Arrive New Delhi
Tour begins: New Delhi. A transfer is included from Indira Gandhi International Airport to your luxury hotel, The Leela Palace New Delhi, renowned for gracious service in the heart of the city. Because most flights arrive late at night or very early in the morning, you may want to travel a day early to ease the effects of jet lag and relax a bit before Tauck's India tour begins - just mention this at the time of booking; Tauck can arrange an extra night at The Leela Palace New Delhi. Your trip begins this afternoon with a welcome briefing by your Tauck Director, followed by a guided orientation tour of New Delhi including a drive through of Vijay Chowk, with views of the Secretariat buildings, Parliament House, the Presidential Palace and the India Gate, commemorating Indian and British soldiers. Next, stop at the Gandhi Smriti Museum, paying tribute to the inspiring leader, Mahatma Gandhi, who forced change through non-violent protest, leading to an independent India in the late 1940s. You'll have much to discuss this evening at the welcome cocktail reception and dinner.
Back in time in Old Delhi
You'll tour two UNESCO World Heritage Sites today as you explore the centuries-old history and culture of Old Delhi and environs. The first, which you'll visit this morning, is Humayun's Tomb, constructed for the Mughal Emperor Humayan and other members of his family in the 1570s, and set within beautiful gardens. The first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent and the first large structure of its kind built of red sandstone, this Mughal creation popularized Persian-influenced architecture in India, and was an inspiration for the Taj Mahal in Agra. After an orientation tour of Old Delhi followed by lunch, visit the five-story sandstone Qutb Minar Victory Tower, an imposing minaret built over eight centuries ago, part of one of the earliest surviving mosque complexes in India. Return to your hotel in New Delhi and spend the rest of the afternoon and evening as you please.
Sacred rituals on the River Ganges
Fly to the ancient city of Varanasi, built on the banks of the sacred River Ganges. Since the 6th century BC, Varanasi has been a destination for pilgrims who seek blessing and purification in the river's holy waters. A sightseeing tour visits Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon, and the National Museum, home to a priceless sculpture collection dating back to the 3rd century BC. Tonight experience a special highlight of your time in India - a journey by boat along the River Ganges to witness the "putting the river to sleep" ceremonies, sacred moments marked with hundreds of lighted candles and flower offerings.
Sunrise on the Ganges / Fly to Agra
Rise early for a cruise on the River Ganges to view the sunrise ceremonies, then fly to Agra for a two-night stay and tomorrow's visit to one of the world's most revered buildings, the Taj Mahal. An incredible domed mausoleum complex of white marble, built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to memorialize and house the tomb of his beloved third wife, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered to be the greatest architectural achievement in Indo-Islamic architecture - and you'll have a view of it from your room in your award-winning luxury hotel, The Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra.
The Taj Mahal & Agra Fort
Guests who wish may visit the Taj Mahal in time for sunrise. Those not going quite so early will join your Tauck Director a little later than sunrise (but still early morning) for a guided visit to the spectacular Taj Mahal, with time to explore on your own and take photographs. A guided tour of the massive red sandstone Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, follows. Inside, you'll get a very good look at medieval lifestyles of 16th- and 17th-century Mughal emperors. Dine as you please this evening from among a selection of your hotel's restaurants.
Jaipur and a Maharajah Evening
Travel to Jaipur for a two-night stay at The Oberoi Rajvilas, reflecting the gracious lifestyles of India's legendary Rajput princes. A sightseeing tour of Jaipur includes the City Palace Museum and the Jantar Mantar Observatory - a collection of astronomical instruments for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking stars in their orbits, figuring out the declinations of planets and determining the celestial altitudes - all built by Maharajah Jai Singh II in the 18th century. Attend a special evening fit for Maharajah royalty tonight, celebrating India's cultural traditions, music, dance and cuisine.
Palaces of Jaipur
Today's sightseeing includes the many gems of Jaipur, from the massive gateways and pillared pavilions inside Amber Fort to a tour of Amber Palace, with its magnificent domes, ramparts, and glittering hall of mirrors. Enjoy a free afternoon.
Hot Air Balloon Ride & Fly to Udaipur
A hot air balloon ride gives you a unique perspective on Jaipur. Then fly by plane to Udaipur for a three-night stay at your luxury Oberoi hotel on Lake Pichola. Consistently voted among the top luxury hotels in the world, The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur is a destination experience in itself - and the city of Udaipur is equally spectacular. A city of palaces and lakes, Udaipur is often called the "Most Romantic City in India." Dinner is at your leisure in your hotel.
A sightseeing tour with a local guide takes you to the 18th-century fountain gardens of Saheliyon Ki Bari and the Jagdish Mandir Temple. View the City Palace, a labyrinth of richly decorated courtyards, frescoed galleries, and marble temples that was once home to the Maharajah of Udaipur. Enjoy a guided cruise on Lake Pichola, then join us for dinner at Royal Repast, a restaurant owned by descendants of the Bedla clan who have played a significant role in the affairs of the Udaipur state. For generations family members served as Prime Ministers, advisors, and commanders in chief of armed forces, and they've hosted many dignitaries visiting Udaipur as state guests.
