The detailed itinerary provides an outline of the proposed daily program. Participants should note that the daily activities described in this itinerary may be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate changes in museum opening hours, flight schedules, etc. All meals are included in the tour price and are indicated in the itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=evening meal. Bottled water is also included. All entrance fees and permits are included in the tour price.
New Delhi - 3 nights
Day 1: Tuesday 4 February, Arrive Delhi
- Light Evening Meal at The Claridges
Our tour commences in Delhi. Participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight are scheduled to arrive in Delhi in the evening. Upon arrival, you will transfer by private coach to our hotel located in the heart of New Delhi. If you are not arriving on the ASA ‘designated’ flight, you will be required to make your own way to The Claridges, or you may wish to contact ASA to arrange a private transfer. On arrival a light evening meal will be served at the hotel. (Overnight Delhi) D
Day 2: Wednesday 5 February, New Delhi
- Welcome Meeting
- Lutyens’ New Delhi
- India Gate & Parliament House
- Purana Qila
- Welcome Lunch
- Humayun’s Tomb
Delhi has been a centre of power almost continuously since the 13th century. Rulers of successive Muslim dynasties established seven cities in Delhi, each adjacent to its predecessor and spread over a large plain on the west bank of the Yamuna River.
Following a brief welcome meeting, we shall drive through precincts of British Imperial Delhi, designed by the great English architect Edward Lutyens. Next we shall pass the India Gate and Parliament House of India.
We also visit the Purana Qila (the Old Fort), built by the second Mughal emperor Humayun (1530-1556), and Sher Shah, the Afghan leader who ousted him for a time from Hindustan. Behind its massive walls, which shut out the incessant noise of Delhi’s congested traffic, in a peaceful garden setting, there remain two buildings: a mosque, one of the handsomest buildings in India, and a two-storeyed octagonal pavilion that Humayun used as his library.
Following a welcome lunch at a local restaurant, we conclude our day’s program with a visit to the wonderful complex of Humayun’s Tomb (c.1565). Commissioned by the Emperor’s widow, this was the first of the great Mughal tombs. It inaugurated a suite of grand imperial mausoleums surrounded by vast gardens that were entered through monumental gates, which reached its apogee almost a century later in the Taj Mahal (1634). Humayun’s widow engaged a Persian architect to design the building, which accounts for its high quality. Particularly noteworthy is its tight massing, which in composition (base, pavilions and central dome) and dramatic power presages the Taj Mahal. One difference is that it is constructed of red sandstone and not white marble. (Overnight Delhi) BLD
Day 3: Thursday 6 February, Old Delhi
- Red Fort, Delhi
- Short rickshaw ride to see Chandni Chowk
- Jama Masjid
Today we begin with a visit to the Red Fort. In 1639, Shah Jahan laid the foundation of a new capital, the seventh city of Delhi, to be named Shahjahanabad (now Old Delhi). At the eastern edge of it, he constructed his imperial citadel – the Red Fort. It contains some of the finest examples of Mughal architecture in a suite of grand audience halls and exquisitely chaste, inlaid marble pavilions set in formal gardens with ornamental pools and fountains.
Lunch will be served at The Maidens Hotel. This is one of Delhi’s oldest hotels, built in the early 1900s, and it has retained its colonial charm and architecture.
This afternoon we take a short rickshaw ride of Old Delhi. Crammed within its medieval walls is a rabbit warren of lively, noisy streets and lanes, peppered with monuments and tombs from the colourful and turbulent history of one of the world’s most fascinating cities. The axis of our ride will be along Chandni Chowk, the crowded, bustling bazaar street that starts at the Lahore Gate of the Red Fort.
