Day 1 UK to Delhi
Today you'll depart on your overnight flight to Delhi.
Day 2 Delhi
On arrival in Delhi, we'll transfer you to your hotel.
Together, the walled city of Old Delhi and the more modern sector, New Delhi, exemplify the colours and contrasts of India. This is a city of fine sights, including the majestic architecture of Edwin Lutyens, the seat of power at Parliament House and the 42-metre-high India Gate war memorial arch. Today is free for you to explore at your own pace.
This evening, get to know your travelling companions over a welcome drink at the hotel.
Day 3 Kolkata
This morning we'll fly to Kolkata. Formerly known as Calcutta, this trading post of the East India Company was the country's capital under the British Raj. Nowadays, it is the capital of India's West Bengal state, and is known for its grand colonial architecture, elegant gardens, art galleries and cultural festivals. Soak up the atmosphere of Kolkata's faded grandeur, and maybe take a rickshaw ride this evening to one of the many restaurants serving mouth-watering Bengali cuisine. Meals included: B
Day 4 Kolkata
We start the day with an authentic Kolkata experience – a visit to the famous flower market located on the banks of the River Hoogly. Many of the workers at this captivating, colourful place bathe in the river and live close to the market, while in the mornings, local wrestlers practise their art nearby.
After our visit, we'll return to the hotel for a buffet breakfast, before heading off on a sightseeing tour. Together with your travelling companions, you'll explore the rich colonial heritage of Kolkata on a visit to the Victoria Memorial, built by the British in 1921 and now a treasure trove of Raj relics including paintings, statues and the famed Rosewood piano played by Queen Victoria herself.
St Paul's Cathedral, close to the Victoria Memorial, is a Gothic treat not to be missed, with its Renaissance-style frescoes and tower modelled on that of Canterbury Cathedral. We'll also visit Mother House, the Catholic religious order established by Mother Teresa in 1950, before ending our tour at the Indian Museum. One of the finest museums in Asia, it is home to an excellent collection of art, fossils and meteorites.
Day 5 Gangtok
India is a country of great contrasts, as we'll discover today when we fly to Gangtok. The capital of the northern state of Sikkim, nestled in the Himalayas, was established as a Buddhist pilgrimage site in the 1840s. Today, this enticing hilltop city remains a Tibetan Buddhist centre, and offers superb views of the world's third-highest mountain – and India's highest – Mount Kangchenjunga, which towers to 28,169 feet.
On arrival, we'll check into our hotel, then enjoy some time at leisure.
Day 6 Gangtok
After breakfast at the hotel, we're going to visit the Rumtek Monastery, a gompa – or Buddhist seat of learning – for the Buddhist Kargyu sect, which originated in the 12th century in Tibet. Enjoy the fascinating tiered architecture of the building, which also houses rare Buddhist wall murals and intricate, hand-painted scrolls.
Later, we visit the Enchey Monastery, perched on a ridge above Gangtok, offering spectacular views of the city. Built in 1910 on the site of the hermitage of the great tantric saint, Lama Drutob Karpo, who was renowned for his powers of levitation, this monastery houses the monks of the Nyingmapa Order.
We'll also get an intimate glimpse into Buddhism at the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. Here, we'll learn more about the charismatic traditions of Mahayana Buddhists and Tibetans.
This evening, there's a chance to explore local life in Gangtok in more detail on a guided walk through the pedestrianised streets and bustling markets of this pleasant, sub-tropical city.
Day 7 Darjeeling
We drive to the town of Darjeeling today, in the Himalayan foothills, to explore this former colonial hill station. It's here where India's only operating steam trains can be found, travelling from Darjeeling to the town of Ghoom, above.
Darjeeling is also famous for its distinctive black tea plantations, dotted across the slopes that surround the town. The backdrop to it all is the impressive jagged peaks of the snow-capped Himalayas.
On arrival today, we'll check into the hotel before taking a trip to the local markets, famed for their textiles. Enjoy people-watching at the pretty Mall, where four roads meet in the centre of the town, or climb Observatory Hill to the Mahakal Temple, built on the site of a Buddhist monastery.
Day 8 Darjeeling
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which opened in 1881, is a hill railway like no other. These 'toy trains', operating on narrow-gauge tracks, with small steam engines pulling mini coaches up the hills, are a sight to behold and have been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.
We'll take breakfast at the hotel before enjoying a ride on one of these famous trains to Ghoom Monastery. Absorb the magnificent beauty of the mountains as we overcome impossible-looking curves and gradients to navigate this tough terrain. Watch local schoolchildren hop on and off as the train moves at a snail's pace up the mountain. You might even see the attendant sprinkling sand on the tracks to prevent the engine from skidding. Either way, the journey to the top is a triumph of engineering.
Ghoom Monastery is the first-ever Tibetan Buddhist monastery to be built in the Darjeeling region, in 1850. Sitting at an elevation of 8,000ft, you'll enjoy sweeping views of the snow-capped Himalayas, plus an impressive 15ft statue of Lord Buddha flanked by two huge, perpetually burning, oil lamps.
Next we'll walk to the nearby Happy Valley tea estate, taking in fantastic views of Mount Kanchenjunga along the way. The estate, which stretches for miles, is one of the oldest and most renowned in the area, producing world-class Darjeeling tea. Find out how tea is cultivated, learn about its history and enjoy a cuppa during a tasting session before we venture down the mountain!
