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

Mughals & Maharajas

“If there is one place on the face of this Earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest day when man began the dream of existence, it is India.”

Romain Rolland (French Philosopher, 1886-1994)

This itinerary includes: Delhi, Agra, Gwalior, Orcha, Khajuraho & Varanasi.

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.

Day 3 DELHI - AGRA (Taj Mahal remains closed for visitors on Friday)

Post breakfast drive to Agra on the new Yamuna Express highway (approx. 3 ½ hours’ drive). 

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. Upon arrival in Agra check-in to your hotel. Later in the afternoon visit the Taj Mahal at sunset.

Day 4 - AGRA

Early morning visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise. At beginning of the day, the monument appears to change its hue, tinted by the glow of the appearing 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.

Return to the hotel for breakfast.

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.

Post lunch, visit the Mehtab Bagh across the Yamuna River.

Mehtab Bagh - the last of eleven Mughal-built gardens along the Yamuna opposite the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort and was built by Emperor Babur.  It is also noted that Emperor Shah Jahan had identified a site from the crescent-shaped, grass-covered flood plain across the Yamuna River as an ideal location for viewing the Taj Mahal. It was then created as “a moonlit pleasure garden called Mehtab Bagh.” White plaster walkways, airy pavilions, pools and fountains were also created as part of the garden, with fruit trees and narcissus. The garden was designed as an integral part of the Taj Mahal complex on the riverfront terrace pattern.

Overnight in Agra.

Day 5 AGRA - GWALIOR

Post breakfast, checkout and drive to Gwalior (3 hours / 120 kms).

Gwalior was the winter capital of the state of Madhya Bharat which later became a part of the larger state of Madhya Pradesh. Prior to Indian independence on 15 August 1947, Gwalior remained a princely state of the British Raj with the Scindia as the local rulers. High rocky hills surround the city from all sides, on the north it just forms the border of the Ganga- Yamuna Drainage Basin. The city however is situated in the valley between the hills. Upon arrival in Gwalior, transfer to your hotel.

Later in the evening, proceed to Gwalior Fort to witness the sound & light show - a nightly 45-minute sound-and-light show is held in the amphitheatre at Man Mandir  Palace, Gwalior Fort. It’s a musical narration and storytelling about SAGE Gwalipa and the isolated fort during those times. The story also continues further and mentions about the severe turbulence the fort has faced during the historical times. 

Overnight in Gwalior.

Day 6 GWALIOR

Post breakfast, proceed to visit the Gwalior Fort.

The Gwalior Fort: Standing on a steep mass of sandstone, Gwalior Fort dominates the city and is its most significant monument. It has been the scene of momentous events, imprisonment, battles and jauhars. A steep road winds upwards to the fort, flanked by statues of the Jain tirthankaras, carved into the rock face. The magnificent outer wall reputation for being one of the most invincible forts of India. This imposing structure inspired Emperor Babur to describe it as “the pearl amongst the fortresses of Hind”. Later visit the Jai Vilas Palace.

Jai Vilas Palace was constructed by Maharaja Jayaji Rao Scindia in 1874. It is a fine example of European architecture, designed and built by Sir Michael Filose. A combination of architectural styles, the first floor is Tuscan, the second Italian-Doric and the third Corinthian. The area of the Jai Vilas palace is 12,40,771 square feet and it is particularly famous for its large Durbar Hall. The interior of the Durbar Hall is decorated with gilt and gold furnishings and adorned with a huge carpet and gigantic chandeliers. It is 100 feet long, 50 feet wide and 41 feet in height. The evening is at leisure.

Overnight in Gwalior.

Day 7 GWALIOR - ORCCHA

Post breakfast, checkout and drive to Orchha (125 kms- 2 ½ hours).

Orcha – Once the capital city of the Bundelas, Orchha was founded in 1531 AD and remained the capital of a powerful Rajput kingdom until 1783 AD. Orcha (hidden place) is now just a village, set amongst a wonderful complex of well preserved palaces and temples. The main palaces were protected inside fortified walls on an island in the Betwa River.

Arrive at Orchha & check-in to your hotel.

Later visit the main attraction of Orchha – The Orchha fort complex, located on an island on River Betwa, having a number of palaces to visit within it. A four-arched bridge leads to the fort complex on the island. The Jahangir Mahal, which was built by Bir Singh Deo in the early 17th century to mark the visit of the Mughal Emperor, is an important monument of this fort. It is known for its delicate work on one hand and balanced with strong masonry on the other. Raj Mahal, the second palace in this fort complex is well known for its murals, depicting religious themes. The Rai Parveen Mahal, dedicated to the 17th- century poetess-musician, is the third palace within this complex and is set amongst well- laid gardens. In the evening witness the son-et- Lumiere show at Orchha fort/palace complex. Running horses, lion attack, war, and the narration of how Orchha was found are spellbinding to see at the Sound & light show. Head to unveil the magical past of Orchha preserved in its monuments with one of the most beautiful shows in India.