We also visit the Jama Masjid, begun some six years after the Red Fort was commenced. Located in the centre of Shahjahanabad, it is a massive congregational mosque that provided an impressive setting for public worship and ceremonial usage, and proclaimed orthodox Islam as the fountainhead of the imperial dynasty’s legitimacy. In detail and sensuousness, it is entirely characteristic of Shah Jahan’s architecture, dominating his capital from its lofty plinth, with its towering gateways and majestic flights of steps. (Overnight Delhi) BLD
Jaipur - 3 nights
Day 4: Friday 7 February, Delhi – Jaipur
This morning we visit the Qutub Minar complex, which holds India’s earliest mosque, the Quwwat ul Islam Masjid, constructed by Qutb-ud-din in 1193, when Delhi was first Islamised. Nearby is the pride of Dehli, the Qutub Minar, a soaring minaret that was possibly based upon a victory tower. Its magnificent form and intricate decoration make it one of the masterpieces of the Islamic world. We then drive to our hotel in Jaipur. (Overnight Jaipur) BLD
Day 5: Saturday 8 February, Jaipur
- Ambèr Palace/Fort
- Elephant ride to lunch
- Jaigarh Fort (Cannon only)
In 1727, Raja Jai Singh II, ruler of the principality of Ambèr, took advantage of the declining Mughal power to move from his cramped hilltop fortress above the town of Ambèr to a new site on the plains, some ten kilometres away, to be named Jaipur, after himself. To stamp the mark of Hinduism on the capital of his state, Jai Singh laid out his city according to the principles of town planning given in the Shilpa Shastra, the ancient Hindu treatise on architecture. He built a city of broad avenues and remarkable architectural harmony; a walled city divided into nine squares, each signifying one of the nine treasures of Ganpati, the Hindu god of wealth.
Today we begin with a visit to Ambèr, the ancestral seat of the ruling house of Jaipur. The Ambèr palace complex was first laid out by Rana Man Singh I (1586-1614), who served the Emperor Akbar with great distinction. Successive rulers added various palaces, each a unique record of how Mughal cultural influences permeated the Rajput courts.
We then enjoy a very special experience – a peaceful elephant ride that will gently lead us through a local village to a family restaurant, where we shall enjoy lunch.
Towering above the hillside palace of Ambèr Fort and linked to it by escape tunnels, stands the higher and more rugged, Jaigarh Fort. From here we may enjoy spectacular views over Jaipur. (Overnight Jaipur) BLD
Day 6: Sunday 9 February, Jaipur
- Palace of the Winds (Hawa Mahal) (exterior view only)
- City Palace
- Jantar Mantar
- Afternoon at leisure to explore Jaipur’s craft bazaars
This morning we view the Hawa Mahal – the Palace of the Winds – a five-storey pink wedding cake construction, built in 1799 for the Maharaja’s family to watch, from their seclusion, the passing parade in the street below.
Nearby we visit the City Palace, which occupies a large area of the old city and is divided into a series of courtyards, gardens and buildings constructed in an interesting blend of Rajasthani and Mughal styles. The centrepiece is the seven storeyed Chandra Mahal, which commands fine views of the gardens and the city. The complex contains several superb halls and an excellent armoury, which we will visit to inspect its collection of Mughal and Rajput armour and weapons.
We end our morning’s program with a visit to the Jantar Mantar, the largest of five massive stone observatories built in various cities in north India by the celebrated patron of astronomy, Jai Singh II (1699-1744). Its huge astronomical instruments are extraordinary constructions of sandstone and marble, each designed and orientated to observe the movements of the sun and the moon, or of a particular star or constellation. Angles and part-circular planes with calibrated scales etched onto stone strips create novel architectural shapes. By far the largest instrument is the Samrat Yantra, an impressive curved marble scale interrupted by a steep pyramid of steps with a small pavilion (chatri) at the summit. This was used to determine the time, declination and hourly angle of different heavenly bodies.
After lunch there will be time at leisure to explore the lively craft bazaars of the city. (Overnight Jaipur) BLD
Bundi - 1 night
Day 7: Monday 10 February, Jaipur – Bundi
- Taragarh (Star) Fort, Bundi (exterior)
- Garh Palace and the Chitrashala (painting gallery), Bundi
Today we set out for Bundi, a delightful, unspoilt small medieval town which arguably gives a more vivid image of Rajasthan’s past than any other old fortified city. It was founded by the Hadoti Chauhans, who claim descent from the fires of great Mount Abu, after their conquest of this part of Rajasthan in the twelfth century. In the afternoon, we will view (exterior only) the vast ruinous Taragahr (Star) Fort that dominates the city.
