This itinerary is for a past tour program.
Check out our new Best of India & Nepal tour.
Find out why India and Nepal continue to top the "must-see" lists of world travelers worldwide! Our 15-day journey will amaze you with an abundance of exotic sights and sounds. See many of India's most famous sites, including Delhi, an ancient settlement that has become India's bustling modern capital; the holy city of Varanasi, where Hindu pilgrims come to bathe in the Ganges River; Khajuraho, with its exquisitely-carved sculptures and temples; the charming "Pink City" of Jaipur; the imposing Amber Fort in Rajasthan; and of course the Taj Mahal, the world's most famous monument to love.You'll also experience Kathmandu in Nepal, at the foot of the Himalayas, a exotic city full of wooden temples, towering stupas, and the friendly Nepalese people. You'll even have a chance to take an optional flight to see the legendary Mt. Everest! All of this for prices that are downright amazing.
Day 2: Delhi. Arrive in Delhi, India's capital, this afternoon. Following customs and immigration formalities, you'll meet our representatives and transfer to your centrally located hotel in the heart of New Delhi. Shangri-La Eros Hotel
Day 3: Old & New Delhi. After buffet breakfast at the hotel, board your coach to explore Delhi, India's capital. Sprawling on the banks of the river Yamuna, bustling Delhi typifies the soul of India, where many layers of civilizations have flourished for more than 3,000 years. History tells of at least eight different cities established here, but Delhi's past is so ancient that the story of its origin derives more from mythology than written history. Today, it is a city truly full of fascinating contrasts, where by day, temples are packed with the devout, and by night,hotel discos are packed with the affluent.
Begin at the modern Laxmi Narayan Temple which enshrines Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the Hindu Trinity. Also known as the Birla Temple for the noted industrialist family which built it, Laxmi Naryan was one of the first major Hindu places of worship open to the lower caste Harijans.
It was Mahatma Gandhi who made entry of Harijans (untouchables) one of the conditions for inaugurating the temple. Continue to Raj Ghat, the memorial to Gandhi, built at the site of his cremation on the banks of the Yamuna River. Drive past the magnificent Red Fort, built in 1648 as a symbol of Mughal's power.
Continue to the Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque, built of white marble and red sandstone. Completed in 1656 after six years of work by 5,000 laborers, it is considered one of the world's loveliest houses of worship. Ascend one of the minarets for a sweeping view over the streets of old Delhi.
Next, you'll marvel at the Qutab Minar, the world's tallest free standing minaret at 72.5 m (238 ft), and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tower, made of fluted red sandstone covered with intricate carvings and verses from the Qur'an, is a wonderful example of Indo-Islamic architecture. At its foot lies the Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid, the first mosque in India, erected in the 12th century from materials salvaged from 27 demolished Hindu and Jain shrines. Here you'll also find the Iron Pillar, a curiosity thought to date from 5th century A.D., which has never rusted.
Sightseeing continues in New Delhi, which reflects the legacy the British left behind. You'll see the India Gate, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The 42 meter high structure is a war memorial for the Indian soldiers who died in World War I and the Afghan Wars. Burning in a shrine under the arch is the Amar Jawan Jyoti (the flame of the immortal warrior), which marks the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Proceed to the Parliament building and the Rastrapathi Bhawan, the President's residence.
This evening join your fellow travelers for a welcome dinner at a local restaurant where you will enjoy sumptuous Indian food. Breakfast & dinner provided.
Day 4: Delhi & Kathmandu. The morning will be at leisure to visit some of the sites or just relax in your hotel.
In the late morning, transfer to the airport for your short flight from Delhi to Kathmandu, capital of the ancient mountain kingdom of Nepal. Kathmandu has the air of a medieval city with a maze of narrow streets, wooden temples and beautifully decorated palaces.
In the background there is often the gentle sound of jangling cymbals and the markets are a rich blend of colors and aromas. Only in the 1950s was Nepal opened up to visitors and today the contrast between 21st century technology and traditional lifestyles help to make Kathmandu one of the world's most fascinating cities. Upon arrival, transfer to your deluxe hotel. Soaltee Crowne Plaza Kathmandu Breakfast provided.
Day 5: Kathmandu. After breakfast, board your touring coach for a sightseeing tour of Kathmandu. Visit Durbar Square, one of three royal palace squares in the Kathmandu Valley. It is the site of the Hanuman Dhoka Palace Complex, which was the royal Nepalese residence until the 19th century and where important ceremonies, such as the coronation of the Nepalese monarch, still take place today.
Continue to the Temple of Kumari, where the Living Goddess, the Kumari, acknowledges greetings from the intricately carved wooden balconies. Continue to Kasthamandap, a pagoda believed to have been built from the timbers of a single tree by King Laxmi Narsingh Malla and from which the city of Kathmandu got its name. Next, visit the splendid collection of weapons and artifacts from ancient, medieval and modern Nepal at the National Museum.