Overnight  in Orcha.

Day 8 ORCCHA - KHAJURAHO

After breakfast check-out and drive to Khajuraho (approx. 3½ hours drive) Khajuraho – the Temples of Khajuraho are dedicated to life, love, joy and are perfection in craftsmanship. Life in every form and mood has been captured in stone, testifying to the extraordinary breadth of vision of the Chandela Rajputs under whose rule the temples were conceived and constructed. The temples were built in the short span of a hundred years, from 950 to 1050 AD. Of the 85 original temples, 22 have survived till today to constitute one of the world’s great artistic wonders. The legend of the temples is a fascinating one. Hewati, the daughter of Brahmin priest, was seduced by the moon-god. The child born of this union was Chandravarman, founder of the Chandela dynasty. Chandravarman, when established as a ruler, had a dream–visitation from his mother. It is said that she implored him to build temples that would reveal human passions, and in doing so, bring about a realization of the emptiness of human desire.

Once the great Chandela capital, is now a quiet village of about few thousand people, in the remote interiors of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The temples are a brilliant example of medieval Indian architecture. In the evening witness the son-et- Lumiere show at the Western group of the temple complex, which tells the history of Khajuraho temples with sound and light.

Overnight in Khajuraho.

Day 9 KHAJURAHO - DELHI

After breakfast proceed to visit the Western Group of temples.

Ancient monuments have fascinating stories to tell. But few match the mystery wrapped around the temples of Khajuraho. The Hindu Chandela kings erected 85 temples between 850 and 1100 AD. Twenty five remain of which nine are embodiments of medieval art and architecture and famous for their remarkable erotic sculptures. Each temple is dedicated to a different deity, expressing its own nature through the creative energy of Shakti and cults were developed through Tantric beliefs within Hinduism, stressing that the male could be activated only by being united with the female in which sexual expression and spiritual desire were intermingled. Since this could not be suppressed, it was given a priestly blessing and incorporated into the regular ritual. These marvelous World Heritage Site, lost for centuries, the temples were accidentally discovered by a British army engineer in 1839.

In the late afternoon, checkout and drive to Khajuraho airport to connect SpiceJet flight SG 2932 to Delhi. Your flight departs Khajuraho at 5.50 pm and arrives in Delhi at 7.05 pm. 

Overnight in Delhi.

Day 10 DELHI - VARANASI

Post leisurely breakfast, check out and drive to Delhi airport to connect Indigo airlines flight 6E 6361 to Varanasi. Your flight departs Delhi at 10.45 am and arrives in Varanasi at 12.20 pm. It’s almost a 45 minutes 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. Little before dusk, walk through the heart of this ancient city and its exotic markets towards the banks of the Ganges River for an Evening Boat ride. 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 the Ganga Aarti.

Overnight in Varanasi.

Day 11 - VARANASI

Post breakfast, checkout and visit the buried site of Sarnath where the Buddha, arrived after attaining `sambodhi’ (enlightenment) and preached his first sermon, ‘All is Sorrow’. Like Jerusalem, this ancient city became responsible for the birth of three major religions; Hinduism, Buddhism & Jainism. After lunch and some leisure, visit the Weaver’s colony and witness the traditional style of silk weaving as well as the power looms. This place is a street photographer’s paradise, as it offers new visuals and fresh perspectives of one of the most photographed cities in India. But also known as the home of the Banarasi weavers who have mastered the craft of fine silk and zari work (embroidery in pure gold). Their craftsmanship has left its imprint everywhere — from the Mughal attire and royal regalia of olden days to the apparel worn by present-day Indian brides and created by modern international designers.

Later in the afternoon, set out on a Bengali Tola walk. Walk through the narrow valleys of Varanasi, the heart of the residential areas in the old city where the Bengali community have been living for generations. It gives you an opportunity to acclimatize with the culture and understand how people have lived here for thousands of years. The walk takes you through the narrow alley ways along little shops catering to the locals. There are some Ashrams along the way where the monks & the pilgrims stay. We also visit an old private residence housing a Kali temple and get an opportunity to interact with the family living there.

Overnight in Varanasi.

Day 12 - VARANASI - DELHI

Early this morning, proceed to the Ganges at sunrise, when the banks are alive with the multitude of worshippers who come to immerse themselves honouring life’s milestones as they face the rising sun. We also visit the Akhara (wrestling ground) to watch the traditional way of exercise & wrestling.

Return to the hotel for breakfast.

Check out from the hotel and drive to Delhi after breakfast. Transfer to a hotel or airport in Delhi.

Tour ends.

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