14 nights from
A fascinating tour to India offering an extra Himalayan perspective, this is a journey through landscapes from the Ganges’ banks to head-in-the-clouds hills, and through the region’s centuries of culture and creeds. The country’s northern reaches are an interwoven tapestry of Sikh and Hindu shrines and Buddhist temples, Christian churches and Muslim ‘imambara’ halls, Mughal monuments, colonial avenues, and charismatic cities. This tour links them all by train, beginning in Delhi, assaulting the senses with its chaos of cultural heritage, and countless relics of a chequered past; and contrasting it with Agra, where the Taj Mahal is lauded by UNESCO as a masterpiece of the world’s heritage. Lucknow is known as a city of culture, for its manners and gentility, its art and music, and its monumental architecture. Varanasi is a boisterous, flamboyant, frenetic place of pilgrimage for spiritual rites in the sacred Ganges. Beside the Hoogly River, Kolkata blends its metropolitan modernity with characterful colonial districts; and hill stations don’t come better than Darjeeling, with mountain peaks, tiered tea plantations, and Raj buildings.
Fly from London to Delhi via Dubai.
Key: B - Breakfast L - Lunch D - DinnerRead More
Fly from London to Delhi via Dubai.
On arrival, transfer to The Claridges heritage hotel for an overnight stay. An afternoon city tour passes the stately India Gate arch, parliament building, and Viceroy’s House; and visits the 16th-century mausoleum of Mughal Emperor Humayun, UNESCO listed as the first garden-tomb in India; the Gandhi Smriti Museum, dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi and where he spent the last few months of his life; and the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, formerly Jaisinghpura Palace, its golden cupolas, elegant colonnades and Sarovar pool now a sacred site, home to the haunting chants of the Sikh religion.
Transfer to the station for the Gatiman train (1½ hrs) to Agra, where your guide will meet you for a tour of the 16th-century Agra Fort, a lavish UNESCO listed palace, set by the Yamuna River and encompassing the perfect and peaceful Pearl Mosque. After settling in at the hotel, enjoy a sunset visit to the jewel in Agra’s crown, the iconic, romantic, Taj Mahal, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Overnight at the 4-star Taj Hotel & Convention Centre.
Take the Shatabdi Express train (4hrs approx.) to Lucknow, and transfer to the 5-star Hotel Taj Mahal Lucknow for a two-night stay. Hemming the Gomti riverbank, and mixing old with new, progressive with traditional; Lucknow is studded with ‘imambara’ Muslim complexes, and with shrines and statuary on a grand scale. An afternoon tour takes you to the Bada (‘big’) Imambara, known for its upper floor maze.
Among enormous Nawab shrines and Mughal tombs, a morning tour of the city shows you the imposing Chota Imambara, which became the mausoleum of the third Nawab; La Martiniere college, founded in 1845; and the ruins of the Raj-era Residency complex.
Take the train (5hrs) to Varanasi, lining the Ganges with a collision of colours and two thousand temples, jostling for space in its maze of ancient streets. Transfer to the 5-star Taj Ganges hotel for a two-night stay; and, this evening, witness the Aarti ‘ceremony of lights’ on the ghats, with floating flamed offerings to the life-giving Ganga Goddess.
Rise early for a boat ride on the Ganges, followed by a short walk through the narrow alleyways of Varanasi, one of the seven sacred Hindu cities. Return to the hotel for breakfast, and, this afternoon, visit the 2nd-century BC ruins of nearby Sarnath, one of the holiest Buddhist temples in the world, and its on-site museum.
Sit back and see the scenery as you travel on the Vande Bharat train (6hrs) to Kolkata. India’s capital (as Calcutta) under the British Raj, it is still known for its colonial-era avenues, though the modern city now adds high-rise office blocks, smart malls, garden parks and techno parks. Transfer to the 5-star Oberoi Grand for a three-night stay.
A city sightseeing tour this morning includes the Victoria Memorial to the Empress of India, now a museum; Dalhousie Square’s collection of grand monuments, the Town Hall and Writers’ Building among them; the 18th-century St. John’s Church, modelled on London’s St Martin-in-the-Fields; and a panoramic drive around ‘colonial Calcutta’.
A full day of Kolkata discovery begins with a heritage walk from the Bow Barracks district, built to house WWI soldiers, to the busy Burra Bazaar market. Later, landmarks include the Jain Temple complex, its carved marble shrines set in fountain gardens; College Street, nicknamed Boi Para (‘the book colony’) and boasting the largest collection of second-hand books in the world; the Kalighat Hindu Temple, hemming a small canal; and the city’s iconic Howrah Bridge over the Hoogly River. The tour also takes in a tram ride and a visit to the flower market.
Take the early morning train (7hrs approx.) from Kolkata to New Jalpaigudi, and continue by road (2½ hrs) to Darjeeling. Clinging to steep sunset slopes in a tangle of streets and steps, with stupendous mountain peaks as a backdrop, the town is known as ‘the Queen of the Hills’, and renowned for the friendliness of its people. Three nights at the heritage Hotel Elgin.
After a sunrise visit to Tiger Hill for views of Everest, return to the hotel for breakfast, and then take a trip on the ‘Toy Train’ of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, and famed for the route’s spectacular scenery. Our journey makes the climb to Ghoom Monastery, set at the meeting point of several roads, and centred on a golden, bejewelled, Buddha statue, a full 15-foot tall. Return by road to Darjeeling and, later, visit a tea estate for lunch, a tour of the factory, and a short tea-tasting session.
Visit the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, dubbed the ‘mecca of mountaineering’ and displaying artefacts and photographs of pioneer expeditions; the Padmaja Naidu Him Zoological Park, with breeding programmes for the red panda, Tibetan wolf, and snow leopard; and the Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre, creating crafts from carpets to copper pots, wall hangings and wood carvings; and walk to Observatory Hill and the Bhutia Basti Monastery.
Depart Darjeeling and relax as you retrace the journey by road to New Jalpaigudi and onward by train to Kolkata. Transfer to the 5-star JW Marriott for your final overnight stay.
Transfer to Kolkata airport for your return flight to London via Dubai.
This is a full itinerary with visits on foot over uneven surfaces and inclines.
per person in a twin/double room
Emirates from Heathrow
Travel insurance, visa procurement, optional excursions, overseas airport taxes, tipping, any government taxes or compulsory charges introduced after publication.
In certain countries we recommend the currency most widely accepted rather than the local currency.
Grand Tour of Northern India
Shaped by the Moghuls, Maharajas and British East India Company; sprinkled with sacred sites of the Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist religions; and covering hill stations, holy rivers, and the haunts of tigers, northern India is a remarkably rich touring ground