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This is a new and unusual tour to Rajasthan, visiting some lesser known of the Rajahs’ forts & palaces & ending with the Moghul wonders of Agra and Delhi (including the Taj Mahal, of course). It is a varied and exciting journey through spectacular towns, villages and landscapes exploring the marvels of ancient and more modern religious, princely and Imperial art and architecture - forts, palaces, temples, mosques & tombs. We will visit more modest houses and remote mansions of merchants and local rulers, staying as the guests of former rulers in some of the palaces and castles. To gain insights into the 'real India' of small towns and villages, we hope to arrange visits to a school & tribal and mixed caste villages. We use our own coach and driver throughout, with time to stop and look at the sights & activities along our journey. Our hotels include a variety of forts, palaces, hunting lodges, & superb colonial splendour at the Imperial Hotel in Delhi.
RAJASTHAN We depart late eveningon Jet Air on 13 February. After arriving in Delhi at 11 am, we take a connecting flight to Udaipur [dep 13.45/arrive 14.55]. RAJASTHAN is one of the most fascinating and colourful of India's states, which remained mainly under the rule of Rajas and Maharajas until after Independence in 1947. Their great wealth built impressive cities, forts and palaces. Rich merchants and courtiers built beautiful town and country mansions (havelis), where the decoration of carved stone was practical as well as beautiful - deflecting the desert sands, channelling cooling breezes or providing subdued patterns of light and shade. The landscapes are varied and exciting – from the stark deserts to the beautiful Aravali Hills. In the villages much remains unchanged over centuries: methods of agriculture or irrigation; the buildings for people or animals; the widespread use of handicrafts. Pottery, exquisite textiles, carpets, carving, jewellery and leatherwork is found everywhere. WARNING: India is a great shopping temptation!
UDAIPUR 14-17 February: The fascinating and beautiful city of Udaipur was created by the Mewar clan in 1568 following their defeat by Akbar, the great Moghul emperor, at the fortress of Chittorgarh (which we visit later in the tour). It is located along a series of lakes, situated in the beautiful hills which contributed to the defence of the city. We intend to spend about two half days discovering the city - its enormous and spectacular palace and museum, working temple, the beautiful garden of the 'maids of honour', the folk museum and open air museum of buildings and crafts. We also have time to explore alone or in small groups - wandering in the bazaars or among the lakeside pavilions, boating on the lake.
RANAKPUR & KUMBULGARH 17-19 Feb: From Udaipur we drive across the beautiful Aravali Hills of craggy rocks and small fields of wheat, exploring the intriguing ‘Persian Wheel’ irrigation system, where the bucket chains are raised by bullocks, before arriving at the famous RANAKPUR JAIN TEMPLE. This is a beautiful 15th century marble building, with intricately carved pillars supporting numerous domes, built by the Jain minister of the ruler of Udaipur. We explore the temple and later look at the Durry weavers (flat-weave cotton rugs) before driving on to our hotel at Narlai
DUNGARPUR. 19-21 Feb From Rawla Narlai we return to Udaipur and drive on for a further two hours before arriving at the charming small town of DUNGARPUR – near the border with Gujerat. Another seat of a princely family, we stay at the very comfortable Udai Bilas Palace, a 19th century palace built on the lakeside. Above the palace hotel is the ancient 15th century palace, no longer inhabited, which has frescoed rooms – some of a licentious character - and an extraordinary Rajah’s bedroom with mirrored ceiling and floor!
CHITTORGARH TO NAHARGARH 21-22 Feb. After leaving Dungarpur our route takes us close to Udaipur once more en route for the great fortress of Chittorgarh, which we explore in the late morning. This was the capital of the Mewar dynasty of rulers before the fort was taken by the Moghul Emperor Akbar. This is the most famed of all Rajasthan forts, for here the forces of Mewar, rather than submit to the Moghul power at the end of a heroic siege, rode out to their deaths while their women committed ‘johar’ or self immolation. From here the Mewar rulers retreated to build the city of Udaipur. Chittor certainly looks like an impregnable fortress - huge and imposing along a long cliff. [Access to it has always proved a challenge for our driver!]
SHAHPURA 22-25 Feb. This is a small town midway between Udaipur and Jaipur. At one time it was an independent principality (granted to the family by the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan in 1630), but passed under the control of both the larger states of Udaipur and Jodhpur at different times. The huge old palace in the town has sadly decayed (in recent years the family gave it to the state as a school) and the town has an interesting market of cobblers, weavers and painters of scroll paintings. The family has moved to Shahpura Bagh – a country house in extensive gardens, part of which is lovely small luxury hotel, set in the midst of forests and lakes (but the lakes rather depleted in recent drought affected years). The hotel has only 10 rooms, so we may find that we are a private ‘house party’ during our stay. The family can arrange village and farm visits, bird-watching, etc.
