James May: Our Man In India Varanasi Episode (S3 E2 - A Bit Like Glasgow)

A Tryst with Varanasi

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open-Jawaharlal Nehru. 

This itinerary includes the visit to the following destinations : Delhi, Varanasi, Jaipur & Agra.

Day 1 - DELHI

Arrive in Delhi

Our representative will meet you in the arrival hall after clearing immigration and customs. Porters are arranged to be responsible for your baggage, a practice that will continue through your Indian journey. You are then escorted to your hotel. Overnight at the hotel.

Delhi, the Empress of Indian cities has a fascinating history and stimulating present. She has often been sacked and left desolate. But she could not be despoiled of the incomparable situation that marks her for the metropolis of a great empire. The capital of India, Delhi has been the seat of power of a number of dynasties – the Rajputs, the Afghans, the Turks and the Mughals who continued their imperial line until the British. Scattered over are surviving ruins, remnants of mighty edifices, tombs of warriors and saints which, in an impressive sense of magnificence are memorials not of a single city but of supplanted nations.

This is a city full of history and it is a city split in two. Old Delhi was the capital of Muslim India between the 17th and 19th centuries. Here you find dense, crowded streets with mosques, museums, and forts that tell the story of Muslim rule. It is contained within the 17th-century walled city of Shahjahanabad and centers on the main street known as Chandni Chowk.

New Delhi, on the other hand, was established as the capital of India when the British took over. Its streets are more open and contain embassies, government buildings, parks, and fountains. At its centre is Connaught Place, once the commercial hub of the British Raj.

Day 2 - DELHI

After a leisurely breakfast, drive through the boulevards of New Delhi and pass India gate which is a memorial built to the 85000 soldiers who died in World War I and the Afghan battles of 1919. At the other end of Rajpath stands the official residence of India's President, the Rashtrapati Bhavan, a complex of buildings that mix Mughal and Western architectural styles. Prior to independence, this was the home of India’s last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten. Close by is Sansad Bhavan, the large though less imposing parliament building. 

Later, continue to visit the historical part of the city also known as Old Delhi starting with `Shah Jehanabad’ which has some dramatic remnants of the Mughal Empire in the imposing Red Fort (drive past) and visit Jama Masjid India’s largest mosque, built by Emperor Shah Jehan, creator of the Taj Mahal. You drive through its principal street, Chandni Chowk, originally renowned throughout Asia with its tree-lined canal flowing down its center. These days it’s a bustling jumble of shops, temples, mosques and workshops of goldsmiths, silversmiths, silk traders and embroiderers.

Experience the hustle and bustle of Old Delhi and streets of Chandni Chowk sitting in a cycle rickshaw.

Culminate the Old Delhi tour with a photo stop at Raj Ghat the site of Mahatma Gandhi’s cremation. Built on the banks of the Yamuna River, is a simple memorial that marks the spot where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated in 1948. A pretty park has been created around the memorial.

Overnight in Delhi.

Day 3 DELHI - VARANASI

Today, we leave Delhi for the `Soul of India’. After breakfast, we take a morning flight and reach Varanasi by noon. It’s a 45 minute drive from the airport to your hotel. 

Varanasi, also called `Kashi’ (the city of light) is one of the oldest cities in the world. The banks of the `sacred’ Ganges teem with masses of humanity, as the rich and the poor, the families and the sanyasis (renouncer) dip in the river's holy water in an effort to achieve purity. The temple bells and chanting priests manifest the faith of the congregations that seek to make peace between the gods and one's inner soul. For Hindus, it’s a place to be born and a place to die. Later drive through the Banaras Hindu University, one of India’s largest Universities built in the beginning of the century to promote the study of Sanskrit, Indian art, music and culture and visit the Durga Temple and Kashi Vishwanath temple in the down town area of the city. At dusk, we take a boat on what is referred to as the `River of Heaven’ immersing in the daily life, rich with the chant of priests, the sound of temple bells and the fragrance of flowers and incense. We see Brahmins along the banks invoking Lord Shiva, the most powerful of the Hindu trinity, with a ceremonial ritual known as Ganga Aarti. 

