Discover the highlights and contrasts of north and south India

Experience the real India on this comfortable introduction to the cultures of north India and the lush beauty of southern India. Travelling from Delhi in the north to Trivandrum in the south, discover everything that India has to offer. The highlights and hidden jewels are revealed against a backdrop of green on a Kerala tour and in the vibrant towns of Rajasthan. Visit India's flamboyant major cities and the quiet repose of tiny fishing villages, along with tea gardens, tribal homes and colonial enclaves. Discover the culinary delights of each region and stay in colourful hotels, heritage accommodation and even a palace!

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Terms & Conditions

Start
Delhi, India
Finish
Kovalam, India
Country
India
Style
Comfort
Code
HHKZC
Physical rating
Ages
Min 18
Group size
Min 1, Max 12

Why we love this trip

  • Discover the man-made beauty that lies across the north of India – from Jaipur’s ‘Palace of the Winds’ and Royal City Palace, Agra’s Red Fort and iconic Taj Mahal, to the palaces of Orchha and the carved steps leading down to the river in Varanasi

  • Be immersed in the spirituality of India – the Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi, the ghats of Varanasi, Kama Sutra carved temples and Buddhist pilgrimage sites; evening prayer ceremonies, ancient bathing rituals and candle flower ceremonies on the Ganges

  • With its idyllic lifestyle and contemporary feel, Puducherry is a beautiful seaside town to explore

  • Learn about the man who dedicated his life to the independence of India at The National Gandhi Museum

  • Track footprints in search of wild elephants in the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

  • The rolling hills and chai gardens of Munnar are a tea lover’s dream

  • Ferry-hop between the islands of Fort Kochi to discover palaces, temples and Portuguese architecture at every turn

Is this trip right for you?

  • Between December and February flights and trains in the north can be delayed due to fog, (but this just adds to the country’s atmospheric vistas).

  • In the summer months it will get very hot. Be sure to drink lots of water, pack light cotton clothing and use adequate skin protection.

  • Please note there are several early mornings on this trip, allowing you to see more of the country in the captivating morning light.

  • We’ll be visiting multiple temples during the trip so it’s important to wear appropriate clothing that covers the arms, legs and shoulders.

  • As we'll be walking through varying terrain in national parks, comfortable walking shoes are essential.

Itinerary

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 January 2018 to 31 December 2018. View the itinerary for departures between 01 January 2017 - 31 December 2017

