Day 1 UK to Delhi
Depart on your flight to Delhi, arriving on day 2.
Day 2 New Delhi
Today has been left free for you to explore your new destination. This evening you will join your travelling companions and get to know them over a welcome dinner.
Day 3 Old Delhi
Today we'll discover New Delhi. Our drive takes us through elegant boulevards and lush green parks where the iconic India Gate and imposing Parliament House are both reminders of a colonial past. We'll also visit the ancient Qutub Minar - a UNESCO-listed site.
We'll then visit the 17th century walled city of Old Delhi. Temples and mosques fill every available space and tempting food stalls flood the narrow streets with colour and heady aromas. As we explore we'll pass by the spectacular Red Fort, the impressive marble domes of Jama Masjid Mosque and Raj Ghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi.
We will also visit Gali Paranthe Wali, the 'lane of parantha-makers', which is located in Chandni Chowk. Once known for its silverware shops before the parantha makers moved in during the 1970s, the lane is now world famous and some shops are being run by the sixth generation of the same family. Parantha can be enjoyed plain or served with sweet tamarind chutney, mint chutney, mixed vegetable pickle, and are often made with other ingredients cooked into the dough such as kaju (cashews), badam (almonds), matar (Green chic peas) and gobhi (cauliflower). They can also be enjoyed with a filling of paneer and potato curry, potato and fenugreek curry or a sauteed mash of sweet pumpkin .
This afternoon has been left free for you to explore at your own pace in the company of your fellow travellers. If you wish, you could join our optional excursion which will introduce you to India's array of different religions. We'll visit Birla Mandir, the Hindu temple inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi, and the Catholic Sacred Heart Cathedral, before arriving at the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara. Hundreds of devotees are fed every day at this Sikh place of worship, and we'll have a chance to volunteer in the kitchens before our tour continues to Nizamuddin Dargah, the shrine to Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya.
Day 4 Agra
Today we'll travel south to Agra, where we'll stay overnight. After checking in to our hotel we'll visit the UNESCO-listed Agra Fort. Once the imperial city of the Mogul rulers, this mighty red-sandstone fortress is where the Emperor Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son.
Day 5 Jaipur
We have an early start this morning for what is sure to be a memorable highlight of the holiday – a dawn visit to the spectacular Taj Mahal. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a symbol of his love for his wife, nothing will prepare you for the breathtaking sight of this magnificent mausoleum, whose white marble walls are inlaid with semiprecious stones. Close by is Mehtab Bagh, a centuries-old garden complex, which sits on the other side of the river. You'll get to see the Taj Mahal from here too, for equally wonderful views. Later we'll travel to Jaipur, affectionately known as the 'pink city' because all of the buildings are painted in a distinctive shade of pink. Enjoy an evening at leisure, or perhaps join us for an optional cookery demonstration in a local family home, with dinner included.
Day 6 Jaipur
This morning we'll drive to the marvellous Amber Fort, a 17th century stronghold set on top of a hill. It's a wonderful blend of Hindu and Muslim elements and we'll step inside to explore the palace, courtyards and gardens. Back in Jaipur, we'll learn how to carefully drape a colourful saree and to put on a turban. Our expert guides will share the secrets of these traditional items of clothing to help give us even more insight into the Indian culture. You can pose for pictures with your hosts in your beautiful saree or majestic turban, and you'll be gifted the clothing you wear so you can take a piece of India back home as a souvenir. Then we'll head to the Jantar Mantar, an astronomical observatory built in the early 18th century, and take a stroll through Chaandpol Bazaar, where pungent aromas emanate from the shops which grind and sell all manner of brightly coloured spices.
Whilst in Jaipur you will also be served a glass of lassi, a blend of water, yoghurt, spices and sometimes fruit. The drink, traditionally served in earthen pots to add an unique aroma, is topped with a thick layer of malai leaving you refreshed and surprisingly full!
This evening we'll visit the City Palace and see rare personal items of the Maharajas of Jaipur. During our visit we'll watch a state-of-the-art light show narrated by a Bollywood star and enjoy dinner at a restaurant in the palace.
