Custom India Travel Suggestions

So You Want to See It All? Here is our Grand India Tour

There is no way to see it all, of course. However, this itinerary includes the most important things anyone should experience in India. Keep in mind that this is merely a suggestion for a comprehensive India tour and that you can add other destinations and/or delete places that do not interest you. This is a suggestion for a custom itinerary so changes, additions and omissions can easily be made. Ultimately, the price depends on your final itinerary and the hotels you choose.

Day One: Arrival in India

Welcome! We meet you at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport and transport you to your hotel in style.

Day Two: Explore New Delhi

New Delhi. This is an easy day of jet lag-friendly sightseeing concentrating on the principal monuments of New Delhi. You visit the impressive India Gate with its eternal flame, the Presidential Palace and Parliament House, then stop to visit Qtab Minar, a 200-foot high minaret. You will also visit Humayuns Tomb, the first of the great Moghul tomb complex. Later, spend some time at the sprawling Chandni Chawk market, the perfect place to pick up a new sari.

Day Three: Unravel Old Delhi

Old Delhi. Today's program focuses on Old Delhi. Begin with the Red Fort, built by Emperor Shah Jehan (who also commissioned the Taj Mahal) between 1636 & 1658. Later, visit the Moghul Gardens, the Digamber Jain Temple which houses a hospital for birds, and the enormous Jama Masjid Mosque, built by Shah Jehan in 1630.

Day Four: Journey to Rajasthan

Jaisalmer. Morning flight to Jodhpur, then drive to Jaisalmer, 285 km away. Jaisalmer is often called "the golden city" because of the extensive use of yellow sandstone in local buildings. This afternoon you visit the massive Jaisalmer fort, also known as Sonar Quila, which is almost breathtaking inside and out. This is the first of a number of fortified palaces you will see during your time in India. Jaisalmer is a sparkling oasis surrounded by the Thar desert, so it is easy to imagine passing caravans and marauding Afghan armies. Gunga Din would have felt at home here.

Day Five: Jaisalmer Revealed

Jaisalmer. You have several options today, depending on what you feel like doing. This is an attractive city full of people-watching opportunities, so hanging out and soaking up the ambiance is always a possibility.

Jaisalmer is also full of havelis, the mansions of the merchant class of old. Many are still decorated with colorful frescos exactly as they were eight centuries ago. Most have elaborate facades with intricately-carved porticoes and balconies.

You should definitely include a visit to the Jain temple, which has seven beautifully curved temples--all connected with each other--built inside its walls. These temples were built in between from 12th century to 15th century of very fine stone.

Like many oasis towns, Jaisalmer has plenty of camels.You can arrange in advance to ride off into the desert for a few hours if you like. Shops outside the fort offer plenty of things made from camel leather. This is also a good place to buy embroidered textiles and silver.

Day Six: Towering Jodhpur

Jodhpur. Return to Jodhpur by road in the morning. Jodhpur is one of Rajasthan's most interesting cities, dating to 1459. The original towering walls that once surrounded and protected the city still remain—all ten kilometers with a eight gates and innumerable bastions.

Jodhpur is famous for its fifteenth century architectural achievements, including the massive Mehrangarh Fort, which dominates the city from its rocky perch. On the winding road that climbs to the fort you make a stop at Jaswant Thada, an ornate marble structure that was the cremation site for the Jodphr's rulers. The fortress itself is breathtaking in both size and majesty. Its seven gateways were built at an angle to repel hostile armies. The fortress houses a number of beautiful palaces, including Moti Mahal, Janaki Mahal, Chandan Mahal, Royal Durbar Takht, Rang Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, Phool Mahal, Umaid Vilas and Maan Vilas.

Day Seven: Umaid Bawan, the Maharaja's Pink Palace

Jodhpur. Visit The grandiose Umaid Bhawan Palace, one of the most spacious and meticulously planned in Rajasthan. It is constructed of marble and pink sandstone. Commissioned by Umaid Singh, the local Maharajah, construction began in 1929. Around the time it was finished India became independent and all of the country's Maharajas. You won't have to go far since the palace is also your hotel.