Welcome to India. You adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting in the hotel at 6pm. Please ask reception to confirm the time and place of your meeting. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. You can use any free time before the meeting to explore this excitingly chaotic capital city. Filled with historical sites from different eras, museums and galleries, shops and endless bazaars, there’s much to see and you will be briefed on sightseeing options.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Complimentary Airport Arrival Transfer
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
This morning join your group leader on an excursion into the sights and sounds of Old Delhi. Set off on the city's modern metro system, then get a taste of India's famed public transport with an optional cycle rickshaw ride through chaotic streets, such as the famous Chandni Chowk. Make a visit to the Jama Masjid, Delhi's oldest mosque and one of its most impressive buildings, then visit the Sheeshganj Gurudwara (Sikh Temple) to learn about the Sikh religion. The rest of the day is free for further exploration or maybe to join an Urban Adventure (booked locally). Perhaps visit the World Heritage-listed Mughal masterpiece of Humayun's Tomb, the first garden tomb in India, built in 1570. Wonder at the tall brick minaret of Qutub Minar, which was started all the way back in the 12th century, or explore the mighty Red Fort of Delhi. Part palace and part fort, it played an integral part in the history of the city with former residents ranging from royal families to British soldiers.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Delhi - Old Delhi walking tour
  • Delhi - Jama Masjid
  • Delhi - Sheeshganj Gurudwara (Sikh Temple)
Optional Activities
  • Delhi - Humayun's Tomb - INR500
  • Delhi - Qutub Minar - INR500
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Today you’ll get your first experience of Indian rail travel with an express train into Rajasthan and on to its capital, Jaipur (approximately 5 hours). Then you'll take a walking tour through the crowded streets packed with cars, camel carts, rickshaws, trucks, and bicycles, past traditionally dressed Rajput men wearing colourful turbans and sporting magnificent moustaches. Walk to the city's crowded bazaars filled with handcrafted textiles, folk art, and the local specialty of semi-precious stones. Make a photo stop at India's most photographed building after the Taj Mahal, the Hawa Mahal or 'Palace of the Winds'. You'll also visit Jantar Mantar; not a series of elaborate sculptures but actually an observatory filled with instruments to track the stars, built by the founder of Jaipur, Maharaja Jai Singh. This evening continue to indulge in the wonders of Indian culture by watching a Bollywood blockbuster at the spectacular Raj Mandir Cinema - a vivid combination of action romance, drama and music.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Jaipur - Walking tour
  • Jaipur - Bollywood Movie at Raj Mandir Cinema
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Drifting high over the pink city while it’s bathed in early morning sunlight is a highlight for many visitors to Jaipur, and so there’s the option to take a hot air balloon experience this morning. For additional information please see the important notes section of your trip notes. Later, climb the twisting roads of the Aravalli Hills and round the final bend to see the massive Amber Fort loom into view. The legacy of a fallen empire, the opulent palace is a superb example of Rajput architecture and is packed with elaborate rooms of lavish murals, frescoed arches and delicate jali work. Don’t miss the sparkling Mirror Palace, covered floor-to-ceiling in thousands of reflective tiles, the hall becomes a dazzling fantasy with the light of a single match. The rest of the day is free to explore more of Jaipur that you might have missed yesterday.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Jaipur - Amber Fort
Optional Activities
  • Jaipur - Balloon Safari - USD250
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
This morning you will leave Jaipur and journey across the plains of Rajasthan by private vehicle to reach Agra (approximately 6 hours). Agra is home to one of the world's most recognisable monuments, the Taj Mahal. The best way to uncover Agra is by cycle rickshaw, so after arriving you’ll be taken on a rickshaw tour of the city. You’ll visit the spectacular and iconic Taj Mahal. Best known as a monument to love and loss, the 17th century Taj is a beautiful example of Mughal architecture, surrounded by trimmed English gardens. Agra is also home to one of the finest looking forts in India. Enter the dark red sandstone stronghold of Agra Fort - part fortress, part palace and part prison - and search through throne rooms and tiny but incredibly decorated mosques. The rest of the day is yours to spend as you please. You might take this opportunity to try some local dishes.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Agra - Taj Mahal
  • Agra - Agra Fort
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
Please note that in the case of an unreasonably hot, or cold, foggy day, the cycle rickshaw tour will be replaced with a battery-powered rickshaw tour.
