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Day by Day Itinerary

Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

If you’re looking for adventure, explore India, where every moment brings new stimulation. The scent of roasted cumin seeds floating through a Delhi bazaar ... a young girl’s bracelets jangling on her arm as she prepares for a festival ... Hindu pilgrims descending ghats into the holy Ganges. From the excitement of the “Golden Triangle” cities of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur to the tranquility of the unexpected retreats that lie between them, we explore it all on this tour of India. Expert Trip Leaders will bring you behind the scenes and off the beaten path with their intimate understanding of India, past and present.

Delhi Varanasi Expand All
  • hidden

    You depart today on your overnight flight from the U.S. to Delhi, India.

  • hidden

    You'll arrive in Delhi today, where your Trip Leader will meet you at the airport and escort you to your hotel. Here we'll be joined by travelers who took our optional Bhutan: The Hidden Kingdom pre-trip extension.

  • hidden

    After breakfast, gather with your fellow travelers for a briefing by your Trip Leader.

    Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    We start our discoveries this afternoon in Delhi by visiting Old Delhi. Even when Bombay and Madras were mere trading posts and Calcutta a village of mud huts, Delhi had been the seat of an empire for 500 years. Through the centuries, eight cities have been built on this site, by Hindu, Mughal and British rulers—with each adding their own flavor.

    In the old part of Delhi, we visit Raj Ghat, a beautifully serene monument. This is where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, and we will see an impressive shrine to India's best-known statesman. Next, after visiting the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, we take a short ride by rickshaw through the crowded lanes of the Chandni Chowk bazaar. Tonight, enjoy a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

  • hidden

    Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    After breakfast, we head out to see the highlights of New Delhi.

    The British laid out the broad, tree-lined avenues and neat street grid of New Delhi (in contrast to the narrow alleyways of the old part of the city). We'll begin our explorations by visiting Qutab Minar, a spectacular example of Indo-Islamic architecture topped by a 234-foot-high tower. Begun in the twelfth century, this is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and the symbol of New Delhi.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll continue our tour of the former "Imperial City" which continues to serve as the center of government for the world's largest democracy. We'll see the buildings of India's Parliament and (from the outside) the residence of India's President, a palatial building called Rashtrapati Bhavan. Nearby we see the India Gate, where a popular park surrounds a memorial to Indian soldiers who served Great Britain in World War I and Britain's 19th-century war in Afghanistan.

    You'll have the latter part of the afternoon at leisure. This evening, enjoy dinner on your own.

  • hidden

    Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    After breakfast, we’ll fly to Jaipur, called the “Pink City” for the rosy hue of its sandstone buildings. Upon arrival, we’ll eat lunch at a local restaurant before checking into our hotel and enjoying a walking tour of Jaipur’s walled Old City. Tonight we’ll gather for dinner at a local restaurant.

  • hidden

    We begin today's discoveries with a view of the exterior of Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds). This is actually not a palace, but rather a façade of 956 delicate, honeycombed sandstone windows used by the ladies of the palace to watch the outside world without being seen.

    Explore 16th century Amber Fort in India

    Next, we'll explore Jaipur's Amber (pronounced "am-er," with a silent "b") Fort-Palace. The Fort is a stunning and well-preserved 16th-century structure, built on four levels.

    Among its many splendors is the Sheesh Mahal, a small room whose ceiling, covered with tiny mirrors, looks like a sky filled with brilliant stars. Here, in Rajput times, a dancing girl held candles during a dance of love for her Maharaja. We make our way back down the hill and return to Jaipur.

    After lunch on your own at the hotel, your afternoon is free. Then we are the guests of an Indian family for a Home-Hosted Dinner.

  • hidden

    Explore the Palace Museum and other sites of Jaipur

    An optional hot air balloon ride may be offered this morning (weather permitting). Rise early to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of Jaipur and its surroundings. Float high above the fort, Jai Mahal Lake, or the countryside, going where the wind takes you. Don’t be surprised if you attract attention from the people below along the way! 

    This morning, we enjoy a sightseeing tour of Jaipur, known as the "Pink City" for the rosy hue of its sandstone buildings.

    Next we see the Jantar Mantar, a remarkable astronomical and astrological observatory built in the 18th century. The giant sundials here are still accurate to two-tenths of a second. Then we go on to the City Palace Museum filled with an array of textiles, arms, carpets, paintings and manuscripts. You'll complete your tour with an optional visit to a fabric block-printing center to learn more about the textiles that are so representative of this area. After lunch at a local restaurant, your afternoon is free.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • hidden

    After breakfast, we leave Jaipur and drive through the rural countryside and into the low Vindhya mountain range. The drive is about five hours in length along bumpy roads.

    View India's wildlife while on safari in Ranthambore National Park

    Our destination is Ranthambore National Park. Located near the town of Sawai Madhopur, the park is one of the eleven sites chosen for Project Tiger, India's national tiger conservation program, the largest such effort in the world. The park comprises more than a hundred square miles of deciduous forest and several large lakes, and until 1970 it was a hunting preserve of the maharajas. After our visit, we arrive at the hotel in time for lunch. Please note: As Ranthambore National Park is closed in August and September, we will visit the Sawai Mansingh Animal Sanctuary instead during those months.

    In the afternoon, you can join an optional tour to the Ranthambore Fort, a spectacular fortress built more than 1,000 years ago on a rocky outcrop with stunning views. Today it sits in the middle of the Ranthambore sanctuary. You'll ride in an open four-wheel drive vehicle (known locally as a canter), and then hike to the fort, a huge structure with a fascinating history and fine craftsmanship in its interiors.

    Dinner is included at our hotel this evening, along with a presentation on the local wildlife we’ll see tomorrow.

  • hidden

    Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    In the early morning, when nocturnal animals may still be active, we head out for game-viewing before breakfast. Once again, our mode of transportation is a canter, a safari truck. We may see all the great Indian species: sambar, nilgai, the shy chinkara and chital, and the always cunning Langur monkey.

    We return to our hotel for breakfast and the rest of the morning at leisure. Following an included lunch in the hotel, we regroup for a second safari expedition. Though it is rare, we may see the Royal Bengal tiger, usually sleeping by day in the tall grass. A recent census showed 26 tigers in the reserve. We also see lakes that hold crocodiles, and a wide variety of water birds in season. More than 450 bird species frequent this area, from crested serpent eagles to painted storks.

    Dinner is included at our hotel this evening.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast, we'll stroll into a local village to visit with the students at a primary school (when in session) that OAT proudly supports through donations from Grand Circle Foundation.

    Then we'll continue our Day in the Life of this village, meeting local people and seeing their houses and way of life. We'll be the guests of one family for a Home-Hosted Visit. Next we visit a cooperative where women are trained to make handcrafts. We'll learn about this enterprise from one of the women involved, with the opportunity to purchase its products.

    After lunch, we begin our drive (totaling approximately four hours on a bumpy road) to our village camp retreat. You'll check in upon arrival.

    Explore India's countryside on a camel ride

    Our campsite is nestled among small plots of land used by local farmers to grow a rich diversity of crops. Often, villagers will stop by to pay us a visit, or farmers will take a break from their work to share a laugh. Especially enchanting are the mustard blooms, which, in season, resemble thousands of buttercups waving in the breeze.

    Join your travel companions this evening in the relaxed environment of the campsite to enjoy an authentic Indian dinner. Dinner is prepared especially for you by our camp cook, who uses the freshest locally grown organic ingredients.

    After dinner we'll relax around the campfire and enjoy being entertained by local dancers who proudly perform cultural Indian dances for us.

  • hidden

    As we continue to explore India, we experience the vast rural countryside of India as we ride toward Agra. En route, our Trip Leader entertains us with a discussion of the history of the Mughals.

    View the Taj Mahal on a moonlight garden tour

    We break up today's long drive with a stop at Abhaneri to view an ancient baolis, essentially a step-well or waterway built to provide a constant water supply to local inhabitants.

    After lunch at a local restaurant in Bharatpur, we continue to Agra, where you can enjoy your evening at leisure. Dinner tonight is on your own.

