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Cultural Heritage Itineraries
Get introduced to some vibrant cities, discover ancient forts and temples, revel in the beauty of heritage mounments, and stay with the denizens in the region!
If you’re looking for a taste of India’s world-class highlights but still want to discover some of its hidden gems, this action-packed adventure serves up a great combination. Tourists could stand in awe of the Taj Mahal's perfection, wander the bylanes of Abha Nagri and search for tigers in the wild, experience the iconic highlights of the North before flying towards the south for even more culture and wilderness. Appreciate the colours of Rajasthan and the Tamil style of the Sri Meenakshi Temple on this particular flexible sector of the Explore India Holiday Package, as per the time limit available!
Arrive in Delhi as the first stopover. Engulfed by the erstwhile Queen’s Way sweeping past ministerial residences, the National Museum, is a long market stretch called Connaught Place or officially called Rajiv Chowk, with archways and colonnades and a huge brand name containing offices, cinemas, travel agents, banks, souvenirs and loads of shopping! The travellers may further move on to Jantar Mantar, the observatory with the largest sundial called Samrat Yantra, after which they may proceed to the Purana Qila, a grand and beautiful historic site. The Humayun’s Tomb is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its onion-shaped dome being a forerunner of the classic. In Old Delhi, the visitors would be enthralled by the Red Fort or Lal Qila made of red sandstone, as their senses are reeled under the cumulative impact of marble, pietra dura, gilded pillars, delicate carvings, and the realization that this was once inlaid with gems. The splendid Jama Masjid is set on an elevated mound and is the finest example of the three-domed Mughal Mosque. There are two imperative and important sites which may not be ignored while in Delhi, Raj Ghat and Shantivan – the memorials of the great and legendary leaders, Mahatma Gandhi and Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru (the first Prime Minister of India), the pioneers in the creation of Independent India. Another star attraction is the Qutub Minar complex, which comprises Iltutmish’s tomb and madrasa, and the Iron Pillar which stands in the courtyard and is a spectacle in itself. In case you are a group of women travellers, you may opt to book yourself on Planeterra a supported project called Women on Wheels, and work out the above schedule for Delhi, and also enjoy a city tour by the local streetkids, lending them that dignity and honour which they rightfully deserve, barring class and caste discrimination, and helping them improve their communication skills by a fair interchange of ideas. You could also visit the enchanting streets of Paharganj and get the rustic flavour of the bylanes and alleys of New Delhi. After this sojourn, in the afternoon you would drive to Agra in anticipation of the Taj Mahal dawn sunrise, on the following day.
You wake up with the morning sunrise in the Muslim city of Agra that is best known as the site of India’s most famous landmark the Taj Mahal. Tourists are always keen to visit this great icon of Mughal architecture in the early morning’s best light, so be sure to have plenty of memory in your camera! In the afternoon, they could visit I’timad-ud-Daulah, also known as the ‘Baby Taj', the tomb which was built before the Taj Mahal by Nur Jahan, Queen of Jehangir, for her father, recognized as the first Mughal building to be faced with white marble and used the ‘pietra dura’ or precious stones inlaid into the stone. You may take an exciting ride on the cycle-rickshaws, indulging in a unique experience, to visit the Fort in red sandstone, which was turned into a royal estate, and later inlaid with white marble embedded with gold and semi-precious gems. At the end of his life Shah Jahan was imprisoned here by his son, Aurangzeb and is believed to have died in Muasamman Burj, a tower having a marble balcony with an excellent view of the Taj Mahal and hence the `Sikandra’ Fort is acclaimed as a marvel of elegant pavilions and chhatris!
