“When you see a regular India itinerary, it usually encompasses the same cities and sites repeatedly. You only get to see what everyone else sees. Would you believe that represents less than 10% of India’s history? That is not nearly good enough. This journey represents Big Five’s India, which means that you go into the interior, into the heart, where the legacy of India was born.”
Price starts at $950 Land per person, per day, double occupancy.
Day 1: Delhi, India
On arrival at Indira Gandhi International airport terminal, you will be met with our VIP service as a representative will be waiting across the jetway with a paging sign with your name and will escort you through the fast track process at immigration, baggage collection and customs. You will be transferred to the hotel in a private vehicle. The hotel houses museum-worthy artifacts as well as an art gallery among its many corridors. The in-house restaurants are brimming with elegance and reflect the hotel’s art-deco ambiance. However, it is The Spice Route, which is its major attraction; an intricately designed restaurant that features exquisite carvings. The Imperial – Grand Heritage Room
Day 2: Delhi
With a history as a capital, Delhi has seen the tides of several rulers from those that people the pages of the epic poem, Mahabharata to the Tughlaq and Mughal empires from Persia, to the imperial colonial armies to the present-day government. Looted, plundered, and resurrected over generations, Delhi emerges to take her place in the world as a global capital – politically, culturally and commercially.
After breakfast, begin your day in Delhi a visit to Gandhi Smriti, is a museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi. The 12-room house was built in 1928 and is where Mahatma Gandhi spent the last 144 days of his life before his was assassinated on January 30, 1948. It was originally the house of the Indian business tycoons, the Birla family. It is now also home to the Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum.
Explore Colonial Delhi as you drive past the India Gate, a monument commemorating the deaths of over 70,000 Indian soldiers in the British Forces during the World War I, and older British buildings that house today’s parliament and secretariat. The majestic Bangla Sahib Gurudwara features an eye-catching golden dome glistening in the sun. This is a holy place for Sikhs across the world and the Gurudwara grounds include a community temple, a community kitchen, a school, a library and an art gallery.
Later this afternoon you visit Humayun’s Tomb. Step back into time, with a heritage walk of Humayun’s Tomb, a 16th Century tomb of the second Mughal Emperor, Humayun. A red stone structure set amidst four gardens has a rich Persian influence, that later influenced other Mughal architecture. The Imperial – Grand Heritage Room (B)
Day 3: Delhi
After breakfast, enjoy a rickshaw through Old Delhi. There is a lot to be said about a country, as diverse in its faiths as India, and as tolerant in its attitudes towards each. It has been continuously inhabited since the 6th century BCE. Delhi is a vibrant city of teeming bazaars, British-designed boulevards and powerful Mughal palaces and forts. Later, enjoy lunch at Haveli Dharampura serving street food menu.
This afternoon, you have the option to experience varied activities including a tea tasting. The tea leaf was responsible for pioneering trade links, driving global commerce, establishing colonies, encouraging piracy, sparking a revolution. It is used to cure everything from love bites to aging. Join Mr. Mittal, a tea sommelier and founder of his own tea company, for a journey into the history and production of tea; or you can join a local family in their home in Delhi, where you will dine with an Indian family. Or, tour galleries such as the National Gallery of Modern Art in the company of an expert in the field. There are several sections of Delhi that have gained renown as art hubs: Haus Khas, Lado Sarai and Shahapur Jat, among others, where artists and art collectors have private galleries. You are welcome to tour those at your leisure or to take an art historian along to better help you understand and appreciate the nuances of the art on display.
This evening, you can take in cultural aspects of Indian music and dance There’s more to India’s music scene that than Bollywood and the ‘sitar’. End your day on a melodious note with a specially organized musical evening. Storytelling as an art has also been passed down through dance forms like Bharatnatyam and Kathak. Visit the studio of Ragini for a one-on-one session with dancers of Bharatnatyam, where performances will be interspersed with interpretations, so that you can delve into the art and the narrative behind it.
A rare combination of beauty, grace, talent and creativity, Ragini Chander Shekar is ranked among the finest Bharatanatyam dancers of the younger generation. Equipped with her superlative training in dance, her art reflects her own unique sensibilities. Her dance glows with the rare magic of purity and adherence to the traditional form. While her ‘nritta’ (pure dance) sparkles with the kinetics of movement and space, her ‘abhinaya’ (art of expression) flows into the subtle spaces within.
