Your group’s flight will arrive into Delhi in the morning, and you will transfer to the hotel. Today, you are free to explore Delhi, and to rest after your flight. The rooms may not be available until noon, but it is often earlier than this.
After breakfast you will be given a tour of the capital. In Old Delhi, you will visit Jama Masjid (India's largest mosque), and in New Delhi you will see the fine colonial buildings. Built by the British Raj in the early years of the 20th century, and set in spacious tree-lined avenues, these currently house various Indian governmental departments. Afterwards, you will visit the tomb of Humayun, one of the earliest Moghul Emperors. In the afternoon, you will be driven to the Pink City of Jaipur. The drive will take approximately 5 to 6 hours.
Today you will have a full day to explore Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan and one of the most beautiful and colourful cities in India. Built in the late 18th century, the city consists of a plethora of broad sandstone avenues, which were later painted pink. In the centre of Jaipur is the City Palace, formerly the residence of the Maharaja. It is now a fine museum which contains rare manuscripts, paintings, royal garments and weapons. Close to the palace is one of the most intriguing sights of India: the observatory of Jai Singh. This is an assembly of colossal astronomical instruments, which are made of marble and brass, and are set in a pleasant garden. You will also see another of Jaipur's impressive landmarks: the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds. A few miles from the main city is the splendid Amber Palace, which rises above a lake where you may see elephants bathing. The imposing hilltop palace contains large courtyards and exquisitely decorated interiors, including alabaster panelling and a chamber of mirrors. You can then walk up the hill through the enormous gateway to the courtyard. There are also a number of handicrafts that you can see in Jaipur, such as durries (woven rugs), carpets, printed cloth, semi-precious stones and leatherwear.
You will begin the day by driving to Agra through the deserted ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri. Formerly the capital of the Mughal Empire, this wonderfully preserved 'ghost town' was constructed by Emperor Akbar between 1570 and 1585, and reflects his ideals in art, religion and architecture. This impressive and well-preserved citadel became his capital in 1571, after the blessing of a local Moslem holy man correctly predicted the birth of a longed-for son, his successor the Emperor Jehangir. The mosque, designed to hold ten thousand worshippers, as well as the palaces, residences and halls, are all constructed from decorative red sandstone. The Mughal city lasted only 14 years before, in 1584, Akbar left Fatehpur Sikri to secure his outlying territories, leaving this city much as you will be able to see it today. The site is one of the most atmospheric in northern India, and, since it is positioned on a ridge, it overlooks the modern village below. Its wonderful state of preservation provides us with a taste of this city's majestic past.
You will have a very early start to see the incredible spectacle of the sunrise over the Taj Mahal. The Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan had this beautiful marble landmark built in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631. The Taj is serenely beautiful and never fails to amaze a first time visitor; the white marble exterior changes colour according to the position of the sun during the day, the beauty of which is matched only by the rich interior detail. Nearby is the imposing Red Fort of Akbar, the third of the Moghul Emperor. The mighty sandstone walls of the Red Fort enclose the beautiful white marble Pearl Mosque, and the palaces, halls, courtyards and fountains of his sons and successors, Jehangir and Shah Jahan. It is here that the latter spent his final years, imprisoned by his own son Aurangzeb. Agra also offers a wide variety of handicrafts including jewellery, carved marble statues, carpets, and clothes, and there should be time for some shopping! In the late afternoon, you will transfer to Tundla, 35km from Agra, where you will board the overnight train to Varanasi.
You will arrive in Varanasi in the morning, and transfer to the hotel (rooms may not be available until noon; however, efforts are made to make it earlier than this). You will have the afternoon free to explore this incredible city and its winding streets, ghats, and mystical temples, or to visit the nearby Sarnath Temple, where the Buddha gave his first sermon.
Varanasi, situated on the River Ganges, is one of the most holy cities in India, and is central to the Hindu religion. As such, the city lives and breathes Hinduism: there are thousands of pilgrims, wandering holy men (Sadhus), religious leaders, as well as casual visitors. Immerse yourselves in the city by exploring its maze of narrow lanes, the numerous temples, and watch the Hindu ceremonies that occur around the clock. Just before dawn, you will be taken out on the Ganges in a boat, to witness the extraordinary spectacle on the ghats, the steps leading down to the river. Every day, thousands of Hindu pilgrims come to these three miles of riverbank to immerse themselves in the waters of the holy river. Later, you will be driven to the impressive sandstone fort at Chunar, which overlooks the Ganges. Following a short visit to the castle, you will take a cruise boat down the Ganges, back towards Varanasi.