Among the many other things worth seeing here are Bal Samand Lake, a man-made lake with a "plesure palace" and expansive formal gardens, Girdikot & Sardar Markets, and Mandore, the twelfth century capital that predates Jodhpur. Mandore is home to a complex of temple and palace buildings best known for their intricate carvings and ornate decorations, as well as its enormous gardens. Or if you want some excitement and a look at rural village life, you can arrange for an optional Jeep safari to visit Bishnoi tribal villages.

Day Eight: The 1,444 Pillars of Ranakpur

Ranakpur. Depart in the morning for Ranakpur, which is renowned for its marvelous carvings in Amber stone, Ranakpur is one of the five holy places of the Jain Community. The temples were built around the 15th century A.D. during the reign of Rana Kumbha and are enclosed within a wall. The central Chaumukh (four-faced temple) is dedicated to the venerated Tirthankara Rishabhji. Open on all four sides, it enshrines the four images of Adinath, one of the many names for the diety Shiva. Sprawling over 48,000 square feet, the temple is an astounding creation with twenty-Nine halls and 1,444 intricately carved pillars.

Images of 24 "tirthankaras" (humans who have achieved enlightenment) are carved on the porticoes in a corridor around the shrine, each with a shikhar (spire adorned with little bells on the top). The gentle breeze wafting through the corridors moves the bells, creating celestial music all around the complex. The temple has four small shrines, with eighty spires supported by 420 columns.

Two temples, dedicated to saints Parasvanath and Neminath, face the main temple. The temples have beautiful erotic carvings similar to those in Khajuraho. Another temple worth visiting is the nearby Sun Temple, an eighth century A.D. temple dedicated to the Sun God. The temple has polygonal walls richly embellished with carvings of warriors, horses and other deities riding chariots.

Continue to Udaipur later in the day.

Day Nine: The City of Lakes

Udaipur. Begin the day with a tour of the majestic City Palace, which stands atop the highest hill in the city. Pure white, intricately scalloped walls surround the Palace. Its main entrance is through the triple arched gate, The Tripola, built in 1725. There is Suraj Gokhada, the Balcony of the Sun where the Suryavanshi Maharana (the descendent of the sun) of Mewar presented themselves in times of trouble to the people to restore their confidence. The More Chowk, or the Peacock Courtyard, gets its name from the vivid mosaics in glass that decorate its walls.

If you stay in the Lake Palace Hotel, your hotel is an attraction in its own right. Maharaja Jagat Singh II built the island palace for himself in 1754. Situated on picturesque Lake Pichola, the white marble structure appears to float magically on the shimmering waters of the lake. Rooms have wonderful vistas of the city in the distance, and the boat trip ashore is a pleasant tour in itself.

Day Ten: A Fortress Like No Other

Jaipur. Today you have a morning flight from Udaipur to Jaipur, the largest city in Rajasthan, and home to some of India's most spectacular treasures. Spend most of the day today the Amber Fort, which for six centuries was the ancient capital of the state of Rajasthan. You begin your visit with the unique experience of traveling by elephant to the top of the hill on which the fort is situated.

The highlights of the sprawling palace within the fortress walls are the Jagmandir & the Sheesh Mahal (pavilion of mirrors) which reflects a single candle flame in a thousand flickering lights.

This evening we recommend that you visit the local market and walk down the main street of Jaipur with shops on both sides used by the locals. Better still, visit the M.I. Road for a tall glass of Lassi or sweet buttermilk with thick layers of cream.

Day Eleven: Three Moghul Treasures

Jaipur. Begin the day with a visit to the astonishing outdoor Moghul Observatory, which is equipped with massive stone instruments, which for sheer accuracy are difficult to beat even today. Also visit the Maharaja's City Palace, the former royal residence and now a museum housing a vast number of artifacts. Before the day ends you make a stop at the beautiful and iconic Hawa Mahal (the Palace of Winds), a beautifully decorated facade of 953 windows in flushed pink

Day Twelve: Cross Off Everything on Your Jaipur Bucket List

Today is free for you to do whatever you feel like. There is quite a bit to do and see in Jaipur. No guide today unless you want to arrange one in advance, so you can do something adventurous on your own or just relax by the pool. Samode Haveli has a very special ambiance and you may want to take a few hours just to enjoy that. Suggestions:

How about a hot air balloon trip that will give you a different perspective of the city's palaces and forts?