  • hidden

    Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    Today we rise early to view a sight unlike any other in the entire world: early morning at the Taj Mahal. Please note: If this day falls on a Friday, we visit the Taj Mahal on the evening of Day 11 instead.

    This grand edifice, built by Shah Jahan from 1631 to 1653 to enshrine the remains of his Queen Mumtaz Mahal, took 20,000 workers to build. We walk into the inner chambers of this renowned "Monument to Love," and seek out several vantage points to see the magnificent play of light. The semi-translucent white marble is inlaid with thousands of semi-precious stones in beautiful patterns and the building has four identical facades, a perfect exercise in symmetry. It's truly a wonder of the world!

    Later in the morning we visit the sprawling Agra Fort on the bank of the Yamuna River. This immense fort and palace were the seat of power for four generations of Mughal emperors; they ruled all of northern India from the early 16th century until the consolidation by British colonial rule in the early 1800s. Agra Fort's architecture is an almost perfect fusion between military might and lavish beauty.

    We return to our hotel to enjoy the afternoon at leisure, then gather for an included dinner this evening.

  • hidden

    Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    To enjoy and make the most of this very long, overland, travel day, you'll need to approach it with curiosity, an adventurous spirit, and a healthy sense of humor.

    We begin our journey early this morning, as we board a train for an approximately two-hour ride to Jhansi, a center of Bundela civilization. Upon arriving at the railway station in Jhansi, we will transfer to our coach and continue overland for a half-hour drive to Orcha. After lunch we continue overland via coach on the long (four-and-a-half-hour drive) and bumpy road to Khajuraho.

    Although remote and very quiet today, in the tenth century Khajuraho was the center of the thriving civilization of the Chandelas. The magnificent group of temples (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was built between the ninth and tenth centuries by the Chandela Dynasty, which dominated Central India at the time.

    We'll check in, and enjoy dinner at our hotel in the evening.

  • hidden

    After breakfast at our hotel, we visit the east and west temple complexes that the Chandelas constructed. The erotic stone carvings here have come to symbolize the important role of love and prana energy in Hindu thought. British archaeologists excavated these intricate stone carvings during colonial times, when they scandalized post-Victorian English sensibilities.

    Explore India's Ganges River on a boat ride

    We have time for lunch before transferring to the airport for our 40-minute flight to Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu cities. Known as Benares during British times, Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, with a written history dating back more than 4,000 years. It has an intense, almost palpable atmosphere of spiritual devotion, a feeling of an unending religious festival. Hundreds of temples propitiate the thousands of deities in the Hindu pantheon. Pilgrims from every part of this vast nation crowd the narrow streets and the riverside ghats.

    This evening, we'll witness the aarti ceremony on the Ganges. As the day comes to a close, we'll travel to the bathing ghats located alongside the sacred River Ganges. People flock in large numbers every day to bathe and worship in the temples built beside the riverbank. Feel the timelessness of Varanasi as the sun sets and as the temple priests perform aarti, the sacred light ceremony, on the banks of Mother Ganga. The aarti performance is best viewed while having a boat ride on the river. After the puja ceremony is completed, dinner will be on your own this evening.

  • hidden

    See temples at sunrise on a Ganges River boat cruise

    At sunrise, when the temples are bathed in soft light, we board our small boat for a cruise on the Ganges. From our boat we are witness to the everyday life in the holiest of cities, as the people arrive at the ghats at dawn to take a ritual dip, perform yoga asanas, wash clothes and offer flowers and incense to the river.

    We can photograph riverside temples and bathing ghats in a rich, golden dawn light. Photography of the cremation ghats, however, is not permitted. We see devotees performing their daily religious rites. At stone steps on the river's edge, we join our hosts in a pilgrimage: for them, the heart of their faith, for us, a superlative cultural experience. We then continue our guided walking tour of the local temples before returning to our hotel for breakfast.

    After breakfast, we'll visit the unique Bharat Mata (Mother India) temple, dedicated not to gods and goddesses, but to Mother India herself. Inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936, this relatively modern temple houses an intricate bas relief map of the Indian subcontinent, carved entirely from white marble.

    Later, we drive to the nearby ancient Buddhist learning center of Sarnath. Here, Gautama Buddha preached his first sermon to his disciples, as portrayed in Bernardo Bertolucci's film Little Buddha. We then visit the Sarnath Museum, (except on Fridays, when the museum is closed) which houses some of the great treasures of Indian Buddhist art, including Ashoka's Lion Capital—the National Emblem of India—and the beautiful Teaching Buddha, among the most beautiful sculptures in the world. We can explore and photograph excavated Buddhist stupas and pillars unearthed during the British archaeological explorations in 1836. We also have the opportunity to visit a silk-weaving workshop.

    This evening, enjoy a Farewell Dinner with your traveling companions.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    This morning we have the chance to begin the day with a relaxing yoga and meditation class before breakfast at our hotel. Learn basic yoga exercises and breathing techniques from a local expert.

    After lunch on your own, you will be transferred to the airport to board a flight to Delhi, where you'll stay tonight. Enjoy an included dinner at your hotel this evening.

    Or, if you’re continuing on the post-trip extension to Kathmandu, Nepal, you will fly to Kathmandu instead.

  • hidden

    If you're continuing on a post-trip extension to The South of India: Kerala & Cochin, board your flight this morning. Otherwise, transfer to the airport very early this morning for your return flight to the U.S.

Delhi Varanasi Expand All
  • hidden

    You depart today on your overnight flight from the U.S. to Delhi, India.

  • hidden

    Explore the many sites of Delhi

    You'll arrive in Delhi today, where your Trip Leader will meet you at the airport and escort you to your hotel as you begin to explore India.

  • hidden

    After breakfast, gather with your fellow travelers for a briefing by your Trip Leader.

    Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    We start our discoveries this afternoon in Delhi by visiting Old Delhi. Even when Bombay and Madras were mere trading posts and Calcutta a village of mud huts, Delhi had been the seat of an empire for 500 years. Through the centuries, eight cities have been built on this site, by Hindu, Mughal and British rulers—with each adding their own flavor.

    In the old part of Delhi, we visit Raj Ghat, a beautifully serene monument. This is where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, and we will see an impressive shrine to India's best-known statesman. Next, after visiting the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, we take a short ride by rickshaw through the crowded lanes of the Chandni Chowk bazaar. Tonight, enjoy a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

  • hidden

    Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    After breakfast, we head out to see the highlights of New Delhi as we continue to explore India.

    The British laid out the broad, tree-lined avenues and neat street grid of New Delhi (in contrast to the narrow alleyways of the old part of the city). We'll begin our explorations by visiting Qutab Minar, a spectacular example of Indo-Islamic architecture topped by a 234-foot-high tower. Begun in the twelfth century, this is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and the symbol of New Delhi.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll continue our tour of the former "Imperial City" which continues to serve as the center of government for the world's largest democracy. We'll see the buildings of India's Parliament and (from the outside) the residence of India's President, a palatial building called Rashtrapati Bhavan. Nearby we see the India Gate, where a popular park surrounds a memorial to Indian soldiers who served Great Britain in World War I and Britain's 19th-century war in Afghanistan.

    You'll have the latter part of the afternoon at leisure. This evening, dinner is on your own.

  • hidden

    Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    After breakfast, we travel overland to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. We stop en route for lunch and to explore a local market. Then we continue to Jaipur. Arriving at our hotel in the early evening, you will have time to freshen up before dinner at the hotel.

  • hidden

    We begin today's discoveries with a view of the exterior of Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds). This is actually not a palace, but rather a façade of 956 delicate, honeycombed sandstone windows used by the ladies of the palace to watch the outside world without being seen.

    Explore 16th century Amber Fort in India

    Next, we'll explore Jaipur's Amber (pronounced "am-er," with a silent "b") Fort-Palace. The Fort is a stunning and well-preserved 16th-century structure, built on four levels.

    Among its many splendors is the Sheesh Mahal, a small room whose ceiling, covered with tiny mirrors, looks like a sky filled with brilliant stars. Here, in Rajput times, a dancing girl held candles during a dance of love for her Maharaja. We make our way back down the hill and return to Jaipur.