The Taj Mahal was built by the Muslim Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favourite wife, Arjumand Bano Begum, better known as Mumtaz Mahal and it is the romantic origin of this monument as much as its architectural artistic splendour that has led to its fame worldwide. Actually an integrated complex of many structures, this historic edifice is considered to be the finest example of Mughal design being a combination of Islamic, Hindu, Persian and Turkish elements, and declared as one of the Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
The next morning the Explore India Holiday Package takes you to the unexplored rural village of Abhaneri, which is known for its beautiful baoris (step wells) and the famous Harshat Mata temple. En route you will stop at Fatehpur Sikri,, considered the crowning architectural legacy of Akbar, and still almost perfectly preserved, as today the structure is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The building material predominantly used is red sandstone, quarried from the same rocky outcrop on which it is situated. In its earlier days, Fatehpur Sikri shared its imperial duties as a capital city with Agra, where a bulk of the arsenal, treasure hoards, and other reserves were kept at its Red Fort for security.
Abhaneri was earlier known as Abha Nagri or the city of brightness but today even though this ancient village is in ruins, it attracts many tourists from all across the world. The Harshat Mata Temple and some portions of this ancient shrine remain, like the sanctuary walls, terrace and sections of the columned mandapa (fore chamber). The walls have carved nichés inlaid with images of other deities which indicate that the temple was originally dedicated to Vishnu, the Creator of the Hindu trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer. The architectural details of the terrace basement are complete, showing friezes of geometric ornament and miniature nichés with sculptures of seated deities and amorous couples. The columns and walls are adorned with scenes of dance, music, sports and love. Some of the better panels have been shifted to the Archaeological Museum, Amber and the Central Museum, Jaipur. The sanctum now enshrines an image of the four-armed deity Harasiddhi, locally called Harshat Mata. A mela (fair) is held near the temple in the month of Chaitra (March-April) every year. Close by the Harshat Mata Temple, is the step well Chand Baoli, with beautifully carved panels, engraved stone pillars and several storied verandas, though the desert kingdom of Rajasthan has many such tanks which served as community centres, and constructing them was considered an act of great generosity and benevolence, as marvels of architecture.
You could stay overnight at Bharatpur and in the early morning exercise the option of visiting the Keoladeo National Park, declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is a duck-hunting reserve of the Maharajas and one of the major wintering areas for large numbers of aquatic birds from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, China and Siberia. Many species of birds, including the rare Siberian crane, have been recorded in the park. Inside the park, one of the routes heads to Sapan Mori and goes towards the Keoladeo Temple, and the sheer variety of birds might just surprise you and make sure to have that favourite photo op of the waterbirds taking off in swirling flocks with noise around. Waders with oversized bills and tiny stints abound in shallow muddy areas, and amid low bushes and woodlands, and you could look out for orange-headed ground-thrushes, rubythroats, and sleeping nightjars. The Bharatpur Fort has its mud walls surrounded by a moat. Deeg is just closeby and is engulfed by a Fort which has massive walls and the Suraj Mal’s Palace, Gopal Bhavan, and the gardens in the Mughal-Rajput style make the trip worthwhile and memorable even in the monsoons!
Depart early morning to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan or the `Pink City’ as it is popularly called, which was planned according to the principles of Hindu architectural theory. The city combined with wide streets and bustling bazaars makes for an unusually airy, orderly atmosphere. Enter the heart of the mandala (on foot or by cycle rickshaw) and you are in the central palace quarter, with its sprawling Hawa Mahal or the `Palace of the Winds’ palace complex, engulfing gardens and a small lake with its original intention to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen. Constructed of red and pink sandstone, highlighted with white lime, the five-storied facade is peppered with small windows. You would also visit the ruined city of Amber, former capital of Jaipur state.
Overlooking an artificial lake, stands the Amber Fort and Palace complex, famous for its mixture of Hindu and Muslim architecture. During your time in here, you may also wish to include a visit to the Jantar Mantar, or Royal Observatory, which is a collection of architectural astronomical instruments. Another great option is to squeeze in a Bollywood film in the Raj Mandir Movie Theatre which is widely acclaimed as the largest cinema hall in and one of the best in the countr, with an exterior is adorned with asymmetrical curves and shapes with stars, illuminated by hidden lights at night, glittering chandeliers at the reception and the auditorium decorated with indirect lighting of changing colours behind the plaster troughs of walls and ceilings. Even if you do not understand the language of the film screened, you could choose for one with English sub-titles just to sense the persona of Indian entertainment and its venues.You may return to Delhi for a final opportunity to take photographs, re-visit any sites that you liked, relax or shop till you drop on this Explore India Holiday Package!