Explore Mahavaton Ka Mohalla, the residential quarter of handicraftsmen and elephant-drivers which is reached through an impressive gateway This is a good place to come face to face with every day life, and see different kidns of crafts people at work.

Sample some mishri mawa, an only-in-Jaipur sweet made with milk, cardamom and pistachio nuts. The very best comes from a shop called Rawat Mishtan Bhandar on Station Road. It has been there for 135 years and has a cult following. Take in a polo match. Rajasthan has proudly produced some of the world's best players. Go to Rambagh Polo Ground in center of the city.

Buy some bangles for the girls at home. Even if you do not enjoy shopping, Jaipur is an exciting place to find all kinds of unusual things. This is among the best places in the world to buy precious stones. You will also find all kinds of textiles, things made from stone, carpets, hand-hammered brass and copper and more.

Day Thirteen: An Abandoned Fortress Home to "Friendly" Tigers

Drive to Ranthambore this morning. Ranthambore National Park's abandoned fortress, lakes and above all it's 'friendly' tigers have made it one of the most spectacular wildlife reserves in the world. The park is especially famous for its tigers and is one of the best places in the country to see these majestic predators in the wild. The tigers can sometimes be easily spotted even during the day.

You enjoy an afternoon safari through the park on an all-terrain vehicle with a rooftop platform that is tall enough to see over the top of the tall grasses that grow in parts of the park. The landscape is amazing. Dry deciduous forest with ancient Banyan and Peepul trees suddenly give way to lush green Oasis. Three major serve as watering holes for the herbivorous and carnivorous creatures that inhibit this national park which is studded as it is with Rajput pavilions and palaces and the imposing Ranthambore fort.

Day Fourteen: Two More Chances to Spot Tigers

Ranthambore.You enjoy a second park visit this morning Ranthambore is famous for its Tigers and provides some of the best sightings of the majestic animal. Other attractions are the leopard, sambar, blue bull, chital, chinkara, hyena, jackal, fox, jungle cat, ratel, sloth bear, langur and wild boar. Over 300 species of birds are to be seen - peafowl, parakeets, partridges, storks, egrets, flycatchers, owls etc and other migratory varieties in the winter months that include, black eagle, greylag goose, shelduck, pintails etc.

You will have a third park visit during your stay—either this afternoon or tomorrow morning

Day Fifteen: Shah Jehan Died Here

After a leisurely breakfast you continue by road to Agra, arriving in the afternoon. On arrival you visit the Agra Fort, where you see it's palaces and the Hall of Public and Private Audience. From here you get your first glimpses of the Taj Mahal in the distance with the Yamuna River in the foreground. Legend has that during the period of imprisonment of Emperor Shah Jehan here, he would gaze upon the Taj Mahal as a reflection in a mirror placed next to his bed.

Day Sixteen: The Taj Mahal, a Monument to Love

Agra and Gwalior.Today you are almost half way through your Grand Tour of India. You will mark this milestone with an early- morning visit to the Taj Mahal, a breathtaking sight as you see its white marble change colors as the sun ascends the horizon; from flushed pink to yellow white to blazing orange. The Taj is the world's favorite monument to love and romance. It was commissioned as a tribute by Shah Jehan to his queen who died in childbirth. Obviously he loved her very dearly. Skilled craftsmen brought in from Persia, Turkey, France and Italy as well 20,000 workers toiled for seventeen years in its construction. Today it is one of the greatest wonders of the world which has aptly been compared to “a tear drop on the face of the universe”, by the Indian Nobel Laureate Tago.

Later, continue to Gwalior by road. Gwalior is the capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh. You will soon notice Gwalior Fort, popularly called “Gibraltar of India”. If time permits you can also see the 16th century mausoleum of Sufi saint Ghous Mohammed and the tomb of Mian Tansen, a great singer and one of the 'Nine Jewels' of Emperor Akbar's court.

Close to the heart of the city is splendid Jai Vilas Palace, patterned on the style of the 'France's Versaille Palace combines Tuscan, Italian and Corinthian styles of architecture. Sounds like an unusual change of pace.

