Day 1 UK to Delhi
Today you'll depart on your flight to Delhi, India's largest city.
Day 2 Delhi
On arrival, we'll transfer you to your hotel for an overnight stay.
Delhi is a fascinating place – together, the walled city of Old Delhi and the more modern sector, New Delhi, exemplify the colours and contrasts of all India. This is a city of fine sights, including the majestic architecture of Edwin Lutyens, the seat of power at Parliament House and India Gate, the 42-metre high War Memorial Arch. Today, you're free to explore at your leisure. This evening, get to know your travelling companions over a welcome dinner and drink.
Day 3 Delhi - Kolkata
Our destination today is Kolkata and we'll fly here this morning. 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.
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 city 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 culminating our tour at the Indian Museum. One of the finest museums in Asia, what you'll find here is an excellent collection of art, fossils and meteorites. A highlight of your tour will be the chance to try some traditional foods. 'mishti doi' is a classic Bengali sweet made from boiling milk sweetened with jaggery, a sugar made from the sap of the date palm. You will also have the chance to sample 'rasgulla', an Indian dessert originating from West Bengal.
Day 5 Kolkata - Gangtok
India is a county of great contrasts, as we'll discover today when we fly to Gangtok. The capital of the mountainous northern Indian state of Sikkim, Gangtok 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 ft.
On arrival, we'll check into our hotel, then enjoy some time at leisure.
Day 6 Gangtok
After breakfast at the hotel, join your travelling companions for a visit to the Rumtek Monastery, a 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 and 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. Take a walk with your guide through the pedestrianised streets and bustling markets of this pleasant, sub-tropical city.
Day 7 Gangtok - 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 special sight to behold. So much so, they've been granted 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, breathtaking 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 Darjeeling - 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 and evening sound and light shows. Or stroll through the beautifully landscaped Nehru Park to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life for a while.
Day 10 Delhi
Today has been left free for you to explore Delhi. This evening you will join your travelling companions and get to know them over a welcome dinner.
Day 11 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 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 Agra - 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 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. 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 15 Jaipur - 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 16 Delhi
Arrive in Delhi where you'll have free time to explore at your leisure. This evening we will gather at the hotel to meet our travelling companions over a welcome dinner and drinks.
Day 17 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 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 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 20 Orchha - 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 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 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 22 Panna National Park - 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 23 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 24 Bandhavgarh National Park - 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 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 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 26 Kanha National Park - 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 27 Mumbai to UK
Enjoy a free morning, before we transfer to the airport for our flight back to the UK.