Leaving the majestic Taj behind you, travel south by express train to the state of Madhya Pradesh (approximately 3.5 hours). When you arrive, stretch your legs and climb into your vehicle for the drive to Khajuraho (approximately 3 hours). This is a place famed for its incredible 1000-year-old temples, untouched by foreign invaders for centuries thanks to its remote location, far from any major historical or modern centres. These temples are especially reputed for their explicit carvings that illustrate the entire Kama Sutra. The reason behind their existence and more interestingly, the inspiration for the intricate, erotic carvings is open to wide interpretation. Some argue that the carvings, all located on the exterior of the temples, signified the act of leaving sexual desires behind upon entering the holy temples, while others think them descriptive learning tools for young boys in the area about life beyond religion. You will discover more about these buildings, built during the Chandela Dynasty, on a tour of the western temple complex. Later, watch a traditional performance at the famous classical dance festival that occurs here. Before leaving the town, visit the home of a local Hindu family, where you will enjoy a home-cooked meal and be immersed in the life of middle-class Indians.
Accommodation
  • Heritage Property (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Khajuraho - Kama Sutra temples
  • Khajuraho - Traditional dance performance
  • Khajuraho - Home-cooked lunch & family visit
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Special Information
Train 3.5 hours, plus private vehicle 3 hours. Today is a long travel day.
From Khajuraho, take your private transport northeast to Orchha (approximately 3 hours), a lovely town on the banks of the Betwa River where you’lll have the chance to uncover a very different side of India. Initially a hunting area, Orchha has changed very little over the centuries. Despite its small size, it is filled with many beautiful temples and palaces, build here in the 16th century by the ruling Bundelas clan. Take an orientation walk around the city, then visit the stunning Orchha Palace, built by Bir Sing Deo for his friend Jehangir, the great Mughal ruler. Take note of the grand Iwans (domes) that were built large enough to allow the movement of war elephants. There will also be the chance to make a stop at Taragram, one of our Responsible Tourism projects. Taragram is a paper making factory that enables local tribal women to work outside the realm usually afforded to them. The paper is crafted from wood pulp and recycled clothing.
Accommodation
  • Heritage Property (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Orchha - Taragram visit
  • Orchha - Orientation walk
  • Orchha - Orchha Palace
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Enjoy the laid back, relaxed, and hassle-free atmosphere of the town. Later today you’ll get a closer experience of the district's flavours at a cooking demonstration by the town’s local people. This evening witness the Ram Raja Temple puja (prayer) ceremony at the shrine at the heart of the city. Afterwards, climb aboard for an overnight train from Orchha to Varanasi.
Accommodation
  • Overnight train (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Orchha - Cooking demonstration
  • Orchha - Ram Raja Temple ceremony
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
Arrive in the holy centre of Varanasi in the morning from the overnight train. Varanasi is awash with shrines and temples, and the ultimate destination for Hindu pilgrims who travel from far and wide to experience this spiritual city. Varanasi is not known for its cleanliness, but it is recognised as one of India’s most inspiring cities. Take a walking tour of the old city, through narrow laneways packed with stalls and shops, past the dhobi wallahs, burning ghats, and the endless temples that echo with bells and the pungent aroma of incense. This evening soak up the unique atmosphere of a candle flower ceremony.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Varanasi - Old City tour
  • Varanasi - Sunset candle ceremony
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Today starts early with a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges, where you can watch the light gradually illuminate the many ghats and temples along the river as you pass. There is an option to take a trip to nearby Sarnath, one of the four main Buddhist pilgrimage destinations. The site is where Buddha preached his message of the path to enlightenment and features a number of stupas and museums to explore. Alternatively the day can be spent exploring the laneways and alleys behind the ghats, or picking up some examples of the excellent local silk industry. Perhaps witness pilgrims performing ancient bathing rituals and ceremonies as your time in this sacred city comes to an end.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Varanasi - Sunrise boat trip
Optional Activities
  • Varanasi - Sarnath day trip (entry only) - INR250
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
This morning will be free for you to soak up the atmosphere of Varanasi during your final time here. Maybe do some last minute shopping in the incredible bazaars or merely wander through the ghats. Then you will return to Delhi by plane (approximately 1.5 hours). This evening there will be an (optional) group dinner organised for those interested.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Fly to Chennai for the second half of your trip. This flight is included in the cost of the trip.