Day Seventeen: Orcha and Khajuraho

Onward to Khajuraho this morning with a mid-day stop in Orcha. This medieval town on the banks of the picturesque Betwa River was once a mighty kingdom. Thus, it is home to a number of princely palaces and splendid temples. From a distance the spires of the temples may cause you to think for a moment that you are approaching a modern city with a skyline of high rise buildings. The monumental edifices are in pristine condition, but this once-proud capital has become little more than a village. You stop for lunch and a look around before continuing to Khajuraho, the “Angkor Wat of India.”

Continue to Khajuraho, arriving early evening. Take time to wash off the dust and see what's on HBO.

Day Eighteen: A Big Dose of Erotic Art

Khajuraho.Today's full day visit of the Eastern and Western Group of temples takes you to the resplendent Hindu temples of Khajuraho known for the elaborate carvings depicting every completely impossible/improbable way for groups of human beings to have sex together. They were built between 10th and 12th centuries by the Chandela dynasty. Obviously people had a lot of fun together before television. Today, twenty-Two of the eighty-Five temples remain to recreate the celestial and terrestrial world of the Chandelas. The exquisite intricacy of the temples was made possible by the soft, buff-colored sandstone used in their construction.

If you did not see a tiger in Ranthambore, you have another chance in Khajuraho. Panna National Park is only about thirty minutes away. The park is a only half an hour away. This dense jungle setting is home to all kinds of animals and birds, and is one of India's largest tiger preserves. Panna is open from 15:00 to 18:00 so, three hours are probably enough to see everything.

Day Nineteen: India's Oldest, Holiest City

Fly to Varanasi, the oldest living city in India.

Mark Twain said of Varanasi: “Older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

Varanasi (nee Benares) is indeed old. It is the oldest living city in India and perhaps the world. Built on the shores of the holy Ganges River, this city is a center of Hindu religion, philosophy and spirituality. For the devout Hindu, Varanasi must be visited at least once in a lifetime to wash away sins. It's also an auspicious place for Hindus to die and/or be cremated. (It is common to see people carried on stretchers along roads many miles from the city.) Although macabre for foreigners, a visit to the "Burning Ghats" to see cremations that go on 24/7 is one of the most fascinating things to witness here.

Day Twenty: Varanasi: Death and Ritual Bathing

Varanasi. Early this morning you take a boat ride past the "Bathing Ghats" (ghats=stairways that lead into the river, where pilgrims come to take ritual baths and more) on the sacred Ganges. As the night mist lifts and the sun touches the spires of the bank side temples with gold, you can see thousands of Hindus performing their morning rites of prayer and ritual bathing on the shores of the river.

The balance of the day is largely up to you, although it should be planned in advance, if possible.

India's most beautiful silk available in India is produced in Varanasi and is celebrated for its use of gold and silver thread and elaborate embroidery. (No North Indian wedding takes place without the bride wearing a Varanasi Silk Sari!) So this is the place to shop for a special gift or something to decorate your home.

Walking around the river will bring you amazing encounters with people and things in the labyrinth of lanes that are far too narrow for cars. You will certainly come face to face with jivan muktas (‘liberated while still alive'), or holy people who own nothing and live outdoors.

You can walk along western bank of Ganges to see the ghats and visit the Vishwanath Temple and the Gyan Kupor Well along the way.

The temple is dedicated to the prime deity of Vanarasi – Vishwanath, a.k.a., Lord Shiva. It is also known as the “Golden Temple” for its 15.5 meter tall spire coated with one ton of gold plating, or so they say. The temple was destroyed during various invasions and was rebuilt by Rani Ahilyabai of Indore in 1776. Non-Hindus are not allowed to enter the temple, but you can get a better look at what is going on inside from one of the houses owned by entrepreneurial neighbors.

Next to the temple is Gyan Kupor Well, or the “well of knowledge.” Drinking the water is said to lead to a higher spiritual plane. Unfortunately a steel screen covering the well prevents dipping.

If that is not enough, there are around 80,000 shrines to various deities and at least 10,000 temples in the city to explore.

