Itinerary Details: 21 days/20 nights
Day 1: Delhi Arrival
Namaste. Welcome to India! Arrive at Delhi International airport. Delhi is a bustling metropolis that incorporates the ancient with the modern. Amidst the skyscrapers, the monuments stand as a silent reminder to India’s legacy. Driving from the airport, you will be impressed with Delhi’s spacious, tree-lined streets and garden parks. Overnight at the hotel.
Day 2: Delhi
After breakfast, enjoy a rickshaw ride in Chandni Chowk. Witness the architectural marvels, the multicolored facades, beautifully decorated shops, ethnically dressed locals and the fragrances emanating from the potpourri of eateries that line the historical alleys.
Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666) built the walled city of Delhi on the banks of holy River Yamuna. It had a magnificent palace known as Red Fort, impressive mansions, enchanting bazaars, elegant shrines, royal gardens and fountains at every corner to romance ones' senses. The Emperor’s beloved daughter Jahanara designed a major street called Chandni Chowk in front of Red Fort, with a canal running down the center and pools at major intersections reflecting the moonlight. During the British regime, the street underwent major changes and since then this area has witnessed some of the most important events in Indian history. Today these splendid ruins and tales of valor are a testimony of the evolution of the times. Chandni Chowk truly reflects the national unity, secularism and diversity of India. The tour covers 20 main sites including palaces, mansions, elegant shrines and colorful bazaars. End at a Haveli (mansion) built in 1860, which has a photo gallery depicting the lifestyle of Mughals and a small lounge to relax and relish some famous snacks. Afternoon at leisure and overnight in Delhi.
Day 3: Delhi
After breakfast, tour Humayun’s tomb, built by the widow of the second Mughal Emperor, Humayun, and an outstanding monument in the Indo-Persian style. Later, visit Mehrauli and the Qutub Minar complex. Originally an ancient Islamic monument, the Qutub Minar is the tallest tower in India. Built of red sandstone and marble, the minar is not without controversy. Some believe it was built as a tower of victory to signify Muslim rule in the country, while skeptics claim it was erected to call the devoted to prayer. The complex also houses the first mosque to be built in India and an iron pillar that mysteriously has a high resistance to corrosion, even after being exposed to the natural elements for centuries. Continue past the imposing India Gate, the Parliament building and Rashtrapati Bhawan, the President’s residence. Evening at leisure and overnight in Delhi.
Day 4: Delhi - Agra
After breakfast, drive to Agra (4 hours). Enjoy lunch with a local family followed by a tour of the Agra Fort, a magnificent citadel with marble palaces, ornate alcoves and terrace pavilions. In the early evening, enjoy a Kachpura Heritage Walk. A narrow bridle path through agriculture fields near Mehtab Bagh takes you into the ancient village of Kachpura and Humayun’s Mosque. The walk starts with explaining the paintings (sanji art) on the walls drawn by community girls under a youth program. The traditional lifestyle of villagers is showcased - some elders smoking hookah, others making shoes. Humayun’s Mosque is another monument situated inside the village. Your walk ends in Mehtab Bagh from where you will have the opportunity to view the Taj Mahal at sunset. Overnight in Agra.
Day 5: Agra - Jaipur
In the morning, visit the Taj Mahal. Built in the 17th century by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj took over 22 years and 20,000 men to build. The monument is truly a wonder of the world.
Later drive to Jaipur (4.5 hours). Jaipur, the vibrant capital of Rajasthan, owes its name, foundation and planning to the great astronomer and warrior Maharaja Jai Singh II. The city is fondly called the “Pink City” due to the pink colored buildings and avenues.
From its creation in 1727, the royal families and nobles of Jaipur patronized the craftsmen and artisans of the city. These traditions continue to this day and modern Jaipur is considered by many as the craft capital of India. Traditional methods are still used to produce many valuable and highly prized items. Using skills passed down through generations, artisans and master craftsmen can be seen in the areas of Ghat Darwaza and Vishveshwar ji. On this fascinating evening walk, mingle and talk with the locals while sampling some of the regions culinary delights; try pakoras, aloo tiki, samosas, and sweets from some of the city’s most popular street food vendors. Observe local artisans in their workshops; jewelers and silversmiths, gold and silver foil makers. Return to your hotel and overnight.
Day 6: Jaipur
After breakfast, proceed on a full day tour of Jaipur. Start with a visit to Amber Fort. The final descent to this ancient city is made by elephant back—a truly memorable experience! In the fort, you will see magnificent palaces and halls covered with mirrored mosaics. After lunch, explore Jaipur city. Visit City Palace, a blend of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture that is still occupied by the Royal family. Also view the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) and visit Jantar Mantar, the solar observatory. Overnight in Jaipur.