As well as the Star fort, the city is also dominated by the Garh Palace, which we shall enter from the old bazaar. The palace itself is an extremely impressive old complex that stands on powerful foundations above the city. The palace’s beautiful pavilion, Chitrashala, contains a gallery of murals in the miniature style. The walls are covered with elaborate paintings and scenes from the Rasalila, the Radhakrishna story. The Bundi School was an important school of the Rajasthani style of Indian miniature painting, that lasted from the 17th to the end of the 19th century. (Overnight Bundi) BLD
Castle Bijaipur, Chittorgarh - 1 night
Day 8: Tuesday 11 February, Bundi – Kota – Bijaipur
- Nagar Sagar Kund Stepwell, Bundi
- Orientation walk of Kota
- Kota Fort
Today we begin with a visit to the Nagar Sagar Kund Stepwell. These water repositories may be found all over Rajasthan, but Bundi has particularly fine examples. They provided cities and towns with much-needed drinking water, but also were used for ritual ablution, and therefore, are often connected with temples and other shrines. Their surrounding structures often sport intricate carving.
We then depart Bundi for the royal city of Kota, or ‘Kotah’, as it is historically referred to. Located on the banks of the Chambal River, it is known for its spectacular palace, gardens and wide leafy streets. Here, we visit the Kota Fort, one of the largest forts of Rajasthan that has an artistic heritage that still speaks volumes of the rich architecture of that era. Built in the year 1264, the fort construction expanded and was finally completed in the year 1625. The main entrance today is through the south Naya Darwaja Gate (New Gate) and as you enter the fort palaces, miniature paintings, colorful murals, exquisite mirror work and frescoes welcome you. The most attractive place here is the Durbar Hall that has ebony and ivory doors, and depicts stunning Kota paintings that are quite intricate and different from the rest of the miniature ones found in other parts of India.
We then drive to Bijaipur, where we stay in one of Rajasthan’s loveliest palaces. Castle Bijaipur is a 16th-century fortress set in the serene Vindhyanchal ranges near Chittorgarh (Chitor). It was built by Rao Shakti Singhji, the younger brother of the great warrior Maharana Pratap. A wildlife sanctuary adjacent to the castle has leopards, chinkara, spotted and four-horned deer, crocodiles, wild boar, as well as a variety of birds. (Overnight Castle Bijaipur, Chittorgarh) BLD
Udaipur - 2 nights
Day 9: Wednesday 12 February, Bijaipur – Udaipur
We depart early this morning and drive to one of the most haunting and evocative places in all India – a scene of chivalry and slaughter, of Rajput honour and valour at its most noble and futile. Standing on an isolated rocky outcrop, 150 metres above the surrounding plains, the walls of Chitor are the finest medieval Hindu defence work to survive in any degree of completeness. A still silence hangs over the deserted pavilions and ruined temples of Chitor. Three times in its history, the Hindu princes of Mewar led their warriors from the gates of their capital to carry death to Muslim besiegers or meet it in the field. Three times, the women they left behind performed the terrible rite of jauhar, the self-immolation by the women of the royal line, along with all their female relatives, on mass funeral pyres. Death for all, before dishonour.
The heights of Chitor were the key to Rajasthan and its reduction was amongst the first priorities of any ruler hoping to hold northern India. It fell to the Sultan of Delhi in 1303 and to the Sultan of Gujarat in 1535. In that assault, the queen mother in battle regalia led a final cavalry charge from the fortress and died fighting, along with 32,000 warriors and the flower of Mewar nobility. Behind them, 13,000 women and children – royal, noble and common – performed jauhar.