Day 4 VARANASI - DELHI

Early morning return to the river for a Boat ride at sunrise. The banks are alive with the multitude of worshippers who come to immerse themselves as they face the rising sun. This form of worship is better known as `Surya Namaskar’ which translates into greeting the Sun. Later return to your hotel for breakfast. Post breakfast, check out & proceed to visit Sarnath - Like  Jerusalem, this ancient city became responsible for the birth of three major religions; Hinduism, Buddhism & Jainism. Later this afternoon, visit the buried site of Sarnath where the Buddha, arrived after attaining `sambodhi’ (enlightenment) and preached his first sermon. Stop for lunch at a good local restaurant on your way to the airport. Transfer to the airport for an afternoon flight to Delhi. 

Overnight in Delhi. 

Day 5 DELHI - JAIPUR

Post breakfast, check-out and drive to Jaipur (approx. 4 hours’ drive) Jaipur - is where the enduring charisma of the past blends with the throbbing vitality of today. Where a kaleidoscope of characters from printers and potters to artist and antique dealers present a colorful tableau of this exhilarating city. Raja Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur was no ordinary man. A scholar and an astronomer, keenly sensitive to beauty, a formidable general, who tempered power with wisdom. In building Jaipur, Jai Singh’s vision took him beyond architectural beauty, for in the sprawling barren plains beneath Amer the former capital he gave India its first planned city which has remained unique in two and a half centuries. Jai Singh made a haven and it became a center of commerce and religion. Upon arrival in Jaipur, check into your hotel.  Post lunch, visit to The City Palace located in the center of town, covers one seventh of its area, and is surrounded by a high wall. It differs from conventional Rajput fort palaces in its separation of the palace from its fortifications, perhaps modeled on Mughal architectural style with its main building scattered in a fortified campus. The royal family  occupies a portion of this palace, while other areas have been converted into museums. View their vast collection of textiles and costumes, an array of armory, miniature paintings, and carpets, the finest of which was displayed at the “Flowers Underfoot: Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era” exhibit in at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (1997-1998) Another of the city’s highlights is the open air Royal observatory, Jantar Mantar. Maharaja Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur, loved mathematics and science, and he sent emissaries to the court of Mirza Beg in Samarkand to examine an observatory he had built there in 1425 AD. Spending much of his time studying astronomy, Jai Singh constructed masonry observatories at Delhi, Varanasi, Ujjain, Mathura and most impressive, Jantar Mantar at Jaipur, completed in 1734 AD. Continue to visit the Hawa Mahal, Palace of Winds and stop briefly to photograph this monument. Part of a huge complex, it overlooks one of Jaipur’s main streets and was originally constructed to offer women of the court a vantage point, behind stone-carved screens, from which to watch the goings-on in the bazaar and the streets. This explains the 900-plus niches. The building itself resembles the crown atop Lord Krishna’s head. It offers superb views of the city including the many old palaces and houses painted pink, the color of hospitality, for the 1853 visit of Prince Albert. 

Overnight in Jaipur.

Day 6 - JAIPUR

This morning, we drive to Jaigarh Fort from where we enjoy magnificent views of the Amber Fort. At the Fort enjoy a brief explanation on the relevance and conservation of water. We then continue on to Amber Fort. Amber Fort, the former seat of the Rajput rulers of Jaipur. Ascend the fortress by Jeep and wander around the beautiful palaces and visit the Shiladevi temple (which continues to be the private temple of the Royal family) with its exquisite marble carving and silver door. The afternoon is kept free to explore the colorful markets of Jaipur. The city offers a variety of activities and interesting shopping opportunities which can be independently explored. There’s a wide range of shopping options, from exclusive fabrics, jewellery stores and handmade carpets. 

Overnight in Jaipur.