This magical evening will be followed by dinner at Ragini’s home, where you can engage with the young dancers performing with her. The Imperial – Grand Heritage Room (B,L)
Day 4: Delhi / Varanasi
After breakfast, you will be transferred to Delhi Airport to board your flight for Varanasi. On arrival at Varanasi airport terminal, a representative will be waiting in the visitor’s lounge, and will escort you to your hotel in a private vehicle. Brijrama Palace is especially for those looking for something more lavish on the riverside ghats. A uniformed team in a canopied boat welcomes guests with a cool, local drink – setting the tone for Varanasi hospitality. The three-story property can be accessed by an elevator, a one-of-its-kind mechanism installed in a palace turret. The hotel suites are comfortable, well-furnished, with gold-leaf interiors and offer a great view of the bustling ghats. The dining experience at Brijrama Palace, albeit without alcohol and meat, is exemplary – very innovative with a great variety.
This evening witness the Aarti ceremony on the banks of the River Ganges. No trip to Varanasi is complete without a visit to the banks of the mythical River Ganges. Just before sunset, you will be guided to the steps that lead down into the river to witness this ceremony, which is an evening ritual that includes lighting lamps against the darkness and offering prayers to the river deity. Brijrama Palace – Vasundhara Room (B)
Day 5: Varanasi
At the confluence of two tributaries of the Ganges River, Varanasi is a city with a history of more than 3,000 years. It reached its zenith as a center of religion and learning in the 7th century BCE. It is a city steeped in spiritual sanctity and knowledge where three great world religions – Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, thrive. It is a place of homage. Later named Benares, the city saw the establishment of the Benaras Hindu University, a pre-eminent center of Sanskrit language, culture, philosophy and learning. As a thriving trade post for centuries, Benaras was also an important center for crafts and culture under the patronage of various rulers. It is world-renowned for its Benaras silk weaving motifs, metal and brass work, and for its wrestling tradition! Today, Varanasi’s riverbanks, known as ghats, with their temples, shrines and the sacred waters of the Ganges, draw millions of pilgrims seeking spiritual salvation.
You wake up early and drive to the riverside, where a boat waits to take you on a cruise. As you head downriver, you have a perfect vantage point to watch the ghats come to life with pilgrims in bright orange robes and elderly women in colorful saris offering prayers as they pour water from little copper pots into the river, sadhus meditating or lighting lamps. Your morning river experience will be accompanied by a live musician on board the boat. Return to the hotel for breakfast.
Later today visit Sarnath, a great center of learning where the Buddha preached his first sermon on the Dharmachakra – his code of conduct. Today, an ancient Bodhi tree commemorates Buddha’s initial moment of enlightenment. You may also visit the Archaeological Museum that houses a well-preserved and broad range of Buddhist relics and artifacts related to Buddhism. Then visit the Benaras Hindu University, one of the oldest educational institutions in existence that has mentored many great scholars. If time permits, you can stroll through the beautiful gardens of Malaviya Bhavan or visit the Vishwanath Temple. The campus is also home to the Bharat Kala Bhawan, a museum which houses a priceless collection of art and artifacts, with over 100,000 pieces today.
You can make an optional visit to textile weavers’ homes. Encounter the traditional silk weavers of Benares, the source of the famous Benaras Silk and brocade, where a group of Muslim families working on traditional looms. They have practiced their craft of weaving very fine silk for decades. Saris from Benares are among the finest in India and are known for their gold and silver brocade or zari (embroidery with metallic threads), fine silk and opulent embroidery. The definitive Mughal inspired design – with intricate motifs of gold or silver threads – indicates the period of time when the Benaras brocade gained major recognition from the nobility and later became popular among the masses.
Take a walk to discover Varanasi through the twisted by-lanes of markets with a plethora of interesting shops selling flowers, spices and street food and more. Explore the secular trail with traces of every faith, every philosophy. History resonates in the old and new structures alike and monuments draw worshiper from far and wide. Learn the history behind the Kashi Vishvanath Temple, dedicated to the creator of the Universe, the Aurangzeb Mosque built during the Mughal era and the Jain temple consecrating one of the philosophers of the faith. Brijrama Palace – Vasundhara Room (B)
Day 6: Varanasi / Agra / Chambal
After leisurely breakfast transfer to Varanasi Airport to board your flight for Agra. On arrival at Agra airport, a representative will greet you in the visitor’s lounge. Leaving the airport you drive to Chambal.
