Take in towering forts and palaces, visit local villages, wander centuries-old ruins, and witness the sunrise over the Taj Mahal and the River Ganges on this full and immersive tour of Delhi, Rajasthan, and Varanasi.
Begin by setting foot in the hustle and bustle of India’s capital, Delhi. You'll be welcomed by our expert local guide, who will help you start to make sense of the labyrinth of streets and process the vivid sensory overload. After exploring the capital's many striking sights, it's on to Agra, home to Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal, both of which we'll take time to admire. Next up: Jaipur, also known as the "Pink City," where we'll wind our way in and out of bazaars, palaces, and havelis and experience the Holi Festival, one of the country's most vibrant celebrations. After brushing the layers of powdered color off our faces and clothes, we'll continue to Jodhpur, the "Blue City" overlooked by the soaring Mehrangarh Fort. Afterward, a jeep safari will bring us to the traditional village of Bishnoi, before we head to Udaipur, famous for its lake palaces. At the end of our time in Rajasthan, we'll fly to the holy city of Varanasi, where the rituals of life and death are carried out on the banks of the River Ganges.
This dramatic adventure is limited to a group of 16 explorers, and organized in partnership with World Expeditions, an adventure travel company that has been operating in India since 1978. Combining some of the world's most breathtaking sights with delicious local foods and plenty of time to relax and wander on your own, this trip caters to the curious, hungry, and tenacious.
- Holi, the Hindu “Festival of Colors”: In the heart of Jaipur, hear local music, dance, and celebrate as colored powder and water is tossed into the air and over revelers.
- Taj Mahal and Agra Fort: We promise that they won't disappoint.
- Royal cities and traditional villages of Rajasthan: Wander the ramparts of epic, centuries-old fortresses and the alleyways of small villages alike as we roam the contours of this region.
- Udaipur's lake palaces: Relax in this unique and picturesque city as the palace lights glow on the surface of a meandering network of lakes.
- Sunrise over the River Ganges: Sit by the steps on the bank of the Ganges and watch the city and its daily routines slowly spin into motion on and along the water.
A $500 nonrefundable deposit is required to secure your spot; we have a very limited capacity, and we expect the trip to fill extremely quickly. The trip will cost $3,490—the $500 deposit plus $2,990 final payment—and will cover all fixed costs including accommodations, local guides, and all meals and activities listed in the itinerary.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TRIP?
If you have any questions that aren't answered in the itinerary, or would like to chat with someone about whether you think this adventure is the right fit for you, please don't hesitate to contact us! Email us at [email protected] or give us a call at 1-800-567-2216 anytime between 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. ET.
Arrive in Delhi
- Today, arrive in Delhi, check into our hotel, and take some time to settle in and relax. You'll be met at the airport by your guide and transferred to the hotel.
- If you have the time and energy, feel free to explore this bustling and often chaotic capital city. Comprised of the conspicuously contrasting Old and New Delhi, the city is home to a wide array of architecture and attractions, not to mention the Sulabh Museum of Toilets. Old Delhi was the capital of Muslim India between the 12th and 19th centuries, and you'll see the region's Muslim history illustrated by the many grandiose mosques, monuments, and forts. New Delhi is the imperial city, designated India's capital in 1911 by Britain's King George V, who transferred political power from Calcutta (Kolkata).
- If you plan to arrive a few days early to explore more of Delhi on your own, we're more than happy to arrange extra hotel nights and guiding. You can wander the local markets and metro, check out Jantar Mantar and the Indira Gandhi Museum, or relax in the magical Lodi Gardens.
- Around 6 p.m. this evening, gather in the hotel lobby for a welcome briefing before heading out for our first dinner together as a group.
- This morning, we'll take a leisurely breakfast and then set out on a sightseeing tour of Old and New Delhi. We'll visit Delhi's most iconic sights: the Red Fort, Jama Masjid and Raj Ghat, Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb, Birla Temple, and India Gate, and drive past government secretariat buildings.
