Time travel into a remote past with us on our 2013 North India tour with the colorful and joyous celebrations of Diwali, the "Festival of Lights and the Chhath Puja Festival, honoring the sun. Journey into a land of graceful gracious people, traditional villages, charming haveli townhouses in old cities, women on scooters passing camel carts, heritage monuments like the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri, medieval towns like Orchha and Karauli, and ancient Varanasi on the Ganges River – “older than time itself,” said Mark Twain – wildlife parks home to the tiger and a bird sanctuary, the world’s greatest heronry.
Like a leaf to light, the outside world has from time immemorial been irresistibly attracted to India, this exotic land of gems and spices, tigers and elephants, spirituality and splendor. India is the last living ancient civilization.
Our North India tour begins in New Delhi, a spacious garden city with tree-lined avenues and beautiful parks; here we'll see great landmarks of the British colonial period, monumental expressions of an imperial vision. In Old Delhi, we visit the great Red Fort, the Friday Mosque and bustling bazaars. The 12th-century Qutab Minar, the world's tallest victory tower, and the buildings around it are an amazing fusion of Indian and Islamic architecture and styles, a stunning example of the way India has always embraced diverse people and traditions and made them her own.
Entirely walled, with massive gateways, grand palaces and colorful bazaars and all painted in vibrant pink ("the soft, rich tint of strawberry ice cream," said Mark Twain when he visited the town in 1879), Jaipur, capital city of the State of Rajasthan, India's "land of kings," was built in the 18th century. Planned according to ancient Hindu architectural canons, the layout of the city is in harmony with the structure of the universe. Today, Jaipur is a vibrant town, peopled with mustachioed men in phosphorescent turbans and bold women in bright sweeping skirts. Traditional products, still made in pre-industrial ways and transported within the city on camel carts, overflow the shops: precious stones, gold and silver jewelry, the distinctive Rajasthani upturned, pointy-toed shoes, and a kaleidoscopic array of tie-dye and woodblock hand-printed fabrics.
The vast Jaipur City Palace is a harmonious blend of Hindu and Islamic design. The raja still lives here but most of the palace is a museum with elegant galleries displaying the elaborate finery of Rajasthani royalty. The Jantar Mantar has monumental, surreal "instruments for measuring the heavens." The gigantic stone sundials in this royal observatory tell time accurately to the second. The Hawa Mahal or Palace of the Winds is a façade with 953 windows, each with a different stone lattice design, so ladies of the court could sit unseen and watch royal processions pass through the street below.
Long before Jaipur was built, the kingdom's capital was Amber Fort, just a few miles away. Built in tiers, it nestles secure amid high rugged hills. This is a fairy tale of a place with beautifully decorated pavilions, water channels, crenellated walls and panoramic views over the countryside. Its ornate palaces contain rooms covered in mosaics of countless convex mirrors, which delighted kings and queens as a single flame transformed them into star-filled skies.
Agra is home to the Taj Mahal: floating in its garden, ethereal and insubstantial as a dream, this architectural masterpiece, archetype of purity of form, is grand in conception yet subtle and beautiful in detail. Nearby Fatehpur Sikri is the Emperor Akbar's perfectly preserved 16th-century palace complex and it brings to life the enlightened atmosphere of his court.
India is home to a rich, exotic and diverse animal population including the tiger, elephant, and more than 1250 species of birds. We explore two of the subcontinent's finest wildlife sanctuaries.
Once the hunting preserve of the Maharajas of Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park is one of the world's most picturesque game reserves. Bengal tigers roam amid its fort's ancient ramparts in a magnificent rugged, jungle-covered landscape dotted with palaces and royal pavilions.
Keoladeo Ghana National Park at Bharatpur is one of the world's great bird sanctuaries. A World Heritage Site, it provides up-close views of tens of thousands of birds of hundreds of species: storks, spoonbills, ibises, egrets, cranes, cormorants, parakeets, lapwings, hornbills, woodpeckers, ducks, geese, owls, and eagles, to name only some of the most prominent. We view the birds from cycle rickshaws on the shaded embankments of this oasis created by the maharaja as his private hunting grounds.
Before India gained independence in 1947, it comprised hundreds of independent princely states each with its own ruler, fort, palace and even its own currency, passports and postage stamps. One of these, Karauli, has been called "history's sideshow," for it never rose to great power, but it was never razed either and so the town retains traditional flavor and charm. Famous for its orange-red sandstone, a bastioned wall of it surrounds the town and its narrow streets are paved with it too. The old City Palace is a treasure trove of architecture, stone carvings, gorgeous jali (stone screen) work and classic Rajasthani paintings. The palace's main or Durbar Hall is spellbindingly beautiful. Witness devotional life at Karauli’s famed Krishna temple, and visit the bazaar for its local color and local handicrafts. Watch colorful lac bangles being made before our eyes. We stay in the gracious and atmospheric residential palace of the maharajah.
Surrounded by forested countryside, Orchha has grand and monumental "Escheresque" palaces, temples and nobles' mansions on a fortified river isle, and a charming village ambience. One fabulous palace was built for a Mughal Emperor's single night's stay.
Today Khajuraho is a small village in Central India, but a thousand years ago kings of the Chandela dynasty erected eighty-five temples here. Opulently decorated, each temple is an architectural masterpiece, a microcosmic mountain adorned with exquisitely carved, sensuous, often explicitly erotic sculpture. Abandoned and neglected for more than 700 years, the Khajuraho temples today are a World Heritage Monument and the most alluring temple site in India.
In Varanasi, India’s most sacred city, join pilgrims from all over India in witnessing and being part of ancient rituals and a timeless way of life. Ride in bicycle rickshaws and walk through the city's fascinating lanes and dazzling bazaars. Go boating on the sacred river Ganges in the rosy light of sunrise and sunset; glide by temples and palaces, and ghats thronged with priests and worshippers and discover the ancient world living on this river, a timeless stream of wisdom and myth.
On this North India tour, we journey by air, rail and road to India’s greatest attractions and wonders and stay in luxurious modern and heritage hotels, noblemen's mansions - opulent fantasies of art and design. We enjoy the sumptuous food of India’s varied cuisines, and continental as well.
The price of our North India TIMELESS CITIES, TEMPLES AND TIGERS FESTIVAL Tour is $5700 ($1400 single supplement), which includes all accommodation (all rooms a/c with attached bath), meals (B, L, D) soft drinks and mineral water, entrance fees, travel by a/c car and private bus, 2 short morning train journeys in deluxe a/c chair cars and all airport transfers. Group size 10 members. Carol and Martin will guide you throughout the trip.
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