Upon arrival in Chambal check-in to your hotel. For a wildlife experience, beyond large mammals, Chambal Safari Lodge has a successful conservation program of the gharial, a native, fish-eating crocodile with a peculiar clock-shaped snout. The lodge is a heritage plantation surrounded by farmland, defined by conservation ideals and gracious hospitality. It offers a great insight into the lore of a family and the wildlife around the lodge. It also hosts the Chambal Birding Festival, becoming one of the country’s best-loved wildlife events.
This evening visit Bateshwar Temple and witness the evening prayer ceremony. On the crescent bend of river Yamuna, Bateshwar Temple is an ancient settlement and more than 40 temples dedicated to Shiva glisten pearly white along the ghats of the river. A multitude of architectural styles, time periods and historical events are reflected in these simple shrines. The ghats are evocative of Varanasi and the temples of Pushkar. A timeless landscape, an un-hurried pace and the calm, positive vibe of heartfelt prayer. Chambal Safari Lodge (B)
Day 7: Chambal
Early this morning, enjoy a birding walk around the property. This is home to the National Chambal Sanctuary that supports one of the last surviving habitats of the Gangetic River Dolphin. It provides protection for 1,200 gharials and 300 marsh crocodiles as well as eight species of turtles and the smooth-coated otters. It boasts a rapidly increasing and impressive bird list of over 330 species of resident and migratory birds and is gaining a reputation as one of the most reliable places to see the Indian Skimmer.
Continue your morning with a boat safari on the emerald green waters of the Chambal River. Set against a stunning backdrop, framed by the ravines and sandbanks, the calm waters of the Chambal River are best explored by boat. The gentle pace is designed to provide spectacular sightings of the gharials, muggers and turtles basking in the sun, many migratory and resident birds, and possibly the occasional glimpses of the Gangetic river dolphins breaking the surface.
Return to the hotel for lunch followed by a visit this afternoon to Quila Pratap, with ruins dating to the 13th-19th centuries situated atop the ravines. It is a picturesque footnote in the story of the uprising of 1857. You also have the option of riding bicycles to Quila Pratap on India’s only cycling highway. Chambal Safari Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 8: Chambal / Agra
After leisurely breakfast, you begin your drive to Agra. Upon arrival in Agra check into your hotel. The origins of the city of Agra can be traced back to the days of the Mahabharata, the epic poem of Great India when it was called Agrevana, meaning ‘the edge of the forest’. Agra served as capital for the Mughal Empire during the 16th and 17th centuries and flourished as a center of art, drawing inspiration from Persian, Islamic, Turkish, Byzantine and Indian styles. It has been immortalized ever since by the Taj Mahal – a magnificent marble mausoleum that today symbolizes love. Agra has other grand monuments that tell the rich narrative of history, including Agra Fort.
Agra Fort is one of the most important and robustly built strongholds of the Mughals, embellished with richly decorated buildings. Your guide tells you the rich, evocative Mughal history of Agra Fort, where emperors like Babar, Humayun, Akbar and other historic characters take center stage.
This evening, visit Mehtab Bagh Garden, which legend claims was to be site of a black Taj that the emperor Shah Jahan wished to build for himself, facing the monument he’d built for his love. Instead the Mehtab Bagh is four gardens, typical of Mughal constructions worldwide, with beautiful flowering plants, pools and fountains. Return to your hotel. The resort sits a mere 600 meters from the world famous Taj Mahal, offering brilliant views of the monument from the lobby, pool, spa, restaurants and every room in the hotel. Elaborate gardens, terraced lawns, fountains and pavilions complement the classic architecture of the hotel. The Oberoi Amar Vilas (B,L,D)
Day 9: Agra / Jaipur
Wake up early to visit the mythic Taj Mahal in the subtle morning light while it is still relatively uncrowded. Taj Mahal is the magnificent mausoleum, which Emperor Shahjahan had built for his queen, Mumtaz. This is India’s own jewel in the list of Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Instead let our storyteller guide weaves tales of Agra’s and the mausoleum, as also the romance between Shahjahan and Mumtaz.
