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India

Northern India's Colorful Cities, Villages, and Celebrations

Visit towering forts and palaces, explore local villages, experience Diwali with an Indian family, wander centuries-old ruins, learn to cook in a family home, and witness the sunrise over the Taj Mahal and the River Ganges on this immersive tour of Delhi, Rajasthan, and Varanasi.

The adventure begins in the hustle and bustle of India’s capital, Delhi. You'll be welcomed by our expert local guide, who will help make sense of the labyrinth of streets and process the vivid sensory overload. After exploring the capital's many striking sights, it's on to Agra, home to Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal, both of which we'll take time to admire. Next up is Jaipur, also known as the "Pink City," where we'll wind our way in and out of bazaars, palaces, and havelis, and experience the Diwali celebrations with a local family. We'll continue on to Jodhpur, the "Blue City," overlooked by the soaring Mehrangarh Fort. Afterward, a jeep safari will bring us to the traditional village of Bishnoi, before we head to Udaipur, famous for its lake palaces. At the end of our time in Rajasthan, we'll fly to the holy city of Varanasi, where the rituals of life and death are carried out on the banks of the River Ganges.

This dramatic expedition is limited to a group of 16 explorers, and organized in partnership with World Expeditions, an adventure travel company that has been operating in India since 1978. Combining some of the world's most breathtaking sights with delicious local foods and plenty of time to relax and wander on your own, this trip caters to the curious, hungry, and tenacious.

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

  • Diwali festival celebrations: In the heart of Jaipur, experience local festivities celebrating new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness.
  • Taj Mahal and Agra Fort: We promise that they won't disappoint.
  • Royal cities and traditional villages of Rajasthan: Wander the ramparts of epic, centuries-old fortresses and the alleyways of small villages.
  • Udaipur's lake palaces: Relax in this unique city, filled with fairy-tale palaces along the banks of its stunning lakes.
  • Sunrise over the River Ganges: Sit on the bank of the Ganges and watch one of the world’s great rivers and its pilgrims, mourners, and workers.

TRIP COST

A $500 deposit is required to secure your spot. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. We have a limited capacity, and we expect the trip to fill quickly. The trip will cost $2,990—the $500 deposit plus $2,490 final payment—and will cover all fixed costs including accommodations, local guides, and all meals and activities listed in the itinerary.

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TRIP?

If you have any questions that aren't answered in the itinerary, or would like to chat with someone about whether you think this adventure is the right fit for you, please don't hesitate to contact us! Email us at atlasobscura@worldexpeditions.com or give us a call at 1-855-596-6237 anytime between 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. ET.