Completing your first sector, you may now move to Mysore in Karnataka via Bengaluru (with an optional stopover for sight-seeing and shopping, if desired) and imagine life as a Maharaja on a guided tour of the Mysore Palace, formerly the seat of the famed Wodeyar Maharajas of Mysore. Later on, join the throngs of pilgrims at Chamundi Hills, with its Chamundeswari Temple on top, and Nandi the Bull (the bull the god Shiva rides), which is a short walk below. Visit the Devaraja fruit and vegetable market, certainly one of the most colorful in India and then, maybe join in a yoga class at one of the many institutes. Along with sandalwood products, silk and crafts, Mysore is also famous for its celebration of the ten-day Navaratri (Dasara) festival held every year and as such is an important place of pilgrimage. Tourists would find it interesting to see the local silkworm-rearing industry (seasonal) or simply negotiate in the markets for clothing or raw material, as this is the place for silk and mulberry silk! The city is also a popular destination for spiritual tourism, with many yoga instructors drawing international students for extended yoga programs. Teachers of Sanskrit, kirtan chant, Ayurveda and other yogic forms are also readily available, just to lend you an insight towards the spiritual aspects of great India!
The next sector on the same trip begins with Cochin or Kochi in Kerala, spread over Ernakulam. Once you reach your destination, head for the harbour to enjoy the sunset over the old cantilevered Chinese fishing nets, called 'cheena vala', and used mainly at high tide. followed by a hearty dinner. There are plenty of things to do in this seaside Indian city as this was an important stop on the spice trading route and a melting pot of influences since its origin. It is home to the Fort with its Dutch Palace and Jew Street lined with old curio shops. The oldest St. Francis Church in India sits near mosques and synagogues, and Portuguese housing sits side by side with English manor homes.
Ernakulam is the modern and upmarket part of the town and is best reached by a ferry. Marine Drive is the most popular hangout for locals and MG Road and Broadway are the lifeline of the city. The place is quite famous for its exquisite gold designer jewellery and of course the finest spices which are abundant. You get an opportunity to watch an ecstatic performance of kathakali dancing (the Keralan tradition dance form), and combination of drama, dance, music and ritual. Characters with vividly painted faces and elaborate costumes re-enact stories from the Hindu epics, Mahabharatha and Ramayana, familiarizing the tourists with the ancient culture and history of India.
You may head on your first train ride to Kozhikode, followed by a scenic drive to Kalpetta, Wayanad which is one of the most scenic regions of Kerala with its rolling hills, covered rain forests and rich plantations of tea, coffee, rubber and various spices. With aboriginals of Kerala settled in the region, tourists may go for nature trails in the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and then visit the Edakkal Caves which are believed to be a shelter of the neolithic people.
Go on to Thekkady in Kerala, adjacent to the Periyar National Park, and the spice capital of India where the rolling hills around the region grow some of the finest cardamoms in the world and are aptly called Cardamom hills. Exotic spices like cloves, pepper (black gold), nutmeg, cinammon and a lot of medicinal herbs are found aplenty. You may do a guided tour of the spice plantations and the tea factory. This National Park is primarily famous for elephants and wild buffaloes which can be seen if you are lucky on an optional early morning boat ride at the Periyar Lake.