Day 7: Jaipur - Rajsamand
After breakfast, drive to Rajsamand (4.5 hours) and transfer to your hotel. Located in rural Rajasthan, Devshree is an elegant and classic homestay with the Singh Family. The 8-bedroom house was constructed in a traditional haveli style with deep verandahs and intricate courtyards of Rajput architecture and influence. The interiors are airy and spacious, and the décor has a contemporary twist. The central courtyard is lovely to soak in the warm sun or sit by the cauldron of fire on the cold winter evenings. As the sun sets, you hear the villagers returning to their homes with their cows and goats, a golden time of day referred to locally as gaudhuli. You may also enjoy an open jeep ride through the countryside. Overnight.
Day 8: Rajsamand - Udaipur
After breakfast, drive to the magnificent Ranakpur Jain Temple (2 hours). Surrounded by tangled forests with monkeys abounding in the courtyard, Ranakpur is one of the five important pilgrim centers for the Jain community. The temple, including the extraordinary array of 1144 pillars, is distinct in design with carved ceilings and arches decorated with friezes depicting scenes from the lives of the Jain saints.
Continue to Udaipur (2 hours) and transfer to your hotel. With a wealth of enchanting lakes, Udaipur is a true oasis in Rajasthan. Dotted with marble palaces, hibiscus gardens, and fountain pavilions, Udaipur appeals to the imagination of poets, painters, and writers. The city's inherent romance, beauty, and remarkable past redolent with episodes of heroism and splendor continue to enthrall travelers. Udaipur, the City of Dawn, looms up like a vision in white. Overnight in Udaipur.
Day 9: Udaipur
After breakfast, proceed for the city tour of Udaipur. First, visit the City Palace and Museum. The largest palace complex in India, it is a blend of Mughal and Rajput influences. Also see the 17th century Jagdish temple and visit the Sahelion ki Bari, an ornamental pleasure garden with fountains and marble kiosks. Afternoon to explore the markets and meet with patrons of the tie and dye print famous to Udaipur. In the evening, enjoy a private boat ride on Lake Pichola. Overnight.
Day 10: Udaipur - Mumbai
Morning at leisure. Later, transfer to the airport for your flight to Mumbai. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel. Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is often considered the commercial and entertainment capital of India. The city also houses India’s Hindi film and television industry, affectionately termed as Bollywood. Optional private tour of the Bollywood studios in the afternoon. Overnight in Mumbai.
Day 11: Mumbai
In the morning, take a boat ride to Elephanta Caves. Dating back to the 7th century, the caves are located one hour from the harbor. Four rows of massive columns cut into solid rock from three magnificent avenues lead to the outstanding three-headed sculpture representing Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer. Dedicated to Shiva, the beauty and power of these phenomenal sculptures depicting the various manifestations of Shiva is overpowering. Later, enjoy an introductory tour of the notable attractions of Mumbai: Dhobi Ghat, Gateway to India, Crawford Market, Marine Drive, and the old mansions in the Colaba area. Evening at leisure and overnight.
Day 12: Mumbai - Cochin
Every year, millions of people come to Mumbai in search of a better future and leave a permanent imprint on its culture. The eclecticism and the industrious human spirit contribute to the culture of this city. Visit the Sassoon Docks, where you see the bustling city of Mumbai rise and shine. Get a glimpse into the underbelly of the city and gain insights into what makes this magnificent city tick. From seeing hundreds of newspaper vendors sort out newspapers of seven different languages and experiencing a fish auction with 20 tons of fish to seeing an ‘only green’ herb market sprawled across a popular bridge, Mumbai by Dawn truly defines the mercurial character of Mumbai. The best time to walk the docks is between 5 – 8 am. Return to your hotel for breakfast.
Later transfer to the airport for your flight to Kochi. Welcome to Kerala! Cochin, also known as Kochi, is one of the principal seaports of India and a growing center of international trade and information technology. The region has Arab, Dutch, French, Portuguese, and Chinese influences.
Your evening is reserved for a Keralan cooking demonstration at the home of a local family. Savor traditional delicacies that includes seafood, coconut, and plantains from a nationally recognized cooking instructor. A treasured evening! Overnight in Kochi.
Day 13: Cochin
After breakfast, enjoy a private tour of Kochi. Visit St. Francis Church, where Vasco de Gama was buried in 1524; the Dutch palace, built in 1555; and the Chinese fishing nets at the entrance of Cochin Harbor. Also explore the Jewish neighborhood and synagogue. Later, attend a traditional Kathakali dance performance. Originally performed only by men, this art form, with its intricate hand gestures, facial expressions and choreographed movements, evolved from an ancient martial art form. Evening at leisure and overnight.