Sarnath, only about ten km from Varanasi, is the place where the lord Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya. Some of the important Buddhist monuments at Sarnath are the Dhamekha stupa, the Chaukhandi stupa and monasteries and temples of different schools of Buddhism from Japan, China, Thailand, Burma and others.

The beautiful campus of Varanasi Hindu University is also worth a visit and is home to one of India's most important museums.

Day Twenty One: Chennai Pit Stop

Morning flight to Chennai (nee Madras). On arrival you spend most of the rest of the day seeing the city formerly known as Madras. It is one of the most important cultural and administrative centers on India's eastern coast and you will enjoy landmarks and colonial architecture left by the British

Day Twenty Two: Pilgrimage to Kanchipuram

Continue to Kanchipuram, a highly significant city for Hindu pilgrims. If you are looking for exquisite hand-woven silk, this is the place to shop.

Day Twenty Three: Magnificent Mahabalipuram

Off to Mahabalipuram, not far away on India's Eastern coastline. A group of temples and religious monuments carved from solid rock along the seaside is one of India's most spectacular sites. The lure of the fine beaches here might tempt you to spend an extra day or two.

Day Twenty Four: A Bit of France

Continue to Pondicherry, once a French protectorate. In the French Quarter of the city you might as well be in Paris. The architecture is French, and so are the street signs. You will find French-style shops and restaurants, and hear nothing but French being spoken.

Day Twenty Five: Drive and Fly

Return to Chennai by road and catch a quick flight to Madurai.

Day Twenty Six: Madurai

Madurai is one of India's oldest cities, with a history dating back to the 6th century BC. Madurai's trade with the ancient Greeks and Romans is well known. It was the capital of the Pandayan Empire till the 14th century and is now an important commercial center of South India.

In the afternoon, visit The Meenakshi Temple, which is a superb example of Dravidian architecture and sculpture. The temple has two sanctra, one dedicated to Shiva and the other to his spouse Meenakshi. The highlight of Meenakshi temple is the "Hall of Thousand Pillars" - all of which are elaborately sculpted A set of musical pillars carved out of a single block of granite that emit melodic noted when tapped, splendid mandapas and a large temple tank are all part of the huge complex.

Day Twenty Seven: Tigers By a Lake

This morning we continue to Periyar, which is located in the Thekkady district of Kerala. Here in the mountain range called the "Western Ghats" is the vast lake formed by the dam across the Periyar River. Around this lake is one of the most fascinating wild life sanctuaries. Covering an area of 777 square kilometers of lush green tropical forests, it is the natural habitat of the small Indian Elephant, bison, spotted deer, sambar, wild boar, bear and other unusual beasts. A variety of colorful of birds like the Malabar Grey hornbill, Grey jungle fowl and the Jungle Myna can be seen here. A late afternoon boat ride is one of the best times for game viewing. Do remember that it is not so much to see the animals but to enjoy the scenery. Return to Serenity for overnight.

Day Twenty Eight: More Periyar

You spend a second day touring Periyar.

Day Twenty Nine: Houseboat from Kumarakom

Continue to Kumarakom, on the edge of the world's largest bird sanctuaries. From here you board an overnight houseboat to cruise the backwaters of Kerala.

Day Thirty: Queen of the Arabian Sea

Arrive in Alleppey at the end of your cruise, and drive to Cochin.In the afternoon, an optional walk through the Jewish Colony and a fascinating boat ride through the Cochin Harbor.

Popularly known as the "Queen of the Arabian Sea," Cochin is rich both in culture and tradition. Because of its strategic location a the tip of India the city has been colonized by both armies and merchants from China to Europe. Cochin casts a magical spell on you, transporting you down the lanes of history to Dutch, Portuguese and British  merchant houses to a land of lagoons, swaying coconut palms and Chinese Fishing nets silhouetted against the sunset. The fishing villages at the mouth of the harbor are especially interesting as they have not change much in centuries.

Another interesting place is the Bolghatty Island, a narrow stretch of island where you visit Bolghatty Palace, built by the Dutch in 1744. The building was once a governor's palace and later the home of British governors. Just as interesting is the Dutch Palace, which was  built by the Portuguese and presented to the Cochin Raja in 1555. (Confused yet?) The glory of the palace lies in the murals, which are in the best traditions of the Hindu temple art. There are scenes from the Indian epics--Ramayana and Mahabhartha--depicted on the walls.