BUNDI 25-27 Feb. From Shahpura we drive on to BUNDI, a Rajput kingdom until 1947 and once capital of a much larger state. Located in the Aravali hills, it is a beautiful little town, dominated by the fort which is a steep climb! First built in1354, it was extended later, and its palace is famed for its mural ‘miniature’ paintings. The picturesque medieval streets and the spectacular step-wells are all worth exploring.
RANTHAMBORE (PROJECT TIGER) WILD LIFE SANCTUARY) 27 Feb-1 March. We drive to the sanctuary at Ranthambore – one of the Project Tiger reserves that was once the tiger hunting area of the Jaipur Maharajas. Here we plan late afternoon and early morning game drives in jeeps to explore the wonderfully scenic reserve and the wide variety of wild animals and birds. They include several species of deer and antelope, jackal, crocodile, sloth bear and leopard as well as tigers. Shall we be lucky? The park is set among craggy hills and valleys, with a 10th century fort set high on a ridge of spectacular rocks, which was fought over by Moslem invaders and Rajput tribes. The area also has abandoned palaces, temples and tombs of military commanders all set among the dramatic hills and lakes. 2 nights at Khem Vilas – a small luxury wild life lodge, well organised for game viewing, and close to the park entrance.
BHARATPUR 1-2 March. From Ranthambore, after an early morning safari and late breakfast, we take the mid-day train to Bharatpur, but we hope that the upgrading to a 4 lane highway will speed our progress. Next morning we visit the BHARATPUR bird sanctuary, former duck-shoot of the Maharajas of Bharatpur and now one of the major bird sanctuaries of India. Our visit, accompanied by a naturalist, may be by punts (if the monsoons have replenished the lakes) or on foot and cycle rickshaw (equally rewarding). On previous visits we have seen a wide variety of deer, turtles, monitors, as well as migratory and native birds. 1 night at The Bagh Hotel –set in a lovely formal garden, rooms are comfortable, the food is good and there is a pleasant swimming pool.
FATEHPUR SIKRI & AGRA 2-4 March. After our morning visit to the bird sanctuary we drive the short distance to Fatehpur Sikri, a magnificent red sandstone complex, built by the Moghul Emperor Akbar just 37 kms from his capital at Agra. The site was chosen to honour a Muslim saint who predicted the birth of Akbar's son, the saint's tomb is in the mosque courtyard. The large complex of buildings - palaces, pavilions, stables - was probably a place of ceremony and ritual rather than a capital city. We reach Agra to view the Taj Mahal from across the river by sunset and visit the city next day. Agra was capital to the Moghul emperors in the 16th and 17th centuries. The seat of government was Akbar's magnificent red fort. This was elaborated by his son Jehangir, and his grandson, Shah Jehan, who built the marble palaces within the fort that look across the River Jumna to the Taj Mahal - tomb of his beloved wife. As well as the Taj Mahal (always more wonderful than you can imagine) there is the exquisite small tomb of Itmud-ud-Dullah, built by Nur Jehan, wife of the emperor Jehangir, in honour of her Persian father. 2 nights at The Trident Hotel. A modern luxury hotel, with garden and swimming pool. Very comfortable and efficient, and convenient for visiting the sites.
DELHI 4-7 March. We leave Agra for Delhi, stopping at Sikandra to look at the tomb of Akbar. DELHI was not always the capital, but has played a vital role in Indian history over the past 5000 years. Successive waves of invaders have conquered and rebuilt the city; others just pillaged! There are the remains of seven cities in the environs: they were built by Hindu rulers; successive Muslim conquerors who swept in from Turkey, Persia and Afghanistan; and the British, who declared Delhi capital once more in 1911 and soon began the building of New Delhi. The result is an enormous variety of monuments: the Q'Tub Minar complex (Tower of victory 1193) celebrated an Afghan invasion, but used much older Hindu & Jain temple stone; the Moghul masterpieces include the tomb of emperor Humayun, Shah Jehan's Red Fort and marble palaces and his huge mosque, the Jama Masjid. The British built the modern Imperial city of Sir Edwin Lutyens. There is much else to see: a superb crafts museum and village where crafts from India are practised; narrow streets and bazaars of the old city; the National Museum; the shops!!! It may well be that several members of the group have visited Delhi before! We must pick our itinerary with care!
SUMMARY OF PROVISIONAL ITINERARY RAJASTHAN & MOGHUL INDIA 2011
[We can arrange an extension of a few days to SHIMLA in the Himalayas – perfect at this time of year!]