Welcome to the intoxicating cacophony of colours, smells, spices, culture and chaos that is Delhi. We'll bond with our Contiki fam today before kick starting our adventure.
Today we'll head leave the magical mayhem of Delhi behind and head towards Agra...Upon arrival in Agra, we'll visit the Elephant Rescue Centre, where we'll meet over 20 rescued elephants and witness the only elephant hospital in Asia. Then, you'll have the opportunity to get your bucket list ticked with an optional visit to one of mankind's masterpieces: the majestic Taj Mahal (you'll also get the chance to visit the 17th century Agra Fort). The Taj Mahal, the 17th century memorial building considered by many to be the most beautiful building in the world, naturally dominates Agra, but it isn't the only thing to be found here. The city, curving along the holy Yamuna River, is dotted with mausoleums, tombs and heaving marketplaces.
Opt for a locally guided cycle tour of 'unseen Agra' this morning to uncover the city's lesser spotted wonders. Then we're headed to Lucknow on our air-conditioned coach.We'll have a free evening to admire Lucknow's ethereal bazaars, opulent Raj-era architecture and delicious food. Whether you decide to walk its broad boulevards or beautiful gardens, you'll wonder how this place has escaped the overwhelming tourist attention of some other Indian towns.
Long regarded as India's centre for culture and art, Lucknow is full of wonders for us to explore this morning. We won't waste any time, as we start off with a locally guided sightseeing tour, coming up close to La Martiniere building - a beautiful and historic private school - and the Asafi Imambara, one of the most regal architectural complexes in the world. Taking almost a decade to build, the building famously employed locals in the region while a ravaging famine swept India. Lucknow is also famous for its Awadhi cuisine, so we recommend taking a culinary walk of the city, hopping in and out of roadside eateries and getting a complete taste of the local culture.
See ya, Lucknow, we're headed to one of the world's oldest cities.Nestled alongside the Ganges is Varanasi, one of the holiest Hindu sites in the world - a place where pilgrims come to bathe in the sacred waters and cremate their loved ones. This place can be described as India in a nutshell - not for the faint of heart, but spiritual, riotous and touchingly passionate.
Rise and shine! We're headed down to the river, boarding a small boat as dawn alights the Ganges. We'll watch the Ghat in front of us slowly come to life, as pilgrims bathe in the holy river, wash away their sins and fill bottles with holy water (we wouldn't recommend doing the same - it may be holy but that doesn't mean it's hygienic). After watching the sunrise from our boat, we'll weave our way through the narrow lanes, and get to see how life operates on the riverside. As the afternoon draws in, we'll explore the ruins of Sarnath, another holy location for another ancient religion. Located on the outskirts of the city, this is said to be the location from which Buddha delivered his first sermon after achieving enlightenment. Back to Varanasi in the evening, we'll witness the Aarti Ceremony, an fascinating ancient ritual performed on the steps of the Dashashwamedh Ghat.
Wasting no time this morning, we're getting a speedy flight to Kathmandu, Nepal, before heading to...A world heritage reserve teeming with rhinos, deer, monkeys, elephants, sloth bears, and even the majestic Bengal Tiger.
One of the remaining undisturbed areas of the Terai region, this rich ecosystem is wedged between two river valleys on the outer Himalayas, which provide a beautiful backdrop to the steep cliffs and lush plantlands. This morning we'll take a jungle walk to soak in the spectacular beauty, before heading out on our once-in-a-lifetime jeep safari. One of the last safe havens for the one-horned rhino and the Bengal tiger - both heavily endangered - Chitwan offers one of the best wildlife spotting experiences on the planet.
Today we're headed back to Nepal's bustling capital.It's time to uncover Kathmandu on a locally guided tour of its UNESCO World Heritage Site of Durbar Square - the old royal palace of the former kingdom, parts of which were tragically destroyed in the earthquake of 2015. As we walk, we'll marvel at the medieval temples, captivating courtyards and charming mayhem.
Our adventure ends today in Kathmandu, but our hearts will remain amongst the hills, jungles and sacred sites of India and Nepal, and there's always a new trek around the corner.