Day 7 Delhi
We have left this morning free for you to explore Jaipur at your own pace. Alternatively, you could join our optional walking tour, which is one of the best ways to appreciate the rich heritage of the walled city. As we wander around the houses and workshops, local people will be delighted to tell you more about life in the bustling capital of Rajasthan. Later we will drive to Delhi.
Day 8 Delhi
Today our half-day sightseeing tour introduces us to Lutyens' Delhi, which was created in the early 20th century, when the British decided to move their capital from Kolkata. Edwin Landseer Lutyens was the architect appointed to design the new capital and we'll head along some of the wide boulevards and tree-lined avenues he created. We'll drive past two of Lutyen's iconic buildings, the President's House and Parliament House and see the impressive India Gate, which commemorates around 70,000 Indian soldiers who died during the First World War.
Our final stop before heading back to our hotel is the incredible Agrasen ki Baoli stepwell. This centuries-old landmark, which was originally used to harvest water, is wonderfully preserved, and as you gaze down the cascading carved steps you'll be simply amazed.
Day 9 Dholpur
This morning we will explore Lutyens Delhi, followed by a visit to the Agrasen ki Baori stepwell. We'll then head to Rajasthan, where we'll stay in a charming, sleepy little town called Dholpur, packed with historical forts and monuments. Rajasthan is thought to be the setting of 'Mowgli's Brothers', a short story penned by Rudyard Kipling. But first, we'll travel to Agra, where we'll realise many a dream as we make our pilgrimage to the wonderful Taj Mahal, described by Kipling as 'an embodiment of all things pure'. This beautiful white marble mausoleum was painstakingly built over 22 years by Emperor Shah Jahan to celebrate and honour Mumtaz Mahal, his beloved wife who tragically died in childbirth. It is a symbol of eternal love, and we'll share a magical moment when we see it at dusk when it transforms from sparkling white to blush pink. Whilst in Agra you will have the chance to try one of the most iconic foods of the city. Petha is a soft candy and is prepared from white pumpkin or ash gourd (winter melon), mixed with nuts to give its unique flavour.
We'll also visit the Agra Fort, just across the Yamuna River. Created by several rulers of the Mughal Dynasty, the fort was transformed into a glittering palace by Shah Jahan. Many years later, the Fort became a gilded cell, where he was imprisoned for eight years when his son Aurangzeb overthrew him in 1658.
Day 10 Dholpur
After breakfast together, we'll drive to Chambal and explore the rich heritage held within its valley. Join your fellow travellers on an optional excursion where you can catch your first sight of a majestic Sarus crane or graceful Ganges River dolphins leaping in the air on an exciting river cruise. We'll sail along the Chambal River with a trained naturalist who will teach us about the river's wildlife. You might spot turtles enjoying the sun, and keep a lookout for gharial and mugger crocodiles. Expert boatsmen will carefully take us near the wildlife without disturbing the animals.
If you choose to spend today at leisure, your hotel features a swimming pool, indoor/outdoor games, a library, shopping arcade and horse-riding facilities. It's also well placed for a day of exploration if you prefer. Close by you can discover a stepwell, an ancient water storage system, and the ruins of the Shergarh fort.
Day 11 Orchha
We've got a fantastic day ahead of us. After breakfast, we'll drive to laid-back Orchha, which lies on the Betwa River. Flying a little more under the radar compared to its neighbour Khajuraho with its erotic sculptures, Orchha has a relaxed vibe and plenty of medieval charm. En route, we'll make a stop at Gwalior, an imposing sandstone fort set on a picturesque hilltop overlooking the city.
Reminiscent of a bygone royal era, Orchha is a feast for the senses, dotted with vibrant ochre palaces and ancient forts. We'll indulge in some sightseeing, absorbing the town's famous sacred temples. These surviving relics were built by the Bundela rulers in the 16th and 17th century.
Next, we'll visit the ornate, multi-storey palace of Jahangir Mahal. The expansive 136-room citadel boasts eight elegant domes, walls adorned with intricate panels and stylish hanging terraces. Built by Akbar, the third Mughal Emperor, he named the palace after his son, Jahangir, and mainly used it for his Rajput royal wives. We'll take photos under the beautiful arches and marvel at the glorious palace, carved from a single piece of stone.