You may then travel to the Backwaters of Kerala where you can catch a private boat for the short journey to the village homestay. Accommodation is on a multi-share basis and all the families live within a few hundred meters of each other, with at least one person in the family speaking a reasonable standard of English. Food is traditional Keralan home cooking and is superb. Lunch, dinner and breakfast are included, and in the afternoon you explore the island with a guide to observe the different facets of regional life, a magnetic chance to meet and talk with the people who live here. Strolling under the palm trees, you weave in between the rice fields that cover the island and learn more about the lifestyles of the inhabitants. Mid-evening you jump on a small country boat and journey along with them to enjoy the sunset on the winding backwaters. There may be time to kick back and enjoy the local toddy (alcoholic drink made from coconut) and all that you need to take is a small day pack or small overnight bag with you to the home stay.
The morning is spent enjoying the hospitality of your family homestay and you may learn to cook some of the wonderful food, watch the toddy tappers at work, or simply wander around the village and explore more of the life on the backwaters.
Take your private boat down to Alappuzha (Alleppey) and slipping silently through sleepy canals, shorelines dotted with the Chinese fishing nets, breeze through "Gods own country" crossing some villages and roads of Kerala back into Fort Koch and then leave for the next destination!
Leaving the hills for the plains, you move to the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary.in Tamil Nadu, via Coimbatore, also known as the "Ancient Hill Range" which is situated at the base of the Nilgiri Hills. The sanctuary provides one of the most important refuges for the elephant and bison in India, and the park encompasses a huge undulating terrain and varying vegetation. There is a rich diversity of wildlife within the sanctuary including the Nilgiri tahr, sambar, tiger, spotted deer, flying squirrel and plenty of bird’s species, including heron, stork, egret, kite, falcon, peafowl, woodpecker, drongo and the warbler to keep the keen bird watchers happy and enthralled. You could also spend a part of the day on a short safari spotting the variety of wildlife within the park on this Explore India Holiday Package!
Delhi has a fascinating array of goods from wholesale bangles to biryani, pearls to paper, golgappas to gold, motor parts to mithai, to be explored in the tinsel town of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. Rajiv Chowk, popularly called CP, the City’s Emporia and the ultimate open-air shopping arcade encompassing all the designer labels in clothes, shoes, accessories, jewellery, art decos and food edibles. There are arenas in Delhi are abuzz with high-end malls, both open-air and indoors, showcasing designer labels, chic clothes, footwear, watches, jewellery,music, flowers, toys, cosmetics, imported fruits and vegetables, curios, antique furniture and artefacts. The Rajiv Gandhi Handicrafts Bhavan houses stores run by NGOs that sell clothes, paper products, cane furniture and pottery.
Agra is well-known for handicrafts, but the local markets are chaotic while the big shops are expensive. Marble inlay on tables, boxes, knick-knacks, even sofas, may be available for purchase. The city’s craftsmen are also famous for carpet weaving and there are good cotton durries too. Zardozi gold wire embroidery, usually on silk, is another speciality. There are plenty of handmade leather works such as bags, sandals, purses, shoes, belts, accessories, artefacts and curios in marble and sandstone, semi-precious stones with jewels, and wood and metal craft.
Rajasthan has plenty of outlets and vendors all around, prominently displaying particularly attractive and colourful textiles with mirror work, to be used as bedspreads, hangings or duvet covers. Carved stone pieces, turbans and ravanhattas (musical instruments) make for interesting souvenirs as also miniatures on paper, cloth and stone, and camel leather goods like bags, jootis and sandals. There is an abundance of meenakari jewellery in silver, gold and diamonds and polki, thewa carvings and naqashi ornates on the precious metals, and the land is famous for pearls, precious and semi-precious gems. Rajasthani quilts and linen are always in demand and the outlets have an extraordinary collection in cotton, silk and velvet! Bundi murals on silk or paper, or miniatures, are also bought as ideal gifts or collections! Bundi murals on silk or paper, or miniatures, are also bought as ideal gifts or collections!
Shops and stores are abound in the southern regions with tea, coffee, organic food, pottery, handicrafts, oils, garments, incense, spices, homemade chocolates , handcrafted Pondicherry
Pottery, Japanese-inspired stoneware in exquisite glazes and colours, tea sets and incense holders, handmade paper products, candles, jams and pickles, honey and leather products.
