North India Tour: Rajasthan’s Citadels, Deserts, and Tribal People, with Varanasi and the Taj Mahal

Please email us for information about this trip, available as a private trip for individuals, couples or groups.
Our next scheduled trip is our Central India Tour in October 2017 followed by our India Himalayan Tour in May 2018 and our Ladakh Himalayan Trek in July-August 2018.

Delhi - Varanasi - Taj Mahal in Agra - Fatehpur Sikri - Keoladeo Ghana National Park, Bharatpur - Jaipur and Amber Fort - Kumbhalgarh Fort - Ranakpur Jain Temple - Deogarh - Jodhpur - Jaisalmer - Jamba Luxury Desert Retreat - Delhi

“I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to India. Martin has a PhD in philosophy, and was a philosophy teacher until he fell under the spell of India. Carol is as knowledgeable as he. They know Indian religions and history inside out and backwards. Information was delivered with charm and humor. We were a small group and with the two Novals, it was like being personally guided through India. A truly memorable experience.”

Lisa G.

"I could not pin-point one exceptional experience. I came away really feeling that I had been amongst the Indian people as opposed to just being a tourist... The fact that you both speak the language easily, and interact with all levels of society easily, gives your guests something very special.”

Ellen L.

Time travel with us into a remote past into a land of graceful gracious people, traditional villages, historic mansions in ancient cities, women on scooters passing camel carts, heritage monuments like the Taj Mahal in Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, medieval walled cities like Jaisalmer and Jodhpur with their grand forts, and sacred Varanasi on the Ganges River – “older than time itself,” said Mark Twain.

, India’s “Land of Kings,” and one of India’s most traditional and colorful states, is the main focus of our trip. Kings, queens and nobles still live in their palaces and city mansions, and infuse all of daily life with glamour and elegance. Swashbuckling, be-turbaned, mustachioed men and graceful, gorgeously attired women live their traditional lives in ancient cities, towns, forts, storybook villages in rural farmland, in the dune-studded Thar Desert, and in the forested Aravali hills.

Our trip begins in Delhi, vibrant capital of India, a city comprising many cities, legacies of ancient empires, and the British Raj – all left visible imprints on this important crossroads of North India. Explore monumental attractions and the vibrant bazaars of Old and New Delhi. Visit the great landmarks of the British colonial period, expressions of an imperial vision in red and tan sandstone.

The amazing Indo-Islamic cultural, architectural and stylistic fusion of the Muslim era is embodied in the Qutab Minar, the world's tallest minaret, and the ruins around it, with their intricate stone-carved floral decoration.

Leaving Delhi, we enter other dimensions of time and space.

In Varanasi, India’s most sacred city, join pilgrims from all over India in witnessing and being part of ancient rituals and a timeless way of life.

Ride in bicycle rickshaws and walk through the city's winding lanes and dazzling bazaars. Go boating on the sacred river Ganges in the rosy light of sunrise and sunset; glide by temples and palaces, and ghats thronged with priests and worshippers and discover the ancient world living on this river, a timeless stream of wisdom and myth.

We explore Varanasi with an old friend of ours, the great-great-grandson of the former astrologer to the Maharaja of Varanasi, and visit his 100-year-old home.

Our heritage hotel is right on one of the most sacred ghats where the river enters the city. Full of antiques and art works, it is a nobleman’s house still run by the family; and the food is some of the best in India.

Jain Guru in Delhi

Entirely walled, with massive gateways, grand palaces and colorful bazaars and all painted in vibrant pink ("the soft, rich tint of strawberry ice cream," said Mark Twain when he visited the town in 1879), Jaipur, capital city of the State of Rajasthan, India's "land of kings," was built in the eighteenth century. Planned according to ancient Hindu architectural canons, the layout of the city is in harmony with the structure of the universe.

Today, Jaipur is a vibrant town, peopled with mustachioed men in phosphorescent turbans and bold women in bright sweeping skirts. Traditional products, still made in pre-industrial ways and transported within the city on camel carts, overflow the shops: precious stones, gold and silver jewelry, the distinctive Rajasthani upturned, pointy-toed shoes, and a kaleidoscopic array of tie-dye and woodblock hand-printed fabrics.

Agra Fort

The vast Jaipur City Palace is a harmonious blend of Hindu and Islamic design. The raja still lives here but most of the palace is a museum with elegant galleries displaying the elaborate finery of Rajasthani royalty.

Part of the City Palace complex, the Jantar Mantar has monumental, surreal "instruments for measuring the heavens." The gigantic stone sundials in this royal observatory tell time accurately to the second. The Hawa Mahal or Palace of the Winds is a façade with 953 windows, each with a different stone lattice design, so ladies of the court could sit unseen and watch royal processions pass through the street below.