- Designed by Shah Jahan, the artistic mastermind behind the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort is famous for its delicate carvings and Royal Chambers. The Raj Ghat is the cremation ground of the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi.
- Lunch will be of your choice, with recommendations from your guide. From there, we'll continue to Humayun’s Tomb, believed to have been designed in 1565 by the widow of Humayun, the second emperor of the Mughal Empire. Its design and layout are based on the description of Islamic paradise gardens and are known to have inspired the Taj Mahal and many later Mughal tombs. After that, take some time to look closely at Qutub Minar, whose walls are inscribed with intricately carved quotations from the Koran. It is one of the most pristine towers of the medieval world.
- This morning, after breakfast at the hotel, we'll drive south to Agra (approximately 3.5 hours). Once we arrive in this legendary city, located along the River Yamuna, we'll check into our hotel and take a break for lunch.
- This afternoon, we'll visit the magnificent and expansive Agra Fort. Its grand courtyards, royal pavilions, and palaces are fitting testimony to the 16th- and 17th-century reigns of Akbar the Great, his son Jahangir, and, later, Shah Jahan—Agra was the capital of the Mughal Empire. Under Shah Jahan, the fifth emperor, Agra was witness to the golden age of Mughal architecture, which produced structures that are admired to this day.
- The most impressive part of the Fort is the Diwan-i-Am, or Hall of Audience, where the Emperor received public subjects, and the Diwan-i-Khas, where he received foreign dignitaries.
- We'll also explore Itimad-ud-Daulah, which also goes by the nickname "Baby Taj." This small but incredibly detailed tomb was built before the Taj Mahal by Nur Jahan, queen of Jahangir, for her parents. This was the first Mughal building to be faced with white marble, as well as the first to incorporate "pietra dura" (inlaid precious stones).
- At the end of a day that will leave you in awe, we'll dig into some local specialties. Agra is a great place to try barbecued meats (kebabs) mixed with Indian spices. Petha, pieces of white pumpkin dipped in sugar syrup, and gajak, a crumbly sweet made with sesame and jaggery, are delicious local sweets and sold everywhere.
- We'll turn in early to get plenty of sleep before tomorrow's spectacular morning.
Taj Mahal & Fatehpur Sikri
- This morning, awake early to reach the Taj Mahal for sunrise. This is a sight you won't want to miss.
- The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan in the mid-17th century as a mausoleum for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. On the death of his beloved Mumtaz, in sorrowful extravagance, Shah Jahan built her this white marble memorial—the accumulated labor of 20,000 men over 17 years. We'll learn details of the building's backstory from our guide as we stroll the slowly sunlit grounds.
- No matter how many photos or videos you've already seen, gazing up at the soaring and strong yet simultaneously delicate structure for yourself will take your breath away.
- Afterward, we’ll return to the hotel for breakfast and begin the drive to Jaipur (approximately 6 hours).
- En route, we'll visit Fatehpur Sikri, a ghost city of red sandstone. Originally built by Akbar the Great in 1569, it was deserted 14 years later due to its failed water supply. Passing through its majestic courtyards flanked by minarets begins to conjure up dreams of a mysterious past. There’s the imperial Jami Masjid; the tomb of Shaik Salim Chisti, who predicted the birth of Akbar’s son Jahangir; the Panch Mahal, a strange building that resembles a Buddhist temple; and a cloistered courtyard that was the Hall of Public Audience. Akbar, the emperor, once treated this black-and-white-paved courtyard as a chessboard, with slave girls as figurines.
- We'll arrive in the next city, Jaipur, by dinner time. After a hearty meal, we'll head to bed at our hotel.
The Holi Festival!
- Start the day with a relaxed breakfast at our hotel and enjoy your morning at leisure. Take some time to wander around Jaipur, the largest city in Rajasthan.
- In the afternoon, our guide will take us around the city to experience the renowned Holi Festival. Holi is a religious festival celebrated by Hindus that marks the arrival of spring—the vibrant season of hope and joy. Holi is also considered a day to shake off conflict and regret, to forgive and forget. Over the course of one day and one night, thousands of people celebrate by throwing colored powder and colored water at one another. You can anticipate singing, dancing, drums, and other forms of enthusiastic revelry as powdered rainbows fly through the air. Whether you actively participate in the festival or just watch from the sidelines, you're sure to end up a Jackson Pollock painting.