Return to hotel for breakfast before setting out on the six-hour drive to Jaipur. En route you stop at Abhaneri step wells, unique to India. They were used as royal baths and reservoirs that provided respite from the summer heat. A Rajput king is believed to have built Chanda Baoli, which has separated his and hers royal bathrooms. Sun-shaded verandahs, which you can enter, overlook what must be thousands of crisscrossing steep steps patterned like upside down ‘V’ which descend deep into the abyss of the well.
Adjacent to the step well is a temple, which was also used for ritual bathing before worshiping. It is still active and devoted to the goddess Durga. Remains of intricate stone carvings of Hindu deities are found throughout the well area and as part of the temple structure. Excavation of the site began in 1955 and the step well and temple were open to the public in 1960 under the supervision of the Archaeological Survey of India. But Abhaneri is only just slowly finding its way on travelers’ radar screens in recent years. It still offers the rare opportunity to sample a stunning architectural antiquity without the crowds.
A safari-style picnic lunch will be arranged with a special set up under canopies surrounded by views of the ravines. Upon arrival in Jaipur check-in to your hotel, Sujan Raj Mahal. Rajmahal Palace, belonging to the royal family of Jaipur, is one of the oldest and most treasured properties in the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur, with a 200-year history. This exquisite palatial home is an enclosed oasis with tall bay windows, mirrored doors and exquisite interior décor set in lavish gardens. Sujan Raj Mahal (B,L)
Day 10: Jaipur
Erected during the 18th Century by the ruler of Amer as a ‘city of victory’, Jaipur was North India’s first planned city. Jaipur is often known as the ‘pink city,’ some say because of the distinctive rosy sandstone used in its construction, others claim it was painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales. Either way, the city is a beautiful symphony of the history with the present. Well expressed in the planned, gridded network of streets juxtaposed with a bustling maze of by-lanes and bazaars, the traditional artisan crafts are offset against contemporary arts. Today start your exploration of Jaipur with Amer Fort, the citadel of the Kachhawaha clan who later became the rulers of Jaipur. With its sprawling apartments, pleasure gardens, and temples, Amer is one of the most intricate and beautiful Rajput fortresses in all of India. The Anokhi Museum of Handprinting is in a magnificently restored haveli or mansion and displays a selection of block printed textiles alongside images, tools and related objects, all chosen to provide an in-depth look into the complexity of this ancient tradition.
Then, drive to Dera Amer, a retreat for elephants on the outskirts of the city. This private retreat was once a scrubland when the Singh family acquired an expanse of 180 acres. Dera Amer today is full of wilderness and natural beauty. Operating with an eco-sensitive mind set, with organic farming practices, implementation of solar paneled water pumps, drip irrigation, engaging and empowering the local communities, and adopting elephants and camels that were rescued from a life of hard labor. Meet the man who has been striving towards creating a positive effect on the environment and providing a natural habitat and a healing touch to the animals.
Interact with Laxmi, Rangmala or Anarkali, the three resident elephants. You can feed them, bathe them or stroll around the retreat with one of them walking alongside you. Savor a special organic farm-fresh meal in exclusive venues in the wilderness of Dera Amer.
In the afternoon, explore the old city markets where a smorgasbord of delights and crafts await! The labyrinthine streets have long been the bustling economic arteries of the city, trading in everything from local handicrafts like the clue pottery and silver jewelry to exotic, imported goods. Sujan Raj Mahal (B.L)
Day 11: Jaipur
After breakfast, set out on a city tour accompanied by your guide. A visit to the Jantar Mantar Observatory, built in the early 1700s by Sawai Jai Singh II, Jaipur’s ruler and a keen astronomer, showcases Central Asia’s rich legacy of astronomy. Its 16 massive instruments are works of art in themselves and some can forecast the weather even today. Discover the City Palace complex, the seat of the Maharajah of Jaipur, which consists of an impressive array of courtyards, gardens and buildings.
