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Delhi

The vibrant capital city of India lying along the River Yamuna, is a teaming metropolis of 14 million people and nowhere in the Country is the contrast between old and new more obvious. Seven cities have existed here since the 10th century, ruled over by a succession of Rajputs, Turks, Afghans, Mughals and the British. Delhi is two cities in one; the Old Delhi of the Mughals, created by Shah Jehan after moving his Capital from Agra in 1638 AD is still a medieval district of narrow lanes, forts, mosques and bustling bazaars best explored by cycle rickshaw. The second, New Delhi, built by the British between 1911-1931 and characterized by Sir Edwin Lutyens' architecture, is a spacious and well-designed metropolis of broad avenues, grand imperial buildings and landscaped gardens. New Delhi is a surprisingly green city with its tree lined avenues, parks and natural forest and one of the City’s hidden delights is the picturesque Lodi Gardens set around Mughal tombs. As the Country’s cultural centre, it is home to a number of museums including the national Museum, the Museum of Modern art, the Museum of Natural History and the creative Arts and Crafts Museum where artisans can be seen at work. Delhi has fantastic shopping opportunities ranging from the excellent Central Cottage Industries Emporium and the traditional bazaars of Chandni Chowk to the colourful and varied speciality shops located in the markets of South Delhi. Due to demand exceeding supply, hotels in Delhi are extremely expensive with very high occupancy rates throughout the year. The infrastructure of the city, particularly the International Airport is slowly being improved in anticipation of the Commonwealth Games scheduled for 2010. With an unrivalled collection of both ancient World Heritage monuments dating from the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal eras, Qutb Minar and the inspirational Humayun’s Tomb, and 20th Century architectural masterpieces such as Rashtrapati Bhawan, Delhi is a fascinating and diverse city and the ideal entry point to India deserving at least a couple of days exploration.

Rajasthan

The pure name of Rajasthan evokes images of massive forts and endless expanses of desert, bazaars teeming with turbaned elders and brilliantly sari clad women, camels and cattle, fairy tale palaces and polo playing princes, and legendary tales of love and valour. Although by far the most popular state for tourists to visit, it nevertheless hides many hidden gems well off the beaten track remaining unchanged over the centuries. One of the most picturesque regions in Rajasthan are the Aravalli Hills; driving through these surprisingly green rugged, wooded hills passing picturesque rural villages with water wheels, crops of wheat and mustard in Winter, camels and colourfully dressed people is a delight and adding in a few days at leisure here is highly recommended. Throughout the year Rajasthan has numerous fairs including the famous Pushkar Camel Fair and the Nagaur Cattle fair. The kingdom of Marwar around the Jodhpur and Jaisalmer region flourished due to their strategic locations on the trade route between Delhi and the Middle East. Sandalwood, dates, copper, cattle, camels and salt passed through the region over the centuries leaving as a legacy of its glorious past, some stunning palaces, forts and temples. The Kingdom of Mewar’s ancestors trace their Dynasty back to AD566 and the beautiful city of Udaipur became the Capital after the fall of Chittor. In the west of the State, the mighty Thar Desert is the dominant feature.

One of the most thrilling aspects of any Rajasthani tour is the unique accommodation. This includes ancient castles and forts lovingly restored from absolute ruins with imposing views over the countryside, hunting lodges, colonial hotels, heritage hotels, tented camps and guesthouses. Some of the world’s grandest palaces, once the realm of Maharajas and now converted into luxury hotels make an unforgettable way to experience the grandeur of a bygone era. The very concept of heritage hotels was developed in Rajasthan and varying in size from 3 to 55 bedrooms, heritage hotels are all uniquely different retaining their own individuality. Mostly managed by the local ruling family who still reside in the house, each one offers an opportunity to get a more in-depth experience of India, its people and history. Ranging from the simple to the sublime, the inclusion of at least a couple of these heritage hotels is an absolute must.

Aravalli Hills

Bisecting Rajasthan diagonally the Aravalli Hills offer some of the State’s most scenic areas and are home to numerous heritage hotels particularly in-between Jodhpur and Udaipur. Apart from going on picnics or walking in the countryside, bird-watching or leopard tracking, horse or camel riding, visiting the exquisite Jain Temples at Ranakpur or mighty Kumbhalgarh Fort, the region is ideal for tranquillity and relaxation after sightseeing in the bustling towns and cities. Some of our favourite places to stay include Shahpura Bagh, Rawla Narlai, Deogarh Mahal, Sengh Sagar, Rohetgarh and Udai Bilas Palace.