Chitor was invested for a third time by the Emperor Akbar in 1568. As in the case of the two earlier sieges, the ruling prince was smuggled to safety to raise the standard of revolt anew. Two young Rajput nobles, Jaimal and Patta, aged 15 and 16, commanded Chitor’s defences. Their bravery has made them household names in Mewar even today, their valour immortalised in Rajasthani folksongs and bardic poems. Jaimal was shot at close range by Akbar himself. Patta, with his mother and wife at his side, died in the final suicide charge of the defenders from the fort, when 8000 warriors, dressed in the saffron robes of Hinduism and drunk on opium, charged the Mughal artillery and fought to the last man. The night before, with defeat certain, 1700 wives and daughters of the nobility sealed their duty to Mewar with their lives by performing the ritual of jauhar. When the fighting ended, the Mughals entered the fortress capital and slaughtered 30,000 inhabitants of the town and surrounding countryside. This final orgy of killing also had its ritual title – the saka. Jahanghir restored the fort to the Rajputs in 1616 but the people of Mewar never returned. Chitor, the scene for a thousand years of heroic valour and high adventure, was left desolate. Still left within the walls of this mighty fortress capital, whose walls encompass 280 hectares, are the ruins of several palaces, many temples and ceremonial pools fed by springs that emerge from the bedrock. There is also a victory monument visible from several kilometres away, that the Mewar raja built to commemorate his victory over the Sultan of Malwa in 1440.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we drive to Udaipur, renowned for its views of Lake Pichola and its islands. After the fall of Chitor in 1568, Rana Udai Singh II of Mewar founded a new capital which, in the best north Indian tradition, he named after himself. The site that he chose stood on a small, wooded plain hidden in the mountains, on the edge of a natural lake. The rulers of Mewar established a new capital at Udaipur. They belonged to the Sisodia clan of the Rajputs and they were the oldest of the Rajput ruling lineages. They offered the fiercest resistance to the Mughals, making no settlement with them until 1614, while the other two great Rajput houses, Ambèr (Jaipur) and Marwar (Jodhpur), grew wealthy and powerful as senior allies of the Mughals. (Overnight Udaipur) BLD
Day 10: Thursday 13 February, Udaipur
- City Palace
- Jagdish Temple
- Boat cruise on Lake Pichola
- Bara Bazaar and Bapu Bazaar
By the early years of the seventeenth century, Mewar had accepted the realpolitik in north India and made its peace with the Mughals. The city palaces of Udaipur, built largely in the century that followed, reflect this accommodation with the Mughals by their steady incorporation of Mughal design elements. We will begin our morning tour at the City Palace, whose towers and cupolas dominate the skyline of Udaipur. It is the largest palace complex in Rajasthan, an interesting blend of Rajput military architecture and Mughal decorative art. The sheer external bulk and elevation of the palace, accentuated by its reflection in Lake Pichola, recall the walls and towers of Chitor. The interior, by contrast, is clad in marble, every surface inlaid in the geometric and floral patterns that are the hallmark of Mughal art.
Adjacent to the City Palace is the Jagdish Temple, built in 1651 and dedicated to Vishnu as Lord of the Universe. It is an excellent example of the Indo-Aryan style and contains a superb bronze statue of Garuda, Vishnu’s mount.
After lunch, we take a boat cruise on Lake Pichola, upon which seem to float lovely pleasure palaces like the Jag Nivas (now the Lake Palace Hotel), and the Gul Mahal (on the island of Jag Mandir). These island pavilions, like the city palace itself, reflect the luxurious lifestyles of the Rajputs, who retreated here from the heat of the mainland. The Gul Mahal is the largest and best-preserved lake palace, composed of domed pavilions set among trees. The complex and its reflection in the lake provides a breathtaking view.