Day 14: Cochin - Kumarakom
In the morning, drive to Kumarakom (2 hours). An enchanting backwater destination, Kumarakom is a charming village on the Eastern bank of Vembanadu Lake surrounded by paddy fields. The lake's majestic canals, streams and distributaries weave an intricate web. Enjoy a private cruise on the backwaters. Evening at leisure and overnight.
Day 15: Kumarakom - Munnar
After breakfast, drive to Munnar (3 hours). Munnar is a misty hillside retreat scattered with tea plantations. In the afternoon, tour the tea plantations and museum. Overnight in Munnar.
Day 16: Munnar - Madurai
In the morning, drive to Madurai (4 hours). Most cities in India have a legend surrounding their origins. Madurai is no exception. The story tells how Shiva looked down on the city and drops of nectar fell from his locks. And so it was named Madurai, or City of Nectar. Ancient Madurai was a center of Tamil culture, famous for its writers and poets. The history goes back to the 6th century BC when it traded with Greece and Rome. The Nayakas laid out the old town in the pattern of a lotus with narrow streets surrounding the Meenakshi Temple. In the evening, attend an Aarti at the temple. The ceremony takes place every evening when the temple bronze of Lord Shiva is carried to the bed chamber of Parvati. The procession is accompanied by religious prayer and temple music. Overnight in Madurai.
Day 17: Madurai - Tanjore
Drive to Tanjore and Trichy, both temple towns (3 hours). The capital of the Great Chola Empire, Thanjavur (Tanjore) also served as the capital for the Nayaka Empire and Maratha rulers. The Chola kings who were great patrons of the arts built most of the 93 temples. While they lavished their wealth on the temples, they also encouraged the belief in the divine right of kings and the practice of donating a part of one’s wealth to the temple for spiritual gain.
Visit the famous Brihadisvara Temple, a world heritage monument built between 985 and 1012 AD by Rajaraja I. It is a magnificent structure with a 14-story high vimana, a towered sanctuary that houses the main deity. A dome carved from an 80-ton single block of granite tops the vimana. An enormous Nandi bull, the traditional vehicle for Shiva, guards the entrance to the main sanctuary. According to legend, the Nandi Bull grew every year until it was threatening to overwhelm the temple. Ultimately a nail was driven into its back to prevent its growth. There are also 81 carvings showing the various poses of the classical Bharatnatyam poses, which is the first record of any classical dance form. Overnight.
Day 18: Tanjore - Pondicherry
In the morning, drive to Pondicherry (3 hours). Pondicherry, a former French colony, presents an unique combination of European culture and Indian traditions. Its history can be traced back to Agastya, the revered sage of the south who built his hermitage here in 1500 BC. It became a part of India in 1954, but traces of its history as a French colony still remain in its churches, cuisine, grid-pattern streets and colonial buildings. At leisure and overnight.
ST's Hotel Recommendation
Palais de Mahe
Located in the French Quarter at the intersection of colonial and contemporary, Palais de Mahe welcome guests with high ceilings, arched doorways, and spacious rooms. Take a stroll on the nearby promenade or enjoy a dip in the courtyard pool.
Day 19: Pondicherry
After breakfast, visit Auroville, a universal township whose residents from all over the world live in peace and progressive harmony. Afternoon at leisure to explore Pondicherry independently and overnight.
Day 20: Pondicherry - Mahabalipuram
After breakfast, drive to Mahabalipuram (2 hours) and visit the temple complex. The open-air museum of Tamil art in living rock is the work of students under the patronage of the Pallava rulers. Strewn along the coast are some outstanding examples of 7th century sculpture – cave temples, an enormous bas-relief depicting scenes from the Indian epic the Mahabharata, and an amphitheater of chariot shaped temples. The landmark of this marvelous collection is the Shore Temple, a world heritage monument. Evening at leisure to relax on the beach or explore the town. Overnight in Mahabalipuram.
Day 21: Mahabalipuram - Kanchipuram - Chennai and Departure
In the morning, drive to Chennai via Kanchipuram (3 hours). Kanchipuram is one of Hinduism’s seven most sacred cities. The city dates from the 2nd century BC, during the time of the early Chola reign. Successive dynasties built hundreds of temples, resulting in the name The Golden City of a 1000 Temples, with the earliest surviving temple dating from the 6th and 7th century. Apart from being a center of pilgrimage, Kanchipuram is also famous for its silk weavers who settled in this area in the 16th century. Silk, being a pure fabric, is used to dress the images of the various deities during festivals. The silk weavers came from neighboring Karnataka and made saris woven in jewel colors and decorated with gold threads. Most of the weavers work from their own homes that you will visit during this trip.
Arrive in Chennai and transfer to the airport for your onward flight. Bon Voyage!