Itinerary
Day 1
Arrive in Delhi
  • Arrive in Delhi, where you’ll be met by our guide at the airport, check into our hotel, settle in, and relax.
  • If you have the time and energy, you can start to explore this bustling and often chaotic capital. Comprised of the conspicuously contrasting Old and New Delhi, the city is home to a wide array of architecture and attractions (not to mention the Sulabh Museum of Toilets).
  • If you plan to arrive a few days early to explore more of Delhi on your own, we're more than happy to arrange extra hotel nights and guides. You can wander the local markets and metro, check out Jantar Mantar and the Indira Gandhi Museum, and relax in the magical Lodi Gardens.
  • In the evening, we’ll meet for a welcome briefing and have our first dinner together as a group.
Day 2
Delhi Explorations
  • This morning, we'll take a leisurely breakfast and then set out on a sightseeing tour of Old and New Delhi. We'll visit Delhi's most iconic sights: the Red Fort, Jama Masjid and Raj Ghat, Birla Temple, and India Gate.
  • Lunch will be your choice, with recommendations from your guide. From there, we'll continue to Humayun’s Tomb, believed to have been designed in 1565 by the widow of Humayun, the second emperor of the Mughal Empire. Its design and layout are based on the description of Islamic paradise gardens, and inspired the Taj Mahal and other Mughal tombs. After that, take some time to look closely at Qutub Minar, whose walls are inscribed with intricately carved quotations from the Koran. It is one of the most pristine towers of the medieval world.
  • We'll have dinner together and get some rest in advance of our drive to Agra.
Day 3
Agra Fort
  • After breakfast at the hotel, we'll drive south to Agra (approximately 3.5 hours). Once we arrive in this legendary city, we'll check into our hotel and take a break for lunch.
  • In the afternoon, we'll visit the magnificent and expansive Agra Fort. Its grand courtyards, royal pavilions, and palaces are fitting testimony to the 16th- and 17th-century reigns of Akbar the Great, his son Jahangir, and, later, Shah Jahan. At the time, Agra was capital of the Mughal Empire, and Mughal architecture experienced its golden age.
  • We'll also explore Itimad-ud-Daulah, which goes by the nickname "Baby Taj." This small but incredibly intricate tomb was built before the Taj Mahal by Nur Jahan, queen of Jahangir, for her parents.
  • At the end of a day that will leave you in awe, we'll dig into some local specialties. Agra is a great place to try kebabs, petha (pieces of white pumpkin dipped in sugar syrup), and gajak (a crumbly sweet made with sesame and jaggery).
  • We'll turn in early to get plenty of sleep before tomorrow's spectacular morning.
Day 4
Taj Mahal & Fatehpur Sikri
  • This morning, wake early to reach the Taj Mahal for sunrise. This is a sight you won't want to miss.
  • The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan in the mid-17th century as a mausoleum for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. On the death of his beloved Mumtaz, in sorrowful extravagance, Shah Jahan built her this white marble memorial—the accumulated labor of 20,000 men over 17 years.
  • No matter how many photos or videos you've already seen, gazing up at the soaring and strong yet simultaneously delicate structure for yourself will take your breath away.
  • Afterward, we’ll return to the hotel for breakfast and begin the drive to Jaipur (approximately 6 hours).
  • En route, we'll visit Fatehpur Sikri, a ghost city of red sandstone. Originally built by Akbar the Great in 1569, it was deserted 14 years later due to its failed water supply. Among its wonders is the Hall of Public Audience. Akbar, the emperor, treated this black-and-white-paved courtyard as a chessboard, with slave girls as figurines.
  • We'll arrive in Jaipur in time for dinner.
San Sharma
Day 5
The Diwali Festival!
  • We'll start exploring early today. We'll wander Jaipur’s Old City, with its bazaars and the Hawa Mahal (the Palace of the Winds). Then it's on to the 18th-century Jantar Mantar, one of the astronomical wonders of the world and India’s best-preserved observatory.
  • This afternoon, we'll walk through the markets of the Pink City to prepare for a special evening by shopping for Indian garments. On Diwali, you’re always supposed to look your best, and it's tradition to wear something new!
  • As the sun sets and the markets begin to sparkle, we'll make our way to the home of our hosts for the evening. While enjoying a traditional welcoming beverage, we'll learn about Diwali's history and festivities. Sharing this holiday with a local family will allow for an authentic understanding of the stories, rituals, and food that accompany this celebration of good over evil. You will join in rituals of lighting of clay lamps (diyas), designing decorative rangoli, and reciting prayers before a delicious vegetarian dinner.
Day 6
Amber Fort & Off to Nagaur
  • After breakfast at the hotel, we'll set out for a morning adventure to the Amber Fort, a jaw-dropping, 1,100-year-old honey-colored fortress-palace in the Aravalli Hills just north of the center of the town of Amer. The fort's somber sandstone exterior belies the richness of the royal apartments, which open onto striking views of a gorge.
  • After properly exploring the fort, we'll drive to Nagaur (approximately 5 hours). Upon arrival, we'll settle into our hotel and have dinner.
Day 7
Jodhpur to Jeep
  • After breakfast at the hotel, we'll drive to Jodhpur (approximately 3 hours). Founded in 1459, Jodhpur is now the second-largest city in Rajasthan. It is often called the "Blue City" thanks to the particular hue of the buildings in the city's old district.
  • In the afternoon, we'll clamber into jeeps for an excursion to a local Bishnoi village. The Bishnoi, a Hindu sect, are a rural tribal group. These communities of potters, weavers, leather embroiderers, and camel herders have achieved acclaim for their religious conservationist beliefs. They are vegetarians, follow the principles of nonviolence, and reverently protect flora and fauna.
  • In the evening, we'll enjoy a meatless dinner in the village before returning to our Jodhpur hotel.
Day 8
Jodhpur Explorations & Journey to Narlai
  • In the morning, we'll take a spin around Jodhpur with a city tour that will bring us to the clock tower, boisterous Sadar Market, and Jaswant Thada, the traditional cremation ground for Jodhpur’s rulers.
  • Rising above the city is Mehrangarh Fort, one of the largest and most breathtaking forts in India. Built in the mid-16th century, the vast complex holds multiple palaces, and now one of Rajasthan's most well-curated museums.
  • In the afternoon, we'll continue on to Narlai (approximately 3 hours). Upon arrival, we'll settle into our hotel, have dinner, and rest at the end of a majestic, gold- and blue-hued day.
S Ballal, Ahmedabad
Day 9
Off to Udaipur & Temples of Ranakpur
  • After breakfast it's on to Udaipur! We'll make a stop during the 3-hour drive to visit the Jain temples at Ranakpur. This cluster of temples, made of intricately sculpted white marble, contains more than a thousand pillars and dates back to 15th century.
  • Udaipur is also known as the "City of Lakes," due to its orientation around a complex system of lakes. After checking into our hotel, you can take the evening to roam on your own, shop in the local markets, and enjoy the beauty of the city. At night, the city is particularly picturesque, with light emanating from what appear to be floating palaces.
  • Over dinner we can talk about the James Bond movie in which the villain’s lair is Udaipur’s Lake Palace Hotel.
Day 10
Wander Udaipur
  • In the morning, we'll enjoy a city tour of Udaipur, which will include the City Palace on the bank of Lake Pichola, and Saheliyon-ki-Bari, a garden built in the early 18th century for a queen and her many personal attendants. We'll also visit Jag Mandir, a beautiful island palace on Lake Pichola.
  • This afternoon, we'll be treated to a cooking class in the two-room home of  Shashi, Queen of Spices. She'll have us making chai and chapati like pros in no time.
  • We'll head back to our hotel for the night with new recipes and happy stomachs.
Day 11
Fly to Varanasi & Visit Sarnath
  • After breakfast at the hotel, we'll fly to Varanasi.
  • Varanasi—also known as Benares, Banaras, or Kashi—is considered by many to be the spiritual capital of India. Located in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, it has a 1,000-year history as a religious center. The city's great mosques and temples—there are more than 2,000—provide fascinating insight into Indian culture.
  • During our two days, we’ll enjoy both guided tours and personal exploration. Depending on the timing of our arrival, we may have the opportunity in the afternoon to visit Sarnath, a nearby city home to the deer park where Lord Buddha preached his first discourse. Sarnath, the name of which derives from Saranganath, meaning "Lord of the Deer," is one of the four holy sites in India that Buddha sanctioned for pilgrimage.
  • We'll take dinner together after our full day of travel and turn in for some well-earned rest before tomorrow's special early rise.
nopaspoc
Day 12
Sunrise Over the Ganges
  • Rise early this morning to take in an unforgettable sunrise over the River Ganges. As we watch boats float by and the sun set the water's surface aglow, we'll also be able to observe the long string of bathing ghats, where pilgrims perform their morning cleansings in the river, as well as the burning ghats where remains are cremated. 
  • We'll visit the old city, which stands on the west bank of the sacred Ganges and extends from the ghats in a winding maze of narrow streets. Continuing through the city, we'll see a range of temples, including Bharat Mata, which is dedicated to Mother India, Durga Temple with its hundreds of monkeys, and the white marble temple of Tulsi Mana.
  • The city is also home to Banaras Hindu University (BHU), the largest residential university in all of Asia. Its student body of more than 35,000 includes all genders, castes, and religions. We'll have a chance to visit part of the BHU campus, a prominent city fixture.
Day 13
Departure & Farewell
  • This morning we'll enjoy our last breakfast together before saying farewell. We'll help you transfer to either the airport or train station for your departure home or on to your next destination.
  • Until the next adventure!
The Fine Print

