Arrive Delhi; transfer to Jaipur, 5 hour drive to Jaipur.
Built in the late 18th century, Jaipur 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 windy our way through the villages of rural India to Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (approximately a 5 hour drive). You will stay in a hotel near the park entrance, and make two game drives into the park: one in the late afternoon, and one in the morning. Ranthambore is one of India's tiger reserves under Project Tiger. After the project’s initial success, poaching has drastically reduced the tiger population, and the chance of spotting a tiger is slim, but not obsolete! There is other wildlife, too, such as several species of deer, crocodiles, and bird life, including purple heron, kingfishers, cormorants, parakeets, jacanda, waders and partridges.
In the morning, you will take your second game drive, and attempt to find that elusive tiger! Following this, you will begin your journey to Agra via 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. This is a very full, but very rewarding, day.
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 emperors. 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! Later in the day, we will transfer to Agra train station in order to catch the overnight sleeper train to Varanasi.
We arrive in Varanasi in the morning and transfer to our hotel. 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. There will be time for you to explore the emporiums that specialise in silk and brocades, or maybe have a massage by the banks of the Ganges. There are various optional sightseeing trips that your leader will organise for the group, during your two days in Varanasi, if you wish.
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. The rest of the day is free for you to continue to explore the city, relax at the hotel, or go on optional sightseeing excursions. In the late afternoon you will board the overnight train back to Delhi.
You will arrive in Delhi in the morning and transfer to the hotel. Today you are free to relax, explore the sites of New and Old Delhi (an optional sightseeing trip will be organised if you wish) or you can do some last minute shopping!
After breakfast depart transfer.