Spend a leisurely afternoon and enjoy the facilities at your hotel. You might want to pamper yourself at the spa with its eclectic menu of therapies ensures you will experience exactly the mood or feeling your mind and body demand. Sujan Raj Mahal (B)
Day 12: Jaipur / Deogarh
This morning travel to Deogarh, about six hours. En route stop at Nimaj Kothi for a vegetarian lunch with a family before continuing your drive to Deogarh. Upon arrival, check into your accommodation on the edge of the Ragho Sagar Lake with the Gokul Fort perched on a hill at the far end. The property has been constructed in a traditional haveli style with deep verandahs, pretty courtyards of Rajput architecture and influence. The interiors are airy and spacious, and the décor has a contemporary twist. It has a lovely swimming pool as well.
The charm of India lies in walking through villages to tap into their pulse of life. At Devshree this afternoon you can explore the nearby village on foot, past the potters’ workshops, farmers’ homes and other artisans to get a feel for the rhythms of rustic India with the owner Mr. Shatrunjay Singh. Or, spend the afternoon at leisure and enjoy the temperature-controlled pool or savor a foot massage.
This evening enjoy a cooking session with Ms. Bhavna Kumari, who shares traditional Mewari dishes and age-old recipes. Take a guided walk to the vegetable market and purchase fresh, local produce from the village vendors who are also eager to share their methods of preparation with you. Then plan a menu around the purchased vegetables and learn cooking styles, smoking styles and even slow cookery styles. Devshree Deoarh (B,L,D)
Day 13: Deogarh
After breakfast, your local guide will whisk you off to the nearby Kamblighat station to board a small meter gauge train. Take in Rajasthan’s rustic landscape in an old-fashioned train with wooden seats, peopled with curious, colorful people and children and sometimes, their cattle. As the train chugs through the Aravalli hill range, you can watch the scrub forests, tunnels and stone bridges that are so typical of this region. Make an en route stop at the Goram Ghat station with its troops of monkeys before disembarking at the Phulad station where a vehicle awaits to take you back to Devshree for lunch.
After lunch relax in the hotel this afternoon. Late evening, set off from the Deogarh village into the countryside in an open-top jeep with tea and snacks. Drive through the lush fields, past ancient temples and crumbling step wells and watch the cattle come home after a day of grazing. At twilight, you will park at the edge of a lake to watch the flocks of migratory birds settle down for the night and the bats leave their roosts for their nocturnal foraging before returning to your own roost for the night. Devshree Deoarh (B,L,D)
Day 14: Deogarh / Jawai Bandh
After leisurely breakfast, commence your drive to Jawai Bandh ad check into your hotel, Sujan’s Jawai Leopard Camp in the heart of an untrammeled wilderness, where leopards roam wild and free. Designed by the owners, Anjali and Jaisal Singh, Jawai represents a style that combines subtle opulence with abundant adventure. Staying true to their goals for conservation without compromising comfort, the camp has ten luxurious tents including one double family suite, each with space and privacy that rest encapsulated in a landscape of towering granite formations, caves, kopjes, Anogeissus scrub and winding sand riverbeds. The vibrant Rabari herdsmen who have shared this land with wildlife for centuries endorse the organic and continuing link between local culture and wildlife. The nomadic herdsmen are as much a part of the earth’s tales as the mysterious felines that grace these hills and vanish at will into their folds. Where pastoral fields meet and merge with wild grasslands and the swells of the Jawai Bandh’s waters lap at the toes of mighty granite forms. The JAWAI’s location, the unique flavor of this land and its offerings provide for an entirely different experience from the rest of Rajasthan.
This afternoon set off on a wilderness drive accompanied by your ranger–guides in a customized 4×4 jeep. Jawai’s leopards and birds are a great attraction across this region. With more than 200 different species of birds along with wildcats and antelope, this is a haven for wildlife lovers! Return to Camp and relax in the environs of your luxury tent. Jawai Leopard Camp (B,L,D)
Day 15: Jawai Bandh
This morning you are up before sunrise for an early start to your morning game drive in customized jeeps with your driver-guide to explore every corner of Jawai. Return to the camp for breakfast. The greater Jawai area is made for walking. Late this morning, enjoy a leisurely stroll to meet with nomadic shepherds or set out on a gentle hike through the fields and bush. Return to your camp in time for lunch.