- After washing the explosions of color off our faces and clothes, we'll gather for dinner and another night at our Jaipur hotel.
Amber Fort & Off to Nagaur
- After breakfast at the hotel, we'll set out for a morning adventure to the Amber Fort, a jaw-dropping, honey-colored fortress-palace in the Aravalli Hills just north of the center of the town of Amer. The fort's sombre, red sandstone exterior belies the richness of the royal apartments, which open onto striking views of a gorge. Believed to have been built in the late 900s, the palace was later home to the Rajput maharajas and their families.
- We'll explore the interior of this massive edifice, including the Hall of Victory, where you'll see a galaxy of decorative art: panels of alabaster with fine inlay work and the intriguing Chamber of Mirrors.
- After properly taking in the majesty of the fort, we'll continue on to Nagaur, about a 5-hour drive. Upon arrival, we'll settle into our hotel, have dinner, and reflect on history and magnitude of all that we've seen together so far.
Jodhpur to Jeep
- After breakfast at the hotel, we'll drive to Jodhpur (approximately 3 hours). Founded in 1459, Jodhpur is now the second largest city in Rajasthan. It is often called the "Blue City" thanks to the particular hue of many of the buildings in the city's old district.
- In the afternoon, we'll clamber into jeeps for an excursion to a local Bishnoi village. The Bishnoi, a Hindu sect, are a rural tribal group. These communities of potters, weavers, leather embroiderers, and camel herders have achieved acclaim for their religious conservationist beliefs. They are vegetarians, follow the principles of nonviolence, and reverently protect flora and fauna.
- In the evening, we'll enjoy a meatless dinner in the village before returning to our Jodhpur hotel.
Jodhpur Explorations & Journey to Narlai
- In the morning, we'll take a spin around Jodhpur with a city tour that will bring us to the clock tower, Jaswant Thada, Chokelao Bagh, and Mehrangarh Fort. The clock tower is a prominent landmark and close to the vibrant Sadar Market. Halfway up the long road ascending toward Mehrangarh Fort, we'll encounter Jaswant Thada, the traditional cremation ground for past rulers of Jodhpur.
- Rising above the city is Mehrangarh Fort, one of the largest—and most breathtaking—forts in India. Built in the mid-16th century, the vast fort complex holds multiple palaces, and now one of Rajasthan's most well-curated museums. The story goes that Rao Jodha, the founder of Jodhpur, asked a famous female Hindu warrior named Karni Mata to lay down the fort's first stone.
- At the foot of the fort, we'll find the Chokelao garden. Over 200 years old, it has been restored to its 18th-century appearance.
- In the afternoon, we'll continue on to Narlai (about 3 hours). Upon arrival, we'll settle into our hotel, have dinner, and rest at the end of a majestic, gold- and blue-hued day.
Off to Udaipur & Temples of Ranakpur
- After breakfast, it's on to Udaipur! We'll make a pitstop during the 3-hour drive to visit the Jain temples at Ranakpur. This cluster of temples, made of intricately sculpted white marble, is made up of more than a thousand pillars and dates back to 15th century.
- Udaipur is also known as the "City of Lakes," due to its orientation around a complex system of lakes. It's rare that you will ever be far from the water's edge. After checking into our hotel, take the evening to roam on your own, do some shopping in the local markets, and enjoy the beauty of the city. At night, the city is particularly picturesque, with light emanating from what look like floating palaces and reflecting on the surrounding waters.
- Over dinner, we can compare who saw more references to a particular 1983 James Bond movie that filmed certain scenes at several of Udaipur's palaces.
- In the morning, we'll enjoy a city tour of Udaipur, which will include its City Palace, on the banks of Lake Pichola, and Saheliyon-ki-Bari, a garden built in early 18th century for a former queen and her many personal attendants.