Next, we'll make our way to the magnificent Ram Raja temple, enclosed within the grand square. Up to 3,000 Hindu worshippers pray here every day. As the only temple in India that features Lord Rama as a king, it's said that those who look at his left toe will have their wishes come true. We might even experience an invigorating arti ceremony, where light is offered to deities within the temple.
Day 12 Panna National Park
We'll make our way through central India to Panna today. First, we'll stop at the Khajuraho temples within India's Vindhya Mountain Range. According to local legend, gods and deities - including Shiva the destroyer - enjoyed praying here.
The temples were creatively built by mighty warrior kings from the Chandela dynasty. However, the temples are well-known around the world for their intricate carvings featuring erotic poses from the Kama Sutra, of which only 22 of the original 85 carvings have survived. We'll tour the monuments and will have plenty of opportunities for photos.
When we arrive in Panna, we'll get some much-needed rest as we'll be up bright and early tomorrow for our morning safari in Panna National Park.
Day 13 Panna National Park
Today's the day to truly immerse yourself in pristine natural beauty and imagine you're in Kipling's 'Just So Stories'. We'll set off for tranquil Panna National Park for an exhilarating game drive. Wait in breathtaking awe for a glimpse of a leopard running through the wilderness and rolling savannah grasslands.
From the safety and comfort of our Jeep, we could easily spot any or all of the following, big cats, antelopes, hyenas, sloths, deer, monkeys, wild dogs and over 300 species of bird. Pinch yourself as you listen to the sounds of the jungle and take in the lush backdrop of 550 square kilometres of stunning scenery. Plunging gorges, cascading waterfalls and rolling savannah grasslands await you.
In the afternoon, we'll have plenty of time at leisure to unwind at our hotel.
Day 14 Bandhavgarh National Park
Today, we've got a long but very enjoyable drive ahead of us that really gives us an insight into the remoteness and peaceful tranquillity of Central India.
Hopefully, we'll be rewarded tomorrow, when we visit Bandhavgarh National Park in search of an elusive Bengal tiger. Upon arrival, we'll check into our hotel and get some sleep, as we've got a big day ahead of us.
Day 15 Bandhavgarh National Park
A dizzying array of wildlife awaits us in Bandhvagarh National Park. Boasting the highest population of tigers in India, this is perhaps your best chance to see one in its natural habitat.
Although we'll hope to see an elusive Bengal tiger, it's not all about the big cats here. You're likely to spot a grazing great gaur – an Indian bison. When we get to more open swathes of wilderness, look out for nilgai, a fascinating species of Asian antelope, and barking deer roaming free across the land. A plethora of bird species also call the park home. You're certain to take some amazing photographs and make memories you'll treasure forever.
The lush green landscape is framed with steep, 800-metre-high cliffs and dotted with deep valleys. At the highest point, we'll find the park's namesake Bandhavgarh Fort, standing proudly over an auburn forest floor and a mottled canopy of trees. The fort is considered to be over 2,000 years old. Scattered around the park there are also numerous caves shrouded in mystery and housing shrines and ancient Sanskrit inscriptions.
On arrival back at our hotel, you can spend the rest of the day relaxing with your fellow travellers.
Day 16 Kanha National Park
We're really getting into the swing of jungle life now, and after breakfast, we'll journey by road to Kanha. Relax as you admire Central India's superb scenery and when we arrive, we'll enjoy a leisurely day exploring our new surroundings.
Tomorrow, we're off in pursuit of the King of the Jungle once more - majestic tigers await you in Kanha National Park, where 'The Jungle Book' comes to life.
Day 17 Kanha National Park
Today, fans of Rudyard Kipling's iconic childhood stories are in for a real treat. Arguably India's most impressive wildlife reserve, Kanha National Park is widely considered to be the inspiration for 'The Jungle Book'. This thrilling park is also known as the Kanha Tiger Reserve, so you're likely to see your very own Shere Khan here. We're going on morning and afternoon safaris, where we'll look out for royal Bengal tiger footprints and listen for their magnificent roars.