Dainty shops selling souvenirs and cosmetics such as aroma therapy oils, spices such as clove, cinnamon, cardamom and pepper are abound and you would also find curtains and lamps made of shell, mementoes , rare antiques from old chettiar homes, knick knacks, instruments, pictures and photo frames, and steel and brass vessels, sometimes at fixed and otherwise at negotiable prices! Ofcourse, silk and mulberry silk, tanjore paintings, handicrafts in gold-plated finish and real gold temple jewellery are the prized possessions of this State and can cause a big hole in your pockets, but worth every penny paid!
In Agra, the heat, crowds and noise usually does not discourage the tourists from trying the local eateries. The Mughal’s buffet lunch is popular with tourist groups, while Clarks Shiraz offers decent food. Dasaprakash on Gwalior Road has idli-dosa-sambar combos and the famed Chiman near the Jama Masjid is known for its thalis. Capri in Hari Parbat serves good North Indian and Mughlai. For a decent variety, try Pinch of Spice at Wazirpura Road, favoured by backpackers.Take home angoori and kesar petha from Panchhi Petha in Sadar Bazaar and Hari Parbat or from Kedarnath Phool Chand Pethawala in Johri Delhi is dotted from age-old eateries in the bylanes of the walled city such as restaurants and stalls clustered around Jama Masjid, Karim’s,-an institution of lip-smacking dishes, Paranthewali Gal,i – feast of mouth-teasing paranthas, to the glitzy, exclusive restaurants, malls and five star hotels ,serving a blend of Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Continental, Mediterranean specialitiies. The Capital offers a whole range of sweet, patisserie and savoury, both Indian and International in some of the best pastry shops, as well as the `desi’ snacks of samosas, bread pakoras, chaat papri, gol gappas, dahi bhalla, kheer, rasmalai, rasgullas and gulab jamuns to honour that palate with an authentic Indian taste!
Most places in Rajasthan are completely equipped to offer North Indian, Continental, Chinese, Thai, Gujrati and of course Rajasthani dal-bhaatti-choorma, gatte ki subzi, ker sangria and lahsun mirch ki chutney. There is plenty of fast food fare, such as soups, pastas, pizzas, salads, sandwiches, burgers,cakes, pastries, pies, puddings, ice creams, sundaes, delicious Indian snacks such as samosas, pani puri, aloo chaat papri, phirni, gulab jamuns, kheer, in desi ghee and minimal oil for all tastes, lined up throughout the desert land to entice the palate of Indian and International tourists!
Culinary fare in the southern region consists of Indian, Continental, Italian and Chinese food, multi-cuisine, cheese eggs, continental dishes, salads, soups like potato- potato soup, pizzas, pastas, steaks and sizzlers, being sold in outlets spread throughout the area. There are café-style restaurants serving a dish called chaiyo-minced meat-mint-lettuce starter, biryani, simple vegetarian meals and chettinad fare. Indian cuisine including garlic fish fry with a soft, thick, white dosa, tiger prawns and masala fish fry is also available, catering to foreign as well as Indian taste.
Delhi has a moderate climate and the monsoon season ranges anywhere between June to September, for a short or long duration. There are short but cold winters varying between November to February, when heavy or light woollens may be required.
Agra has a climate which is rather hot during the summer months and fairly cold during the winter months. Rain showers are unpredictable, and may not occur as per their scheduled time of the year as light showers can occur at any time of the year!
Rajasthan, being a desert region, has summers with hot days and cool nights and are enjoyable for secluded and private indoors. Of course, the winters are much more pleasant, with the daytime being exhilarating for an outdoor experience, and the cold in the night, being ideal for a moonlight and candle-light dinner!
The most comfortable season to visit South India would be between October to March, though all the above destinations are advisable for a visit throughout the year, keeping their expansive indoor and outdoor recreational and entertainment attractions in view, with sight-seeing and shopping, not to be deterred by a bountiful of hot or monsoon or cold climate, on this Explore India Holiday Package!