Begin your day with an auto-rickshaw ride through the city's bustling spice and vegetable markets, for a glimpse into daily life in Udaipur. In the markets, women in brightly colored saris sit among the stalls, surrounded by baskets brimming with fresh and equally colorful produce, while a kaleidoscopic array of curries and spices displayed in bulk in burlap sacks or metal pans entice your senses. The rest of the day and evening are free to explore more of this "City of Lakes" as you wish. Enjoy a sari and turban demonstration this evening, followed by dinner at your hotel.
Fly to Delhi
Spend the morning in Udaipur, then take a flight to Delhi, which will be the jumping off point for your trip tomorrow to the kingdom of Bhutan. Dine in your hotel this evening. In the morning, you'll have a very early start for your flight across the Himalayas... so early to bed!
Fly over the Himalayas to Bhutan
Fly to Paro in Bhutan, the remote mountain kingdom bordering India and Tibet that beguiles visitors with its natural beauty and unique way of life guided by Buddhism. Head to Thimphu, the only capital city in the world without traffic lights! Instead, at a few major intersections you'll see policemen standing in elaborately decorated pavilions, directing traffic with their hands. Enjoy lunch at your hotel - Thimphu Lodge, Amankora - a secluded retreat close to the capital's sights. Before dinner hear a Tauck Exclusive talk on Bhutan's philosophy of "Gross National Happiness." Bhutan tries to measure progress not by the popular idea of "Gross Domestic Product" but instead by "Gross National Happiness," a combination of prosperity and overall well-being.
In Thimphu, Buddha, Art & Politics
Take in one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world today on your visit to the gilded Buddha Dordenma Temple, high on a hill in a nature park overlooking Thimphu Valley. The statue fulfills an ancient prophecy and is said to emanate peace and happiness to the entire world. Inside the temple, you'll find thousands of smaller gilded buddhas. Then you're off to the National Arts & Crafts School, where you'll observe students painting, wood carving, doing embroidery, and making sculpture. After lunch at your hotel, enjoy free time before visiting Thimphu Dzong, the seat of Bhutan's constitutional monarchy, an impressive structure with a throne room and golden roofs surrounded by green lawns.
Dochula Pass to Punakha
Depart Thimphu for the town of Punakha, stopping en route to experience the stunning views of the Himalayas from Dochula Pass. On clear days, this is the ideal location for taking pictures of the mountains. This is a popular spot for Bhutanese families to visit during holidays and weekends to picnic and simply enjoy the scenery. At Dochula Pass, you'll see an impressive grouping of 108 monuments commissioned by the Queen Mother in memory of fallen Bhutanese soldiers. Arrive in Punakha, once the capital of Bhutan, situated in a valley where the climate is pleasant and rice grows in abundance. Visit Punakha Dzong, the winter home of the Chief Abbot of Bhutan, a magnificent edifice built at the confluence of two rivers. A local guide leads you on a walk from Punakha Dzong past the royal palace and the cremation ground to a long suspension bridge, lined with colorful flags, that stretches across a river to a string of traditional villages. Tonight, you'll stay at Punakha Lodge, Amankora, reached via another hanging bridge. Your hotel architecture incorporates a traditional Bhutanese farmhouse built by a former Chief Abbot. Dine at your hotel this evening.
Visits to a Nunnery & a Farmhouse in Punakha
This morning visit a local Buddhist nunnery, where the nuns will tell you about their daily lives and share some of their traditions. In a local village, visit a farmhouse and learn from the farmers about the agricultural life that plays such a large part in Bhutan's economy and heritage. After lunch at your hotel, enjoy free time to relax or choose to visit the Temple of the Divine Madman, a.k.a. the fertility temple, with a local guide. Dinner is served this evening at your hotel.
To Paro and an Archery Demonstration
Head back to the historic town of Paro for a two-night stay at Paro Lodge, Amankora. After lunch, a local guide introduces you to the National Museum of Bhutan. Archery is Bhutan's national sport and passion; learn all about it at a demonstration by local club members - and try your hand at Bhutanese archery, if you like. Fair warning: your target will be very far away! Enjoy dinner at your hotel.
Tiger's Nest Monastery or Paro Dzong
Tiger's Nest Monastery is one of Bhutan's most sacred places - and its setting is absolutely spectacular. The temple clings impossibly to a sheer cliff face high above the Paro Valley. Legend has it that in the 7thth century Guru Rimpoche flew to the mountain on the back of a tigress and meditated in a cave there for three years, three months, three days, and three hours in order to subdue its evil demons. The cave has been considered a holy site ever since, and many saints have traveled to meditate there. The temple was first built in 1692. You have a choice of explorations today. One possibility is to hike up through shady pine forests to Tiger's Nest Monastery for a visit. Round trip, including your temple visit, may take as long as six hours. If you'd rather not hike, spend some time at the base of the Tiger's Nest climb and take photos of the monastery before visiting Paro Dzong, a large monastery and fortress of historic importance. After lunch at your hotel, a monk gives a lecture on Buddhism before our farewell reception featuring a colorful mask dance that purifies the soul and brings good luck. Our farewell dinner follows.
Tour ends: Delhi. Fly from Paro to Delhi International Airport. Your flight home should be booked to depart after 3:00 pm. Day rooms at the hotel inside the airport are included. Allow three hours for check-in at the airport. You may have to exit customs / immigration and check in again; all guests will require a multi-entry visa for India.