Day 7 - JAIPUR - AGRA via ABHANERI & FATEHPUR SIKRI

Post breakfast, check-out and drive to Agra (approx. 4 hour drive) en route visit the Abhaneri & red sandstone of Fatehpur Sikri (Jaipur to Abhaneri 1 ½ hours & Abhaneri to Fatehpur Sikiri 1 ½ hours and Fatehpur Sikri to Agra 1 hour). We suggest to carry packed lunch. 

Abhaneri is a small village in Eastern Rajasthan; it is located 90 km before Jaipur, on the Agra _ Jaipur highway. The present name of the village, ‘Abhaneri’ is believed to be a mispronunciation of Abha Nagri or the city of brightness. This ancient village in Rajasthan is renowned for its post-Gupta or early medieval monuments, Chand Baori and a local Goddess’ temple. The village is in ruins now, however Chand Baori is a huge step well, a unique idea conceived by the natives to work as a water reservoir. Chand Baori, which is fortified on all sides, is one of the largest and deepest step wells in India. This temple is an architectural jewel which symbolizes 10th century architecture, the ruined images in the temple indicate that the temple was actually dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The Chand Baori was created for rainwater harvesting. Located in the front of the Temple, this colossal step well has a depth of 20 meters, with 13 levels. Despite being so huge, the well still has delicate and intricate carvings which are a visual treat. Various structures are also built around the step well.

Continue driving to Agra en-route visit Fatehpur Sikri (approx. 1½ hours’ drive) Fatehpur Sikri becomes more conducive to the sun’s rays than the reflective white marble of the Taj. We begin our day driving out to this World Heritage site built in the 16 th century by the Mughal Emperor Akbar probably India’s greatest king. Post your visit to Fatehpur Sikri continue the drive to Agra (approx. 1 hour). 

Agra, was one of the grand cities of South Asia. With the arrival of the Mughals in 1526 led by Babur, Agra entered a completely new era during the reign of Emperors Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jahan. Akbar made it a great center for learning, art, commerce and culture. With its cosmopolitan bazaars and strategic location on the river Jamuna, Agra was altogether a worthy setting for the focus of an empire. This “city of the past” has World Heritage sites and some fine shopping. Upon arrival in Agra check-in to your hotel. Later in the afternoon visit the Taj Mahal at sunset. At the day’s end, the monument appears to change its hue, tinted by the glow of the setting sun. Taj Mahal with its incredible lacy white grandeur, is perhaps the most perfect architectural monument in the world. To the poet Tagore it was a “tear on the face of eternity” In memory of his wife, the great Mughal emperor Shah Jahan planned and built this most extravagant and incomparable monument to his love. Amazingly graceful from any angle, it is the close-up detail that is really astounding. 

Overnight in Agra.

Day 8 AGRA - DELHI

Early morning an option exists to visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise Return to your hotel for breakfast. Post breakfast, proceed to visit the Agra Fort & Tomb of Itmad-Ud-Daulah,. Agra Fort situated on the banks of the river Yamuna, the fort was built by the great Mughal visionary Emperor Akbar. His son Jahangir and grandson Shah Jehan added to this imposing structure during their rule. The palaces, mosque and audience halls contained within its massive wall of red sandstone are perfect examples of blending Islamic and Hindu traditions. Continue to visit the Tomb of Itmad-Ud-Daulah, which became the first Mughal structure totally built from marble and pioneering the extensive use of `pietra dura’, the inlay work, which became so characteristic of the Taj Mahal. This mausoleum is small and squat when compared to a soaring Taj, but the smaller, more human scale has its own attraction, and the beautiful patterned surface of the tomb is exquisite. 

Later you could choose to visit Kohinoor, the erstwhile jewellers to the Mughal Court featured in National Geographic and one of the marble inlay factories steeped in this decorative art culture.  

Post lunch, check out and drive to Delhi (approx. 4 hours drive ). We will drop you at the airport or to hotel of your choice.

Tour ends.

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