You will board the private bus, and make an early departure for Nepal. It's a spectacular drive across the northern plains, passing through lots of pretty Indian villages. At the Indian border, you will leave the bus, walk across through customs and immigration (approximately 500m), and enter Nepal! Once in Nepal, you will enter the Tarai, the narrow plain running along the southern breadth of the country. After a drive of approximately 1 hour, you will arrive in Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, where you will spend the night.
Day 9 - 10
Early this morning there will be a short, optional rickshaw ride around the Lumbini gardens. Buddha was born here, and the area is being developed into a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists from all over the world. Driving east and parallel to the mountains, you will reach Chitwan (this will take approximately 4 hours), and you will spent two nights here. Chitwan National Park, a combination of jungles and thick forest, was the former royal hunting ground, and was set aside as a conservation area in 1973. The park and the surrounding forest cover an area of 540km2 of the Tarai, and afford excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. You have an excellent chance of seeing the Indian one horned rhino, sambar and chital deer, guar, langur and rhesus monkey, mongoose, jackal, otter and crocodile. The more elusive animals include the tiger, leopard, sloth bear and Indian bison. Over 300 species of birds have also been recorded in this area. Wildlife activities are managed by experienced naturalists and shikharis, and include elephant-back safaris, nature walks, dugout canoe excursions, village tours, and bird-watching outings. Some or all of these activities can be arranged, depending on individual interests.
Today, you will journey to Pokhara. The distance from Chitwan is only 140km, but will take 4 - 5 hours. You will follow the gorge of the Narayani River, and soon arrive in the foothills of the Himalayas. The scenery changes dramatically: where there were forests and farmlands of the Tarai, you will now begin to see steep terraced hills, and, as we get closer to Pokhara, the formidable Annapurna Range. Positioned at approximately 1000m above sea level, Pokhara is much closer to the main Himalayan peaks than Kathmandu, and has many semi-tropical plants as well as a delightfully warm climate. Machhapuchhare, the 'Fishtail Mountain’, dominates the skyline, especially in the clear morning air. We stay in a simple hotel near Lake Phewa, with a wide choice of restaurants and other facilities close by.
You can relax next to, or on, the beautiful lake in Pokhara, or the more energetic can hike into the surrounding hills for even better views of the peaks. There are many wonderful day walks in and around the Pokhara valley. One of the most renowned is the drive up to Sarangkot, the hill directly overlooking the lake, and then the walk back to Pokhara. An early morning start is required to guarantee the clearest view, but, once there, the whole Annapurna range can be seen with virtually no intervening hills. This is one of the best of all viewpoints for Machhapuchhare. For many, though, Pokhara is an ideal place to relax, by renting a rowboat or bicycle for a few hours, and exploring the lake and its shoreline at a leisurely pace.
You will leave early for the long drive to Kathmandu, along the Chinese-built road running parallel to the main Himalayan range. The distance is only 200km, but it is a slow climb through the mountains and the journey will take most of the day (7 - 8 hours). The views, however, are stunning as we follow the Marsyangdi and Trisuli rivers, passing numerous villages and terraces stretching thousands of feet up the hillside. You will arrive in Kathmandu by late afternoon, and check into the centrally located hotel.
Today, you can explore Kathmandu and the valley. In the early morning there is the opportunity to take a scenic flight to see Mount Everest (this can be booked and paid for on arrival in Kathmandu; see the 'Extra Expenses and Spending Money' section below). There will also be a half-day sightseeing tour visiting Pashupatinath, the most important Hindu temple in the valley, and Bodnath, one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world. The rest of the time is free for individual exploration of Kathmandu. You may like to visit Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, with its old Royal Palace and intricately carved temples, or Swayambunath, the 'monkey temple', set on a hill overlooking the city. Kathmandu also offers the most wonderful and varied opportunities for souvenir shopping: clothes, trinkets, Tibetan and Nepalese handicrafts, as well as excellent bookshops. It also has a wide variety of restaurants, serving some of the best food from the sub-continent – but you can also find wonderful pizzas and apple pies!
After Brreakfast Depart from Kathmandu.