    After lunch on your own at the hotel, your afternoon is free. Then we are the guests of an Indian family for a Home-Hosted Dinner.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    An optional hot air balloon ride may be offered this morning (weather permitting). Rise early to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of Jaipur and its surroundings. Float high above the fort, Jai Mahal Lake, or the countryside, going where the wind takes you. Don’t be surprised if you attract attention from the people below along the way!

    Explore the Palace Museum and other sites of Jaipur

    After breakfast, we proceed to Nagaur, about a six-hour drive over bumpy roads in the desert.

    Lunch is at our camp as we arrive in Nagaur. This afternoon we’ll visit the Mela Ground, located at the heart of this fascinating fair. Here we will witness many of the fair’s traders along with their animals. Entertainment during this bustling festival includes various sports. The scheduling of these events is unpredictable, and much of the excitement and fun of our two days here will be taking advantage of opportunities as we come across them.

    We have dinner at our camp this evening. First, though, we’ll enjoy the excitement and gaiety of Rajasthani folk dancing and singing.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast in camp today, we take in more of the fair, which is a predominantly rural gathering, as we mingle with local people and share in their festive spirit.

    View India's wildlife while on safari in Ranthambore National Park

    The fair includes a large marketplace, where you will find such items as colorful costumes, ornaments, and embroidered coverings. Nagaur is also famous for its locally grown red chili peppers, which are sold here at the fair. If you’re feeling brave, perhaps you’ll have a taste.

    We return to our camp for lunch. After time to relax, we return to explore the fair area. Experience a ride by camelback, or within a camel cart, if you prefer.

    Before dinner at camp this evening, we’ll enjoy another show of traditional dancing.

  • hidden

    After breakfast we drive to Jaipur and check into our hotel. We’ll have time for lunch before heading out for an included sightseeing tour of the “Pink City,” so named for the rosy hue of its sandstone buildings.

    View monkeys while on safari in India's Ranthambore National Park

    First, we head to the Jantar Mantar, a remarkable astronomical and astrological observatory built in the 18th century. The giant sundials here are still accurate to two-tenths of a second! Then we go on to the City Palace Museum filled with an array of textiles, arms, carpets, paintings and manuscripts. You’ll complete your tour with a visit to a fabric block-printing center to learn more about the textiles that are so representative of this area.

    We have dinner at our hotel this evening.

  • hidden

    After breakfast, we leave Jaipur and drive through the rural countryside and into the low Vindhya mountain range. The drive is about five hours in length along bumpy roads.

    Our destination is Ranthambore National Park. Located near the town of Sawai Madhopur, the park is one of the eleven sites chosen for Project Tiger, India's national tiger conservation program, the largest such effort in the world. The park comprises more than a hundred square miles of deciduous forest and several large lakes, and until 1970 it was a hunting preserve of the maharajas. After our visit, we arrive at the hotel in time for lunch. Please note: As Ranthambore National Park is closed in August and September, we will visit the Sawai Mansingh Animal Sanctuary instead during those months.

    Explore India's countryside on a camel ride

    In the afternoon, you can join an optional tour to the Ranthambore Fort, a spectacular fortress built more than 1,000 years ago on a rocky outcrop with stunning views. Today it sits in the middle of the Ranthambore sanctuary. You'll ride in an open 4x4 vehicle (known locally as a canter), and then hike to the fort, a huge structure with a fascinating history and fine craftsmanship in its interiors.

    Dinner is included at our hotel this evening, along with a presentation on the local wildlife we’ll see tomorrow.

  • hidden

    View the Taj Mahal on a moonlight garden tour

    In the early morning, when nocturnal animals may still be active, we head out for game-viewing before breakfast. Once again, our mode of transportation is a canter, a safari truck. We may see all the great Indian species: sambar, nilgai, the shy chinkara and chital, and the always cunning Langur monkey.

    We return to our hotel for breakfast and the rest of the morning at leisure. Following an included lunch in the hotel, we regroup for a second safari expedition. Though it is rare, we may see the Royal Bengal tiger, usually sleeping by day in the tall grass. A recent census showed 26 tigers in the reserve. We also see lakes that hold crocodiles, and a wide variety of water birds in season. More than 450 bird species frequent this area, from crested serpent eagles to painted storks.

    Dinner is included at our hotel this evening.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:
    See India's Taj Mahal

    After breakfast, we’ll stroll into a local village to visit with the students at a primary school (when in session) that OAT proudly supports through donations from Grand Circle Foundation.

    We’ll continue our exploration of the village, meeting local people and seeing their houses and way of life. We’ll be the guests of one family for a Home-Hosted Visit. Then we visit a cooperative where women are trained to make handcrafts and we’ll learn about this enterprise from one of the women involved, with the opportunity to purchase its products.

    Next, we drive through the rural countryside to Bharatpur. The drive is about 8-9 hours in length along bumpy roads, but we break it up with a stop along the way.

    Upon arrival in Bharatpur, we’ll check into our hotel, where we'll dine together.

  • hidden

    This morning, we experience the vast rural countryside of India as we ride toward Agra. En route, our Trip Leader entertains us with a discussion of the history of the Mughals, the dynasty that built the Taj Mahal. We arrive in Agra in time for lunch at our hotel.

    Explore Khajuraho temples in northern India

    Our afternoon is at leisure to explore. Perhaps you’ll discover Agra’s stone carvings, which resemble the inlay work on the Taj itself. Or perhaps you’ll visit one of the city’s parks or temples; ask your Trip Leader for suggestions.

    Dinner will be on your own this evening.

    Or join an optional tour to take in the view of the Taj Mahal from the Mehtab Bagh (“Moonlight Garden”) across the Yamuna River. From the garden we’ll proceed to a local restaurant to savor a South Indian dinner.

  • hidden

    Explore India's Ganges River on a boat ride

    Today we rise early to view a sight unlike any other in the entire world: early morning at the Taj Mahal. Please note: If this day falls on a Friday, we visit the Taj Mahal on the evening of Day 13 instead.

    This grand edifice, built by Shah Jahan from 1631 to 1653 to enshrine the remains of his Queen Mumtaz Mahal, took 20,000 workers to build. We walk into the inner chambers of this renowned “Monument to Love,” and seek out several vantage points to see the magnificent play of light. The semi-translucent white marble is inlaid with thousands of semi-precious stones in beautiful patterns and the building has four identical facades, a perfect exercise in symmetry. It’s truly a wonder of the world!

    Later in the morning, we visit the sprawling Agra Fort on the bank of the Yamuna River. This immense fort and palace were the seat of power for four generations of Mughal emperors; they ruled all of northern India from the early 16th century until the consolidation by British colonial rule in the early 1800s. Agra Fort’s architecture is an almost perfect fusion between military might and lavish beauty.

    We return to our hotel to enjoy the afternoon at leisure, then gather for an included dinner this evening.

  • hidden

    To enjoy and make the most of this very long, overland, travel day, you'll need to approach it with curiosity, an adventurous spirit, and a healthy sense of humor.

    See temples at sunrise on a Ganges River boat cruise

    We begin our journey early this morning, as we board a train for an approximately two-hour ride to Jhansi, a center of Bundela civilization. Upon arriving at the railway station in Jhansi, we will transfer to our coach and continue overland for a half-hour drive to Orcha. After lunch we continue overland via coach on the long (four-and-a-half-hour drive) and bumpy road to Khajuraho.

    Although remote and very quiet today, in the tenth century Khajuraho was the center of the thriving civilization of the Chandelas. The magnificent group of temples (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was built between the ninth and tenth centuries by the Chandela Dynasty, which dominated Central India at the time. We'll check in, and enjoy dinner at our hotel in the evening.

  • hidden

    After breakfast at our hotel, we visit the east and west temple complexes that the Chandelas constructed. The erotic stone carvings here have come to symbolize the important role of love and prana energy in Hindu thought.

    British archaeologists excavated these intricate stone carvings during colonial times, when they scandalized post-Victorian English sensibilities.