Day 9 Delhi
After breakfast, we'll transfer to the airport for our flight back to Delhi. Spend some time at leisure in this magnificent city. Perhaps you'll visit the iconic 17th century Red Fort - a marvel of Mughal architecture with its red sandstone walls. Or why not stroll through the beautifully landscaped Nehru Park to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life for a while. Meals included: B
Day 10 Delhi
Enjoy an afternoon of sightseeing in New Delhi, a spacious, imperial city created by the British in 1911. 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 step back in time at the ancient Qutub Minar, a soaring tower of sandstone and UNESCO-listed site.
Day 11 Old Delhi
After breakfast, join your Tour Manager on an included sightseeing tour of 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.
This afternoon has been left free for you to explore at your own pace. If you wish, you can join an optional excursion which will introduce you to India's 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 12 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 13 Jaipur
We have an early start this morning for what is sure to be a memorable experience – a dawn visit to the spectacular Taj Mahal. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a symbol of 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 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 14 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. When we return to Jaipur we'll head to the Jantar Mantar, an astronomical observatory built in the early 18th century, and then take a stroll through Chaandpol Bazaar. The air here is thick with the pungent aromas of all kinds of freshly ground spices.
This evening we'll visit the City Palace and see rare personal items of the Maharajas of Jaipur. We'll also watch a state-of-the-art light show narrated by a Bollywood star, and enjoy dinner at a restaurant within the palace.
Day 15 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 this 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'll drive back to Delhi.
Day 16 Delhi
A 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 17 Dholpur
There is a further opportunity to visit the spectacular Taj Mahal and Agra Fort this afternoon. We then head to Madhya Pradesh, thought to be the setting of 'Mowgli's Brothers', a short story penned by Rudyard Kipling. Here we'll stay in a charming, sleepy little town called Dholpur, which is packed with historical forts and monuments.Meals included: B
Day 18 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 19 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 atop 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 centuries.
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. It's worth a try!
Day 20 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, where according to local legend, gods and deities - including Shiva the destroyer - enjoyed praying.
The temples were 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 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 21 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 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, with plunging gorges, cascading waterfalls and rolling savannah all around us.
In the afternoon, we'll have plenty of time at leisure to unwind at our hotel.
Day 22 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 with a sighting of the elusive Bengal tiger tomorrow, when we visit Bandhavgarh National Park.
Day 23 Bandhavgarh National Park
Boasting the largest population of tigers in India, today's visit to Bandhavgarh National Park gives you your best chance to see one in its natural habitat.
It's not all about the big cats though - look out for many types of animal including wild boar, sloth bear, striped hyena, sambar and, when we get to more open swathes of wilderness, nilgai, a fascinating species of Asian antelope, and barking deer. A plethora of bird species also call the park home, from peacocks to parakeets. And take in views of the soaring cliffs and deep valleys, and the park's namesake, Bandhavgarh Fort. Scattered around the park you'll also see numerous caves housing shrines and ancient Sanskrit inscriptions.
Day 24 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 afternoon exploring our new surroundings.
Tomorrow, we're off in pursuit of tigers once more in Kanha National Park, where 'The Jungle Book' comes to life.
Day 25 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 on our morning and afternoon safaris you're likely to see your very own Shere Khan.
Amongst the 950 square kilometres of peaceful rivers and lush rolling hills, we might also 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' as we make our way through 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 – and we'll see for ourselves how the park inspired every page.
Day 26 Mumbai
We're off to Mumbai, Rudyard Kipling's birthplace, today. Lapped by the Arabian Sea, the city that the writer would have known as Bombay, lies on the coast of Western India.Meals included: B
Day 27 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, it is made up of picturesque islands and boasts unique houses built on stilts and tranquil backwaters.Meals included: B,D
Day 28 Cochin
A day packed with wonderful experiences begins with our morning tour of Cochin. Located right in the centre of Jew Town, a bustling port area and centre of Cochin's spice trade, the Jewish Synagogue is the oldest in the commonwealth, dating back to 1568.
Next stop is the Mattancherry Kerala Palace, renamed the Dutch Palace after the Dutch wrestled Cochin from the hands of the Portuguese. Step inside to admire the splendid murals that adorn some of the rooms, which are said to be amongst the best in India. We round off our tour with a visit to St Francis Church. It is here that Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama died and was buried. His remains were shipped to Lisbon some 14 years later, but his gravestone is interesting to view.
At lunchtime we are invited to a cooking demonstration in the home of a well-known local chef and food journalist. You'll not only learn how to use Kerala's aromatic spices in your own cooking but you'll get to eat the dishes created.
Another speciality of Kerala is Kathakali dance – and we'll learn about this unique art form this evening before enjoying a 'Sadya' vegetarian feast.
Day 29 Thekkady
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 provide 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. The pepper grown on the Malabar Coast is some of the best in the world and is referred to as 'black gold'.
Day 30 Thekkady
We're heading into Periyar Game Reserve today. A thrilling cruise 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.Meals included: B,D
Day 31 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.Meals included: B,L,D
Day 32 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.Meals included: B,L,D
Day 33 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 as this epic tour comes to an end.Meals included: B,D
Day 34 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.Meals included: B,D
Day 35 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.
This evening, gather with your fellow travellers for a farewell dinner.
Day 36 UK
Today we'll transfer to the airport for our flight back to the UK.Meals included: B