Chennai (previously known as Madras) was the site of the first major settlement of the East India Company in 1639, and is now the fourth largest city in India. The town grew up around the Fort St George and along Mount Road and some interesting historic buildings can be seen here. It's true that it is busy, noisy and often extremely hot, but in many ways it is a surprisingly efficient and orderly place by Indian standards. The Government Museum is worth a visit if you're interested in the history of the city, and for motorcycle enthusiasts the Enfield Factory tour is a must - though it only runs on certain days of the week, so check days and times before you make the journey. You might prefer to just wander the streets and soak up the atmosphere, exploring the many temples and bustling local markets.

As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're encouraged to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers.
Included Activities
  • Complimentary Airport Arrival Transfer
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
From Chennai, drive along the scenic East Coast Road to the fishing village of Mamallapuram. Take a guided tour around the town’s laidback beaches and temples, keeping an eye out for the sculptures and carvings dotted around the place. Visit the incredible 8th-century Shore Temple and its mandapams (carved pillars) to pay your respects to the deity Shiva.  Drive on to the living project of Auroville. This intriguing experimental township, founded in 1968, has more than 80 rural settlements some 1,500 residents, around half of whom are foreign nationals. Auroville is also home to the world’s largest solid crystal, which you can examine.
Continue onto Puducherry in the late afternoon where your evening is then free. Today's drive should take around three hours in total.
Included Activities
  • Puducherry - Walking tour & Sri Aurobindo Ashram
  • Mamallapuram - Shore Temple
  • Mamallapuram local guide
  • Auroville - Experimental township
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Explore the united territories of Puducherry (formerly known as Pondicherry). This town was under French rule until 1954, and the European style of the town extends from beautiful colonial architecture right down to the uniforms of the police. On arrival, enjoy a walking tour to see local temples, the French Quarter and the spiritual community of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. In free time afterwards, perhaps do some shopping, or simply stroll around and enjoy the lovely atmosphere.
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Head to Tanjavar (approximately 5 hours). Visit the World Heritage-listed Brihadeeswarar Temple, an awesome, thousand-year-old Hindu marvel.
Dedicated to Shiva, its one of the largest temples in India and was completed in 1010. Keep an eye out for the sacred bull, carved from a single peice of granite measuring around 5 x 4 metres.
Included Activities
  • Thanjavur - Brihadeeswara Temple
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Drive to the town of Karaikudi today (approximately 2.5 hours). Take an orientation walk around the village when you arrive. You will also visit some traditional havelis (mansions), whose grandiose architecture is sure to impress. Be sure to sample some spicy Chettinad cuisine while you're here.
Included Activities
  • Karaikudi - Havelis
  • Karaikudi - Village walk
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
Continue to Maderai (approximately 2 hours). Here you will wander through the colourful markets and bazaars, then visit the Sri Meenakshi Temple in the city’s centre. Still in use today, this ancient temple is a maze of lamp-lit corridors leading to shrines where traditional rituals take place. You might also like to explore the National Gandhi Museum (optional), dedicated to the life and achievements of the 'Father of the Nation' and the leader of India's fight for independence. Your evening is then free to spend as you please.
Included Activities
  • Madurai - Sri Meenakshi Temple guided tour
  • Madurai - Walking tour
Optional Activities
  • Madurai - Gandhi Museum - Free
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Enjoy a day of free time in Madurai. Perhaps visit the Art Museum to see a superb collection of carvings, check out the Tirumalai Nayak Palace or simply relax over a cup of the local chai. 
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Drive through rubber and pineapple plantations to Thekkady and explore the Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve, perched lakeside in the ranges of the Western Ghats. The sanctuary surrounds a picturesque lake, which was formed as result of a dam that was built in 1895. It ambles through the contours of the wooded hills, and is a permanent source of water for local wildlife. This afternoon, take a tour of a local spice plantation. If you have time, perhaps attend a demonstration of Indian martial arts (kalaripayattu) at the Kadathanadan Kalari Centre.
Included Activities
  • Periyar - Spice plantation visit
Optional Activities
  • Periyar NP - Ayurvedic Massage - INR700
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
In the morning, take a guided nature walk in the acclaimed Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary (approximately 3 hours). Encounters with animals in the wild are never guaranteed, and this is more of a jungle walk than an animal spotting tour, but look out for tiger tracks, spotted deer, Indian elephants or gaur – the world's largest species of buffalo. In the afternoon, unwind with an optional ayurvedic massage or just relax in this scenic setting.
Included Activities
  • Periyar - Guided nature walk
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
The nature walk usually is the Green Zone walk in the National Park.
Tigers are extremely rare and shy in Periyar. It is however a lovely walk, the local guides are villagers who have lived in the area for generations and are very knowledegable of the areas flora and fauna.
Bring water, we start early but it gets very hot and humid later in the morning
In the morning, drive to Kochi, aka Cochin. This place is a veritable melting pot of Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and British influences. If you decide to island-hop, the ferry network is the best way to get around. On arrival, visit the region of Fort Kochi and explore its antique shops and spice bazaars. The Chinese fishing nets lining the coast can be seen in full operation early in the morning. Use your free evening to wander down the beach at sunset.
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
Please note that Kerala is officially a dry state, with alcohol sales and consumption limited to bars in 5 star hotels.
In the morning, visit the Dutch Palace (Mattancherry Palace), which was built in the 16th century by the Portuguese before the Dutch renovated it. Then check out the oldest functioning Jewish synagogue in India, the Paradesi Synagogue. In the evening witness a classic Kathakali performance, a dramatic dance that combines storytelling with physical technique.