    Encounter relaxation at a yoga and meditation class in India

    We have time for lunch before transferring to the airport for our 40-minute flight to Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu cities. Known as Benares during British times, Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, with a written history dating back more than 4,000 years. It has an intense, almost palpable atmosphere of spiritual devotion, a feeling of an unending religious festival. Hundreds of temples propitiate the thousands of deities in the Hindu pantheon. Pilgrims from every part of this vast nation crowd the narrow streets and the riverside ghats.

    This evening, we'll witness the aarti ceremony on the Ganges. As the day comes to a close, we'll travel to the bathing ghats located alongside the sacred River Ganges. People flock in large numbers every day to bathe and worship in the temples built beside the riverbank. Feel the timelessness of Varanasi as the sun sets and as the temple priests perform aarti, the sacred light ceremony, on the banks of Mother Ganga. The aarti performance is best viewed while having a boat ride on the river. After the puja ceremony is completed, dinner will be on your own this evening.

  • hidden

    At sunrise, when the temples are bathed in soft light, we board our small boat for a cruise on the Ganges. From our boat we are witness to the everyday life in the holiest of cities, as the people arrive at the ghats at dawn to take a ritual dip, perform yoga asanas, wash clothes and offer flowers and incense to the river.

    We can photograph riverside temples and bathing ghats in a rich, golden dawn light. Photography of the cremation ghats, however, is not permitted. We see devotees performing their daily religious rites. At stone steps on the river's edge, we join our hosts in a pilgrimage: for them, the heart of their faith, for us, a superlative cultural experience. We then continue our guided walking tour of the local temples before returning to our hotel for breakfast.

    After breakfast, we'll visit the unique Bharat Mata (Mother India) temple, dedicated not to gods and goddesses, but to Mother India herself. Inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936, this relatively modern temple houses an intricate bas relief map of the Indian subcontinent, carved entirely from white marble.

    Later, we drive to the nearby ancient Buddhist learning center of Sarnath. Here, Gautama Buddha preached his first sermon to his disciples, as portrayed in Bernardo Bertolucci's film Little-Buddha. We then visit the Sarnath Museum, (except on Fridays, when the museum is closed) which houses some of the great treasures of Indian Buddhist art, including Ashoka's Lion Capital—the National Emblem of India—and the beautiful Teaching Buddha, among the most beautiful sculptures in the world. We can explore and photograph excavated Buddhist stupas and pillars unearthed during the British archaeological explorations in 1836. We also have the opportunity to visit a silk-weaving workshop.

    This evening, enjoy a Farewell Dinner with your traveling companions.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    This morning we have the chance to begin the day with a relaxing yoga and meditation class before breakfast at our hotel. Learn basic yoga exercises and breathing techniques from a local expert.

    After lunch on your own, you will be transferred to the airport to board a flight to Delhi, where you'll stay tonight. Enjoy an included dinner at your hotel this evening.

    Or, if you’re continuing on the post-trip extension to Kathmandu, Nepal, you will fly to Kathmandu instead.

  • hidden

    If you're continuing on a post-trip extension to The South of India: Kerala & Cochin, board your flight this morning.

    Otherwise, transfer to the airport very early this morning for your return flight to the U.S.

Delhi Varanasi Expand All
  • hidden

    You depart today on your overnight flight from the U.S. to Delhi, India.

  • hidden

    Explore the many sites of Delhi

    You'll arrive in Delhi today, where your Trip Leader will meet you at the airport and escort you to your hotel as you begin to explore India.

  • hidden

    After breakfast, gather with your fellow travelers for a briefing by your Trip Leader.

    Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    We start our discoveries this afternoon in Delhi by visiting Old Delhi. Even when Bombay and Madras were mere trading posts and Calcutta a village of mud huts, Delhi had been the seat of an empire for 500 years. Through the centuries, eight cities have been built on this site, by Hindu, Mughal and British rulers—with each adding their own flavor.

    In the old part of Delhi, we visit Raj Ghat, a beautifully serene monument. This is where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, and we will see an impressive shrine to India's best-known statesman. Next, after visiting the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, we take a short ride by rickshaw through the crowded lanes of the Chandni Chowk bazaar. Tonight, enjoy a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

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    Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    After breakfast, we head out to see the highlights of New Delhi as we continue to explore India.

    The British laid out the broad, tree-lined avenues and neat street grid of New Delhi (in contrast to the narrow alleyways of the old part of the city). We'll begin our explorations by visiting Qutab Minar, a spectacular example of Indo-Islamic architecture topped by a 234-foot-high tower. Begun in the twelfth century, this is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and the symbol of New Delhi.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll continue our tour of the former "Imperial City" which continues to serve as the center of government for the world's largest democracy. We'll see the buildings of India's Parliament and (from the outside) the residence of India's President, a palatial building called Rashtrapati Bhavan. Nearby we see the India Gate, where a popular park surrounds a memorial to Indian soldiers who served Great Britain in World War I and Britain's 19th-century war in Afghanistan.

    You'll have the latter part of the afternoon at leisure. This evening, dinner is on your own.

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    Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    After breakfast, we’ll fly to Jaipur, called the “Pink City” for the rosy hue of its sandstone buildings. Upon arrival, we’ll eat lunch at a local restaurant before checking into our hotel and enjoying a walking tour of Jaipur’s walled Old City. Tonight we’ll gather for dinner at a local restaurant.

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    We begin today's discoveries with a view of the exterior of Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds). This is actually not a palace, but rather a façade of 956 delicate, honeycombed sandstone windows used by the ladies of the palace to watch the outside world without being seen.

    Explore 16th century Amber Fort in India

    Next, we'll explore Jaipur's Amber (pronounced "am-er," with a silent "b") Fort-Palace. The Fort is a stunning and well-preserved 16th-century structure, built on four levels.

    Among its many splendors is the Sheesh Mahal, a small room whose ceiling, covered with tiny mirrors, looks like a sky filled with brilliant stars. Here, in Rajput times, a dancing girl held candles during a dance of love for her Maharaja. We make our way back down the hill and return to Jaipur.

    After lunch on your own at the hotel, your afternoon is free. Then we are the guests of an Indian family for a Home-Hosted Dinner.

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    An optional hot air balloon ride may be offered this morning (weather permitting). Rise early to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of Jaipur and its surroundings. Float high above Jai Mahal Lake and the countryside, going where the wind takes you. Don’t be surprised if you attract attention from the people below along the way!

    Explore the Palace Museum and other sites of Jaipur

    After breakfast, we proceed to Pushkar, about a five-hour drive. During much of the year, Pushkar is a quiet town sacred to Hindus. The town surrounds Pushkar Lake, which is studded with bathing ghats for the pilgrims who come here to bathe in its healing waters. However, with the beginning of the Pushkar fair it turns into a multicolored and teeming place of camel races, horse dealing, and traditional festivities. Entertainment during this bustling festival includes various sports: camel races, horse races, and tug-of-war competitions. The scheduling of these events is unpredictable, and much of the excitement and fun of our two days here will be taking advantage of opportunities as we come across them.

    Lunch is at our camp as we arrive in Pushkar. This afternoon we’ll visit the Mela Ground, located at the heart of this fascinating fair. Here we will witness many of the fair’s traders along with their animals.

    We have dinner at our camp this evening. First, though, we’ll enjoy the excitement and gaiety of Rajasthani folk dancing and singing.

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    After breakfast in camp today, we explore Pushkar. Sitting in a valley, the town boasts five major temples, and a rich religious history. We’ll visit the Brahma Temple (said to be the only temple to this deity), and the lake itself. The fair swells the local population, and at its peak most of Rajasthan’s culture is represented.

    View India's wildlife while on safari in Ranthambore National Park

    This afternoon, after enjoying lunch at our camp, enjoy a ride by camelback (or within a camel cart, if you prefer) through the fairgrounds. We’ll take in more of the fair, which is a predominantly rural gathering, as we mingle with local people and share in their festive spirit. The fair includes a large marketplace, where you will find such items as colorful costumes, ornaments, and embroidered coverings.

    Before dinner at camp this evening, we’ll enjoy another show of traditional dancing.

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    After breakfast we drive to Jaipur and check into our hotel. We’ll have time for lunch before heading out for an included sightseeing tour of the “Pink City,” so named for the rosy hue of its sandstone buildings.