This afternoon, you can opt for another game drive or relax and pamper yourself at the spa, which offers a selected menu of therapies that revitalize and relax the mind. Jawai Leopard Camp (B,L,D)
Day 16 : Jawai Bandh / Ranakpur / Delwara
After breakfast, begin your drive to Delwara. En-route stop to see the Jain temples at Ranakpur. These temples are set in a secluded, wooded valley of the Aravalli Hills. The 15th-century Ranakpur Temple’s grand scale, architectural complexity and sculptural ornamentation rank it among the finest examples of temple architecture. The main temple is dedicated to the founder of the Jainism and Ranakpur is one of the five holy places for the Jain followers. Lunch will be at Mountbatten Lodge.
You hotel, Raas Devigarh, an 18th century palace, holds a commanding position over one of the three main passes into its valley. Devigarh invites visitors to experience this outstanding heritage property, which has been transformed into one of the premier five-star hotels in Rajasthan. Surrounded by the rolling Aravalis, Devigarh is unique among the existing Heritage Hotels of Rajasthan. The contrasts and colors, ambiance and setting, their staff and service all add up to a unique Devigarh boutique experience
Spend the afternoon at leisure and enjoy the facilities at your hotel. It offers a wide range of recreational activities, both indoors and outdoors and suitable for all ages. There are guided excursions beyond the palace available for those who wish to explore more of the area. Raas Devigarh (B,L)
Day 17: Delwara / Udaipur
This morning start your day with a private yoga session conducted by expert yoga advocate at an exclusive venue at the hotel. Our expert guru has trained under a disciple of the famed Shri T Krishnamacharya, a proponent of the Vinyasa Krama Yoga, and has more than 20 years experience. Participate in a multi-layered yoga session, involving asanas, pranayama, dharana and mantra chanting – with some inspiration from Indian classical dances and reiki healing, which is tuned to your body and its needs. Rediscover yourself and learn how to make yoga an integral part of your routine, no matter where you are in the world.
After breakfast drive to Udaipur, an oasis nestled in the lap of the Aravalli Mountain range and has a tranquil serenity that belies its tumultuous past. Udaipur, originally a thriving caravanserai later became a capital of local royal clans. Udaipur’s serene lakes, beautiful gardens and magnificent palaces lend it a nostalgia that has often earned it the acclaim of being one of the most romantic places in the world. Apart from a place in history, Udaipur has been immortalized in contemporary culture in iconic films from Jewel in the Crown, James Bond’s Octopussy to Gandhi.
Explore the City Palace, with its blend of stern Rajput military architecture and lavish Mughal inspired decorative art. This is the largest palace in Rajasthan sprawled out over five acres and built between the 16th and 20th centuries. Then continue on to the Jagdish Temple, a three-story wonder of architecture comprising of an intricately sculpted spire, beautifully carved pillars, decorated ceilings and painted walls dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the sustainer in Hindu mythology.
Witness the exclusive prayer ceremony at Jagdish Temple, allowed via special access granted by the family priests. This temple has been in continuous use for worship since 1651. Then experience an ‘auto-rickshaw’ ride through the narrow lanes of Udaipur’s old city to the restaurant for lunch on.
Walk through the old city to discover the many facets of markets and artists, some at work. Make your way through the city’s serpentine streets and check out its rich offering of curios and handicrafts. Udaipur’s best-selling items range from precious stones jewelry, colorful textiles, gemstone paintings, oxidized silver and copper items. At a local temple, you can appreciate a specially-organized demonstration of an unusual form of art, jal sanjhi, a rare, 200-year-old art that involves painting on water, kept alive by one family in Udaipur. Usually portraying scenes from Lord Krishna’s life, which often take days to render to perfection, the jal sanjhi paintings are skillfully lifted off the surface of water. You also have the option to meet with an astrologer in Udaipur. Raas Devigarh (B)
Day 18: Udaipur / Delhi / Depart
After breakfast, transfer to Udaipur Airport to board flight for Delhi. On arrival at Delhi airport, a representative will meet you at the visitor’s lounge, with a paging sign. You will then be escorted by private vehicle to your hotel, where a day use room at Hotel The Oberoi Gurgaon has been provided for your convenience until 10 pm. Late evening you will be transferred to Delhi International Airport to board your flight for onward destination. (B)
Land only double occupancy: Price starts from US$950 per person per day