Proceed to Swayambhunath, said to be over 2,000 years old and one of the world's most fabulous Buddhist Temples. Situated atop a high hill, Swayambhunath commands a superb view of the Kathmandu Valley below, and is known as the "Monkey Temple" due to the abundance of wild monkeys that inhabit the temple grounds. The four sides of this ancient structure are painted with the compassionate eyes of Buddha, with a mystical third eye in between symbolizing true wisdom. The nose, appearing as an incomplete question mark, is the Nepalese number of one, a symbol of unity.
Day 6: Kathmandu. This morning, set out on a sightseeing tour to explore two magnificent and important temples. Pashupatinath, situated on the banks of the holy Bagmati River, is the most sacred of all Hindu temples in Nepal. Non-Hindus are not allowed to enter the temple precincts but may view the structure from the opposite bank. It draws tens of thousands of pilgrims and devotees from Nepal and India during the festival of Mahashivaratri (the night of Lord Shiva).
Continue to Boudhanath, possibly the world's largest Buddhist stupa (temple) and a site of great veneration for Buddhists. A number of monasteries have sprung up around the stupa, reflecting the different sects of Tibetan Buddhism. One of these monasteries houses an enormous, splendidly adored seated statue of Maitreya Buddha. Enjoy the balance of the day to shop, stroll and explore Kathmandu on your own. (B)
Day 7: Kathmandu, Mt. Everest flight & Varanasi. This morning you will have an opportunity to experience an optional Mt. Everest scenic flight over the breathtaking Himalayas (weather permitting).
This evening, enjoy an aarti ceremony at the Assi Ghat. This ceremony celebrates the religious significance and history of Varanasi, replete with tales of plunder and destruction by conquerors and religious zealots. Taj Ganges Breakfast provided.
Day 8: Varanasi. Written records of the Skanda Purana and the Mahabharata mention Varanasi's existence as long as 3000 years ago. It is probably the oldest inhabited city in India, and one of the world's most ancient. As a place of devotion and worship, Varanasi attracts thousands of pilgrims every year, and many Hindus in the latter part of their lives wish to spend their retirement here. Built on the west side of the Holy Ganges, Varanasi's religious activities all center around the river, with dozens of stairways leading down to the water for the devout to bathe, and these "ghats" are bustling with life throughout the day.
This morning at dawn, have a cup of tea or coffee in the lobby before you depart for an unforgettable experience on a cruise on the river Ganges, stopping at the most important of the ghats. From your boat, you will witness the bathing ritual of Hindu pilgrims, following a centuries' old tradition and belief that those who die in Varanasi or whose mortal remains are immersed in the holy Ganges will be incarnated to human life in the next birth. The riverfront in the early morning is a spiritually uplifting sight that you will long remember.
After your early morning tour of the bathing ghats, return to your hotel for a buffet breakfast. Later, board your touring coach for a tour of the city of Varanasi, including a visit to Kashi Vishwanath Temple, also known as the Golden Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva and the most sacred shrine in Varanasi. Continue to Banares Hindu University, considered to be the largest residential university in Asia.
After a lunch break, enjoy an excursion to Sarnath, a major Buddhist center. After achieving enlightenment at Bodhgaya, Buddha delivered his first sermon in the Deer Park. It was at this location that he initiated his first five disciples into Buddhist monkhood. Breakfast provided.
Day 9: Varanasi & Khajuraho. After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your short flight to Khajuraho. This is the site of a great temple complex discovered in 1838, containing some of the finest temple architecture in Northern India. The majority of the temples were constructed in a sudden burst of creative and religious energy between the mid-10th and 11th centuries by the Chandela dynasty. After ruling for about 500 years, the Chandela dynasty fell to Muslim invaders, and the religious center of Khajuraho was abandoned, but escaped destruction due to its remote location.
Of the 85 original temples only 22 remain, but many are in very good condition and remarkably beautiful in design and architecture, including the Kandariya Mahadeva, the Chatrabhuj, Parswanath and Ghantai Temples which you will visit. Your tour focuses on the famous erotic temples, with their intricate carvings said to represent life in heaven. The temples remain as a reminder of a society that believed in the full enjoyment of life, with all the senses being a path to nirvana. Taj Chandela Breakfast provided.
Day 10: Khajuraho, Orchha, Jhansi & Agra. Depart Khajuraho by coach to Orchha, picturesquely located on a bend along the Betwa River. This gorgeous medieval city's stone palaces and temples, built by its Bundela rulers in the 16th and 17th centuries, retain much of their pristine perfection despite the passage of hundreds of years. Among the abandoned structures in the temple complex, the beauty of the Jehangir Mahal, built to commemorate the visit of Emperor Jehangir in the 17th Century, stands in sharp contrast to the Raj Mahal, an earlier building in the same complex adorned by colorful murals. A trail through the maze of intricate stairways leading to numerous turrets is an experience in itself. Continue to Jhansi to board the Shatabdi Express Train (air-conditioned cars).