    View monkeys while on safari in India's Ranthambore National Park

    Next, we head first to the Jantar Mantar, a remarkable astronomical and astrological observatory built in the 18th century. The giant sundials here are still accurate to two-tenths of a second! Then we go on to the City Palace Museum filled with an array of textiles, arms, carpets, paintings and manuscripts. You’ll complete your tour with a visit to a fabric block-printing center to learn more about the textiles that are so representative of this area.

    We have dinner at our hotel this evening.

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    After breakfast, we leave Jaipur and drive through the rural countryside and into the low Vindhya mountain range. The drive is about five hours in length along bumpy roads.

    Explore India's countryside on a camel ride

    Our destination is Ranthambore National Park. Located near the town of Sawai Madhopur, the park is one of the eleven sites chosen for Project Tiger, India's national tiger conservation program, the largest such effort in the world. The park comprises more than a hundred square miles of deciduous forest and several large lakes, and until 1970 it was a hunting preserve of the maharajas. After our visit, we arrive at the hotel in time for lunch. Please note: As Ranthambore National Park is closed in August and September, we will visit the Sawai Mansingh Animal Sanctuary instead during those months.

    In the afternoon, you can join an optional tour to the Ranthambore Fort, a spectacular fortress built more than 1,000 years ago on a rocky outcrop with stunning views. Today it sits in the middle of the Ranthambore sanctuary. You'll ride in an open 4x4 vehicle (known locally as a canter), and then hike to the fort, a huge structure with a fascinating history and fine craftsmanship in its interiors. 

    Dinner is included at our hotel this evening, along with a presentation on the local wildlife we’ll see tomorrow.

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    Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    In the early morning, when nocturnal animals may still be active, we head out for game-viewing before breakfast. Once again, our mode of transportation is a canter, a safari truck. We may see all the great Indian species: sambar, nilgai, the shy chinkara and chital, and the always cunning Langur monkey.

    We return to our hotel for breakfast and the rest of the morning at leisure. Following an included lunch in the hotel, we regroup for a second safari expedition. Though it is rare, we may see the Royal Bengal tiger, usually sleeping by day in the tall grass. A recent census showed 26 tigers in the reserve. We also see lakes that hold crocodiles, and a wide variety of water birds in season. More than 450 bird species frequent this area, from crested serpent eagles to painted storks.

    Dinner is included at our hotel this evening.

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    See India's Taj Mahal

    After breakfast, we’ll stroll into a local village to visit with the students at a primary school (when in session) that OAT proudly supports through donations from Grand Circle Foundation.

    We’ll continue our exploration of the village, meeting local people and seeing their houses and way of life. We’ll be the guests of one family for a home-hosted visit. Then we visit a cooperative where women are trained to make handcrafts and we’ll learn about this enterprise from one of the women involved, with the opportunity to purchase its products.

    Next, we drive through the rural countryside to Bharatpur. The drive is about 8-9 hours in length along bumpy roads, but we break it up with a stop along the way.

    Upon arrival in Bharatpur we’ll check into our hotel, where we'll dine together.

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    This morning, we experience the vast rural countryside of India as we ride toward Agra. En route, our Trip Leader entertains us with a discussion of the history of the Mughals, the dynasty that built the Taj Mahal. We arrive in Agra in time for lunch at our hotel.

    Explore Khajuraho temples in northern India

    Our afternoon is at leisure to explore. Perhaps you’ll discover Agra’s stone carvings, which resemble the inlay work on the Taj itself. Or perhaps you’ll visit one of the city’s parks or temples; ask your Trip Leader for suggestions.

    Dinner will be on your own this evening.

    Or join an optional tour to take in the view of the Taj Mahal from the Mehtab Bagh (“Moonlight Garden”) across the Yamuna River. From the garden we’ll proceed to a local restaurant to savor a South Indian dinner.

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    Explore Delhi on a rickshaw ride

    Today we rise early to view a sight unlike any other in the entire world: early morning at the Taj Mahal. Please note: If this day falls on a Friday, we visit the Taj Mahal on the evening of Day 13 instead.

    This grand edifice, built by Shah Jahan from 1631 to 1653 to enshrine the remains of his Queen Mumtaz Mahal, took 20,000 workers to build. We walk into the inner chambers of this renowned “Monument to Love,” and seek out several vantage points to see the magnificent play of light. The semi translucent white marble is inlaid with thousands of semi-precious stones in beautiful patterns and the building has four identical facades, a perfect exercise in symmetry. It’s truly a wonder of the world!

    Later in the morning, we visit the sprawling Agra Fort on the bank of the Yamuna River. This immense fort and palace were the seat of power for four generations of Mughal emperors; they ruled all of northern India from the early 16th century until the consolidation by British colonial rule in the early 1800s. Agra Fort’s architecture is an almost perfect fusion between military might and lavish beauty.

    We return to our hotel to enjoy the afternoon at leisure, then gather for an included dinner this evening.

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    To enjoy and make the most of this very long, overland, travel day, you'll need to approach it with curiosity, an adventurous spirit, and a healthy sense of humor.

    See temples at sunrise on a Ganges River boat cruise

    We begin our journey early this morning, as we board a train for an approximately two-hour ride to Jhansi, a center of Bundela civilization. Upon arriving at the railway station in Jhansi, we will transfer to our coach and continue overland for a half-hour drive to Orcha. After lunch we continue overland via coach on the long (four-and-a-half-hour drive) and bumpy road to Khajuraho.

    Although remote and very quiet today, in the tenth century Khajuraho was the center of the thriving civilization of the Chandelas. The magnificent group of temples (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was built between the ninth and tenth centuries by the Chandela Dynasty, which dominated Central India at the time.

    We'll check in, and enjoy dinner at our hotel in the evening.

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    After breakfast at our hotel, we visit the east and west temple complexes that the Chandelas constructed. The erotic stone carvings here have come to symbolize the important role of love and prana energy in Hindu thought.

    British archaeologists excavated these intricate stone carvings during colonial times, when they scandalized post-Victorian English sensibilities.

    Encounter relaxation at a yoga and meditation class in India

    We have time for lunch before transferring to the airport for our 40-minute flight to Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu cities. Known as Benares during British times, Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, with a written history dating back more than 4,000 years. It has an intense, almost palpable atmosphere of spiritual devotion, a feeling of an unending religious festival. Hundreds of temples propitiate the thousands of deities in the Hindu pantheon. Pilgrims from every part of this vast nation crowd the narrow streets and the riverside ghats.

    This evening, we'll witness the aarti ceremony on the Ganges. As the day comes to a close, we'll travel to the bathing ghats located alongside the sacred River Ganges. People flock in large numbers every day to bathe and worship in the temples built beside the riverbank. Feel the timelessness of Varanasi as the sun sets and as the temple priests perform aarti, the sacred light ceremony, on the banks of Mother Ganga. The aarti performance is best viewed while having a boat ride on the river. After the puja ceremony is completed, dinner will be on your own this evening.

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    At sunrise, when the temples are bathed in soft light, we board our small boat for a cruise on the Ganges. From our boat we are witness to the everyday life in the holiest of cities, as the people arrive at the ghats at dawn to take a ritual dip, perform yoga asanas, wash clothes and offer flowers and incense to the river.

    We can photograph riverside temples and bathing ghats in a rich, golden dawn light. Photography of the cremation ghats, however, is not permitted. We see devotees performing their daily religious rites. At stone steps on the river's edge, we join our hosts in a pilgrimage: for them, the heart of their faith, for us, a superlative cultural experience. We then continue our guided walking tour of the local temples before returning to our hotel for breakfast.

    After breakfast, we'll visit the unique Bharat Mata (Mother India) temple, dedicated not to gods and goddesses, but to Mother India herself. Inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936, this relatively modern temple houses an intricate bas relief map of the Indian subcontinent, carved entirely from white marble.