- We'll also visit Jag Mandir, a beautiful island palace on Lake Pichola. From there, the afternoon is yours to explore. Despite the many attractions in and around the city, the real joy of Udaipur lies in soaking up its atmosphere—slowly taking in the view from a rooftop restaurant, wandering around the relatively hassle-free inner-city, or sipping a drink on the edge of the lake.
- We'll come back together for dinner and rest at the hotel.
Fly to Varanasi & Visit Sarnath
- After breakfast at the hotel, we'll have time to pack up our things and transfer to the airport for our flight to Varanasi.
- Varanasi—also known as Benares, Banaras, or Kashi—is considered by many the spiritual capital of India. Located in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, its millennium-long history is steeped in religious culture. The city's great mosques and temples—of which there are more than 2,000—provide fascinating insight into the heart of Indian culture.
- During your two days, take the time to appreciate these sights through both guided tours and personal exploration. Depending on the timing of our airport arrival and transfer to the hotel, you may have the opportunity in the afternoon to visit Sarnath, a nearby city home to the deer park where Lord Buddha is known to have preached his first discourse. Sarnath, whose name derives from Saranganath, meaning "Lord of the Deer," is one of the four holy sites in India that Buddha sanctioned for pilgrimage.
- We'll take dinner together after our full day of travel and turn in for some well-earned rest before tomorrow's special early rise.
Sunrise Over the Ganges
- Rise early this morning to take in an unforgettable sunrise over the River Ganges. As we watch boats float by and the sun sets the water's surface aglow, we'll also be able to observe the long string of bathing ghats where pilgrims perform their morning cleansings in the river, as well as the burning ghats where cremations are undertaken.
- We'll visit the old city, which stands on the west bank of the sacred Ganges and extends back from the ghats in a winding maze of narrow streets. Continuing through the city, we'll see a range of its many temples, including the temple of Bharat Mata, which is dedicated to Mother India, Durga Temple with its hundreds of monkeys, and the white marble temple of Tulsi Mana.
- The city is also home to Banaras Hindu University (BHU), the largest residential university in all of Asia. Its student body of more than 35,000 includes all genders, castes, and religions. We'll have a chance to visit part of the BHU campus, a prominent city fixture, before time for dinner and relaxation.
YOUR ATLAS OBSCURA EXPEDITION TO INDIA INCLUDES
- All lodging in double-accommodation rooms in modern, well-equipped hotels throughout the trip. (Single supplement for a private room is available for $570. Otherwise we'll work to place singles together.)
- Domestic flight from Udaipur to Varanasi.
- Transfers to and from the airport.
- All entrance fees, activities, and meals, as per the itinerary.
- Private transfers and excursions with your local guides.
- A full briefing packet for each explorer, including country information, final itinerary, logistical and contact information, recommended reading list, and packing list.
- A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura fans, excited to explore all that this unique region has to offer!
NOTE ON ITINERARY
Itineraries and pricing are subject to change. This particular tour has been designed with specific activities and events in mind, and schedules and availabilities may change in coming months due to inclement weather, forces of nature, and other circumstances beyond our control.
NOTE ON FACILITIES & PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Adventure is always accompanied by an element of the unexpected. The most important thing to bring with you is a flexible, positive, and open-minded attitude. We also recommend a medium level of physical fitness, since we'll be embarking on very active days together. You should be comfortable walking between three and five miles per day without difficulty, and spending extended periods of time on your feet. If you're uncertain about whether this trip is a good fit, please contact us and we're happy to discuss with you further.
You will be charged a $500 deposit to hold your space; this deposit is nonrefundable after three days from booking. The final payment of $2,990 will be due by November 30, 2017. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. For travelers wishing to have single accommodations during the trip, an additional $570 will be included in the final payment.
TRAVELERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR
- International airfare to/from India.
- Travel insurance (required).
- Baggage charges.
- Tips and gratuities.
- Camera and video fees at sites and monuments.
- Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.
- If applicable, application for an Indian visa.