One of the delights of visiting Udaipur is to wander the bazaars and watch the craftsmen at work. We end the day with a visit to the Bara Bazaar and Bapu Bazaar, both near the City Palace, where we shall see traditional Mewari tie-dying, puppets, copperwork and silverware. (Overnight Udaipur) BLD
Kumbhalgarh -1 night
Day 11: Friday 14 February, Udaipur – Ranakpur – Kumbhalgarh
We drive to Kumbhalgarh, visiting the Ranakpur Temples along the way. Ranakpur is one of the five most important pilgrimage sites of Jainism. It is home to an exceptionally beautiful temple complex tucked away in a remote valley in the Aravalli range, situated north of Udaipur in Pali district. Ranakpur is named after the liberal Rajput, Rana Kumbha, whom Dharna Sah, a Jain businessman, approached to ask for land for the construction of a great temple he’d seen in a vision. Renowned for their marvellous carvings in amber stone, these temples were constructed in 1439. The whole complex rests on a basement of forty-eight thousand square feet. There are four subsidiary shrines and twenty-four pillared halls with domes supported by over four hundred columns. In total, there are 1444 columns, all of which are intricately carved and no two are alike. The carved flute-playing nymphs in various dance poses are of particular interest. In the assembly hall there are two big bells weighing one hundred and eight kilograms, whose sound echoes throughout the entire complex. The main temple is a Chaumukh, or a four-faced temple, dedicated to Adinath.
On reaching Kumbhalgarh, we shall check into our heritage hotel. This wonderful hotel is a complex of small buildings and pavilions arranged around a central landscaped garden and restaurant. There will be time to relax and enjoy the very peaceful environment of this hill retreat hotel before dinner. (Overnight Kumbhalgarh) BLD
Jodphur - 2 nights
Day 12: Saturday 15 February, Kumbhalgarh – Jodhpur
This morning we travel by jeep to visit Kumbhalgarh Fort. Its location had always been Kumbhalgarh’s greatest advantage. Because it was virtually inaccessible in the 15th century, Rana Kumbha of Mewar built this great defensive fortress on a 3500-foot (1100-metre) high hill overlooking the approaches from Ajmer and Marwar. It is the second most important Mewar fortress after Chitor, providing a haven when the city was attacked.
After exploring this magnificent fort, we have an early lunch before making the 240-kilometre journey to Jodhpur. (Overnight Jodhpur) BLD
Day 13: Sunday 16 February, Jodhpur
- Mehrangarh Fort
- Old City
In the early 13th century, the Rathor tribes of central India, one of the great Rajput lineages, were displaced by Muslim invaders from Afghanistan. They migrated further and further westward, eventually settling in the blazing desert country in the heart of Rajasthan. They called their land Marwar, “the land of death”. In 1459 their ruler, Rao Jodha, founded the city of Jodhpur when his ancestral capital at nearby Mandor proved too difficult to defend. After the Mughals had established themselves in north India, the ruler of Marwar married his sister to the Emperor Akbar and received the title, Raja. His son entered the emperor’s service and conquered Gujarat and part of the Deccan for the Mughals, the rewards from these expeditions contributing to the embellishment of his capital.
We will start our tour of Jodhpur at Mehrangarh Fort, perched atop a sheer rocky crag that rises 120 metres above the centre of the old city. The fort contains the best museum in Rajasthan, with a superb collection of miniature paintings from a variety of schools, musical instruments, and all the trappings of Indian royalty: howdahs, thrones, furniture, robes, weapons. The ramparts afford stunning views over this rare example of a medieval Hindu fortified city.
After lunch we visit Mandor, the ancient seat of the Rathors of Marwar. Here, landscaped gardens surround a group of ancient Hindu temples and the cenotaphs of the rulers of Marwar, constructed in a richly mixed architectural style that incorporates Buddhist, Jain and Hindu elements. In this tranquil setting, the visitor can reflect on six hundred years of Rajput history that began in hardship and austerity, rose to glory in bravery and chivalry, and culminated in grandiose magnificence and decadence.