    Later, we drive to the nearby ancient Buddhist learning center of Sarnath. Here, Gautama Buddha preached his first sermon to his disciples, as portrayed in Bernardo Bertolucci's film Little-Buddha. We then visit the Sarnath Museum, (except on Fridays, when the museum is closed) which houses some of the great treasures of Indian Buddhist art, including Ashoka's Lion Capital—the National Emblem of India—and the beautiful Teaching Buddha, among the most beautiful sculptures in the world. We can explore and photograph excavated Buddhist stupas and pillars unearthed during the British archaeological explorations in 1836. We also have the opportunity to visit a silk-weaving workshop.

    This evening, enjoy a Farewell Dinner with your traveling companions.

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    This morning we have the chance to begin the day with a relaxing yoga and meditation class before breakfast at our hotel. Learn basic yoga exercises and breathing techniques from a local expert.

    After lunch on your own, you will be transferred to the airport to board a flight to Delhi, where you'll stay tonight. Enjoy an included dinner at your hotel this evening.

    Or, if you’re continuing on the post-trip extension to Kathmandu, Nepal, you will fly to Kathmandu instead.

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    If you're continuing on a post-trip extension to The South of India: Kerala & Cochin, board your flight this morning.

    Otherwise, transfer to the airport very early this morning for your return flight to the U.S.

Extensions

Traveler Reviews

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Striving for Excellence

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Our #1 commitment is delivering the best travel experience at the best value, so we take feedback from our travelers seriously as we strive to improve what we do. And one of the best ways for us to measure how travelers have rated our trips—including their experiences and the value we offer—is from our post-trip surveys, sent in by travelers.

Ratings based on percentage of travelers who rated these features "Excellent".

Overall Trip Excellence
85%
Trip Leader Excellence
92%
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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.  Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 7 locations in 16 days with 3 one-night stays
  • Multiple pre-dawn departures

Physical requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers using wheelchairs or other mobility aids
  • Must be able to walk 2-3 miles unassisted each day and participate in 3-5 hours of daily physical activities, including scaling several steep steps without handrails
  • Asian squat-style toilets must be used in some villages without other facilities

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 90--100°F
  • August and September are hot and humid, with heavy rains.

Terrain

  • Travel over some rugged paths, as well as bumpy, unpaved, dusty roads, both by bus and on foot

Transportation

  • Travel via bus (no heat or toilet on board), train, rickshaw, and game-viewing vehicle; our vehicles are locally made and are the best available in the region
  • Several long overland drives of 5-6 hours, including a 10-12 hour transfer with a train journey on Day 13

Accommodations & Facilities

  • One night in a comfortable but basic tented camp with private baths
  • All other accommodations are hotel-standard, with a variety of amenities, as well as private baths with Western-style toilet facilities

Cuisine

  • Meals will be based on the local cuisine; Western food is limited

Cultural insight

  • We may see people living in poverty, which could be distressing for some travelers

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary:

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens will need a visa (or visas) for this trip. In addition, there may be other entry requirements that also need to be met. For your convenience, we’ve included a quick reference list, organized by country:

  • India: Visa required.
  • Bhutan (optional pre-trip extension only): Visa required.
  • Nepal (optional extension): Visa required.

Travelers who are booked on this adventure will be sent a complete Visa Packet— with instructions, applications, and a list of visa fees—approximately 100 days prior to their departure. (Because many countries limit the validity of their visa from the date it is issued, or have a specific time window for when you can apply, we do not recommend applying too early.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your adventure, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Trip Leaders and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Extensions

Pre-Trip

  • Houseboat

    Discover the peaceful backwaters of Cochin aboard a fleet of wooden houseboats, each with just two cabins, a lounge, sun deck, and dining area. Each of the traditionally decorated cabins has a picture window, fan, and a private bath with shower.

Please note: All the hotels we have chosen feature a variety of standard amenities, as well as private baths with Western-style toilet facilities. Our tented camp is comfortable but basic, with private baths.

Main Trip

  • Suryaa New Delhi

    New Delhi, India

    This well-appointed hotel is located in the heart of New Delhi, close to many temples and other historic monuments. Each of its 242 guest rooms features a minibar, satellite TV, a private safe, coffee- and tea-making facilities, high-speed Internet access, and a hair dryer. You’ll be able to relax in style in the hotel’s swimming pool, sauna, or whirlpool

    Please Note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

  • Park Prime Hotel

    Jaipur, India

    Located in the heart of Jaipur, the Park Prime Hotel invites you to unwind at the swimming pool, massage center, or fitness center. Its 83 rooms are elegantly appointed, air-conditioned, and each offers a TV, wireless Internet access, and minibar. Enjoy international cuisine in the main dining room or a more casual ambiance at the rooftop terrace grill or the pub.

    Please Note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

  • Nahargarh Hotel

    Ranthambore, India

    Located near Ranthambore Tiger Sanctuary, this 42-room lodge was decorated to evoke the feeling of staying in a palace. During your stay, you’ll enjoy a multi-cuisine restaurant and an outdoor swimming pool. Our air-conditioned rooms feature a telephone, radio/alarm clock, and private bath with shower.

    Please Note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

  • OAT Camp

    Abha Nagri, India

    Situated on five acres of land within view of the Aravali Mountains, our rural retreat consists of 14 air-cooled, tent-roof cottages, each with a veranda and private bath. There is also a separate dining area where we’ll dine on organic cuisine prepared on-site in the modern kitchen.

    Please Note: Travelers on our Festival Departures will stay at similar camps in Nagaur or Pushkar.

  • Jaypee Palace

    Agra, India

    Set amidst 25 acres of landscaped gardens, the Jaypee Palace combines traditional charm with modern amenities. With 350 guest rooms, the property features a restaurant, cocktail lounge, swimming pool, and sauna. Our air-conditioned rooms feature a TV, telephone, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and a private bath with shower and hair dryer.
  • Radisson Khajuraho

    Khajuraho, India

    Enjoy beautiful landscape and gardens as you relax in style at the Radisson Khajuraho. All 86 rooms include high-speed Internet access, a private safe, minibar, hair dryer, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and a private balcony with a view of the pool or gardens. This hotel features a multi-cuisine restaurant, spa services, an outdoor pool, and fitness facilities.

    Please Note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

  • Radisson Varanasi Hotel

    Varanasi, India

    Built in 2003, this hotel is conveniently located in the heart of the business district yet just 25 minutes from the main ghats of the Ganges. The hotel offers a restaurant, indoor swimming pool, health club, and beauty salon. Our air-conditioned rooms include television, telephone, radio/alarm clock, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

    Please Note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

Extensions

  • The Village Lodge

    Paro, Bhutan

    Located in the fertile Paro Valley amidst forested hillsides, the Village Lodge offers traditional Bhutanese furnishings in a peaceful setting. Nine rooms include private baths, TV and telephone, and a restaurant and bar are on-site.
  • Grande Residencia

    Cochin, India

    Grande Residencia Cochin is located close to Cochin’s beaches and within walking distance of Santa Cruz Cathedral and the Chinese Fishing Nets. Guests can take advantage of the hotel’s indoor swimming pool, restaurant, spa, and health club. Its 22 air-conditioned guests rooms feature TV, telephone, kitchen, minibar, and private baths.

  • Trident Bandra Kurla

    Mumbai, India

    Trident Bandra Kurla is located in the heart of North Mumbai’s new commercial hub. It offers 436 air-conditioned guest rooms, each of them with a TV, Internet access, telephone, safe, and private bath. An array of restaurants, a spa, an outdoor swimming pool, and a health club are on-site.
  • The Everest Hotel

    Kathmandu, Nepal

    Situated in the center of Nepal's capital city, The Everest Hotel features a private bath, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and comfortable furnishings. A spa and health club are on-site.

Please note: All the hotels we have chosen feature a variety of standard amenities, as well as private baths with Western-style toilet facilities. Our tented camp is comfortable but basic, with private baths.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two adventures to maximize your value. Here are more ways to create the OAT adventure that’s right for you:

  • Extend your adventure and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip extensions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your adventure
  • Choose to “break away” before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of OAT adventures to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent traveler miles

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $2995
w/ standard air $4295
Gateway Travel Time*
New York (JFK) 13hrs
Chicago 16hrs
Minneapolis 19hrs
Boston, Detroit 20hrs
Houston 21hrs
Denver, Washington, DC (Dulles) 22hrs
Miami 23hrs
Philadelphia 24hrs
Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, OR, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa Overnight JFK

* Estimated total time, including connection and layover. Actual travel time may vary.