Amongst the 950 square kilometres of peaceful rivers and lush rolling hills, we might spot pythons slithering through the grass like vengeful Kaa, wolves reminiscent of those who raised Mowgli and sloth bears just like Baloo. Get up close and imagine yourself in the 'Just So Stories', with savannah that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Although Kipling never visited Kanha, he was enthralled by his friends' photographs and the writers who travelled to the Seoni region – we'll see for ourselves how the park inspired every page. When we've soaked up the evocative atmosphere, we'll retreat to our hotel for a delightful evening meal together.
Day 18 Mumbai
Mumbai, the birthplace of Rudyard Kipling, is our final destination. Lapped by the Arabian Sea, the city that the writer would have known as Bombay, lies on the coast of Western India.
Day 19 Cochin
Today we fly south to Cochin, Kerala's cosmopolitan capital. Known as the 'Queen of the Arabian Sea' thanks to the beauty of its natural harbour. The city is made up of a series of picturesque islands and boasts unique houses built on stilts and tranquil backwaters.
After settling in at your hotel, get to know your travelling companions over dinner this evening.
Day 20 Cochin
Today begins with a morning tour of Cochin. We'll head to the centre of Jew Town, a bustling port area and centre of Cochin's spice trade, where we will see the oldest Jewish Synagogue in the commonwealth, dating back to 1568. Next stop is the Mattancherry Kerala Palace, renamed the Dutch Palace after Cochin was taken from the Portuguese by the Dutch. Admire the splendid murals that adorn some of the rooms, said to be amongst the best in India. We round off our tour with a visit to St Francis Church, where Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama died and was buried.
At lunchtime we are invited to a cooking demonstration in the home of a well-known local chef and food journalist. Here, you'll learn how to use Kerala's aromatic spices in your own cooking and get to sample the dishes you create.
Another speciality of Kerala is Kathakali dance and we'll learn about this unique art form this evening before enjoying a 'Sadya' vegetarian feast with the group. This shared meal will take you on a gastronomic journey through Kerala as you try a tempting selection of dishes from many different regions. Each is served following local customs and come in an order which is said to help digestion. You'll eat from a banana leaf, which points in a certain direction, with rice served on the bottom half, and other items placed in clockwise order. You'll find that your hosts serve dessert mid-way through the meal.
Day 21 Thekady
A long but rewarding drive is on the cards today as we head to Thekkady. There's a treat for all the senses as we journey past rice paddies, tea and rubber tree plantations and aromatic gardens of coffee, cardamom and pepper plants, while the Western Ghats mountain range provides a beautiful backdrop to the surrounding rainforests and backwaters.
As the sun goes down we'll head to a spice plantation where we'll enjoy a tour. Superb peppers are grown here on the Malabar Coast and as such are referred to as 'black gold'.
Day 22 Thekkady
We're heading into Periyar Game Reserve today. A boat trip will give you the chance to look for elephants, bison and deer on the shoreline, as well as all manner of exotic plants that, if you're very lucky, may be hiding the elusive tiger.
Day 23 Alleppey
Our drive this morning takes us to Alleppey, where we'll board one of Kerala's famous houseboats for an overnight stay with a difference. Your 'kettuvallom' – modelled on the area's traditional rice boats – offers an unforgettable experience. Head on deck for a cruise through the backwaters to see how the locals live, then enjoy a tranquil evening as our boat anchors in a quiet spot.
Day 24 Kumarakom
Breakfast served on our houseboat is a great start to the day. We'll then take to the road and head to Kumarakom, cutting a route through coconut farms and fragrant spice gardens. A village tour and stop for lunch give us a chance to stretch our legs before arrival at our hotel.
Day 25 Kovalam
The final leg of our journey takes us to the Kovalam beach area today – a stunning location with magnificent beaches on which to relax and soak up the sun. Meals included: B,D
Day 26 Kovalam
You've another full day to relax in the beautiful coastal resort of Kovalam. You could choose to stay put and enjoy the facilities at your hotel, which include three swimming pools, a spa and health club.
Day 27 Kovalam
The day is yours to do as you please. Be sure to head to the beach to see the fishermen pulling in the huge Chinese fishing nets for which this area is famous. Join your fellow travellers this evening for a farewell dinner.
Day 28 Kovalam to UK
You'll transfer to the airport for your flight back to the UK.