 YOUR ATLAS OBSCURA EXPEDITION TO INDIA INCLUDES

  • All lodging in double-accommodation rooms in modern, well-equipped hotels throughout the trip. (Single supplement for a private room is available for $570. Otherwise we'll work to place singles together.)
  • Domestic flight from Udaipur to Varanasi.
  • Transfers to and from the airport.
  • All entrance fees, activities, and meals, as per the itinerary.
  • Private transfers and excursions with your local guides.
  • A full briefing packet for each explorer, including country information, final itinerary, logistical and contact information, recommended reading list, and packing list.
  • A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura fans, excited to explore all that this unique region has to offer!

NOTE ON ITINERARY

Itineraries and pricing are subject to change. This particular tour has been designed with specific activities and events in mind, and schedules and availabilities may change in coming months due to inclement weather, forces of nature, and other circumstances beyond our control.

NOTE ON FACILITIES & PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

Adventure is always accompanied by an element of the unexpected. The most important thing to bring with you is a flexible, positive, and open-minded attitude. We also recommend a medium level of physical fitness, since we'll be embarking on very active days together. You should be comfortable walking between three and five miles per day without difficulty, and spending extended periods of time on your feet. If you're uncertain about whether this trip is a good fit, please contact us and we're happy to discuss with you further. 

PAYMENT

You will be charged a $500 deposit to hold your space; this deposit is nonrefundable after three days from booking. The final payment of $2,490 will be due by August 25, 2018. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. For travelers wishing to have single accommodations during the trip, an additional $570 will be included in the final payment.

TRAVELERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR

  • International airfare to/from India.
  • Travel insurance (required).
  • Baggage charges.
  • Tips and gratuities.
  • Camera and video fees at sites and monuments.
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.
  • If applicable, application for an Indian visa.

QUESTIONS?

Please email us at atlasobscura@worldexpeditions.com or give us a call at 1-855-596-6237 anytime between 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. ET.