Bikaner

An oasis town among scrub and sand dune desert the old city around Junagarh fort with its narrow lanes and havelis still has a medieval atmosphere. Outside of the city are a research centre camel farm and the Deshnoke (Rat) temple.

Bundi

Bundi is rarely visited by tourists yet has a scenic setting nestling in the narrow Bandoo valley underneath the towering Taragarh Fort. Bundi is located one hour from Kota.

Dungarpur

Dungarpur, 2 hours drive south of Udaipur has 2 main attractions. Staying overnight in the wonderfully atmospheric art deco Udai Bilas Palace with its swimming pool overlooking Lake Gaibsagar and visiting the Juna Mahal Palace. This 7 storeyed palace dating from the 13th century is completely unspoilt and perhaps portrays more accurately than any other building in Rajasthan how life was lived hundreds of years ago. The exterior of the fortress palace has tiny windows and carved balconies whilst the interior is a gem; colourful miniature wall paintings, glass and mirror inlay work and sculptured stonework.

Jaipur

Jaipur, the Capital of Rajasthan is a city full of contrasts with bazaars teeming with turbaned elders and jean clad youngsters to camels, horses and a multitude of vehicles. Built from rose-coloured terra cotta, it has been given the name 'Pink City'. Jaipur’s focal point is the magnificent Hawa Mahal, otherwise known as the Palace of the Winds. The opulent Maharaja's City Palace which has been home to the City’s rulers for 200 years is a superb blend of Rajput and Mughal architecture and the Amber Fort located outside the city with its majestic ramparts following the natural contours of the ridge is a well preserved palace full of hidden gems. In the morning elephants still carry visitors in stately splendour to the main Palace, through magnificent high gateways.

The Jantar Mantar or Observatory built by Jai Singh II, a keen astronomer, in 1728 resembles a collection of giant sculptures and was used to determine the position of the stars and planets, accurately calculate Jaipur’s time, make horoscopes and is today still used to forecast the expected arrival date and intensity of the monsoon and Summer temperatures. Jaipur is renowned for its excellent textiles. From Jaipur the Shekhawati region or Ranthmbore National Park is easily accessed.

Jaisalmer

Today a remote outpost, is one of India's most exotic desert towns. Its massive fort rising like a mirage out of the desert was built in 1156 on a flourishing trade route to Central Asia. Dominating the town, the forts narrow cobbled streets give it an extraordinarily medieval atmosphere and today is India’s only living fort with thousands of people residing inside. Within its walls are shops, houses and wonderfully carved Jain temples. From the ramparts the views over the Thar Desert are magnificent. During the 19th century Jaisalmer’s wealthy traders competed with each other to build exquisite houses or havelis characterized by their yellow sandstone facades. The jalis (latticed stone screens) and Jharokas (projecting balconies) are so intricately carved that they almost look like lace. Several generations of extended family live in the havelis which usually contain secluded woman’s quarters. Gadisagar Lake built in 1367 was once the city’s only water supply and lined with ghats and temples, it is a photogenic place to visit. Jaisalmer is one of the starting points for camel safaris.

A highlight of staying in Jaisalmer is the luxurious tented camp at Mool Sagar located in a former Summer pleasure garden; it has a wonderfully romantic atmosphere with bougainvillea trailing over Mughal pavilions and water fountains.

Jodhpur

Dominated by the spectacular Mehrangarh Fort, housing one of the best museums in all India, Jodhpur city is a mass of sky blue coloured cubed houses set against a desert setting. Traditionally blue signified the home of a Brahmin but nowadays anyone can paint their home blue; additionally the colour allegedly is said to repel insects. The Umaid Bhawan Palace is one of the largest private residences in the world; a stunningly unique building combining art deco, Jain and Rajput styles; now partly converted into a suberb hotel. South of Jodhpur live the Bishnoi people whose craft villages can be visited by jeep to watch dhurries (rugs) being woven out of cotton or camel hair in traditional geometric designs, pots and jeep safaris to see blackbuck. Excellent horse safaris can be arranged from Rohetgarh, located 45 minutes south of Jodhpur.