If time permits, we also visit the Old City with its colourful winding streets of distinctively Rajput vernacular architecture, to view the crafts of the city. The houses are mostly three storeys, jutting out on tiers of elaborately carved corbels, their windows filled with pierced stone grillework, all uniting to form streets of great charm. (Overnight Jodhpur) BLD
Jaisalmer - 2 nights
Day 14: Monday 17 February, Jodhpur – Jaisalmer
Today, we drive through the Rajasthan desert to Jaisalmer, one of the most evocative of all the Rajput cities. It is dominated by its ancient fortress that rises out of the desert, far from the great urban centres of north India. The Bhatti Rajput ruler Jaisala founded the city and fortress in 1156, removing his court to this isolated desert territory from the more vulnerable Lodhruva, which was constantly being raided by the Ghaznavids (of Afghanistan). Jaisalmer is famous for its intricate Rajasthani jewellery. The goldsmiths of Jaisalmer are particularly known for their skills in carving out beautiful pieces of silver jewellery. You may also view unique costumes and textiles from the desert tribes which are visible in the street stalls; many of them are collectable antiques. (Overnight Jaisalmer) BLD
Day 15: Tuesday 18 February, Jaisalmer
- Gadi Sagar Lake
- Jaisalmer Fort
- Jain and Hindu Temples
- Old city of Jaisalmer
- Merchant Houses (havelis)
We commence this morning with a brief visit to the Gadi Sagar Lake, a man-made reservoir built in 1156 AD. During the Rajput clan period, it was the only resource for drinking water in Jaisalmer. The lake is marvellously placed in picturesque surroundings and an imposing sandstone entrance known as Tilon-ki-Pol opens to the lake. A grand Krishna temple is also placed at the gate. The banks of the Gadi Sagar enclose superbly maintained gardens, temples and majestically carved Chattris.
The remainder of the day is devoted to exploring Jaisalmer fortress, its temples and the old city.
The fort is protected by formidable sandstone walls, from which its defenders hurled large spherical rocks, examples of which are still piled up on the ramparts. It was besieged by the Sultan of Dehli, Ala-ud-din Khiljii, in the thirteenth century. After a nine-year siege, the women of the fortress committed ritual suicide while their men rode out to certain death in saffron robes. Jaisalmer recovered economically from each conquest because it was strategically located on the trade routes to Central Asia. Only when the port city of Mumbai (Bombay) rose to prominence was it eclipsed.
One distinctive quality of the fortress palace, which was constructed over five centuries, is its large jalis, or intricate screens, which cover whole walls rather than just the palace windows. The purpose of these screens, which are particularly fine and delicate at Jaisalmer, is to filter the harsh desert light whilst at the same time maximising the flow of cooling air through palace rooms. Many of the jalis are topped by curved eaves that derive from the distinctive pavilion domes of older Bengali palaces. Many people still live within the fortress precinct; it is not just a heritage monument, but a living community!
Dominating the forts, houses, shops and narrow alleyways is the Rajmahal, the seven-storey palace of the former Maharaja. We shall visit this palace and also some of the seven Jain temples within the citadel walls. The maharajas of Jaisalmer practiced tolerance toward the Jain population. These Jain temples, constructed between the 12th and 15th centuries, are particularly noted for their magnificent carvings.
The old city also has a number of wonderful, highly decorated merchant houses, havelis. Jain merchants who enriched themselves by trading jewellery and fine brocades built a number of these in the 19th century. Much older is the Salim Singh-ki-Haveli, built some 400 years ago by Salim Singh, the prime minister of Jaisalmer. (Overnight Jaisalmer) BLD
Bikaner - 1 night
Day 16: Wednesday 19 February, Jaisalmer – Bikaner
Today we drive a long distance across the north of Rajasthan to Bikaner, once a great centre of power in northern Rajasthan. Tonight, we stay in another wonderful heritage building. Hotel Laxmi Niwas Palace was once the personal residence of Maharaja Ganga Singhji of Bikaner. The residential rooms have a richness befitting their use by the royal family itself or by the personal guests of the Maharaja (only guests of equal status to the Maharaja would be invited to spend the night in the palace). Most are lavishly decorated using gold wall paintings and have painted or carved wood ceilings. (Overnight Bikaner) BLD
Khimsar Fort - 2 nights
Day 17: Thursday 20 February, Bikaner – Khimsar Fort
- Junagarh Fort, Bikaner
- Karni Mata Temple (Temple of Rats)
This morning we explore Bikaner, a vibrant, dust-swirling desert town with a fabulous fort. The city of Bikaner, which was founded in 1488 by Rao Bika, a descendent of Jodha (founder of Jodhpur), has one of Rajasthan’s greatest fortresses.