Your next stop is Agra, where the Mughals, who were great builders as well as great rulers, created their greatest architectural wonders. There are many wonderful monuments in Agra, such as the massive but elegant Agra Fort and Itimad-ud-daulah's tomb (the Baby Taj). But the greatest of all is the Taj Mahal, considered a masterpiece of Mughal architecture and the world's most famous monument to love. Upon arrival, proceed to your deluxe, centrally located hotel for check-in. Trident Agra Breakfast provided.
Day 11: Agra. This morning you'll rise early to enjoy an awesome sunrise tour of the Taj Mahal, truly one of the wonders of the world. Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj in the 17th century as an expression of his love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. The magnificent structure is rumored to have taken 22 years and 20,000 men to build, with the white marble quarried 200 miles away and transported to the site by a fleet of 1000 elephants. Though the Taj is known for its stunning symmetry and balance, it is the close-up marble inlay work which is really astounding. You'll have ample time to explore this outstanding piece of architecture, and to wander the pristine gardens that surround it. Return to your hotel after the sunrise tour for buffet breakfast.
Afterwards, visit the splendid Agra Fort, built by and inhabited by six successive generations of Mughal emperors—Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. Though often eclipsed by the Taj Mahal, this sprawling fortress, which is really a massive walled palatial city, is magnificent in its own right, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It was in the Agra Fort that Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb. From the Muasamman Burj, a tower with a marble balcony, Jahan watched the continuing construction of his Taj Mahal until his death. You will also visit the Hall of Public Audience and Royal Pavilions.
This afternoon, stroll through the local marble and leather markets where you should do your best to bargain for the marble products and high quality leather wallets, shoes and belts. Be sure to visit the pietra dura workshop, where can watch artisans creating the beautiful marble inlay for which India has been famous for centuries.
This evening, you are our guest for High Tea. This special treat, arranged exclusively for Friendly Planet travelers, provides an opportunity to meet and interact with an Indian family and become familiar with everyday life in India. Breakfast provided.
Day 12: Agra, Fatehpur Sikri & Jaipur. After buffet breakfast at the hotel, drive to the deserted red sandstone city of Fatehpur Sikri. The Great Mughal Emperor Akbar built this city as his capital in the late 16th century, and when it was constructed, it was a metropolis larger than London, full of palaces and mosques. But soon after it was built, the local wells went dry, and the city was abandoned. It remains today much the same as it was over 300 years ago, with its buildings in near perfect condition, and it is an extraordinary place to explore.
Continue to Jaipur, known as the "Pink City" for all its pale pink stucco, used in imitation of sandstone. This is the capital of the state of Rajasthan, a land of beauty, color and paradox, where you'll discover invincible forts, magnificent palaces and gardens, waves of sand dunes and serene lakes, and more. Your hotel is centrally located for strolling, sightseeing and shopping. After check-in, enjoy a stroll through the streets and bazaars, where you can enjoy the colorful display of women's saris and men's turbans, shops selling everything from spices to wool carpets to pots and pans, and streetside vendors serving samosas and piping-hot pakoras. It all adds to the sense of timeless charm and wonder of this lovely and fascinating city. Trident Jaipur Breakfast provided.
Day 13: Jaipur. This morning visit the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds). Its beehive-like structure is an interplay of red and pink sand stone, painstakingly outlined with white borders and motifs. Behind this elaborate latticed facade, the cloistered ladies of the court could watch the daily goings-on in the street below.
Continue to the imposing Amber Fort, ancient capital of Rajasthan before Jaipur. The fort was begun in the 17th century by Maharaja Mansingh, Emperor Akbar's most successful general. Perched atop the Aravalli hills overlooking the Moat Lake, the fort's fortified battlements and crenulated walls spread over many acres.
Ascend to the fortress by jeep or elephant (if available) to view the sprawling complex of courtyards and halls, many of them hung with magnificent paintings and inlaid with precious stones. In the Sheesh Mahal—Hall of Mirrors—a single lamp is reflected in a mosaic of thousands of mirror tiles.
This afternoon, return to the city of Jaipur. Highlights of this afternoon's touring include the City Palace, an overwhelming complex of exquisite buildings, gardens and courtyards, decorative art and carved doorways. The Palace Museum houses collections of rare manuscripts, armor, costumes, carpets and miniature paintings.
Walk to the adjacent Jantar Mantar, the largest of five observatories founded by Maharaja Jai Singh II nearly three centuries ago. Its 14 massive masonry instruments are extraordinarily precise and were used for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking stars' location as the earth orbits around the sun, ascertaining the declinations of planets, and more. The samrat yantra, a sundial, still tells the time to an accuracy of about a minute.
Enjoy the remainder of the day to wander about the local markets where you will find lovely silver jewelry, handicrafts and roadside mehndiwala (henna painters) who will paint ladies hands in the local tradition. This evening, enjoy a farewell dinner with your fellow travelers. Breakfast & dinner provided.
Day 15: Delhi/USA. Your adventure ends as you arrive in New York this morning.
Quick answers to Frequently Asked Questions about India.
Quick answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Nepal.
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