The information above reflects approximate flight times from the gateway cities listed to Delhi, India. Routing is based on availability and subject to change. You will receive your final air itinerary approximately 14 days prior to departure.

Pushkar Festival 2014—A Rajasthani Celebration

Departures between October 22nd and 30th

Once a year, tiny Pushkar, on the shore of a sacred lake, swells from a hamlet of 14,000 to a festive destination for 200,000 people—and 50,000 camels. Turbaned men and women adorned with glittering bangles join in an 8-day extravaganza that is not only the world’s largest camel fair, but also a hotbed of cultural performances that most American travelers miss.

On our Pushkar Festival departures, your adventure will still begin in Delhi and Jaipur, before a two-night stay in a private tented camp near the festival grounds. After the festival, you return to Jaipur and continue on with your regular itinerary.

Highlights:

  • Visit the festival twice at different times of day
  • Explore Lake Pushkar, home to 52 ghats and 400 temples, including the world’s only Brahma Temple
  • Discover the local bazaar, with traditional goods brought by traders

“The Pushkar Festival was a highlight and not to be missed if you can plan your trip for that time of year. Take the hot air balloon ride …”

Patricia Dwyer, 4-time traveler, Watertown, Connecticut

Solo Traveler Stories

Why Travel Solo on Heart of India

We're proud to offer the best value for solo travelers in the industry, guaranteed, with FREE Single Supplements on your base trip and all extensions. Travel with the leader in solo-friendly travel on Heart of Indiaand save up to $1695 per person versus the competition.

Our small group size and expert, resident Trip Leaders help solo travelers make personal connections and ensure peace of mind. Here are some thoughts from solo travelers about why this adventure was right for them.

"My Heart of India trip far surpassed my hopes and dreams. It was the last place on my list of "got to see before I die" destinations. I found that the value of my trip to India far exceeded the costs—and I could never have done and seen as much of this beautiful country if I traveled on my own. On all my OAT trips, I’ve found the cost far less than the value received. The Trip Leaders were excellent, special extras added to the value of the trip, and contact with the local people was deepening."

Graham Hales, 4-time traveler,
Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Recharging My Batteries in India

Kathleen Brose, 6-time traveler, Seattle, Washington

I lead a pretty busy life: As the mother of an adult child with high-functioning autism, and sharing the responsibility of caring for my mom with my sister, most of my time is devoted to others. I love my family, but sometimes the task of caring for them can drain my body and my mind. Because our business doesn’t allow for my husband and I to take many trips together, he encouraged me to take some time away for myself and travel somewhere I’d always wanted to go to recharge my batteries. I wanted adventure and to get lost in another culture—and I knew India would provide me with both. I also wanted to explore a destination that would give me an attitude adjustment: to remind me to be grateful for what I have, and not what I wish I had.

Since I normally travel with my family, I didn’t realize that this adventure gave me the opportunity to be completely selfish—something I don’t normally get to be when I’m at home. I almost forgot what it felt like to not have to worry about anyone but myself.

Did India help me to recharge my batteries and remind me to cherish what I have? Absolutely. I came home with a fresher mind: I wasn’t on edge and didn’t get upset about the little things.

Today, when I find myself trudging through the mundane tasks of everyday life, and I begin to feel drained, I remember strolling down that Varanasi street sipping chai tea … and I remember how lucky I am that I was able to experience such amazing memories, and to cherish the wonderful blessings I already have.

Photos From Our Travelers

On location in India

Here’s how OAT travelers have captured moments of discovery, beauty, friendship, and fun on previous departures of our Heart of India adventure. We hope these will evoke special travel memories and inspire you to submit your own favorite OAT trip photos.

   

Sporting a rainbow of hues, travelers celebrating Holi in Jaipur pose for Ray Riddell, 6-time traveler from Great Falls, Virginia. Friends paint friends in vegetables dyes for this “Festival of Colors,” which begins on the day of the full moon—usually in March—and marks the end of winter and beginning of spring in India.

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How to submit your photos:

Please submit individual photos in jpeg format to: OATtravelerphotos@oattravel.com.

Please be sure to include the name of your OAT adventure, along with the travel dates. Tell us where you took the photo and, if you’d like, tell us why. And don’t forget to include your name and contact information.

Please note: By submitting a photo, you (i) represent and warrant that the photo is your original work created solely by yourself and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any party; (ii) grant to Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, in any and all related media whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, anywhere in the world, with the right to make any and all commercial or other uses thereof, including without limitation, reproducing, editing, modifying, adapting, publishing, displaying publicly, creating derivative works from, incorporating into other works or modifying the photo and (iii) hereby release and discharge Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates, officers and employees from and against any and all claims, liabilities, costs, damages and expenses of any kind arising out of or relating to the use by Grand Circle LLC of any photo submitted.

Partner since: 2009
Total donated: $105,034

Making a difference in India

Simply by traveling with OAT, you support the work of the nonprofit Grand Circle Foundation. Alan and Harriet Lewis created the Foundation with the mission of changing people's lives through travel—which includes both the travelers who journey with OAT, and the local people who welcome us so warmly into their homelands.

Learn more about our work in India, and what you'll experience during your itinerary:

A Day in the Life of a Ranthambore Community

Village visit Ramsinghpura Village women's cooperative

Each Day in the Life is specially tailored to showcase daily life in your destination—in this case, the local communities near Ranthambore National Park. You’ll get to know the local people, be invited into their homes for tea and share conversation together, gaining an authentic glimpse of what life is really like here.

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A Day in the Life of a Ranthambore Community

Each Day in the Life is specially tailored to showcase daily life in your destination—in this case, the local communities near Ranthambore National Park. You’ll get to know the local people, be invited into their homes for tea and share conversation together, gaining an authentic glimpse of what life is really like here.

"It was apparent that the principal and this school are incredibly dedicated to the students. It is clearly an extremely worthwhile project!"

Holly Keating
East Greenwich, Rhode Island

Meet the People of a Ranthambore Community

Village visit Ramsinghpura Village women's cooperative

Your Day in the Life experience will bring you to the village of Ramsinghpura, India. As the men head to the farms to tend their crops in the early morning light, the women attend to the household chores and send the children off to school. The wildlife of nearby Ranthambore National Park does not roam on these narrow roads—and neither do the tourists who come from far and wide. After all, you don't often see scenes of everyday village life in the glossy pages of travel brochures or guidebooks.

In Ramsinghpura, your day begins with a short stroll. You visit the village grocer to see what types of goods are available for sale. Then, you'll stop by the health clinic. Established by the government primarily to immunize children against infectious diseases, the clinic hosts biweekly doctor visits to benefit the community. Across the street, a city council building called Mahila Mandir focuses on women's health issues, such as prenatal care and gynecological specialties. In rural villages throughout India, centers like this one are incentivizing women with cash to give birth in hospitals as opposed to their homes—because the government knows it's the one surefire way to improve the country's abnormally high infant and maternal mortality rates.

A special highlight of every Day in the Life is a visit to a local school, because it's always enlightening to see how other cultures educate their children. The day in Ramsinghpura ends with a visit to a women's cooperative, which offers women a way to earn income through the creation of traditional handcrafts. You learn about the purpose of the organization directly from the woman who runs it, and have the opportunity to try your hand at block printing.

By the end of your Day in the Life, you'll have experienced something that most visitors can rarely say they've seen: an honest look at another culture that isn't dressed up for the sake of tourism. As responsible travelers and true world citizens, we feel it's just as important—if not more so—than monuments, wildlife, or scenery. We like to think of it as bridging the gaps between cultures … one Day in the Life at a time.