Junargarh Fort was built by Raja Rai Singhji, the sixth ruler of Bikaner (r. 1571-1612). Raja Rai Singhji could marshal the revenues of a kingdom increased by the conquest of half Marwar, and a grant of half Gujurat. It was to Akbar and Jahangir, who raised him to a high rank at the Mughal Imperial court, that he owed his wealth. As a reward for his service as military commander, he was granted the regions of Gujurat and Burhanpur. During his tenure in imperial service he also travelled extensively, which honed his understanding of art and architecture that informed the architectural styles of Junagarh Fort. The palaces within the fort were built over three hundred years from the early 17th to the 20th centuries. Bikaner has some of the richest of all palace interiors, which are also in good condition.
This afternoon we depart for the historic Khimsar Fort. Established in 1523 A.D, it is perched on the edge of the Thar Desert. En route, we make a brief stop to visit the Karni Mata Temple, also known as Temple of Rats, famous for the approximately 20,000 black rats (called kabobs) that live and are revered in the temple. (Overnight Khimsar Fort) BLD
Day 18: Friday 21 February, Khimsar Fort
- Panchla blackbuck 4WD safari
- Time at leisure
- Optional 2-hour Camel Safari
This morning we depart Khimsar Fort for a two-hour 4WD safari. Our journey of 16 kilometres by open jeep aims to view herds of blackbuck, chinkara and blue bull antelope. Native to the Indian Subcontinent, the blackbuck is an antelope species that has been classified as endangered since 2003. Male blackbuck are dark brown, black, and white and have long, twisted horns, while females are fawn-coloured, with no horns.
The remainder of the day is at leisure for you to relax and enjoy the various facilities provided at the Khimsar Fort. You may wish to join an optional camel safari. (Overnight Khimsar Fort) BLD
Jaipur - 1 night
Day 19: Saturday 22 February, Khimsar Fort – Ajmer – Jaipur
- Dargah Sharif, Ajmer
- Adhai-Din-ka-Jhonpra, Ajmer
This morning we set out for the great Muslim devotional centre of Ajmer, famous for its shrine, Dargah Sharif, surrounding the tomb of the great Sufi Holy Man, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti (1143-1235), who introduced the Sufi Chishti Order to India from Central Asia. The saint’s marble-domed tomb was built by his most famous devotee, the Mughal Emperor Akbar; the centre was also patronized by Shah Jahan. Akbar used to make bare-foot pilgrimages to the tomb; he once walked 363 kilometres from Agra to Ajmer in thanksgiving after the birth of his son Salim, the future Emperor Jahangir. Millions of pilgrims come to Ajmer for the anniversary of the saint’s death in October; chaotic crowds jam into his mausoleum to circumambulate and throw flower petals upon his tomb.
Nearby, Ajmer’s architectural masterpiece is the Adhai-Din-ka-Jhonpra, (‘Hut of Two-and-a-Half Days’) whose name seems to derive from the duration of a religious fair once held here. The ruins of this early 13th-century mosque complex include an exquisite, intricately carved seven-arched screen fronting its colonnaded prayer hall. Each arch takes a different shape and the myriad columns within the hall are elaborately carved. In the mid-afternoon we continue our journey east to Jaipur. (Overnight Jaipur) BLD
Agra, 2 nights
Day 20: Sunday 23 February, Jaipur – Fatehpur Sikri – Agra
Today, we depart Jaipur and drive to Fatehpur Sikri. During his long reign, Akbar made no commitment to a permanent capital. Over the years, three cities filled that role: Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Lahore. For long periods, the centre of the empire was a vast military encampment, a tent capital that moved with the emperor on campaign across northern and central India.