Pushkar

Believed to mark the spot where a lotus thrown by Brahma landed, Pushkar Lake is one of India’s most sacred lakes. The lake lies in a narrow dry valley overshadowed by impressive rocky hills giving spectacular desert views at sunset. Pushkar is not only popular with local pilgrims who bathe along the lakes ghats but also with large number of foreign backpackers hence its somewhat shabby atmosphere nowadays. The Pushkar Camel and Cattle Fair held annually in November brings traders and pilgrims flocking to Pushkar for livestock trading, camel racing and other festivities, culminating with people gathering at dawn to take a dip in the holy waters on the night of the Full Moon (Kartik Poornima). Pushkar is a wonderfully colourful festival and provides an excellent opportunity for photography.   

Ranthambore National Park

Ranthambore National Park encompasses nearly 400 square kilometres of dry, deciduous forest in south eastern Rajasthan in the shadow of the Aravalli and Vindhya Hills. Originally the private hunting ground of the Maharajas of Jaipur, Ranthambore was declared a National Park in 1973 and derives its name from the huge 1000 year old Rajput fortress of Ranthambore, which sits on a rocky outcrop 215 m high in the forest and is fascinating to visit in its own right. The Park is famous for its open sightings of tigers, although sightings are always a matter of luck and perseverance. Ranthambore is home to a large variety of animals including sambar, chital, nilgai, chinkara, wild boar, sloth bear, hyena, jackal and leopard and is also a bird watcher's delight. Open from October – June, the Park has rigid routes, opening hours and the restricted vehicle allocation is determined on a daily basis by the Park authorities.

Shekhawati

A 5-6 drive from Delhi or 120 km north-west of Jaipur is the arid and rock studded Shekhawati region. Lying on an old caravan trade route, Shekhawati is renowned for its painted houses or " Havelis " of its wealthy merchant class, the Marwaris. The region resembles an open air art gallery with paintings dating from the mid 19th century. The paintings are to be found in several villages notably Mandawa, Nawalgarh and Ramgarh. Samode Palace is located on the edge of the Shekhawati. Horse safaris can be arranged from Shekhawati

Udaipur

Regarded by many as the most romantic city in India, Udaipur is an enchanting image of white marble palaces, placid blue lakes and green hills; an oasis of colour in a stark and arid region. The city is dominated by the massive City Palace stretching along the eastern shore of Lake Pichola and is an awesomely striking building totalling 5 acres and housing a complex of several palaces added by the various Maharana’s between the 16th and 20th century. Apart from housing the superb City Museum the City Palace contains the Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel and Fateh Prakash Hotels. Picturesque havelis, ghats and temples along the lake front, lively bazaars of the old city and a relaxing atmosphere make Udaipur perfect for wandering around and a visit is considered one of India’s greatest highlights. From Udaipur tours can be arranged through Southern Rajasthan towards Kota or into the neighbouring state of Gujarat.

West Bengal

Kolkata

One of the world’s great cities, Calcutta, or as it is now known Kolkata evolved from an obscure village on the banks of the Hooghly River to the Capital of the British Empire in 1773 and subsequently the cultural and literary capital of modern India. Widely known for its dense population, refugees and poverty, Kolkata is also a city that radiates intense humanity and energy. Its charm lies in the decaying grandeur of the imperial capital, its warm and friendly people, and electric contrasts. Flights operate from Kolkata to the little visited North Eastern states known as the 7 sisters bordering Myanmar and China including access to Kaziranga National Park in Assam, to the Eastern Himalayan region around Darjeeling and Kalimpong, the state of Sikkim and also Bhutan.

Darjeeling

Darjeeling is synonymous with tea and straddling a ridge 2200m up in the Himalayas, is a hill station comprising various levels interlinked by steep stairways, a great deal of Victorian Gothic architecture, fine botanical gardens and the renowned Himalayan miniature railway. Mountain views surround the town with Kanchenjunga at 8580m, the 3rd highest mountain in the world towering on the horizon. Darjeeling is cold in the winter months; but at this time of year has the best chance for clear skies and excellent mountain views. Darjeeling offers one of the most scenic short treks in the Himalayas for 5 day camping treks trekking through picturesque terraced fields and villages, fragrant tea gardens, fruit orchards, forests of rhododendrons, magnolias and great monasteries set against the backdrop of Kangchendzonga which dominates the skyline. For those wishing more relaxation stay in Glenburn Tea Estate; this 1,600 acre estate has breathtaking views and stretches from an elevation of 1,200 metres, all the way down to the sandy banks of the two snow-fed Himalayan rivers that meander through it and is bird watcher and hiker’s paradise.