Grand Circle Foundation

Supporting a World Classroom: India

Saini Adarsh Vidya Mandir Village School

By funding improvements in local schools and orphanages, the Foundation’s World Classroom initiative is focused on supporting society’s most precious resources: its children. In India, Grand Circle Foundation supports two schools in this rural region—the Saini Adarsh Vidhya Mandir Primary School and the Adarsh Bal Vidhya Mandir Primary School. Our projects have included building classrooms and libraries; purchasing water tanks, study supplies, computers, and a generator; and much more.

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Supporting a World Classroom: India

By funding improvements in local schools and orphanages, the Foundation’s World Classroom initiative is focused on supporting society’s most precious resources: its children. In India, Grand Circle Foundation supports two schools in this rural region—the Saini Adarsh Vidhya Mandir Primary School and the Adarsh Bal Vidhya Mandir Primary School. Our projects have included building classrooms and libraries; purchasing water tanks, study supplies, computers, and a generator; and much more.

"The trip to the school was a real eye-opener as to how ordinary people live their lives. The morning opening ceremony was taking place as we arrived, they continued in their somewhat drill format before being dismissed to go to their classes where they worked under what we would say was poor circumstances—no chairs, no desks, but good teachers and great discipline. They truly were making the best of the opportunities presented to them. The donations we had brought were given to the principal who was very grateful."

Bonnie & Franklin Tweedy
Sun City, Arizona

Adarsh Bal Vidhya Mandir

Partner since: 2009 • Total donated: $17,272

Pat a cake with young child, student at school

We've been supporting the Adarsh Bal Vidhya Mandir Primary School since the beginning of 2009, and the students who attend have benefited greatly from Grand Circle Foundation—donations have thus far provided three new classrooms, separate boys and girls lavatories, a fresh coat of paint, computers, desks, benches, classroom fans, and a library. After spending time with the children and their teachers, we take a walking tour of the village before we are invited into local homes to share tea—and conversation—with some of the students and their families.

Saini Adarsh Vidhya Mandir

Partner since: 2009 • Total donated: $15,227

Saini Adarsh Vidya Mandir Village School

In Ramsinghpura, around 125 students attend the Saini Adarsh Vidhya Mandir Primary School—where Grand Circle Foundation has donated money for books, electric fans, three new classrooms, and lavatory facilities. Witnessing lessons here, travelers can learn a lot about how religious traditions in India have become secularized—like the morning prayers, for example, which aren't so much prayers as they are pledges to make the world a better place. Similarly, India's modern attitude toward teachers evolved from a Hindu tradition that teachers were to be worshiped second only to the gods. "Today, it's not a religious belief, but a cultural one," says OAT's Regional General Manager in India. "Yet children still remove their shoes upon entering a school, just as they would at a temple."

School in session:

Late July through early May; closed periodically throughout the year for Hindu and national holidays

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Sports equipment, such as deflated soccer balls and basketballs
  • Educational books with pictures for the school library
  • Maps of the world and U.S.
  • Games that are both educational and fun
  • Board games for playing indoors
  • Crayons
  • Coloring books
  • Pads of drawing paper
Grand Circle Foundation

Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

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Life & Death in Varanasi

The story behind India’s holiest city

As one of the most densely populated cities in India, Varanasi literally teems with life ...


It’s a typically humid night in Varanasi. Our wooden rowboat bobs rhythmically in the ink-black waters of the Ganges as we pull closer to Manikarnika ghat—a broad, steep staircase leading down to the river’s banks. Here, in India’s most sacred city, there are more than 100 similar structures made of wood and stone, but this particular one is special: It is a “burning” ghat—one of only two in the entire city—and it is where Hindus gather, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to perform the ritual cremation of their dead. Even though we are several hundred feet away from the brightly burning flames, I am starting to feel uncomfortable. I remind myself that if Hindus aren’t bothered by the public nature of this tradition, I certainly shouldn’t be. For the estimated 900 million Hindus worldwide, making a pilgrimage to the holy city of Varanasi—and, more importantly, dying and being cremated here—is what they aspire to most in this world.

Breaking the Cycle of Samsara

Millions of devout Hindus have traveled to Varanasi to liberate the souls of their loved ones, and themselves, from the cycle of reincarnation known as samsara, a fundamental principle in Hindu philosophy. For Hindus, each new physical form provides an opportunity to further perfect the soul, bringing them one step closer to the ultimate goal of moksha, or liberation. For most, this cycle takes several lifetimes to complete. There is, however, a way to hasten the outcome—and that’s where Varanasi comes into play.

Many Hindus come simply to immerse themselves in the holy water of “Mother Ganga,” as the act is said to absolve bathers of any sins incurred during their current, and previous, lives. But many more, particularly the elderly and infirm, journey to Varanasi for the privilege of dying here, to achieve the “perfect bliss” of moksha. For this reason, numerous hospices surround the city’s two “burning” ghats: Manikarnika, the larger of the two, is reserved for Hindus only, while Harishchandra performs funeral rites for believers of all faiths, including Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and Jains. Between them, the two ghats perform more than 300 cremations every day.

A City that Fully Embraces the Senses

While death is an inescapable element in Varanasi, it does not overshadow the city. Quite the contrary, in fact: as one of the most densely populated cities in India, Varanasi literally teems with life.

Prior to my evening boat ride on the Ganges, I had the opportunity to observe this firsthand. Because the streets near the river are too narrow to accommodate large motor vehicles, the best way to reach the ghats is via cyclo-rickshaw or on foot. My husband and I chose the former. Nothing short of exhilarating, our rickshaw journey also revealed the essence of Varanasi—a city bursting at the seams with all manner of sights, smells, and sounds, from the sacred to the profane. Setting off, we pass by groups of saffron-robed saddhus (holy men) smoking their hash-filled pipes. Wallahs (vendors) push wooden carts laden with fresh fruits and vegetables, and metal thermoses filled with fragrant masala chai (a milky, sweet, and spicy tea). The neon-lit storefronts blare the infectious, high-pitched sounds of bhangra music. Arriving at our destination, we clambered down from our rickshaw and—keeping our eyes peeled for the omnipresent piles of cow dung that decorate Varanasi’s streets—made our way to the top of the Dasaswamedh ghat to observe the aarti ceremony that is performed nightly.

Aarti: the Divine Spark

Aarti is a ritual of devotion that involves the lighting of a lamp or candle to signify the divine spark that shines within each of us. In Varanasi, this ceremony has been customized, and intricately choreographed, to pay homage to Ganga, the river goddess. The air is thick with smoke from sandalwood incense as we watch a handful of young male priests, clad in form-fitting shirts and flowing, pajama-like pants, climb onto raised wooden platforms. From loudspeakers positioned near the shore come rhythmic drumbeats and monotone singing. Facing the crowd, the priests light a series of large brass lamps, or diyas, holding them aloft in a series of graceful, sweeping motions as they solemnly chant their mantras.

Serenity at Sunrise

Arriving at Dasaswamedh ghat again early the next morning, it feels like a totally different place. There are still people crowding the steps, but the speakers now are silent, the strings of bulbs festooning the platforms unlit. But the absence of these elements only serves to enhance the devotional aura. In this holiest of holy Indian cities, the most sacred time of day is dawn.

Climbing aboard another rowboat, we set sail for a closer look at how the Hindu faithful welcome the start of a new day. We glide silently past men in dhotis (loincloths), knee-deep in the sacred water, hands clasped in prayer … women in gem-colored saris scooping up water in metal pots and pouring it over their heads … saddhus sitting cross-legged on the stone ghats, deep in meditation.

We also pass by dozens of yoga students and their guru, performing sun salutations at the water’s edge … children running barefoot along the ghats and playfully splashing each other while bathing in the river … washermen and women vigorously slapping laundry against flat, smooth stones. It’s a peaceful, tranquil scene—one made all the more enchanting by the amber glow of the sun, which is steadily rising above the horizon. I am struck by the contrast: Once again, I am floating along the Ganges in a rowboat, gliding past temples and ghats, watching Hindus perform highly personal rituals of prayer and absolution in a public space. But now, instead of wanting to close my eyes, I feel uplifted by the beauty and promise this new day brings. Here, the sun inches ever higher, its rays transforming the surface of the Ganges to liquid gold and bathing us all—Hindus and Christians, residents and visitors—in a rich, rosy hue … the color of hope.