlight is often spending the evening under a blanket of stars. Overnight Guru Kripa tented camp, or similar (BD)

The Thar Desert
The Great Desert of India covers an area of 77,000 square miles and is a natural barrier between much of the country and Pakistan.  The natural way into a desert is by camel and the height and languid pace afford you excellent views and the chance to glimpse much of its delights. Deserts are unique places in which to travel: be prepared for more warmth during the afternoon and then a steady decline in temperature until you will be relieved to have brought warm jackets and socks!  Keep your eyes peeled to see the national bird of India, the peacock, traversing the scrub branches, lizards and grouse scuttling away from your camel and vultures and endangered Indian spotted eagles winging overhead. With the dusk come unbelievable sunsets and huge skies, totally unpolluted by urban light.  As darkness rises, the nocturnal buzz of life there forms a gentle backdrop to the heavenly spectacle that unfolds: this is an astronomer’s dream as the Milky Way unfolds like a meandering smudge across the star-spangled skies.

Day 12 – Jaisalmer walking tour
This morning wake up to the magical light of the desert. For those that wish, a second camel ride awaits on a different route for around an hour before re-joining the jeep for the drive back to Jaisalmer, arriving by mid-morning. This afternoon, enjoy a guided walking tour of the Old City. Jaisalmer, with its narrow cobbled lanes, is a wonderful place to wander around on foot. The fort itself is not simply a monument, but is home to a community of several thousand people. Within it one can observe some attractive Jain temples, fascinating architecture, and enjoy superb views over the city and the desert beyond from the many vantage points on its walls. Hidden amongst the narrow lanes leading off the main market street are several elaborate and opulent havelis. Overnight Nachana Haveli, or similar. (BL)

Day 13 – Jaisalmer – Bhenswara – (Approximate overall driving time: 7 hours)
An early start today for a long drive out of the desert and into a little visited area of rural Rajasthan. The region around Bhenswara is interesting as it is home to some of the more pastoral tribes of India. The rock-strewn region of Bhenswara is also the natural habitat for leopards and your host at Bhenswara is a keen tracker. You have the option to join a thrilling, eerie evening safari to try and get a glimpse of this elusive animal but please kindly be realistic with your expectations as sightings are quite rare but the anticipation of a glimpse of this wonderful creature is exciting in the darkness and the scenery is a joy as the sunsets. Overnight Ravla Bhenswara Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Day 14 – Bhenswara – Udaipur – (Approximate overall driving time: 4 hours) The last stop on the itinerary is the beautiful `White City' of Udaipur. Set around the vast Pichola Lake and dominated by dramatic palaces, Udaipur is surely Rajasthan's most picturesque city. High, whitewashed houses and narrow, winding alleys lend it an almost medieval charm. The huge City Palace, still the residence of the Maharana, is intricately carved out of yellow sandstone and stands on the banks of Lake Pichola, from where you have fabulous views over the balmy waters and the famous Lake Palace Hotel. On arrival the rest of the day is at leisure for you to wander in the atmospheric streets or relax and marvel at the views out over the lake.  Overnight at Mewar Haveli, or similar. (B)

Udaipur
The current maharana is, almost unbelievably, the 76th in an unbroken line of Mewar rulers of Udaipur.  The dynasty has long been regarded as the chief Rajput royal family and the city’s history extends back to the mid 1500s. If any city in Rajasthan can claim to hold the crown of romantic backdrops, then this is it: the nearby Aravelli hills encircle it and the interconnecting lakes have earned it the title ‘Venice of India’. At its heart, the City Palace is a complex of ornate gates and courtyards, palaces within palaces, temples, museums and even a former elephant fighting arena beside the triple ‘Tripolia’ gateway.

Day 15 – Udaipur sightseeing
Enjoy a guided morning tour of the elaborate palaces and temples, followed by a boat trip on Lake Pichola to experience an entirely different angle on the elegance of the city. This afternoon enjoy ample time at leisure to seek out a bargain in the markets, or to relax in a friendly cafe overlooking the lake, whilst enjoying Udaipur’s renowned teas, coffees and spicy pakodas. Overnight at Mewar Haveli or similar. (B)

Day 16 – Departure
Transfer to Udaipur where the tour ends with a transfer to the airport for your onward flight (B)

If you wish to have extra time in Udaipur or Delhi, please contact us for prices.

Inclusions:
Arrival and departure transfers
Overland transport  
Delhi – Agra by Shatabadi Express (AC chair car)
All sightseeing and entrance fees as per the itinerary
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Tipping Kitty not including tour leader (see notes section for details)

Excluded:
International flights
Any airport taxes
Travel Insurance
Visa (if applicable)
Services, Meals and Drinks other than those mentioned in the itinerary
Items of a personal nature
Extra charges for camera and video
Tip for the main local tour guide/leader (discretionary) 


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