Included Activities
  • Kochi - Fort Kochi walk
  • Kochi - Kathakali performance
  • Kochi - Jewish Synagogue
  • Kochi - Dutch Palace
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Discover sleepy Kumarakom in the backwaters of Kerala. Drive from Kochi to Kumarkon to our resort along the riverside. Take a short backwaters cruise before heading out on a village walk.
Your guide will take you on a walk around the local village and introduce you to members of the community. This is a great chance to meet and talk with the people who live in the backwaters. Strolling under palm trees and weaving in between the rice fields that cover the island, learn about their lifestyles.
Included Activities
  • Kumarakom - Backwaters boating excursion
  • Kumarakom - Village walk
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
In the morning, drive to Kovalam (approximately 4 hours) via Kerala’s capital, Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram). Kovalam was once a quiet coastal village known for its export of fresh fish and coconuts, but is now one of India’s more popular beach resorts. Visit the ancient temple of Attukal Bhagavathy in the afternoon. If you have free time, explore the old signalling station of Anchuthengu Fort or the 16th-century Koyikkal Palace. Your evening is then free to do as you wish. Perhaps head out with the group for a farewell meal.
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Enjoy free time today. You might like feast on some delicious seafood, check out Anchuthengu Fort, wander around the village or relax on the beach. 
Included Activities
  • Kovalam - Walking tour
Optional Activities
  • Kovalam - Anchuthengu Fort - INR50
  • Kovalam - Koyikkal Palace - INR50
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Your trip comes to an end after breakfast and you’re free to leave the accommodation at any time. The nearest airport is Trivandrum – your tour leader can assist you in arranging a transfer. If you’d like to book a transfer before travelling to India, please let your agent know.
Meals Included
  • Breakfast

Meals

24 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 3 dinners

Transport

Auto rickshaw, Boat, Cycle rickshaw, Jeep, Metro, Overnight sleeper train, Plane, Private minibus, Private vehicle, Shuttle Bus, Train

Accommodation

Hotel (25 nights)

Included activities

  • Complimentary Airport Arrival Transfer
  • Delhi - Old Delhi walking tour
  • Delhi - Jama Masjid
  • Delhi - Sheeshganj Gurudwara (Sikh Temple)
  • Jaipur - Walking tour
  • Jaipur - Bollywood Movie at Raj Mandir Cinema
  • Jaipur - Amber Fort
  • Agra - Taj Mahal
  • Agra - Agra Fort
  • Khajuraho - Kama Sutra temples
  • Khajuraho - Traditional dance performance
  • Khajuraho - Home-cooked lunch & family visit
  • Orchha - Taragram visit
  • Orchha - Orientation walk
  • Orchha - Orchha Palace
  • Orchha - Cooking demonstration
  • Orchha - Ram Raja Temple ceremony
  • Varanasi - Old City tour
  • Varanasi - Sunset candle ceremony
  • Varanasi - Sunrise boat trip
  • Puducherry - Walking tour & Sri Aurobindo Ashram
  • Mamallapuram - Shore Temple
  • Mamallapuram local guide
  • Auroville - Experimental township
  • Thanjavur - Brihadeeswara Temple
  • Karaikudi - Havelis
  • Karaikudi - Village walk
  • Madurai - Sri Meenakshi Temple guided tour
  • Madurai - Walking tour
  • Periyar - Spice plantation visit
  • Periyar - Guided nature walk
  • Kochi - Fort Kochi walk
  • Kochi - Kathakali performance
  • Kochi - Jewish Synagogue
  • Kochi - Dutch Palace
  • Kumarakom - Backwaters boating excursion
  • Kumarakom - Village walk
  • Kovalam - Walking tour

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Important notes

1. The internal flight from Delhi to Chennai is included in the price of your trip.
2. A Single Supplement is available on this trip. See under the Single Traveller section of your Trip Notes for more information.
3. An airport Arrival Transfer is included. Please provide your flight details at the time of booking.
4. This trip is a combination trip and as such the makeup of your group will change on day 12

JAIPUR HOT AIR BALLOON FLIGHTS
Hot air balloon flights are operated by Sky Waltz in Jaipur. Flights operate mornings from September to June and morning and evening from September to March.
Morning flights depart around sunrise and evening flights late afternoon and last 60 mins. Return transfers, tea and coffee plus light refreshments and a certificate of flight are included in the cost.
You can register your interest and pay your tour leader at your joining meeting on day 1 of your trip.
Payment must be made by cash in either INR/AUD/USD/GBP only and is USD$250pp (subject to change)
Flights are subject to weather conditions and tickets are fully refundable in case of poor weather.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.