The Jewish Quarter, in the Mattancherry, is one just one block long. The original residents here sold fruits, vegetables and spices or worked as oil prossers or carpenters. The Spice market is still located on the narrow street. Out of seven Synagogues that graced this street only the Paradeshi is open. You can also visit the nearby Jewish CeMETAry, with stone sepulchers above ground, inscribed in Hebrew and Malayalam. From the burial ground, a walk through several blocks will bring you to the Magen David decorated, wrought iron gates of the Paradeshi Synagogue. Along the way one can identify buildings that once housed synagogues and prayer halls, as well as many very old homes.

The Synagogue also contains silver and gold decorated Torah Scrolls, an oriental carpet in front of the Ark (gift from Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie), two brass columns, two bimot and Torah crowns of solid gold set with gems given to Cochin Jews by neighboring Rajas. The greatest treasure however is - The great scrolls of the old testament, copper plates in which the grant of privileges made by the Cochin rulers to Joseph Rabban in 379 A.D, were recorded. They are stored in an iron box called a pandeal and carefully guarded by elders. Advance notice is required to arrange a visit here.

Day Thirty One: Relaxation and a Powerful Dance

Cochin. Some down time is in order in idyllic Cochin. In the evening, a visit to the performance of Kallaripattu - the ancient form of Martial Art, and Kathakalli, a dance form unique to Kerala that retells the story of Mahabharata, Ramayana or Bhagwat Purana - the three epics of India. The dance form is unique in the sense that they always depict lessons of good prevailing over evil and is enacted by dancers in outrageous make-up and only through facial and body expressions accompanied by musical instruments. Never a word is uttered. One has to see it to believe the high-energy performance.

Day Thirty-Two: A Mumbai Martini

Continue by air to Mumbai (nee Bombay). We greet you and assist where necessary, then transport you to your hotel.

Day Thirty Three: Caves and a Gateway

Start the day with a visit to the Elephanta Caves situated on an island and famous for the stone carvings inside. From the Gateway of India you will be ferried to the island. Climb the flight of stairs top reach Cave Temple, the pride of Elephanta. As you enter the cave observe the emotional nuances adorning the panels depicting Natraja, a vivid portrayal of Shiva- the destroyer. Inside the cave gaze up in the large pillared hall with rows of columns that appear to hold up the roof of the cave. We will take you deep into the inner recesses of the cave to show you the famous Maheshamurti. You can also see some more mesmerizing panels in the cave. The statue of The Trinity - of three Indian Gods, Bramha, Vishnu and Mahesha are the most thought provoking as they represent the three aspects of life; Creation (Bramha), Preservation (Vishnu) and Destruction (Mahesh). All three complete the Circle of Life.

In the afternoon, visit the Gateway of India that was originally envisaged as a ceremonial disembarkation point for passengers alighting from P & O Steamers. Walk up to the Prince of Wales Museum, a distinctive Raj-era building housing a superb collection of diverse Indian paintings. Also visit Victoria Terminus, one of the world's great railway stations and the city's most exuberant Italian Gothic building, looking like a lavishly decorated cathedral or palace. Next, on to Crawford Market, where Bombay shops for fruits and vegetables.Dhobi Ghaat is where most of Bombay's clothes are still washed communally by hand. End the day with a memorable sunset drive through Marine Drive, one of Bombay's most popular promenades.

Day Thirty Four: It All Ends Here

We deliver you to the airport for your onward flight. If you are lucky enough to have the morning off there are quite a few things you can add to your Mumbai adventure on your own. Start with St. Thomas' Cathedral, which exudes the strong essence of the British Colonial life in Victorian times. You almost expect Shirley Temple to sit in the next pew. If you are in the mood to shop, head for either Fashion Street or Central Cottage Industries Emporium. (Your hotel will point you in the right direction.) For a taste of the good life, ask a taxi to take you to Bandra, Mumbai's Beverly Hills, where you might catch a glimpse of a Bollywood star.

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