In 1571, Akbar moved from Agra to his newly built capital at Fatehpur Sikri, some 40 kilometres distant. His imperial palace complex, standing on a low sandstone ridge, is one of the most remarkable architectural assemblages in India. It comprises gardens, courtyards and pavilions that stand as one of the high points of Mughal culture. During the 15 years that he resided at Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar directed some of his major conquests and took far-reaching initiatives in the areas of land revenue, trade and financial policy, military organisation and provincial administration. In 1585, Akbar moved his capital to Lahore. Though he later resided in Agra, the imperial court never returned to Fatehpur Sikri and the city was abandoned.
The design of Fatehpur Sikri was intended to emphasise the Islamic nature of the Mughal state, but also Akbar’s accommodation of Hindu culture. The city is dominated by a huge congregational mosque. In the courtyard stands the tomb of a widely revered Sufi saint, Salim Chisti, from whom the young Akbar frequently sought spiritual advice. In this way, institutional and mystical Islam were combined in the core of the imperial capital to reinforce the legitimacy of the ruling house.
Yet Fatehpur Sikri was primarily a courtly city, whose cultural masterpieces were very much the product of the young emperor’s passion for architecture and building. The buildings of Fatehpur Sikri are loaded with decorative motifs which derive from earlier Indic culture, in particular Hinduism. These images reflect Akbar’s genius for melding together a culturally diverse state which served as the basis of his power. Varied traditions of music, painting, calligraphy, poetry – and open religious debate – all flourished in the sophisticated palatial setting of Fatehpur Sikri. The site visit will take about two hours. In the late afternoon, we continue our journey to Agra, the premier city of the Mughal Empire. (Overnight Agra) BLD
Day 21: Monday 24 February, Agra – Sikandra – Agra
- Taj Mahal
- Agra Fort
- Tomb of the Itimud-ud-Daula
Agra is of ancient Hindu origin. It was chosen for a capital by Sikander Lodi, Sultan of Delhi, whose son lost the empire to the founder of the Mughal dynasty, Babur, at Panipat in 1526. Akbar (1556-1605) was the first Mughal emperor to have sufficient security of tenure of office to be able to embellish a capital. He chose Agra, which continued intermittently as the imperial capital until the emperor Aurangzeb moved to Delhi.
We begin this morning with a visit to the Taj Mahal. The most famous of all Islamic shrines, it was built by an architect from Shiraz (Iran) for Shah Jahan to commemorate his wife, Mumtaz Mihal, who died in childbirth in 1610. The distraught emperor planned to build a black tomb for himself to mirror the white Taj Mahal across the Yamuna River. He was deposed by his son before he could achieve his grandiose plan.
Next, we visit Agra’s powerful Red Fort. As busily as he was reducing the fortresses of his enemies, Akbar was building his own strategic network of strongholds across northern India. Chief amongst these was the fortress at his capital, Agra, which accommodated his court, the imperial family, a massive arsenal, a granary and the vaults that held the Mughal treasure hoards.
After lunch we travel to one of the most remarkable of Mughal buildings, the tomb of the Empress Nur Jahan’s father, a senior noble of Persian lineage whose long and capable service to the emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan earned him the title Itimud ud daula, ‘pillar of the state’. The building, a milestone in the development of Mughal architecture, was the first to be clad in white marble, which was then entirely decorated in pietra dura floral and geometric designs.
We finish our day’s program with a trip across the river to view the Taj Mahal from the riverbank. Here, the wonderful building can be viewed away from the trappings of the modern city, and it seems to float up from the water. (Overnight Agra) BLD
Day 22: Tuesday 25 February, Agra – Delhi Airport
- Morning at leisure
- Farewell Lunch
This morning is at leisure. After a special farewell lunch, we commence the three-hour drive to Delhi Airport for the return flight to Australia. BL