Long before Jaipur was built, the kingdom's capital was Amber Fort, just a few miles away. Built in tiers, it nestles secure amid high rugged hills. This is a fairy tale of a place with beautifully decorated pavilions, water channels, crenellated walls and panoramic views over the countryside. Its ornate palaces contain rooms covered in mosaics of countless convex mirrors, which delighted kings and queens as the flame of a single oil lamp transformed them into star-filled skies.

Taj Mahal

Agra is home to the Taj Mahal : floating in its garden, ethereal and insubstantial as a dream, this architectural masterpiece, archetype of purity of form, is grand in conception yet subtle and beautiful in detail. The tomb of the Emperor Shah Jahan's favorite queen, Mumtaz, the whole complex with its gardens and gateways embodies the ideal of architectural beauty and purity of form. Grand in conception, subtle in detail, the Taj is a poem of arches, domes and soaring minarets. The Red Fort at Agra, with its massive red sandstone walls, palaces, pleasure gardens and pavilions that were the heart of the Mughal Empire, is equally impressive. Nearby Fatehpur Sikri is the Emperor Akbar's perfectly preserved sixteenth-century palace complex and it brings to life the heroic temperament of the emperor and the enlightened atmosphere of his court.

Riding in cycle rickshaws and on foot we go bird watching with a local naturalist, an old friend of ours who is passionate about India's birds, in Keoladeo Ghana National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage site). Here in the world’s largest heronry, birds in their tens of thousands – painted storks, spoonbills, ibises – congregate to breed in beautiful tree-filled wetlands, the former hunting preserve of the Maharaja of Bharatpur. There are sightings also of hawks, eagles, owls, kingfishers, parakeets, cormorants, anhingas and cranes, and of nilgai, the massive blue bull and his tan-colored consort.

Stay in the fairy-tale palace of Deogarh, operated as a grand heritage hotel by the royal family, and explore the traditional small town, nearby villages and an ancient mysterious Shiva temple set in a cave.

Take a day train journey on a meter-gauge hill train and chat with local villagers as we chug through rugged mountain scenery. While in Deogarh, we get around in capacious vintage ramblers, part of the palace “stable,” driven by beturbaned retainers.

Driving into the Aravali Hills through splendid countryside dotted with farms and traditional villages, we visit Kumbhalgarh Fort, likened to the Great Wall of China for its very wide walls, and walk up to its “Cloud Palace,” with expansive views over jungle-clad hills. Nearby is the massive breathtaking, ornately carved white marble Jain temple of Ranakpur, literally born of a dream.

The people of the area revere nature and protect wildlife, and one tribe, the Bishnois, have many times sacrificed their lives to protect trees and animals. We see demoiselle cranes in the thousands, and black buck, almost tame, in village fields.

The traditional music and dance of the desert is mesmerizing. Distinct hereditary tribal groups dance, sing and play musical instruments. Under a clear desert sky twinkling with stars we watch as a woman of the Kalbelia tribe performs the Kabelia "snake charmer" dance with singers and musicians of the Langa tribe, who primarily sing the lineages of Hindu royal families at important ceremonies.

A sunset camel ride, visits to traditional tribal settlements of Bishnoi farmers, weavers, potters, Raika animal herders, and to the extensive surreal salt pans immerse us in the desert environment and its cultural life. The potters' village is a work of art. A traditional welcoming ceremony at a village headman's home is a special treat.

An important stop on traditional caravan routes, the fairy-tale golden sandstone fortress town of Jaisalmer is full of brilliantly carved temples, palaces and noble’s homes, all in the same golden stone. With Jaisalmer’s foremost historian, we explore the still-lived-in fort with its winding market streets, havelis and its beautiful golden Jain temples, all pervaded by this ancient desert trading town’s history.

Dominated by enormous Mehrangarh Fort built on a massive rock outcrop high above the old city of Jodhpur, this is the most impressive and atmospheric fort-palace in India. The fort’s interior showcases the sumptuous, larger-than-life style of the royals, and houses a special collection of royal memorabilia and artistic masterpieces.

More North India Tour Photos on our Trips Into India Facebook page.

"A wonderful Rajasthan trip. Thank you, for the great companionship, the information and experience you share and great sense of fun. The forts, the food, the birds, swimming pools, lovely inns, the dancing lesson! But most especially the countryside and wonderful friendly people. The camels! The palaces! An endless list of delights. Great to spend time with you again – and more trips again soon!"

Kate S.

"Thank you for another incredible introduction to India - Rajasthan through your eyes was so much more even tho I am sure fabulous on its own. I cannot pick one piece of the trip as a favorite because each was special. ... all of the trip was wonderful, not least Martin's explanation and stories that make the experience so much richer."

Belinda J.

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